Politics and Legislation
On the stump, Senate Dem candidates split with Obama over Keystone pipeline
By Andrew Restuccia
President Obama has steered clear of taking a firm stance on the Keystone pipeline, but many Democrats running for Senate don’t have the same luxury.
Eight of the 18 non-incumbent Democrats running for Senate surveyed by The Hill either steadfastly support the pipeline or oppose it outright, breaking with Obama’s decision to reserve judgment on the project until federal regulators conduct a full review.
Republican Senate hopefuls have made the pipeline — which would carry oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast — a top campaign issue. The emphasis on the pipeline has forced many Democratic candidates to stake out a clear position on the project, whether they like it or not.
TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline has ignited a firestorm in Washington.
The president denied a cross-border permit for the pipeline in January, infuriating Republicans and launching a thorny political debate in Congress that has forced vulnerable Senate Democrats to weigh in on the project. But Obama has said his decision to reject the pipeline was based not on its merits, but on a 60-day, GOP-backed deadline included in legislation to extend the payroll tax cut.
As gas prices near a national average of $4 per gallon, the Keystone fight on Capitol Hill has spread to the campaign trail, even in states that are nowhere near the pipeline route.
Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) has attacked his opponent, Elizabeth Warren (D), for opposing the project.
“Elizabeth Warren is an ‘energy elitist’ who thinks we can power our country on renewable sources alone,” Jim Barnett, Brown’s campaign manager, said in a statement last week.
“Even with Massachusetts motorists shelling out nearly four dollars a gallon at the pump, she opposes key efforts to increase our supply of oil, including construction of the Keystone pipeline, which will not only help bring down gas prices but also create thousands of good construction jobs,” Barnett said.
Warren, whose office confirmed that she opposes the pipeline, hit back at Brown, painting him as a pawn of Big Oil for opposing legislation to repeal $24 billion in tax breaks for the largest oil companies over the next decade.
Illinois Rep. Tim Johnson to retire
By Cameron Joseph and Emily Goodin
Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Ill.) will retire this year despite winning his GOP primary just a few weeks ago, The Hill has confirmed.
Democrats who controlled the redistricting process, in which Illinois lost a seat, made Johnson’s GOP-leaning district more Democratic.
That was a factor in Johnson’s decision, according to the Capitol Fax, an Illinois political newsletter, which first reported the news.
He will announce his decision Thursday, according to the report, which also stated Johnson felt comfortable with his decision given that perennial candidate David Gill will be the likely Democratic nominee. Johnson easily defeated Gill in 2010 with 64 percent of the vote. Gill was also the nominee against Johnson in 2004 and 2006.
Johnson handily won his March 20 primary. Local Republicans will pick the new GOP nominee to replace him.
Carney: Obama remark about Supreme Court was misunderstood
By Jonathan Easle
In an occasionally testy exchange with reporters, White House press secretary Jay Carney defended President Obama’s remark that it would be “unprecedented” for the Supreme Court to overturn the administration’s healthcare law, saying the comment had been misunderstood.
Speaking at a Rose Garden news conference on Monday, Obama weighed in on the matter for the first time since last week’s high court hearings that left many Democrats fearful that the five conservative judges would band together to strike down his signature domestic achievement.
“Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress,” the president said.
Republicans pounced on the remarks, citing more than 150 cases in which the Supreme Court had overturned an act of Congress.
On Tuesday, Obama said he meant the Supreme Court hadn’t overturned a law that involved the Commerce Clause, as the healthcare law does, in the last 80 years — since the New Deal.
Carney defended that take at a White House press briefing on Wednesday, when asked if the president regretted his initial remarks.
Food inflation seen back on the table as prices rise
* Strong correlation with high oil price
* Corn, soybeans gain on physical markets in March -FAO data
* U.S. soybean futures jump in March on tight supply concerns
By Svetlana Kovalyova
MILAN, April 5 (Reuters) – World food prices are likely to rise for a third successive month in March, and could gain further beyond that, with expensive oil and chronically low stocks of some key grains putting food inflation firmly back on the economic agenda.
Food prices grabbed world policy makers’ attention after hitting record highs in February 2011 and stoking protests connected to the Arab Spring wave of civil unrest in some north Africa and middle eastern countries.
Prices later receded, but an upturn which began in January, initially seen as a pause in the overall downtrend, has persisted.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will update its monthly Food Price Index on Thursday and the organization says prices could rise more in the short and medium term as grain supply tightens and energy prices stay high.
Amazon: £7bn sales, no UK corporation tax
Online retailer’s British operation owned by company in Luxembourg which receives all payments for books, DVDs and other goods
Amazon.co.uk, Britain’s biggest online retailer, generated sales of more than £3.3bn in the country last year but paid no corporation tax on any of the profits from that income – and is under investigation by the UK tax authorities.
Regulatory filings by parent company Amazon.com with the US securities and exchange commission (SEC) show the tax inquiry into the UK operation, which sells nearly one in four books sold in Britain, focuses on a period when ownership of the British business was transferred to a Luxembourg company.
The SEC filings, highlighted by Bookseller magazine, show that in the past three years, Amazon has generated sales of more than £7.6bn in the UK without attracting any corporation tax on the profits from those sales.
HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) refused to confirm it was investigating Amazon.co.uk, and its inquiries could be a routine audit. But Amazon’s tax affairs are being investigated in the US, China, Germany, France, Japan and Luxembourg.
Americans brace for next foreclosure wave
By Nick Carey
GARFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio
(Reuters) – Half a decade into the deepest U.S. housing crisis since the 1930s, many Americans are hoping the crisis is finally nearing its end. House sales are picking up across most of the country, the plunge in prices is slowing and attempts by lenders to claim back properties from struggling borrowers dropped by more than a third in 2011, hitting a four-year low.
But a painful part two of the slump looks set to unfold: Many more U.S. homeowners face the prospect of losing their homes this year as banks pick up the pace of foreclosures.
“We are right back where we were two years ago. I would put money on 2012 being a bigger year for foreclosures than 2010,” said Mark Seifert, executive director of Empowering & Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP), a counseling group with 10 offices in Ohio.
“Last year was an anomaly, and not in a good way,” he said.
In 2011, the “robo-signing” scandal, in which foreclosure documents were signed without properly reviewing individual cases, prompted banks to hold back on new foreclosures pending a settlement.
Five major banks eventually struck that settlement with 49 U.S. states in February. Signs are growing the pace of foreclosures is picking up again, something housing experts predict will again weigh on home prices before any sustained recovery can occur.
Mortgage servicing provider Lender Processing Services reported in early March that U.S. foreclosure starts jumped 28 percent in January.
Wars and Rumors of War
A Grad-type rocket fired from Sinai exploded in a residential neighborhood of Israel’s southernmost city early Thursday
PM on Eilat rocket: We can never stop fighting terror
By JPOST.COM STAFF
LAST UPDATED: 04/05/2012 13:58
Speaking at ceremony marking 40 years since Sabena hijacking, Netanyahu vows to strike back at those attacking Israel, says Sinai has become a “terror zone”; Egyptian official: No evidence rocket fired from Sinai.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Thursday vowed to strike at those who attack Israel and said the Jewish state can never stop fighting terrorism, speaking hours after a Grad rocket fired from the Sinai Peninsula exploded in Eilat.
Speaking at a ceremony marking 40 years since the operation to free hostages on hijacked Sabena Flight 571, during which as a young commando he was shot and wounded, Netanyahu said Israel must constantly fight against those who perpetrate and plan terrorism.” Israel must always fight terrorism, he continued, “It will not stop if we do not fight it.”
Sinai, he continued, has become a terrorism zone, something he said Israel is “dealing with.” The security fence being built along the southern border will not stop missiles, but a solution for that too will be found, he said.
A Grad-type rocket fired from Sinai exploded in a residential neighborhood of Israel’s southernmost city early Thursday morning. Residents reported hearing three explosions, but police sappers only located the remnants of one Grad rocket. Police were continuing to search for other rockets and holding security assessments in Eilat late Thursday morning, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak held a situational briefing in Tel Aviv Thursday with IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz in light of the rocket attack, which he called “a grave incident.”…..
The ‘Legal Issue’ of Operation Cast Lead: ICC Rules That Palestinians Cannot Investigate Israeli War Crimes
If one ever needed a better example of selective enforcement, or needed factual evidence that “human rights” are determined by bureaucratic institutions and not by compassionate human beings, look no further than the legal meanderings of the International Criminal Court now being used to deflect Operation Cast Lead.
For those who are not familiar, Operation Cast Lead was summarized by Amnesty International as 22 days of death and destruction — and few unbiased observers would disagree. The Operation was justified by Israel as a response to increased rocket attacks by Hamas following an agreed-upon cease-fire in late December of 2008. Israel’s response truly redefined the meaning of shock and awe, as an all-out assault was initiated by the Israeli Air Force which rained coordinated strikes upon the Gaza Strip that was followed by a ground invasion on January 3rd, 2009:
Human rights organizations estimated the number of dead at close to 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 1,000 civilians, and the wounded at more than 5,000. According to government figures, Palestinian deaths totaled 1,166, including 295 noncombatant deaths. The discrepancy over civilian deaths largely centered on whether the 248 Hamas police officers killed were considered civilians. There were 13 Israelis killed, including three civilians. (Source)
So why do Palestinians have no recourse to investigate such a horrific event?
According to Barak Ravid, reporting for Haaretz, an Israeli news source:
The reason for his (the ICC prosecutor) decision was that under the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, only internationally recognized states can join the court.
In an official statement released Tuesday afternoon, the ICC said that ‘the current status granted to Palestine by the United Nations General Assembly is that of “observer”, not as a “Non‐member State”,” and that only “relevant bodies at the United Nations” or the group of states that make up the court could determine whether Palestinians can sign up to the Rome Statute.’ (Source: V\http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/operation-cast-lead.htm)
Articles of Interest
Marine sergeant files to block dismissal for his anti-Obama Facebook posts
By Jeremy Herb
Sgt. Gary Stein, the Marine facing dismissal for posts he made on Facebook criticizing President Obama and saying he would not follow orders, has filed a federal lawsuit to stop his discharge, saying his First Amendment rights had been violated.
Stein filed his lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Tuesday with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and U.S. Justice Foundation, which seeks to delay his administrative hearing, scheduled for Thursday, and stop the Marines from discharging him.
Stein says the posts he made on his “Armed Forces Tea Party” Facebook page — where he called Obama a “domestic enemy” and said he would not follow some orders — were not made as a uniformed Marine.
He also alleged that the Defense Department directive that restricts political activity for service members violated his First Amendment rights because it is vague and overbearing.
“Though some of the language he used in discussing certain hypothetical unlawful orders might have been viewed as intemperate, he subsequently clarified … that he was only discussing the settled principle of military law that service members should not follow unlawful orders,” the lawsuit says.
Even if his actions did violate the Pentagon directive, the lawsuit says, the directive “violates the First Amendment as applied to Plaintiff, because it is vague and/or over-broad, unconstitutionally restricts core
speech, and/or unlawfully discriminates, based on content or viewpoint of speech.”
Bush administration torture techniques report revealed
Uploaded by RTAmerica on Apr 4, 2012
A newly released document showcases the United States Defense Department’s torture techniques. The 37 page report details ways officials can torture detainees suspected of having ties to terrorism. In 2002, the document was handed to Bush administration officials, but is just now seeing the light of day. Now the particulars of the report are being called war crimes. Jason Leopold, lead investigative reporter for Truth-Out.Org, joins us for more.
Financiers and Sex Trafficking
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
THE biggest forum for sex trafficking of under-age girls in the United States appears to be a Web site called Backpage.com.
This emporium for girls and women — some under age or forced into prostitution — is in turn owned by an opaque private company called Village Voice Media. Until now it has been unclear who the ultimate owners are.
That mystery is solved. The owners turn out to include private equity financiers, including Goldman Sachs with a 16 percent stake.
Goldman Sachs was mortified when I began inquiring last week about its stake in America’s leading Web site for prostitution ads. It began working frantically to unload its shares, and on Friday afternoon it called to say that it had just signed an agreement to sell its stake to management.
“We had no influence over operations,” Andrea Raphael, a Goldman Sachs spokeswoman, told me.
Let’s back up for a moment. There’s no doubt that many escort ads on Backpage are placed by consenting adults. But it’s equally clear that Backpage plays a major role in the trafficking of minors or women who are coerced. In one recent case in New York City, prosecutors say that a 15-year-old girl was drugged, tied up, raped and sold to johns through Backpage and other sites.
Backpage has 70 percent of the market for prostitution ads, according to AIM Group, a trade organization.
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