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US Congress deal averts shutdown December 16, 2011

Disagreement over payroll tax cuts is the latest impasse to hit Washington in recent months

Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress have agreed a compromise spending bill to avoid a government shutdown.

The deal averts the possibility of US federal agencies shutting down because of a lack of guaranteed funding.

The House of Representatives and the Senate are both expected to vote on the controversial $1tn (£643bn) spending bill on Friday.

It is the third time this year the US government faced shutdown.

However, one of the key areas of disagreement – extending a payroll tax cut due to expire at the end of the year – remains unresolved, officials said.

“I am hopeful that the House and Senate can pass this bill tomorrow to prevent a government shutdown, fund critical programs and services for the American people and cut spending to help put the nation’s finances on a more sustainable path,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, announcing the deal.

Funding for federal programmes expires at the end of the week, but Democrats had insisted they would not pass a funding bill without solving an impasse on a payroll tax cut.

Democrats, who control the Senate, dropped demands to fund the renewed tax cut with a surcharge on millionaires.

But they object to Republicans linking the tax to an oil pipeline project.

Republicans want the government to approve the Keystone XL pipeline linking Canada with the US Gulf Coast. They say it will create jobs and boost US trade.

The Obama administration has ordered an environmental review of that project, with results not expected until 2013.

‘Partisan charade’

Rival party leaders in the Senate toned town their rhetoric on Thursday, saying that only a “few issues” remained.

Continue reading the main story

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We ought to finish our most immediate concern first”

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Mitch McConnnell
Republican Senate leader

The payroll tax cut is due to expire at the end of December, with the White House estimating that taxes would rise for about 160 million Americans if it is not renewed.

The administration says a family earning $50,000 (£32,000) would pay $1,000 more in payroll taxes next year if Congress does not act.

President Obama has been vocal about the tax issue in recent weeks, challenging Republicans who espouse a low-tax philosophy to agree with his policy.

But while the two parties have agreed over the need to renew the tax break, they have differed over how to pay for it.

Republicans have proposed cutting benefits while Democrats called for a surtax on those Americans earning over $1m (£600,000). That demand appeared to have been dropped on Wednesday.

Stop-gap

The looming deadline was the third time in 2011 that Congress had come close to failing to approve new funds to keep the government running.

The administration formally alerted government employees to the prospect of a shutdown on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported.

And the White House indicated that it would prefer Congress pass a continuing resolution – essentially a short-term measure approving stop-gap funding – that would fund the government for a defined period of time.

That solution, enacted several times already this year, would avoid a shutdown but force Congress to address the issue once again in 2012.

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Troy Davis remembered by Antone De’Jaun Correia December 11, 2011

My uncle, Troy Davis, was arrested in 1989 and sentenced to death in 1991, three years before I was born. He was in jail my whole life, but I knew him very well. I visited him with my mother – his sister – on death row in the Georgia state prison every other week until his execution in September and he became a father figure to me.

Troy was wise, respectful, motivated and a great listener. He didn’t like the position he was in but said he had to learn from it, and used that experience to give me advice. He told me to pick the right friends and not to run away when things got rough; to keep my head up in school and take criticism positively. My uncle was a good family man before he went to prison. My grandma used to tell me that when he got a paycheck he’d give half to her to help pay the bills at home. He was responsible and respectful from a young age.

On 19 August 1989 a police officer called Mark MacPhail was shot dead in a car park in Savannah. My uncle was there at the time and, based on eyewitness testimony, the police decided he’d done it – but they had the wrong person from the get-go. Later we got lawyers to go through the case. They did very rigorous investigations and found there was no evidence to prove my uncle committed the crime – no DNA, no gunpowder residue, nothing at all. Most of the witnesses withdrew their original statements, and another man was implicated in the murder. We appealed, and the execution was stayed three times over the past four years, but on 21 September 2011 Troy was killed by lethal injection.

It was a tough time for my family. My grandma had died in May, so we lost two important parts of the family in the space of five months, but I think we coped pretty well. You’ve just got to learn from things and keep moving. My uncle’s death opened a big can of worms for Georgia and all the other death-row states. The case provoked a huge amount of debate in the US, and we received support from people all over the world.

What Troy did for me in my life will never be forgotten Now I’m hoping to go to Georgia Tech to study robotic engineering. With good work put in, good things come out. My uncle helped me understand that, and I really can’t thank him enough.

Since De’Jaun Correia wrote the above, his mother, Martina Davis Correia, an anti-death penalty activist, died after a long illness on 1 December, aged 44.

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US forced to leave Pakistan base as relations reach new low after NATO attack December 5, 2011


December 5, 2011

by legitgov

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US forced to leave Pakistan base as relations reach new low after NATO attack that killed 24 04 Dec 2011 US military personnel have begun leaving Shamsi air base in Pakistan, after a NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border plunged U.S.-Pakistani relations to an all time low. More than 70 US marines and CIA operatives are set to leave the base today. An official told NBC: ‘Two U.S. cargo planes reached Shamsi Airport and the loading of the equipment and other cargo items has also started.’

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Middle incomes: the American nightmare | Editorial November 28, 2011

The US economy is now almost thrice as big as in the early 1970s – and yet the typical working man finds not a dime of this transformative growth in his pay packet. At an outstanding event in London last week, the Resolution Foundation assembled experts from both sides of the Atlantic to consider the great undeclared class war which has robbed America’s workforce of the fast-growing fruits of their labour for so long. Britons would do well to familiarise themselves with this tale of the 40-year squeeze, because there are chilling signs of something similar getting under way here.

In conquering the economy, America’s rich have made occasional daylight raids – such as the Bush tax cuts, worth 100 times more to the million-a-year brigade than to the great bulk of the workforce. More often Mammon has triumphed by stealth: outsourcing labour, and with it responsibility for terms and conditions; capturing the committees that set bosses’ pay; and darting into every space vacated by the trade unions. The cumulative effects were breathtaking. While the old promise of rising prosperity was being breached for the many, the top 1% quadrupled their disposable income. Back in the 1960s it would have been assumed that such a sustained riot of the rich would incur a revolution. In the event, cheap credit, working wives and occasional targeted tax breaks combined to allow families to eke out a niggardly increase in living standards in most years. But looking ahead, the crumbs of comfort are hard to spot: feminising the workforce is a trick that can’t be pulled twice, and all that easy credit ended up crunched.

During the late 20th century, middle Britain avoided going middle America’s way. Despite inequality, most of our people, most of the time, had never had it so good. Through the 1970s and even the 80s sizable unions helped secure decent rises, at least for those lucky enough to hang on to their jobs. Then in the late 1990s came the minimum wage and Gordon Brown’s tax credits. The importance of these two interventions cannot be overstated: tax credits, in particular, accounted for the lion’s share of the total rise enjoyed by many families from the middle right the way down to the bottom of the pile. But even before the slump, progress was faltering, and there is nothing to restart it in prospect. Last week, the High Pay Commission warned that we were rocketing back towards the inequality of the Oliver Twist era. Meanwhile, official figures revealed that the pay of ordinary folk was sliding – and sliding most for the most ordinary of all.

George Osborne is not totally blind to the political problems of plutocrats partying while everyone else endures parsimony – don’t forget he laid the first populist glove on the non-doms. But he has neither the strategy nor the desire to narrow the gap systematically. In Tuesday’s autumn statement the gesture to those of modest means will be measured in pennies off at the petrol pump – while other moves could actually pick poor pockets. Before the election Nick Clegg seemed attuned to the squeezed middle’s lot, pushing tax cuts for lower earners in deliberate contrast to Mr Brown’s preoccupation with children in poverty. Now, however, his giveaways have been overwhelmed by a VAT hike and slashed tax credits.

Which leaves Ed Miliband, whose “squeezed middle” phrase has been named word of the year. He is clearly attuned to the problem, even if he has slipped towards describing the plight of “the 99%” as opposed to the “middle”. The real question is how he credibly answers the wage rage, when there is no money to spend. Tax, regulation and company law could all have a role in narrowing the gap, as part of his avowed wider wish to promote productive over predatory business. But he has yet to think through how. It is high time someone explained how cash-strapped middle Britain can be saved from going the American way.

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Demi Moore in split with Kutcher November 18, 2011

Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher in happier times

Demi Moore has announced “with great sadness” the end of her six-year marriage to fellow actor Ashton Kutcher.

The Hollywood power couple’s split follows reports in recent months of Kutcher’s alleged infidelity.

Kutcher tweeted that he would “forever cherish” his time with Moore.

Moore, 49, and Kutcher, 33, were wed in September 2005. She had previously been married to actor Bruce Willis for 13 years.

No divorce papers had been filed in Los Angeles Superior Court as of Thursday afternoon, reports the Associated Press news agency.

‘Trying time’

Moore made no immediate comment on her Twitter feed – her usual method of sharing news – instead releasing a statement via her publicist.

“It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I have decided to end my six-year marriage to Ashton,” it said.

“As a woman, a mother and a wife there are certain values and vows that I hold sacred, and it is in this spirit that I have chosen to move forward with my life.

“This is a trying time for me and my family, and so I would ask for the same compassion and privacy that you would give to anyone going through a similar situation.”

Kutcher, who recently took over from Charlie Sheen in the hit TV series Two and a Half Men, tweeted minutes later: “I will forever cherish the time I spent with Demi. Marriage is one of the most difficult things in the world and unfortunately sometimes they fail. Love and Light, AK.”

Kutcher became a stepfather to Moore’s three daughters – Rumer, Scout and Tallulah Belle – from her marriage to Willis.

Moore and Willis divorced in 2000, but remained friendly.

Her acting credits include Ghost (1990), A Few Good Men (1992) and Indecent Proposal (1993).

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