Politics: Daily Briefing: OK, maybe the attacks were pre-planned, Carney now says

Published by: Clark Barrow on Wednesday September 19th, 2012

Clark Barrow

By CLARK BARROW - One story doesn't fly . . . try another.

DAILY BRIEFING - SUMMARY

· DECLINE - The Fraser Institute released its 2012 Economic Freedom of the World report on Tuesday. In the report, the United States, long considered a champion of economic freedom among large industrial nations, dropped to its lowest position ever in the annual report.

· CONGRESS - This week, the U.S. House will vote on the Stop the War on Coal Act (H.R. 3409), which would protect American jobs and support U.S. energy production by blocking the implementation of a number of rules and fixing the problem of the EPA usurping the authority of the states and the Army Corps of Engineers.

· WHITE HOUSE - A U.S. Appeals Court judge has temporarily stayed a lower court ruling that found a controversial terrorist detention law unconstitutional and could block the Obama administration from detaining some terrorism suspects indefinitely.

· ATTACK - A U.S. intelligence cable warned the American Embassy in Cairo of possible violence in response to Arabic-language broadcasts of clips from an anti-Muslim film, U.S. government sources said on Monday.

o Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney suggested that the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, could have been preplanned and the work of an armed group looking to "take advantage" of unrest he blamed on an anti-Islam video available online.

· THREAT - The French foreign ministry announced Wednesday that France will close 20 of its embassies in Muslim countries this Friday following the publication of controversial Prophet Mohammed cartoons by satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

· DEPENDENCE - According to figures from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, its most recent analysis in July 2011 determined that 46.4 percent of American households (U.S. tax units) paid no federal individual income tax in 2011.

WHAT WE KNOW

ECONOMIC NEWS

· DECLINE - The Fraser Institute released its 2012 Economic Freedom of the World report on Tuesday. In the report, the United States, long considered a champion of economic freedom among large industrial nations, dropped to its lowest position ever in the annual report.

o In the current report, the U.S. plunged to 18th, a sharp decline from the second overall position it held in 2000. Much of this decline is a result of high spending on the part of the U.S. government.

o Hong Kong offers the highest level of economic freedom worldwide, with a score of 8.90 out of 10, followed by Singapore (8.69), New Zealand (8.36), Switzerland (8.24), Australia and Canada (each 7.97), Bahrain (7.94), Mauritius (7.90), Finland (7.88), Chile (7.84). The rankings and scores of other large economies include: United States (18th), Japan (20th), Germany (31st), South Korea (37th), France (47th), Italy (

o Economic freedom is measured in five different areas: (1) size of government, (2) legal structure and security of property rights, (3) access to sound money, (4) freedom to trade internationally, and (5) regulation of credit, labor, and business.

· The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 11.54 points, or 0.09%, at 13,564.64.

· The Nasdaq Composite fell 0.87 point to 3,177.80.

· S&P 500 shed 1.87 points, or 0.1%, to 1,459.32.

COMMODITIES

· The U.S. national average for a gallon of regular gasoline is $3.85.

o When President Obama was inaugurated, in January 2009, the U.S. national average for a gallon of regular gasoline was $1.85. Average gasoline prices are currently 108 percent higher than they were when Mr. Obama became president.

· Crude for October delivery retreated 13 cents, or 1.4%, to settle at $95.29 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

· Gold for December delivery rose 60 cents, or less than 0.1%, to end at $1,771.20 an ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange.

NEWS TO WATCH

· ELECTION - As of today, there are 48 days until the November 2012 presidential election.

· CONGRESS - This week, the U.S. House will vote on the Stop the War on Coal Act (H.R. 3409), which would protect American jobs and support U.S. energy production by blocking the implementation of a number of rules and fixing the problem of the EPA usurping the authority of the states and the Army Corps of Engineers.

o According to the Heritage Foundation, the Obama Administration has been consistently hostile to the coal industry. This bill would help reverse the negative implications of his policies and protect American jobs, which have suffered on a large scale as a result of overregulation of the coal industry by the EPA.

o This comes as coal producer Alpha Natural Resources said Tuesday it was cutting production by 16 million tons and eliminating 1,200 jobs companywide, laying off 400 workers immediately by closing mines in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

o The company said the shutdowns and layoffs are a necessary part of ensuring Alpha survives in what has become a difficult U.S. market, where coal companies face a dual challenge: Power plants are shifting to cheap, abundant natural gas, while companies like his face "a regulatory environment that's aggressively aimed at constraining the use of coal."

· WHITE HOUSE - A U.S. Appeals Court judge has temporarily stayed a lower court ruling that found a controversial terrorist detention law unconstitutional and could block the Obama administration from detaining some terrorism suspects indefinitely.

o Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Raymond Lohier granted the federal government a temporary stay that stops the District Court injunction from taking hold until the appellate court hears the case, according to reports Tuesday.

o The stay was issued after the Obama administration warned that the District Court’s injunction could have harmed detention practices in active conflicts such as Afghanistan.

PRESIDENT’S SCHEDULE

· In the morning, President Obama will receive the Presidential Daily Briefing and meet with Vice President Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the White House.

· Later in the day, the president will receive the credentials from foreign ambassadors recently posted in Washington, D.C. in a ceremony marking the formal start of an ambassador's service in Washington, D.C.

· In the afternoon, the president will meet with the vice president for lunch at the White House.

HAPPENING IN THE U.S. CONGRESS

U.S. SENATE

· The U.S Senate is in session today.

U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

· The U.S. House is in session today.

TOPICS OF INTEREST

NATIONAL SECURITY

· ATTACK - A U.S. intelligence cable warned the American Embassy in Cairo of possible violence in response to Arabic-language broadcasts of clips from an anti-Muslim film, U.S. government sources said on Monday.

o The cable, dispatched from Washington, D.C. on September 10, the day before protests erupted, advised the embassy the broadcasts could provoke violence. It did not direct specific measures to upgrade security, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

o However, under standard diplomatic procedures, Egyptian government officials and security forces were notified of U.S. concerns, since host governments are responsible for ensuring the security of foreign diplomatic missions on their soil, the sources said.

o Copies of the cable were not sent to other U.S. outposts in the region, including the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where violence took the life of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The ties between the Benghazi violence and the crude anti-Muslim film are still unclear.

o Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney suggested that the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, could have been preplanned and the work of an armed group looking to "take advantage" of unrest he blamed on an anti-Islam video available online.

· THREAT - The French foreign ministry announced Wednesday that France will close 20 of its embassies in Muslim countries this Friday following the publication of controversial Prophet Mohammed cartoons by satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Major protests in the Muslim world generally take place after Friday prayers.

o The illustrations, which show the Prophet Mohammed naked and refer to the incendiary US-made film which has been fueling deadly unrest among Muslim communities for over a week, hit newsstands across France on Wednesday.

o Islamic militants sought Tuesday to capitalize on anger over an anti-Islam video that was produced in the United States, saying a suicide bombing that killed 12 people in Afghanistan was revenge for the film and calling for attacks on U.S. diplomats and facilities in North Africa.

o The attempt by extremists across the region to harness Muslim fury over a film that denigrates the Prophet Muhammad posed new concern for the United States, whose embassies and consulates have been targeted, and in some cases breached, during riots and protests over the past week.

o At the same time, Western leaders welcomed statements by Middle East governments that condemned the violence against diplomatic facilities on their soil, even as they expressed anger over the video. Some of those governments replaced autocratic regimes in popular uprisings that swept the region, allowing for greater leniency toward protest.

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

· DEPENDENCE - According to figures from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, its most recent analysis in July 2011 determined that 46.4 percent of American households (U.S. tax units) paid no federal individual income tax in 2011.

o That comes to about 76 million individuals or families who paid no federal income taxes in 2011. According to the Tax Policy Center, about half of those who owe no federal income tax are people whose incomes are so low that when standard income tax provisions — personal exemptions for taxpayers and dependents and the standard deduction — are factored in, that simply leaves no income to be taxed. Those are people who earned less than about $27,000.

o Meanwhile, the 2012 Index of Dependence on Government on Government by the Heritage Foundation increased by 3.28 percent for the current year. Additional details of the index include:

o According to the Heritage Foundation report, nearly half of the U.S. population (48.47 percent) does not pay any federal income taxes.

o Government dependency jumped 3.28 percent in 2011, with the largest increases in higher education loans and grants and in retirement spending.

o This is the fourth year in a row that the Index has risen, rising 31.73 percent in that time.

o The new report found that more people than ever before—67.3 million Americans, from college students to retirees to welfare beneficiaries—depend on the federal government for housing, food, income, student aid, or other assistance once considered to be the responsibility of individuals, families, neighborhoods, churches, and other civil society institutions.

o The report found that illustrates how 70.5 percent of federal spending now goes to dependence-creating programs, up dramatically from 28.3 percent in 1962, and 48.5 percent in 1990.

o Over the next 25 years, more than 77 million boomers will begin collecting Social Security checks, drawing Medicare benefits, and relying on long-term care under Medicaid. No event will financially challenge these important programs over the next two decades more than this shift into retirement of the largest generation in American history.

· TAX BURDEN - According to figures from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the following details the total percent of federal income taxes paid by income group in 2009:

o TOTAL INCOME TAX SHARES FOR 2009

§ (percent of federal income tax paid by each group)

· Top 0.1% = 17.11%

· Top 1% = 36.73%

· Top 5% = 58.66%

· Between 5% & 10% = 11.81%

· Top 10% = 70.47%

· Top 25% = 87.30%

· Top 50% = 97.75%

· Bottom 50% = 2.25%

· STIMULUS - Government officials blame unfair competition from China for the collapse of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, but such concerns didn’t stop the federal government from breaking stimulus program rules to use Chinese solar panels atop a federal building housing the offices of a senator, congressman and several agencies.

o Even the contractor questioned whether Chinese-made panels could be used under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus program that mandated use of U.S.-made products. His query in early 2010 was dismissed and the General Services Administration moved forward with using the Chinese panels on the Sen. Paul Simon Federal Building in Carbondale, Ill., records show.

o Questions about the panels, which were assembled overseas, were raised in a four-page advisory memo sent by the inspector general to the GSA in the summer of 2011, but the findings take on added significance as government officials increasingly place blame on Chinese subsidies for troubles in the U.S. solar market.

EDUCATION

· CHICAGO - The city's teachers agreed Tuesday to return to the classroom after more than a week on the picket lines, ending a spiteful stalemate with Mayor Rahm Emanuel that put teacher evaluations and job security at the center of a national debate about the future of public education.

o Union delegates voted to formally suspend the strike after discussing details of a proposed contract settlement worked out over the weekend. Classes could resume as early as Wednesday.

o The walkout, the first in Chicago in 25 years, shut down the nation's third-largest school district just days after 350,000 students had returned from summer vacation. Tens of thousands of parents were forced to find alternatives for idle children, including many whose neighborhoods have been wracked by gang violence in recent months.

o Tuesday's vote was not on the contract offer itself, but on whether to continue the strike. The contract will now be submitted to a vote by the full membership of more than 25,000 teachers.

FOREIGN POLICY

MIDDLE EAST

· IRAN - The top nuclear negotiators for Iran and the big powers met face to face for the first time in nearly three months on Tuesday, part of an effort to revive the stalled talks over Iran’s disputed uranium enrichment activities as new military tensions roil the Middle East.

o The meeting between the negotiators, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign policy official, and Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, was held privately in Istanbul and was not considered a formal negotiation. Michael Mann, Ms. Ashton’s spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement that it was “a useful and constructive meeting and an important opportunity to stress once again to Iran the urgent need to make progress.”

o The last time Ms. Ashton and Mr. Jalili met was June 18-20 in Moscow, where teams for Iran and the P5-plus-1 countries — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany — walked away in frustration.

· SYRIA - For the second time in a week, the bloody civil war in Syria spilled across border areas on Wednesday as rebel forces reportedly expelled government troops from a northern frontier crossing in an apparent effort to expand resupply and infiltration routes in the campaign to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

o Turkish schools in the region were closed for the day after intense overnight clashes as the rebels attacked the Syrian frontier post at Tal Abyad, south of the Turkish town of Sanliurfa, according to the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency.

o Television footage on Wednesday appeared to show members of the insurgent Free Syrian Army standing on the rooftop and hauling down the Syrian flag at the Tal Abyad customs post, which is less than a mile from Turkey’s Akcakale crossing.

AFRICA

· EGYPT - As anti-American sentiment boils in Islamic countries like Egypt, lawmakers are moving to permit billions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid under a government-wide funding bill set to clear Congress this week.

o In the case of Egypt, turmoil since the overthrow of U.S. ally President Hosni Mubarak early last year has delayed the release of hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid that has been approved over several years.

o As for aid to Egypt, it would be permitted at an annualized rate of $1.55 billion — $250 million in economic aid and $1.3 million in military aid, though the actual flow of money is supposed to be contingent on the administration’s willingness to certify that Egypt has met stringent conditions demanded by Congress, including demonstrating that it is taking specific steps toward democracy.

ASIA

· CHINA - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Chinese troops Wednesday that America's new military focus on the Asia-Pacific region, including plans to put a second radar system in Japan, is not an attempt to contain or threaten China.

o Delivering his message directly to the young Chinese officers and cadets coming up through the ranks, Panetta tried to put to rest fears that the U.S. move to add forces, ships and a missile defense system in the region is aimed at the communist giant.

o Ever since the plan was unveiled by the Pentagon earlier this year, the U.S. military's shift to the Pacific has fueled worries of increased tensions or conflict with China and its 2.3 million-member People's Liberation Army. While the broad sentiments expressed in the speech were not new, Panetta laid out a more pointed argument that the growing American presence in the region includes an effort to build a stronger relationship with Beijing.