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Member since: 2003 before July 6th
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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.



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.



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.



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

California: Gov. Jerry Brown's approval rating hits new high in election year

Welcome to the Landslide State.

Gov. Jerry Brown's approval rating has hit a record high among voters and his budget proposal for the next fiscal year has won bipartisan support from rich and poor Californians living all across the state, according to a new poll.

As Brown prepares to announce his widely anticipated re-election bid, 58 percent of adults and 60 percent of likely voters told the Public Policy Institute of California that they approve of the way he is handling his job, up from 49 percent in December.

The governor's job performance won praise from more than 3 in 4 Democrats and a majority of independent voters -- the bread and butter of California's electorate.

And if November's gubernatorial election were held tomorrow, 53 percent of likely voters polled would pick Brown while 17 percent said they favor Tim Donnelly, a Republican assemblyman from Twin Peaks whose candidacy is supported by the tea party.

"All of this adds up to one thing," said Bill Whalen, a former aide to former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution. "Jerry Brown is in a formidable position to be re-elected."



Natural Gas Soars to Four-Year High as February Contract Expires

Source: Bloomberg

By Christine Buurma - Jan 29, 2014

Natural gas surged to a four-year high in New York as forecasts for tumbling stockpiles during a frigid winter prompted the strongest rally in 19 months.

Gas jumped 10 percent, the biggest percentage gain since June 14, 2012, on the last day of trading for February futures. WSI Corp., an Andover, Massachusetts-based forecaster, said the weather may be colder than usual in most of the contiguous U.S. from Feb. 3 through Feb. 7. A government report tomorrow may show that stockpiles slid 231 billion cubic feet last week, compared with a five-year average drop of 162 billion, according to the median of 15 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

“It looks like a short squeeze,” said Aaron Calder, an analyst at Gelber & Associates in Houston. “We usually see a flurry of activity toward the end of expiration day, but this is kind of crazy. Traders are pricing in a very cold February, stronger storage withdrawals and concerns about low inventory levels at the end of the winter.”

Natural gas for February delivery jumped 52.4 cents to $5.557 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the highest settlement since Jan. 25, 2010. Trading volume was 46 percent above the 100-day average at 2:50 p.m. Prices are up 31 percent this month, heading for a fourth consecutive monthly gain.

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-29/natural-gas-drops-second-day-this-week-amid-colder-u-s-weather.html

Locally we are dealing with propane shortages around mid-michigan. Besides the extreme cold, we had a wet harvest season that required much more drying of corn before storage and we are shipping quite a bit of propane to China.

Normal propane costs had been around 1.99g but now is going for around $5 with one distributor asking $7.99g with a minimum 200g delivery.

We use a combo of wood, heating oil and electric to stay thawed but are working our way through the woodpile in a hurry.

Westerners Among Al Jazeera Staff Charged in Egypt for Terrorist Activity

By Salma El Wardany - Jan 29, 2014

Egypt’s authorities pressed charges of joining a terrorist group against 20 staff members of the Arab television channel Al Jazeera, including an Australian, two Britons and a Dutch citizen.

The defendants, the rest of whom are Egyptian, are also charged with spreading false news that endangers national security and harms Egypt’s image, according to a faxed statement from the prosecution yesterday. It said they used two suites in a luxury hotel in Cairo as a media center to pursue those aims.

The prosecutors said the defendants “fabricated footage” to create “unreal scenes” and give the impression to the outside world that “the country is witnessing a civil war.” It said their efforts were intended to serve the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was declared a terrorist group by Egyptian authorities last month.

The Brotherhood has been the target of an unprecedented crackdown since Egypt’s army toppled elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July. Many of its top leaders are on trial, including Mursi, and hundreds of supporters have been killed by security forces as they protested the military intervention.

Al Jazeera is owned by Qatar’s ruling family, who are among the main supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, and backed Egypt with financial aid during Mursi’s one-year presidency.



Russia Raises Stakes for Ukraine as Yanukovych Digs In

By Kateryna Choursina and Daryna Krasnolutska - Jan 29, 2014

Russia ramped up pressure on Ukraine with a threat of withholding aid until it forms a new cabinet as President Viktor Yanukovych refused to drop conditions for pardoning protesters, prolonging the country’s crisis.

As President Vladimir Putin warned that Russia would hold aid to Ukraine until the country has a new government, lawmakers in Kiev haggled for 12 hours over amnesty proposals after a string of concessions by the administration. A day after accepting his prime minister’s resignation, Yanukovych pushed through a bill that requires activists to relinquish seized buildings before their comrades in custody are freed.

Yanukovych, 63, is facing calls to resign in protests that have spread from the capital to other cities since his rejection of a European Union association pact in November. The demonstrations turned deadly last week and the turmoil has reignited a tug-of-war between Russia and Europe for influence in the nation of 45 million people. The opposition vowed to stay on the streets.

“The law does everything to escalate the situation,” Vitali Klitschko, 39, the leader of the opposition UDAR party, said before the vote. “The opposition will hold its position and fight on for the release of all detained and arrested activists.”



California Farms Going Thirsty as Drought Burns $5 Billion Hole

By Elizabeth Campbell and Megan Durisin - Jan 28, 2014

Near the confluence of the Merced and San Joaquin rivers, the heart of the California farm belt, Bob Kelley watches the driest year ever erode water supplies and prospects for the dairy business his family began in 1910.

The amount of water available for the 2,800 acres (1,133 hectares) of corn and alfalfa Kelley grows to feed more than 6,500 cows may drop as much as two thirds, so fewer crops will be planted and some animals will be sold to avoid the expense of buying grain, he said by telephone from Newman, about 83 miles (134 kilometers) southeast of San Francisco.

“It would impact us for not just 2014, but all of 2015,” said Kelley, 60, who runs a local water district that will cut output by at least half. “I’m anticipating a very difficult time, and I’m probably the best off of anybody I know.”

The drought in California, the top U.S. agricultural producer at $44.7 billion, is depriving the state of water needed to produce everything from milk, beef and wine to some of the nation’s largest fruit and vegetable crops, including avocados, strawberries and almonds. Lost revenue in 2014 from farming and related businesses such as trucking and processing could reach $5 billion, according to estimates by the 300-member California Farm Water Coalition, an industry group.

The state was the driest ever in 2013, a third straight year of little moisture. California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency on Jan. 17 as arid conditions he called “unprecedented” continued well into the annual rainy season that runs from October through March. Reservoirs on Jan. 27 were at 61 percent of average, while the mountain snow-pack as of Dec. 30 that supplies most of the state’s water was at 20 percent of normal for that time of year, data show.


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