February 14th, 2011
The Israeli military is "ready for all eventualities" as the Arab and Muslim world undergoes "an earthquake," Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday just days after Egypt's regime collapsed.
"An earthquake is shaking the whole Arab world and a large part of the Muslim world and we don't yet know how these things will turn out," the premier said at a swearing-in ceremony for new army chief Major General Benny Gantz.
"We are ready for all eventualities because we know that the foundation of our existence, and our capacity to convince our neighbours to live in peace with us, is based on the Israeli army," he said during a ceremony at his Jerusalem office.
Gantz takes over the post as Israel's strategic stance in the Middle East undergoes a shakeup in the wake of a popular revolt in Egypt which ousted president Hosni Mubarak after three decades in power.
Israel has reacted cautiously to the overthrow of Mubarak, an ally who was involved in years of Middle East peace negotiations.
But it welcomed a statement by Egypt's new military ruling council that Cairo remains committed to all its treaties, including its landmark 1979 peace deal with Israel.
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February 14th, 2011
The biggest snowfall in a century has buried cities in eastern South Korea and prompted rescue operations involving some 12,000 soldiers, as the coldest winter in years grips the peninsula.
Hundreds of motorists were stranded and dozens of buildings collapsed after more than a metre of snow fell over some parts of the region over the weekend. The weather bureau has forecast more heavy snow for the region on Monday.
The country's capital, Seoul, and main industrial hubs were not affected by the storm.
The heavy snow comes just a few weeks after temperatures hit record lows, causing the Han River in central Seoul to ice over for the first time in years.
North Korea also recorded its coldest January in 26 years.
The BBC quoted a local newspaper that described the region being hit by a "snow bomb". A local resident, Park Chae-ran, said "I am 83 years old. It's the heaviest snow in my life. I am really grateful for the soldiers' help."
February 14th, 2011
WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) -- President Obama on Monday will unveil a $3.7 trillion budget request for 2012 that proposes painful cuts in many government programs but fails to address the largest drivers of the country's long-term debt: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
The budget takes a big bite out of domestic spending and would slash deficits by $1.1 trillion over the next decade, according to White House estimates.
Two-thirds of those deficit cuts would result from spending reductions, while a third would come from an increase in tax revenue, according to senior administration officials.
The cuts include slashing the funding for the low income heating assistance program.
"It's a tough decision and we didn't make it lightly," White House budget director Jacob Lew told CNN's "American Morning" on Monday. "The program was never designed to meet all needs."
But even as it trims deficits, the president's budget would add $7.2 trillion to the debt held by the public between 2012 and 2021.
Obama's 2012 budget, which will be released in its entirety at 10:30 a.m., is sure to stoke the debate over how to get the government's fiscal house in order.
On the president's right, Republican lawmakers are calling for even deeper cuts and hankering for a fight now over 2011 spending. At the same time, many Democrats and liberal advocates are expected to lash into the administration for the depth of some of his proposed cuts.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, told "American Morning" the budget cuts are nowhere near deep enough to reduce the deficit or the interest payments on the debt.
He said the "$1 trillion reduction is insignificant and does not get us off on the right course. We are facing a fiscal crisis."
Strategic investments - and cutbacks: Broadly speaking, the president's request calls for a mix of spending proposals aimed at boosting U.S. competitiveness and belt-tightening intended as a "down payment" on serious deficit reduction.
In some cases, the added investment and belt-tightening happen in the same program.
For instance, Obama's budget wants to make permanent the recent increase in the level of Pell Grants to $5,500 a year to help 9 million students afford college and graduate school.
But to pay for that proposal, Obama would eliminate the grants for summer school and limit their use to the regular school year. He will also propose that interest on federal loans for graduate students start accruing during school; currently, the interest tab doesn't start running until after graduation.
Overall, Obama will call for a five-year freeze on non-security discretionary spending, which the White House estimates will save more than $400 billion over 10 years.
Non-security domestic spending only makes up a little more than 10% of all federal spending, and deficit hawks lament that both the White House and Republicans have focused all of their attention in this area rather than address the country's big debt drivers, which are spending on the entitlement programs and defense.
Half of all agencies will see funding reduced from 2010 levels, according to the administration. And altogether, there will be more than 200 terminations, savings and reductions of programs totaling $33 billion in the first year.
Among his proposals for strategic investments, Obama will call for three green energy initiatives:
- 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015;
- a doubling of the share of electricity that comes from clean energy sources by 2035;
- and a 20% reduction in building energy use by 2020.
To help pay for these initiatives, the president will call on Congress to eliminate 12 tax breaks for oil, gas and coal companies. The White House estimates those changes will raise $46 billion over a decade.
Overall, while president's budget doesn't reduce the debt, it does start to stabilize annual deficits around 3% of the economy by the middle of the decade. That's the point where the country's annual spending doesn't add to the debt.
But high deficits will still accrue in the years after 2015 because of the interest owed on debt already accrued. For instance in 2017, the administration estimates there will be a $627 billion deficit -- all of which will be interest payments due.
And because the president's budget will not address how to curb the growth in entitlement spending, there is little chance it would stabilize deficits beyond the next 10 years. A senior administration official described the 2012 budget request as a "firm foundation to take the next step."
On Social Security, a lightning-rod program that budget experts say faces serious longer-term problems, the president will use the budget to "lay out his principles" on how to strengthen the program in the future.
What could go wrong: Obama's budget request is essentially a blueprint of his fiscal priorities -- the programs he would like to fund or cut, the new investments he would make and how he would pay for it all.
But the request is just that -- a request. And it's one that Congress can accept, reject or modify.
Indeed, Republicans may well reject Obama's budget out of hand.
And some of his proposals are likely to be a tough sell politically. For instance, he wants to limit the value of itemized deductions for families making more than $250,000 a year. He has made the same proposal before, and it went nowhere.
What's new with this budget is the context. He will call for the money raised by limiting deductions to pay for protecting the middle class from the Alternative Minimum Tax for three years. Lawmakers pass so-called AMT patches regularly but rarely pay for them.
Even if Obama's budget is adopted wholesale -- which it won't be -- the estimates for deficit reduction may or may not pan out depending on how close to reality the administration's forecasts for unemployment, interest rates and economic growth prove to be.
In any case, Obama's 2012 budget is only the first step in a convoluted process that involves no less than 40 congressional committees, 24 subcommittees, countless hearings and a number of floor votes in the House and Senate.
If all goes well, a formal federal budget for government agencies will be in place by Oct. 1, the start of the 2012 fiscal year. Because Congress never passed a budget for fiscal year 2011, the government has been running on funding from a so-called continuing resolution, which expires on March 4.
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February 13th, 2011
By Barry Secrest
In a grand bow to the "forces of Democracy," the people have spoken in Egypt. President Mubarak, after the hurried gleaning of a wealth totaling anywhere from $ 40 to $ 70 Billion dollars, eased out of his Presidential palace and embarked to his home on the Red Sea. Thus an Egyptian authoritarian rule that has been in place for generations has ended; good riddance being the operative sentiment here, right? Well, perhaps, perhaps not. You see, the only problem with all of this becomes: What type of "Democracy" might we witness coming to fruition and at what cost to the Middle East, even the world? Remains to be seen is the best that anyone can come up with according to even the most knowledgeable of Mideast experts, except for one.
Enter President Barack Obama, who weighed into the Revolution with a number of confused messages both to the leadership of Egypt and also to the people of Egypt.
The President's initial account of the protesters went this way:
"A loose amalgam of forces"
"Some of which doubt the legitimacy of the Presidency"
"There are strains that are troubled by what they saw as as a series of instances in which the middle-class and working class people have been abused or hurt by special interests but their anger is misdirected"
"So I have been amused in recent days by these people having rallies, I think they should be saying thank you"
The President thinks the Egyptian protesters should be thanking Mubarak? Oops! Actually, those quotes were the President's descriptions of the millions of Tea Party protesters here in America. As Americans listened to the President's words concerning the people of Egypt, many could not help but notice the irony at play. The overall reaction to the protests that were occurring in Egypt as compared to both the President's and Democrats' reaction to another powerful throng of protesters, here at home in the form of the Tea Party and others, were both stark and bordering on the absurd...Read More
February 13th, 2011
By Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter
When is a proposal not a proposal? When the NFL and the NFL Players Association are involved.According to sources familiar with the talks, last week's negotiations between the NFLPA and the NFL broke off when the union characterized their documents as an "illustration" that NFL officials believed represented a proposal for revenue sharing between owners and players.
When the NFLPA characterized documents labeled "NFLPA Proposal" as something other than a collective bargaining proposal, the NFL ended the session, a source familiar with the talks said. League representatives then met outside the room, and returned only to abort the negotiations -- without immediately rescheduling any talks, the source added.
"As often happens in collective bargaining, the parties reached a point where there was a fundamental difference on a critical issue that was not going to be reconciled that day," said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello. "The discussions were adjourned to permit both parties to assess their positions and consider how to move the process forward. Far from abandoning the process, in the first four days after the Super Bowl, we have had two meetings of our labor executive committee and negotiating team, a conference call with all 32 clubs, and a meeting with the union."
The day after negotiations broke down, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell convened a conference call with the owners of the 32 NFL teams and reported the developments of the previous day. A person familiar with that call said there was complete unanimity among the owners.
Despite the aborted Wednesday session, dialogue has continued between the two sides through smaller working groups as well as communication between Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. One player source said it is expected both sides will meet this week, as previously scheduled, and a management source did not refute that suggestion.
But there is a growing discord and mistrust between the two sides. Management was irritated by Smith's decision to release the owners' counter-proposal on a rookie wage scale to players and player agents, as opposed to offering a response directly to management. Even the choice of descriptive words were a source of irritation.
Whereas Smith noted that renegotiations or extensions of rookie contracts were "banned" until after the third year, a management official said the proposal "allows" for those renegotiations or extensions after the third year. Regardless, the intent and meaning are the same.
One person connected to the NFLPA said NFL owners were continuing to be "unreasonable," which accounted for the disintegration of last week's meeting.
Now, there are knowledgeable sources that previously were optimistic that CBA negotiations would not result in any lost games next year that are growing increasingly pessimistic. One source said last week's flare up was symbolic and illuminated the schism between the two sides. Now, there is a general feeling that some or all of the 2011 season may be at risk, though there is plenty of time for the two sides to continue talking and trying to bridge their vast differences.
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Chris Mortensen is ESPN's senior NFL analyst. Adam Schefter is ESPN.com's NFL Insider.