Obama and Congress Facing New Challenges, While the Auto Industry is Dealt Another Blow

https://i2.wp.com/media.cagle.com/50/2010/11/03/85188_600.jpg

Officials on Tuesday said the Obama administration is trying to find ways to sidestep Congress in order to prevent American companies from reincorporating overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes, Josh Lederman reports, Obama Seeks Executive Ways To Limit Tax Inversions. President Barack Obama has condemned so called tax inversions as unpatriotic and urged Congress to stop them, but Republicans and Democrats disagree about the best solution making congressional action unlikely. Messing with inversions without Congressional approval would further open up Obama to charges he’s unilaterally rewriting tax codes as House Republicans are already suing Obama for exceeding his authorities. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, last month, stated that the administration had examined the tax code and without new laws its option were limited. However, on Tuesday, the Treasury Department said in a statement: “Treasury is reviewing a broad range of authorities for possible administrative actions that could limit the ability of companies to engage in inversions, as well as approaches that could meaningfully reduce the tax benefits after inversions take place.” As Lederman explains it, “In an inversion, a U.S. business merges with or is acquired by a foreign company in a country with a lower tax rate, allowing the company to lower its tax bill. Frequently the companies maintain their U.S. headquarters and operations, and the U.S. entity often maintains control of the company. Obama argues that amounts to companies attempting to choose which tax laws they want to follow — a luxury not granted to individual taxpayers.” Both parties generally agree that inversions are a problem, but do not agree on the causes and the solutions. While Democrats want to make it harder for U.S. firms to reincorporate overseas, Republicans argue that Congress needs to lower the corporate tax rate to keep businesses in the U.S. The united States has the highest corporate tax rate at 35 percent in the industrialized world and taxes income that’s earned overseas and brought back to the U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., one of the three Senator Democrats who wrote to Obama Tuesday urging him to take immediate executive action on inversions, stated, “It would be an important first step toward treating companies that renounce America the same way we treat people who renounce America — as freeloaders who get cut off from other benefits.” A House Speaker John Boehner spokesman said Tuesday that Obama should work with Congress on adding inversions rather than action on his own, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned that actions taken by Obama could make the situation worse. The Congressional Research Service confirmed that 50 U.S. based companies have merged with or acquired foreign businesses over the past decade in inversions.

Meanwhile, Congress according to a Washington Post/ ABC News poll released Tuesday, found that 51 percent of Americans disapprove of their own congressional representative, Ariel Edwards Levy reports, A Record Number Of Americans Don’t Like Their Own Member Of Congress. This is the first time in a quarter century that the poll has had a disapproval rating higher than 50 percent and even higher than the 47 percent disapproval rating of last year’s government shutdown. Terrible ratings are nothing new since Congress has an average approval rating of under 12 percent, however, in the past, Americans approved more of their district’s representative than the legislative branch as a whole, but that number took a dive as well. In June before Republicans took back the House in 2010, 40 percent of Americans told Gallup their represented didn’t deserve to be re-elected, yet 85 percent of members seeking re-election held their seat. The poll also found among the 1,029 adults from both parties surveyed via phone between July 30 and Aug. 3 disapproved of their representative equally at 46 Democrats and 44 percent Republicans. This also differs from the past two midterms as polls found higher anti-incumbent sentiments among the party that would go on to win the House.

An even bigger threat to Congress and the White House, according to what U.S. officials told CNN, is a new leaker that exposed national security documents in the aftermath of surveillance disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Evan Perez reports, New leaker disclosing U.S. secrets, government concludes. The Intercept, a news site launched by Glenn Greenwald who also published Snowden’s leaks, published Tuesday a news story based on national security documents shows proof of the newest leak. The article focuses on the growth in the U.S. government databases of known or suspected terrorist names during the Obama administration citing documents prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center dated August 2013 which was after Snowden left the U.S. to avoid criminal charges. Government officials are trying to find out the identity of the person, while Greenwald, in a February interview with CNN’s Reliable Sources, said: “I definitely think it’s fair to say that there are people who have been inspired by Edward Snowden’s courage and by the great good and virtue that it has achieved. I have no doubt there will be other sources inside the government who see extreme wrongdoing who are inspired by Edward Snowden.” It is not clear how many documents the new leakers shared or how much damage it caused as the documents shard are labeled “Secret” and “NOFORN” which means it was not shared with foreign government. That’s a lower classification than most of the documents leaked by Snowden. Government officials said he stole 1.7 million classified documents many of which were labeled “Top Secret” a higher classification for most important government secrets.

On Tuesday, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri has proposed a new bill called the Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Enhancement Act aimed to improve automotive safety following the high profile recalls of General Motors and Toyota, Autoblog reports, Senator Pushes For Up To Life Sentence For Auto Execs Found To Delay Recalls. The plan includes doubling the budget for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over the next six years, removing the $35-million limit for fining automakers, and most importantly a provision to punish auto executives who knowingly delay recalls with a life sentence. McCaskill’s office told the Detroit News: “(The bill) gives federal prosecutors greater discretion to bring criminal prosecutions for auto safety violations and increases the possible penalties, including up to life in prison for violations that result in death.” If a delayed recall ends in serous injuries, execs could face a 15 year stint behind bars. By removing the limit on per-vehicle fines, the fine structure can be increased from $5,000 to $25,000 e.g. GM could have been hooked for $55 billion in fines for its ignition switch recall rather than just $35 million. According to The News, McCaskill said: “With millions of Americans behind the wheel every day, and more than 33,000 killed on our roads each year, we’ve got to do more to keep our cars and the roads we drive them on safe. Painful recent examples at Toyota and GM have shown us we also must make it easier to hold accountable those who jeopardize consumers’ safety. For too long, auto safety resources have remained virtually stagnant while cars and the safety challenges they present have become more complex.”

Obama Impeachment, Addressing the Border Crisis and What to Do with Iraq

https://i2.wp.com/www.dailydiscord.com/resources/cartoonObamacare.jpg
https://i2.wp.com/www.dailydiscord.com/resources/cartoonNSA.jpg

On Friday, One of President Obama’s top advisers said that he expects House Republicans will file articles of impeachment against the president, according to Sam Stein, Dan Pfeiffer: White House Expects John Boehner To Try For Impeachment. Dan Pfeiffer, a senior aide with Obama since he first took office, told reporters he anticipated that a lawsuit filed by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) over executive actions taken by the president on health care would not be enough to satisfy some vocal conservative in Congress. Pfeiffer added that coming executive actions surrounding immigration will only help to stoke the impeachment fires. Speaking at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast, he said, “I think a lot of people in this town laugh that off. I would not discount that possibility. I think that Speaker Boehner, by going down this path of this lawsuit, has opened the door to Republicans possibly considering impeachment at some point in the future. I think impeachment is a very serious thing that has been bandied about by the recent Republican vice presidential nominee and others in a very unserious way. And no one has even made any allegation of anything that would be within six universes from what is generally considered in that space.” Boehner has said he has no interest in drafting articles of impeachment against the president. However Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel email this response to Pfeiffer: “We have a humanitarian crisis at our border, and the White House is making matters worse with inattention and mixed signals. It is telling, and sad, that a senior White House official is focused on political games, rather than helping these kids and securing the border.” While Pfeiffer did talk about impeachment possibilities, he did discuss the crisis at the border during Friday’s breakfast. Joe Miller, running in the Republican primary for a chance to challenge Sen, Mark Begich (D-Alaska), called for the impeachment of Obama in his campaign this week, according to David McCabe, Senate Hopeful Joe Miller Calls For Obama’s Impeachment, Blasts Mark Begich Over Border. In a press release, Miller said: “Sarah Palin is right; it’s time to impeach this President for dereliction of duty, selectively enforcing the law, and usurping powers that the Constitution does not authorize. He is willfully undermining the rule of law and creating chaos.” Palin, the Alaskan governor who rose to fame as Sen. john McCain’s presidential running mate in 2008, has repeatedly called for Obama’s impeachment this summer.

With a week to go before the August recess, House Republicans have yet to offer a bill to address the border crisis while Obama address South American leaders on the crisis. Elise Foley reports, House Republicans Still Hashing Out Details Of Border Crisis Plan, on Friday that members hope to take up legislation next week providing less than $1 billion, down from $1.5 billion earlier this week, to deal with the more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors who have been apprehended crossing the U.S. border illegally since October. However, the funding is far below Obama’s $3.7 billion requested and thr Senate proposal for $2.7 billion. While most members agree something needs to be done, they haven’t finalized it yet. As Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) puts it: “There’s a lot of nervousness among a lot of the members about a lot of things. Some are nervous that we won’t do anything, some are nervous that we’ll do too much. … These conversations are always fascinating because you’ll start with a range of opinions about this far apart, and eventually you begin to see what the consensus is. We are not at that point yet.” Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) told reporters, “The problem is DACA. There’s a perception out there that’s it’s OK to do this and to pay someone money to take your child to America. And it’s just a wrong perception.” Rep. John Fleming (R-Fla.) said, “Let’s say theoretically it makes it all the way to the president’s desk and he signs it. It’ll be yet another law that the president will ignore and not enforce.” Rep. Charlie Dent (D-Pa.) said, “I believe there is consensus that we need to move a legislative package out of here before we leave next week. What’s going to be in that package, we’re going to be debating.” While Republicans try to come to some sort of resolution, President Obama met with Central American leaders Friday to urge them to slow the exodus of unaccompanied children from their countries, the Associated Press reports Obama to urge Central American leaders for help. Unfortunately with Senate Democrats opposed to policy changes to return kids quickly without judicial hearings, it looks unlikely that a deal will be agreed upon and sent to Obama’s desk in August. Friday’s White House meeting with the president of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador coincided with the administration possibly crating a pilot program to give young people from Honduras refugee status.

While the border crisis seems to be a hot button issue because of the August recess, the House has agreed upon one thing that the President cannot send more troops to Iraq without congressional approval. On Friday, the House passed a resolution to bar President Barack Obama from sending forces into Iraq in a sustained combat role without congress approving it first. The measure must still pass the Senate to force a shutdown with the president and risks opening up several questions related to the Constitution’s separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said, “This resolution makes one clear statement. If the president decides we should further involve our military in Iraq, he needs to work with Congress to authorize it. The time to debate our re-engagement in Iraq, should it come to that, is before we are caught in the heat of the moment. Not when the first body bags come home. Not when the first bombs start to fall. Not when the worst-case scenario is playing out on our TV screens.” More than 800 U.S. forces are in Iraq with more than half providing security for the embassy and U.S. personnel. In addition, American service members are involved in improving U.S. intelligence, providing security cooperation and conducting assessments of Iraqi capabilities. U.S. officials, according to the Washington Post, say the Sunni extremist calling themselves the Islamic State pose a threat to the American homeland as the group has expanded its base in Syria and seized a series of towns and cities in Iraq in recent months.

Sacrificing the Future to Subsidize Fossil Fuels

https://i2.wp.com/www.oceanconservancy.org/places/gulf-of-mexico/2013-impacts-map_final.jpg

2013 map courtesy of the Ocean Conservancy website

According to lead researcher Steven Murawski, a professor at the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science in Tampa, the oil found in the bodies of sickened fish from the Gulf Coast region match the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Murawski and his team of Florida scientist studied the oil’s chemical composition in order to debunk the argument that fish abnormalities were to blame and not oil in coastal runoff and oil from naturally occurring seeps in the Gulf could be to blame,  reports Rueters’ Barbara Liston. In her article, BP Oil Spill Caused Sickness In Fish, Researchers Find, she reports that the findings by the researchers argues that the fish in the study had to have been exposed recently enough in order to identify the chemical signature of the oil in their bodies. However, BP, whose rig caused the spill rejects the findings stating in a email response that it is “not possible to accurately identify the source of oil based on chemical traces found in fish livers or tissue.” In addition, Liston reports that in a statement from BP: “vertebrates such as fish very quickly metabolize and eliminate oil compounds. Once metabolized, the sources of those compounds are no longer discernible after a period of a few days.” The research team included scientists from USF, the Florida Institute of Oceanography and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. The work was published in the current edition of the online journal of Transactions of the American Fisheries Society.

Thousands of claims for damages against BP continue to be process since the April 2010 explosion of the oil and gas producer’s Gulf rig which killed 11 oil workers and spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. In the winter of 2010-2011, fisherman in the area where the blow out well was located have noticed a spike in abnormal looking fish, many with unusual skin lesions. Murawski said his team compared the chemical signatures of oil found in fish livers and flesh to the signatures of the Deepwater well and other oil sources. As Liston reports, Murawski explained, “The closest match was directly to Deepwater Horizon and had a very poor match to these other sources. So what we’ve done is eliminated some of these other potential sources.” In addition, his team also ruled out pathogens and other oceanographic conditions. By 2012, the frequency of fish lesions declined 53 percent.

Even with BP’s blatant disregard for the environment and the years of fall out to come from such an egregious crime, the federal government still spends billions of dollars to subsidize the fossil fuel industry. U.S. today reported back in 2010 after the BP spill that the number of spills from offshore oil rigs and pipelines in the U.S. had quadrupled in the last 10 years and could of served as a warning for the massive leak that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, according to government data and safety experts. The spills and amount of oil leaked grew worse when production increased, reports USA Today, even after oil companies claimed it was never safer to drill. In Alan Levin’s USA Today article, Oil spills escalated in this decade, the average annual spill increased by more than 17 from 2000 to 2009 and from 2005 to 2009 spilled averaged 22 a year. The company with the most spills from 2000 to 2009 was BP who leased the well that blew out in April 2010, according to data. In addition, the oil giant and its affiliated companies reported 23 spills of 50 barrels or more not including the April 2010 event. Oil firm Shell was next with 21, according to MMS spill reports. Over the past five years, the Obama administration has called for cutting fossil fuels subsidies in the form of tax breaks and other incentives, however, the federal governments has increased the amount of money forfeited through subsidies over that period of time with $18.5 billion last year, according to the environmental group Oil Change International. According to Kate Sheppard, Federal Government Still Spending Billions To Subsidize Fossil Fuels, the total is up from $12.7 billion in 2009 as oil and gas production has increased in the United States. Next year, domestic production will reach the highest since 1972 partly due to the Obama administration’s “all of the above” energy strategy which includes increasing oil and gas production. The Oil Change report includes a variety of subsidies in its accounting i.e. tax breaks, incentives for production on federal lands like royalty fees and tax deductions for clean up costs like the BP Deepwater oil spill. In addition, when states subsidies for oil, gas and coal production are included, the total climbs to $21.6 billion for 2013. In September 2009, Obama and other G20 leaders pledged to phase out fossil fuel subsidies to curb global warming with Obama calling for elimination of subsidies in 2012 and 2013 with the administration’s 2015 budget proposal again calling for major cuts to fossil fuel subsidies. However, Congress has yet to cut these subsidies. The report argues that as long as these incentives stay in place, the federal government is “essentially rewarding companies for accelerating climate change.” Steve Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, explains: “We’re spending more taxpayer dollars every year to fund fossil fuels that we can’t afford to burn, according to climate science. Subsidizing fossil fuels at this point is climate denial.”

While science on a global scale has examined the environmental cost of the global fossil fuel habit, the economic costs have yet to be fully realized. According to the article, Fossil Fuel Subsidies Cost ~$2 Trillion Annually, According To IMF on CleanTechnica’s website published May 1,2014, the IPCC recently reported that CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes contributes around 78 percent of the total increase in greenhouse gas emissions between 1970 and 2010. The combined value of global fossil fuel subsidies are difficult to calculate with recent estimates ranging from $500 billion to $1.9 trillion a year. However, according to the International Monetary Fund, factoring in implicit subsidies from the failure to charge for pollution, climate change and other externalities, the post tax cost is closer to $2 trillion equivalent to 2.9 percent of the global GDP or 8.5 percent of government revenues. In addition, the IMF believes simply removing fossil fuel subsidies could decrease fossil fuel emissions by 13 percent. Experts say by reducing or eliminating subsidies to fossil fuel and properly pricing energy to account for environmental impacts, governments can effectively foster a low carbon transition as global subsidies to renewable energy were $88 billion in 2011. According to the article: “UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) argues that subsidies to fossil fuel producers often support inefficient state-owned energy companies and stifle incentives for greater efficiencies and innovation, while subsidies to consumers often encourage excessive consumption, which has knock-on effects for pollution, human health and greenhouse gas emissions.” UN Under Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, had this to add: “Fiscal policies are of particular importance in a green economy transition. Confronted by a fiscally constrained world, government reforms might appear to be a daunting challenge. However, it is important to note that fossil fuel subsidies cost countries precious funds. For example, they divert government resources from pro-poor spending in Africa, where governments spend an estimated 3 per cent of GDP – equivalent to their total health care allocation – on fossil fuel subsidies.” UNEP has undertaken green economy fiscal policies studies in various developing countries including Ghana, Namibia, the Philippines and Turkey and have shown that reforming energy subsidies and prices is possible. In addition, the UNEP believes,”Tax incentives could make investments in clean technologies more attractive, while government funds could reduce the risk profile of capital intensive new technologies.” In Australia, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation has financed $2.5 billion in renewable projects since starting in July 2013, but has not dissuaded the current Abbott government from trying to dismantle it.

According to Tom Revell’s article, a new study published in the journal Climate Change Economics, researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis tried to put a price tag on efforts to limit the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. David McCollum, the study’s lead author, states, “Many countries say that they’re on board with the a target of 2C global mean temperature stabilization by 2100; some have even made commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. But until now, it hasn’t been very clear how to get to that point, at least from an investment point of view. It’s high time we think about how much capital is needed for new power plants, biofuel refineries, efficient vehicles, and other technologies – and where those dollars need to flow – so that we get the emissions reductions we want. Revell’s article, Much-needed $800bn renewable energy investment can come from fossil fuel subsidies, sums up the study by saying that the hundred of billions of dollars needs to invest in renewable energy and prevent the worst effects of climate change could come from the enormous amount of subsidies given to fossil fuels, approximately $800 billion annually between now and 2050 on top of the $400 billion raised by existing policies increasing existing investments from $200-300 billion annually. According to the International Energy Agency, in 2012 direct fossil fuels subsidies totaled $544 billion which researchers point out could be shifted into supporting renewables and meet the investment gap. The study does not account for potential saving gained by switching from fossil fuels to cleaner energy. The study does warn that the transition needs to happen soon as energy infrastructures have  a lifespan of 30 to 60 years. In April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that investments in fossil fuels like oil and coal need to drop by $30 billion a year and renewable energy’s share of global production must increase from 17% in 2010 to 50% in 2050. Without aggressive action, scientist estimate global temperatures will rise by 3.7 to 4.8 degree Celsius by 2100 with devastating consequences around the world, Revell reports.

It’s the Little Things that Lead to Big Change

The news ain’t all bad here. Some stories highlight the good deed of a few that are bringing attention to the important issues of this generation and maybe thr next. As the world’s leader continue to struggle to find the answers and some sort of conclusion to the ever growing problems of peace, population, climate change and a plethora of other issues, these individuals have found a way to make their voice heard whether to help others or bring the issues to light. So here we go, some good news to help keep your faith in humanity.
Banana vitamin: Altered to increase Vitamin A levels, super banana saves
According to AOL.com and Agence France-Presse, ‘Super bananas’ may save millions of lives in Africa, Australian researchers are pioneering a new project to enrich bananas with alpha and beta carotene which the body converts to Vitamin A in order to provide poor and subsistence farming populations with nutritionally rewarding food. The project, if successful in its mission to grow the special variety in Uganda by 2020, will save million of lives. The Researchers as of June 16 have announced the bananas are being sent to the United States to start the six week trial to measure how well the bananas will raise vitamin A levels in humans.

https://i1.wp.com/www.blogcdn.com/slideshows/images/slides/271/158/0/S2711580/slug/l/mexico-blind-soccer-1.jpg
In Mexico City, as the world watches with bated breath to see who will win the World Cup, for the past 18 years another kind of soccer championship has been going on. AOL.com reported on the 17 of June about the men of the Ignacio Trigueros Soccer League for the Blind and Visually Impaired who spend their Sundays traveling from their homes to Mexico City to play the country’s most popular sport. Each team has one sighted player or two visually impaired players who use their eyes on the court, while others wear blindfolds to make sure the match is fair. Without their sight, they rely on sounds the ball makes when it hits the boards or rolls at their feet. The six team league allows a rare chance for the blind and visually impaired community to come together and play their favorite sports while family watches, according to the league president Javier Mosqueda Lomeli.

Ad courtesy of Jim Romenesko

HuffPost’s Eleanor Goldberg’s on June 18 reported the story of a Chinese multimillionaire has decided to come to New York city to tackle the issue of poverty.  In the article, Chinese Mogul To Throw $1 Million Lunch In Central Park For The Poor, Goldberg explains that Chen, a recycling tycoon, wants people to see how generous people are in his country by “taking out a half page ad in the Wall Street Journal and a full-page ad in The New York Times on Monday June 16, inviting people who are struggling in New York City to lunch at Central Park’s Boathouse on June 25, the South China Morning Post reported.” The idea? To spread the message that not all well to do Chinese millionaires are crazy spenders and are good philanthropists, according to the South China Morning Post. The guest list will allow 1,000 people to attend the free meal and will cost $1 million. In addition, diners will get $300 to be used toward occupational training. This is not the first time Chen has created a spectacle to get people talking about important issues. Last January, Chen handed out free cans of fresh air in Beijing to draw attention to the increasing pollution problem reported the Guardian.

ronnie goodman

Another article posted by Eleanor Goldberg of HuffPost, entitled Homeless Artist To Run Half Marathon For Charity That Helps People On The Streets, posted on June 17, tells the story of Ronnie Goodman, as homeless man himself, who has decided to run a 13.1 mile half marathon for charity next month. The 53 year old man has been living under the freeway in San Francisco, according to San Francisco Chronicle, and trains every day to fulfill his dream of running in the event. His fans have stepped up and donated $120 to cover the entry fee for the July race. Instead of using the race to raise money for himself, Goodman has decided to give the money to Hospitality House who has helped him get back on his feet. The organization empowers the homeless and low income people through a number of initiatives including the art program Goodman takes part in. Goodman hopes to raise $25,000 and donors will be entered to win one of his original works. If you would like to help click here.

In an Associate Press story covered on AOL.com entitled Obama Expands Government Benefits For Gay Couples, the article covers the plethora of newly approved benefits allocated to same sex couples granted on June 20 by the Obama administration including those who live in states where gay marriage is against the law. The new measures range from Social Security and veterans benefits to work leave for caring for sick spouses. The effort to expand protections to states that don’t recognize gay marriage have been confounded by laws stating that benefits are conferred only to couples whose marriages are recognized by the state they live in rather than the states where they were married. In order to get around this, the Veterans Affairs Department and Social Security Administration are letting gay people who tell the government they are married to apply for those benefits only allocated to married couples i.e. veterans can now be buried alongside their same sex spouse in the national cemetery and apply for survivor and death benefits regardless of the state they live in. In additions, the Labor Department will start drafting rules that make it possible for gay and lesbian workers to receive unpaid leave to care for a sick spouse under the Family and Medical Leave Act. On top of everything else. last week, the Obama administration with support of gay rights advocated has announced he will sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.