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China Looks to Install a Ninja to Compete With Samurai Abe for the Central Bank of China

“China signaled it’s preparing for its first new central bank chief since 2002 as an official newspaper said Zhou Xiaochuan will step down from his position next month.

The China Securities Journal, published by the state-run Xinhua News Agency, didn’t attribute the information to anyone in its Feb. 2 profile of Zhou, governor of the People’s Bank of China. The ruling Communist Party previously indicated in November that Zhou would leave, without saying when, by omitting him from its central committee list.

The successor to Zhou, 65, whose decade of service makes him the longest-tenured PBOC chief, will help decide the pace of loosening controls on interest rates and capital flows. China’s benchmark stock gauge, the Shanghai CompositeIndex (SHCOMP), has gained 24 percent since Dec. 3 on optimism the world’s second- largest economy is rebounding from growth at a 13-year low last year.

“The central bank governor change will be part of China’s government reshuffle in March,” with Zhou reaching retirement age, said Zhu Haibin, chief China economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Hong Kong. The successor “has to follow Zhou’s uncompleted reforms in liberalizing China’s interest rates and opening up the capital account,” Zhu said.

The PBOC news office didn’t immediately respond to faxed questions from Bloomberg News about how much longer Zhou will serve. Under Chinese law, China’s central bank governor must be named by the premier and endorsed by the National People’s Congress. The annual gathering of the full legislative body is in March….”

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Congress Averts Default Until May

“Congress sent President Barack Obama drama-free legislation on Thursday raising the debt ceiling, averting a government default and putting off the next tax-and-spending clash between the White House and Republicans until later in the year.

The measure cleared the Senate on a vote of 64-34 after winning House approval late last week. It permits the Treasury to borrow above the current $16.4 trillion debt limit through May 18. The White House has said Obama will sign it.

“Failure to pass this bill will set off an unpredictable financial panic that would plunge not only the United States but much of the world back into recession,” Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said before the vote. “Every single American would feel the economic impact.” ..”

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Corruption, Payoffs, and Tax Evasion is All But a Days Work for Spanish Government

“Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy and his government have been rocked today by documents published in El Pais that appear to show his party receiving a large amount of “secret” donations.

El Pais claims that the documents show a series of payments from well known businessmen to the conservative People’s Party for more than a decade, with the last payment in 2009.

According to the Guardian, one document appears to show Rajoy himself receiving payments totaling €250,000 ($340,000) that had been hidden from tax authorities.

The scandal revolves around former treasurer Luis Bárcenas, who is under investigation for allegedly having €22 million ($30 million) in a Swiss bank account. Bárcenas is alleged to have kept a double accounting system for the party to hide the payments….”

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UN Said to Weigh Sending Peacekeeping Force to Mali

“United Nations peacekeepers may be deployed to Mali after French troops leave to ensure that Islamist militants don’t seek to reclaim the northern part of the country, according to UN officials.

The UN Security Council in New York will discuss in coming days whether to send as many as 5,000 troops to protect civilians and keep the land-locked West African country stable before peace talks and an election, according to two officials familiar with the discussions of the operations. They asked to not be named as the plans are preliminary….”

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Is Obama’s Immigration Stance Originally a Conservative Proposal?

“For all the talk about President Obama’s liberalism, his immigration agenda is the last thing you might expect: conservative.

His enemies might deny it. His staff might not recognize it. But the argument Obama presented Tuesday for a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants is rooted in economic and social conservatism.

First, in a Las Vegas address that included the words “economy” or “economic” 10 times, Obama argued that immigration fuels corporate innovation. “It keeps our workforce young. It keeps our country on the cutting edge,” he said. “And it’s helped build the greatest economic engine the world has ever known.”

Immigrants founded one-quarter of high-tech start-ups in the United States, Obama said, and one-fourth of all U.S. small-business owners are immigrants. And yet the nation’s immigration laws make it difficult for foreign students who study in the United States to remain here after college.

“We’re giving them all the skills they need to [launch a business], but then we’re going to turn around and tell them to start that business and create those jobs in China or India or Mexico or someplace else?” Obama said. “That’s not how you grow new industries in America. That’s how you give new industries to our competitors. That’s why we need comprehensive immigration reform.”

Second, Obama cast amnesty as a matter of economic fairness. With 11 million illegal immigrants “woven into the fabric of our lives,” the United States has a shadow economy of under-the-table employees whose low wages and poor working conditions disadvantage law-abiding employees and companies.

“If we’re truly committed to strengthening our middle class and providing more ladders of opportunity to those who are willing to work hard to make it into the middle class, we’ve got to fix the system,” Obama said. He pivoted from that traditionally Democratic message to this more conservative appeal: “We have to make sure that every business and every worker in America is playing by the same set of rules.”

He said his immigration package, which includes penalties for legalized immigrants, would create a system in which “everybody is held accountable–businesses for who they hire, and immigrants for getting on the right side of the law.”

Finally, Obama cast immigration reform as part of the country’s aspirational narrative. All but calling America a “shining city upon a hill,” as President Reagan did, Obama declared, “Now is the time to find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as the land of opportunity.” …”

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Electoral Rigging Plans Will Have Future Elections Turn Out Differently

“Republican lawmakers in several key swing states are considering plans to allocate their electoral college votes by Congressional district, in  a move that would give Republican presidential candidates a new advantage in future elections.


The policy, if applied nationally, would seriously impact the way presidential elections turn out by giving out electoral votes by congressional districts already drawn to be favorable for Republicans.

Here, we look at the past eleven presidential elections to see how they would turn out if every state allocated their presidential electoral votes along congressional district lines. The electoral college numbers are estimates, arrived at by finding the number of congressional districts each candidate’s party won, and adding two votes for each outright majority in a state.

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Will “Security Requirements” Kill Immigration Reform?

“As President Barack Obama prepared to deliver his speech on immigration reform Tuesday, key points of tension were already emerging between what the White House wants andwhat the bipartisan Senate “Gang of Eight” proposed Monday. The most important difference between the two plans may be on the Southwest border commission, a panel of regional leaders described in the Senate plan, and whether or not it will have to assert that the border is secure before undocumented immigrants can begin acquiring citizenship.

Obama reportedly opposes the idea that border security conditions would have to be met before immigrants can seek citizenship. Even within the “Gang of Eight” itself, as theWashington Post‘s Greg Sargent reported Tuesday, it’s unclear what security conditions must be met and if the Southwest border commission would have the final say on when the citizenship process can begin.

If he’s serious about immigration enforcement, why does Obama oppose security condiditions? Because for the past four years, the Obama administration has broken deportation records for four years running, deporting around 400,000 people a year for a total of about 1.5 million deportations since the president’s first day in office. (The administration says that 55 percent of these deported immigrants had been convicted of crimes. But the vast majority of those crimes were minor.) President George W. Bush deported two million undocumented immigrants over the course of eight years, and Obama has reached nearly that number in his first term. As far as the Southwest border is concerned, net migration from Mexico in 2012 was zero,according to the Pew Hispanic Center. The United States “allocates more funding for border enforcement than all of its other immigration enforcement and benefit programs combined,”according to the Migration Policy Institute.

In other words, it’s actually very difficult, given the record numbers of deportations and the massive amount of money already being spent on the border, to see what more can be done by enforcement alone to stop illegal immigration. …”

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Business Will Celebrate the New Immigration Bill If Passed

“Now instead of doling out free money, should we not have been doling out incentives to retool and retrain America ?

A bipartisan group of four senators are unveiling a bill this morning that will make Silicon Valley very happy, The Hill reports.

The Immigration Innovation Act, if passed, would nearly double the number of H-1B visas made available to highly skilled foreign workers. It would also let foreign students at U.S. institutions apply for green cards while on their student visas. 

Already, Microsoft has come out in support of the plan….”

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Senators Reach an Immigration Agreement

“A bipartisan group of leading senators has reached agreement on the principles of sweeping legislation to rewrite the nation’s immigration laws.

The deal, which was to be announced at a news conference Monday afternoon, covers border security, guest workers and employer verification, as well as a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in this country.

Although thorny details remain to be negotiated and success is far from certain, the development heralds the start of what could be the most significant effort in years toward overhauling the nation’s inefficient patchwork of immigration laws.

President Barack Obama also is committed to enacting comprehensive immigration legislation and will travel to Nevada on Tuesday to lay out his vision, which is expected to overlap in important ways with the Senate effort.

The eight senators expected to endorse the new principles Monday are Democrats Charles Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado; and Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Several of these lawmakers have worked for years on the issue. McCain collaborated with the late Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on comprehensive immigration legislation pushed by then-President George W. Bush in 2007, only to see it collapse in the Senate when it couldn’t get enough GOP support.

Now, with some Republicans chastened by the November elections which demonstrated the importance of Latino voters and their increasing commitment to Democrats, some in the GOP say this time will be different.

“What’s changed, honestly, is that there is a new, I think, appreciation on both sides of the aisle — including maybe more importantly on the Republican side of the aisle — that we have to enact a comprehensive immigration reform bill,” McCain said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

“I think the time is right,” McCain said.

The group claims a notable newcomer in Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate whose conservative bona fides may help smooth the way for support among conservatives wary of anything that smacks of amnesty. In an opinion piece published Sunday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Rubio wrote that the existing system amounts to “de facto amnesty,” and he called for “commonsense reform.”

According to documents obtained by The Associated Press, the senators will call for accomplishing four goals:

—Creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, contingent upon securing the border and better tracking of people here on visas.

—Reforming the legal immigration system, including awarding green cards to immigrants who obtain advanced degrees in science, math, technology or engineering from an American university.

—Creating an effective employment verification system to ensure that employers do not hire illegal immigrants.

—Allowing more low-skill workers into the country and allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can demonstrate they couldn’t recruit a U.S. citizen; and establishing an agricultural worker program.

The principles being released Monday are outlined on just over four pages, leaving plenty of details left to fill in. What the senators do call for is similar to Obama’s goals and some past efforts by Democrats and Republicans, since there’s wide agreement in identifying problems with the current immigration system. The most difficult disagreement is likely to arise over how to accomplish the path to citizenship.

In order to satisfy the concerns of Rubio and other Republicans, the senators are calling for the completion of steps on border security and oversight of those here on visas before taking major steps forward on the path to citizenship.

Even then, those here illegally would have to qualify for a “probationary legal status” that would allow them to live and work here — but not qualify for federal benefits — before being able to apply for permanent residency. Once they are allowed to apply they would do so behind everyone else already in line for a green card within the current immigration system.

That could be a highly cumbersome process, but how to make it more workable is being left to future negotiations. The senators envision a more streamlined process toward citizenship for immigrants brought here as children by their parents, and for agricultural workers….”

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Sen. Feinstein Set to Propose Draconian Gun Control Measures, Turn Everything in Full Stop

“Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) will introduce a bill banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips on Thursday.

Feinstein’s bill will expand the criteria for classifying military-style assault weapons from a 1994 law, which lapsed a decade later. Her new measure will ban the sale of about 150 types of firearms, including some rifles and handguns, as well as the sale of high-capacity magazines, according to USA Today.
The bill will exempt firearms used for hunting and will grandfather in guns and magazines owned before the law’s potential enactment. However, the grandfathered weapons will be logged in a national registry….”

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Obama Picks Mary Joe White to Chair The SEC

“Mary Jo White, the aggressive New York attorney set to be nominatged by President Obama Thursday to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission, is accustomed to complex legal challenges.

When Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and nine fellow Muslim militants were charged in a 1993 plot to bomb the United Nations and other New York landmarks, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office headed by White turned to a little-used seditious conspiracy statute from the Civil War era to prosecute the sprawling terrorism case….”

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The House Overwhelmingly Passes a Bill to Avoid Debt Default

“WASHINGTON (AP) — The House overwhelmingly passed a bill Wednesday to permit the government to borrow enough money to avoid a first-time default for at least four months, defusing a looming crisis setting up a springtime debate over taxes, spending and the deficit.

The House passed the measure on a bipartisan 285-144 vote as majority Republicans back away from their previous demand that any increase in the government’s borrowing cap be paired with an equivalent level of spending cuts.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the chamber would immediately move to advance the legislation to the White House, which has announced Obama would sign it.

The measure would suspend the $16.4 trillion cap on federal borrowing and reset it on May 19 to reflect the additional borrowing required between the date the bill becomes law and then. The amount of borrowing required depends on the tax receipts received during filing season, but over a comparable period last year the government ran deficits in the range of $150 billion.

The measure also contains a provision that slaps at the Senate, which hasn’t debated a budget since 2009, by withholding the pay for either House or Senate members if the chamber in which they serve fails to pass a budget plan. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced Wednesday that the chamber would indeed debate a budget this year but maintained the GOP’s “no budget, no pay” move had nothing to do with the decision.

President Barack Obama vows not to negotiate over the debt ceiling as he did in the summer of 2011, though he promises further action on the budget. Wednesday’s developments mark a shift of the budget debate away from failed head-to-head talks between Obama and Boehner

The idea driving the move by GOP leaders like Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is to re-sequence a series of upcoming budget battles, taking the threat of a potentially devastating government default off the table and instead setting up a clash in March over automatic across-the-board spending cuts set to strike the Pentagon and many domestic programs. Those cuts — postponed by the recent “fiscal cliff” deal — are the punishment for the failure of a 2011 congressional deficit-reduction supercommittee to reach an agreement.

This “no budget, no pay” idea had previously been regarded by many as a gimmick but has been given new life by Boehner as a “reform” to pair with an increase in the so-called debt limit. Boehner previously had insisted that any increase in borrowing authority to avoid lapses in payments to contractors, unemployment benefits or Social Security checks — and possibly even interest payments on U.S. Treasury obligations — be matched dollar for dollar with spending cuts. Many Republican speakers preferred to focus on the pay provision….”

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House GOP Moves to Suspend the Debt Limit

“In legislation filed yesterday, the House GOP Leadership made an important twist in their plan to pass a short-term increase in the debt ceiling. Rather than increase the debt ceiling by a few hundred billion dollars, buying them time for further talks on the budget, they have opted to “suspend” the debt ceiling. Its a blatant abdication of their constitutional authority. It’s an ominous sign of the talks to come.

Article 1 of the US Constitution gives Congress the exclusive authority to borrow money to fund the government. Up until World War 1, Congress would approve every bond issuance. The borrowing demands of the war made this impractical, so Congress authorized a “debt ceiling,” where the government could freely borrow up to a statutory limit and then go back to Congress to approve additional borrowing. Think of it as giving your teenager a pre-paid debit card.

With this measure, the government had more flexibility to manage its affairs while preserving the Constitutional principle that Congress controlled the purse strings.

“Suspending” the debt ceiling until May upends this principle. Upon enactment, the government’s borrowing authority would be unlimited until May. Presumably, the government could borrow trillions in this window, providing either the markets or the Fed would meet the new supply of debt.

Worse, however, is that the GOP move establishes a very slippery precedent. The left has been agitating to simply eliminate the idea of a debt ceiling entirely. For all its flaws, the ceiling at least guarantees we will have some debate about government spending. The left finds this annoying. Unfortunately, the GOP plan to “suspend” the ceiling provides at least partial support to this argument. If we can “suspend” it for three months, why not a year? Once you’ve surrendered the constitutional principle behind the ceiling where and how can you draw a line? …”

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U.S. Seeks to Outsource Handling of Syrian Chemical Weapons

“The Obama administration has quietly arranged for thousands of chemical protective suits and related items to be sent to Jordan and Turkey and is pressing the military forces there to take principal responsibility for safeguarding Syrian chemical weapons sites if the country’s lethal nerve agents suddenly become vulnerable to theft and misuse, Western and Middle Eastern officials say.

As part of their preparations for such an event, Western governments have started training the Jordanians and Turks to use the chemical gear and detection equipment, so they have the capability to protect the Syrian nerve agent depots if needed – at least for a short time, U.S. and Western officials say.

Washington has decided moreover that the best course of action in the aftermath of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s fall would be to get the nerve agents out of the country as quickly as possible, and so it has begun discussions not only with Jordan and Turkey, but also with Iraq and Russia in an effort to chart the potential withdrawal of the arsenal and its destruction elsewhere.

Using allied forces from Syria’s periphery as the most likely “first-responders” to a weapons-of-mass-destruction emergency is regarded in Washington as a way to avoid putting substantial U.S. troops into the region if the special Syrian military forces now safeguarding the weapons leave their posts. A Syrian withdrawal might otherwise render the weapons vulnerable to capture and use by Hezbollah or other anti-U.S. or anti-Israeli militant groups, U.S. officials fear.

This article is based on conversations about international planning for the disposition of the Syrian stockpile with a half dozen U.S. and foreign officials who have direct knowledge of the matter but declined to be named due to the political and security sensitivities surrounding their work. They said the Western planning, while not yet complete, is further along than officials have publicly disclosed.

But so far, the Turkish and Jordanian governments have not promised to take up the full role that Washington has sought to give them, U.S. and foreign officials said….”

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Euro Area Grapples With ESM Rules as Legacy Assets Loom

“Euro-area finance ministers staked out their turf in a brewing battle over bank rescues amid German and Austrian warnings that direct bailouts won’t be widely available.

Ministers seek an agreement in the first half of this year on how and when the 500 billion-euro ($668 billion) European Stability Mechanism can bypass governments and provide direct help to banks. Ireland and France led calls at a meeting of euro finance chiefs in Brussels yesterday for work to proceed quickly so the new tool can be ready as quickly as possible.

Some creditor nations countered that direct bank aid shouldn’t start until the European Central Bank takes up its new role as single supervisor within the currency zone, which isn’t expected until 2014. In the meantime, the ESM needs to leave its resources free to be a lender of last resort, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said.

“One has to damp further-reaching expectations because that would completely overburden the ESM,” Schaeuble told reporters after the meeting. He urged the euro area not to “repeat earlier mistakes” by raising hopes of aid that won’t materialize.

“We mustn’t relapse to create incentives that fall under the heading of moral hazard,” Schaeuble said. “We must keep decision-making power and liability close together…”

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Boehner: No Budget no Pay

“The Republican-controlled House will vote next week to permit the government to borrow more money to meet its obligations, a move aimed at heading off a market-rattling confrontation with President Barack Obama over the so-called debt limit.

Full details aren’t settled, but the measure would give the government about three more months of borrowing authority beyond a deadline expected to hit as early as mid-February, No. 2 House Republican Eric Cantor of Virginia said Friday. (Read MoreGOP May Seek Short-Term Debt Limit Extension)

The legislation wouldn’t require immediate spending cuts as earlier promised by GOP leaders like Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. Instead, it’s aimed at forcing the Democratic-controlled Senate to join the House in debating the federal budget. It would try to do so by conditioning pay for members of Congress on passing a congressional budget measure.

“We are going to pursue strategies that will obligate the Senate to finally join the House in confronting the government’s spending problem,” Boehner told GOP lawmakers at a retreat in Williamburg, Va. “The principle is simple: `No budget, no pay.”‘

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