Originally Published: 5/4/2013
Dodd-Frank: One of the things Dodd-Frank mandated was the disclosure of actual CEO-to-worker pay ratios. But here we are, 3 years after the enactment of the law, and we still don’t have that information because it remains “bottled up at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which hasn’t yet drawn up the rules to implement it.” Why is that? That, too, is unknown, except that it’s been lobbied by “America’s biggest companies.” (Bloomberg) According to The Nation, Wall Street has “defanged” Dodd-Frank. The Wall Street lobbyists have also been joined by international lobbyists who are balking at Dodd-Frank’s mandate to oversee the $700 trillion in derivatives, with “hopes of curtailing the risky trading practices blamed for the global financial crisis in 2008.” (NY Times)
CEO Pay: According to a new report by IPS and Campaign for America’s Future, “America’s top CEOs are pocketing massive taxpayer subsidies at the same time they’re pushing austerity cutbacks in government programs that benefit ordinary citizens.” [Emphasis added.] According to the report, from 2009-2011, “the 90 publicly held corporate members of the austerity-focused ‘Fix the Debt’ lobby group shoveled out $6.3 billion in pay to their CEOs and the next 3 highest-paid executives.” What is happening is that the companies use the “performance pay loophole.” This is the tax code that lets corporations deduct an unlimited amount of executive compensation as long as they say that it’s “performance” based. This, of course, reduces their taxes so, in effect, we taxpayers are subsidizing the largess going to the CEOs. The IPS report lists more, like the fact that those 90 members raked in somewhere between $953 million and $1.6 billion from the performance pay loophole. Who’s the king of the loophole? United Health Group.
Florida: It passed a law to speed up executions. (Mother Jones)
Illinois: It has secured its position as the worst rogue state for coal operations. Last week the state’s Environmental Protection Agency issued a pollutant discharge permit to Springfield Coal, a company already cited by the state for over 600 toxic discharge violations. (TriStates Public Radio)
Iowa: The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that the Iowa Department of Public Health must list both spouses in a lesbian marriage as parents on their children’s birth certificates. Justice David Wiggins said that the state government “has been unable to identify a constitutionally adequate justification” for treating lesbian parents differently from parents of the opposite sex. He said the only explanation for doing so was to “stereotype or prejudice” [them and] that violated their rights to be treated equally under the Iowa Constitution.” (AP)
Maryland: It became the 18th state to abolish the death penalty. It’s also the 1st state to do so south of the Mason-Dixon line. (Huffington Post)
Minnesota: Last fall a couple filed suit “on behalf of” Minnesota taxpayers seeking to eliminate all state insurance coverage of abortion services. Minnesota District Judge Kathleen R. Gearin dismissed the lawsuit, “ruling that so long as Minnesota funded pregnancy care, it could not refuse to fund care related to ‘therapeutic abortion.’” (Raw Story)
Rhode Island: It became the 10th state to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians. (Guardian)
Sequester Cuts: Last week Congress quickly fixed the part of the sequester - the furlough of air traffic controllers - that effects them. (TWW, Air Traffic Delays, 4/27/13) I thought you’d like to hear what Jon Stewart said about it. (You Tube)
Austerity: Now that austerity has come to the U.S. through the sequestration cuts, what does it mean? Well, right off the bat we have lower economic growth, only 2.5% in the first quarter of 2013. “The figures suggest that across-the-board cuts in government spending - known as sequestration - are trapping the U.S. economy in a pattern of steady but mediocre growth despite a pick-up in the housing market.” (Financial Times) Rep. Steny Hoyer (D, MD) took to the floor of the House to speak out against the bill to fix the air traffic controller cuts. (TWW, Air Traffic Delays, 4/27/13) It’s good. (You Tube)
Trickle Down: The Fed has been keeping interest rates down since the 2008 crash. You getting any great deals from it? Me either. But the corporations are, so the European Central Bank (ECB) thinks it may be a great idea and is now going to do the same thing there. (Financial Times) How do corporations benefit? Well, first, they borrow the money at practically nothing - the current interest is .25% - and then give it to their shareholders in the form of dividends on which shareholders pay reduced taxes and no FICA. Then, since they don’t have to bring their earnings home from overseas to pay their shareholders, they avoid paying corporate taxes. If you want to see how this works, the Financial Times has a great piece on how Apple is doing that now, saving itself about $9 billion in taxes.
Pay-Offs: Afghan president Hamid Karzai has admitted that the CIA “has been dropping off bags of cash at his office for a decade, saying the money was used for ‘various purposes’ and expressing gratitude to the United States for making the payments.” Former and current advisers said the cash has totaled “tens of millions of dollars” and has been used “to pay off warlords, lawmakers, and others whose support the Afghan leader depends upon.” American diplomats and soldiers “expressed dismay” saying the payments have “fueled corruption.” (NY Times) I can’t even comment.
Gitmo: Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor for terrorism trials at Guantánamo Bay prison, has decided to lobby for closing it. He has launched an online petition that gathered 60,000 signatures in less than 24 hours. (Guardian)
School of the Americas: In 1946 the School of the Americas was opened at Fort Benning, Georgia. It was then known as the Latin American Training Center. The name was changed in 1963 but Latin America was still it’s target. “[S]oldiers trained there helped kill 6 Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her 16-year-old daughter in El Salvador in 1989. It trains Latin American soldiers to fight left-wing insurgencies, and (at least in the past) its training manuals advocated targeting civilians, extrajudicial executions, torture, false imprisonment, and extortion. Not surprisingly, many of its graduates - including such notorious figures as Gen. Efrain Rios Montt of Guatemala, Gen. Manuel Noriega of Panama, and Captain Roberto D’Aubuisson of El Salvador - went on to form death squads and commit human rights abuses.” A watchdog group, School of Americas Watch (SOAW), compiled a database of SOA instructors and trainees for the period 1946 to 2003 and wanted to bring it up to date. The Army stopped disclosing this information in 2004, so SOAW filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the information. The Pentagon refused to release most of the information, “citing FOIA exemptions 3 (personal privacy of the instructors and students) and 6 (national security).” SOAW filed suit. Federal District Judge Phyllis Hamilton rejected the government’s arguments. The Obama administration is expected to appeal. (AllGov)
FCC: Obama has nominated Tom Wheeler as chair of the Federal Communications Commission. Who’s Wheeler? He’s a venture capital investor and a lobbyist for cable companies and mobile phone companies. And we thought Julius Genachowski was bad. (TWW, FCC, 12/1/12) The good news is that he’s wealthy and 67 years old and, thus, is unlikely to cater to companies looking for a later job. (NY Times)
Plan B: Federal Judge Edward R. Korman gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) 30 days to make the morning after pill available for all ages without a prescription. (TWW, Plan B, 4/6/13) So, the FDA has just issued the new rules. The pill will be available without a prescription to girls and women ages 15 and older. It will also be available on the shelves, not locked up behind the pharmacy counters. (NY Times) However, the Obama administration has still filed an appeal of Korman’s order. (McClatchy)
Keystone XL: There’s another bill trying to get the tar sands pipeline approved. It’s sponsored by Rep. Lee Terry (R, NE) and is called the Northern Route Approval Act. Who’d know this was about the pipeline? The full title is: “To approve the construction, operation, and maintenance of the Keystone XL pipeline, and for other purposes.” According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), it would “specify various procedures pertaining to federal review and permitting of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would be constructed by a private company to carry crude oil from Alberta, Canada, to destinations on the U.S. Gulf Coast. In particular, the bill would exempt the proposed project . . . from the existing requirement to obtain a Presidential permit. In addition, [it] would deem various actions by federal agencies involved with permitting decisions related to the proposed pipeline to be satisfied and certain federal permits to be granted.” [Emphasis added.] In other words, the current law would be thrown out for this one project.
Ag-Gag Laws: A Utah woman was the first to be arrested under the state’s new ag-gag laws. (TWW, Ag-Gag Bills, 4/13/13) She was photographed standing on public land, filming “what she believed to be a sick, live cow being towed away from a slaughterhouse.” The charges were dropped by the city prosecutor’s office, but they were dropped “without prejudice,” which means they can bring them back. (Salon)
Fukushima: The disaster continues. They are running out of space to store the highly radioactive water that has been cooling the reactors. The plant uses precious groundwater to cool the reactors “at a rate of almost 75 gallons a minute.” It then must be pumped out and stored. Currently they have storage tanks “sprawling over 42 acres of parking lots and lawns.” They also have underground pits that they built to handle the overflow but the pits “sprang leaks in recent weeks.” (Radioactive water leaking into the ground water?) Still, all that storage isn’t enough, “a reflection of the scale of the 2011 disaster.” Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepko), who runs the plant, is now going to “chop down a small forest” to make room for more storage tanks. (NY Times)
Grand Canyon: Last year Obama banned uranium mining at the Grand Canyon. (Guardian) However, Energy Fuels Resources has been given federal approval to reopen its old Canyon Mine. The company says that Obama’s ban on new hard-rock mining doesn’t apply because this is old hard-rock mining. The Grand Canyon Trust, the Sierra Club, the Centre for Biological Diversity, and the Havusupai Indian tribe have filed suit against the Forest Service. (Guardian)
Bee Colony Collapse: The European Union has banned the use of nerve-agent pesticides which are believed to be responsible for bee colony collapse. (TWW, Bees, 3/23/13; High Fructose Corn Syrup, 4/14/12; Roundup, 3/10/12; Bees, 8/23/08; The Honeybee Die-Off, 6/16/07) The ban is to last for 2 years “unless compelling evidence to the contrary becomes available. It will restrict the use of 2 chemicals made by Bayer and another made by Syngenta. 8 nations voted against the ban, including Britain, which argued that the science was incomplete even though “more than 30 separate scientific studies have found a link.” (Independent)
Census Reform Act: This is a bill proposed by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R, SC) along with 10 co-sponsors, all Republicans. Read it. The bill would prevent the Census Bureau from collecting data about the economy - you know, things like the unemployment rate, labor force participation rate, housing construction, trade deficits, and much more. If you don’t like the facts, make sure nobody has them.
Jobs: The new job numbers are out. We created about 165,000 jobs in April and the unemployment rate fell to 7.5%. But the reality is, once again, that there were 176,000 private sector jobs created and another 11,000 public sector jobs lost. (NY Times) February and March numbers were revised upward. (CNN)
Auto Industry: General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler “all gained market share in the first quarter for the first time in 20 years” and “exceeded sales forecasts” for April. They “led the industry to its best April since 2007.” Bloomberg wrote: “Detroit’s boom-and-bust history was built on a dependence on big, fuel-thirsty vehicles. Now, with freshly stocked showrooms of new cars and more-efficient trucks, U.S. automakers are gaining ground on their Asian competitors with the best lineup in a generation.” Ya think the bail-out helped any?
Free Trade: The Obama administration is engaged in negotiations for 2 new free trade deals: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the U.S.-European Union “Free Trade Agreement.” (NY Times) Both are being touted as agreements that will increase trade and create jobs. Public Citizen has posted a list of threats from TPP negotiations: “More Power to Corporations to Attack Nations,” “Threats to Public Health,” “Bye Buy America & Jobs,” “Undermining Food Safety,” “Son of SOPA: Curtailing Internet Freedom,” and “Financial Deregulation: Banksters’ Delight.” The gist is that eliminating trade restrictions is a small part of both agreements since most tariffs and quotas have already been sharply reduced or eliminated. These deals are about reducing regulations and increasing patent and copyright protections. The agreements are moving toward things like overriding some European countries’ ban on fracking - thus opening fracking up all over the world. It will also raise prices on prescription drugs, open up Internet spying, further de-regulate banking, and so much more. Once the administration has secured the agreements, there will be a major push for Congress to approve them. That’s when the fights will start.