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Member since: 2003 before July 6th
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U.S. Policy Change On Cuba Stalled - By Obama

(Reuters) - U.S. relations with Cuba are at their best in almost two decades, but President Barack Obama seems unwilling or unable to confront a well-organized anti-Cuba lobby and push for further progress.

Obama suggested change was coming at a Miami fundraiser in November, saying "we have to be creative, and we have to be thoughtful, and we have to continue to update our policies" on Cuba, and yet he has withheld using his executive power since last easing Cuban travel restrictions in January 2011.

Many Cuba experts and policy analysts say a fundamental revision of Cuba policy is overdue and that greater U.S. involvement could promote the market-oriented reforms under way on the communist-ruled island since Cuban President Raul Castro took over for his ailing brother Fidel in 2008.

The Obama administration says Cuba must first improve human rights and release imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who was sentenced to 15 years for attempting to establish an illegal communications network on the island.



Job Cuts Surge In January, Up 47 Percent From Previous Month

Source: UPI

CHICAGO, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- Job cuts announced by U.S. employers jumped 47 percent in January from December's 13-year low, a private outplacement firm said Thursday.

Layoff announcements jumped from 30,623 in December to 45,107 in January with the retail sector leading the pack in the month after the holiday season, Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported.

Poor earnings during the holiday season prompted the heavy retail job cuts, the outplacement firm said.

Layoffs were announced in January at Macy's, Sam's Club, JCPenney, Sears, Best Buy and Target, as retailers in total cut 11,394 positions, a 71 percent increase over cuts announced in January 2013.

Read more: http://www.upi.com/Business_News/2014/02/06/Job-cuts-surge-in-January-up-47-percent-from-previous-month/UPI-81021391702513/

Ukraine Leader To Sochi As Kremlin Warns May Act Against "Coup"


(Reuters) - Ukraine's embattled president flew to Russia on Thursday as a senior Kremlin aide urged him to stamp out a standoff on the streets, calling it an attempted coup financed and armed by the United States.

Caught in a rip-tide of competing enticements and threats from Russia and the West, President Viktor Yanukovich flew to Sochi where he was expected to meet Vladimir Putin before the Russian leader opens the Winter Olympics on Friday evening.

The bitter tug-of-war going on between east and west broke out into dirty tricks on the Internet, with what appeared to be online leaks of bugged recordings of top U.S. and EU diplomats discussing efforts to help Yanukovich's opponents into power.

And the Kremlin aide, a key Putin adviser on Ukraine, added to the Cold War ambience of Russia's first Olympics since 1980 by warning that Moscow could intervene to defend Ukraine's sovereignty under the terms of the 1994 pact with the United States under which Kiev gave up nuclear weapons inherited from the Soviet Union.

Read more: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/06/us-ukraine-idUSBREA151QL20140206

Power Outages Could Last For Days In Storm-Battered Northeast

Source: LA TIMES

By Michael Muskal

February 6, 2014

Hundreds of thousands of electricity customers in parts of Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania waited for power to be turned back on as states fought to clean up Thursday from the second major storm this week.

Up to a foot of snow fell in parts of the Northeast on Wednesday, still reeling from the first storm at the beginning of the week. Schools have been closed in many areas, as have businesses and government offices. The cold coated many power lines with heavy ice that brought them down.

As its peak, nearly a million people were without power in storm-socked states. Pennsylvania had the most outages, with about 849,000 customers hit. As many as 3,500 utility workers worked feverishly to repair the damage, according to PECO, the utility. Despite successes, work remained to be done.

“With damage still occurring, it is too early to determine when service will be restored to all customers,” the utility warned in a posting on its website. “Based on the conditions and damages so far, we believe we will be able to restore service to most customers in the next few days. However, some customers – in more heavily damaged areas – could be without service into the weekend.”

Read more: http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-pennsylvania-power-out-winter-storm-20140206,0,3887119.story#axzz2sZiNxxYN

Rouhani Spars With Iran State TV Delaying Broadcast

By Kambiz Foroohar - Feb 6, 2014

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in unprecedented public sparring with state authorities, accused the official television company of trying to keep him off the air by deliberately holding up his address to the nation.

Rouhani said on Twitter yesterday that the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting head, Ezatollah Zarghami, was obstructing his “discussion with the people.” As his speech was due to air, state TV showed video clips from the Islamic revolution of 1979 -- images of soldiers clashing with fist-pumping demonstrators, against a soundtrack of revolutionary slogans. Iranians mark the anniversary of the revolution on Feb. 11.

Rouhani has clashed with conservatives in Iran who have opposed diplomatic initiatives such as the phone conversation with President Barack Obama that ended a three-decade taboo, and the nuclear accord reached with world powers in Geneva in November. Zarghami reports to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the top decision-maker in the Islamic Republic.

Scrolling banners on the TV screen attributed the delay to technical problems. Local media, including the state-run Iranian Students News Agency, gave other, conflicting accounts, including disputes over the choice of a presenter and which journalists would put questions to Rouhani.
‘Bit Late’

The president referred several times to the spat once the program eventually went on air about an hour late. “We are a bit late, and the viewers might be tired,” he said in his introductory remarks.



U.S. Freeze Costs $3.5 Billion Including Travel Delays

Source: Bloomberg

Winter storms that brought heavy snowfall, freezing rain and Arctic air to the U.S. last month will probably cost more than $3.5 billion in economic losses, according to insurance broker Aon Plc.

Insurers estimated losses of more than $1.4 billion from the second week of January, the most costly of four extreme-weather periods during the month, the London-based broker said today in a report. Insured losses from the three other stretches totaled about $200 million.

At least 21 people were killed from Jan. 5 through 8, as more than 20 inches (51 centimeters) of snow fell in the Great Lakes region and Ohio Valley and freezing rain pelted the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Widespread property damage and severe travel delays added to the costs.

“The combination of physical damages and business-interruption costs have quickly aggregated into direct economic losses well into the billions of dollars,” Steve Bowen, a senior scientist at Aon’s forecasting unit, said in a statement. He said this is the costliest year for “winter weather peril” since 2011.

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-06/u-s-freeze-costs-3-5-billion-including-travel-delays.html

Treasury to Sell Record Amount of Bills as Debt Pact Expires

The U.S. Treasury Department will auction a record amount of three- and six-month bills next week, giving it greater flexibility after tomorrow’s expiration of an agreement that suspended the nation’s debt limit.

The U.S. will sell $42 billion in three-month bills and $42 billion in six-month securities at its weekly auction on Feb. 10. The three-month offering is $14 billion more than the previous week, while the six-month is $22 billion higher. Treasury will also auction $50 billion of 72-day cash-management bills the same day.

Congress and President Barack Obama agreed in October to suspend the debt limit until tomorrow as part of an agreement to end a 16-day partial government shutdown. Under the agreement, Treasury was effectively required not to have a cash balance as of tomorrow that exceeded the balance on the date of the pact, according to Stone & McCarthy Research Associates. Treasury is now free to issue as much debt as it wants until extraordinary measures used to create room until the limit are exhausted.

“The rule forced them into a position where their cash balances are smaller at a time when they have to pay out a lot in tax returns,” said Thomas Simons, a government-debt economist in New York at Jefferies LLC, one of 21 primary dealers that are required to bid at Treasury auctions. “The Treasury has a significant need for cash. Its prudent planning to have a lot of cash on hand.”

Rates Rise

Secretary Jacob J. Lew said that the U.S. expects to run out of borrowing capacity by the end of February. The Treasury uses so-called extraordinary measures, or accounting maneuvers, to stay under the ceiling. Lew said some measures that the Treasury has previously used to remain under the debt limit aren’t available this time.



Trade Gap Shrank in 2013 as U.S. Fuel Exports Climbed: Economy

The U.S. trade deficit in 2013 was the smallest since 2009, even as it ticked up at year’s end, as rising fuel exports and falling imports propelled the world’s biggest economy further toward energy independence.

The gap narrowed to $471.5 billion last year, the lowest since 2009, from $534.7 billion in 2012, figures from the Commerce Department showed today in Washington. The balance on petroleum products shrank 20.2 percent, also the biggest decline in four years.

Foreign sales went beyond fuel as demand for American-produced foods, capital equipment, autos and consumer goods all climbed to records in 2013, evidence of the rebound in global demand that will probably keep driving exports this year. Another report showing claims for jobless benefits dropped last week points to a healing in the U.S. labor market that will help boost consumer spending, ensuring imports also grow.

“The trade deficit will continue to narrow a bit over the course of 2014, mostly thanks to a smaller petroleum trade deficit,” said Ryan Wang, an economist at HSBC Securities USA Inc. in New York and the second-best trade forecaster over the past two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “We’ll see another year of moderate growth.”

Stocks rose, with equities trimming a weekly loss, as investors were heartened by the decline in unemployment claims and weighed earnings releases of companies from Walt Disney Co. to Twitter Inc. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed 1 percent to 1,769.66 at 1:11 p.m. in New York.



Jihadi Threat Grows as Egypt Turns to al-Seesi for Security

The rise of Abdelfatah al-Seesi in Egypt is pouring fuel on an Islamist militant campaign that threatens his image as the only man who can restore stability.

The defense minister, who overthrew elected leader Mohamed Mursi in July, is increasingly touted as a presidential candidate himself, winning the blessing of fellow generals last month. Expectations that he’ll end Egypt’s turmoil are helping to drive gains on markets. Yet the army-backed government’s strategy for restoring order risks fueling reprisals by militant Islamist groups who are expanding their capacity to attack.

Bombings and shootings that were mostly confined to the Sinai peninsula have spread to Cairo and the Nile Delta. Militants claimed to have shot down a military helicopter in Sinai last month with surface-to-air missile, suggesting they have upgraded their arsenal. The army’s growing war against those groups runs in parallel with a drive to crush Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood, which has left its leaders in jail and hundreds of its supporters dead.

“The repressive tactics used by the military establishment in trying to restore stability, the crackdowns on human-rights activists and protesters, are turning Egypt into a breeding ground for extremist groups,” said Islam Al Tayeb, a research analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Manama, Bahrain. “It’s no surprise that these attacks are gaining momentum.”



Democrats Split Over Syria, Iran

The unity that guided congressional Democrats through last fall’s budget battles is fracturing over debates in the foreign policy arena. Republicans are looking to take advantage of their rivals’ inter-party fights.

Over strong objections from the president, 16 Senate Democrats support a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran should the country fail to reach a permanent agreement with international negotiators to roll back its nuclear program. Those senators, along with 43 Republicans, argue that tough sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place and further pressure would flex American muscle in the 6-month talks toward crafting a permanent solution. The bill drew support from Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, and Harry Reid, D-Nev., both close allies of Obama’s but also leading supporters of policies favoring Israel. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, America’s most powerful pro-Israel advocacy group, has lobbied members of Congress from both parties to support the sanctions.

Other Democrats are siding with the Obama administration, which argues that imposing new sanctions damaged “good-faith” negotiations while empowering Iran’s hard-liners rooting for the talks to fail. (A National Security Council spokeswoman charged last month that the sanctions bill could end negotiations and bring the U.S. closer to war.)

The Senate bill has been losing steam ever since the White House ratcheted up pressure on Senate Democrats to abandon the it. Introduced in December by Democrat Robert Menendez, D-N.J. and Sen. Mark Kirk. R-Ill., the legislation was backed by 59 members – but now Senate leaders say they will hold off bringing the legislation to a vote until the six-month negotiation process ends.

Adam Sharon, a spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Menendez chairs, said the New Jersey Senator stands behind the bill that bears his name.


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