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Reagan Revolution Misses Tax Fiefdoms Flourishing in U.S.

By Tim Jones and John McCormick - Oct 28, 2013
Nothing thrives in Illinois like local government -- almost 7,000 units that tax, spend and drive up debt in a state struggling to pay off vendors and cover almost $100 billion of unfunded pension liabilities.

More than any other state, Illinois illustrates how local taxing bodies flourish across the U.S., whether urban or rural, Republican or Democrat. The governments duplicate services and burn tax dollars at the same time states slash money for education and Washington cuts discretionary spending.

In Illinois, which has the 11th highest state and local tax burden in the U.S., overlapping government agencies managing everything from mosquito abatement to fire protection collect billions of dollars, employ tens of thousands and consume resources that could help pay pension deficits and $7.5 billion in outstanding government bills.

“The big focus is on Washington D.C. and deficits and tax increases,” said Dan Cronin, chairman of the DuPage County board in the longtime Republican stronghold west of Chicago. “But people frequently overlook a significant chunk represented by under-the-radar government -- quiet, sleepy, unaccountable.”

Across the country, there are 38,266 special purpose districts, or government units distinct from cities, counties and schools, each with its own ability to raise money. Since President Ronald Reagan declared in his 1981 inaugural address that government “is not the solution to our problem -- government is the problem,” their numbers have jumped 32 percent.



Yellen Poised to Rival Obama With Financial Power

By Caroline Salas Gage and Steve Matthews - Oct 28, 2013

Janet Yellen, nominated by President Barack Obama to succeed Ben S. Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve, is poised to become the most economically powerful woman in the world.

Yellen, 67, would be the first female head of the 100-year-old Fed and also the first woman to lead any central bank among the Group of Seven economies, which include the U.K., Germany and Japan. Her appointment, if confirmed by the Senate, would put a woman at the pinnacle of the economics field, helping change a history of male-dominated culture among policy makers across the globe.

“Given the shortage of women in important positions within our profession, she has not only broken the glass ceiling, she has completely smashed it to pieces,” said Mark Gertler, a New York University economist who has coauthored research with Bernanke and praised Yellen’s qualifications. “Just about everyone with any connection to the world of monetary policy is vigorously applauding Janet Yellen’s nomination.”

It “is very significant,” Gill Marcus, the first woman to head South Africa’s central bank, told reporters in Cape Town Oct. 9. “When you talk about women governors, well, it will be a great advance.”

If she is confirmed, she will have an influence on every American’s finances -- from credit-card bills to mortgages and food prices -- in addition to running the regulator of the nation’s largest banks and nonbank companies deemed systemically important, said Mark Calabria, director of financial-regulation studies at the Cato Institute in Washington.



Obamacare Websites Limited by Verizon Data Hub Failure

By Alex Wayne - Oct 28, 2013

Rollout of the U.S. health-care overhaul is facing mounting delays as a key computer service that failed yesterday remained dormant, three days after the Obama administration said its insurance exchange website would be working smoothly in about a month.

The data services hub that supplies tax information to websites run by the federal government and 14 states to sell medical coverage, was unavailable following a malfunction at the hosting center. The center, operated by Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) unit Terremark, lost connectivity after workers tried to replace a broken networking component, said Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

The Obama administration has been under fire since Oct. 1 for persistent problems with computer systems assembled to help people compare and enroll in insurance plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Just three days ago, Jeffrey Zients, the adviser brought in to help fix the flaws, said “the data hub, we believe, functions relatively smoothly.”

“Our engineers have been working with HHS and other technology companies to identify and address the root cause of the issue,” Jeffrey Nelson, a spokesman for New York-based Verizon, said in a phone interview. “It will be fixed as quickly as possible.”

Nelson declined to say when the breakdown occurred. Peters of HHS also didn’t say when the failure happened or how long it would take to repair. Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. health secretary, spoke with Verizon Chief Executive Officer Lowell McAdam yesterday, her agency said in a statement.



What an embarrassment and clusterfuck this ACA rollout has been so far. I hope the admin is buying lipstick by the truckload because that is what it is going to take to make this 'pig' look pretty.

Pending Sales of Existing Homes Slump by Most in Three Years

Source: Bloomberg

By Lorraine Woellert - Oct 28, 2013

Fewer Americans than forecast signed contracts to buy previously owned homes in September, the fourth straight month of declines, as rising mortgage rates slowed momentum in the housing market.

The index of pending home sales slumped 5.6 percent, exceeding all estimates in a Bloomberg survey of economists and the biggest drop in more than three years, after a 1.6 percent decrease in August, the National Association of Realtors reported today in Washington. The index fell to the lowest level this year.

Mortgage rates last month reached two-year highs and some homeowners are reluctant to put properties up for sale as they wait for prices to climb, leading to tight inventories. Those forces are pushing some would-be buyers to the sidelines and slowing the pace of recovery in real estate, giving Federal Reserve policy makers reason to delay reducing stimulus when they meet this week.

“We’ll be in this weakness for a little bit, maybe even going into the fourth quarter,” said Yelena Shulyatyeva, a U.S. economist at BNP Paribas in New York, the second-best forecaster of pending home sales over the past two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “This is a clear signal to the Fed as to what happens when you try to play with nascent housing recovery. The minutes indicated they were really concerned about it.”

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-28/pending-sales-of-existing-homes-slump-by-most-in-three-years.html

Russia Has Olympics Mountain To Climb With 'Putin’s Games'

With a race against the clock to complete building works, threats of militant attacks and a controversy over an anti-gay law, Russia faces an unprecedented challenge to defeat its sceptics and hold a successful Winter Olympics in 100 days time.
013, in the French Alpine resort of La Plagne for the 2014 Winter Olympics games in Sochi

The holding of the Winter Olympics in Russia’s southern city of Sochi, one of the most ambitious projects in the history of the Olympic movement, has been championed by President Vladimir Putin as a showcase for the modern post-Soviet face of the country.

The Games from February 7 to 23, 2014, will mark a series of firsts and superlatives –- the most expensive Olympics ever and the first Olympics of any kind in the ex-USSR.

The Black Sea port has long been a popular beachside holiday destination for Russians and was already developing alpine resorts in the mountains above. But Russia has faced the colossal task of building most of the stadiums, hotels and other infrastructure from scratch.

Both the coastal sites which will host events like ice skating and the opening ceremony and the mountain cluster where skiing and other high-altitude sports will take place still resemble building sites as workers hurry to finish the facilities on time.



Sebelius To Face Tough Questioning From Republicans On Health Law

Associated Press
Published: 27 October 2013 06:46 PM

WASHINGTON — Republicans said Sunday they intend to press Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the Obama administration’s troubled launch of healthcare.gov, the online portal to buy insurance, and concerns about the privacy of information that applicants submit under the new system.

Meanwhile, the healthcare.gov application and enrollment system was down Sunday afternoon because the company that hosts the site had an Internet outage. HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters wrote on Twitter that Terremark, the hosting company, was “working to fix ASAP.”

The Obama administration will face intense pressure next week to be more forthcoming about how many people have actually succeeded in enrolling for coverage in the new insurance markets. Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner is to testify during a House hearing Tuesday, followed Wednesday by Sebelius before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The officials will also be grilled on how such crippling technical problems could have gone undetected prior to the website’s Oct. 1 launch.

“The incompetence in building this website is staggering,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., the second ranking Republican on the panel and an opponent of the law.



Israel Fears Iran Can Produce 90% Uranium ‘In Weeks’

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 27, 2013 16:32 EDT

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Iran is capable of converting low-grade uranium to weapons-grade within weeks.

“Iran is prepared to give up enriching uranium to 20 percent and therefore debate on this subject is unimportant,” Netanyahu’s office quoted him as saying at a weekly meeting of his cabinet.

“The important part stems from technological improvements which allow Iran to enrich uranium from 3.5 percent to 90 percent in a number of weeks.

“Pressure on Iran, which continues enrichment while negotiating, must be intensified,” the Israeli leader added.

Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme is at the core of its dispute with world powers, who suspect it masks a drive for atomic weapons despite repeated denials by the Islamic republic.



Bill Clinton Says Democrats Cannot Be Complacent In Va. Gubernatorial Race, With GOP More Energized

By PHILIP ELLIOTT | ASSOCIATED PRESS | 1 hour, 3 minutes ago in Politics

Conservative ideologues are reliable voters who could threaten Democrat Terry McAuliffe's political chances, former President Bill Clinton warned Sunday as he joined his longtime buddy's campaign for Virginia governor.

With little more than a week before Nov. 5's Election Day, McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli each have sought to energize their strongest supporters, by inspiration or fear. McAuliffe has opened a lead in polling and is heavily outspending Cuccinelli on television ads, but turnout is expected to be low and the result could be decided by a few thousand votes.

"Political extremism does have one political virtue," Clinton said. "Once you get people all torn up and upset, steam coming out of their ears, people will show up and vote."

It was a shift in roles. For decades, it has been McAuliffe championing the personal and political futures of Bill Clinton and, later, his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Now, the former president is here to pitch in during the campaign against Republican Ken Cuccinelli during its final week.



Experts Say Hackers Hit Major Israeli Roadway, A Sign Cyber Warfare Now Reality

Daniel Estrin / The Associated Press
October 27, 2013 10:33 AM

HADERA, Israel - When Israel's military chief delivered a high-profile speech this month outlining the greatest threats his country might face in the future, he listed computer sabotage as a top concern, warning a sophisticated cyberattack could one day bring the nation to a standstill.

Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz was not speaking empty words. Exactly one month before his address, a major artery in Israel's national road network in the northern city of Haifa was shut down because of a cyberattack, cybersecurity experts tell The Associated Press, knocking key operations out of commission two days in a row and causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

One expert, speaking on condition of anonymity because the breach of security was a classified matter, said a Trojan horse attack targeted the security camera system in the Carmel Tunnels toll road on Sept. 8. A Trojan horse is a malicious computer program that users unknowingly install that can give hackers complete control over their systems.

The attack caused an immediate 20-minute lockdown of the roadway. The next day, the expert said, it shut down the roadway again during morning rush hour. It remained shut for eight hours, causing massive congestion.

The expert said investigators believe the attack was the work of unknown, sophisticated hackers, similar to the Anonymous hacking group that led attacks on Israeli websites in April. He said investigators determined it was not sophisticated enough to be the work of an enemy government like Iran.

- See more at: http://www.nanaimodailynews.com/business/ap-exclusive-experts-say-hackers-hit-major-israeli-roadway-a-sign-cyber-warfare-now-reality-1.674076#sthash.vRGMXfP1.dpuf

First Apartheid, Then Arms Dealers, Now Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement Emerging In UK Schools

By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
Saturday, October 26, 2013 19:11 EDT

An international campaign to urge large institutions to dump fossil fuel investments reaches the UK this week, following rapid success in the US.

The year-old divestment campaign, Fossil Free, has grown even faster than similar efforts that once targeted apartheid, tobacco and arms manufacturers. It now aims to focus attention on the £5bn invested in coal, oil and gas by the endowment funds of UK universities. The move comes as financial giants such as HSBC, Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs are starting to take seriously the prospect that global action to reduce carbon emissions could leave two-thirds of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves unburnable and worthless.

“The divestment campaign will start politically to bankrupt the fossil fuel industry and throw into stronger relief that it is a rogue industry, committed to burning more carbon than any government on Earth thinks it would be safe to burn,” said Bill McKibben, a prominent US climate campaigner and figurehead of the Fossil Free campaign. “One reason we are losing the battle against climate change – the most important challenge humans have faced – is the power of the fossil fuel industry to block change,” he told the Observer. “It is the richest industry in the history of human enterprise.”

The US campaign has already led to more than 40 institutions, including the city of Seattle, universities and churches, pulling out of fossil fuel investments. Addressing the political debate in the UK over rising energy bills, McKibben said: “England has been burning fossil fuels since James Watt: there is no way you get to transition [to low-carbon energy] for free. But as economist Lord Nicholas Stern has said over and over again, the cost of not doing it is orders of magnitude higher than doing it.”

Student divestment campaigns have sprung up at 20 UK universities, including the three with the largest investments: Cambridge, Oxford and Edinburgh. UK universities have more than £5bn – £2,000 per student – invested in fossil fuels, according to student group People & Planet and the 350.org campaign, which McKibben co-founded.

“Investing in fossil fuel companies, which harm communities and destroy the climate, is not OK,” said Miriam Dobson, from People & Planet at Edinburgh University, where the campaign tour begins on Wednesday before visiting Birmingham and London.


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