Friday, February 26, 2010

Health Insurance Rates and Executive Salaries Go Up.

Insurance company proposed 39% rate hike as executives got bonuses

Miami Herald — While Anthem Blue Cross proposed a 39 percent rate increase on thousands of its California customers, its parent company gave 39 of its executives more than $1 million each and spent more than $27 million on 103 lavish executive retreats, congressional investigators said Wednesday.

"One question we asked is where does all of this money go? ... Corporate executives at WellPoint are thriving, while its policyholders are paying the price," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said at a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing Wednesday.
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Despite outcry, Anthem Blue Cross to go ahead with big rate hike

Christian Science Monitor — Anthem Blue Cross, the health insurer that plans to boost rates by as much as 39 percent in California this year, has become a lightning rod in the national debate over healthcare reform.

In President Obama’s healthcare summit Thursday, both Republicans and Democrats held up the company as an example of why the federal government needs to take steps to keep rising insurance premiums in check.
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Lawmakers Lay Into Wellpoint Over Rates

Wall Street Journal — Insurers faced harsh criticism Wednesday during a congressional hearing on steep premium increases by a Wellpoint Inc. unit in California.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, pointed to internal company documents he said demonstrated that profit influenced the decision by WellPoint's Anthem Blue Cross unit to raise prices on individual insurance plans by as much as 39%.
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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Repulican Strategy on the Health Plan

Karl Rove: What the GOP Should Say at the Health Summit

Wall Street Journal — The congressional Republicans at today's televised health-care "summit" at the White House naturally want to prevent the president from turning it into a PR stunt. This is no easy task. They'll not only have to point out problems with his plan and offer their own ideas, but correct the president when he makes statements that are not true.

The GOP participants appear ready for the first two tasks. In an unusual approach, House and Senate members prepped together the way a candidate preps for a presidential debates—by pulling together debate books and conducting mock sessions. But the third task is the most critical and the most difficult.
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Gingrich: Summit 'good practice run' for GOP at majority rule

USA Today — Former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich said this morning that the White House health-care summit could be a trial run for Republicans on how to act if they take control of Congress in the fall. Gingrich has urged Republicans to engage in "principled, responsible bipartisanship" on issues like education reform, and he has joined with former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle to propose bipartisan health-care solutions.

Gingrich said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast that he learned from the showdown with President Bill Clinton in 1995 and 1996, which resulted in a government shutdown, that voters will reward bipartisanship. He pointed to deals that Republicans made with Clinton after the government shutdown to reform welfare and Medicare and balance the federal budget.
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GOP Headed to White House Hopeful But Hesitant

Fox News — Republicans are going to show up Thursday for a meeting on health care reform with President Obama and congressional Democrats, but they aren't going to accept whole cloth a bill outlining Democratic plans that is being posted on the White House Web site Monday.

"If they are going to lay out the plan they want four days in advance, what are we discussing?" Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., asked on "Fox News Sunday."
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Monday, February 22, 2010

Support for War in Afghanistan Withers as Dutch Government Collapses.

Dutch cabinet collapses in dispute over Afghanistan

BBC — The Dutch government has collapsed over disagreements within the governing coalition on extending troop deployments in Afghanistan.

After marathon talks, Christian Democratic Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende announced that the Labour Party was quitting the government.

He offered his government's resignation to Queen Beatrix in a telephone call.
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Nato Afghanistan mission in doubt after Dutch withdrawal

Guardian UK — The Dutch government collapsed at the weekend, making it the first European and Nato administration to fall because of the war in Afghanistan.

The fourth fall of a government under the prime minister, Jan-Peter Balkenende, in eight years could end his career and is certain to usher in a period of political uncertainty that could bring big gains for the extreme anti-Muslim right.
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Dutch government collapse: Will other European troops now leave Afghanistan?

Christian Science Monitor — The collapse of the Dutch government this weekend, largely over keeping Dutch troops in Afghanistan, threatens to undermine the NATO mission in the central Asian nation. And, it may signal tougher political climes ahead for other European leaders supporting a troop presence in Afghanistan.

The Dutch pullout, scheduled for August, comes at a time when NATO is undertaking a key offensive in Marjah and implementing a “hearts and minds” plan coordinated by the US administration.
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

A New Nuclear U.S.?

Obama unveils loan guarantees for 1st U.S. nuclear plant in 3 decades

Japan Today — U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced $8.33 billion loan guarantees for the construction of the first U.S. nuclear power plant in more than 30 years, a move that could create opportunities for Japanese companies involved in building such facilities.

‘‘We’re going to have to build a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in America,’’ Obama said in a speech at the Lanham, Maryland-based job-training center of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a labor union.
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Budget Wielded to Cut Greenhouse Gases

Wall Street Journal — President Barack Obama's 2011 budget calls for an array of regulations, subsidies and taxes aimed at cutting emissions of greenhouse gases, even as a sweeping climate bill sits on ice in the Senate.

Mr. Obama's budget calls for $39 billion in tax increases on fossil-fuel producers over 10 years. It also includes an estimated $1.4 billion to help developing countries address the impacts of climate change, reduce deforestation and shift to low-carbon energy sources. And it proposes tripling federal support for nuclear energy, by adding $36 billion in new loan authority for an Energy Department program aimed at speeding the construction of new reactors.
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Environmental Advocates Are Cooling on Obama

New York Times — There has been no more reliable cheerleader for President Obama’s energy and climate change policies than Daniel J. Weiss of the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

But Mr. Obama’s recent enthusiasm for nuclear power, including his budget proposal to triple federal loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors to $54 billion, was too much for Mr. Weiss.
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Is The Tea Party Too Far Right For The Right?

Tea Party Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right

New York Times — Pam Stout has not always lived in fear of her government. She remembers her years working in federal housing programs, watching government lift struggling families with job training and education. She beams at the memory of helping a Vietnamese woman get into junior college.

But all that was before the Great Recession and the bank bailouts, before Barack Obama took the White House by promising sweeping change on multiple fronts, before her son lost his job and his house. Mrs. Stout said she awoke to see Washington as a threat, a place where crisis is manipulated — even manufactured — by both parties to grab power.
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Tea party to protest Republicans

The Herald Tribune — Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele was still at a summit with tea party activists in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, when people connected to the movement hatched plans to protest his arrival in Charlotte County for meetings with top Republican fundraisers later this week.

Englewood resident Randy McLendon said he and other tea party groups are planning to line the Boca Grande Causeway and other locations on the island with signs on Friday to make sure Steele and other GOP leaders know how upset they are with the party.
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Tea Party Revolution Could Undermine Republican Jewish Outreach

The Jewish Week — An angry “Tea Party” movement that Republican leaders hope to harness to boost their party’s chances in the 2010 congressional midterm elections could also be a potential blow to GOP outreach to minorities — including Jewish voters.

But Republican leaders, too, are in the movement’s cross hairs, and some Jewish leaders worry that the movement could transcend traditional politics entirely and create an extremist surge that is threatening to all minorities.
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Monday, February 15, 2010

Clinton Ramps Up Rhetoric Against Iran

Iran leaves world ‘little choice,’ says Clinton

Jewish Telegraphic Agency — The world has "little choice" but to impose "greater costs" on Iran for its refusal to cooperate on the nuclear issue, Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

The rebuff of a U.S.-led offer to enrich uranium for medical research in exchange for greater transparency and a refusal to deal with United Nations nuclear inspectors "have caused us to wonder: What does Iran have to hide?" the U.S. secretary of state said Sunday, addressing the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Qatar, an event organized by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank with close ties to the Obama administration.
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Clinton says U.S. fears Iran is becoming a military dictatorship

The Washington Post — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that the United States fears Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has gained enough power to potentially supplant the Tehran government.

Speaking to Arab students at Carnegie Mellon's Doha campus Monday, Clinton made comments about the Guard's increasing role in the country's economic and political life that went further than previous administration statements.
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Clinton warns Iran not to 'build their bomb'

BBC — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the US would welcome peaceful engagement with Iran but not "while they are building their bomb".

She spoke at the US-Islamic World forum in Qatar during a trip to rally Arab support for tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sellers vs. Publishers; the Amazon - Macmillan War

Amazon's Grip on E-book Pricing Slackens, But the War's Not Over

Bnet — The e-book pricing war between Macmillan and Amazon (AMZN) is still raging but Amazon’s lost two more battles, further loosening the online retailer’s choke hold on the $9.99 price point for digital books.

Publishing heavyweight Rupert Murdoch voiced his displeasure during a News Corp. (NWS) earnings call on Tuesday.
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Has Amazon Moved Your Buy Button?

New York Times — You may have read about the standoff between and the Macmillan publishing company. Macmillan had objected to Amazon’s pricing, particularly its loss-leader $9.99 e-book price for new books. In turn, temporarily halted the sale of all Macmillan books. This meant Amazon customers could only buy such books from third-party vendors; the regular Amazon “buy” button had been moved.

A few days later, Amazon began to sell Macmillan’s books again. But the Authors Guild wants to protect its members against such future actions. Here is the notice the Guild recently distributed; it plainly views Amazon as something less than a trusted partner:
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FAQ: Amazon vs. Macmillan -- The IPad Wins

PC World — When Apple Inc. introduced the iPad last week, it launched a lot more than a tablet device. The announcement included the Apple iBook store, which in subsequent days provoked an e-book pricing firestorm , leading to temporarily halt sales of Macmillan e-books and paper books over the weekend.

Reactions to Amazon's pulling the plug on Macmillan, and Amazon's subsequent capitulation, took off in all directions. Macmillan authors, notably science fiction writer John Scalzi, were outraged by Amazon's action. Meanwhile, some e-book buyers blasted Macmillan, vowing they won't pay more than $9.99 for a first-release e-book, and will take a pass on e-books that cost as much as $14.95, the price Macmillan is proposing.
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Monday, February 8, 2010

Israel - Syria --- War -Peace?

Israel, Syria talk up war, peace

China News — While most of recent headlines regarding Israel's relationship with Syria are echoes of war drums, there is also seemingly a push right now to resume peace talks between the old foes.

During the last few days, senior officials from the two countries have been talking of military confrontation. Yet, calls for peace talks also can be heard in Israel, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday saying that his country is " open for the renewal of negotiations with Syria."
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Netanyahu: Israel open to peace talks with Syria

Washington Post — Israel's prime minister attempted to end a war of words with Syria on Sunday, saying his country is open to peace talks with its longtime enemy.

Israeli and Syrian officials have traded threats over the past week, raising concerns of an escalation between two countries that have officially been at war for more than 60 years.
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A devastating war between Israel & Hezbollah is on the horizon

International Market Analyst — While the war of words is escalating around the clock between Israel on the one side and Hezbollah and Syria on the other, analysts in the Middle East and Europe strongly believe that war is inevitable and will break out within a few months.

In this scary context, senior Lebanese sources told the Saudi daily Al-Okaz that Hezbollah has announced emergency readiness in all areas of the country where it operates. Senior figures of the organization were asked to exercise greater caution in their movements amid fears they would be targeted by Israel. Hezbollah’s leaders are bragging that they are capable of defeating, humiliating and destroying Israel’s war machine.
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Monday, February 1, 2010

Obama's Budget - Energy, Jobs, Deficit, War?

Jobs, spending cuts and war top 2011 Obama budget

Reuters — President Barack Obama on Monday sent a $3.8 trillion budget request to Congress that would narrow the federal deficit by curbing 120 federal programs but set aside $100 billion to tackle unemployment.

The budget plan, which would take effect when fiscal year 2011 begins on October 1, projects a record fiscal deficit of $1.56 trillion this year but predicts the red ink will subside to $1.27 trillion in 2011 and half that in 2012.
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US 2011 Budget Targets Oil And Coal, Boosts Nuclear

Wall Street Journal — The Obama administration's proposed fiscal year 2011 budget targets the fossil fuel industry, aiming to cut around $39 billion in tax benefits over the next decade, but plans to boost the nuclear and renewable sectors.

Unlike the previous budget, the Administration didn't include specific projected revenues under its plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

It proposed adding $36 billion in loan guarantee authority for nuclear power plants and up to $5 billion loan guarantee authority for renewable energy.
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Obama Sends Congress $3.8 Trillion Budget, Soaring Deficits Projected

FOX News — President Obama sent Congress a $3.8 trillion budget Monday for fiscal year 2011, pushing a plan that includes new jobs-creation programs but is projected to add nearly $1.3 trillion in deficit spending on top of the current year's projected $1.6 trillion deficit.

According to the plan, the 2011 deficit of $1.267 trillion would fund nearly the entirety of the year's discretionary spending, which is $1.415 trillion or 37 percent of the government's total outlays. Mandatory spending on items such as entitlements and interest payments make up the rest.
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Obama maps route to lower deficits

CNN — In his $3.8 trillion budget for next year, President Obama on Monday laid out how Congress can lighten the country's debt load.

Specifically, he outlined a plan to reduce the nation's debt by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, and to get annual deficits as a percent of the economy down from 10.6% today, to 3% by 2015.
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