Saturday, March 2, 2013

States with the highest and lowest tax burdens

March 2, 2013

The average American paid 9.9% of their income on state and local taxes during 2010, according to data from The Tax Foundation. The state of New York ranked highest, with residents paying 12.8% of their income on state and local taxes. The lowest: Alaska at 7.0%.

Source: Sources Tax Foundation, 24/7 Wall Street
David Carrig and Robert W. Ahrens, USA TODAY

During the 2010 tax season, Americans paid 9.9% of their income on state and local taxes. This number, according to a report by The Tax Foundation, is up from 9.3% in 2000, but is basically unchanged from 2009. Per capita income in the U.S. fell from $42,539 in 2009 to $41,146 in 2010, while taxes fell slightly, from $4,160 in 2009 to $4,112 in 2010.

In some U.S. states, the burden on residents relative to their income rose substantially. In New York state, taxes paid per capita rose by more than $200, while income per capita fell by more than $1,100.

According to the report, residents in New York paid 12.8% of their income on state and local taxes last year. In Alaska, residents paid just 7% of their income on non-federal taxes. Based on the Tax Foundation's State and Local Tax Burden Rankings for 2010, 24/7 Wall St. identified the states with the largest and smallest tax burden on their residents.

COMPARE TAX BURDENS: See data on how all the states compare

The most important factor in how much a state demands of its residents is its ability to bring in income from out-of-state. In 2010, 73.8% of tax revenue to state and local governments came from state residents. In some states, however, much more of total tax revenue came from non-residents. In three — Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming — more than half of tax revenue came from out of state. In Alaska, which benefits from taxes on energy companies operating in the state, residents are responsible for just 24.5% of all tax income.

All 10 of the the states with the lowest tax burdens received at least 32% of tax revenue from people who didn't live in the state. In six states, it was more than 43%. Included on this list are those with large oil infrastructure, like Wyoming, Louisiana, Texas and Alaska. Nevada is heavily reliant on tourism, rather than oil, and 44% of its tax revenue comes from out of state.

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Tax Foundation economist Scott Drenkard explained that many states also have lower tax burdens because they have smaller government. "They don't collect that much in taxes" Drenkard said, "so they don't have that much of a burden." This includes states like New Hampshire and Texas, which collect substantially less than the national average per capita. Among the 10 states with the lowest tax burdens, five are in the bottom 10 for total tax collections relative to population size.

"On the flip side," explained Drenkard, "those states in the top 10 are states where they're not really capable of exporting their tax burden — they don't have mineral resources, but they're also high-tax states in general." Of the 10 states with the highest tax burdens, seven were among the largest tax collectors relative to population size.

While sales and excise taxes and corporate taxes have the potential to export a portion of a state's tax burden to non-residents, property tax and income tax are more likely to largely fall on people living in the state. Six of the 10 states with the highest tax burdens are in the top 10 for property tax rates. Eight of the 10 states with the largest tax burdens are in the top 15 for income tax collections per capita. This includes New York, which has the highest tax burden on residents, as well as the highest income taxes per capita collected for the fiscal year 2010.

Based on the Tax Foundation's annual State and Local Tax Burden report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the ten states where residents paid the most in state and local taxes relative to per capita income. We also reviewed per capita income and property, income, excise and sales taxes, which were all for the 2010 fiscal year, with the exception of excise tax rates, which are as of July 1, 2012, and property tax collections, which were for fiscal year 2009. 24/7 Wall St. also reviewed cost-of-living data from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Institute for the second quarter of 2012.24/7 Wall St. is a financial website offering news and opinion.

Get more information: Top 20 states with the highest and lowest taxes.

24/7 Wall St. is a financial website offering news and opinion.

Obama orders $85 billion in budget cuts

March 2, 2013

AFP - President Barack Obama has ordered $85 billion in budget cuts that could slow the US economy and slash jobs, after blaming Republicans for refusing to stop the "dumb" spending cuts.

Obama complied with his legal obligations and initiated the automatic, across-the-board cuts in domestic and defense spending, following the failure of efforts to clinch a deal with Republicans on cutting the deficit.

Michigan governor plans takeover of Detroit

March 2, 2013

A homeless man approaches a couple on a
sidewalk February 24, 2013 in Detroit,
Michigan. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder
prepared for a state takeover of Detroit, the
epitome of urban decay, by declaring the
Motor City in a state of financial emergency
AFP - Michigan Governor Rick Snyder prepared for a state takeover of Detroit, the epitome of urban decay, by declaring the Motor City in a state of financial emergency.

"Detroit can't wait," Snyder said at a televised town hall meeting. "We need to solve real issues here today because citizens are not getting the services they need and we have a financial crisis."

The move by a white, Republican governor to take control of a predominantly black and Democratic city has drawn intense criticism and charges of racism.

"It's undemocratic and not a solution to the city's problems," said John Philo, director of the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice, which has challenged the emergency management laws in court.

Detroit needs a partner, not an "overseer," Reverend Wendell Anthony, who heads of the Detroit chapter of civil rights group NAACP, said this week.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announces he will appoint an Emergency Financial Manager for the city of Detroit during a town hall meeting at Wayne State University February 29, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. Snyder announced plans for a state takeover of Detroit, a poster child for urban decay, by declaring the Motor City in a state of financial emergency on Friday.
Snyder sidestepped a question about the racial implications of his move, but insisted that the appointment of an emergency manager does not mean the end of democracy.

"This shouldn't be about politics," he said, noting that city council and the mayor can participate in the process.

"Let's all keep working together."

Several city council members have vowed to block the move.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, who has been widely praised for cleaning up after a succession of corrupt predecessors, said Snyder's plan must include more financial assistance from the state of Michigan.

"We have always said that we need help from Lansing to implement our initiatives such as public safety, transportation, lighting and others," said Bing, who has long opposed having an emergency manager.

"There is a way for us to work together," he said, if the emergency manager focuses not just on the city's finances, but also on restructuring initiatives to improve quality of life.

Supporters of the takeover say it is the only way to tackle Detroit's seemingly intractable problems.

Emergency managers have the power to eliminate entire departments, change labor contracts, sell city assets and rewrite laws without any public review or input.

Currently in control of four smaller Michigan towns and cities and three school districts, the success rate of such managers is the subject of much debate.

Once the fourth largest city in the United States, Detroit has seen its population shrink by more than half from 1.8 million people in 1950 to 713,000 today.

Racial tensions sparked by the civil rights movement -- and the devastating 1967 riots -- exacerbated white and middle-class flight to the suburbs. Businesses followed suit, further shrinking the tax base.

With less revenue, the city had to cut back on services, prompting more people to leave.

The birthplace of the US auto industry then saw its main employers go through round after round of mass layoffs as factories were automated or outsourced and Asian competitors siphoned away market share.

Graffiti covers a closed building February 24, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder prepared for a state takeover of Detroit, the epitome of urban decay, by declaring the Motor City in a state of financial emergency.
Abandoned skyscrapers, factories and homes litter the landscape. Crime is rampant. The city can't even manage to keep all the streetlights on.

Snyder acknowledged the positive signs seen in Detroit in recent years, like a revitalized riverfront and entertainment district.

But Detroit has been borrowing money for too long to pay its bills. It is rapidly running out of cash to operate and is expected to end the fiscal year $100 million in the hole.

More troubling are its long-term liabilities, including the cost of pensions and retirement health benefits, which exceed $14 billion.

The city has 10 days to appeal, but the final decision rests with Snyder. The emergency manager, who has not yet been named, would be up for review in 18 months.

The governor's office cautioned the plan won't necessarily be able to stave off what would be the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history.

"The possibility of bankruptcy still exists, but only after the manager has exhausted all other options," it wrote in a factsheet.

Graffiti covers an abandoned building at the former Belle Isle Safari Zoo February 24, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder prepared for a state takeover of Detroit, the epitome of urban decay, by declaring the Motor City in a state of financial emergency.
Snyder bemoaned Detroit's descent from being one of the most prosperous and successful cities in the United States to "among the worst" and vowed to get the city back on track.

"We put the country on wheels, we put the world on wheels, we were the arsenal of democracy," Snyder said.

"We can and will develop solutions to fix the city's finances, stop the cycle of overspending and one-time fixes and collectively get Detroit on the path being a great city once again."

LPGA denies malaria outbreak rumour

March 2, 2013

This file photo shows Natalie Gulbis,
pictured during a women's golf event in Taiwan,
on December 8, 2012. Golf officials denied
rumours of a malaria outbreak on the LPGA Tour
on Saturday after Gulbis and Pak Se-Ri pulled
out of the HSBC Women's Champions due to
illness and staff members also fell sick.
AFP - Golf officials denied rumours of a malaria outbreak on the LPGA Tour on Saturday after Natalie Gulbis and Pak Se-Ri pulled out of the HSBC Women's Champions due to illness and staff members also fell sick.

Tournament officials said South Korea's Pak had been cleared of malaria, while Gulbis was awaiting test results but attended a function in Singapore on Friday and did not appear to be seriously ill.

"Pak Se-Ri withdrew this week due to illness. She does not have malaria, just flu-like symptoms," said a spokesperson for the LPGA Tour.

"Natalie Gulbis withdrew from the event on Friday due to illness. She is getting checked in Singapore, but has not been given a diagnosis yet. LPGA officials are in contact with both players."

Some of the LPGA's rules officials have also fallen ill but they have not been diagnosed with malaria and were still going about their duties, officials added.

Fears of an outbreak swirled after top coach Butch Harmon tweeted that America's Gulbis and Pak, who withdrew on Wednesday and is now back in South Korea, were in hospital in Singapore with malaria.

Three players were also involved in a car crash on Sunday in Bangkok, after the Honda LPGA Thailand, which left Paula Creamer and Ai Miyazato with whiplash injuries. Miyazato, a former winner of the Singapore event, was forced to pull out.

Johns Hopkins gynecologist hid camera in pen to film patients

March 2, 2013

Johns Hopkins has released new details about how gynecologist spied on his patients, taking video and pictures of them during exams.

Dr. Nikita Levy used a camera hidden inside
a pen that he wore around his neck while
seeing patients. A coworker alerted security
to the odd behavior, according to new details.
(Handout photo)
A female coworker became suspicious of a pen Dr. Nikita Levy wore around his neck all the time. She notified security and told them Levy was wearing the pen while seeing patients. The next day, multiple recording devices were found in his office.

Police searched his home and found hard drives and servers with patients' pictures on them. Since Levy was caught, more than 2,00 former patients have contacted city police to find out if they were victims.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says authorities are "looking to see if perhaps Dr. Levy sold this material online, if he partnered with anyone else." Levy was found dead in his home shortly after his dismissal from the hospital.

Two lawsuits have been filed against Johns Hopkins so far, claiming the hospital failed to protect patients from Dr. Levy "photographing and videotaping these patients of his in an open and obvious manner such that an employee could see that."

Johns Hopkins, in a letter to patients, says, “Today, we stand humbled by the events and tragic circumstances that involve the patients and community we serve. We want to assure our patients that their privacy, safety and well-being are our priority.”


Venezuela rejects "absurd" rumors over Chavez's death from terminal cancer like everyone else who has it

March 2, 2013

CARACAS | Fri Mar 1, 2013 9:58pm EST
(Reuters) - Senior aides and relatives of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez countered on Friday a crescendo of rumors that the socialist president may be dead from cancer, saying he was still battling for his life.

"There he is, continuing his fight, his battle, and we are sure of victory!" his older brother Adan Chavez, the governor of Barinas state, told cheering supporters.

Speculation about Chavez, 58, hit fever pitch this week, fed in part by assertions from Panama's former ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Guillermo Cochez, that the Venezuelan leader had died.

"The launching of absurd and bizarre rumors by the right wing simply discredits them and isolates them further from the people," said Chavez's son-in-law Jorge Arreaza, adding that the president was "calm" in a hospital with his family and doctors.

Apart from one set of photos showing Chavez lying in a Havana hospital bed, he has not been seen nor heard from in public since December 11 surgery in Cuba, his fourth operation.

The president made a surprise pre-dawn return to a military hospital in Caracas last week, with none of the fanfare that had accompanied his previous homecomings after treatment.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro, the OPEC nation's de facto leader and Chavez's preferred successor, urged Venezuelans to stay calm, patient and respectful of the president's state.

"The treatments Commander Chavez is receiving are tough, but he is stronger than them," Maduro said after a Catholic Mass in Chavez's honor at a chapel in the hospital.

"He's in good spirits, battling ... . Leave him in peace. He deserves respect for his treatments, because he's a man who has given everything for our fatherland."

Opposition politicians accuse the government of being deceitful about Chavez's condition, and compare the secrecy over his medical details with the transparency shown by other Latin American leaders who have suffered cancer.

"Maduro has lied repeatedly to the president's supporters and to Venezuelans about his real situation," opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Friday. "Let's see how they explain to the nation in coming days all the lies they have told."

Panamanian diplomat Cochez said Chavez's relatives had switched off his life support several days ago after he had been in a vegetative state since the end of December. He challenged officials to prove him wrong by showing the president in public.


Across the South American nation of 29 million people, Venezuelans are extremely anxious, speculating almost non-stop about Chavez's condition and wondering what the potential end of his 14-year rule might mean for them.

Adding to the tension, several dozen opposition-supporting students have chained themselves together in a Caracas street, demanding to see the president and arguing that Maduro has no right to rule because he was not elected.

With the country on edge, the relatively routine shooting by police of a murder suspect during a gun battle in downtown Caracas on Friday forced Information Minister Ernesto Villegas to take to Twitter to issue reassurances.

"(Some people) took advantage of the episode to try to sow panic in the city center," he said. "The situation is calm."

Should Chavez die or step down, a vote would be held within 30 days, probably pitting Maduro against Capriles for leadership of the country which boasts the world's biggest oil reserves.

The stakes are high for the region, too. Chavez has been the most vocal critic of Washington in Latin America and financed hefty aid programs for leftist governments from Cuba to Bolivia.

Amid the flurry of rumors, Spain's ABC newspaper said on Friday that Chavez had been taken to a presidential retreat on La Orchila island in the Caribbean off Venezuela's coast with his closest family to face the "final stages" of his cancer.

Venezuelan officials have frequently lambasted ABC as being part of an "ultra-right" conspiracy spreading lies about Chavez.

"The bourgeoisie harass him and they assault him constantly," added Maduro, singling out ABC and Colombia's Caracol radio for particular criticism.

"Stop the attacks on the commander! Stop the rumors, stop trying to create instability!"

In the latest of a series of short updates on Chavez's health, the government said last week that his breathing difficulties had worsened, and he was using a tracheal tube.

Officials say he suffered a severe respiratory infection following the six-hour operation he had in December for a cancer that was first detected in his pelvic region in June 2011.

Chavez has never said what type of cancer he has.

Remarkably, two opinion polls this week showed that a majority of Venezuelans - 60 percent in one survey, 57 percent in another - believe he will be cured.

Chavez's millions of passionate supporters, who love his down-to-earth style and heavy spending of oil revenue on welfare policies, are struggling to imagine Venezuela without him.

"Of course, he's coming back, back to government," said Jose Urbina, 47, though he was also buying photos of Chavez at a pro-government rally as mementoes. "I want to remember him. I want to put them in my house."

(Additional reporting by Girish Gupta; Editing by Kieran Murray and Xavier Briand)

State Department report is latest evidence Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada should be granted, supporters say

March 2, 2013

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2013, file photo, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D, points at a illustration of existing pipeline, while speaking at a news conference about the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Capitol Hill in Washington. The State Department on Friday, March 1, 2013, raised no major objections to the Keystone XL oil pipeline and said other options to get the oil from Canada to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries are worse for climate change. But the latest environmental review stops short of recommending whether the project should be approved. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
WASHINGTON (AP) — A new State Department report is the latest evidence that the long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada should be approved, supporters say.

The draft report, issued Friday, finds there would be no significant environmental impact to most resources along the proposed route from western Canada to refineries in Texas. The report also said other options to get the oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries are worse for climate change.

The new report "again makes clear there is no reason for this critical pipeline to be blocked one more day," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. After four years of what he called "needless delays," Boehner said it is time for President Barack Obama "to stand up for middle-class jobs and energy security and approve the Keystone pipeline."

Environmentalists see the State Department report in a vastly different light.

They say it was inadequate and failed to account for climate risks posed by the pipeline. The report also is based on a false premise, opponents say — namely, that tar sands in western Canada will be developed for oil production regardless of whether the Keystone XL pipeline is approved.

"Americans are already suffering from the consequences of global warming, from more powerful storms like Hurricane Sandy to drought conditions currently devastating the Midwest and Southwest," said Daniel Gatti of the group Environment America. Production of oil from Canadian tar sands could add as much as 240 billion metric tons of global warming pollution to the atmosphere, Gatti said, a potential catastrophe that would hasten the arrival of the worst effects of global warming.

Gatti and other opponents said development of the vast tar sands is far from certain, despite assurances by the project's supporters.

"Tar sands can be stopped, and we are stopping it," Gatti said, citing a rally in Washington last month attended by an estimated 35,000 people. Project opponents also have blocked construction in Texas and Oklahoma and have been arrested outside the White House gate.

The pipeline plan has become a flashpoint in the U.S. debate over climate change. Republicans and business and labor groups have urged the Obama administration to approve the project as a source of jobs and a step toward North American energy independence. Environmental groups have been pressuring the president to reject the pipeline, saying it would carry "dirty oil" that contributes to global warming. They also worry about a spill.

The State Department review stopped short of recommending approval of the project, but it gave the Obama administration political cover if it chooses to endorse the pipeline in the face of opposition from many Democrats and environmental groups. State Department approval of the 1,700-mile pipeline is needed because it crosses a U.S. border.

The lengthy report says Canadian tar sands are likely to be developed, regardless of whether the U.S. approves the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil through Montana, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

The report acknowledges that development of tar sands in Alberta would create greenhouse gases but makes clear that other methods of transporting the oil — including rail, trucks and barges — also pose a risk to the environment.

The State Department analysis for the first time evaluated two options using rail: shipping the oil on trains to existing pipelines or to oil tankers. The report shows that those other methods would release more greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming than the pipeline. The Keystone XL pipeline, according to the report, would release annually the same amount of global warming pollution as 626,000 passenger cars.

A scenario that would move the oil on trains to mostly existing pipelines would release 8 percent more greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide than Keystone XL. That scenario would not require State Department approval because any new pipelines would not cross the U.S border.

Another alternative that relies mostly on rail to move the oil to the Canadian west coast, where it would be loaded onto oil tankers to the U.S. Gulf Coast, would result in 17 percent more greenhouse gas emissions, the report said.

In both alternatives, the oil would be shipped in rail cars as bitumen, a thick, tar-like substance, rather than as a liquid.

The State Department was required to conduct a new environmental analysis after the pipeline's operator, Calgary-based TransCanada, changed the project's route though Nebraska. The Obama administration blocked the project last year because of concerns that the original route would have jeopardized environmentally sensitive land in the Sand Hills region.

The administration later approved a southern section of the pipeline, from Cushing, Okla., to the Texas coast, as part of what Obama has called an "all of the above" energy policy that embraces a wide range of sources, from oil and gas to renewables such as wind and solar.

The draft report issued Friday begins a 45-day comment period, after which the State Department will issue a final environmental report before Secretary of State John Kerry makes a recommendation about whether the pipeline is in the national interest.

Kerry has promised a "fair and transparent" review of the plan and said he hopes to decide on the project in the "near term." Most observers do not expect a decision until summer at the earliest.

Canadian Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver said Friday that Canada will respect the U.S. review process and noted the importance of the pipeline to the Canadian economy.

Obama's initial rejection of the pipeline last year went over badly in Canada, which relies on the United States for 97 percent of its energy exports.


Associated Press writers Rob Gillies in Toronto and Dina Cappiello in Washington contributed to this report.

Bad 'Fresh Prince' rap triggers Pa. lockdown

March 2, 2013

Talk about stupid........

Now this is a story all about how a high school student's life got turned upside down. But it was all just a bad rap.

The teen's voicemail greeting triggered a lockdown at his Pennsylvania school after a receptionist misheard his rendition of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" theme song.

While trying to confirm an appointment with 19-year-old Travis Clawson the receptionist thought the message said "shooting people outside of the school." The line is actually "shooting some b-ball," a reference to basketball.

The receptionist called 911 and Economy police arrested Clawson a short time later at Ambridge Area High School, but released him once he explained the message.

Acting police Chief James Mann says police acted "appropriately" out of concern for students' welfare.

Clawson's family has contacted an attorney.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Entitlement Crowd Update: Strong-armed robbery of Girl Scouts

March 1, 2013

TREDYFFRIN - Township police have arrested a suspect in connection with the strong-armed robbery of Girl Scouts while they were selling their trademark cookies outside a local supermarket in late January.

Jevon Michael Avis, 31, of the 300 block of Beechwood Rd., Berwyn, and most recently residing on the 100 block of South West St., Carlisle, Pa., was arraigned on theft related charges in Cumberland County and held in lieu of posting $10,000 cash bail.

According to police, Avis allegedly confessed to additional related crimes including the robbery of the Girl Scouts Jan. 20. Avis is charged with robbery and related crimes connected to the strong armed robbery of the Girl Scouts at the Pathmark Store.

An investigation began Jan. 20 at approximately 5 p.m. when Tredyffrin Township Police received a report of a strong armed robbery at the Pathmark Store, 450 W. Swedesford Rd. in the Berwyn section of the township.

According to police, a white man described as medium height and weight, between 20 and 30 years of age, wearing a dark colored head covering, a dark colored shirt and light colored pants, approached members of Girl Scout Troop 4306 as they were selling cookies from a table inside the store.

Police said the man took an unknown amount of cash from a plastic donation container intended to benefit US Troops before reaching into a cash box containing money from the Girl Scouts' cookie sales, taking approximately $20. The Girl Scouts quickly closed the box, before the man could take any more money. He quickly fled to the rear-west side of building where he entered a blue vehicle and left, according to police.

On Tuesday, Feb. 19 at approximately 6:30 p.m., Tredyffrin police responded to a reported retail theft in progress located at the Paoli Acme, 39 Leopard Rd., Paoli, where witnesses told police a white male wearing wire-rimmed glasses had left the store with approximately $116 worth of merchandise. According to police, the man walked to a blue Nissan Altima with Pennsylvania registration JDE-2631 and placed a basket containing the stolen items in the truck of the vehicle. Store employees confronted him before he could drive away and the man left the items in the parking lot, fleeing northbound on Route 252, police said.

A preliminary arraignment on the Tredyffrin charges is expected to be scheduled later this week.


ATF honors 4 agents killed in botched 1993 raid

March 1, 2013

FILE - In an April 20, 1993 file photo, flames engulf the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. The 20th anniversary of the botched raid on the Branch Davidians compound passed passed quietly Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, as colleagues of the four agents who died gathered in private and local officials made no plans to note the day. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives held a ceremony in Waco to honor agents Conway LeBleu, Todd McKeehan, Robert John Williams and Steven Willis, the four agents who died in the Feb. 28, 1993 raid. Six Davidian members also died in that raid, which began a 51-day standoff that ended in a fire and the deaths of about 80 more sect members, including two dozen children. (AP Photo/Susan Weems, File)
WACO, Texas (AP) — The 20th anniversary of the disastrous raid on the Branch Davidians compound near Waco passed quietly Thursday, as colleagues of the four agents who died gathered in private and local officials made no plans to mark the day.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives held a ceremony in Waco to honor agents Conway LeBleu, Todd McKeehan, Robert John Williams and Steven Willis, the four agents who died in the Feb. 28, 1993 raid. Six Davidian members also died in that raid, which began a 51-day standoff that ended with the compound burning and the deaths of about 80 more sect members, including two dozen children.

The incident cast an international spotlight on Waco and Central Texas, as well as the ATF, which was criticized in a later government review for not calling off the raid after sect members found out about it.

The ATF closed Thursday's ceremony to the public and media out of respect to family members. About 185 people, including many of the agents who were in Waco, were in the audience, agency spokeswoman Franceska Perot said.

Several retired agents interviewed earlier in February expressed continuing sadness and regret.

FILE - In this March, 26, 1993 file photo, a person can be seen in the lower right hand corner of the photo running back to the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. The 20th anniversary of the botched raid on the Branch Davidians compound passed quietly Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, as colleagues of the four agents who died gathered in private and local officials made no plans to note the day. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives held a ceremony in Waco to honor agents Conway LeBleu, Todd McKeehan, Robert John Williams and Steven Willis, the four agents who died in the Feb. 28, 1993 raid. Six Davidian members also died in that raid, which began a 51-day standoff that ended in a fire and the deaths of about 80 more sect members, including two dozen children. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

"Would I have stopped Waco if I had known what I know now? Absolutely." said Peter Mastin, who was the deputy incident commander during the raid, in a Feb. 7 interview. "But we weren't set up for that."

"If the decision-makers had known how badly the raid had been compromised, we wouldn't have gone," Mastin added.

Agents obtained a search warrant to raid the compound, whose members were led by group leader David Koresh. The agents were trying to arrest Koresh for stockpiling illegal weapons and explosives. The ATF was counting on the element of surprise, but a local TV cameraman unwittingly tipped a man appearing to be a postal worker who turned out to be a sect member.

Koresh and his followers barricaded themselves in the compound, beginning a standoff that was broadcast around the world. It ended 51 days later when much of the compound went up in flames.

The incident remains one of the most controversial incidents of law enforcement action in American history. Some saw the raid as an unwarranted government intrusion into personal and religious freedoms. Two years afterward, Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City federal building, killing 168 people in an act he said was to avenge the Davidians' deaths.

FILE - In the March 2, 1993 file photo, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms set up a tent at the command post on the campus of Texas State Technical Institute in Waco, Texas. The 20th anniversary of the botched raid on the Branch Davidians compound passed quietly Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, as colleagues of the four agents who died gathered in private and local officials made no plans to note the day. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives held a ceremony in Waco to honor agents Conway LeBleu, Todd McKeehan, Robert John Williams and Steven Willis, the four agents who died in the Feb. 28, 1993 raid. Six Davidian members also died in that raid, which began a 51-day standoff that ended in a fire and the deaths of about 80 more sect members, including two dozen children. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Bill Buford, a retired ATF agent who helped plan the raid, discussed his regrets in a recent interview. He said some children inside the compound were rescued from the fire, but agents had hoped to save all of them.

"Sometimes I think about, why didn't I stand up that day and say, 'Hell no, we won't go,'" Buford said. "And I wish now that I would have. But I was a soldier for a long time and that's just not what you did. If you were given an order, you carry it out."

The ATF has made several changes after the raid, Perot said. Part of why it held events like Thursday's ceremony was to remind younger agents about the importance — and the dangers — of their jobs, she said.

"This memorial service today was part of that ongoing effort to make sure that their sacrifice was not in vain and that we have not forgotten," Perot said. "We have learned lessons from their sacrifice and those lessons are helping our agents be safer in their law enforcement activities today."

With many agents from Waco due to retire in a few years, Thursday's ceremony might be one of the last official ATF gatherings for the incident, she said.

Waco officials planned no official ceremonies Thursday, the Waco Tribune-Herald reported.

All that remains of the compound is a swimming pool used as a bunker during the standoff, the newspaper reported.

One group of Davidian supporters built a small chapel at the site. They are at odds with other former Koresh followers who plan to meet elsewhere in April.

"At the memorial service last year, we put it to the vote of the people how many wanted to be at Mount Carmel the next year," Clive Doyle, a survivor from 1993, told the Tribune-Herald. "A large portion thought it was a good idea, but then the feedback came that some wouldn't go out there."

The city of Waco remains tied to the raid in popular culture, which frustrates some residents and officials.

Gordon Melton, a religion professor at Baylor University in Waco, said that connection is why the city should do more to recognize what happened.

"Many people have said, 'If we forget it, maybe it will go away, and the rest of the country will forget it too,' " Melton told the newspaper. "Unfortunately, I don't think that's the case."

US mortgage giant Freddie Mac swings to $11 bn profit

March 1, 2013

A protest outside a Freddie Mac office in Los Angeles, California in February last year against forcible evictions. US mortgage finance giant Freddie Mac has posted an $11 bn annual profit for 2012, compared to a loss of $5.3 bn a year earlier.

AFP - US mortgage finance giant Freddie Mac has posted an $11 billion annual profit for 2012, compared to a loss of $5.3 billion a year earlier.

The government-controlled company, bailed out during the 2008 financial crisis, also reported $4.5 billion in net income for the fourth quarter of last year, up from $2.9 billion in the third quarter.

"It's clear from our earnings that the housing market has turned a corner and that our work to minimize legacy losses and build a strong new book of business is paying off," Freddie Mac chief executive Donald Layton said in a statement Thursday.

Provision for credit losses for 2012 fell to $1.9 billion from $10.7 billion for 2011, the company said.

"The improvement in both the fourth quarter and full-year 2012 is driven by a decrease in the volume of newly delinquent single-family loans and the positive impact of increased national home prices," it said.

Freddie Mac and sister institution Fannie Mae were rescued by the government from the brink of bankruptcy in September 2008 after the housing bubble collapsed.

The two were put under government control as their home-loan losses surged and given a $180 billion bailout.

Freddie Mac said that, through December 31, it had paid $23.8 billion in cash dividends to the US Treasury.

Sequesterville: Finally republicans Don't Cave. Minus a Few RINOs

March 1, 2013

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks to reporters after the Senate failed to pass two bill designed to avoid the potentially devastating government budget cuts, dubbed Sequestration, on Capitol Hill on February 28, 2013 in Washington, D.C. UPI/Kevin Dietsch License photo

WASHINGTON,  (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate Thursday rebuffed two proposals to head off sequestration, meaning $85 billion in automatic spending cuts will begin to roll out.

The Hill newspaper said legislation by Senate Democrats won 51 votes; a Republican alternative won 38.

Either plan needed at least 60 votes to advance, the newspaper said.

Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, all Democrats voted against their party's bill. All three are up for re-election in 2014.

In a procedural move that would allow the bill to move to the floor in the future, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., switched his vote to "no."

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia was the only Democrat who voted for the Republican legislation. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was among the eight Republicans who voted against the GOP bill, The Hill reported.

The newspaper said the Congressional Budget Office estimates the cuts could cost 750,000 jobs this year.

However, President Obama is scheduled to meet with congressional leaders from both parties Friday at the White House to discuss the sequester.

None of the participants expects the White House meeting to produce a breakthrough, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The cuts -- which will run through the end of the fiscal year in September unless lawmakers intervene -- are the first of a decade-long plan to cut spending $1.2 trillion for nearly every federal program, except for military personnel and entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

The cuts were included in the 2011 deal to raise the federal debt limit. They represent between 2 percent and 3 percent of the federal government's annual $3.5 trillion budget.

Senate Democrats offered an alternative bill that would pay for the sequester through the end of the fiscal year with a combination of a minimum 30 percent tax on millionaires and cuts to defense and farm payments.

"Now, less than 48 hours before the clock runs out, all they've offered is a gimmicky tax hike that's designed to fail," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on Capitol Hill. "I hope they're not expecting a round of applause for this particular act of political bravery."

Senate Republicans had an alternative bill that would have the same $85 billion in budget cuts but put the onus on Obama to determine which programs would be cut.

The White House has said Obama will not support any sequester alternative that doesn't include a "balanced plan" that includes domestic program cuts and additional tax revenue collected from some corporations and high-income people.

The Republican-controlled House has not offered its own version of an alternative to the sequester cuts.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said his chamber will only consider an option that has passed the Senate.

The House passed two sequester alternatives near the end of last year's Congress that didn't become law.

"We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something," Boehner told reporters Tuesday.

Hagel: U.S. cannot "dictate to the world"

March 1, 2013

Newly sworn-in Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the U.S. cannot "dictate to the world" in remarks to Pentagon staff that also acknowledged looming sequestration concerns. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). STORY: Chuck Hagel, fresh from a fractious confirmation process and now on his first day on the job as U.S. secretary of defense, told military and civilian staff at the Pentagon on Wednesday (February 27) that he will do all in his power to be a worthy leader of the nation's military. "It's a privilege. Yes, for me, my family, but to be part of your team, who you are is the honor. That's the great privilege. You're not joining my team; I'm joining your team," Hagel said. Hagel will face the immediate task of guiding the Pentagon brass as they implement billions of dollars in mandatory budget cuts -- called sequestration in Washington political parlance -- which go into effect on Friday (March 01) and which are expected to result in layoffs or furloughs of thousands of civilian employees of the Pentagon. "We need to figure this out. You are doing that. You have been doing that. We need to deal with this reality," Hagel said.


Prescription charges in England will rise 20p to £7.85 from April 1 under changes announced by ministers

March 1, 2013

Prescription charges in England will rise 20p to £7.85 from April 1 under changes announced by ministers.

Prescription charges in England will rise by 20p from April 1
Health Minister Earl Howe said NHS dental charges will also increase on the same date.

In a written statement to Parliament, he said the cost of a prescription pre-payment certificate (PPC) would remain unchanged.

Earl Howe said regulations would be laid in Parliament to implement the changes.

He said the cost of a three-month PPC would remain at £29.10 for another year, with an annual PPC unchanged at £104.

"PPCs offer savings for those needing four or more items in three months or 14 or more items in one year," he said.

Charges for a band 1 course of dental treatment will rise 50p to £18, band 2 will rise £1 to £49 and the cost of band 3 will increase by £5 to £214.

The minister said: "Dental charges represent an important contribution to the overall cost of dental services. The exact amount raised will be dependent upon the level and type of primary dental care services commissioned by the NHS Commissioning Board and the proportion of charge-paying patients who attend dentists and the level of treatment they require."

Charges for wigs and fabric supports will be increased by an overall 2.5%.

The value of NHS optical vouchers will increase by 1% "in order to continue to provide help with the cost of spectacles and contact lenses", Earl Howe said.


Youth unemployment in Spain rises to 55.5%

March 1, 2013

Link: Statement [pdf]

Exclusive: Chinese trader accused of busting Iran missile embargo

March 1, 2013

(Reuters) - A Chinese businessman indicted in the United States over sales of missile parts to Iran is still making millions of dollars from the trade, say security officials who monitor compliance with Western and U.N. sanctions.

These officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the businessman, Li Fangwei, has earned at least $10 million from illegal sales to Iran since his indictment by the New York County District Attorney in 2009.

Trade sanctions are at the heart of international efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program for fear it is for military ends - a suspicion Iran rejects. Li's alleged activities may point to Iran's resourcefulness in circumventing those sanctions and turn a spotlight on China's ability to police its own export restrictions.

It is hard to quantify the contribution of foreign firms and individuals to Iran's nuclear and missile programs, but analysts believe some vital components are all but impossible for Tehran to produce at home.

Contacted by Reuters on Feb 4, Li said he continued to get commercial inquiries from Iran but only for legitimate merchandise, such as steel products. Li said his company, LIMMT, had stopped selling to Iran once the United States began sanctioning it several years ago.

He dismissed allegations by the security officials that he had used deception, including changes of company names, to supply Iran with Chinese and foreign-made parts such as high-grade alloys that can be used to enrich uranium and guidance devices suitable for missiles.

"Sure, we did business with Iran, but we did not export the goods they said we did, missiles or whatever," Li said. "We still get inquiries from Iranian clients, but we don't respond to them."

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Beijing was adhering to trade restrictions, including a U.N. ban on helping Iran build missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads.

Officials from Iran, including at firms the security officials said were clients of Li and at the embassy in Beijing, did not respond to requests for comment. A Chinese bank which the security officials said Li used for Iranian business denied it had breached U.N. sanctions.


In 2006, the U.S. Treasury barred Li from the U.S. financial system for allegedly selling goods with potential military uses to Iran.

Three years later, the New York County District Attorney unsealed a fraud indictment against Li and his metals company LIMMT on suspicion they had used false names to process further payments for sales to Iran through several U.S. banks.

The U.S. banks employed by Li were innocent of any wrongdoing because Li and other suspects had concealed their identities, the then District Attorney, Robert Morgenthau, said.

On Feb 4, 2013, Li said that at the time of the indictment he had felt there was no point in saying anything because U.S. courts and prosecutors "don't listen to reason. It's useless."

Three weeks ago, on February 11, the U.S. State Department issued fresh sanctions against Li, saying he had "engaged in missile technology proliferation activities that require the imposition of missile sanctions", and placing additional restrictions on any missile technology trade involving him.

A State Department official said Li had been sanctioned because of his "proliferation to Iran" since his 2009 indictment. Li did not respond to calls seeking comment on the Feb 11 action.

China reacted with irritation to the February 11 measures. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the U.S. step "seriously violates the norms of international relations and harms China's interests" and urged the United States to immediately revoke "these irrational sanctions".

China has no extradition treaty with Washington.


The security officials allege that since the 2009 indictment Li, working in concert with the Iranian embassy in Beijing, had supplied parts to firms that make Iranian missiles, in particular the U.N.-blacklisted Shahid Bakeri Industrial group (SBIG). SBIG did not reply to faxes and emails sent by Reuters for comment.

The goods allegedly supplied included 15 metric tons of high-grade aluminum alloy, more than 20 metric tons of ultra-high strength steel, and 1,700 kg of graphite cylinders.

Li agreed in 2011 to supply 1,500 gyroscopes and accelerometers to SBIG, the security officials alleged, referring to devices that can be used in missile guidance and control systems - a quantity sufficient for about 500 missiles.

Gyroscopes are "controlled items" under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), an informal and voluntary partnership between 34 mainly Western countries. China is not a party to the MTCR but has similar export controls of its own.

Li also supplied more specialized devices known as fiber-optic gyroscopes, the officials allege; their main uses are in missiles, robots or remotely operated land or sea vehicles.

The officials accuse Li of advising SBIG and other Iranian clients to change details of shipments, including the falsification of the end-user and supplier details in contracts.

Li denies all the allegations.

Between 2010 and 2012, Li took over $10 million in payments from SBIG alone and travelled often to Iran, the officials allege. He used deception within China to hide his activities not only from the authorities but from Chinese companies as well, the officials added.

In 2012, they said, Li listed a Chinese company as a false end user to obtain repair equipment he intended to send to SBIG in Iran.

A diplomat in Iran's Beijing embassy helped Li, who is aged about 40, to fix meetings with defense officials when he visited Tehran, the security officials allege. In the Iranian capital, the officials said, some contacts knew him only as "The Tailor" to conceal his identity.


The officials alleged that some of his clients were not always satisfied with the quality of his goods but kept on using him, perhaps for lack of choice.

Asked in Beijing whether China knew of Li's purported activities, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua said China's position was "clear and steadfast" on non-proliferation: China had always upheld U.N. Security Council resolutions on non-proliferation. If a Chinese individual or company was doing anything illegal, it would be dealt with.

An internal report for the U.S. Congress in December concluded that sanctions, respected by China, were making it increasingly tough for Tehran to obtain certain critical components and materials for its missiles.

From 2004 to 2007, Chinese arms transfer agreements with Iran totaled about $300 million at today's prices; between 2008 and 2011 total arms transfer agreements dropped to less than $50 million, according to the report by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) on Iranian missiles.

Li said his company, LIMMT, had stopped selling to Iran once the United States began sanctioning it several years ago. He did not indicate a date, but the U.S. Treasury first sanctioned LIMMT in June 2006, citing its alleged support of and role in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to Iran.

"We used to export steel, things like that. Nothing to do with missiles," he said.

At two buildings in the northeastern city of Dalian which the security officials said had been used by Li, people either had never heard of him or said he had left some years ago.

(Additional reporting by William Maclean, Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in Beijing and Dalian, Marcus George in Dubai, Dan Williams in Jerusalem, and Mark Hosenball, David Ingram and Anna Yukhananova in Washington; Editing by Janet McBride)

Man charged in slaying of Miss. mayoral candidate

March 1, 2013

This Jan. 20, 2007 photo shows Marco McMillian, 34, a candidate for mayor of Clarksdale, Miss., who was found dead on the Mississippi River levee Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 between Sherard and Rena Lara, Miss. Authorities say the case is being investigated as a homicide. McMillian had served as international executive director of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. His campaign said he may have been the first openly gay man to be a viable candidate for public office in Mississippi. (AP Photo/The Clarksdale Press Register, Troy Catchings)
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A 22-year-old man was charged with murder Thursday in the death of a mayoral candidate, whose body was found near a river levee in the Mississippi Delta this week.

The Coahoma County Sheriff's Department said in a news release that Lawrence Reed of Shelby was charged in the death of Marco McMillian, 34, a candidate for mayor of Clarksdale.

Campaign spokesman Jarod Keith says McMillian's bid was noteworthy because he may have been the first openly gay man to be a viable candidate for public office in Mississippi.

An investigation began Tuesday when McMillian's SUV slammed head on into another car on U.S. Highway 49 near the Coahoma and Tallahatchie county lines.

Reed was driving the car, but McMillian was not in it, according to sheriff's department spokesman Will Rooker.

In this Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013 photo released
by the Coahoma County (Miss.) Sheriff's Office,
Lawrence Reed, 22, poses or a portrait. Reed, has been
charged in the death of a mayoral candidate in the
Mississippi Delta. The Coahoma County Sheriff's Department
says Reed of Shelby, Miss., was charged with murder in the
death of Marco McMillian.
(AP Photo/Coahoma County (Miss.) Sheriff's Office)
McMillian's body was found the next day near the Mississippi River levee between Sherard and Rena Lara, Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith has said.

Warren Strain, a spokesman with the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, said the autopsy was completed but toxicology and other test results are pending, and no cause of death will be released until the report is completed.

The sheriff's department has not released a possible motive for the crime.

Reed was taken to the Regional Medical Center in Memphis after the car wreck, and was listed in good condition on Thursday, a hospital official said.

Little is known about Reed or how he was acquainted with McMillian.

A recent address listed for Reed was at a Clarksdale apartment complex, but the manager said the unit was rented by another man who has since moved out. The manager said he did not know Reed.

Sissiretta Melton, 33, said she had known McMillian since they were in seventh grade in Clarksdale and described his death as "dramatic" for those who loved him and his community.

"It's just terrifying to everybody that knew him personally because you ask, 'Why?'" Melton said. "Why would it happen to someone like him?"

Melton said people knew early on that McMillian had a bright future and that he could have left Mississippi behind for good.

"He knew this town needed him," she said. "Kids here have nothing. We don't even have a decent movie theater. He wanted to bring those things here."

Keith has said McMillian had big plans for Clarksdale, a town of about 17,800 people best known as a hub of Blues music.

Although Keith said McMillian's sexual orientation was noteworthy in the conservative state, Melton took issue with the way McMillian has been characterized at times since his death, saying he was not one to flaunt his sexuality, but was comfortable with who he was.

"He was just a standup guy," she said.

Clarksdale is known as the home of the crossroads, where Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil for skills with a guitar. Academy Award-winning actor and Mississippi native Morgan Freeman is part owner of the Ground Zero Blues Club in town.

But the town also struggles with the grinding poverty that is typical of the Mississippi Delta.

Those who knew McMillian said he had connections across the country, and hoped to put those to use for Clarksdale.

McMillian had forged ties while serving for four years as international executive director of the historically black Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. Photos on McMillian's website and Facebook page show him with a younger Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton and with U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat.

McMillian was CEO of MWM & Associates, described on its website as a consulting firm for nonprofit organizations. In addition to his role at the fraternity from 2007 to 2011, McMillian had previously worked at Alabama A&M University and at Jackson State University.

Eurozone area unemployment rate rises to record high of 11.9%; EU unemployment rate at 10.8% - Statement [pdf]

March 1, 2013

Link: Statement [pdf]

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The AP’s Claim that a DHS Official Resigned Over the Illegal Alien Releases Turns Out to Be False

February 28, 2013

Earlier today the Associated Press reported that a Department of Homeland Security official had resigned in the wake of the Obama administration’s decision to release thousands of illegal aliens awaiting the judicial process. The department cited budget cuts as the reason for the releases, despite the fact that the cuts would hit about one percent of DHS’s budget, and they have not even happened yet.

The AP’s story turns out to have been premature. No one has been fired or resigned in the wake of the release scandal.

The senior Homeland Security Department official in charge of arresting and deporting illegal immigrants announced his retirement the same day the agency said that hundreds of people facing deportation had been released from immigration jails due to looming budget cuts, according to a letter obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press. The government said he had told his bosses weeks ago that he planned to retire.

Gary Mead, executive associate director over enforcement and removal operations at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, disclosed his departure in an email to his staff Tuesday afternoon. The announcement of the release of the illegal immigrants had come earlier in the day.


A spokeswoman for the agency, Gillian Christensen, said there was no connection between Mead’s announcement to his staff and the decision to release the illegal immigrants. She said Mead had told senior leaders in the agency several weeks ago that he planned to retire.

The AP’s headline on its story remains “DHS official resigns after immigrants are freed.” Which, while technically sort of true, is full of lies. One, the “immigrants” are illegal aliens awaiting court. Legal immigrants and illegal aliens are two very different things in the eyes of the law. Two, the official’s retirement, not resignation, is not connected to the jail releases. So it does not belong within miles of a story about those releases. Three, being “freed” implies that they are being held for some nefarious reason; “released” would be more accurate.

Left as is, the headline — which is all that most people will read — exonerates the Obama administration and suggests that after it found wrongdoing, a head rolled. In reality, the Obama administration probably ordered the releases and is now covering them up by blaming ICE. No one has been held accountable. The AP’s headline helps ensure that no one will be held accountable.

source: PJTatler

Stifling Acts of Socialism: EU reaches deal to cap banker bonuses

February 28, 2013

The European Union flag flies in front of the European Parliament on October 12, 2012 in Strasbourg. The European Union has reached a deal to cap bankers' bonuses, which critics say played a major role in driving the financial crisis, officials said on Thursday
AFP - The European Union has reached a deal to cap bankers' bonuses, which critics say played a major role in driving the financial crisis, officials said on Thursday.

The deal was struck early on Thursday, with the European Parliament and the EU's current Irish presidency agreeing on how to implement new rules for the banking sector.

"For the first time in the history of EU financial market regulation, we will cap bankers' bonuses," said MEP Othmar Karas, the negotiator for the parliament.

The new regulatory framework is known as Basel III, an internationally-agreed set of rules which tighten up bank capital requirements.

The negotiations on Basel III implementation in the EU have dragged on for some 10 months, in part because of the European Parliament's desire to peg back banker bonuses which critics blame for helping drive the speculative approach in the lead-up to the 2008 global financial crisis.

Basel III was supposed to have been implemented from January this year but the timetable has slipped, with the United States announcing in November that it too would not make the deadline.

The accord reached overnight will now go forward to EU finance ministers when they meet next week in Brussels.

Kras said the provisions on banker bonuses were "not the most important part of the new rules," the key point being the new capital regulations for the banks.

"The essence is that from 2014, European banks will have to set aside more money to be more stable and concentrate on their core business, namely financing the real economy, that of small- and medium-sized enterprises and jobs."

Basel III notably requires the banks to build up their capital buffers and reserves so that they will be better able to withstand any new crisis.

Full details of the EU accord will be released at a press conference in the European Parliament later on Thursday.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday he would "look carefully" at the proposed new regulations while defending the UK's position as an international financial centre.

Speaking in Riga after talks with Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, Cameron told journalists: "On the negotiations in Brussels on banking regulation...we will look carefully at the outcome of the negotiations last night.

"We are absolutely clear that we must be able to implement the Vickers Plan in the UK which in some ways is tougher than regulations which have been put in place in other European countries. We want to have a proper ring fence between retail banks and investment banks and the rules must allow that to happen."

The Vickers plan is a set of domestic proposals designed to reform the UK banking sector.

Cameron signalled that he would not allow new regulations from Brussels to impact the leading role of the City of London in global marketplaces.

Sequestration politics: Obama taxes like King George

February 28, 2013

COLLEGE PARK, Md., Feb. 28 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama has taken the middle class hostage in a thinly veiled bid to hike their taxes.

Having refused to work with Congress to reduce spending by $1.2 trillion over 10 years, as he agreed when drafting the Budget Act of 2011, the president must now implement $85 billion in across-the-board cuts to defense and non-entitlement government spending.

House Republicans have offered ease burdens on the public -- by increasing administration flexibility in implementing those cuts in the continuing resolution to keep the government funded past March 27 -- but the president wants no part in that.

Instead, he campaigns across the country, painting the dire consequences sequestration will impose if new revenues aren't raised, as he proposes, by limiting tax deductions benefiting the wealthy. That is a cynical ploy -- Obama talks like President Harry Truman but taxes like King George III.

Taxes imposed at his insistence on Jan. 1 eliminated 80 percent of the benefits of tax deductions -- mortgage interest, state income taxes, local property levies and the like -- for wealthier households. Any substantial gains from further tightening deductions must come from similarly limiting their use by middle-class taxpayers.

Already, by hiking Social Security tax rates, the majority of $150 billion in additional revenue obtained Jan. 1 was extracted from the working poor and middle-class families, and federal revenues share of gross domestic product will substantially exceed its average for the last 40 years.

And the president is unwilling to acknowledge the government is spending is flying out of control. Over the last five years, outlays are up $1 trillion -- three times the amount required by inflation -- and tax revenues are short because high rates and burdensome regulations are choking economic growth and jobs creation.

Instead, the president threatens furloughed meat inspectors, food shortages and streets without police. His Cabinet secretaries threaten three-hour waits at airport security, reduced embassy protection and border patrols and the list goes on.

Appropriation legislation does limit president's ability to allocate cuts among departments. However, even without additional legislation, he has considerable discretion in allocating the 10 percent spending cuts within departments but the president has refused to entertain options that would limit the pain in his pursuit of higher taxes.

For example, the Agriculture Department has one of the largest staffs of economists in the world -- surely, safe food is more important than yet another dull research paper. Military bands could stand down to maintain Marine guards at embassies.

Repeatedly, the president has exclaimed if congressional Republicans don't cooperate, spending cuts could derail the hard won recovery. It puzzles why he believes $85 billion in spending cuts could make such a difference, when avoiding those cuts through higher taxes wouldn't.

Whether a second recession occurs is already baked in the cake. Obama's $150 billion January tax hikes and similar rate increases imposed by Democratic governors from Maryland to California have forced consumers to trim purchases. Retailers and wholesalers are reporting weaker traffic and are trimming inventories and corporate leaders have announced plans to cut new investments and hiring owing to weak demand and more burdensome health care costs and regulations.

When Americans can't get hamburger at the supermarket and unemployment rises this spring, the president will blame on Republicans for permitting sequestration but it is the American people who bear the burden of his inflexibility, disregard for the facts and neglect in undertaking the responsibilities of his office.

RINOS Meet With Obama About Amnesty for Illegal Immigration

February 28, 2013

Graham, McCain, Obama meet on immigration to seek ways to bypass or circumvent that pesky 200 year old damn piece of paper

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (R) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). UPI/Kevin Dietsch License photo
WASHINGTON (UPI) -- Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain came away from their meeting with President Obama Tuesday saying they were more optimistic about U.S. immigration reform.
"It's one of the best meetings I've ever had with the president," Graham, R-S.C., told reporters. "Senator McCain made a strong point about the border, and the president understands the working components of it, so I was quite frankly encouraged.

"I think we'll have presidential leadership in a very productive way on immigration reform, and with that, we've got a very good chance of doing it this year."

Graham and McCain, R-Ariz., declined to give details of their discussion with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, Roll Call reported.

But Graham said the Democratic president "committed himself and his office to be helpful, and I believe him."

"He wants to be a helpful entity here. ... I couldn't have been more pleased," Graham said.

McCain said Obama "understands the parameters of what we're dealing with." The Arizona senator wouldn't say whether an agreement the issue of border enforcement being linked to a pathway to citizenship.

"I believe that the president is very committed to comprehensive immigration reform," McCain said. "Now, does that mean he's committed to anything we do? No, he has his positions on the issue as well."

Afghan police officer drugs, kills 17 colleagues

February 28, 2013

(Reuters) - An Afghan police officer drugged 17 colleagues and shot them dead on Wednesday with the aid of the Taliban, police said, the latest in a series of so-called "insider" attacks involving Afghan security forces and the Taliban.

The attacks have undermined trust between coalition and Afghan forces who are under mounting pressure to contain the Taliban insurgency before most NATO combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.

The killings, the worst in a string of similar attacks in recent months, occurred at a remote Afghan Local Police (ALP) outpost in the eastern province of Ghazni.

"An infiltrated local policeman first drugged all 17 of his comrades, and then called the Taliban and they together shot them all," the chief police detective for Ghazni, Mohammad Hassan, told Reuters.

Seven of the dead were new recruits still undergoing training, officials said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

The rapidly growing ALP program is an American-designed initiative designed to recruit local men as security officers for their area.

The force has been beset by allegations of abuse and widespread corruption.

In September, Afghanistan suspended the training of new ALP recruits following a spate of insider attacks on foreign soldiers.

KABUL  Thu Feb 28, 2013 12:39am EST

Scandal: Functional Cronyism in a Dysfunctional Nation Health Care System

February 28, 2013

Use and abuse, coming to a government run health care system near you.............

Mid Staffs report calls for sweeping changes to improve patient safety

Report into scandal makes 290 recommendations to ensure patients' interests become top priority for NHS

Up to 1,200 patients are believed to have died between January 2005 and
March 2009 as a result of poor care at Stafford hospital.
Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty
Hospital staff and managers should face prosecution if patients are harmed or killed as a result of poor care as part of sweeping changes to finally end the NHS's neglect of patient safety, the landmark report into the Mid Staffordshire scandal has recommended.
The report by Robert Francis QC, who chaired the 31-month public inquiry into the scandal, amounted to a damning indictment of NHS attitudes, practices and organisations.

Francis made no fewer than 290 recommendations, which he said were designed to ensure that patients' interests became the top priority for the NHS and that in future any lapses in care standards are detected and stopped right away, unlike at Stafford hospital.

Ministers will have to contemplate further changes to the NHS's system of regulation – which Francis has found to be seriously wanting – and monitoring of hospitals.

David Cameron, apologising on behalf of the government and country for the way the system had allowed "horrific abuse to go unchecked and unchallenged" for so long, said the report's evidence of systemic failure means "we cannot say with confidence that failings of care are limited to one hospital".

He confirmed a new post of chief inspector of hospitals would be created from the autumn and demanded that the General Medical Council and Nursing and Midwifery Council, the professional bodies policing doctors and nurses, explain why no one had been struck off for their part in the failings. He also said the Health and Safety Executive must say why there had been no prosecution.

An estimated 400-1,200 patients are believed to have died between January 2005 and March 2009 as a result of poor care at Stafford hospital in one of the biggest NHS scandals.

As the report was published, Francis delivered an excoriating verdict on conditions at Stafford and demanded a change of culture to put patients first from the top to bottom of the NHS, which, he said, had "betrayed the public".

He said: "This is a story of appalling and unnecessary suffering of hundreds of people. They were failed by a system which ignored the warning signs and put corporate self-interest and cost control ahead of patients and their safety.

"We need a patient-centred culture, no tolerance of non-compliance with fundamental standards, openness and transparency, candour to patients, strong cultural leadership, caring compassionate nursing, and useful and accurate information about services."

Francis said that while the hospital trust itself bore most of the responsibility for allowing "appalling suffering of many patients" to go unchecked between 2005 and 2009, multiple failures by a wide array of organisations and individuals across "the NHS system" allowed poor care to persist and meant opportunities to intervene were not taken.

Patients were left at risk at the hospital even after the then NHS regulator sounded the alarm about unusually high death rates there, he added. Checks and balances designed to protect patients did not prevent "serious systemic failure of this sort".

In a scathing assessment of the trust's board of directors, Francis accused it of "a serious failure" of its duties. "It did not listen sufficiently to its patients and staff or ensure the correction of deficiencies brought to the trust's attention. [It also] failed to tackle an insidious negative culture involving a tolerance of poor standards and a disengagement from management and leadership responsibilities," he said.

But he also cited the hospital A&E unit's need to treat 98% of patients arriving there within four hours to meet the government's key NHS targets, the trust's attempts to balance its books and its "seeking foundation trust status … at the cost of delivering acceptable standards of care" as contributory factors.

Francis said in future the NHS should have a relentless focus on fundamental standards of care which, if breached should lead to serious sanctions.

"Any service or part of a service that does not consistently fulfil the relevant fundamental standards should not be permitted to continue," Francis said, in a move that could lead to the closure of hospital units arousing concern.

In addition, "non-compliance with a fundamental standard leading to death or serious harm of a patient should be capable of being prosecuted as a criminal offence, unless the provider or individual concerned can show that it as not reasonably practical to avoid this", he recommended.

Francis also recommended the creation of, in effect, one new super-regulator for the NHS to scrutinise both clinical and financial standards. Those tasks are currently performed separately by two watchdogs – the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which regulates care, and Monitor, which regulates semi-independent foundation trust hospitals and is due to become the NHS in England's overall financial regulator in April.

In a letter to the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, accompanying his report, Francis said the causes of the NHS's failings at Mid Staffs included:

• A culture focused on doing the system's business – not that of patients

• Too great a degree of tolerance of poor standards and of risk to patients

• An institutional culture which ascribed more weight to positive information about the service than to information capable of implying cause for concern

• A failure of communication between the many agencies to share their knowledge of concerns.

Action against Medical Accidents welcomed the recommendation to make it a statutory duty for NHS staff to own up to their mistakes, for which it has been campaigning strongly.

Its chief executive, Peter Walsh, said ministers must accept the recommendation, "which would represent the biggest advance in patient safety and patients' rights in the history of the NHS", he said.

Walsh added: "So far they have fiercely resisted this. The duty of candour, together with other recommendations to ensure full openness and transparency, represent a new dawn for the NHS. Organisations that sweep errors under the carpet do not learn lessons. An open and transparent NHS will be a safer NHS."

Clare Gerada of the Royal College of GPs said: "At a time when the NHS is under greater than ever financial pressure, it is imperative that the needs of patients are put first, and that cuts are not made which could jeopardise the safety of patient care."

Cathy Warwick of the Royal College of Midwives also welcomed the duty of candour suggestion. "We hear far too often from midwives who are genuinely petrified about raising the alarm bell over poor quality of care," she said. "They fear that senior managers will come down on them hard simply for raising concerns … NHS staff must never again be afraid to raise concerns about standards of NHS care. Today must be a watershed for the NHS."