Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ayodhya verdict: disputed site to be split between Hindus and Muslims

Muslims revere the compound in Ayodhya, north India, as the site of the now-demolished 16th century Babri Mosque, while Hindus say it is the birthplace of the god Rama.

The Allahabad High Court ruled that the site should be split, with the Muslim community getting control of one-third and two Hindu groups splitting the remainder, according to Ravi Shankar Prasad, a lawyer for one of the parties to the suit.

The Hindus will keep the area where a small tent-shrine to Rama has been erected, he said.

"The majority ruled that the location of the makeshift temple is the birthplace of Rama, and this spot cannot be shifted," he said.

The court also ruled that the current status of the site should continue for the next three months to allow for the land to be peacefully measured and divided, he said.

Thousands of paramilitary and riot police have been deployed in India as the country was braced for violence following the ruling.

Ever since the destruction of the mosque 18 years ago the site has been cordoned off with barbed wire and steel fencing and guarded by troops.

A total of 200,000 police and paramilitary forces patrolled the streets of Uttar Pradesh on Thursday, with tens of thousands on special duty in other areas around the country that are vulnerable to religious clashes.

The full verdict of the bench hearing the case has not yet been released to the public.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Calls for longer school years face budget reality

NEW YORK -- President Barack Obama's call for a longer school day and year for America's kids echoes a similar call he made a year ago to little effect, illustrating just how deeply entrenched the traditional school calendar is and how little power the federal government has to change it.

Education reformers have long called for U.S. kids to log more time in the classroom so they can catch up with their peers elsewhere in the world, but resistance from leisure-loving teenagers isn't the only reason there is no mass movement to keep schoolchildren in their seats.

Such a change could cost cash-strapped state governments and local school districts billions of dollars, strip teachers of a time-honored perk of their profession, and irk officials in states that already bridle at federal intrusion into their traditional control over education.

"If you extend the school year for, say, five days, you're paying for another week of salaries, another week of utilities and another week of fuel for, in South Carolina, 5,700 school buses," said Jim Foster, a spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Education.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Year End Tax Planning 2010 – Still no Resolution

With the Bush government’s income tax cuts expiration in 2009, the US government is in a soup about the 2010 year end tax planning. The Congress and the White House are in constant talks to figure whether or not to extend the provision, and if so, for how long. With three months left for the year to end, citizens and the government have limited time to figure out the tax scenario.

Another challenge for the government along with the expired myriad tax break is a whole lot of other provisions that expire at the end of this year. The alternative minimum tax “patch” is yet to be approved for the 2010 tax year and the estate tax is not in play this year.

Though the government has been doing a lot of meeting and talking, a final decision and solution is yet to be found. If a solution and decision is not reached soon, the estate tax for one will come back in 2011 at a low US $1 million exemption.

While the conservative Democrats are all for the extension of the tax break for all American citizens, President Obama is considering the extension only for those who have an annual income of less that US $250,000.

The year end tax planning for this year just gets murkier and more confusing with taxpayers expecting the indecision and confusion passing well into 2011 as well.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Small-business tax breaks clear a hurdle in the Senate

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats, bolstered by the support of two retiring Republicans, beat back a filibuster yesterday to clear the way for a bill packed with tax breaks and other benefits for small businesses.

The measure, which was opposed by Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts and 36 of his GOP colleagues, would create a $30 billion government fund to encourage lending and would eliminate capital gains taxes for long-term investors in some small businesses.

President Obama has called it a much-needed salve for small businesses struggling to recover from the recession.

Last week Senator George Voinovich, an Ohio Republican, chided his party’s foot-dragging on the bill and vowed to support it, the first of several economic initiatives the White House has been pushing since Congress returned from its summer recess. George LeMieux of Florida joined Voinovich to support closing debate on the bill, which clears it for final passage this week. Neither man is seeking reelection.

Brown, however, called the bill another bailout.

“This bill includes a provision just like TARP,’’ he said after voting against the bill. “Banks making lending decisions with government funds is not the way to get our economy moving again.’’

His Senate Democratic counterpart, John Kerry, declared the vote a victory. “This bill provides vital aid to the small businesses that can drive growth and create jobs in these tough economic times,’’ Kerry, who previously chaired the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, said in a statement.

Kerry wrote some of the provisions in the bill, including an extension of some Small Business Administration lending programs and fee waivers.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Obama to tout economic strategy in press conference

WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama will Friday step up his mid-term election campaign and appeal to voters dismayed by the stuttering economy with his first White House press conference since May.

Obama scheduled the appearance at 11:00 am (1500 GMT) to press home the case on his recovery plans, but the event may be overtaken by the fast-moving controversy over a Florida pastor's on-hold threat to torch the Koran.

The president's appearance comes at the end of a week in which Obama has tried to reframe the political climate ahead of November's congressional polls in which his Democrats fear heavy losses.

He admitted in a television interview Wednesday that his party would not do well in the election if it became a judgment on the state of the economy in the wake of the worst financial meltdown in decades.

"If the election is a referendum on are people satisfied about the economy as it currently is, then we're not going to do well," Obama told ABC News.

"I think everybody feels like this economy needs to do better than it's been doing," Obama said.

"My challenge, and the challenge of every Democratic candidate who's out there is just making sure the people understand there's a choice here."

A Quinnipiac University poll published on Thursday made uncomfortable reading for the administration, with voters disapproving of his handling of the economy -- the major election issue -- by 56 to 39 percent.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Obama to back more business tax breaks

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will call on Congress to pass new tax breaks that would allow businesses to write off 100 percent of their new capital investments through 2011, the latest in a series of proposals the White House is rolling out in hopes of showing action on the economy ahead of the November elections.

An administration official said the tax breaks would save businesses $200 billion over two years, allowing companies to have more cash on hand. The president will outline the proposal during a speech on the economy in Cleveland Wednesday.

Amid an uptick in unemployment to 9.6 percent, and polls showing that the November election could be dismal for Democrats, Obama has promised to propose new steps to stimulate the economy. In addition to the business investment tax breaks, he will also call for a $50 billion infrastructure investment and a permanent expansion of research and development tax credits for companies.

The proposals would requires congressional approval, which is highly uncertain given Washington's partisan atmosphere. With the public worried about adding to the mounting federal deficits, and Republicans saying spending is out of control, even many Democratic lawmakers are reluctant to approve new spending so close to the midterm elections.

Even if legislators could pass some of the proposals in the short window between their return to Capitol Hill in mid-September and the elections, it's unlikely the efforts would significantly stimulate the economy by November.

Several million people and 1.5 million businesses would benefit from the tax breaks, said the administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the formal announcement has not been made.

The official estimated the ultimate cost to taxpayers over 10 years would be $30 billion, with most of the money lost in tax revenue being recouped as the economy strengthens.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

A Celebratory Road Trip for Education Secretary

No, Education Secretary Arne Duncan is not a candidate for office. But yes, his bus tour through Maine, New Hampshire and other Northeast states had all the trappings of a political campaign.

Mr. Duncan’s tour, coinciding with back-to-school season, was billed as a way to honor teachers. But the road trip also felt like a victory lap after last week’s announcement that nine states and the District of Columbia had won the Race to the Top, the Obama administration’s most prized education initiative.

The competition was the rarest of rarities: a government grant program that became a household phrase, and brought arcane education policy onto morning television shows.

By the Education Department’s count, the competition for $4.3 billion in federal funds at a time of state budget crises prodded 34 states to change laws or policies to align themselves with the administration’s goals for change.