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Purveyor

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Member since: 2003 before July 6th
Number of posts: 20,010

Journal Archives

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.”

MORE...

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-31/syrian-peace-talks-modest-goals-threaten-to-backfire.html

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

Source: REUTERS

(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.

MORE...

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jan/30/us-economy-growth-fourth-quarter-2013

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

Source: MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU


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.

more...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/30/iran-sanctions-pacs_n_4695417.html?utm_hp_ref=politics

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.

more...

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-29/putin-uses-oil-giant-rosneft-to-tighten-grip-on-economy.html

Pending Sales of U.S. Existing Homes Slump Most Since 2010

Contracts to purchase previously owned homes in the U.S. plunged in December by the most since May 2010 as higher borrowing costs and bad weather held back sales.

A gauge of pending home sales slumped 8.7 percent after a revised 0.3 percent drop in November that was initially reported as a gain, the National Association of Realtors said today in Washington. The median projection in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for the index to drop 0.3 percent.

Tight inventory and unusually cold weather discouraged prospective buyers, according to the group. Further gains in hiring, household wealth and consumer confidence would help boost the housing recovery and the economy.

“Of course weather had an impact,” said Christophe Barraud, chief economist at Market Securities LLP in Paris, whose forecast of a 5.3 percent drop was the lowest in the Bloomberg survey. “The housing recovery will slow in 2014 but the sector is still going in the right direction.”

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey of 38 economists ranged from a decline of 5.3 percent to an advance of 3.5 percent. The December decrease was the biggest since the month following the expiration of a government tax credit in April 2010.

more...

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-30/pending-sales-of-u-s-existing-homes-slump-most-since-may-2010.html

No surprise here considering the weather.

Obama’s Goals Clash as Allies Say Trade Push Widens Income Gap

Even as he calls income inequality the “defining challenge of our time,” President Barack Obama is pursuing new trade agreements that some of his political allies say will only make the problem worse.

Obama says expanded trade will generate high-paying jobs for an economy that’s still more than 1 million paychecks short of its pre-recession peak. His critics in the labor movement and some economists say previous deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, destroyed millions of factory jobs.

“It has absolutely been a contributor to the rise in inequality,” said economist Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington research group partially funded by labor groups. “We would have a different country, with less inequality, had we not seen the developments in the global economy that we’ve had over the last 15 to 20 years.”

The concern that Obama is fanning over the income gap could boomerang on his plans. Five fellow Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee this month said they won’t vote for giving the president “fast track” authority to speed trade deals through Congress, citing in part the risk to jobs.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday said he also opposes the legislation. “Everyone would be well-advised just to not push this right now,” he told reporters in Washington.

The discontent in Obama’s party could be bad news for companies such as Procter & Gamble Co. (PG) and Citigroup Inc. (C), which are seeking better protection for intellectual property in the Pacific trade deal.

more...

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-30/obama-s-goals-clash-as-allies-say-trade-push-widens-income-gap.html

Cruz Vows Spending Fight on Debt Cap Boehner May Avoid

Source: Bloomberg

By Kathleen Hunter Jan 30, 2014 11:28 AM E

Senator Ted Cruz vowed to use a debate over raising the federal debt ceiling as leverage to extract a new round of U.S. spending cuts, even as House Speaker John Boehner told reporters that defaulting would be “the wrong thing” for the country.

Cruz, the Texas Republican who led the fight to defund Obamacare that contributed to a 16-day partial government shutdown in October, said today he wouldn’t give in to Democratic demands to raise the debt limit without conditions.

“We should not raise the debt ceiling without significant structural reforms that address the out of control spending and out of control debt in Washington,” Cruz said at a Bloomberg Government breakfast. “The debt ceiling is the natural lever point to address the out-of-control spending and debt. It has historically been the most effective lever point to doing so.”

Cruz’s comments came as Boehner, an Ohio Republican, refused to say whether House Republicans would seek to attach spending reductions to a debt-ceiling increase.

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-30/cruz-vows-spending-fight-on-debt-cap-boehner-may-avoid.html
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