Politics and Legislation
Watchdog claims more evidence of leaks by labor board member
The inspector general for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) claims to have uncovered more evidence that a Republican member leaked confidential information.
Terence Flynn, a GOP member of the NLRB who was recess-appointed by President Obama in January, is accused of making additional disclosures of non-public information to Peter Schaumber, a former NLRB member.
The supplemental inspector general (IG) report, dated April 30, alleges that Flynn released confidential information while serving as an agency chief counsel. The information that Flynn leaked, according to the IG, included four dissents and a draft of an NLRB decision.
Flynn also helped edit Schaumber’s op-eds on NLRB issues and forwarded him a January 2011 email from then-NLRB Chairwoman Wilma Liebman outlining her priorities for the agency that year, according to the report.
The 13-page report by Dave Berry, the NLRB’s inspector general, says Flynn broke ethics rules by leaking the information. He recommended that the labor board review the findings and decide on an appropriate course of action.
“We conclude that the issues identified in this report, and those of the prior report, evidence a serious threat to the Board’s decisional due process. We recommend that the Board review these facts to determine appropriate action,” the report says.
Israel high court hears hunger striker appeals
Two Palestinians who have been on hunger strike for 65 days appeared before Israel’s Supreme Court on Thursday to appeal their detention without charge, their lawyer told AFP.
Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahla are both staging hunger strikes to protest Israel’s use of administrative detention orders, under which military courts can order individuals to be held without charge for periods of up to six months, which can be renewed indefinitely.
Jamil Khatib, who is representing both men, said his address to the court focused on what he called the “illegality” of administrative detention.
“The appeal focused on two sides, the illegality of administrative detention in general, in terms of why they are being held, and secondly why Thaer and Bilal took this step to shed light on administrative detention,” Khatib said.
Bahrain’s king enacts parliamentary reforms, hopes for national accord
By AL ARABIYA WITH REUTERS
Bahrain’s king ratified constitutional reforms on Thursday in an effort to curb a year of protests and open “a door for national dialogue,” he said in a speech broadcast on state television.
Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has been in turmoil since activists launched protests in February 2011 after successful popular revolts in Egypt and Tunisia.
“The door of dialogue is open and national accord is the goal of all dialogue,” King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa said in a ceremony broadcast on state television. “We hope at this important stage that all national forces and groups…will join in development and reform.”
King Hamad also said he will seek stronger supervision of government operations.
The state television named the amendments “the consensus of a people.”
The amendments, which boost powers to question and remove ministers and withdraw confidence in the cabinet, stem from a national dialogue the king organized after last year’s uprising.
This was his second televised speech this year announcing the amendments after he appeared in January.
Yemenis call for purges of ex-leader’s loyalists
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Tens of thousands of Yemenis took to the streets Thursday to demand dismissal of members of the country’s former regime from top military posts.
Rallies organized by youth groups were held in the capital, Sana’a, and several other cities. Protesters carried banners urging Yemen’s new president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to “purge the army of family members” of his predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
After a year of uprising and turmoil, Saleh handed power to Hadi in February, but several Saleh loyalists and relatives are hanging on to key military posts and refusing to step down.
Saleh has been accused of meddling in the country’s affairs and obstructing efforts by Hadi to carry out much-needed reforms.
The U.N. envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, has been meeting Saleh’s family members to try to persuade them to comply with Hadi’s orders. He said Thursday that a Saleh crony has finally agreed to hand over command of the elite Republican Guard.
Hadi has made restructuring the Yemeni armed forces his top priority, essential in combating al-Qaeda forces in the south.
Islamic militants linked to the terror group have taken over several towns in the south during Yemen’s long political and security vacuum.
In the latest battle, the Defense Ministry said Thursday that eight al-Qaeda militants were killed in clashes in Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan province. The military has taken over several parts of the city, an AL-Qaeda stronghold.
Drugmakers’ Deal With Obama Said to Be Probed by House
By Drew Armstrong
Pfizer Inc. (PFE) and Merck & Co. (MRK) are being pulled into an expanding congressional investigation about the agreement drugmakers reached with the Obama administration to support the Democrats’ overhaul of the U.S. health-care system, according to three people familiar with the talks.
The probe began last year, with Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee seeking documents from an industry trade group, said the people, who aren’t authorized to speak publicly. When that group didn’t cooperate, the panel decided to target Pfizer, the world’s biggest drugmaker, along with Merck, Amgen Inc. (AMGN), Abbott Laboratories (ABT) and AstraZeneca Plc (AZN), said one of the people.
A man walks past Pfizer Inc. headquarters in New York. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg
The Republicans last month began negotiating directly with the companies in e-mails, calls and meetings demanding documents and information outlining what the industry agreed to with President Barack Obama in 2009 and 2010, when the law was being worked on in Congress. Michael Burgess, a Representative from Texas, said he’s been frustrated by a lack of cooperation.
“This has been like pulling teeth, trying to get information,” said Burgess, a Republican working on the panel’s investigation, in a telephone interview.
A White House spokesman declined to comment about the investigation. Peter O’Toole, a spokesman for New York-based Pfizer, said the company is cooperating, as did Tony Jewell, an AstraZeneca spokesman. Kelly Davenport, a spokeswoman for Thousand Oaks, California-based Amgen, said the drug maker is aware of the probe.
Gold Price Drops Three Straight Months For First Time Since 2001
Between March 2001 and April 2012, the price of gold never fell for 3 months in succession. “Two months max”made for a great slogan and signal to buy on pullbacks, most recently in January 2010, your last chance to do so below $1,100, and April 2009, which was your last chance to buy below $900. Divide by ten and we’re talking about the price of the GLD.
Until April 2012 that third down month just never came.
Three consecutive months of falling gold prices are so rare that you can count the occurrences. Since 1957 in fact, they’ve struck only 65 times in a total of 661 three-month periods.
These three-month drops – let’s call them recessions to save me having to re-title these charts again – are rarer still in the U.S. stock market.
The S&P 500 index has delivered only 55 runs of 3-month drops over the same 55-year period.
By Edward Krudy
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Stocks fell on Thursday as economic data sent mixed signals on the recovery a day before the April payrolls report, while shares of Green Mountain (GMCR) plunged after poor results.
Slower-than-expected growth in the dominant U.S. services sector drove the day’s trading. The retail sector dragged the market lower after several chains, including Target Corp (TGT) and Gap Inc (GPS), fell after missing April sales estimates.
Market expectations for Friday’s non-farm payrolls report have fallen this week. Traders now suspect the economy added 125,000 to 150,000 jobs in April, below a Reuters consensus forecast of 170,000. One trader said there had even been some talk of a number below 100,000.
Still, the S&P 500 kept up its flirtation with new four-year highs, although it has struggled to rise above resistance at the 1,400 level.
Treasury: Tax receipts not changing deadline on $16.4T debt limit
Lawmakers will not have to re-fight their epic battle over raising the debt ceiling until after the November elections, according to the Treasury Department.
April tax receipts have not moved Treasury’s debt-ceiling target date, and Secretary Timothy Geithner still expects lawmakers will have until the tail end of 2012 to raise the $16.394 trillion ceiling.
“Treasury anticipates that the debt limit will not be reached again until late this year,” a Treasury spokesman told The Hill on Wednesday.
Lower-than-expected tax receipts could have moved up the date on the debt ceiling, forcing a vote both parties would like to avoid before the election.
The government has borrowed $15.673 trillion, and the limit is still too far off for Treasury to more accurately predict when it will be reached, an official said Wednesay.
But the Treasury spokesman insisted the agency has the tools to prevent the United States from going over the limit if it draws near prior to Nov. 6, when voters go to the polls.
“If the debt limit were to be reached prior to the 2012 elections, Treasury would be able to invoke extraordinary measures to extend borrowing authority beyond the next elections,” the spokesman said.
Cummings: Regulator wasting taxpayer money by refusing principal forgiveness
The country’s top housing regulator is frittering away taxpayer dollars by refusing to reduce mortgage principal for struggling homeowners, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) charged Wednesday.
Edward DeMarco, head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), has declined to write down the principal for loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, arguing that other anti-foreclosure strategies create bigger returns for the bailed-out mortgage giants.
Cummings, the senior Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said principal forgiveness “saves more money than any other type of modification,” and suggested DeMarco is shirking his duties by taking that option off the table.
DeMarco, Cummings said, “has a duty and an obligation to allow the use of principal reduction” but has so far “refused to allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to offer principle reduction even in cases in which it would save money compared to foreclosure or to other types of modifications.”
“That’s Mr. DeMarco’s mandate,” Cummings said during a housing summit in Washington sponsored by the National Association of Real Estate Brokers. “That is what Congress directed him to do. If principal reduction will save the taxpayers money, he should be doing it now.”
Suicides increase in Italy’s Veneto region
Published on May 5, 2012 by AlJazeeraEnglish
More than two million Italians are out of a work and the government has had to cut public spending.
But, it is not just afftecting the country’s poorer southern regions. In the country’s northern region, the Veneto, where business people pride themselves for their entrepeneural skills and an abundance of small businesses, the downturn is leading to an increase in suicides.
Al Jazeera’s Claudio Lavanga reports from Asolo.
Wars and Rumors of War
Iran dismisses Western demand to close nuclear bunker
By Fredrik Dahl
REUTERS / VIENNA
Iran said on Friday it will never suspend its uranium enrichment program and sees no reason to close the Fordow underground site, making clear Tehran’s red lines in talks with world powers later this month.
Last month a senior U.S. official said the United States and its allies would demand that Iran halt higher-grade enrichment and immediately close the Fordow facility at talks over Tehran’s nuclear standoff with the West.
But Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told Reuters he saw “no justification” for closing Fordow, which he said was under IAEA surveillance.
“When you have a safe place, secure place under IAEA control, then why do you tell me that I should close it?” he said, making clear Iran built the site to better protect its nuclear work against any Israeli or U.S. attacks.
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Prosecutors have formally charged four men with membership in a terrorist organization after allegations they planned to carry out an al-Qaeda attack in Germany.
Federal prosecutors said Thursday the group’s leader – 30-year-old Moroccan national Abdeladim El-Kebir – is also accused of undergoing training at a terror camp in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.
They say he recruited and indoctrinated the group’s other members, whose last names were not provided in line with German privacy laws.
The 32-year-old German-Moroccan Jamil S. was accused of being responsible for helping produce explosives, while 20-year-old German-Iranian national Amid C. and 27-year-old German citizen Halil S. are alleged to have had mostly logistical tasks.
The men were arrested last year.
Iran readies secret salt desert bunkers for clandestine nuclear facilities
DEBKAfileExclusive Report May 5, 2012, 1:16 PM (GMT+02:00)
When International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director Yukiya Amano declared Friday, May 4, that
“Parchin (the suspected site of nuclear-related explosion tests) is the priority and we start with that,” he may have missed the boat. As he spoke, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak said it was possible that Iran was already putting in place the infrastructure for building a nuclear bomb in 60 days.
In this regard, debkafile’s military sources disclose that Iran had by the end of 2009 early 2012 completed the construction of a new chain of underground facilities deep inside the Dasht e-Kavir (Great Salt Desert) – all linked together by huge tunnels.
Nevertheless, Tehran keeps on putting off nuclear watchdog inspections at Parchin for three reasons:
1. To carry on squeezing concessions from the US in private talks between the Obama administration and Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as from the Six Powers at their formal negotiations. Iran has won permission to enriching uranium up to 5 percent purity and is after approval for the 20 percent which is close to weapon grade.
2. The Iranians can’t be sure they have scrubbed out every last trace of the nuclear explosives and detonators tested at the Parchin military base – even after clearing away the evidence and relocating the facility in the salt desert wastelands.
Asked to define the activities he wanted inspected in Parchin, Amano said: “We do not have people there so we cannot tell what these activities are.” According to debkafile’s intelligence sources, while the IAEA may want hard physical evidence collected by its inspectors, US and Israeli intelligence have long possessed solid information on the illicit activities in Parchin collected by the nuclear-sensitive instruments carried by their military satellites.
3. To guarantee that the IAEA inspection at Parchin will be the last and there will no further demands for visits to any more suspect sites.
Tehran cannot tell exactly what data on additional facilities has reached US or Israeli intelligence and at what moment they may pull their discoveries out of their sleeves with fresh demands. Iran is therefore bargaining for a line to be drawn at Parchin to close any future road for good so that it can carry on nuclear work at the new Great Salt Desert locations safe from discovery.
debkafile’s Iranian sources report that American negotiators in their private exchanges have thrown out hints about limiting IAEA inspections. But Tehran is holding out for a more solid commitment from the US and Europe to halt all demands for IAEA visits and for the Six Powers to veto inspections at any new nuclear locations Israel may expose.
This was what Ali Asqar Soltaniyeh, Iranian ambassador to the IAEA Vienna headquarters, was driving at when he stipulated Friday that that talks with the six powers must be limited to negotiations on “a modality and framework to resolve outstanding issues and remove ambiguities.”
DEBKAfileMay 5, 2012, 11:27 AM (GMT+02:00)
After clashes with protesters in Cairo Friday, Egyptian troops fought a major battle with al Qaeda infiltrators for control of the main northern Sinai road between Sheikh Zeid and Rafah early Saturday, May 5. DEBKAfile: This road, controlled by some 20 al Qaeda-linked jihadist and Salafi mlitias, commands the Sinai smuggling tunnels into the Gaza Strip, the Egyptian gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan and enables them to hold the Multinational Observer Force at Al Gorah to siege. The battle erupted during a military raid. Tanks were sent in to back the soldiers up.
In Cairo, an overnight curfew was imposed around the defense ministry, the scene of violent clashes between demonstrators and troops. More than 130 protesters were detained.
Bombings spread in Syria as Al Qaeda seizes control of rebel factions
DEBKAfileExclusive Report April 30, 2012, 7:09 PM (GMT+02:00)
Around the first anniversary of the death of al Qaeda’s iconic leader Osama bin Laden at the hands of US special forces, the jihadist movement is making an operational comback in the Arab world and Africa. The suicide bombings hitting Damascus and Idlib in the last 24 hours were the work of Al Qaeda in Iraq – AQI, whose operatives have been pouring into Syria in the last two weeks, debkafile’s counter-terror sources report.
Washington has not asked Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki to stem the outward flow, realizing he is glad to see the backs of the terrorists and waving them across the border into Syria. Our sources report from Western agencies fighting al Qaeda that several thousand operatives have arrived in Syria to fight the Assad regime, most entering the country from the north. They come fully armed with quantities of explosives. Among them are hundreds of Saudis, Egyptians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Iraqis and Sudanese.
They quickly join up with the hundreds of al Qaeda fighters from Libya present at Free Syrian Army-FSA training camps in southeast Turkey. There, they are instructed in the geography of Syrian government, army and security forces locations, led across the border and transported to their targeted locations by special guides.
Monday, April 30, the day after Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Hood took command of a painfully inadequate force of UN UN truce supervisors, al Qaeda let loose with a spate of bombings in Damascus and the northeastern flashpoint town of Idlib. I
In the capital, they bombed the Syrian central bank with RPG grenades, ambushed a police patrol in the town center and blew up a bomb car against a Syrian military convoy driving through the Qudsiya district. Two days earlier, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the Zain al-Abideen mosque of Damascus, killing at least 9 worshippers.
These attacks were followed later Monday with three bomb blasts in Idlib at security and intelligence centers in the town, killing some 20 people, most of them security personnel. One command center was destroyed and hundreds were injured by the force of the blasts.
The Syrian ruler Bashar Assad keeps on complaining that his regime is under assault by terrorists and many of the fatalities reported are members of his army and police. But his own brutal methods against dissidents have deafened the West to these complaints and the world addresses its demands to halt the violence to him and him alone.
There is nothing new about the refusal in the West to heed the fact that al Qaeda infiltrators are increasingly responsible for violence in the various parts of the Arab Revolt. In Libya too, Muammar Qaddafi warned repeatedly that his overthrow would result in al Qaeda-linked groups seizing control of the country and commandeering his vast arsenals of weapons.
Articles of Interest
Senator asks UK for evidence linking News Corp. scandal to Americans
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has asked an investigator in the United Kingdom to reveal whether he has found any evidence that links the phone-hacking scandal at News Corp. to U.S. citizens.
Rockefeller sent a letter to Lord Justice Brian Leveson, the House of Lords member leading the investigation of News Corp. in the United Kingdom, and asked whether “any of the evidence you are reviewing … suggests unethical … and sometimes illegal business practices occurred in the United States or involved U.S. citizens.
In his letter, the Senate Commerce Committee chairman noted that Leveson’s inquiry and other investigations “are continuing to expose disturbing new evidence” about News Corp. employee conduct, ranging from illegal tapping of phones to outright bribery.
Rupert Murdoch heads News Corp., which is also the parent company of Fox. Murdoch’s former newspaper, News of the World, is under investigation in England for allegedly bugging phones in order to obtain stories.
Rockefeller said he’s concerned that some of the undisclosed victims identified by the U.K. investigation were U.S. citizens.
“I am concerned about the possibility that some of these undisclosed victims are U.S. citizens,” he said, “and the possibility that telephone networks under the jurisdiction of U.S. laws were used to intercept their voice mail messages.”
Ohio Gov. Kasich concerned by climate change, but won’t ‘apologize’ for coal
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) acknowledged Wednesday that his belief in climate change cuts against the grain in the Republican Party, but don’t look for him to embrace Environmental Protection Agency regulations any time soon.
“I am a believer — my goodness I am a Republican — I happen to believe there is a problem with climate change. I don’t want to overreact to it, I can’t measure it all, but I respect the creation that the Lord has given us and I want to make sure we protect it,” Kasich said at a Columbus, Ohio, energy conference hosted by The Hill.
“But we can’t overreact to it and make things up, but it is something we have to recognize is a problem,” Kasich said.
Kasich touted efforts to help spur development of carbon capture and storage for coal, which has not been adopted on a commercial scale, and criticized what he cast as an overaggressive EPA.
“We are going to continue to work on cleaning coal, but I want to tell you, we are going to dig it, we are going to clean it, and we are going to burn it in Ohio, and we are not going to apologize for it,” he said during wide-ranging remarks on energy at the conference. Ohio is a coal-producing state and home to American Electric Power, a major coal-burning utility.
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