Marine gets new home through Gary Sinise Foundation

by Carlos Correa 
FALLBROOK, Calif. – A wounded marine who survived stepping on an improvised explosive device while deployed in Afghanistan is getting the chance to see his new dream home.

It was all made possible through community support and the Gary Sinise Foundation.

Sergeant Nick Kimmel is a triple amputee.  He lost both legs and his left arm four years ago and says he is not letting an almost fatal accident slow him down.

There isn’t a thing Kimmel wouldn’t do for his fellow brothers in the military.

“We always talk about how bad the Vietnam vets got treated and every time I see someone with a Vietnam hat, I try to thank them,” he said.

On Tuesday, despite the rainfall, several of those veterans are working together and showing just what it means to be there for one another.

“It’s pretty fantastic.  I’m not going to lie,” said Kimmel.

In 2011, Sergeant Kimmel woke up in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, four days after his stepping on an improvised explosive device that went off while he was helping build a patrol base in Afghanistan.

“Since I woke up, I kind of looked at it as in the past, you know.  You can’t change the past.  It is what it is and I say that all the time, it is what it is.  All you can do is push forward,” he said.

Kimmel went through surgeries every other day for an entire month.  Eventually, his left arm and both legs above the knee had to be amputated.

For a while, he was in a wheelchair and it made life in his old home quite in possible.

“My wheelchair is like 3 foot wide and I’m always banging into walls. Right now, I have carpet so, it’s hard to push on,” said Kimmel.

Through the Gary Sinise Foundation’s rise program Sergeant Kimmel is now able to live independently with a new custom smart home solely build with this wounded warrior in mind.

“As citizens it is our duty to ensure that our returning defenders are welcome back into their communities with the resources to begin a new life,” said Judith Otter, executive director of the Gary Sinise Foundation.

Kimmel’s new home features wide-open spaces making it easier for him to move around.  The kitchen cabinets open with several levels for better access and the home’s blinds are controlled through a touch of an I-pad.  It’s everything Kimmel says he imagined in his dream home.

“They always talk about forever homes, and this is for sure a forever home,” he said.

By the way this is the 40th home built through the Gary Sinise Foundation.

Kimmel plans to focus on his hobby of restoring cars and making his new place as warm and comfortable for him and his service dog, Rush.

Americans Are Moving South, West Again

By Tim Henderson

Americans are heading South and West again in search of jobs and more affordable housing, as the nation’s economic health continues to improve.

Census population estimates show that the 16 states and the District of Columbia that comprise the South saw an increase of almost 1.4 million people between 2014 and 2015. The 13 states in the West grew by about 866,000 people.

The gains represent the largest annual growth in population of the decade for both regions and signal that the multi-decade migration to the Sun Belt has resumed after being interrupted by the Great Recession of 2007-09 and the economic sluggishness and anxiety that followed.

In comparison, population growth in the Northeast and the Midwest — including what’s known as the Snow Belt — remained sluggish, growing by about 258,000 residents combined.

“Clearly, the Snow Belt-to-Sun Belt migration is coming back after a huge lull in response to the recession and post-recession period,” said demographer William Frey, of the Brookings Institution.

“Up until now, regional migration was not picking up at the same time that other economic indicators — jobs and housing — seemed to be on the upswing.”

The numbers indicate Americans’ growing willingness to pick up and go after having sat still earlier in the economically tenuous decade, when the U.S. Census Bureau reported that only one in five people who wanted to move somewhere else did so.

The new estimates, released last month, arrive midway through the decade, halfway to the next census, in 2020, and provide some indications of where the nation is headed from the standpoint of governing from Washington.

If the population shift continues, Texas could gain three new seats in the U.S. House, Florida two, and Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Oregon one apiece after the next census, according to an analysis by Election Data Services, a political consulting firm based in Virginia.

Nine states — Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia — could meanwhile lose a seat apiece.

Economic Reasons Drive the Moving

The shift in population reflects the economic conditions many Americans experience or aspire to.

A search for jobs and more affordable housing were behind two-thirds of the long-distance moves made between 2014 and 2015, according to a separate census report. Family reasons, such as getting married or rejoining relatives, accounted for another quarter of households moving.

Texas, for example — which had the biggest population gain from 2014 to 2015, an increase of 490,000 people for a total 27,469,114 — is a magnet for job-seekers from elsewhere. It has been at the fore in high job growth and outpaced the nation’s economic growth since the recession.  

Other Sun Belt states that witnessed a growth in population — such as Georgia and Nevada — also had some of the largest increases in job growth or economic output, as did Colorado, Oregon and Utah.

West Virginia, meanwhile, suffered a population loss of almost 5,000. The state, which has relied economically on a declining coal industry, has higher unemployment and lower job growth rates than the national average — giving more people more reasons to leave.

“As long as the state economy continues to stall, population loss will likely continue as well,” said
Christiadi, a demographer at West Virginia University.

Six other states also had population losses for the year: Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Mississippi, New Mexico and Vermont. And like West Virginia, many are struggling to provide economic opportunity. New Mexico, Connecticut and Maine had some of the lowest rates of job creation in recent years.

Florida’s gain of almost 366,000 people to a population of 20,271,272 was its largest in a decade and reflects another cause behind the renewed exodus to the Sun Belt: The nation’s swollen population of baby boomers now feels more secure economically in picking up and moving to traditional retirement oases.

“The state continues to attract retiring baby boomers because of our climate and the relatively low costs of living,” said Richard Doty, a demographer with the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “You can sell a home in New York or Ohio or Michigan for substantially more than you would spend in Florida, so it’s still relatively attractive.”

Take, for example, Sumter County, west of Orlando, one of Florida’s fastest-growing counties, driven in large part by retirees. It is projected to have a median age of 78 by 2020, Doty said.

A typical Sumter County home costs about $224,000 — or about half the price of a home in a New York City suburb, such as Long Island’s Nassau County.

Population Shifts Inside States

The influx and exodus of people has ramifications for local housing, tax bases and governments — even within state boundaries.

In Oregon, where the economy is partly being driven by chip manufacturing for firms like Intel, young people are moving to Portland, said Josh Lehner, an economist at the state’s Department of Economic Analysis. That’s creating a housing shortage, as construction fails to keep up with demand.

Many of Oregon’s newcomers are from neighboring California, which had more than 77,000 people move out. That’s more than twice the number who left between 2013 and 2014. The state showed a net increase in population in 2014-15 of more than 350,000 only as a result of births and new immigrants.

Many left because of housing costs. A typical home in California costs two-thirds more than in Oregon, for example.

The cost of housing can limit the number of people willing to move into California to take even high-paying, high-tech jobs in places like San Francisco, said John Malson, chief of demographic research at the California Department of Finance.

“You have a very good job market here in tech, so people who are coming here are coming for the attractive job opportunities,” Malson said. “But it’s very expensive to live in California.”

A state’s net population growth and loss numbers can sometimes cloud what’s going on within its boundaries, meaning that some job-rich urban areas might be flourishing but rural areas might not be.

Take Massachusetts, for example, the fastest-growing state in the Northeast.

Susan Strate, manager of population estimates at the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute, said young people from other states and well-educated foreign immigrants are boosting the Boston area’s population by taking jobs in medicine, education and biotech.

Meanwhile, she said, “Some of the little towns are losing what few young people they have.”

Illinois, whose population dropped by 22,000 people to 12,859,995, is another state undergoing a similar trend.

Chicago is attracting more businesses and young, educated professionals to fill those jobs, while many less-expensive rural and suburban areas with less economic opportunity struggle, said Rob Paral, a Chicago demographic consultant.

Available jobs and a person’s ability to fill them, he said, are intertwined with population shifts — within the state, or to the Sun Belt.

“There are many high-skill jobs overall,” Paral said. “Jobs for lower-skill young persons are another story, combined with high housing costs: If you are going to make the same low wage in Illinois or in a Southwestern state, the latter offers cheaper housing and warmer weather.”

Winning $900 Million Powerball Numbers Announced

Dreaming of overnight riches, millions of Americans anxiously checked their tickets for the winning combination in the multi-state Powerball lottery after a Saturday night drawing for a record $900 million jackpot.

It was not immediate known if any ticket holder had the magic combination of six numbers selected in the drawing: 32, 16, 19, 57, 34 and the Powerball number was 13.
The grand prize for Powerball, played in 44 states, Washington, and two U.S. territories, has climbed steadily for weeks after repeated drawings produced no big winners. This week, ticket purchases surged along with the size of the pot.

The grand prize in Saturday's drawing was worth $558 million if a winner chooses an immediate cash payout instead of annual payments over 29 years, according to lottery officials in California, one of the participating states.
The prize, which rises with every drawing that produces a winning series of six numbers held by no ticket buyer, ranks as the largest jackpot for any lottery in North American history. With almost unimaginable riches at stake, many Americans who normally shun lotteries joined the long lines of people buying tickets at retail stores across the country.
Dony Elias, 26, an attendant at Stardust Liquor in Los Angeles, said 300 customers picked up tickets for Powerball last night at his store. Elias admitted to buying a ticket for himself, something he said he had never done before.

And like many other players, he has already given some thought to what he would do with the cash.
"I would take a trip to the moon," he said.
California, the nation's most populous state, normally sees Powerball sales of $1 million a day, but on Saturday morning sales were a head-spinning $2.8 million an hour, said California Lottery spokesman Mike Bond.
Excitement swirled among ticket buyers despite what some statisticians call mind-boggling odds for the Powerball game - one in 292 million.
Jeffrey Miecznikowski, associate professor of biostatistics at the University at Buffalo, said in an email an American is roughly 25 times more likely to become the next president of the United States than to win at Powerball.
Or to put it another way, the odds are equivalent to flipping a coin 28 times and getting heads every time, he said.
"It doesn't sound so bad ... but you would be at it for an eternity," Miecznikowski said.
November was the last time a jackpot winner emerged from Powerball, which is run by the Multi-State Lottery Association.
In the previous drawing on Wednesday night, the jackpot stood at $500 million and nobody won, setting the stage for the latest drawing just before 11 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday.
If no one has the winning numbers again, the jackpot will likely rise to an estimated $1.3 billion by Wednesday, the next scheduled drawing, Bond said. It may cross the $1 billion threshold on Saturday, he said.
The previous record North American jackpot payout for any lottery game was in March 2012, when $656 million was won in the multi-state Mega Millions draw.

© 2015 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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Gas prices could drop toward $1 a gallon

by Douglas A. McIntyre
In some gas stations around the country, the price of a gallon of regular has dropped below $1.42. AAA and GasBuddy, two organizations that follow gasoline prices, say that gasoline prices below $2 will not be unusual in most of the United States. As oil prices fall, and refinery capacity stays strong, the price of gas could reach $1 a gallon in some areas, a level last reached in 1999. As a matter of fact, the entire states of Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Caroline have gas prices that average at or below $1.75.

Gasoline prices are driven mostly by four factors: oil prices, proximity to refineries, refinery capacity and state taxes and levies. Oil prices have dropped below $33 a barrel and continue to collapse. The recent decision by Saudi Arabia to continue to keep its oil exports high essentially has dissolved the OPEC cartel. The decision also has forced the kingdom to chop its 2016 budget. This ongoing supply glut guarantees oversupply of crude. At the same time, slowing national economies in the largest countries, including China, will lower demand. China now tops the list of oil importers, according to the Financial Times, having moved ahead of the United States.

The cost of producing oil from shale deposits, particularly in the United States, is greater in some cases than what it can be sold for. Nonetheless, parts of this industry continue pumping, increasing supply, while others go bankrupt because they cannot survive with crude prices so low.

Several states house large refineries or are close to those that do. This is particularly the case near the Gulf of Mexico, including the massive refinery operations south of Houston. Some owned by Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) process several hundreds of thousands of barrels per day. Proximity to refineries is a factor in gasoline prices, if the refineries are running at or near capacity and produce gasoline instead of other petroleum products.

Finally, gas taxes in several states are well below the national average of $0.4869 a gallon, according to the American Petroleum Institute. In some low gas price states, these taxes are below $0.40. This includes South Carolina at $0.3515, Missouri at $0.3570 and Oklahoma at $0.3540. Low gas taxes in these states compound the effect of falling oil prices.

The odds grow each day that gas prices will be $1 a gallon in some areas in the United States, particularly those where prices are already close to hitting $1.40 — and falling.

Iran's president orders stepped-up missile production

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday ordered the accelerated production of missiles in response to possible new U.S. sanctions.

In a letter to the defense minister published on the president's website, Rouhani said Iran won't accept any limitations on its missile program.

A senior U.S. official told the AP on Wednesday that America is considering designating a number of additional targets for sanctions related to Iran's ballistic missile program.

Both the U.S. and Iran insist the missile program is not part of a landmark agreement Tehran reached with world powers in July that is to lift international sanctions in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

"Apparently, the U.S. government ... is considering adding new individuals and institutions to the list of its previous oppressive sanctions," Rouhani said in the letter. "It's necessary to continue with greater speed and seriousness the plan for production of various missiles needed by the armed forces within the approved defense policies," he wrote.

Rouhani added that the "development and production of Iran's ballistic missiles, which have not been designed to carry nuclear warheads, are important conventional instruments to defend the country and will continue."

Iran had earlier denied U.S. accusations that it launched a provocative rocket test last week near Western warships in the Strait of Hormuz, dismissing the claim as "psychological warfare."

Gen. Ramezan Sharif, a Revolutionary Guard spokesman, said its forces did not carry out any drills in the key Persian Gulf waterway. Sharif said the security of the strategic Persian Gulf remains among Iran's top priorities. His comments were posted on the Guard's website.

Cmdr. Kyle Raines, a U.S. Central Command spokesman, said Wednesday that Guard vessels fired several unguided rockets about 1,370 meters (1,500 yards) from the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier and other Western warships and commercial traffic last Saturday. Raines said the firing came 23 minutes after Iranians announced a live fire exercise over maritime radio.

While the rockets weren't fired in the direction of any ships, Raines said Iran's actions were "highly provocative."

"Firing weapons so close to passing coalition ships and commercial traffic within an internationally recognized maritime traffic lane is unsafe, unprofessional and inconsistent with international maritime law," he said.

Nearly a third of all oil traded by sea passes through the Strait of Hormuz, which has been the scene of past confrontations between America and Iran, including a one-day naval battle in 1988, during the Iran-Iraq war.
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U.S. spying on Israel swept up members of Congress

The U.S. continued to spy on select leaders of allied nations, a new report cites. | Getty

U.S. spying programs scooped up communications between members of Congress and Israeli leaders, giving the White House insight into Israel’s lobbying of U.S. lawmakers against the Iran nuclear deal, current and former U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal.

The article, published Tuesday afternoon, reports that the U.S. continued to spy on select leaders of allied nations despite President Barack Obama’s pledge to curb such surveillance two years ago, and that it was a top priority to maintain spying on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government.

As part of that continued surveillance, the National Security Agency also swept up communication showing Israeli officials trying to turn lawmakers against the international deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear capabilities, the article said.

One senior U.S. official described the discovery of the swept-up communication as an “Oh s— moment” and feared that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress.

According to the report, Obama administration officials thought the information it uncovered could potentially counteract Netanyahu’s crusade to stop the nuclear deal. But rather than make a formal request to the NSA for the back-and-forth, an official said, the White House opted to allow the NSA to decide on its own — without leaving a paper trail by submitting a formal request.

“We didn’t say, ‘Do it,’” a senior U.S. official told the newspaper. “We didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it.’”
The report said the NSA removed the names of the lawmakers and personal information, as well as “trash talk” about the White House.

Officials said Obama insisted that keeping tabs on Netanyahu served a “compelling national security purpose.” In a speech, Obama alluded to an exception for certain leaders but didn’t name any specific individuals.

Behind closed doors, the White House agreed on which allied leaders would be exempt from surveillance, such as French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders, the report said. But the administration still allowed the NSA to target their advisers, officials told the Journal, as well as other allies, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The Wall Street Journal conducted interviews with more than two dozen current and former U.S. intelligence officials. Government officials representing Israel, Germany and France all declined to comment to the Journal. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the NSA also declined.

The Paul Ryan Compromise

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
When Paul Ryan was handed the speaker’s gavel in late October, he pledged to restore normal order to the People’s House and eliminate the sort of backroom deals that rank-and-file members complain are shoved down their throats at the 11th hour. So, late Tuesday night, Ryan unveiled a few thousand pages of consequential tax, spending, and regulatory legislation costing roughly $2 trillion and gave Congress and the public two whole days to review everything.

To be fair to Ryan, the buzzer-beating legislating has more to do with the workload and deadlines John Boehner left him than anything he did wrong. The agreement Ryan reached with fellow congressional negotiators also looks much like one Boehner would have reached: Each side scores some points, but Republican congressional majorities again will fail to deliver a high-profile, base-pumping, ideological victory over some nefarious aspect of the “Obama agenda” on which conservatives had drawn a red line. Will this land Ryan in the same hot water that eventually cooked Boehner? He’ll get a pass, for now.

The two towering paper stacks are the 2016 omnibus appropriations package, which funds the government through next September, and a “tax-extenders” bill that, well, extends (and in many cases makes permanent) a bunch of tax breaks that were set to expire. Though they will be voted on separately, they were negotiated together. The omnibus is more favorable to Democrats, and the tax extenders are more favorable to Republicans.

Considered as a whole, an overriding theme is that everyone gets a lot of money but neither side hammers home that big-ticket ideological victory. In other words, it’s a compromise, something Democrats usually accept as part of the process while Republicans scream bloody murder.

Republicans’ major “get” in the omnibus is a lift on the longtime ban of crude oil exports. That’s a big deal. But since it’s such a big deal, Democrats dangled it to win all sorts of other concessions of their own (even if these were mainly concessions to the status quo). In terms of energy and the environment, Democrats won multiyear extensions of critical tax credits for solar and wind energy production. They successfully nixed a rider that would have blocked the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed “waters of the United States” rule that would expand its jurisdiction against polluters under the Clean Water Act. Riders blocking proposed regulations of power plants were cut out. The U.S. government’s contributions to the international Green Climate Fund will continue, a crucial component of the Paris climate agreement.

Somehow the financial services industry, which owns the United States Congress, came up on the losing end too. A provision that would designate fewer financial institutions as “systemically important” (and thus subject to greater oversight under Dodd-Frank) was dropped. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will maintain its independence from congressional appropriations—i.e., Republicans who want to defund it. Another rider that would have blocked a proposed Labor Department rule better aligning financial advisers with their clients’ interests was cut.

The Zadroga Act, a health care and compensation fund for 9/11 first responders and nearby workers, will be reauthorized until 2090, a hilarious year to settle on but one that effectively means permanent. Jon Stewart is an effective lobbyist.

Conservatives also lost on their most well-publicized demands that have dominated cable news.Language restricting Syrian and Iraqi refugee resettlement, defunding Planned Parenthood, or blocking President Obama’s executive actions on immigration will not be included. (The Senate will, however, take up the stand-alone Syrian and Iraqi refugee bill that passed the House with a veto-proof majority. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has said that it will not fare nearly as well there.) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s annual chip-away at campaign finance regulations, which this year would have blown up the McCain-Feingold fundraising coordination caps between parties and campaigns, did not make it through. (This was an interesting fight, in which Democrats joined up with Tea Party conservatives who don’t want to enhance the power of party committees.)

Meanwhile, over in tax-extenders land, Republicans made all sorts of business tax breaks permanent without any new way to pay for them, so, hooray! This roughly $600 billion package of treats includes permanent extensions of the research-and-development tax credit and other depreciation credits. Democrats got extensions of certain tax credits from the 2009 stimulus. Both got to chip away at funding for the Affordable Care Act, by delaying implementation of the so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost health plans (this one was technically tacked onto the omnibus, not the tax package) and the medical device tax. This half of the deal will be a big, fat budget-buster, and it will pass with mostly Republican votes.

Both packages, and the way in which they were negotiated, look … an awful lot like the packages that Boehner would have negotiated and the way in which he would have negotiated them. 

Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus, who have said at various points that they would not vote for a spending bill that funded either Planned Parenthood or Syrian and Iraqi refugee resettlement, are sticking to their word. Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, does not expect his group to support to omnibus and doesn’t even expect that many rank-and-file Republicans to support it either. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, among the more vocal Freedom Caucus members, also predicted that a majority of Republicans would vote against the $1.1 trillion appropriations package that he’s calling the “Boehner legacy bill.”
In other words, Ryan will have to pass the omnibus with the same organic governing coalition of mostly Democrats and some Republicans that Boehner himself used to pass most necessary legislation. That’s a violation of the so-called Hastert rule in which a speaker has pledged to only call up legislation that has support of a majority of the majority party. Ryan assured conservatives that he would abide by this rule if they supported his bid. On his first big funding bill, Ryan will just … not follow the rule that he said he would follow.

That’s great news for America but might be awful news for Ryan in the long run. He’ll get a pass for a number of reasons this time: He’s finishing a process Boehner initiated; he’s offering Republicans a mammoth tax-break package in exchange; and most importantly, Freedom Caucus members would embarrass themselves if they started talking about how Paul Ryan is a failure and must be overthrown this early in his tenure. Perhaps his fetching new manly man-beard also played some sort of hypnotic role on the House Republican Conference.

This appropriations package will expire near the end of the 2016 election, so Congress may pass a continuing resolution then to kick the major political fights past the campaign. Ryan’s next real tests on must-pass legislation should come when there’s a new president. Until then, he can enjoy the honeymoon.