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Obama ‘Really Impressed’ With Pope Francis And His Regard For The Less Fortunate

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 31, 2014 12:28 EST

US President Barack Obama expressed strong admiration of Pope Francis for promoting “a true sense of brotherhood and sisterhood and regard for those who are less fortunate,” in an interview aired Friday.

“I have been really impressed so far with the way he’s communicated what I think is the essence of the Christian faith,” Obama told CNN of the pontiff who has refashioned the image of the Roman Catholic Church since his installation last year.

The US president, who will visit the Vatican in March, said he didn’t believe Francis was acting out of a desire to gain widespread approval.

Rather, “I think he is very much reflecting on his faith and what he needs to do to make sure that folks — not just of the Catholic faith but people all around the world — are living out a message that he thinks is consistent with the lessons of Jesus Christ,” Obama said.

“That’s a meeting I’m looking forward to,” he added of the planned March 27 sit-down.



Detroit Bankruptcy Plan Favors Pensioners Over Bondholders

By Chris Christoff and Brian Chappatta Jan 31, 2014

Detroit’s pensions would get more than twice what creditors who loaned the city money for those funds would receive under a proposal to restructure its $18 billion of debt.

The draft plan given to creditors this week by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr offers different recovery rates for classes of unsecured creditors. Pension funds would get 45 to 50 cents on the dollar, though retiree health-care liabilities would recoup just 13 cents, according to the plan.

The record municipal bankruptcy may set precedents in how retirees and bondholders are prioritized when a locality falls into distress. Investors in the $3.7 trillion municipal-debt market have assumed that states and cities would raise taxes as high as necessary to make full payments on general obligations.

Orr’s plan, reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal, makes clear that unsecured creditors, with $9.2 billion in claims, would be treated differently in the bankruptcy, which came after the one-time industrial giant was unable to pay bills or provide adequate services. The proposal was given this week to creditors for feedback, as Orr prepares to submit a restructuring plan to federal bankruptcy court.

“If you’re a bondholder in the state of Michigan, every pledge should be viewed as a subordinate pledge going forward,” said Adam Mackey, head of munis at PNC Capital Advisors LLC in Philadelphia. “Ultimately you’re going to see Michigan debt be penalized.”



Keystone Report Said Likely to Disappoint Pipeline Foes, Ranchers: 'We Will Sue'

The U.S. State Department is preparing to issue a report as soon as today that will probably disappoint environmental groups and opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, according to people briefed on agency discussions.

While the report will deviate from a March draft in some ways to the liking of environmentalists, the revisions won’t be as sweeping as they had sought, several people familiar with the government’s deliberations over the review told Bloomberg News. Changes could still be made to the report before its release.

The March report concluded that the Canada-U.S. oil pipeline would have only a minimal impact on carbon emissions, because the oil sands in Alberta will be developed anyway. Several people briefed on the findings, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, said they expect the final report will track that conclusion.

The State Department findings will influence whether President Barack Obama approves TransCanada Corp.’s $5.4 billion project, which supporters say will create thousands of construction jobs. Obama has said he will consider the report’s conclusions on climate change in making a final decision.

Release of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement will kick off a separate review in which Obama must determine whether building the pipeline is in the U.S. national interest.



Syrian Peace Talks’ Modest Goals Threaten to Backfire

The failure of the first round of the Syrian peace talks to achieve even their most modest goal -- allowing humanitarian access to the city of Homs -- now threatens to derail the effort to end the country’s civil war.

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad has refused to let an aid convoy enter blockaded areas of Homs, derailing United Nations mediator Lakhdar Brahimi’s effort to build confidence in the “Geneva II” talks by reaching consensus on matters less contentious than forming a transitional government that might not include Assad.

While President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address this week that “we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve -- a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear,” the talks may have the opposite effect after the first round ended today without tangible accomplishments.

“The regime can use agreements over humanitarian issues -- which will be difficult to implement anyway -- to claim that it is cooperating with the international community, even as the regime continues its brutal actions in Syria,” said Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East Center in Beirut. “The longer the Geneva II talks last, the longer the Assad regime can stay in power as negotiations continue.”



U.S. Consumer Spending Rose In December, Confidence Slips This Month


(Reuters) - U.S. consumer spending rose in December, but an ebb in consumer confidence and signs of cooling in factory activity this month suggested economic growth could moderate in the first quarter.

The Commerce Department said on Friday that consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, increased 0.4 percent after advancing 0.6 percent in November.

Last month's rise beat economists' expectations for a 0.2 percent gain.

While December's increase provided a firmer base for first-quarter spending, weak income growth could erode momentum. Income was flat after rising 0.2 percent in November.

Read more: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/31/us-economy-consumer-idUSBREA0U0VK20140131

Knesset Member Implies Kerry Guided By Anti-Semitism

Moti Yogev says top US diplomat has ‘anti-Israel foundations,’ pressure on Israel has undertones of Jew-hatred

BY LAZAR BERMAN January 30, 2014, 2:16 pm

Jewish Home party MK insinuated on Thursday morning that US Secretary of State John Kerry was at least partially motivated by anti-Semitism in his efforts to forge a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians

“The prime minister (Benjamin Netanyahu) is maneuvering under the obsessive and unprofessional pressures that might also bear an undertone of anti-Semitism on Kerry’s part,” MK Moti Yogev told Israel Radio.

“He has an anti-Israel foundation in that he does not come to compromise, but instead comes with unequivocal answers about shrinking the Land of Israel and establishing a Palestinian state,” Yogev added. “The members of my faction also think that he is not a fair broker and he is not fit to mediate here because his positions are predetermined.”

Yogev also lambasted Netanyahu in the interview, saying that “there is no circus performer the prime minister in his maneuverings.”

Earlier in January, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was quoted as making scathing statements about Kerry’s involvement in the peace negotiations, calling him “obsessive” and “messianic,” and describing his West Bank security proposals as worthless. The comments elicited outrage from Washington that led to an apology from the defense minister.

Read more: Knesset member implies Kerry guided by anti-Semitism | The Times of Israel http://www.timesofisrael.com/jewish-home-mk-implies-kerry-guided-by-anti-semitism/#ixzz2rvgYUvcC

US Economy Shrugs Off Shutdown With 3.2% Growth In Fourth Quarter

The US economy expanded at an annual rate of 3.2% in the last three months of 2013, the Commerce Department said on Thursday, as consumers and businesses largely ignored a government shutdown and fight over the debt ceiling.

The pace of growth slowed from 4.1% in the previous quarter but still means that US gross domestic product (GDP) the broadest measure of goods and services produced across the economy, grew at an annual rate of 3.7% in the last half of 2013, a pace unseen since 2003.

A weak first half of the year dragged the annual rate of growth down to 1.9% for all of 2013, down from 2.8% in 2012.

“When we take into account the near three-week federal government shutdown at the start of the quarter, the 3.2% annualized gain in fourth-quarter GDP growth is pretty impressive, particularly since it followed a 4.1% gain in the third quarter. The broader picture is that, as the massive fiscal drag diminishes, US economic growth is accelerating,” Paul Ashworth, chief US economist, Capital Economics wrote in a note to investors.

The fourth-quarter number, the Commerce Department’s first estimate of GDP in the period, benefitted from healthy gains in consumer spending as 2013 drew to a close. Personal consumption expenditures, which make up more than two-thirds of GDP, rose by an annual rate of 3.3%, the strongest pace in three years.



Senate OKs Reversing Flood Insurance Hikes, But Obama Opposes, House Prospects Uncertain


WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Thursday passed legislation to delay steep increases in homeowners’ federal flood insurance premiums, which were put in place less than two years ago to stabilize the federal flood insurance program.

The bill would delay the rate increases for four years while the Federal Emergency Management Agency completes an affordability study and certifies that new maps of flood zones are scientifically based. The vote was 67-32, with strong bipartisan support.

Its fate in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, however, was uncertain. House Speaker John Boehner has not said whether he will bring a companion bill to a vote. Boehner’s office has said only that the House “may consider changes to the law in the weeks and months ahead that both help homeowners and protect taxpayers.”

The flood insurance premium increases went into effect starting last year under the 2012 Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act. That law required FEMA to develop new rates for flood insurance premiums that more accurately reflected flood risks. The intent of the law was to stop losses to the National Flood Insurance Program, which has a $24 billion deficit.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/30/3903554/senate-oks-reversing-flood-insurance.html

So when the next hurricane hits, the US taxpayer will get to subsidize the recovery of the beach front property owners, eh?

Pro-Israel PACs Went All In For Senators Supporting Iran Sanctions, But They're Still Losing

WASHINGTON -- The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has received the lion's share of attention for its support of and potential failure to pass a new Iran sanctions bill in the face of fierce presidential opposition. But the pre-eminent pro-Israel lobby group in the U.S. has not been alone in this fight. It has been joined by a network of lesser known pro-Israel PACs equipped with one persuasive tool that AIPAC lacks: campaign contributions.

Representing communities of Jewish Americans from Long Island to Florida, from northern New Jersey to Tucson, Ariz., and the San Francisco Bay Area, these PACs have pumped more than $5.4 million into federal campaigns while hosting dozens of fundraisers and other events for members of Congress since 2011. Usually they receive little coverage, but as Chuck Gannon, president of the pro-Israel Desert Caucus PAC, told the Arizona Jewish Post, "It’s not a secret among politicians."

And these pro-Israel PACs have tended to be as determined as AIPAC in their call for tougher sanctions against Iran.

The sanctions legislation that stirred up the current fuss was introduced by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) in December and quickly picked up 58 co-sponsors. It's aimed at the temporary nuclear deal hashed out between Iran and six world powers, including the United States, and supporters claim it would strengthen the U.S.'s hand against Iran. Opponents say it threatens to undermine the delicate balance of the agreement.

President Barack Obama reiterated his view in Tuesday night's State of the Union address: He warned lawmakers of both parties that he opposed that legislation while his administration and international allies were engaged in the first fruitful diplomatic efforts to reel in Iran's nuclear power ambitions.



Echoing Soviet Era, Putin Uses Oil Giant Rosneft to Tighten Economic Grip

When Igor Sechin was working as President Vladimir Putin’s deputy chief of staff a decade ago, visitors to his Kremlin office noticed an unusual collection on the bookshelves: row after row of bound volumes containing minutes of Communist Party congresses.

The record stretched across the history of the party and its socialist predecessor -- from the first meeting in March 1898 to the last one in July 1990, a year and a half before the Soviet Union collapsed, Bloomberg Markets will report in its March issue.

Sechin regularly perused the documents and took notes, says Dmitry Skarga, who at the time was chief executive officer of Russia’s largest shipping company, OAO Sovcomflot.

“He was drinking from this fountain of sacred knowledge so that Russia could restore its superpower status and take its rightful place in the world,” Skarga says.

Sechin’s back-to-the-future fascination with his country’s communist past is something he shares with Putin, who, soon after coming to power in 1999, restored the music (though not the lyrics) of the Soviet-era national anthem and later described the collapse of the USSR as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.


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