Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Leftover oil spotted on Gulf floor

John Roach writes: Not all of the estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico simply vanished when the Deepwater Horizon offshore rig exploded and sank earlier this year. Growing evidence suggests that a good portion of it reached the ocean bottom, where it remains.

NPR science correspondent Richard Harris reported Monday about a ride he hitched to the ocean floor aboard the Alvin submersible craft with University of Georgia researcher Samantha Joye. The sea churned with seemingly healthy life as they descended. On the bottom, they struck oil.

"If you look at the camera, you can see the brown coloration," Joye told Harris. The "brown stuff," Harris said, covers coral fans "like pine trees along a dusty road." The oil also hangs over formations of frozen natural gas -- deposits that usually harbor the worms that bottom-dwelling crabs eat.

"The crabs don't look healthy," Joye said. "See all the dark spots and lesion-looking things? That's not normal."

Harris points out that it's impossible to say from a single dive how much damage the oil spill did to the Gulf's ecosystem. That's a story that researchers such as Joye will be piecing together over the coming months and years. But the finding serves as another reminder that the oil spill is having a lasting impact on the Gulf of Mexico.

The discovery of oil on the seafloor also begins to account for the 23 percent of the oil that was not recovered directly, dispersed chemically or naturally, evaporated or dissolved, burned or skimmed, according to a report released Nov. 23 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A key finding of that report, which updates controversial findings from August, "is the increase in the estimate for dispersed oil, specifically from 8 percent to 16 percent," NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco told reporters.

Some scientists and environmentalists criticized the use of chemical dispersants as potentially harmful to critters in the open ocean such as tuna and turtles.

Lubchenco added that the revised accounting for where the oil went, and for the effectiveness of the dispersants, does not take away from the seriousness of the oil spill.

"'Dilute' and 'dispersed' do not mean benign," she said. "We have been and remain concerned about the long-term impact on the Gulf and the people who rely on it for their livelihoods and enjoyment, and we remain committed to holding BP and the other responsible parties accountable for damages."


Obama, Republicans Agree to Negotiate on Tax Cuts

President Obama and top congressional Republicans emerged from a White House meeting today with an agreement to begin negotiations on a compromise to "break through this logjam," as the president put it, on how to extend the Bush-era tax cuts that expire at the end of the year.

"Today we had the beginning of a new dialogue that I hope and I'm sure most Americans hope will help break through the noise and produce real gains," the president said.

The two-hour meeting at the White House was the first sit-down between the president and Republican lawmakers since the midterm "shellacking" that cost Democrats the House. In what the president described as a "productive" session that also involved top congressional Democrats, lawmakers discussed the tax cuts as well as expiring unemployment benefits, potential ratification of the new START arms treaty with Russia and the deficit commission report out this week.

Republicans and Democrats have serious - and some say insurmountable - philosophical issues on all of these issues. Senate Republicans have been cool to ratification of START in the current Congress - the president insisted today "we need to get it done" - and have said they are unwilling to extend unemployment benefits, which expire today, unless the extension is paid for. The parties also have broad differences on how to address the budget deficit.

"None of this is going to be easy," the president acknowledged after the meeting. "We have two parties for a reason. There are real philosophical differences. Deeply held principles to which each party holds."

Republicans want to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans, while the president wants to extend them only on income below 200,000 for individuals or $250,000 for couples in order to reduce the cost of extending the cuts. The president said after the meeting he had appointed Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Jack Lew, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, to oversee negotiations on finding common ground. He said he hopes for agreement "in the next couple of days."

Republicans struck an optimistic tone after the meeting, with soon-to-be House Speaker John Boehner saying the conversation was "very frank." He did not, however, signal that he is willing to compromise on the tax cut issue, stating that Republicans "made the point that stopping all the looming tax hikes" is what the economy needs.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said that from his perspective the two most important issues to be dealt with in the lame duck session of Congress are funding the government -- it will run out of money on Friday without at least a stopgap spending bill - and dealing with the Bush-era tax cuts. (Watch Mr. Obama's comments at left.)

He said the other issues on Senate Democrats' agenda - among them setting the stage for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal and passage of the DREAM Act, as well as START ratification - "aren't in the same category" as those issues. McConnell said the time had come to "reshuffle our priorities on the Senate side."

Mr. Obama he was "very encouraged" by what he perceived as a recognition among both Republicans and Democrats that their focus should be on helping Americans, not politics.

"We are Americans first, and we share a responsibility for the stewardship of our nation," he said. "The American people did not vote for gridlock."

The meeting had originally been scheduled for a week and a half ago, but Republicans objected to the date set by the White House. What was to have been a working dinner was downgraded to a morning meeting; what had been called a "summit" became the first in a series of meetings. It was a sign that neither side had high expectations for the gathering to yield positive results.

Mr. Obama acknowledged perceptions that the meeting would have little impact in his remarks, stating that often following such meetings "both sides claim they want to work together, but try to paint the opponent as unyielding and unwilling to cooperate."

"Both sides comes to the table. They read their talking points. Then they head out to the microphones trying to win the news cycle instead of solving problems and it becomes just another move in an old Washington game," he said.

This meeting, he insisted, was different.

"I think there was recognition today that that's a game that we can't afford," he said. "Not in these times."

Rep. Eric Cantor, another member of the GOP leadership present at the meeting, said he was "encouraged" that the president acknowledged in the meeting "perhaps not having reached out to us enough in the last session" of Congress. Boehner said he told the president that "spending more time [with us] will help us find some common ground."

McConnell said that divided government doesn't mean lawmakers can't get things done, pointing to what was passed under Democratic president Bill Clinton and a GOP Congress.

(At left, see a discussion of the meeting on CBSNews.com's "Washington Unplugged.")

"I think we all agree there's no particular reason why we can't find there isn't agreement and do some important things for the American people over the next two years," he said.

Also present at the meeting were Geithner, Lew, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, the GOP point-person on the START treaty. Kyl wants to wait to take up the issue until the new Congress, which will have more GOP senators; Democrats worry that meeting the 67-vote threshold for ratification could be impossible once the new Congress begins. The White House has been lobbying Kyl hard to give ground on the issue.

On Monday, the president described the meeting as the "first step toward a new and productive working relationship" with Republicans. He also backed a spending freeze for federal employee pay, something members of the GOP have long been pushing.

While Republicans are unified in calling for an extension of all the Bush-era tax cuts, Democrats are split, with a faction led by New York Sen. Charles Schumer calling for the threshold for extension to be raised to $1 million in household income.

The White House has signaled that it is open to compromise on the issue, and a temporary (one to three-year) extension of all of the cuts appears likely, perhaps in exchange for an extension of unemployment benefits or a vote on START.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pence favors flat tax, return to traditional values

Last updated: November 29, 2010 2:23 p.m.
Sylvia A. Smith | Washington editor

WASHINGTON – The graduated income tax should be abandoned in favor of a flat tax for individuals and businesses, Rep. Mike Pence, R-6th, said Monday.

In a speech to the Detroit Economic Club, Pence also said he supports amending the Constitution to cap federal spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product except for wartime defense spending.

The Detroit Economic Club is considered a must-do venue for politicians hoping to elevate their profiles. Pence is one of several Republicans whose names are mentioned as contenders for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, but he deflected a question about whether he intends to run. Pence is also thought to be considering a bid for Indiana governor.

Pence’s support for the flat tax echoes other conservative candidates for president in past years, and Pence has advocated it for many years.

In Pence’s version, everyone would pay the same rate on wages and business income after first deducting personal and dependent exemptions. Businesses would be allowed to deduct all the costs of operating a business. Savings and investments would not be taxed.

After doing the math, people and businesses would play a flat rate – generally suggested at 15 percent. There would be no exemptions for mortgages, charitable deductions or depreciation.

“The more you money you make, the more you pay,” Pence said. “It’s fair, simple and effective.”

In addition to the flat tax and constitutional amendment to cap federal spending, Pence said the country’s economic engine is best fueled by a reduced regulation, an “all-of-the-above” energy policy that includes nuclear power plants, more trade agreements and a more restricted mission for the Federal Reserve.

But he said none of that can be accomplished unless America renews a commitment to values that include honesty, integrity, dual-gender marriage and religion.

He said Americans are ready to return to “timeless ideals” and that “they await men and women who will lead us back to that future.”

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Backlash feared as some in GOP push social issues

Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kan. – Although fixing the economy is the top priority, Republicans who won greater control of state governments in this month's election are considering how to pursue action on a range of social issues, including abortion, gun rights and even divorce laws.

Incoming GOP governors and legislative leaders across the nation insist they intend to focus initially on fiscal measures to spur the economy, cut spending and address state budget problems.

"At this point, the economy dominates everything, and until the economy is turned around and our fiscal house put in order, there's not going to be a lot of appetite for anything else," said Whit Ayres, a pollster in Alexandria, Va., whose firm did research for several GOP candidates in the midterm race.

But the pressure to go further, as soon as possible, is only slightly below the surface in states where conservatives' top social goals have been foiled for years by Democratic vetoes and legislative obstacles.

The tension is particularly visible in Kansas, where the victory by Gov.-elect Sam Brownback, a strong opponent of abortion and gay marriage, has created strong expectations among evangelical supporters.

A similar scenario is taking shape in strongly conservative Oklahoma, where a Republican governor will replace a Democrat, and to a lesser extent in Michigan, Wisconsin and several other states.

Some Republican legislators are already worried about getting bogged down in volatile issues or conflicts between wings of the party. But, if the different agendas can be harnessed, an election largely driven by voters' economic concerns could wind up having much broader social consequences.

"I'm a little bit nervous," said Rep. Dean Kaufert, a Republican state House member in Wisconsin, where Republicans, including incoming governor Scott Walker, campaigned on enacting tough immigration legislation and banning embryonic stem cell research. If Republicans overreach, "the danger is the citizens of the state will just say we'll clean house again and we're going to keep doing it until we get it right," he said.

But some conservatives said they won't wait forever. "We're not going to spend the next 18 months doing nothing but economic issues," said Wisconsin Republican Sen. Glenn Grothman, an advocate of tougher abortion restrictions.

GOP candidates in the midterm election successfully wooed independent voters and those upset with President Obama and the agenda of the Democratic-controlled Congress. But abortion opponents and socially conservative evangelical Christians are a key party constituency.

This year's vote gave Republicans control of 29 governorships, including 11 held previously by Democrats. The GOP significantly strengthened its position in many state legislatures.

The GOP won all statewide races on the ballot in Kansas for the first time since 1964. Republicans picked up 16 seats in the state House, giving the GOP an overwhelming 92-33 advantage.

Abortion opponents now plan to make the state as close to an abortion-free zone as possible. Proposed measures would impose new regulations for clinics, restrictions on late-term procedures and increased reporting requirements for physicians. Vetoes by outgoing Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson and his predecessors blocked such action in the past.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, who serves on Brownback's transition team, said action against embryonic stem cell research and to allow "covenant" marriages, which are harder to dissolve than standard marriages, are likely to be considered, too.

"There's a lot of unfinished business out there, isn't there?" Kinzer said.

In Oklahoma, where Republicans won all eight Democrat-held statewide offices, GOP lawmakers are planning to bring back firearms bills vetoed last year by outgoing Democratic Gov. Brad Henry. They include a bill to allow the open carrying of firearms.

A move to legalize concealed weapons is expected in Wisconsin, where the Republicans scored their most dramatic victory, seizing control of both the legislature and the governor's office. Some Republican lawmakers hope to repeal a law that extends benefits to gay state employees and their domestic partners.

It's not clear whether Republicans could win approval of such measures or would wind up in protracted battles not only with Democrats but among themselves.

Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus insists the party can manage the competing demands. The economy "doesn't mean we have to exclude tackling every other issue facing the voters of Wisconsin," he said.

In Michigan, Iowa and Ohio, where Republicans are replacing Democratic governors, legislative leaders are all under pressure to back anti-abortion legislation but insist they will focus on the economy.

Brownback's economy-first approach in Kansas has put him in the rare position of disappointing conservative allies.

Rep. Owen Donohoe, a Republican from the Kansas City-area suburb of Shawnee, sent colleagues an e-mail saying Brownback's legislative agenda "may not be as conservative as we wish."

City Council discusses pay periods

ByPhil Smith
COLUMBIA CITY — Members of the Columbia City Common Council discussed their own salaries Tuesday night and the second reading of the ordinance establishing their 2011 pay did not pass by without discussion.
Council member Roger Seymoure took issue with the way the pay is set up, which is an annual salary, but which is divided into bi-weekly pay periods.
A fluke that happens only once in a great while caused the council members, as well as the mayor and the clerk-treasurer, to receive an extra paycheck in 2010.
“This (ordinance 2010-32) conforms to the way that other cities are doing it,” said Mayor Jim Fleck.
Due to the pay schedule, the officials received 27 pay checks this year. The normal number of pay days for bi-weekly pay periods is 26.
“I think (changing the ordinance) would cut out the questions, so we never get into this discussion of whether there are 26 or 27 pays,” said Seymoure. “I would like to see it changed to show it (the salaries) as an annual amount.”
Fleck said changing ordinance currently being reviewed would be man hours and paperwork that isn’t necessary since 2011, the year the ordinance was written for, has only 26 pay periods.
“It substantially would require some major recalculations,” Fleck said.
The board, along with the mayor and Clerk-Treasurer Rosie Coyle, receive their final paycheck of 2010 on Dec. 31, although Coyle said it would probably be earlier due to the holiday.
Coyle told Seymore that the board could pass the current ordinance, which was approved for its second reading but not ratified yet, and she would remember to change the 2012 salary ordinance before it comes in front of the board in a year.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tea Parties Turn to Local Issues .

HAMILTON, Ga.—The Harris County Tea Party near the Alabama border campaigned far and wide in this month's midterm elections. Donations were mailed to tea-party candidates in Nevada and Alaska. There were multiple overnight bus trips to rallies in Washington, D.C.

The next stop, however, is closer to home: the local school board.

"Don't get me wrong, we're still going to engage in Washington, but now we're going after what is here locally. Our focus is turning to our community," said Kathy Ropte, the group's founder, over cola at a Blimpie sub shop, a popular local tea-party meeting spot off the town square. Aware that education consumes a big chunk of local property taxes, group members are combing through the salaries of every county school employee from the superintendent down.

After fighting for several months on the highest level of American politics, the leaders of many local tea-party activist groups now plan to take their agendas of limited government and penny pinching to their hometown governments.

Most say they'll stay involved in watching Congress, and dozens attended a recent Washington summit organized by national umbrella group Tea Party Patriots for newly elected members of Congress. But the local leaders say that to truly stem spending, they also must stage what Steven Vernon, vice president of the Tea Party Manatee on Florida's Gulf Coast, calls "a ground-level attack."

"We have to start at the lowest level and take our country back," Mr. Vernon said.

It's also more convenient for tea-party activists—typically volunteers with separate full-time jobs–to be local gadflies than national ones. "We can't go to every congressional hearing in D.C. but we can go to every school-board meeting in Manatee County," said Mr. Vernon, a technology-contracts negotiator.

Meanwhile, many recession-weary local officials are gearing up for a potential clash with tea partiers, saying they have already squeezed all they can out of their budgets.

"Good luck! If they can find the fat, I want to know where it is," said Craig Dowling, the superintendent of the Harris County School District, who said he had a visit from local tea-party activists in late October. "We are driving school buses that are 20 years old. I wonder how many of them are driving 20-year-old cars."

Tea-party groups in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Michigan have recently voiced plans to have members run for local town boards in 2011—a bid to start a farm team of politicians who can move up to higher offices.

View Full Image

Jennifer Levitz / The Wall Street Journal

Craig Dowling, Harris County schools superintendent, says that if the tea-party activists 'can find the fat, I want to know where it is.'
."We hope to field candidates for the congressional race two years from now, but for 2011, our focus has shifted to the school boards," said Lee Ann Burkholder, spokeswoman for the York 912 Patriots, a tea-party-affiliated group in York, Penn.

The 912 Patriots last month drew some 300 people to an area hotel for a meeting by taking out a front-page ad in a local paper, asking: "Why are your property taxes so high? How is your school district spending your hard-earned dollars? You might be surprised."

"A lot of our members are upset that we have to pay for raises and fund pensions for teachers while many people in York County are out of work," Ms. Burkholder said.

Teachers' representatives warn against skimping on pay. "If you don't invest, you're not going to get the best and brightest and that will manifest itself in student performance," said Brian Koppenhaver, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the union that represents York County school employees.

On Election Day, Don and Diana Reimer, co-founders of the Philadelphia Tea Party Patriots, were in Washington, waving signs for Republican Pat Toomey, a fiscal conservative who won the Pennsylvania Senate race.

Now, the Philadelphia Tea Party Patriots plan to launch the "Watchman Project," in which members will be assigned to attend local government meetings, monitor meeting minutes and then report back to the group, Mr. Reimer said. "If there is a particular vote coming up that we support or oppose, we would all show up to influence what is going on," he said.

Already, tensions are brewing in some municipalities, with local officials saying they need new revenue to maintain public services, while tea-party activists say new taxes aren't an option.

Earlier this month in Troy, Mich., tea-party activists delivered a petition to city hall, seeking to force officials to keep the Troy Public Library open without a new tax.

"We really are embroiled in a big controversy here in Troy," said Janice Daniels, co-founder of the Troy Area Tea Party.

Local voters narrowly shot down a proposal for a library tax on the Nov. 2 ballot. Now, the library is scheduled to close in June.

The tea-party members believe the city can find money for the library by cutting compensation packages of municipal employees, but Mayor Louise Schilling said that "the suggestions made by the tea party are not realistic."

"If you're going to have services, you have to pay for them," she said.

In Georgia, Mr. Dowling, the Harris County school superintendent, said he cut $3.3 million from his budget last year in order to balance the books.

In March, the district will ask Hamilton voters to extend a one-percentage -point increase in the sales tax earmarked for school funding. Without a voter-approved extension, the sales tax would go back down from 7% to 6%.

Mr. Dowling likely won't have the vote of the Harris County Tea Party. "No more money. No more money," said the founder, Ms. Ropte. "They need to learn how to live within their means."

Dems challenge incoming GOPers on health coverage

Washington (CNN) -- House Democrats are calling on Republican congressional leaders to make public how many incoming GOP senators and representatives who campaigned on repealing the new health care law will forgo enrolling in the federally subsidized health care coverage they receive as members of Congress.

A group of more than 60 Democrats -- led by New York Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley, California Rep. Linda Sanchez, Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan -- sent a letter to GOP leaders on Tuesday arguing that Republicans who want the health care bill repealed but accept coverage for themselves are hypocrites.

The Democrats who signed the letter seized on a recent article in Politico that reported Republican Rep.-elect Andy Harris of Maryland complained during orientation for new House Members last week that there was almost a month of lag time before coverage under the federal plan kicks in for new employees. Harris, a physician, campaigned against President Barack Obama's health care plan, pledging to repeal it.

In the letter sent to House GOP Leader John Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, the Democrats contended that newly elected GOP legislators can't have it both ways.

"If your conference wants to deny millions of Americans affordable health care, your members should walk that walk," the letter said. "You cannot enroll in the very kind of coverage that you want for yourselves, and then turn around and deny it to Americans who don't happen to be Members of Congress."

No member of the House Democratic leadership signed the letter.

CNN sought comment from Harris on the letter, but there was no immediate response. In an interview with Baltimore, Maryland, television station WBAL last week, Harris said that while he did ask about the start date for federal health insurance plans during orientation, he wasn't asking about coverage for his own family because they have insurance.

Harris argued in the interview that it was ironic for the new federal health care law to mandate coverage, but "when our federal employees get hired, if they don't get hired on the right day of the month, they actually go without insurance for a while."

Michael Steel, spokesman for Boehner, responded to the letter by telling CNN that "Boehner, like Speaker Pelosi, Sen. Reid and tens of millions of Americans, receives health coverage through his employer," which has "nothing to do with ObamaCare," the GOP euphemism for the health care reform bill.

McConnell's office had no comment on the letter.

Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees labor union that lobbied for passage of health care reform, issued a statement that called GOP supporters of repeal who enroll in taxpayer-subsidized health care "hypocrites."

"If these Republicans really support market-based solutions to health care, they ought to go out and try to buy an individual policy in the insurance market," McEntee said.

Like other federal workers, members of Congress and their aides can choose from a large list of subsidized health plans provided by their employer, the federal government. The coverage is offered by private health insurance companies, and the Congress members and their staff pay premiums for the coverage.

A liberal advocacy group launched a radio ad in Maryland this week accusing Harris of "whining about his health care."

Harris responded to the ad a statement Monday that said "an out-of-district, liberal special interest group has decided to start the 2012 campaign with false accusations and personal attacks."

"While these outsiders are focused on a different agenda, I am concentrating on long-term job creation, reducing wasteful government spending and getting America back on the road to prosperity," the Harris statement said.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Looking forward to 2011 City Elections!

The leaders of the Whitley County Democratic Party had a very productive meeting today. Many items were discussed and we are looking forward to having a successful election in 2011! If you are interested in being a Democratic Candidate, contact Party Chair, Scott Allison at whitleydems@gmail.com today!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In 2011 we will hold an election for the offices of: Mayor-Columbia City. City Council-Columbia City. Clerk/Treasurer-Columbia City, Larwill, South Whitley, and Churubusco. Town Board member-Larwill, South Whitley, and Churubusco. Are you interested in being a candidate? Contact WC Democratic Party Chairman, Scott Allison at whitleydems@gmail.com today!