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Consumers’ Outlook for U.S. Economy Plunges to Two-Year Low

Source: Bloomberg

By Ben Schenkel - Oct 17, 2013

Americans in October were the most pessimistic about the nation’s economic prospects in almost two years as concern mounted that continued political gridlock will hurt the expansion.

The monthly Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index expectations gauge plunged to minus 31, the lowest level since November 2011, from minus 9 in September, a report showed today. The share of people projecting the economy will worsen jumped by the most since the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. five years ago. The weekly measure of current conditions fell to minus 34.1 in the period ended Oct. 13, the weakest since March.

The legislation passed by Congress last night to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government into 2014 may be setting the stage for another round of confrontations early next year. The fiscal impasse in Washington has spared few as today’s report showed consumers across almost all demographic groups grew increasingly distressed.

“The government shutdown has resulted in a startling decline in consumer sentiment and likely business sentiment that will result in a much slower pace of consumption and capital expenditures in the current quarter,” said Joseph Brusuelas, a senior economist for Bloomberg LP in New York. “Should lawmakers kick a decision into early 2014, it is likely that consumer sentiment will keep deteriorating.”

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-17/consumers-expectations-for-u-s-economy-plunge-to-two-year-low.html

Reid’s Party Unity Outplays Boehner’s Divided Republicans

By Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael C. Bender - Oct 17, 2013

Days before the U.S. risked a debt default, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had the chance to pocket a deal. Instead, he went for the kill.

Reid, a Nevada Democrat and a former competitive boxer, called Senator Joe Manchin on Oct. 13 and insisted the West Virginia Democrat deny reports of an agreement among a bipartisan group of senators to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling.

Reid was in one-on-one talks with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that he wanted to end in a better deal from Republicans, who were in retreat as they took greater blame for the impasse in public polls. The White House, for its part, was warning Democratic leaders off of what it viewed as an unfavorable compromise emerging from the bipartisan group.

In response, Manchin and other Democrats issued a statement announcing there was no agreement to end the standoff, which became the final in a series of instances in which Reid, 73, maneuvered to ensure that Democrats blunted Republican demands in the fiscal fight that shut the government down for 16 days and risked a U.S. default on its debts.

Reid’s hardline stance yielded results last night when Congress passed legislation that omitted every Republican goal.



Boehner’s Struggle Within Own Party Wounds House Leader

By Mark Silva - Oct 17, 2013

House Speaker John Boehner will have trouble winning the next fight after the way he lost this one.

The Republican leader finally acceded to the demands of the White House and Democratic-led Senate in an agreement to end a partial U.S. government shutdown and avert a debt crisis. This makes it tougher for him in the next fiscal debate pushed into January and February by the accord. His ability to get anything through his own House will be tested in the year ahead.

“We just didn’t win,” Boehner, 63, told a Cincinnati radio station yesterday. “We fought the good fight.”

From the start of the standoff with President Barack Obama -- with a faction of the House’s Tea Party-backed Republicans seeking to defund, delay or declaw the president’s health-care law -- Boehner confronted a dilemma that could undermine his grip on the leadership.

Ultimately, Congress’s resolution of the 16-day shutdown and a threat to U.S. borrowing authority says more about Boehner’s capacity to run the House for the rest of this session, through 2014, than about his ability to hold the reins of the chamber beyond that.



Australians 'Lock The Gate' To Fracking

A growing number of Australian farmers are barring mining companies from accessing their lands, but Australian law states that minerals under the soil are owned by the Crown.

John Zubrzycki, Correspondent / October 16, 2013

It has been blamed for everything from contaminating drinking water to disrupting eco-systems. Because of its potential to pollute aquifers, some of Australia’s most productive agricultural land is said to be at risk. Among farmers and many urban dwellers coal seam gas has earned a bad reputation.

Which may explain why the New South Wales government last month recommended removing the term “coal seam gas” and its acronym CSG from official documents in the state.

The federal Standing Council on Energy and Resources wants the terminology changed to “natural gas from coal seams” as part of what it calls a “national harmonization initiative."

The proposed switch prompted one Greens member of parliament to accuse the government of adopting “Orwellian tactics” to diminish legitimate community concerns about the risks posed to land and water by CSG.

Australia is not the only country where extracting gas from coal and shale seams has generated controversy. On Oct. 8, France’s highest court upheld a government ban on hydraulic fracturing because of environmental concerns. A few days later, the advocacy group Environment America called for the practice to be banned in the United States until the cumulative impacts of fracking at a state or national scale were quantified.



American Jews Are Becoming Increasingly Critical of Israel

According to a Pew survey, American Jews are becoming increasingly critical of Israel, with nearly 50 percent no longer believing that its leaders are sincerely interested in making peace with Palestinians.

The Pew survey's findings are particularly significant when one considers what Peter Beinart calls the "American Jewish cocoon." Within many segments of the American Jewish community, honest looks at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not normative in synagogues or Jewish institutions, and a majority of Jewish leaders tend toward reflexively supporting Israeli policies (such as settlements and the occupation) which are both self-destructive and hurtful to Palestinians.

However, the views of American Jews at large are straying from the institutional norms, particularly, and perhaps most significantly, the 18-29 set.

For example, 48% of American Jews no longer view the Israeli government as making sincere efforts at peace, as opposed to 38% who do, and for those under 30, only one in four (26%) view the Israeli government as sincere brokers.

Additionally, 44% of American Jews now view Israeli settlement construction as hurting Israeli security, as opposed to a mere 17% who think it helps. For those under 30, the numbers skew even further, with 50% finding settlement construction as self-destructive as opposed to 11% who feel that settlements help Israel. (I understand some might find the question offensive, thinking, The settlements are hurting Israel? But please note that the Pew survey attempted to measure American Jews' connection to, and concern for, Israel.)



Debt Bill Denies Annual Pay Hike For Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress on Wednesday moved to deny itself a pay raise.

It would mark the sixth consecutive year that lawmakers will have acted to make sure they don't get the annual cost-of-living pay increase they get automatically unless they vote to freeze their pay.

The measure was attached to the compromise debt and spending measure on track to pass Congress late Wednesday.

Members of Congress make $174,000 a year and are supposed to get an annual pay raise under a 1989 law that traded an annual COLA for a ban on the much-criticized practice of taking paid honoraria for making speeches.

But Congress has voted to deny itself the raise about as many times as it's opted to take the pay hike, and with their poll numbers in the gutter currently, it's not surprising that they're doing so again.



They Say: The Left Is Obsessed With Settlements. Clearly This Is Just An Excuse To Bash Israel.

We Say:

Settlements are antithetical to peace. If settlement construction continues, settlements will destroy the very possibility of peace and, with it, sentence Israel to a future where it will no longer be viable as both a Jewish state and a democracy.

Settlements are, at every level, a liability for Israel. It is because of settlements that the route of Israel's "separation barrier" has been distorted, lengthening and contorting Israel's lines of defense. It is because of settlements that Israeli soldiers are forced to act as police within the West Bank, rather than focusing on their real mission - defending Israel. Settlements are also a huge drain on Israel's economy, with the government continuing to fund construction and to provide settlers a wide range of financial benefits.

It is because of settlements that Israel is forced to rule over a huge - and growing - non-Jewish, disenfranchised population, contrary to basic democratic values. Settlement policies and the actions of settlers erode Israel's image in the world as a democratic state that respects the civil rights of all people under its rule. If allowed to block a two-state solution, settlements will ultimately leave Israeli decision-makers with an impossible choice: be a democracy and give full rights to the Palestinians, at the cost of Israel's Jewish character, or deny rights to the majority of the people under Israeli rule - which the Palestinians will soon be - validating accusations that Israel is increasingly an Apartheid-like state.

Settlement expansion extinguishes hope among Palestinians that Israel is serious about peace. It destroys the credibility of Palestinian moderates - Israel's best partners for peace - who reject violence and tell their people that negotiations will deliver a viable state. After more than four decades of watching settlements grow to take up more and more land and damage the fabric of their lives, Palestinians view settlement construction today as a litmus test of Israeli seriousness about peace.



Tea Party Republican Defends Being on Medicaid While Opposing Medicaid

A Tea Party candidate for Idaho's House of Representatives defended himself against allegations of hypocrisy following an NBC News article in which he admitted to signing his entire family up for Medicaid while running on a platform that calls for the dismantling of all government programs.

"I don’t think that the government should be involved in health care or health insurance," Greg Collett, 41, of Caldwell told NBC News earlier this month.

Collett, a self-employed software developer by trade, went on to note that his ten children — two biological, eight adopted — are all recipients of health insurance through the government's Medicaid program, and acknowledged that "there are a lot of people out there that’ll cry foul" over the dissonance.

And, indeed, many people did visit Collett's personal site shortly afterward to ask him what the hell.

In a lengthy response to all the naysayers, Collett attempted to defend his hypocrisy, but made it so much worse:



Israel’s Ill-Treatment of Children in Custody still Ongoing, Says UNICEF

JERUSALEM, October 16, 2013 (WAFA) – Israel’s military implemented three recommendations out of 38 recommendations mentioned in UNICEF’s briefing paper outlining measures to improve ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli custody, stressing that Israel’s violations against children are still ongoing, according to a statement issued by the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, on Monday.

On 6 March 2013, a briefing paper titled “Children in Israeli military detention” stated that there appeared to be a pattern of ill-treatment during the arrest, transfer and interrogation of child detainees in the West Bank. In response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel stated it would study the conclusions of the report and work to implement its recommendations in cooperation with UNICEF.

UNICEF has since worked closely with the office of the Israeli Military Advocate General, with the diplomatic community and with international, Israeli and Palestinian organizations in order support the process of translating the recommendations into concrete actions.

The statement said that Israeli authorities are taking steps towards addressing some of UNICEF recommendations, including:



Egypt: Military May Turn To Russia For Aid And Alliance

Egypt has threatened to go it alone on foreign policy issues effectively disregarding its tradition allies - the United States or Israel – after Washington cut military aid.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013 15:01]

Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy told state-run Al-Ahram newspaper that Washington was wrong to assume the Cairo government would always follow its line.

"We are now in a delicate state reflecting the turmoil in the relationship and anyone who says otherwise is not speaking honestly," Fahmy told the paper.

Fahmy has suggested that Egypt could turn to Russia for military aid to manage its "civil war against terrorism."

The United States now faces a policy headache trying to promote democracy while sustaining ties with Egypt- an Arab ally which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the strategic Suez Canal.

The military-backed government has insisted Egypt would not bow to U.S. pressure, and plans to diversify its source of weapons, including a possible turn to Russia.


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