Oil Exploration:President Barack Obama approves offshore drilling in Virginia

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

By PHILIP ELLIOTT, Associated Press Writer Philip Elliott, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – In a reversal of a long-standing ban on most offshore drilling, President Barack Obama is allowing oil drilling 50 miles off Virginia's shorelines. At the same time, he is rejecting some new drilling sites that had been planned in Alaska.

Obama's plan offers few concessions to environmentalists, who have been strident in their opposition to more oil platforms off the nation's shores. Hinted at for months, the plan modifies a ban that for more than 20 years has limited drilling along coastal areas other than the Gulf of Mexico.

Obama was set to announce the new drilling policy Wednesday at Andrews air base in Maryland. White House officials pitched the changes as ways to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil and create jobs — both politically popular ideas — but the president's decisions also could help secure support for a climate change bill languishing in Congress.

The president, joined by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, also was set to announce that proposed leases in Alaska's Bristol Bay would be canceled. The Interior Department also planned to reverse last year's decision to open up parts of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Instead, scientists would study the sites to see if they're suitable to future leases.

Obama is allowing an expansion in Alaska's Cook Inlet to go forward. The plan also would leave in place the moratorium on drilling off the West Coast.

In addition, the Interior Department has prepared a plan to add drilling platforms in the eastern Gulf of Mexico if Congress allows that moratorium to expire. Lawmakers in 2008 allowed a similar moratorium to expire; at the time President George W. Bush lifted the ban, which opened the door to Obama's change in policy.

Under Obama's plan, drilling could take place 125 miles from Florida's Gulf coastline if lawmakers allow the moratorium to expire. Drilling already takes place in western and central areas in the Gulf of Mexico.

The president's team has been busy on energy policy and Obama talked about it in his State of the Union address. During that speech, he said he wanted the United States to build a new generation of nuclear power plans and invest in biofuel and coal technologies.

"It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development," he warned.

Obama also urged Congress to complete work on a climate change and energy bill, which has remained elusive. The president met with lawmakers earlier this month at the White House about a bill cutting emissions of pollution-causing greenhouse gases by 17 percent by 2020. The legislation would also expand domestic oil and gas drilling offshore and provide federal assistance for constructing nuclear power plants and carbon sequestration and storage projects at coal-fired utilities.

White House officials hope Wednesday's announcement will attract support from Republicans, who adopted a chant of "Drill, baby, drill" during 2008's presidential campaign.

The president's Wednesday remarks would be paired with other energy proposals that were more likely to find praise from environmental groups. The White House planned to announce it had ordered 5,000 hybrid vehicles for the government fleet. And on Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department are to sign a final rule that requires increased fuel efficiency standards for new cars.

Another suicide blasts in Southern Russia: 12 people Killed

By ARSEN MOLLAYEV, Associated Press Writer Arsen Mollayev, Associated Press Writer

MAKHACHKALA, Russia – Two suicide bombers including one impersonating a police officer killed at least 12 people and injured 18 others in the southern Russian province of Dagestan on Wednesday, officials said. Nine police officers were among the dead.

The blasts in the North Caucasus region came two days after a twin suicide bombing tore through the Moscow subway system, killing 39 people and wounding scores, and a day after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin vowed to drag terrorists "out of the sewer."

Dagestan borders Chechnya, where Russian troops have fought two full-scale wars against Islamic separatist rebels in the past 15 years.

In Wednesday's attacks, a suicide bomber detonated explosives in the town of Kizlyar near Dagestan's border with Chechnya, when police tried to stop the bomber's car, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said in televised comments.

"Traffic police followed the car and almost caught up — at that time the blast hit," Nurgaliyev said, adding the car was heading toward the center of Kizlyar.

As investigators and residents gathered at the scene of the blast, a second bomber wearing a police uniform approached and set off explosives, killing the town's police chief among others, Nurgaliyev said. A school and police station nearby were also damaged.

Grainy cell phone video footage posted on the life.ru news portal showed the moment of the second blast, with officials wandering past a destroyed building before a loud clap rings out and smoke rises in the distance.

The Moscow subway bombings on Monday shocked a country that had grown accustomed to such violence being confined to a restive southern corner such as Dagestan — and marked the return of terrorism to the everyday lives of Muscovites after a six-year break.

The North Caucasus provinces of Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia are prone to more frequent attacks, hosting an active separatist Islamist insurgency that government forces are struggling to contain. Police are the frequent target because they represent federal law enforcers — the separatists' ideological enemy.

Critics claim that the Russian-backed authorities have been involved in many killings, kidnappings and beatings in the region, further alienating residents.

The violence continues despite Kremlin efforts to stem it. President Dmitry Medvedev, who recently said the separatists had spread through the region "like a cancerous tumor," earlier this year appointed a deputy prime minister to oversee the troubled region.

Rebels from the North Caucasus, which includes Dagestan and Chechnya, were blamed for masterminding the Moscow attack, but no claims of responsibility have been made. Speculation has been rife that the attacks were retaliation for the recent killing of high-profile separatists in the North Caucasus by police.

In January in Makhachkala, Dagestan's capital, a suicide bomber blew up an explosives-packed car at a police station, killing six officers, and in August, 24 died and more than 200 were injured when a man crashed a bomb-laden van through the gates of the police station in Nazran, Ingushetia.

Monday's subway bombings, carried out by two women, were the first terrorist attacks in Moscow since 2004.

The first blast struck the Lubyanka station in central Moscow, beneath the headquarters of the Federal Security Service or FSB, the KGB's main successor agency. The FSB is a symbol of power under Putin, a former KGB officer who headed the agency before his election as president in 2000.

About 45 minutes later, a second blast hit the Park Kultury station on the same subway line, which is near the renowned Gorky Park. In both cases, the bombs were detonated as the trains pulled into the stations and the doors were opening.

Uproar as Senate screens Akunyili, Kayode, Njeze

Monday, March 29, 2010

There was an uproar in the Senate on Monday during the screening of ministerial nominees by members of the upper arm of the National Assembly.

The screening had began smoothly with Mrs. Fidelia Njeze and Chief Adetokunbo Kayode (SAN) but when it got to the turn of Prof. Dora Akunyili, the atmosphere changed with Senator Kanti Bello accusing her of exhibiting divisive tendencies shortly before the return of President Umaru Yar’Adua from Saudi Arabia.

“I thought you were nationalistic and close to the cabal( in the Presidency) but your views tended to be divisive, and if you looked at Sections 15 and 20 of the 1999 Constitution, your actions as a minister would portray you as being divisive,” he told Akunyili in a near combative form.

Sensing that Bello’s attack could scuttle the exercise, the President of the Senate, Mr. David Mark, reminded him that he was expected to ask direct questions.

The senator then calmed down a bit but when he began to speak again, he fired another salvo at Akunyili, a former Minister of Information and Communications, by restating that her actions were not aimed at uniting the country.

“Your actions did not seem to unite the country. You called some people a cabal but you were a part of it,” the visibly angry Bello added.

The senator also claimed that he had information that Akunyili was so close to the Yar’Adua’s household that she cooked meals for the First Lady, Turai.

He added that the former minister was not eligible for the post because there were claims of over-concentration of federal appointments in the Anambra Central District, where Akunyili hails from.

At this point, tempers ran high and Senators began to speak up depending on which side of the divide they belonged.

Senator Lee Maeba obviously trying to save Akunyili from further attacks raised a point of Order, asking that Bello should not impute improper motive to the nominee.

The session became rowdy, prompting the President of the Senate, Mr David Mark, to stand up to call the Senators to order.

Mark said, “For those (senators) who are new on the floor here, whenever the President of the Senate stands up, you must stop talking, let me just remind everybody please. We must conduct ourselves in a manner…we are on live television.

“Whatever views you have, you have an opportunity to express them; and this is the first time I am going to stand up as the President of the Senate. I wouldn’t want this to happen again. We have got a guest, a nominee, in our midst and we must conduct ourselves properly, please, whatever our views.”

While answering Bello’s question, Akunyili said, “He(Bello) said that I was cooking dishes for Madam. Sir, I never cooked for Madam.

“Again, I was not in any way part of the cabal. I want to state here very clearly that President Yar’Adua, my boss, my big brother …well he remains my brother, and everybody knows he is a fine gentleman with a beautiful spirit.

“But when we started having issues in the system, when we started having problems, I …I decided… (murmurings get louder).

“When he (Yar’Adua) became ill, I organised a fast of my workers and my household and the Director-General, Federal Radio Corporation was part of the fast.

“I also booked 90 days Novena masses for him in St Leos Parish, Ikeja. It can be crosschecked, when he went to the hospital. So that shows you that I have nothing against our President. I am loyal to him, I am loyal to the Nigerian constitution, and I am very loyal to the country — Nigeria. What I did ….”

After Mark spoke, the Senate Majority Leader, Mr. Teslim Folarin, moved for the Senate to extend the screening beyond 6pm.

Three times, the President of the Senate asked his colleagues if they should do so and three times they answered “No.”

Akunyili later numerated some of her achievements in the information ministry to include the digitalisation of national television stations, which she said would be fully operational by 2012; establishment of a website; and the Nigeria Rebrand project.

After her presentation, Mark asked her to take a bow after which the Senate adjourned at exactly 6pm.

Before, Njeze was screened, there was a minor stir in the Senate when a member drew his colleagues’ attention to a publication in a national daily (not THE PUNCH) that some senators received $100,000 each to ensure that some ministerial nominees did not scale through.

The senator, Alhaji Garbo Lado, had raised a Point- of- Order on the allegation that a number of senators distributed the money to some of their colleagues.

The President of the Senate sustained the Order but said he was unaware that any senator received such money.

Mark said, “It (allegations) is totally unfortunate. I have not received $100,000; no Senator has received or distributed $100,000.”

He added that such allegation would not help the system and appealed to the media to remember that they (media) were an important part of the democratic process.

Njeze, a nominee from the Enugu State, had advocated the setting up of a drug mart to check the influx of fake and substandard drugs into the country.

She observed that most countries of the World had a drug mart with which they were able to control, to a large extent, the quality of drugs that reached the populace.

“Every country has drug marts where they check the quality of drugs, even drugs manufactured in their country pass through this drug mart before they go the public,” Njeze said.

In response to a question by Senator Uche Chukwumerije, who expressed worry over the poor implementation of government policies under the dissolved Federal Executive Council, she blamed the frequency of change in government policy for the anomaly.

She explained that policy reversals had not helped the system, in the sense that each time a new person came on board he/she would reverse a policy to suit his style even when such reversals were clearly unnecessary.

“Policy reversals have caused a lot of problems for us in the system. A new person comes in and before you know it, he changes the policy,” she said.

She gave an undertaking not to reverse any policy that was good if she returned as a FEC member.

At best, she advised that minor adjustments could be made where necessary to strengthen existing policies to achieve the desired results.

While responding to a question over the quality of fertiliser pumped into the Nigerian market, she explained that during her time as minister of state in the Ministry of Water Resources, efforts were made to ensure that Nigerians got the best.

Before the screening of the three nominees ended, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan sent a fresh list of five ministerial nominees to the Senate. With the five names, the number of nominees before the Senate is now 38.

The new list consists of four former ministers and one new one.

They are former Minister of State for Commerce, Mr. Humphrey Abbah (Kogi State); former Minister of Environment, Mr. John Odey (Cross River); former Minister of State for Finance, Mr. Remi Babalola (Oyo); former Minister of Transport, Mr. Isa Bio (Kwara); and Mr. Samuel Odey (Benue).

Until his nomination, Samuel Odey was Special Adviser, Local Government Affairs to Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam.

During his screening, Kayode said that in an effort to reinvigorate the anti-corruption war, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, had given approval to a frame work to establish special courts to deal with corruption related cases.

Kayode, who is the Ondo State ministerial nominee, said the Acting President was also concerned about the state of the anti-corruption war and had given his support to efforts aimed at making it effective.

He was responding to a question by the Deputy Leader of the Senate, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba SAN, who expressed the view of that Nigerians were disillusioned because the anti-corruption war had lost steam.

Kayode said “We must have a dedicated court even if it means they have to sit every six months to deal with anti-corruption cases especially as it relates to politically exposed persons.”

He also stressed the need for the National Assembly to move quickly in these areas by passing legislation that would speed up the process.

Source: Nigerian Punch News Paper

Russian subway bomb attack killed at least 36 people

How the New Healthcare Bill May Affect You

Sunday, March 28, 2010

by Katie Adams

The Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act, more commonly referred to as the "healthcare bill", has taken over a year to craft and has been a lightning rod for political debate because it effectively reshapes major facets of the country's healthcare industry.

Here are 10 things you need to know about how the new law may affect you:

1. Your Kids are Covered

Starting this year, if you have an adult child who cannot get health insurance from his or her employer and is to some degree dependent on you financially, your child can stay on your insurance policy until he or she is 26 years old. Currently, many insurance companies do not allow adult children to remain on their parents' plan once they reach 19 or leave school.

2. You Can't be Dropped

Starting this fall, your health insurance company will no longer be allowed to "drop" you (cancel your policy) if you get sick. In 2009, "rescission" was revealed to be a relatively common cost-cutting practice by several insurance companies. The practice proved to be common enough to spur several lawsuits; for example, in 2008 and 2009, California's largest insurers were made to pay out more than $19 million in fines for dropping policyholders who fell ill.

3. You Can't be Denied Insurance

Starting this year your child (or children) cannot be denied coverage simply because they have a pre-existing health condition. Health insurance companies will also be barred from denying adults applying for coverage if they have a pre-existing condition, but not until 2014.

4. You Can Spend What You Need to

Prior to the new law, health insurance companies set a maximum limit on the monetary amount of benefits that a policyholder could receive. This meant that those who developed expensive or long-lasting medical conditions could run out of coverage. Starting this year, companies will be barred from instituting caps on coverage.

5. You Don't Have to Wait

If you currently have pre-existing conditions that have prevented you from being able to qualify for health insurance for at least six months you will have coverage options before 2014. Starting this fall, you will be able to purchase insurance through a state-run "high-risk pool", which will cap your personal out-of-pocket expenses for healthcare. You will not be required to pay more than $5,950 of your own money for medical expenses; families will not have to pay any more than $11,900.

6. You Must be Insured

Under the new law starting in 2014, you will have to purchase health insurance or risk being fined. If your employer does not offer health insurance as a benefit or if you do not earn enough money to purchase a plan, you may get assistance from the government. The fines for not purchasing insurance will be levied according to a sliding scale based on income. Starting in 2014, the lowest fine would be $95 or 1% of a person's income (whichever is greater) and then increase to a high of $695 or 2.5% of an individual's taxable income by 2016. There will be a maximum cap on fines.

7. You'll Have More Options

Starting in 2014 (when you will be required by law to have health insurance), states will operate new insurance marketplaces - called "exchanges" - that will provide you with more options for buying an individual policy if you can't get, or afford, insurance from your workplace and you earn too much income to qualify for Medicaid. In addition, millions of low- and middle-income families (earning up to $88,200 annually) will be able to qualify for financial assistance from the federal government to purchase insurance through their state exchange.

8. Flexible Spending Accounts Will Become Less Flexible

Three years from now, flexible spending accounts (FSAs) will have lower contribution limits - meaning you won't be able to have as much money deducted from your paycheck pre-tax and deposited into an FSA for medical expenses as is currently allowed. The new maximum amount allowed will be $2,500. In addition, fewer expenses will qualify for FSA spending. For example, you will no longer be able to use your FSA to help defray the cost of over-the-counter drugs.

9. If You Earn More, You'll Pay More

Starting in 2018, if your combined family income exceeds $250,000 you are going to be taking less money home each pay period. That's because you will have more money deducted from your paycheck to go toward increased Medicare payroll taxes. In addition to higher payroll taxes you will also have to pay 3.8% tax on any unearned income, which is currently tax-exempt.

10. Medicare May Cover More or Less of Your Expenses

Starting this year, if Medicare is your primary form of health insurance you will no longer have to pay for preventive care such as an annual physical, screenings for treatable conditions or routine laboratory work. In addition, you will get a $250 check from the federal government to help pay for prescription drugs currently not covered as a result of the Medicare Part D "doughnut hole".

However, if you are a high-income individual or couple (making more than $85,000 individually or $170,000 jointly), your prescription drug subsidy will be reduced. In addition, if you are one of the more than 10 million people currently enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan you may be facing higher premiums because your insurance company's subsidy from the federal government is going to be dramatically reduced.


Over the next few months you will most likely receive information in the mail from your health insurance company about how the newly signed law will affect your coverage. Read the correspondence carefully and don't hesitate to ask questions about your policy; there may be new, more affordable options for you down the road.

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