February 24th, 2014
Is our US military paying the price for Obama's new welfare state?
If our security in America is so terribly at stake, even unto the point that all citizens must be continually monitored, then why is our military being shrunk to levels not seen in 65 years?
BY DAVID ALEXANDER AND ANDREA SHALAL
(Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Monday it would shrink the U.S. Army to pre-World War Two levels, eliminate the popular A-10 aircraft and reduce military benefits in order to meet 2015 spending caps, setting up an election-year fight with the Congress over national defense priorities.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, previewing the Pentagon's ideas on how to adapt to government belt-tightening, said the defense budget due out next week would be the first to look beyond 13 years of conflict, shifting away from long-term ground wars like Iraq and Afghanistan.
He cautioned, however, that the country needed to be clear-eyed about the risks posed by lower budget levels, which would challenge the Pentagon to field a smaller yet well-trained force that could cope with any adversary, but might not be able to respond simultaneously to multiple conflicts.
"We ... face the risk of uncertainty in a dynamic and increasingly dangerous security environment," Hagel said. "Budget reductions inevitably reduce the military's margin of error in dealing with these risks, as other powers are continuing to modernize their weapons portfolios."
The cuts come as the Pentagon is attempting to absorb nearly a trillion dollars in reductions to projected spending over a decade. A two-year bipartisan budget deal in December eased some of the pressure on the department, but still cut its planned spending by $31 billion in 2014 and another $45 billion in 2015.
The Pentagon's budget for the 2015 fiscal year beginning in October is an estimated $496 billion, about the same amount as the current fiscal year. Beginning in 2016, the department's budget is slated to assume even larger spending cuts, an event Hagel said could jeopardize national security.
Defense analysts said the budget priorities sketched out by Hagel would begin to move the Pentagon in the right direction on issues like military compensation reform and eliminating waste but could have difficulty winning support from lawmakers facing mid-term elections to Congress.
"Congress always modifies the president's budget request. They will again. The question is will they do it in small ways or large ways," said Kathleen Hicks, a former senior defense official who is now an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
"I think the personnel pieces are the trickiest for them," she added, saying the challenge for the Pentagon was judging "in advance what is most likely to be accepted, particularly in a mid-term election year, and what is off the table."
Congressional Republicans criticized the proposed cuts. Representative Buck McKeon, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said it would be "foolish" to change military benefits before a report on the issue next year. Representative Randy Forbes, a Virginia Republican, accused the president of being "far from serious" on defense.
Hagel said the Pentagon plans to reduce the size of the Army to between 440,000 and 450,000 soldiers. The Army is currently about 520,000 soldiers and had been planning to draw down to about 490,000 in the coming year.
A reduction to 450,000 would be the Army's smallest size since 1940, before the United States entered World War Two, when it counted a troop strength of 267,767, according to Army figures. The Army's previous post-World War Two low was 479,426 in 1999.
"We chose further reductions in troop strength and force structure in every military service - active and reserve - in order to sustain our readiness and technological superiority and to protect critical capabilities," Hagel said.
Despite a congressional rebuff of Pentagon efforts to reform personnel costs in recent years, the defense chief announced a series of new steps to try to curb military and civilian personnel spending, which now makes up about half its budget.
Hagel said the department would seek a 1 percent raise in pay for military personnel but would slow the growth of tax-free housing allowances, reduce the annual subsidy for military commissaries and reform the TRICARE health insurance program for military family members and retirees.
Todd Harrison, a defense budget analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think tank, said the Pentagon was heading in the "right direction with military compensation reform," and that notions of keeping faith with troops were about more than just pay.
"Keeping faith also means ensuring our troops are the best trained and equipped in the world," Harrison said, adding that the proposed reforms sought to balance tradeoffs between pay and benefits and training and modernization.
"The clear message is that if Congress chooses to ignore these reforms again, it will force additional cuts in training and modernization which will break faith with the troops," he said.
Hagel also said the Pentagon would eliminate the Air Force fleet of A-10 "Warthog" close air support planes, which are much beloved by ground troops, in order to ensure continued funding of the new long-range bomber, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and a new aerial refueling tanker.
In a reversal of an earlier decision, he said the Pentagon decided to retire the 50-year-old U-2 spy plane in favor of the unmanned Global Hawk system after success in reducing the operating costs of the newer plane.
The defense secretary added the Pentagon had decided to build only 32 of its new Littoral Combat Ships, down from the 52 originally planned. He said the funds would be plowed back into developing a fast, new, more lethal ship similar to a frigate.
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February 23rd, 2014
Collier County, Florida -- Have you heard the one about a homeowner foreclosing on a bank?
Well, it has happened in Florida and involves a North Carolina based bank.
Instead of Bank of America foreclosing on some Florida homeowner, the homeowners had sheriff's deputies foreclose on the bank.
It started five months ago when Bank of America filed foreclosure papers on the home of a couple, who didn't owe a dime on their home.
The couple said they paid cash for the house.
The case went to court and the homeowners were able to prove they didn't owe Bank of America anything on the house. In fact, it was proven that the couple never even had a mortgage bill to pay.
A Collier County Judge agreed and after the hearing, Bank of America was ordered, by the court to pay the legal fees of the homeowners', Maurenn Nyergers and her husband.
The Judge said the bank wrongfully tried to foreclose on the Nyergers' house.
So, how did it end with bank being foreclosed on? After more than 5 months of the judge's ruling, the bank still hadn't paid the legal fees, and the homeowner's attorney did exactly what the bank tried to do to the homeowners. He seized the bank's assets.
"They've ignored our calls, ignored our letters, legally this is the next step to get my clients compensated, " attorney Todd Allen told CBS.
Sheriff's deputies, movers, and the Nyergers' attorney went to the bank and foreclosed on it. The attorney gave instructions to to remove desks, computers, copiers, filing cabinets and any cash in the teller's drawers.
After about an hour of being locked out of the bank, the bank manager handed the attorney a check for the legal fees.
"As a foreclosure defense attorney this is sweet justice" says Allen.
Allen says this is something that he sees often in court, banksmaking errors because they didn't investigate the foreclosure and it becomes a lengthy and expensive battle for the homeowner.
Most viewed at News2 Florida
February 23rd, 2014
There have been times when the CNN host Piers Morgan didn’t seem to like America very much — and American audiences have been more than willing to return the favor. Three years after taking over for Larry King, Mr. Morgan has seen the ratings for “Piers Morgan Live” hit some new lows, drawing a fraction of viewers compared with competitors at Fox News and MSNBC.
It’s been an unhappy collision between a British television personality who refuses to assimilate — the only football he cares about is round and his lectures on guns were rife with contempt — and a CNN audience that is intrinsically provincial. After all, the people who tune into a cable news network are, by their nature, deeply interested in America.
CNN’s president, Jeffrey Zucker, has other problems, but none bigger than Mr. Morgan and his plum 9 p.m. time slot. Mr. Morgan said last week that he and Mr. Zucker had been talking about the show’s failure to connect and had decided to pull the plug, probably in March.
Crossing an ocean for a replacement for Larry King, who had ratings problems of his own near the end, was probably not a great idea to begin with. For a cable news station like CNN, major stories are like oxygen. When something important or scary happens in America, many of us have an immediate reflex to turn on CNN. When I find Mr. Morgan telling me what it all means, I have a similar reflex to dismiss what he is saying. It is difficult for him to speak credibly on significant American events because, after all, he just got here.
I received a return call from Mr. Morgan and was prepared for an endless argument over my assumptions. Not so. His show, he conceded, was not performing as he had hoped and was nearing its end.
“It’s been a painful period and lately we have taken a bath in the ratings,” he said, adding that although there had been times when the show connected in terms of audience, slow news days were problematic.
“Look, I am a British guy debating American cultural issues, including guns, which has been very polarizing, and there is no doubt that there are many in the audience who are tired of me banging on about it,” he said. “That’s run its course and Jeff and I have been talking for some time about different ways of using me.”
Mr. Morgan said that his show, along with much of the rest of CNN, had been imprisoned by the news cycle and that he was interested in doing fewer appearances to greater effect — big, major interviews that would be events in themselves. Although a change has long been rumored, it was the first time that both he, and the CNN executives I talked to, acknowledged that his nightly show was on the way out. Plans for a replacement at the 9 o’clock hour are still underway, but Mr. Morgan and the network are in talks about him remaining at CNN in a different role.
Mr. Zucker, the former chief of NBC, inherited Mr. Morgan from Jonathan Klein, his predecessor, but it is now his problem to fix. In the year he has been there, CNN has introduced promising shows around the edges and will be unveiling documentaries along the lines of the very successful “Blackfish” to run on Thursday in the 10 p.m. hour.
But the chronic troubles of prime-time remain. Sometime before the network “upfront” events in April, when advertisers buy commercial time for the fall season, Mr. Zucker needs to signal how he will fix CNN’s prime-time problem, and that begins with Mr. Morgan, whose contract ends in September.
Mr. Morgan has some significant skills that do translate across platforms and cultures. While working as a newspaper editor and television personality in Britain, he was involved in a number of controversies, but he developed a reputation as a talented, probing interviewer. In his current role, he has shown an ability not only to book big guests — former President Bill Clinton, Warren Buffett, the real Wolf of Wall Street among them — but also to dig in once they are on set.
Old hands in the television news business suggest that there are two things a presenter cannot have: an accent or a beard. Mr. Morgan is clean shaven and handsome enough, but there are tells in his speech — the way he says the president’s name for one thing (Ob-AA-ma) — that suggest that he is not from around here.
February 23rd, 2014
In the aftermath of the United Auto Workers' crushing defeat in a vote to represent workers at Volkswagen's sole U.S. factory, a key question remains unanswered: did conservative politicians and anti-union groups work together to stymie the union?
In an appeal to the National Labor Relations Board on Friday, the UAW said there was a "coordinated effort" by state politicians, anti-union groups and Tennessee's U.S. Senator Bob Corker to coerce a no vote in the February 12-14 election.
The union's NLRB filing offered scant detail to support the allegation, and Reuters interviews with more than a dozen players over the past week also provide no evidence of close contacts either between the politicians and the groups or among the groups themselves.
However, through the interviews a more complete picture emerges of how at least five national organizations and one grassroots group - all apparently operating independently - mounted a formidable threat to the UAW and helped thwart what many initially viewed as the favorite to win the election.
How that loose coalition was able to help defeat the UAW could provide a blueprint for conservative groups to oppose the union as it presses on with its campaign for representation in its first foreign-owned auto plant in the U.S. South.
Central to the anti-union effort in Chattanooga, Tennessee was an attempt to win not just the hearts and minds of auto workers but also those of their friends and families.
The UAW ran a fairly traditional campaign: meeting workers, distributing fliers and running radio ads. Anti-union forces, who were not allowed to campaign at the plant, waged war outside. Throughout Chattanooga, they held town hall meetings, launched anti-UAW websites, wrote numerous op-ed opinion pieces and radio ads, and put up billboards.
"My thinking is workers don't operate in a vacuum. They operate in a community and when the community realizes how much is at stake for everyone, then that message reaches everyone," said Matt Patterson, one of the chief architects of the winning anti-union strategy.
Anti-union activists say there was no coordinated campaign to defeat the UAW and no strategizing with Republican politicians who were speaking out against the vote. But several of the high-profile conservative groups and their affiliates previously have worked together on such hot-button issues as right-to-work and the rights of public employee unions.
These included the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation, Americans for Tax Reform and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. All are based in or just outside of Washington, and all helped to get right-to-work legislation passed in Nevada.
"It was a fairly intensive campaign, the likes of which we haven't seen previously in an NLRB election," said John Logan, director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University, of the Chattanooga effort.
As union elections go, the one in Chattanooga was unusual because the employer did not oppose the union. Union leaders, more used to facing opposition from company bosses on the shop floor, appear to have been caught off-guard by their opponents' strategy to take their campaign from the factory to the streets of Chattanooga.
"The ferocity of outside political and financial forces was unprecedented," said AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka at his union's winter meeting this week in Houston. Trumka described the opposition's campaign in Chattanooga as "an experiment by forces of right-wing zealotry."
Conservative Republicans, including Tennessee's governor, spoke out strongly against the UAW in the final days of the election campaign. Among the most vocal critics of the union was Senator Corker, the former mayor of Chattanooga who helped bring the plant to his city in 2008.
Some conservative leaders acknowledge that defeating the UAW in Chattanooga was crucial to their broader battle-plan to keep organized labor from making inroads in southern states.
"GATEWAY TO THE SOUTH"
Grover Norquist, a conservative activist who heads the influential Washington-based Americans for Tax Reform, described the UAW vote at Volkswagen as "step one" in a union march on the south. "They get this (plant), then they start moving toward the other large companies ... This is the gateway to the South, and by that I mean all the right-to-work, not heavily unionized states."
Norquist said the strategy of the Center for Worker Freedom, an affiliate of his Washington group, was to focus on the community and not just the workers at the plant. Volkswagen had barred anti-union groups from campaigning on company premises.
The Center for Worker Freedom bought up every available billboard it could find in town - 13 in all, he said.
"The various billboards weren't just to make sure that everyone driving to the plant would see them but also so that everybody in town would see them," said Norquist.
One billboard linked the UAW to Democratic President Barack Obama, whose national approval ratings are dismally low, and another to the demise of auto hub Detroit, which filed the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history last July.
While the UAW has focused much of its post-election ire on Corker, anti-union activists say a key player in their effort in Chattanooga was Patterson, a little-known Norquist lieutenant who heads the Center for Worker Freedom.
Patterson began laying the anti-union groundwork in Chattanooga last spring, while still working for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He began writing a series of opinion pieces for newspapers and helped organize local events.
"I thought if the UAW was going to have a victory in the South, then this was going to be the place where they had the best chance," Patterson said in an interview.
Patterson was one of the featured speakers at an anti-union town hall last July in Chattanooga. The event was organized by Mark West, head of the Chattanooga Tea Party, and his neighbor Don Jackson, former head of VW's Chattanooga plant.
Anti-union activists deny coordinating their efforts. But West and Jackson said Patterson shared information, including newspaper articles and opinion pieces, with Mike Burton, 56, a paint shop worker at the VW plant who last summer began organizing anti-UAW workers in Chattanooga and later formed a group called Southern Momentum.
Burton, who became a poster boy for the anti-union movement, raised more than $100,000, mainly from workers and local citizens, according to Maury Nicely, a Chattanooga attorney retained by Southern Momentum.
Some of the money was used to create a website, www.no2uaw.org, develop a YouTube video and print anti-UAW fliers.
The Washington-based National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation sent two of its lawyers to Chattanooga to provide free legal advice to VW workers and wrote up anti-union press releases, according to NRWLDF spokesman Patrick Semmens.
In January, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a Nashville-based anti-union group hosted an "educational event" for about 75 community leaders at a Chattanooga hotel. It amplified its anti-union message through social media and local newspapers.
Beacon president and CEO Justin Owen said if it hadn't been for the cumulative efforts of grass-roots groups and national groups, "the result could have been very different."
Norquist, Patterson and other conservative activists said they plan to take the anti-union battle to other southern states and manufacturers, including a Mercedes-Benz plant near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where the UAW has had an active organizing effort for more than a year.
"This might become more a norm in organizing in the South, with these groups getting involved in a similar way" in other states and union elections, said labor expert Logan.
(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Chattanooga, Amanda Becker in Washington and Paul Lienert in Detroit; Writing by Paul Lienert, editing by Ross Colvin)
February 23rd, 2014
An end to climate change, other wise known in the past as weather, can never actually be realized, simply due to the fact that the climate has always been in a constant state of flux, throughout history. This is due largely, if not mostly, to ever-changing solar cycles which have always modulated in intensity.
Nor is it a matter belonging solely to scientific eggheads, as they will invariably argue, but rather, it's simply a matter of applied common sense. Most meteorologists can't facilitate an accurate forecast beyond about 7 days, if even that long, so how can the Global Warming Cult be so outrageously certain of climate predictions spanning over twenty years?
By Kristina Pydynowski, Senior Meteorologist
Last week's thaw was a mere tease for the Midwest and Northeast with the polar vortex set to make an encore performance this week.
The end of this weekend will coincide with the end of the mild stretch of weather across the Northeast that sent temperatures into the 60s northward to Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia and the 50s in New York Cityand Boston.
Highs on Monday will be 10 to 20 degrees colder throughout the Northeast and mid-Atlantic following the passage of a band of rain and nuisance snow on Sunday night.
Colder air has already erased the mild spell across the Midwest, and Sunday should prove to be one of the "warmest" days of this week.Waves of even colder air will pour down from the depths of the Arctic to the northern Rockies, Midwest and Northeast as this week progresses and the polar vortex plunges southward.
Each cold blast will dip into the southern Plains and South, leading to a brief drop in temperatures. However, the core of the polar vortex will have a firm grip on the northern tier of the U.S.
"The polar vortex is essentially a mass of very cold air that usually hangs out above the Arctic Circle and is contained by strong winds," stated AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.
Under the grip of the polar vortex, the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Valley will endure several days in the teens and single digits. This includes Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal and Buffalo, N.Y.
The above shows the timing of the next wave of arctic air.
Overnight lows well below zero, even approaching 30 below zero near the Canadian border, will dominate the Upper Midwest.
Temperatures will even be held below zero during the daylight hours on one or more days in Winnipeg, Canada, Fargo, N.D., and St. Cloud, Minn.
Subfreezing highs in the 20s and lower 30s will be common throughout the Northeast. In late February, such highs are 10 to 20 degrees below normal.
Bouts of gusty winds ushering in the frigid air will create even lower AccuWeather.com RealFeel® temperatures.
"One reason for the cold blast carrying more weight than you might expect is the fact that the Great Lakes are largely frozen over," Sosnowski continued.
"The air will not moderate to the extent as if most of the lakes were not frozen. In addition, while the amount and extent of the snow on the ground has diminished, many areas north of I-70 have retained some sort of snow cover."
With fresh snow also re-entering the picture, some communities will have snow cover once again increase.
Initially, nuisance snow events with amounts generally on the order of a coating to an inch or two will streak across the Midwest and Northeast through Tuesday.
The Northeast--including the I-95 corridor from Washington, D.C., to New York City to Boston--at midweek, however, is on the alert for the possibility of a more disruptive snowstorm unfolding.
Later in the week and through the start of March, with the cold air still in place and storms finally returning rain and mountain snow to California, the path could be laid for one or more disruptive snowstorms to travel from the Rockies to the Plains to the East Coast.
AccuWeather.com meteorologists will continue to monitor the potential for such snowstorms and will give more information as it becomes available.