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Member since: 2003 before July 6th
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Obama Talks Jobs And The Economy With Top Congressional Leaders (snubs Cantor)

By DONOVAN SLACK | 2/29/12 1:38 PM EST Updated: 2/29/12 2:14 PM EST

President Barack Obama lunched privately with congressional leaders Wednesday to talk about jobs and the economy — the first such meeting since last summer’s debt-ceiling negotiations dissolved.

The group was limited to only the top congressional leaders: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

That left out House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The president and Cantor had a famously tense encounter during the debt ceiling talks — White House staff said Cantor repeatedly interrupted Obama toward the end of a meeting, Cantor’s staff said Obama walked out. But they have in recent days begun working together on a legislative jobs package designed to help small businesses get access to capital.

The bill was drawn from elements of the president’s jobs agenda, allowing Obama to take credit for proposing the measures, and it was trumpeted by House Republicans as their own jobs act, allowing them to also claim responsibility.



Egyptian Officials Say Travel Ban On US Employees Of Pro-Democracy Groups Is Lifted

Source: Washington Post

CAIRO — Egypt on Wednesday lifted a travel ban on seven Americans being tried on charges that the pro-democracy groups they worked for fomented unrest with illegal foreign funding. The shift signals an end to the worst crisis in relations between Egypt and the U.S. in 30 years.

The dispute had put $1.5 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt at risk, sparking intense behind-the-scenes negotiations between U.S. officials and Egypt’s ruling military to find a solution.

Egyptian officials said the travel ban was lifted by the country’s top prosecutor at the recommendation of the case’s investigating judge. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

It was not immediately clear whether the charges against the Americans would be dropped. However, defense lawyer Tharwat Abdel-Shaheed said the seven Americans could only leave the country if they post bail set at 2 million Egyptian pounds (about $300,000). The seven have also signed pledges to attend the next hearing.


Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/egyptian-officials-say-travel-ban-on-us-employees-of-pro-democracy-groups-is-lifted/2012/02/29/gIQAJ6JRiR_story.html

Iran’s Underground Nuclear Sites Not Immune To U.S. Bunker-Busters, Experts Say

By Joby Warrick,

Western spy agencies for years have kept watch on a craggy peak in northwest Iran that houses of one the world’s most unusual nuclear sites. Known as Fordow, the facility is built into mountain bunkers designed to withstand aerial attack. Iran’s civil-defense chief has declared the site “impregnable.”

But impregnable it is not, say U.S. military planners who are increasingly confident of their ability to deliver a serious blow against Fordow, should the president ever order an attack.

U.S. officials say they have no imminent plan to bombard the site, and they have cautioned that an American attack — or one by its closest Middle Eastern ally, Israel — risks devastating consequences such as soaring oil prices, Iranian retaliation and dramatically heightened tension in a fragile region.

Yet as a matter of physics, Fordow remains far more vulnerable than generally portrayed, said current and former military and intelligence analysts. Massive new “bunker buster” munitions recently added to the U.S. arsenal would not necessarily have to penetrate the deepest bunkers to cause irreparable damage to infrastructure as well as highly sensitive nuclear equipment, likely setting back Iran’s program by years, officials said.



Reports: Netanyahu Will Push Obama Hard On Iran

By Ariel Zirulnick, Staff writer / February 29, 2012

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to take a harder line on Iran in next week’s meeting with President Obama in hopes of pressuring the United States into making more decisive pronouncements on its potential responses to Iran’s nuclear development.

Haaretz reports that, according to an unnamed Israeli official, Mr. Netanyahu wants more than the "vague assertion that 'all options are on the table.' " He wants Mr. Obama to publicly state that the US is prepared for a military operation against Iran should the country “cross certain ‘red lines.’ ”

But White House officials say Netanyahu will go home empty-handed. The Los Angeles Times reports that Obama has no intention of making any policy shift toward Iran and that he believes the current US strategy – diplomacy and increasingly strict sanctions – is taking a toll on Iran.

“A more explicit military threat is not helpful,” senior White House officials told The Times. While Washington's red line is Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb, Israel's threshold is lower: Iran merely acquiring the knowledge and industrial means to build a nuclear bomb.



Palestinians Invite Security Council To Visit

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The Palestinians have invited the U.N. Security Council to visit the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, a move Israel says is an attempt to try to divert attention from getting back to direct negotiations to settle the decades-old conflict.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer, told reporters after a council meeting on the Mideast on Tuesday that he sent a letter inviting the 15 council members "to see with their own eyes the reality of the Palestinian people in the occupied territory" including Israel's "illegal" settlement building.

Israel's United Nations Ambassador Ron Prosor, who followed Mansour to the microphone, expressed surprise at the invitation saying "this is an attempt to try and divert attention, and again try and internationalize the conflict, and not really try and stick to what is important on both sides — and that is direct negotiations."

Mansour and Prosor spoke after U.N. political chief B. Lynn Pascoe told the council that exploratory low-level talks in Amman, Jordan between the Israelis and Palestinians had stalled and prospects for resuming direct negotiations "remain dim."



US APNewsAlert: Hospital says a third student wounded in Ohio school shooting has died

US APNewsAlert - Associated Press
(02-28) 09:55 PST CLEVELAND, (AP) -- Hospital says a third student wounded in Ohio school shooting has died



American Confidence Climbs to Highest Level in Year on Job Growth

Confidence among U.S. consumers climbed to a 12-month high in February, signaling household spending will help sustain the expansion.

The Conference Board’s index increased more than forecast, to 70.8 from 61.5 in January, figures from the New York-based private research group showed today. Economists projected the gauge would climb to 63, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey.

Americans are growing more upbeat after unemployment fell to a three year low and stock-market rally boosted household wealth, helping them withstand lower home prices and higher gasoline costs. Another report showed durable goods orders declined in January by the most since 2009 after the expiration of a tax break allowing full expensing of business equipment purchases.

“We’re seeing further evidence the labor market is better,” said Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. in New York. With more improvement, “a self-sustaining feedback loop will become present whereby rising income engenders a further lift in confidence, which in turn lifts spending.”



U.S. Durable Goods Orders Slump Most in 3 Years

Orders for U.S. durable goods fell in January by the most in three years, led by a slowdown in demand for commercial aircraft and business equipment.

Bookings (DGNOCHNG) for goods meant to last at least three years slumped 4 percent, more than forecast, after a revised 3.2 percent gain the prior month, data from the Commerce Department showed today in Washington. Economists projected a 1 percent decline, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey.

The expiration at the end of 2011 of a tax incentive allowing full depreciation on equipment purchases may have prompted a slowdown in investment at the start of this year. At the same time, a strengthening auto industry may help keep factories at the forefront of the expansion that began in June 2009.

“The expected weakness may not last, as the weak start to the quarter has tended to give way to a stronger end over the last 2 1/2 years since the recession ended,” Jonathan Basile, a senior economist at Credit Suisse in New York, said in an e-mail.



Home Prices in 20 U.S. Cities Decline 4%

By Shobhana Chandra - Feb 28, 2012 9:43 AM ET

Home prices in 20 U.S. cities dropped more than forecast in December to the lowest level since the housing crisis began in mid-2006, indicating foreclosures are hampering the industry’s recovery.

The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values in 20 cities fell 4 percent from a year earlier, after decreasing 3.9 percent in November, a report from the group showed today in New York. The median forecast of 31 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for a 3.7 percent decline.

Distressed properties returning to the market mean prices will stay depressed, prompting buyers to wait for cheaper bargains and impeding construction. While sales have begun to stabilize, a rebound in home values may take time, underscoring Federal Reserve policy makers’ concern that weakness in housing is blunting their efforts to spur the economic expansion.

“We’re still dealing with a lot of distressed properties and very low absolute levels of demand,” said Sean Incremona, a senior economist at 4Cast Inc. in New York, who accurately projected the 4 percent drop. “We’re not seeing any of the stabilization in housing activity filter through to prices.”



AP Source: Israel Won't Warn Us Before Iran Strike

(02-27) 18:41 PST WASHINGTON, (AP) --

Israeli officials say they won't warn the U.S. if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, according to one U.S. intelligence official familiar with the discussions. The pronouncement, delivered in a series of private, top-level conversations, sets a tense tone ahead of meetings in the coming days at the White House and Capitol Hill.

Israeli officials said that if they eventually decide a strike is necessary, they would keep the Americans in the dark to decrease the likelihood that the U.S. would be held responsible for failing to stop Israel's potential attack. The U.S. has been working with the Israelis for months to persuade them that an attack would be only a temporary setback to Iran's nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak delivered the message to a series of top-level U.S. visitors to the country, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House national security adviser and the director of national intelligence, and top U.S. lawmakers, all trying to close the trust gap between Israel and the U.S. over how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Netanyahu delivered the same message to all the Americans who have traveled to Israel for talks, the U.S. official said.


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