Monday, November 28, 2011

UK secretly helping Canada push its oil sands project

The UK government has been giving secret support at the very highest levels to Canada's campaign against European penalties on its highly polluting tar sands fuel, the Guardian can reveal.

At the same time, the UK government was being lobbied by Shell and BP, which both have major tar sands projects in Alberta, and opened a new consulate in the province to "support British commercial interests".

At least 15 high-level meetings and frequent communications have taken place since September, with David Cameron discussing the issue with his counterpart Stephen Harper during his visit to Canada, and stating privately that the UK wanted "to work with Canada on finding a way forward", according to documents released under freedom of information laws.

Charles Hendry, the energy minister, later told the Canadian high commissioner: "We would value continued discussion with you on how we can progress discussions in Brussels," with Hendry's official asking the Canadians if they had "any suggestions as to what we might do, given the politics in Brussels".

Canada's vast tar sands – also known as oil sands – are the second largest reserve of carbon in the world after Saudi Arabia, although the energy needed to extract oil from the ground means the process results in far more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil drilling, as well as causing the destruction of forests and air and water pollution.

Nasa scientist James Hansen says if the oil sands were exploited as projected it would be "game over for the climate".

The European proposal is to designate transport fuel from tar sands as resulting in 22% more greenhouse gas emissions than that from conventional fuels. This would make suppliers, who have to reduce the emissions from their fuels by 10% by 2020, very reluctant to include it in their fuel mix. It would also set an unwelcome precedent for Canada by officially labelling fuel from tar sands as dirtier.

The UK and Canada's shared opposition to the European plan puts the UK in a minority among EU countries and will be deeply embarrassing as a new round of global negotiations on tackling climate change begins in Durban, South Africa on Monday. Chris Huhne, the energy and climate change secretary, claimed on Thursday that the UK was showing "leadership" in the UN negotiations, while Canada's prime minister has blocked climate laws. The revelations are also the latest blow to Cameron's claim to be the "greenest government ever".

The vote to approve the European fuel quality regulations takes place on Friday. In advance of that, William Hague, the foreign secretary, has also given support to Canada, sending an "immediate action" cable in September to the UK's embassies there asking "to communicate our position and seek Canadian views on what might be acceptable".

However, the Department for Transport, in which the Liberal Democrat minister Norman Baker has responsibility for tar sands issues, has released only two presentations made to it by Shell, both heavily redacted. The DfT rejected requests to release at least six other relevant documents on the grounds of commercial confidentiality and adverse effect on international relations, as did the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), where Shell also met ministers.

BP has lobbied ministers, too. Its vice president in Europe, Peter Mather, has been, in his own words, "bending the ear" of Baker. Mather also sent a letter in which he wrote: "The regulatory burden would be considerable at a time when the industry is already creaking under the weight of a heavy regulatory regime."

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: "The scale of oil industry lobbying exposed in these documents is quite extraordinary. It's especially worrying that Baker held a secret meeting with Shell about this key European vote on tar sands. But worse still, he's now covering up what was discussed."

Colin Baines, toxic fuels campaign manager at the Co-operative, the UK mutual business group which targets tar sands as part of its climate change campaigning, said: "It is very disappointing that the UK government is supporting Canada's efforts and we hope it has a rethink and puts tackling climate change ahead of Canada's trade interests when it comes to vote on the European commission's commonsense proposal."

The documents were obtained by the Co-operative under environmental information regulations, a type of freedom of information law. They include letters to and from ministers, diplomatic correspondence and notes of meetings.

Baker said: "The government is staying true to its aspiration to be the greenest ever by seeking to secure the best deal it can for the environment from the discussions ongoing in the EU about the fuel quality directive.

"We believe that means tackling all highly polluting crudes equally, not simply oil sands from one particular country. These certainly represent a problem, but so do other crudes, and it makes no environmental sense to ignore these.

"This is not about protecting one particular country – we want to deal with all crudes, not just one type, and in a way that is based on robust and objective data, related to their carbon emissions."

Like Baker, Canada also argues in the newly revealed documents that it is unfair to single out one nation and that other types of oil can be as dirty as tar sands.

But Baines says these arguments are "myths", as the European proposal does not name any nation and on average fuel from tar sands is a greater source of carbon by a clear margin, according to a Stanford University study for the European commission.

Furthermore, the European commission proposal allows for changes in the emissions designated for fuel types.

Canadian ministers and diplomats state they support an "overarching ambition" to reduce carbon emissions. But Canada has admitted it will fail to meet its Kyoto protocol target of a 6% cut compared with 1990 levels: in 2009 its emissions were 34% higher.

In September, Lord Sassoon, the UK Treasury minister for commerce, spent two days in the Albertan capital Calgary, a few hundred miles from the vast oil sand pits excavated by 1,500-tonne diggers. The International Energy Agency expects production to treble in the next 20 years. Sassoon met politicians and oil executives to discuss boosting trade with the UK and told reporters that Alberta is "one of the main focuses of British business". Alberta's energy minister, Ron Liepert, told Sassoon privately he "was grateful for UK efforts" on the tar sands issue in Europe.

The new British consulate-general in Calgary was announced by Hague on 18 October, the same day as Canadian energy minister Joe Oliver said: "[The British] have been very, very helpful and we're pleased about that. Many European companies are heavily invested in the oil sands and they also would be concerned." The new documents and diplomatic sources suggest the Netherlands, Spain and Poland are among those backing the British-Canadian position.

In London, a senior Canadian diplomat, Sushma Gera, told BIS: "Canada will not hesitate to defend her interests," perhaps via a World Trade Organisation dispute, a possibility also raised by Shell in its presentation to DfT.

Bill McKibben, a leading US environmentalist, who was arrested in August protesting against a major oil sands pipeline called Keystone XL said: "The UK seems to have emerged as Canada's partner in crime, leaning on Brussels to let this crud across the borders. This will be among the biggest single environmental decisions the Cameron government makes."

Greenpeace's Sauven, along with the head of Friends of the Earth, Andy Atkins, and David Nussbaum, leader of WWF-UK, have written to Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister and Lib Dem leader.

The letter says: "We ask you to intervene personally on this, to ensure that your party's green ambitions are more effectively upheld across Whitehall."

Monday, October 3, 2011

Can the left stage a Tea Party?

Why hasn’t there been a Tea Party on the left? And can President Obama and the American left develop a functional relationship?

That those two questions are not asked very often is a sign of how much of the nation’s political energy has been monopolized by the right from the beginning of Obama’s term. This has skewed media coverage of almost every issue, created the impression that the president is far more liberal than he is, and turned the nation’s agenda away from progressive reform.

A quiet left has also been very bad for political moderates. The entire political agenda has shifted far to the right because the Tea Party and extremely conservative ideas have earned so much attention. The political center doesn’t stand a chance unless there is a fair fight between the right and the left.

It’s not surprising that Obama’s election unleashed a conservative backlash. Ironically, disillusionment with George W. Bush’s presidency had pushed Republican politics right, not left. Given the public’s negative verdict on Bush, conservatives shrewdly argued that his failures were caused by his lack of fealty to conservative doctrine. He was cast as a big spender (even if a large chunk of the largess went to Iraq). He was called too liberal on immigration and a big-government guy for bailing out the banks, using federal power to reform the schools and championing a Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Conservative funders realized that pumping up the Tea Party movement was the most efficient way to build opposition to Obama’s initiatives. And the media became infatuated with the Tea Party in the summer of 2009, covering its disruptions of congressional town halls with an enthusiasm not visible this summer when many Republicans faced tough questions from their more progressive constituents.

Obama’s victory, in the meantime, partly demobilized the left. With Democrats in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, stepped-up organizing didn’t seem quite so urgent.

The administration was complicit in this, viewing the left’s primary role as supporting whatever the president believed needed to be done. Dissent was discouraged as counterproductive.

This was not entirely foolish. Facing ferocious resistance from the right, Obama needed all the friends he could get. He feared that left-wing criticism would meld in the public mind with right-wing criticism and weaken him overall.

But the absence of a strong, organized left made it easier for conservatives to label Obama as a left-winger. His health-care reform is remarkably conservative — yes, it did build on the ideas implemented in Massachusetts that Mitt Romney once bragged about. It was nothing close to the single-payer plan the left always preferred. His stimulus proposal was too small, not too large. His new Wall Street regulations were a long way from a complete overhaul of American capitalism. Yet Republicans swept the 2010 elections because they painted Obama and the Democrats as being far to the left of their actual achievements.

This week, progressives will highlight a new effort to pursue the road not taken at a conference convened by the Campaign for America’s Future that opens Monday. It is a cooperative venture with a large number of other organizations, notably the American Dream Movement led by Van Jones, a former Obama administration official who wants to show the country what a truly progressive agenda around jobs, health care and equality would look like. Jones freely acknowledges that “we can learn many important lessons from the recent achievements of the libertarian, populist right” and says of the progressive left: “This is our ‘Tea Party’ moment — in a positive sense.” The anti-Wall Street demonstators seem to have that sense, too.

What’s been missing in the Obama presidency is the productive interaction with outside groups that Franklin Roosevelt enjoyed with the labor movement and Lyndon B. Johnson with the civil rights movement. Both pushed FDR and LBJ in more progressive directions while also lending them support against their conservative adversaries.

The question for the left now, says Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future, is whether progressives can “establish independence and momentum” while also being able “to make a strategic voting choice.” The idea is not to pretend that Obama is as progressive as his core supporters want him to be, but to rally support for him nonetheless as the man standing between the country and the right wing.

A real left could usefully instruct Americans as to just how moderate the president they elected in 2008 is — and how far to the right conservatives have strayed.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Obama again presses for a 'grand bargain' on debt ceiling

Buoyed by a new bipartisan proposal to raise the debt ceiling, President Obama continued to press congressional leaders Wednesday for a "grand bargain" that would reduce the federal deficit by nearly $4 trillion over 10 years.

Obama met separately at the White House with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders in an effort to break the impasse before Aug. 2, when the government is expected to run out of money to pay its bills if the ceiling remains at $14.3 trillion. It was not clear if the meetings produced any developments.

Hopes for a sweeping deal on the debt and federal deficits were revived by a proposal offered this week by the so-called Gang of Six senators who have been working all year on budget changes.

The plan would achieve nearly $4 trillion in deficit reduction in the next decade through spending cuts, entitlement reform and an overhaul of the tax code, which includes generating $1.2 trillion in new revenue.

Republican senators' interest in the plan appeared to crack part of the logjam over taxes that has stymied a broader deal. Before now, the GOP had refused to consider more tax revenue as a way of reducing deficits, preferring to rely on steep spending cuts alone — an approach Democrats reject.

But time is limited to achieve such a deal. The Treasury Department has said the government risks default next month, which would cause an economic upheaval and raise U.S. borrowing costs. The proposal from the six senators represents a framework that could take weeks to move through committees and Congress.

Obama has repeatedly said he would reject a debt ceiling increase that falls short of the $2.4 trillion the Treasury needs to pay the government's bills through 2012, arguing that the political environment would grow only more challenging with the coming election cycle.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that the president still adhered to that position. But for the first time, Carney seemed to leave the door open to a short-term deal to raise the debt ceiling if it would help achieve "something significant" in the way of a larger agreement.

Obama met late Wednesday with GOP leaders — House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the majority leader — and separately with congressional Democratic leaders.

During the meeting with Boehner and Cantor, the president reiterated his opposition to a short-term deal that Cantor and some Republicans have pursued. Obama also spelled out the terms under which he would consider a short-term arrangement, according to a Democratic official familiar with the talks who would describe them only on condition of anonymity.

Democratic leaders voiced support for a larger package, as long as it did not "balance the budget on the backs of seniors through cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries," according to a House aide, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly.

Liberals in the House have complained that the Gang of Six's outline would alter the federal safety net and entitlement programs.

Also on Wednesday, the Senate announced it was taking up the House-passed debt ceiling bill that Obama has said he would veto. That measure would substantially cut spending and cap future outlays.

It would allow the debt ceiling to be increased only after Congress also sends to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment that would require balanced budgets. A Senate vote is expected by Saturday, but the measure is not expected to pass.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Oops! Obama messes up his daughter’s age

They grow up so fast. But not that fast, Mr. President.

In a news conference Wednesday, President Barack Obama twice referred to his oldest daughter, Malia, as being 13 years old.

Not quite. She's 12.

Perhaps the president was already thinking ahead to Malia's approaching birthday: She turns 13 on July 4.

Obama spoke about both of his daughters as he characterized congressional Republicans as procrastinators who only get work done at the last minute. The president is prodding Republicans to reach a deal on raising the national debt limit before the government taps out its borrowing ability on the expected date of Aug. 2.

"You know, Malia and Sasha generally finish their homework a day ahead of time," Obama said. "Malia's 13, Sasha's 10."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Obama signs disaster aid for tornado-hit Massachusetts

President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed a disaster declaration for the Massachusetts counties hit by June 1 tornadoes that killed three people and caused damage in the tens of millions of dollars.

The move frees up federal funding to residents and business owners in Hampden and Worcester counties and will help supplement state and local recovery and rebuilding efforts, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.

Assistance includes grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and unemployment payments for workers who temporarily lost jobs because of the disaster and do not qualify for state benefits, such as self-employed workers, it said.

Funds in the form of low-interest loans also are available to help cover losses from damage to homes, businesses, farms and ranches, cooperatives and other organizations, FEMA said.

The tally of damages from the tornadoes that ripped through western and central Massachusetts nearly two weeks ago was at least $90 million, the state Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation has said.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Palin confident she could beat Obama

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was met by a gaggle of reporters outside of Philadelphia's Independence Hall Tuesday, on day three of her "One Nation" bus tour.

The question du jour: Will she or won't she run for president?

The would-be-candidate once again refused to "put a timetable" on when she will announce her decision, but when asked by CBS affiliate WKYW if she could beat President Obama, Palin replied, "To put it concisely - yes."

Palin also noted her belief that most of the Republicans in the field "have a very good chance" of beating the president, and specifically said she liked Texas Governor Rick Perry, who told reporters last week he was contemplating his own bid to unseat Obama.

"This isn't all about me; it's about the real change that our country needs, and not just me but other potential candidates and candidates declared," she said.

Reporters who have been following the bus tour have been given little guidance by Palin's team, and have accused Palin of being coy with the press.

Not so, Palin said, before visiting the Liberty Bell behind closed doors.

"It's not really an intention to play cat-and-mouse or to have you guys guessing or anything else. Really it's a genuine concern for our country, making sure we're highlighting the history of our country, learning our past so we see a straight way forward in these challenging times, and that's what our tour is all about," she explained.

Palin is expected to travel to New York City later today, where she is expected to meet with reality television host Donald Trump.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fox News Anchor Accidentally Announces President Obama's Death

Wow! Talk about a slip!

Check out this clip of a Fox News anchor giving us all the news that Osama bin Laden "President Obama is in fact dead."

OOPS! That's not something you want to announce on live television!

Was definitely just an accident, but we're sure this guy was just a LITTLE embarrassed after they went to commercial break.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Obama goes local to sell deficit message

President Obama takes his budget message on the road this week, with town hall meetings in Virginia, Nevada and California this week.

But first he's reaching out to voters in a set of likely 2012 swing states by again inviting local television reporters to the White House for "exclusive" interviews.

Obama was scheduled to sit down Monday afternoon with reporters from affiliates in Denver, Raleigh, Dallas and Indianapolis to discuss his plan to reduce the deficit, the White House said.

Already this year the president has fielded questions from a dozen other stations, many with reach into key electoral regions like southern Florida, suburban Philadelphia and Charlotte, North Carolina. In February he sat down with outlets from the home media markets of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.).

The White House denies any electoral motive, but instead says it is doing these to maximize the president's message.

"It would make our jobs a lot easier if these were the days when, you know, a vast majority of the American audience tuned into Walter Cronkite at night and we could just talk to Uncle Walter and get our message out there," press secretary Jay Carney said Monday. "That's just not the case anymore, as you well know. And so we reach out in numerous ways, through national media interviews, through national White House press conferences, through regional media interviews, through Facebook town halls, which we're doing this week."

The strategy is hardly new to the Obama White House. When Bill Clinton's communications team employed the tactic, aides termed it "dialing for dummies" because of the softball questions that tended to be asked by sometimes awe-struck reporters not used to the trappings of power at the White House.

"You have to use every strategy to get your points across," said Towson University professor Martha Joynt Kumar, an expert in presidential communications who works in the White House press room. "You can't just say what you're thinking once and in one venue. You have to repeat it in many different ways and different places."

More than half of the interviews Clinton conducted in his first two years were with local television and radio outlets, Kumar said. Clinton enjoyed the format because it was an opportunity for him to also learn from people on the ground whether his programs were working.

The interviews are part of a broader focus by the White House communications shop on generating coverage in local more so than national media outlets. Case in point, a visit by the president in February to Marquette, Michigan. Though the national media focused that day on the White House response to the situation in Egypt, the local newspaper gave prominent billing to the president's remarks on expanded broadband access.

The Mining Journal's front page headline the day after his visit was "Winning the Future," precisely the slogan the White House has attached to his third-year agenda.

Even leading up to his interview Monday, the local television stations were heavily promoting the newscasts. KCNC-TV in Denver asked viewers to submit possible questions on its Facebook page. In a promo ad, Raleigh's WRAL-TV said it planned to ask the president about disaster relief following deadly tornados that struck this weekend.

The president will speak in Northern Virginia on Tuesday. On Wednesday he'll conduct a Facebook town hall meeting from the company's Palo Alto headquarters. On Thursday he'll wind up the message tour in Reno, Nevada.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Can Obama win over cleantech enthusiasts in the 2012 election?

Surprise! President Barack Obama is running for reelection in 2012, he announced today. But cleantech-minded voters will have to consider whether he can keep up with the aggressive clean technology expansion plans he laid out in his State of the Union address this year after a series of disasters and setbacks that have changed the playing field.

Obama called for an end to oil subsidies and set a national goal of reaching 80 percent clean energy by 2035 in his state of the union address in January. The president also called for plans to have more than 1 million electric vehicles on the road by the end of 2015. Those two plans alone are particularly aggressive — given that renewable energy sources like wind and solar power currently account for a small sliver of total energy production.

Obama will have to reconcile his aggressive clean energy plans with a chain of recent disasters that has altered the landscape of the clean energy field. There’s been a lot of talk about the dangers of nuclear power after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Japan and set off a chain of events leading to a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. Wind power is also encountering some resistance due to a “not-in-my-backyard” mentality that has frustrated wind power companies to the point of halting production plans completely.

In his speech, the president focused on forms of “cleaner” energy like nuclear, natural gas and clean coal technologies. They aren’t exactly renewables like wind and solar panel but are typically considered to have less of an impact on the environment. Plans to promote nuclear power will likely run into a lot of resistance after the massive public backlash as a result of the nuclear disaster in Japan.

But natural gas surged lately, with oil companies making acquisitions and starting projects in the area. In a report last year, consulting and engineering firm Black & Veatch forecast natural gas would power 40 percent of the nation by 2035, while coal will fade from dominance. Natural gas is a fossil fuel that emits fewer emissions than coal when burned and is considered promising because the infrastructure already exists for it — although there are some concerns about its safety.

Industry watchers have remained largely bearish on the likelihood of significant national clean energy policy, which would stimulate investment and expansion within the country’s cleantech industry. However, the Department of Energy has a large loan guarantee program, which has supported wind and solar investments and recently awarded $405 million to three companies building biofuels refineries.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Global crises overshadow Obama's 2011 agenda

President Obama returns to the White House today after a six-day trip to Latin America that was intended to focus on jobs, trade and the economy — but the world just wouldn't cooperate.

A partial nuclear meltdown in Japan, a U.S. military operation in Libya, a looming budget showdown in Washington and more have overwhelmed Obama's agenda, raised risks for the nation's fragile economic recovery and opened him to criticism from not only the emerging Republican presidential field but also some congressional Democrats.

Welcome home, Mr. President.

"I didn't think anything could take the cameras off the Middle East, and then Japan has a triple disaster" of an earthquake and tsunami that damaged nuclear plants, says Steven Clemons of the centrist New America Foundation. "It's like out of a Godzilla movie. You have to wonder, what's the next thing?"

"I have spent the bulk of the last month literally in the Situation Room," Vice President Biden told a reception for major Democratic donors in Boston on Monday.

Just eight weeks ago, Obama outlined in his State of the Union Address his priorities for the year. He coined the phrase "winning the future," called the challenges of the day "our generation's Sputnik moment" and endorsed both deficit reduction and spending on energy, education and infrastructure. He set goals to expand access to high-speed rail, increase college-graduation rates and generate clean energy.

Since then, the administration's efforts to spotlight those initiatives through presidential trips, events by Cabinet members, conference calls with reporters and op-eds in newspapers have been swamped by an unrelenting crush of news, from public employees protesting at the Wisconsin state Capitol to pro-democracy demonstrators marching in the streets of Cairo.

In a sign of how quickly things have changed, consider this: Obama's State of the Union speech didn't mention Egypt — then ruled by Hosni Mubarak, a U.S. ally for decades who has since been ousted — or refer to the safety concerns over nuclear power that are sparking headlines around the world. There wasn't a word about Libya or collective-bargaining rights, issues now front and center.

"I can't remember seeing anything like this in terms of the sweep of the different things going on," says Norman Ornstein, a veteran congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "It makes it very tough for a president who tries to use a foreign trip to help frame an agenda and use his presence and the bully pulpit to get a message across."

OBAMA: 'We have already saved lives' in Libya

At a news conference Tuesday in El Salvador, the questions for Obama from U.S. reporters were about Libya. He acknowledged the press of the unexpected: "Events happen around the world in which the United States, with our unique capabilities, has to respond."

Presidential historian Robert Dallek cautions against declaring the current crush of challenges unprecedented, but he has to reach back seven decades to cite a more dramatic example. "Think of the Franklin Roosevelt period of 1939 to 1941, when he confronted intensely isolationist sentiment in the country and the dangers from Nazism and Japanese militarism," he says.

Global turmoil has tested Obama's leadership and upended his promise to sharpen his focus on reducing the nation's stubbornly high jobless rate. It also has unsettled some Americans.

Confidence in the economy has fallen to its lowest level of the year, according to a Gallup Poll released Tuesday. Now, 32% of Americans believe the economy is getting better; a year ago, when optimism that the recession was over was beginning to take hold, 35% did.

And unlike in FDR's day, the instantaneous nature of modern communications can amplify the clamor.

"It does create a sense of immediacy and urgency ... to have this 24/7 news cycle with people on television yammering away constantly about 'Look what's going on!' " Dallek says. "It does heighten the sense of crisis and danger."

Crisis has defined Obama's presidency from the start. At his inauguration, he faced the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. After a bailout for automakers and a stimulus package, he pushed a health care overhaul through Congress — the one-year anniversary of its signing is today — that continues to split the public and energize his opposition.

Now Obama's decision to use U.S. military forces to impose a "no-fly zone" over Libya has prompted criticism from Republican presidential hopefuls that the president dithered before agreeing to act. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney called Obama "tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced." Former House speaker Newt Gingrich dubbed him "spectator in chief."

Lawmakers in both parties, including such Democratic stalwarts as House Caucus Chairman John Larson of Connecticut, complain that Obama failed to fully consult with Congress before ordering U.S. forces into combat.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Obama treads carefully on Libya and rebuffs pressure

The White House pushed back on Monday against rising pressure from some lawmakers for direct intervention in Libya, saying it first wanted to figure out what various military options could achieve.

"It would be premature to send a bunch of weapons to a post office box in eastern Libya," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "We need to not get ahead of ourselves in terms of the options we're pursuing."

Officials cautioned that a "no-fly" zone over Libya, an idea popular among Democratic and Republican lawmakers, would be difficult to enforce and might not stop helicopter gunships from attacking rebels fighting to end Muammar Gaddafi's four-decade rule.

The Obama administration has faced sharp criticism, especially from Republicans and conservative commentators, for being too cautious over the turmoil in Libya but has signaled it will not be rushed into hasty decisions that could suck the U.S. military into a new war and fuel anti-American sentiment.

One major obstacle: U.S. officials are still trying to identify the main actors within the opposition fighting to oust Gaddafi. The aims of these groups are unclear and it is not even certain they view the United States favorably.

Carney said the United States was trying to "reach out" to Gaddafi opponents through diplomats, business people and non-governmental groups.

He also had a fresh warning to Gaddafi's close associates, saying U.S. intelligence agencies were seeking to identify those involved in the violence which has forced tens of thousands of people to flee the country.

President Barack Obama said he wanted to "send a very clear message to the Libyan people that we will stand with them in the face of unwarranted violence and the continuing suppression of democratic ideals that we've seen there."

But Kori Schake, an associate professor at West Point military academy, was critical of Obama's statement, saying it followed a "pattern of broad pronouncements without practical follow-through."

The White House has long said all options are on the table over Libya but, for the first time on Monday, it gave a vague priority to the possible military steps being studied.

Bottom of the list is sending in ground troops, Carney told a briefing. Enforcing a no-fly zone was a "serious" option, he said, as was a U.N. arms embargo and humanitarian assistance.

Arming the rebels was also a possibility, he added.

But State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley appeared to contradict Carney when he noted that a February 26 U.N. Security Council resolution barred all weapons transfers to Libya.

Crowley also denied a British newspaper report that Washington had asked Saudi Arabia to supply weapons to rebels.

Military analysts say the rebels do not appear to be short of weapons and the United States would be wary of providing arms that could end up in the wrong hands and be used against U.S. forces elsewhere.

Brian Katulis, a Middle East expert who has informally advised the White House on the turmoil sweeping the region, said the Obama administration was constrained by its reluctance to act militarily without international support.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates reiterated on Monday that any intervention in Libya would require broad backing.

Underscoring the lack of consensus, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow opposed military intervention. China, a fellow veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, has expressed similar misgivings.

The United States has deployed two amphibious assault ships off the Libyan coast, ostensibly to help with any humanitarian emergencies, while dispatching military transport aircraft to airlift stranded Egyptian refugees from neighboring Tunisia.

Over the weekend, leading Republican and Democratic senators urged Obama to do more to help Libya's rebels, who have fought Gaddafi's security forces to a standstill in some areas but are all but powerless to stop repeated air strikes.

Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, said one option was "simply aiding and arming the insurgents," noting that the United States often did this during the Cold War.

John Kerry, the influential Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is close to Obama, repeated his call for a no-fly zone and floated another idea -- bombing Libyan runways to ground Gaddafi's warplanes.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wisconsin Protest Is Tea Party Of The Left: Obama's Genius

CBS News' Monday Early Show pointed to the Wisconsin Protests as the "Tea Party Movement" of the Left, and blogs like that of Kyle Drennen's at New Busters (a right-wing blog by the way), have picked up on the idea.

It reminds me of the late Harvard Economist John Kenneth Galbraith's concept of "Countervailing Power," as introduced in his book American Capitalism in 1952. All "Countervailing Power" is, is the eventual balancing of one set of market forces by another.

Thus, in the Wisconsin Protests, and in President Obama's focus on cutting entitlement programs, we're seeing the rise of a "Countervailing Power" to the Tea Party Movement. But you ask "What's Obama got to do with it?"

In suggesting that certain entitlement programs be cut, President Obama is smartly igniting those people and organizations on the left that were arguably asleep during the 2010 Midterm elections. Now, we have Liberal activists, bloggers, and TV pundits stating why these programs, some impacting education, are necessary and it comes right at the time the State of Wisconsin - or at least it's Governor Scott Walker's illogical attempt at limiting the negotiating rights of teachers. If Governor Walker gets his way, working conditions can just plain get as awful as can be and teachers will have to take it.

As of now, Governor Walker and Wisconsin Senate Republicans will not get their way. And Senate Democrats don't look like their coming back home any time soon.

More Protests In More States?

Protests on spending cuts and union power are threatening to spread to other states. As blogger Tom Hayes points out at, what we're learning is that the "vast majority of people like what the government is spending the money on."

And that's really the point, isn't it? We're at a place in America where we have to come to terms with our standard of living and how we maintain it. Republicans can't seek a decrease in spending when economic logic points to more spending if only to create jobs to cause the American economy to grow. We also have to maintain the safety net while we're growing the job base. But taking it away hampers the ability of many to maintain a basic living standard while America's economy is being rebuilt. That's why so many people who were almost inactive for the 2010 Midterm elections are protesting the legislative actions of Republicans today.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Olympic skier and luge slider find redemption

One year ago, when we were celebrating with patriotic gusto the 14 gold medals and 26 total Olympic baubles won by Canadian athletes, the country’s alpine skiers and luge sliders were left out in the cold.

Shut out on home soil, they were unable to party hearty with our beaming bobsledders, beer-chugging skeleton racers and cigar-puffing hockey players.

The skiers left Whistler shaking heads at their failure to handle the weight of expectation and the cruel fate of landing on the wrong side of the hundredths of a second. The lugers left fuming about the lowered start position that negated their home track advantage.

But in the space of an hour Saturday, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, and in Paramonova, Russia, gutsy Erik Guay and Alex Gough reached deep and found redemption.

And for that, they deserve to be celebrated every bit as much as Jon Montgomery, Joannie Rochette, Ashleigh McIvor et. al.

Guay, essentially the last man standing on an alpine team decimated by injury, shook off his own back woes and won the marquee event at alpine skiing’s world championships in Garmisch, the men’s downhill.

Gough, a disappointing 18th at the Olympics, won a women’s World Cup on the sport’s newest track, snapping Germany’s seemingly unbreakable 105-race, 13-year winning streak.

As Guay said of overcoming challenges: “It speaks to the fighting spirit we have. If you keep battling, good things will come.”

Guay’s win makes it back-to-back world downhill champions for Canada. John Kucera won in 2009, but broke his leg at the start of the 2009-10 season and still hasn’t returned to racing.

“I keep joking that Johnny wasn’t here to defend his title, so I’m just keeping it on ice for him,” said Guay in a conference call.

The Mont Tremblant, Que., native was fourth in the Super G at the 2006 Olympics (.10 seconds off the podium), fourth in the downhill at the 2009 world championships (.02 off the podium) and fifth in both the Super G and downhill at the 2010 Olympics, when he was just .34 and .33 out of the gold medal position.

He says those in the ski racing world know all about being on the right or wrong side of the hundredths of a second.

“I’ve always seemed to be on the wrong side, but last year I was on the right side [in winning the final two Super G races of the season to capture the] Crystal Globe,” he said. “If you persist and stay at it long enough, it will eventually go your way.

“This definitely is a monkey off my back. Nobody can say now I don’t perform at big events.”

Guay, the first Canadian male to win a world championship and a Crystal Globe, finished .32 seconds ahead of favorite Didier Cuche of Switzerland and .76 seconds ahead of Italy’s Christof Innerhofer.

European news agency Reuters, in its race report, called Guay a “rank outsider,” a strange choice of words given how comfortable he feels at Garmisch. In his previous four World Cup races at the Bavarian ski resort, he was third, first, third, first — the first three races all downhills.

Admittedly, Guay did have that wonky back, which had forced him to miss two races earlier in the season. On a conference call before the championships, he had said it was still affecting him.

But on Saturday, he conceded he overplayed that a bit to take some of the pressure off himself. “I don’t feel it when I ski.”

Guay said season-ending injuries to fellow Canadians Francois Bourque (knee), Manuel Osborne-Paradis (broken leg, knee), Robbie Dixon (concussion) and Louis-Pierre Helie (knee, concussion) had taken a psychological toll.

But he shook off those bad vibes and his own tendency to get too charged up in the start gate and skied with a new sense of calmness.

“A lot of times, I feel like I get overly excited and I want it too much. I’d tighten up instead of using my cat-like reflexes. Today I felt like everything was coming slowly almost. It’s a neat feeling. I call it ‘magic skiing’ when it feels like that.”

It was a magic day in Russia for Gough, a 23-year-old Calgarian.

“This is absolutely fantastic,” she said after her two-run combined time of one minute, 33.536 seconds beat out the 1:33.914 of Carina Schwab of Germany. Another German, Natalie Geisenberger was third in 1:33.935.

“I always knew this winning streak would come to an end one day. I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished.”

With their huge budget, state-of-the-art equipment and easy access to European tracks, the German women had been unbeaten in World Cups since Nov. 29, 1997.

But the new sliding track in Paramonova helped level the playing field. And the improving Gough took full advantage. She had three third-place finishes on the circuit earlier in the season and two weeks ago became the first Canadian ever to reach the podium at the luge world championships when she won bronze.

The Canadian program began to turn around three years ago. Aided by Own the Podium financing, the national luge federation recruited Wolfgang Staudinger out of Germany to be the head coach. He put in place a system that was designed to create consistency and repeatable performances.

“You cannot even imagine what it was like around the finish line when a Canadian finally ended this [German] streak,” he said. “This is not just history in Canada, but this is luge history in the world.”

Saturday may have come a year later than Gough and Guay would have liked. But a continent away from home, they made Canada proud.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Senate confirms first Obama-nominated federal judge in Texas

The Senate on Monday confirmed the first Obama nominee for a federal judgeship in Texas, more than two years into the president’s term.

Diana Saldana has served since 2006 as a federal magistrate in Laredo. She had support from the state’s Republican senators, John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison , and from Texas Democrats in the House.

The two sides have tussled for control of nominations since Barack Obama took office.

Apart from judicial vacancies, Obama has yet to fill any of four U.S. attorney posts in Texas. That has drawn complaints from the legal community and federal lawmakers in both parties.

The president nominated Saldana in July, and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved her in December. After her nomination expired without a vote by the full Senate, he sent up her name again.

Two other judicial nominees are pending for Texas.

In January, Obama nominated Nelva Gonzales Ramos, a state district judge in Corpus Christi. Marina Marmolejo, a partner at an Austin law firm, was nominated in July to replace Samuel Kent of Houston, who resigned in June 2009 after being imprisoned and impeached for lying about sexually abusing two employees. Obama renominated her last month.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Barack Obama 2012 starts at grassroots

President Barack Obama’s political operation is quietly using the afterglow of his State of the Union address to begin activating grassroots supporters as the start of a continuous wave of engagement that will culminate when he stands for reelection on Nov. 6, 2012.

The flurry of events is designed to help Democrats shake off the disappointment of the midterms and get excited about the second half of Obama’s term.

The Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America project kicked off the drive with State of the Union watch parties in all 50 states, and now will follow that up with service events, letter-writing parties and phone banks.

Attendees were asked what they’d like to do in the weeks and months ahead, as a soft sell before they get asked to perform specific tasks.

One lesson Obama aides learned from his 2008 campaign was that grassroots organizing was in itself a selling point – that press coverage of local activity reinforced his appeal. So look for Obama’s reelection campaign to draw early attention to individual supporters and registration drives in key states.

Organizing for America officials tell us their focus this winter will include small business owners, community leaders, congregation leaders – opinion leaders in their communities who can help get bottom-up buzz going for Obama while his formal campaign staffs up in Chicago.

The initial message will focus on the five “pillars” of Obama’s State of the Union address, which had the broad theme of “Winning the Future”: innovate, educate, build, reform and responsibility.

Brad Woodhouse, the DNC's communications director, said: "The president has laid out a vision for winning the future that will sound familiar to millions of Americans and which resonates with his core supporters because it's consistent with the ideas, optimism and themes he's advocated for since he started running for president four years ago. The president's supporters are eager to get to work to win the future and ensure that the United States is globally competitive by out-innovating, out-educating and our-building the rest of the world."

The effort includes merchandise, starting with the “BIG THINGS” T-shirts, available in navy and gray. A shirt is free with a donation of $25 or more to Organizing for America.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Barack Obama wants public financing system 'fixed'

The Obama administration issued a statement strongly opposing a House bill that would eliminate the public financing system for presidential primaries and campaigns, arguing the system must be “fixed rather than dismantled.”

Created in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, the system is intended “to free the nation’s elections from the influence of corporations and other wealthy special interests,” the statement says. “It has done so at minimal cost to taxpayers, who fund it by voluntarily choosing to direct $3 of their federal taxes to this beneficial system.”

In the 2008 campaign, however, President Barack Obama opted out of the public financing system during the general election, becoming the first major-party candidate to do so. Instead, his campaign raised more than $1 billion in donations, a record-breaking haul that funded a successful 50-state strategy to win the White House.

At the time, Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, accused Obama of reneging on his promise to publicly fund his campaign. But Obama’s campaign said it raised its money from millions of individual donors who contributed small amounts of cash.

Some Republican senators want to eliminate the fund to help balance the federal budget, saving $617 million over 10 years. The White House’s statement argues that the public system should be modernized and repaired, not dissolved.

If the House bill passed, “its effect would be to expand the power of corporations and special interests in the nation’s elections; to force many candidates into an endless cycle of fundraising at the expense of engagement with voters on the issues; and to place a premium on access to large-donor or special-interest support, narrowing the field of otherwise worthy candidates,” according to the statement.

The House is expected to vote on the measure Wednesday.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cardiologist delivers tips to boost heart health

Banner Boswell Medical Center is celebrating American Heart Month in February with a free community seminar between 9 and 10 a.m. Feb. 8 to offer tips on how to reduce the risk of having a heart attack.

The event will be in Memorial Hall, on the first floor of the Banner Boswell Support Services Building, 13180 N. 103rd Drive, Sun City.

Cardiologist Fredric Klopf, chief of staff, will discuss how the heart works as well as offer measures you and your family can take to avoid a heart attack, such as learning to decrease you blood pressure, reduce stress and start an exercise program.

Based on information from the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading killer of Americans, with heart attack as its most visible sign. The classic symptom of a heart attack is pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. Other symptoms can include acute shortness of breath, pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach, profuse sweating, nausea and vomiting or unexplained weakness or severe tiredness.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tips for keeping pets in apartments

At the Concord-Merrimack County SPCA, we have successfully placed many homeless animals into all types of homes by matching the pet's personality and energy level with the right person or family. In 2010, of the more than 1,400 animals we cared for, only 3 percent were returned from adopters. We are so thankful for everyone in our community who has made adoption their first option when adding a pet to their lives, and for the patience that is sometimes required in finding the right match that will keep pets and their people happy ever after.

Sharing your home with a pet, when the home is an apartment or even a rented house, requires special considerations for both the pet and people involved. We do not require a fenced-in yard, but here are some tips to help you approach pet ownership in apartment-style living successfully:

• Research your lease and talk to your landlord about rules or guidelines regarding pet ownership. Some landlords prohibit having pets in their rental properties completely, while others do allow pets but with pet-specific rules as well as possibly a security deposit or "pet rent."
• Look for a dog to match your lifestyle and living environment. Rules from the landlord may define the size of the dog but not its activity level. Our adoption counselors can help you identify a match if you share the specifics of the living environment the dog will be in, as well as advise you on the exercise and activity requirements of the new pet you are about to take home.
• Success often is a matter of choosing the right dog. Size is not always the determining factor. Many small dogs such as terriers and beagles are high energy and need to move around and run, they are also notorious for barking, especially when left home alone. Do not choose a dog that "hates to be confined" or is "prone to cabin fever."

As with any pet in any living situation, exercise and training are key factors in the health happiness of your pet. Crate training is helpful for dogs that may be home for periods of time, and doggie day care is a great outlet for activity and socialization. Rotating toys and a walk everyday will help to reduce boredom and the destructive behavior that can result from it.

Remember: Having an apartment dog may take a little more work, time and consideration. But it is worth it! The Concord-Merrimack County SPCA is located at 130 Washington Penacook. If you are interested in learning more, please visit us at