Pressure Grows for US Oil Exporting; States' Debt Tops $5 Trillion; Iraqi Christians' Plight Worsens

Sunday, 16 Feb 2014 03:24 PM

By Special From Newsmax's Most Informed Sources

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Headlines (Scroll down for complete stories):
1. Total State Debt Tops $5 Trillion
2. U.S. Airlines Facing Severe Pilot Shortage
3. Pressure Builds for Lifting U.S. Oil Exports Ban
4. Christians in Iraq Worse Off Now Than Under Saddam
5. America's Population Up 2.4% in Three Years
6. Most Think Felons Should Be Able to Vote After Jail
 

1. Total State Debt Tops $5 Trillion

A troubling new report discloses that the total debt facing U.S. state governments now stands at $5.1 trillion — equal to about $16,180 for each state resident.

Total debt amounts to one-third of annual gross state product, and 469 percent of all fiscal year state general and other fund revenues, according to the report from State Budget Solutions (SBS).

"Since 2010, SBS has conducted a comprehensive examination of debts facing the 50 state governments," the report explains. "These reports have repeatedly found trillions in combined debt that stand in stark contrast to officials' proclamations of balanced budgets and belt-tightening."

SBS calculates state debt based on four components: unfunded public pension liabilities; outstanding government debt, including bonds and leases; unfunded other post-employment benefit liabilities (OPEB), mainly retirees' health benefits; and outstanding unemployment trust fund loans from the federal government.

Unfunded public pension liabilities stand at $3.9 trillion. Outstanding debt totals $618.8 billion. Unfunded OPEB liabilities in the 50 states stand at $528.7 billion; and unemployment trust fund loans total $19.9 billion, according to SBS.

California leads all states with $778 billion in debt, due largely to its $584 billion unfunded public pension liability. New York is next with $388 billion in total debt, followed by Texas with $341 billion, and Illinois and Ohio, each with $321 billion.

The only states with debt under $10 billion are South Dakota ($7.7 billion), Vermont ($7.8 billion), North Dakota ($9.2 billion), and Wyoming ($9.9 billion).

In per capita terms, Alaska's debt amounts to $40,714 per person, Hawaii's is $33,111, and Connecticut's is $31,298. The lowest per capita debt is in Tennessee, $6,358.

Nevada's state debt stands at 1,048 percent of its fiscal year 2012 spending, and Hawaii's debt amounts to 64 percent of its gross state product.

"Over time, state debt will exact a toll on state budgets," SBS observes. "Money once expected to fund vital services like education and healthcare will have to be redirected to debt service, increased contributions to public pension systems, and more."

Editor's Note:



2. U.S. Airlines Facing Severe Pilot Shortage

 

Airlines in the United States, including major carriers, are facing a severe shortage of qualified pilots in the coming years, due in large part to new Federal Aviation Administration rules.

Regional airlines are already suffering as larger carriers in need of pilots are poaching aviators from the smaller, lower-paying airlines.

Three major factors are impacting the availability of qualified pilots, The Wall Street Journal reported:

  • In August, the FAA began requiring most newly hired pilots to have at least 1,500 hours of prior flight experience, up sharply from the previous requirement of 250 hours, increasing the costs and time for training.
  • Another FAA rule that took effect in January requires airlines to give pilots more rest, forcing airlines to hire about 5 percent more pilots to maintain service levels.
  • The 1980s was a major decade for hiring pilots, while the last 10 years have seen little hiring. As a result, thousands of pilots are reaching or nearing the mandatory retirement age of 65.

    In 2012, just 560 pilots retired. But some 2,650 pilots flying for carriers with more than $1 billion in annual revenue are projected to retire in 2020, according to Kit Darby, a retired pilot who now consults for the airline industry.

    Great Lakes Aviation, a carrier based in Cheyenne, Wyo., said "the severe industry-wide pilot shortage" is the reason it has suspended flights to six small cities in the Midwest.

    "Communities large and small will lose air service due to the shortage of pilots," Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association, told the Journal.

    United Airlines said its regional airline partners are having difficulty keeping up with their schedules due to the shortage of pilots. United also said it is planning to recall nearly 600 furloughed pilots.

    Delta Airlines, the world's largest airline in terms of enplaned passengers — more than 164 million in 2013 — has already recalled all its furloughed pilots who want to return.

    American Airlines, the country's largest in fleet size — 954 planes flying to 339 destinations — estimates that half its pilots will retire in the next eight to 10 years.

    Darby said some regional airlines are hiring pilots they previously would have rejected, including those with bad grades, training failures — and criminal convictions.

    Editor's Note:



    3. Pressure Builds for Lifting U.S. Oil Export Ban

    With a boom in U.S. oil production in full swing, and the Keystone XL pipeline's approval chances improved, some are calling for lifting oil export restrictions that have been in place for decades.

    Republican strategist Michael McKenna, president of the lobbying firm MWR Strategies, expects that pressure will build on President Obama to lift restrictions that were set in place after the oil embargo in the 1970s.

    "If you don't start exporting here shortly, you're going to wind up in a situation where you're going to have to shut in some production," he told Roll Call. "It's going to be difficult for the administration to explain why that's a good idea."

    If the president doesn't act, he likely will see governors and mayors "complain about lost tax revenue and oil workers will be laid off," McKenna added.

    But Obama is "going to get enormous pressure from his environmental crew not to do that," he said, just as the president has faced heavy pressure from environmental groups not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

    U.S. oil production has been robust due to hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling techniques that have enabled energy producers to tap into supplies trapped in shale-oil fields, especially in North Dakota and Texas.

    The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) says the country is likely to produce 8.42 million barrels of crude oil daily this year, up from 7.44 million barrels in 2013, and 9.19 million barrels a day in 2015.

    That would be close to the all-time high for U.S. oil production: 9.6 million barrels a day in 1970.

    The EIA also forecasts that net imports of oil and oil products will account for just 25 percent of U.S. demand by 2015, down from more than 60 percent of domestic demand in 2005.

    American refineries in recent years have added expensive technologies to process heavy oils from Venezuela and Mexico. So they stand to make more money by processing heavy crude — the kind that would be shipped through the Keystone pipeline from Canada's tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries.

    Jorge Pinon, director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas at Austin, told Roll Call that "by having access to that Canadian crude, you have now a new economic incentive to export crude oil.

    "We're going to be exporting refined products for quite a while. That's where the need is."

    Republicans in late January demanded that President Obama approve the long-stalled Keystone pipeline after a State Department report disclosed that the project's impact on climate change would be minimal.

    Editor's Note:



    4. Christians in Iraq Worse Off Now Than Under Saddam

    The persecution of Christians in Iraq is worse today than it was before a United States-led force deposed brutal dictator Saddam Hussein, a Republican congressman declared.

    "As we witness the black flag of al-Qaida again fly over cities such as Fallujah, which we had won at the cost of so much American blood, we wonder how it is that for Christians in Iraq, life appears to be worse now than it was under the vicious dictator Saddam Hussein," Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey said at a Tuesday hearing of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee.

    One of the witnesses at the hearing was Archbishop Francis Chullikat, who served as the papal nuncio to Iraq. Chullikat said the violence that children in particular have seen — including the killing of Christians — will "leave a lasting scar" on that generation.

    Chullikat said "flagrant and widespread persecution of Christians rages even as we meet."

    Smith disclosed that the population of Christians in Iraq has decreased from 1.4 million in 1987, prior to the first Gulf War, to an estimated 150,000 today.

    "Much of this exodus has occurred during a time in which our country invested heavily in blood and treasure in seeking to help Iraqis build a democracy," Smith said.

    In one of the most horrific recent attacks against Christians in Iraq, militants launched two separate bomb attacks against Christians celebrating Christmas, killing at least 37.

    In one attack, a car bomb went off near a church during Christmas Mass in Baghdad's southern Dora neighborhood, killing at least 26 people and wounding 38, police said. Earlier that day, a bomb exploded at an outdoor market in a Christian neighborhood, killing 11 people and wounding 21.

    Smith added that "researchers from the Pew Center have documented incidents of harassment of religious groups worldwide — a term defined as including 'physical assaults; arrests and detentions; desecration of holy sites; and discrimination against religious groups in employment, education, and housing' — and has concluded that Christians are the single most harassed group today."

    Editor's Note:



    5. America's Population Up 2.4% in Three Years

    With many developed nations facing challenges posed by shrinking populations, the United States' population continues to grow, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

    The Census counted 7.38 million more Americans in 2013 than in 2010, an increase of 2.4 percent, bringing the population to 316.87 million.

    North Dakota led all states in growth between 2010 and 2013, with its population rising by 7.6 percent, and 3.1 percent in the past year alone.

    Texas was next at 5.2 percent, followed by Utah (5 percent), Colorado (4.8 percent), and Florida (4 percent).

    Rounding out the top 10 states are South Dakota, Washington, Arizona, Alaska, and Wyoming.

    If the District of Columbia is included on the list, it ranks second at 7.4 percent.

    In raw numbers, Texas led all states in population gain over the three-year period, adding 1.3 million new residents to bring its total to 26.44 million, second only to California's 38.33 million. The Golden State added 1.07 million residents.

    Florida is next, with its population increasing by 751,550. With a population now at 19.55 million, Florida is expected to overtake New York (19.65 million) this year to become the third largest state in terms of population.

    Two states failed to gain any new residents in the three-year period. Rhode Island saw its population drop by 0.1 percent, and Maine's remained the same.

    Three states had population gains of just 0.1 percent: Vermont, West Virginia, and Michigan.

    Editor's Note:



    6. Most Think Felons Should Be Able to Vote After Jail

    A new Rasmussen Reports survey reveals that 65 percent of likely U.S. voters believe convicted felons should have their right to vote restored if they serve their sentence without a problem.

    Currently, convicted felons in 11 states can permanently lose their right to vote. In most other states, the right to vote can be restored only after felons serve some combination of their jail time, parole, and probation.

    In the survey, 23 percent of respondents said felons should not have their voting rights restored, and the rest are not sure.

    Democrats and independents are more in favor of allowing convicted felons to vote after their jail time than are Republicans, although half of Republicans are in favor.

    Other findings from Rasmussen:

  • A majority of likely voters, 59 percent, think laws requiring photo identification at the polls do not discriminate against some voters.
  • 70 percent believe all voters should be required to prove their identity before being allowed to vote. Just 25 percent oppose the requirement.
  • 86 percent of Republicans support laws requiring proof of identity at the polls, compared to just 52 percent of Democrats.
  • 21 percent are opposed to early voting, but 60 percent favor allowing voting by mail.
  • 24 percent of respondents say it is too easy to vote in the United States, 20 percent think it's too hard, and 52 percent believe the level of difficulty is just about right.
  • Fewer voters than ever, 35 percent, think U.S. elections are fair to voters.

    Note: Newsmax magazine is now available on the iPad. Find us in the App Store.

    Editor's Note:



    Editor's Notes:

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