News December 12

Senator Sanders

Don’t Raise Medicare Age Sen. Bernie Sanders will hold a news conference today on protecting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits. Members of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare will take part, according to The Hill, Congressional Quarterly and The Associated Press Daybook. LINK, LINK

A ‘Stupid Idea’ Raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, as some Republicans propose, is a “horrendously stupid idea,” Sen. Sanders told The Huffington Post. He cited polls that show Americans overwhelmingly want deficit reduction without cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits. “I know it’s a very radical idea that Congress listen to the American people rather than lobbyists or Wall Street, but that’s kind of what I think we might want to do,” Sanders said. VIDEO

Big Oil Subsidies Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have argued that "everything should be on the table" in negotiations toward a deal that trims the nation's debt. While Sen. Sanders has called for eliminating oil subsidies, the giveaways to the hugely profitable oil industry have been notably absent from the deficit debate, Mother Jones reported. LINK

A ‘Parallel Universe’ Partisan reporting of conservative media outlets left millions of Republicans in the dark heading into Election Day, Sen. Sanders told The Huffington Post. After constantly being told that "everybody hates Obama," Fox News viewers and Rush Limbaugh listeners were left "in shellshock" when the president swept to re-election. “I worry very much that some of these guys are living in a parallel universe,” he continued. “I hope the Republican Party wakes up and understands that they are not reflective [of] what the American people are thinking.” LINK

Media Monopolies Sen. Sanders criticized an FCC proposal to relax media ownership regulations that would likely benefit major media companies and hurt local news coverage. The FCC announced last week that it would accept more comments on the proposal and has postponed a vote until at least January, The Hill blogged. LINK

Veterans’ Affairs Committee Sen. Sanders, who consistently receives high marks from veterans groups, is in line to become chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Politico reported. Sanders serves on four committees but has never chaired a full committee during his six years in the Senate or 16 years in the House, Paul Heintz blogged for Seven Days. LINK, LINK

Irene Two organizations in southern Vermont were awarded $470,000 to boost long-term recovery efforts following last year’s Tropical Storm Irene. Sen. Sanders and the congressional delegation say the money will speed the recovery of many communities still recovering from Irene, AP, the Bennington Banner and vermontbiz.com reported. LINK, LINK, LINK

Gas Prices A Vermont gas dealer produced an ad accusing Sen. Sanders of being anti-environment and in bed with big business for backing Costco’s bid to sell cheaper gas at its Colchester store. Sanders, who had a 100 percent record last year with the League of Conservation Voters, has criticized Skip Vallee for charging customers in northwestern Vermont 20 to 30 cents more per gallon than customers in Middlebury, the Burlington Free Press reported. Sanders’ staff said the ad distracts from the real issue of higher gas prices in northwestern Vermont, Fox 44 and ABC 22 reported. “If Skip believes that he can take on Bernie and hope to prevail, well, he's seriously delusional,” according to Green Mountain Daily.  LINK, LINK, LINK, VIDEO

Religion in Congress Protestants and Catholics make up the most prominent religious denominations in Congress. The number of Jewish senators has declined since 2011 from 14 to 11. Sen. Sanders, an independent, is one of two Jewish senators who are not Democrats, ABC News blogged. LINK

World

U.S. Recognizes Syrian Rebels President Obama said Tuesday that the United States would formally recognize a coalition of Syrian opposition groups as that country’s legitimate representative, in an attempt to intensify the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to give up his nearly two-year bloody struggle to stay in power. The announcement in an interview with ABC News came on the eve of a meeting in Morocco of Syrian opposition leaders and their supporters. LINK

North Koreans Launch Rocket North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Wednesday morning that appeared to reach as far as the Philippines, an apparent success for the country’s young and untested new leader, Kim Jong-un, and a step toward the nation’s goal of mastering the technology needed to build an intercontinental ballistic missile, The New York Times reported. LINK

Chaos in Afghanistan As President Obama considers how quickly to withdraw the remaining 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan and turn over the war to Afghan security forces, a bleak new Pentagon report has found that the Afghan National Army is ill-prepared to operate independently. The Pentagon also found more violence than before the American surge two years ago, and that the Taliban remain resilient, The New York Times reported. LINK

Pope Tweets Pope Benedict XVI reached out to the world – 140 characters at a time – with a tweet that began with a blessing. "Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart." LINK

National

Obama Courts Business in Budget Deal The White House signaled that it would include an overhaul of the corporate tax code as part of a deal to reduce the deficit, people familiar with the talks told The Wall Street Journal. House Speaker John Boehner accused the White House of "slow walking" negotiations.  LINK

Obama Confident on Middle-Class Tax Cuts President Obama on Tuesday said he thinks Republicans in Congress will go forward with a bill that extends Bush-era tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans. “I’m pretty confident that Republicans would not hold middle class taxes hostage to trying to protect tax cuts for high-income individuals,” Obama said in an interview with ABC News. LINK

Some Democrats Fear Entitlement Cuts Democrats are united behind President Obama's proposal to raise tax rates on the wealthiest of Americans, but some Democrats worry the president could be willing to make further concessions on entitlement programs to avert the "fiscal cliff," USA Today reported. Sen. Sherrod Brown said he did not support raising the Medicare age or changes to calculating Social Security benefits because they are "direct attacks" on the working class. LINK

Pelosi Says No to Raising Medicare Eligibility Age House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she disapproves of increasing the eligibility age for Medicare in a USA Today op-ed. “It doesn’t work. It doesn’t have public support. It’s unfair. And it doesn’t lower health expenditures,” she wrote. LINK

Happy Holidays With each passing day, the scope of a potential deal shrinks and the likelihood that lawmakers will have to return to work between Christmas and New Year’s Day increases, according to National Journal. LINK

Michigan Enacts Anti-Union Law Michigan enacted legislation Tuesday that threatens to cripple the power of organized labor in a state that was a hub of union might during the heyday of the nation’s industrial dominance. As thousands of angry union members shouted their opposition outside the state Capitol in Lansing, the Republican-controlled Legislature completed work on two measures to ban unions from requiring workers to pay membership dues. Gov. Rick Snyder then signed them into law Tuesday evening, The Washington Post reported. LINK

Too Big to Indict As part of a record $1.92 billion settlement with U.S. authorities, HSBC acknowledged that for years it turned a blind eye to money laundering by drug cartels, al-Qaida and other organizations of ill repute through its operations in Mexico, The Wall Street Journal reported. The failure of the government to press charges raises questions as to whether some banks are “too big to indict” with regulators wary that a single institution could undermine the recovery of the industry and the economy, The New York Times reported. LINK, LINK

Too Big to Merge The Federal Reserve is pushing large U.S. banks to forget about all but the smallest acquisitions for a while amid a raging debate over the risk big lenders pose to the financial system, The Wall Street Journal reported. LINK

Milk Sales Sour Competition from vitamin waters and energy drinks has accelerated the decades-long decline in U.S. milk consumption, worrying dairy farmers, milk processors and dairy chains, who are now selling healthier varieties of milk to compensate. While sales of yogurt, cheese and other dairy products have risen in recent years, per capita U.S. milk consumption has consistently fallen since 1975 and has dropped precipitously in 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported. LINK

Vermont

F-35s Gov. Peter Shumlin and the mayors of Burlington and Winooski were headed to Florida Wednesday to hear an F-35 fly overhead. The trip to Eglin Air Force Base was delayed until Wednesday afternoon because the F-35s won't train in the rain. The stated goal of the trip is to learn firsthand how the sound of an F-35 compares to an F-16, the jet that the Vermont Air Guard currently houses in South Burlington, Vermont Public Radio reported. LINK

No. 1 in Health Care Good pre-natal care and active lifestyles are among the factors allowing Vermont to rank as the healthiest state, AP reported. ‘‘It’s something that means a lot to us in terms of ensuring that Vermonters have healthy, productive lives, the best quality of life in the country,’’ Gov. Shumlin said. LINK

Climate Change Winter is missing in action in Burlington, where the first third of December has averaged over seven degrees above normal. Burlington has had about five inches of snow so far this winter, about half of normal, although there was also little snow in the beginning of 2011, a huge snow year for Vermont, Matt Sutkoski wrote for the Burlington Free Press. LINK

Putney Solar Panels The K-8 Grammar School in Putney showed off a new 216-panel solar array that generates as much power as the school uses, eliminating its carbon footprint. The project was initiated by the school’s student council and was completed in partnership with Soveren, a company specializing in photovoltaic systems that installed and owns the solar equipment, the Brattleboro Reformer reported. LINK

Smithsonian Catalog Burlington glass artists Rich Arentzen and Tove Ohlander created a campaign to help non-profits benefit from sales of objects that represent their organizations. The two objects with the most sales in 2012 – a red heart to benefit Vermont Family Network and a penguin for Special Olympics Vermont — are available in the Smithsonian catalog, the Burlington Free Press reported.