THIS IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST READ – IT HELPS ME UNDERSTAND MY OWN FEELINGS AS WELL – SPECIALLY AS I LOST A GRANDMOTHER AND AN AUNT TO THE BUTCHER KNIVES (LITERALLY) OF THE UKRAINIAN BANDERA NATIONALISTS IN MILLIE – (THE BUKOWINA OF OLD AND NOW IN THE CHERNIVTSI OBLAST OF THE UKRAINE TAKEN BY THE SOVIETS FROM ROMANIA) – THAT WERE INCITED BY A PRIEST THAT CAME FROM KUTTY (UKRAINIANS LIVING THEN UNDER POLAND BEFORE BEING ANNEXED BY THE SOVIETS), ACROSS THE CHEREMUSH RIVER in 1941. THOSE UKRAINIANS THAT SURVIVED THE WAR ENDED UP IN BRITISH COLUMBIA AS RESPECTED WAR REFUGEES LIKE THE SURVIVORS OF MY MOTHER’S FAMILY ENDED UP IN TORONTO. THE CANADIAN UKRAINIANS MARCHED WITH THE RED&BLACK FLAG THEN NEXT TO CANADA FLAG IN LVIV WHEN I WITNESSED THERE THE UKRAINIAN INDEPENDENCE – AND THEY WONDERED WHY I DO NOT MARCH WITH THEM ALSO. I SAW NOW THOSE SAME RED/BLACK FLAGS ON THE MAIDAN VIA TV.
INTERESTING HOW AVNERY REMINDS US THAT I MIGHT BE A DESCENDENT OF THE UKRAINIAN KHAZARS – PERSONALLY I KNOW THAT FATHER AND ME LOOK LIKE THAT – BUT HE ALSO TELLS US THAT BINATIONALISM DOES NOT WORK, AND THAT NETANYAHU IS BUILDING THE DESTRUCTION OF ISRAEL AS A JEWISH STATE – AND THAT HURTS VERY MUCH. YES – ABSOLUTELY A MUST STUDY ARTICLE.
March 8, 2014
God Bless Putin
BINYAMIN NETANYAHU is very good at making speeches, especially to Jews, neocons and such, who jump up and applaud wildly at everything he says, including that tomorrow the sun will rise in the west.
The question is: is he good at anything else?
HIS FATHER, an ultra-ultra-Rightist, once said about him that he is quite unfit to be prime minister, but that he could be a good foreign minister. What he meant was that Binyamin does not have the depth of understanding needed to guide the nation, but that he is good at selling any policy decided upon by a real leader.
(Reminding us of the characterization of Abba Eban by David Ben-Gurion: “He is very good at explaining, but you must tell him what to explain.”)
This week Netanyahu was summoned to Washington. He was supposed to approve John Kerry’s new “framework” agreement, which would serve as a basis for restarting the peace negotiations, which so far have come to naught.
On the eve of the event, President Barack Obama gave an interview to a Jewish journalist, blaming Netanyahu for the stalling of the “peace process” – as if there had ever been a peace process.
Netanyahu arrived with an empty bag – meaning a bag full of empty slogans. The Israeli leadership had striven mightily for peace, but could not progress at all because of the Palestinians. It is Mahmoud Abbas who is to blame, because he refuses to recognize Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.
What…hmm…about the settlements, which have been expanding during the last year at a hectic pace? Why should the Palestinians negotiate endlessly, while at the same time the Israeli government takes more and more of the land which is the substance of the negotiations? (As the classic Palestinian argument goes: “We negotiate about dividing a pizza, and in the meantime Israel is eating the pizza.”)
Obama steeled himself to confront Netanyahu, AIPAC and their congressional stooges. He was about to twist the arms of Netanyahu until he cried “uncle” – the uncle being Kerry’s “framework”, which by now has been watered down to look almost like a Zionist manifesto. Kerry is frantic for an achievement, whatever its contents and discontents.
Netanyahu, looking for an instrument to rebuff the onslaught, was ready to cry as usual “Iran! Iran! Iran!” – when something unforeseen happened.
NAPOLEON FAMOUSLY exclaimed: ”Give me generals who are lucky!”He would have loved General Bibi.
Because, on the way to confront a newly invigorated Obama, there was an explosion that shook the world:
It was like the shots that rang out in Sarajevo a hundred years ago.
The international tranquility was suddenly shattered. The possibility of a major war was in the air.
Netanyahu’s visit disappeared from the news. Obama, occupied with a historic crisis, just wanted to get rid of him as quickly as possible. Instead of the severe admonition of the Israeli leader, he got away with some hollow compliments. All the wonderful speeches Netanyahu had prepared were left unspeeched. Even his usual triumphant speech at AIPAC evoked no interest.
All because of the upheaval in Kiev.
BY NOW, innumerable articles have been written about the crisis. Historical associations abound.
Though Ukraine means “borderland”, it was often at the center of European events. One must pity Ukrainian schoolchildren. The changes in the history of their country were constant and extreme. At different times Ukraine was a European power and a poor downtrodden territory, extremely rich (“the breadbasket of Europe”) or abjectly poor, attacked by neighbors who captured their people to sell them as slaves or attacking their neighbors to enlarge their country.
The Ukraine’s relationship with Russia is even more complex. In a way, the Ukraine is the heartland of Russian culture, religion and orthography. Kiev was far more important than Moscow, before becoming the centerpiece of Muscovite imperialism.
In the Crimean War of the 1850s, Russia fought valiantly against a coalition of Great Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia, and eventually lost. The war broke out over Christian rights in Jerusalem, and included a long siege of Sevastopol. The world remembers the charge of the Light Brigade. A British woman called Florence Nightingale established the first organization to tend the wounded on the battlefield.
In my lifetime, Stalin murdered millions of Ukrainians by deliberate starvation. As a result, most Ukrainians welcomed the German Wehrmacht in 1941 as liberators. It could have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but unfortunately Hitler was determined to eradicate the Ukrainian “Untermenschen”, in order to integrate the Ukraine into the German Lebensraum.
The Crimea suffered terribly. The Tatar people, who had ruled the peninsula in the past, were deported to Central Asia, then allowed to return decades later. Now they are a small minority, seemingly unsure of where their loyalties lie.
THE RELATIONSHIP between Ukraine and the Jews is no less complicated.
Some Jewish writers, like Arthur Koestler and Shlomo Sand, believe that the Khazar empire that ruled the Crimea and neighboring territory a thousand years ago, converted to Judaism, and that most Ashkenazi Jews are descended from them. This would turn us all into Ukrainians. (Many early Zionist leaders indeed came from Ukraine.)
When Ukraine was a part of the extensive Polish empire, many Polish noblemen took hold of large estates there. They employed Jews as their managers. Thus the Ukrainian peasants came to look upon the Jews as the agents of their oppressors, and anti-Semitism became part of the national culture of Ukraine.
As we learned in school, at every turn of Ukrainian history, the Jews were slaughtered. The names of most Ukrainian folk-heroes, leaders and rebels who are revered in their homeland are, in Jewish consciousness, connected with awful pogroms.
Cossack Hetman (leader) Bohdan Khmelnytsky, who liberated Ukraine from the Polish yoke, and who is considered by Ukrainians as the father of their nation, was one of the worst mass-murderers in Jewish history. Symon Petliura, who led the Ukrainian war against the Bolsheviks after World War I, was assassinated by a Jewish avenger.
Some elderly Jewish immigrants in Israel must find it hard to decide whom to hate more, the Ukrainians or the Russians (or the Poles, for that matter.)
PEOPLE AROUND the world find it also hard to choose sides.
The usual Cold-War zealots have it easy – they either hate the Americans or the Russians, out of habit.
As for me, the more I try to study the situation, the more unsure I become. This is not a black-or-white situation.
The first sympathy goes to the Maidan rebels. (Maidan is an Arab word meaning town square. Curious how it travelled to Kiev. Probably via Istanbul.)
They want to join the West, enjoy independence and democracy. What’s wrong with that?
Nothing, except that they have dubious bedfellows. Neo-Nazis in their copycat Nazi uniforms, giving the Hitler salute and mouthing anti-Semitic slogans, are not very attractive. The encouragement they receive from Western allies, including the odious neocons, is off-putting.
On the other side, Vladimir Putin is also not very prepossessing. It’s the old Russian imperialism all over again.
The slogan used by the Russians – the need to protect Russian-speaking people in a neighboring country – sounds eerily familiar. It is an exact copy of Adolf Hitler’s claim in 1938 to protect the Sudeten Germans from the Czech monsters.
But Putin has some logic on his side. Sevastopol – the scene of heroic sieges both in the Crimean War and in World War II, is essential for his naval forces. The association with Ukraine is an important part of Russian world power aspirations.
A cold-blooded, calculating operator, of a kind now rare in the world, Putin uses the strong cards he has, but is very careful not to take too many risks. He is managing the crisis astutely, using Russia’s obvious advantages. Europe needs his oil and gas, he needs Europe’s capital and trade. Russia has a leading role in Syria and Iran. The US suddenly looks like a bystander.
I assume that in the end there will be a compromise. Russia will retain a footing in the coming Ukrainian leadership. Both sides will proclaim victory, as they should.
(By the way, for those here who believe in the “One-State Solution”: Another multicultural state seems to be breaking apart.)
WHERE WILL this leave Netanyahu?
He has gained some months or years without any movement toward peace, and in the meantime can continue with the occupation and build settlements at a frantic pace.
That is the traditional Zionist strategy. Time is everything. Every postponement provides opportunities to create more facts on the ground.
Netanyahu’s prayers have been answered. God bless Putin.
“It is not appropriate to invade a country and at the end of a barrel of a gun dictate what you are trying to achieve.”
JOHN KERRY, secretary of state, on Russia’s actions in Crimea, a region in Ukraine.
QUOTATION OF THE DAY
“The only thing we had to do, and we did it, was to enhance the defense of our military facilities because they were constantly receiving threats and we were aware of the armed nationalists moving in.”
WASHINGTON —For all his bluster and bravado, President Vladimir V. Putin’s assurance on Tuesday that Russia does not plan, at least for now, to seize eastern Ukraine suggested a possible path forward in the geopolitical crisis that has captivated the world. Global markets reacted with relief, and the White House with cautious optimism.
But the development presented a tricky conundrum for President Obama and his European allies. Even if Russia does leave eastern Ukraine alone and avoids escalating its military intervention, can it effectively freeze in place its occupation of the Crimean Peninsula? Would the United States and Europe be forced to tacitly accept that or could they find a way to roll it back — and, if so, at what price?
Ever since Russian forces took control of Crimea, Mr. Obama’s aides have privately conceded that reversing the occupation would be difficult, if not impossible, in the short run and focused on drawing a line to prevent Mr. Putin from going further.
If Crimea in coming weeks remains cordoned off, it will then require a concerted effort to force Russia to pull back troops, an effort that could divide the United States from European allies who may be more willing to live with the new status quo.
For the moment, the White House was focused on preventing the confrontation from escalating. While dismayed if not surprised by Mr. Putin’s bellicosity and justification of his actions, American officials took some solace that he said he saw no need at this point for intervention in Russian-speaking areas of eastern Ukraine. They were also encouraged by his seeming acceptance of elections in May as a way to legitimize a new Ukrainian government and by his decision to cancel a military exercise near the border. And they detected no new influx of troops into Crimea.
While Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kiev on Tuesday to show support for its beleaguered pro-Western government, Mr. Obama consulted with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany by telephone about finding a face-saving way for Mr. Putin to withdraw in favor of international monitors.
Speaking with reporters, Mr. Obama said some had interpreted Mr. Putin’s remarks earlier in the day to mean he “is pausing for a moment and reflecting on what’s happened.”
Others cautioned against reading too much into Mr. Putin’s statements. “It would be a mistake on our part to look at what he’s saying and think this crisis is almost over: ‘O.K., we’ve lost Crimea, but the rest of the country is with us,’ ” said Ivo Daalder, Mr. Obama’s first ambassador to NATO and now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
He said Crimea would become a precedent: “Crimea is a big deal. It means a country can be invaded, and a big piece of it can be taken away with no price. But two, this isn’t just about Crimea. This is about who is ultimately in control of Ukraine.”
The situation remained tense, as Obama administration officials moved forward with plans for sanctions that could be imposed by the United States and, they hoped, in conjunction with European allies. The administration is developing plans for actions that would escalate over time if Russia continued to leave forces in place in Crimea, an autonomous region of Ukraine.
Mr. Obama has authority to take several steps without new legislation from Congress. For starters, under a law called the Magnitsky Act, the State Department has already drafted a list of Russians tied to human rights abuses. The administration could promptly bar them from traveling to the United States, freeze any assets here and cut off their access to American banks.
The president also has the power under existing Syria sanctions to go after Russian individuals and institutions involved in sending arms to help President Bashar al-Assad crush the rebellion there. The administration had held back on such actions while trying to work with Russia to resolve Syria’s civil war, but if applied they could cut off certain Russian banks from the international financial system.
Mr. Obama could also sign an executive order creating another set of sanctions specifically against Russian officials and organizations blamed for creating instability in Ukraine and violating its sovereignty. In theory, that could include everyone up to Mr. Putin, but officials indicated that they would instead work their way up the chain of command.
Leaders in Europe, a region dependent on Russian natural gas and with far deeper economic ties to Russia, have expressed reluctance to go along with the toughest sanctions.
But an American order declaring a Russian bank in violation would be sent to banks around the world, forcing them to cut ties with that Russian institution or risk being barred from doing business with the American financial sector.
“My view is that Russia can be forced out of Crimea with the combination of financial sanctions plus straightforward hard diplomacy,” said Anders Aslund, a longtime specialist on Russia and Ukraine at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.
Still, others are more dubious, noting that Mr. Obama may not be willing to go as far as necessary without the support of allies, particularly given that it would presumably jeopardize Russian cooperation on a range of issues, including Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Middle East peace.
The precedent may be Abkhazia and South Ossetia, pro-Moscow regions that broke away from the former Soviet republic of Georgia. After Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008, the Kremlin defied the United States and the rest of the world by recognizing their independence and left troops in place to guarantee it. The United States and Europe ultimately resumed doing business as usual with Russia.
Mr. Obama’s aides said that Ukraine was different and that they had a hard time imagining going back to a normal relationship as long as Russian troops occupied Crimea. Their first priority is preventing Russia from annexing the peninsula outright, but even leaving it as an enclave under Moscow’s control would not be acceptable, they said.
White House officials said they saw three possibilities. The first would be a Russian escalation into eastern Ukraine, one they hope Mr. Putin was signaling he would not pursue. The second would be Russia deciding to stay put in Crimea, either through annexation or through de facto rule. The third would be Russia taking what American officials call an offramp, agreeing to let international monitors replace Russian troops in the streets to guard against any attacks on Russian speakers and accepting the Ukrainian government that emerges from the May elections.
Mr. Obama said Tuesday that he recognized that Russia had natural interests in its neighbor. But he said he would not accept what he called a violation of international law.
“I know President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations,” he said, “but I don’t think that’s fooling anybody.”
Mr. Obama added that Ukrainians should have the right to determine their own fate. “Mr. Putin can throw a lot of words out there, but the facts on the ground indicate that right now he’s not abiding by that principle,” he said. “There is still the opportunity for Russia to do so, working with the international community to help stabilize the situation.”
The tensions over Ukraine eased somewhat after President Vladimir Putin of Russia halted military maneuvers on the Ukrainian border and declared at a news conference on Tuesday that there was no immediate need to send troops into eastern Ukraine. The conciliatory talk prompted Russian financial markets to rebound from their plunge on Monday. The markets reward peaceful behavior.
But the crisis is not over: Russia remains in control of Crimea, and Mr. Putin prepared the way for possible annexation of the peninsula to Russia when he said it was up to Crimean citizens, a majority of whom are Russian-speaking, to determine their future. The question remains what the United States and the European Union should or can do.
The Ukrainian crisis has provoked a broad range of reactions in the West, including angry demands for immediate sanctions against Russia and charges in the United States that President Obama is somehow “losing” in the confrontation to Mr. Putin and thus endangering Washington’s credibility and global leadership. Yet leadership and credibility in a crisis mean reacting coolly and rationally, not rattling sabers, or rushing into economic warfare that allies may or may not support, or painting “red lines” that the other side can cross with impunity.
A bully welcomes a slugfest, and Mr. Putin revels in claiming American conspiracies; at his news conference on Tuesday, he even described the battering to Russia’s markets on Monday as a result of American policies. But that battering and the decline of the value of the ruble were no doubt major factors behind Mr. Putin’s conciliatory tone on Tuesday.
The Russian economy is not in great shape, and Russian businessmen understand full well that the $60 billion wiped off the value of their firms on Monday was because of a needless crisis.
Mr. Putin and his countrymen must be reminded, again and again, that seizing Crimea under a blatantly concocted pretext, or taking other measures against the new authorities in Ukraine, will carry a price.
Short of war, there is little the United States can do on its own to punish Russia. It is not among Russia’s major trading partners. Europe, which does far more business with Russia, has more leverage, but also a dependence on Russian gas, and, so far, European leaders have shown little enthusiasm for economic sanctions.
The measures that have been suggested — exclusion from the Group of 8, selective sanctions and travel bans — would not alone cause much pain. But the consequences of isolation take a toll over time. With every new demonstration of Mr. Putin’s authoritarian and expansionary tendencies, whether it was the invasion of Georgia in 2008 or the imprisonment of the Pussy Riot members in 2012, the West has become more wary of doing business with Russia. In a conversation with Mr. Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said she was unsure whether Mr. Putin was in touch with reality. That, from the leader of Europe’s most powerful economy and one of Russia’s biggest trading partners, cannot be heartening for Mr. Putin, and certainly not for Russian businessmen.
These are exactly the buttons Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are pushing — threatening further isolation if Mr. Putin does not back down, and cooperation if he does, while rallying allies and pledging substantial assistance to the new authorities in Ukraine.
Closing the door to any further dealings with Mr. Putin, as hard-core cold-warriors want Mr. Obama to do, would not serve any purpose. Russia has already announced that it is ending discounts on the sale of Russian gas to Ukraine, and it could make life even more difficult for its bankrupt neighbor. But at his news conference, Mr. Putin said he felt a sympathy for the longing of the Kiev crowds to throw out a corrupt regime, and he insisted that Russian and Ukrainian soldiers “will be on the same side of the barricades.”
If he meant all that, then he must agree that the optimal conclusion to the crisis would be the election of a balanced Parliament and a universally accepted president in Ukraine, which would also reassure Russians that their ties to Ukraine, including Crimea, won’t be severed.
The United States and its European allies must prepare contingency plans for any escalation of Russian aggression or for the unilateral annexation of Crimea. The Europeans will have to overcome their reluctance on sanctions and form a common front with the United States. But, at the same time, they should reassure Mr. Putin that the West appreciates Russia’s historic ties to Ukraine and has no interest in turning Kiev against Moscow. So far, Mr. Obama is on the right track.
Just as we’ve turned the coverage of politics into sports, we’re doing the same with geopolitics. There is much nonsense being written about how Vladimir Putin showed how he is “tougher” than Barack Obama and how Obama now needs to demonstrate his manhood. This is how great powers get drawn into the politics of small tribes and end up in great wars that end badly for everyone. We vastly exaggerate Putin’s strength — so does he — and we vastly underestimate our own strength, and ability to weaken him through nonmilitary means.
Let’s start with Putin. Any man who actually believes, as Putin has said, that the breakup of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century is caught up in a dangerous fantasy that can’t end well for him or his people. The Soviet Union died because Communism could not provide rising standards of living, and its collapse actually unleashed boundless human energy all across Eastern Europe and Russia. A wise Putin would have redesigned Russia so its vast human talent could take advantage of all that energy. He would be fighting today to get Russia into the European Union, not to keep Ukraine out. But that is not who Putin is and never will be. He is guilty of the soft bigotry of low expectations toward his people and prefers to turn Russia into a mafia-run petro-state — all the better to steal from.
So Putin is now fighting human nature among his own young people and his neighbors — who both want more E.U. and less Putinism. To put it in market terms, Putin is long oil and short history. He has made himself steadily richer and Russia steadily more reliant on natural resources rather than its human ones. History will not be kind to him — especially if energy prices ever collapse.
So spare me the Putin-body-slammed-Obama prattle. This isn’t All-Star Wrestling. The fact that Putin has seized Crimea, a Russian-speaking zone of Ukraine, once part of Russia, where many of the citizens prefer to be part of Russia and where Russia has a major naval base, is not like taking Poland. I support economic and diplomatic sanctions to punish Russia for its violation of international norms and making clear that harsher sanctions, even military aid for Kiev, would ensue should Putin try to bite off more of Ukraine. But we need to remember that that little corner of the world is always going to mean more, much more, to Putin than to us, and we should refrain from making threats on which we’re not going to deliver.
What disturbs me about Crimea is the larger trend it fits into, that Putinism used to just be a threat to Russia but is now becoming a threat to global stability. I opposed expanding NATO toward Russia after the Cold War, when Russia was at its most democratic and least threatening. It remains one of the dumbest things we’ve ever done and, of course, laid the groundwork for Putin’s rise.
For a long time, Putin has exploited the humiliation and anti-Western attitudes NATO expansion triggered to gain popularity, but this seems to have become so fundamental to his domestic politics that it has locked him into a zero-sum relationship with the West that makes it hard to see how we collaborate with him in more serious trouble spots, like Syria or Iran. President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is engaged in monstrous, genocidal behavior that also threatens the stability of the Middle East. But Putin stands by him. At least half the people of Ukraine long to be part of Europe, but he treated that understandable desire as a NATO plot and quickly resorted to force.
I don’t want to go to war with Putin, but it is time we expose his real weakness and our real strength. That, though, requires a long-term strategy — not just fulminating on “Meet the Press.” It requires going after the twin pillars of his regime: oil and gas. Just as the oil glut of the 1980s, partly engineered by the Saudis, brought down global oil prices to a level that helped collapse Soviet Communism, we could do the same today to Putinism by putting the right long-term policies in place. That is by investing in the facilities to liquefy and export our natural gas bounty (provided it is extracted at the highest environmental standards) and making Europe, which gets 30 percent of its gas from Russia, more dependent on us instead. I’d also raise our gasoline tax, put in place a carbon tax and a national renewable energy portfolio standard — all of which would also help lower the global oil price (and make us stronger, with cleaner air, less oil dependence and more innovation).
You want to frighten Putin? Just announce those steps.
But you know the story, the tough guys in Washington who want to take on Putin would rather ask 1 percent of Americans — the military and their families — to make the ultimate sacrifice than have all of us make a small sacrifice in the form of tiny energy price increases. Those tough guys who thump their chests in Congress but run for the hills if you ask them to vote for a 10-cent increase in the gasoline tax that would actually boost our leverage, they’ll never rise to this challenge. We’ll do anything to expose Putin’s weakness; anything that isn’t hard. And you wonder why Putin holds us in contempt?
Meet The First Carbon-Neutral Hotel Group In The World, And Why Your Business Should Take Notice.
In an interview with Kirsten Brøchner of the Arthur Hotel Group in Copenhagen, Denmark, we discussed their journey to become the first carbon-neutral hotel group in the world, and how their 5-point climate action plan is not only good for the planet, but good for business.
Rahim Kanani: Tell me a little bit about the founding of Brøchner Hotels and the resulting Arthur Hotels group. Also, where did the desire to put sustainability at the core of the organization come from?
Kirsten Brøchner: Brøchner Hotels has been a family owned and family run business from day one in 1982. First by my parents, with my assistance, and later with the help of my brother. Until June 2013, Brøchner Hotels consisted of four hotels, but due to a generational change and different visions in management, my brother and I separated the company into two independent companies, and I thereby formed the Arthur Hotel group consisting of Hotel Kong Arthur and Ibsens Hotel.
Being climate-friendly was and is my mission, and this is why we continue our efforts for a greener planet with Arthur Hotels. I have been asked the question about why I have this desire to put sustainability at the core of the organization many times, and I have come to the conclusion that the reason must be found in the story of my upbringing. My family consists mainly of entrepreneurs and healthcare personnel—hospital professors, doctors and nurses—so I have always been inspired by both the desire to see new projects blossom and the desire to care for others. Quite a good combination when running a hotel group, when thinking about it. My philosophy has always been that if you value ethics highly in your business, the money will follow automatically.
When the climate debate began to rise, this immediately caught my attention. I found it important to take action, and this is why I decided that despite the hotel group being a very small player in the market, I believed we could make a difference and hopefully encourage others to make a difference as well. I am aware that we in my company cannot make a big change alone, but hopefully we could set an example, which we have done.
Kanani: What did it take to become the first carbon-neutral hotel group in the world, and what challenges did you have to overcome to achieve such a feat?
Brøchner: I felt that we as a corporation had a co-responsibility for climate change and that we therefore had to take action. We investigated and discussed what to do, and I discovered that with the Kyoto Protocol, all parties committed were allotted the right to emit a certain amount of carbon. If emissions were not utilized, because an energy producer had converted their energy production into a more climate-friendly solution, these emissions could be sold via the European Union Emissions Trading System. I figured that if we bought some of these surplus energy offsets and destroyed them, and took them off the market, these emissions would not be utilized. Further, by buying these offsets we would also financially support these energy producers that had invested in alternative production methods. Finally, if buying and destroying offsets corresponding to the amount of carbon that our hotels emit, we would be able to neutralize our total energy consumption.
We then took the investigation one step further and researched what other businesses and hotels had done, and we discovered that we, by doing this, would become the first carbon neutral hotel group, which was confirmed by the international hotel organization IH&RA. However, it was nearly impossible to find out how to buy these offsets, as they were only available for energy companies. I talked to a lot of people, ministries, government boards and others, spending a lot of time to investigate this. Suddenly, I came in contact with the small, Danish, independent, climate-friendly energy company Modstrøm, who offered to sell energy offsets via them. Ever since, we have bought energy offsets equalling our annual carbon emission at the hotels based on electricity, heat and linen consumption. This was how we were able to call ourselves the first carbon neutral hotel in the world.
Besides buying offsets, we have changed our whole mindset in the company, investigating all details on how we can be climate-friendly in every corner of the company. And we have done this by creating a 5 step climate plan that we have followed since 2008. As the offsets market have lost value, we are thinking about what we can do next. But due to the recent creation of Arthur Hotels, we must be realistic and I must admit that this will take time if we want to present a new thought-through initiative and thereby make an even bigger impact. Nevertheless, our 5-step climate plan is still ruling.
The challenges with the offset system were not the only challenges we faced. I had a lot of ideas that were not realized, unfortunately. For instance, I wanted to set up a climate school for companies with training courses for employees, teaching them how to choose the green option at work and at home. One example is when boiling water for tea—only boiling the water needed, so energy is not wasted on boiling extra. Or eating more light than dark meat, as the production of beef is more harmful to the environment than the production of poultry. Unfortunately, none of the many government agencies I asked for help were interested in supporting the idea.
Through the years, I have met the Minister of Climate several times and have discussed my ideas. I have asked for more public information on how to choose green in the supermarket. How are we supposed to know, from a green perspective, what is best to buy: tomatoes grown in Danish greenhouses, or organic tomatoes transported from Spain? In my opinion, the government should create a system with which the average consumer will be able to understand how to shop with a carbon-minimizing mindset in the supermarket. I have also suggested the Minister carry out a governmental plan to help both citizens and companies finance the building of houses or renovation projects carried through by using alternative energy sources—giving people access to “cheap money”. Unfortunately, these are challenges I have yet to overcome.
Kanani: What are some of the details to your 5-step climate plan?
Brøchner: As of 2008, our plan is as follows:
1. CO2 neutralization now and in the future. 2. Create energy savings. 3. Involve guests. 4. Establish a CO2 neutral hotel network. 5. Collaborate with climate networks/alliances including climate friendly suppliers.
We have made many small adjustments such as changing to more energy-friendly sources when it comes to light bulbs, heating centrals, guest amenities, groceries and other items and always choose as green as possible when introducing new products. We bought electric cars for our guests to rent, and we have charging stations at Hotel Kong Arthur for guests arriving by electric car.
The biggest change must be the reduction of our linen consumption by 22 per cent. Reducing our linen consumption means, from a green perspective, that less laundry detergent, which is harmful to the environment, is used, energy consumption from the washing machines is reduced, the transport of linen to and from the hotel is reduced, which reduces carbon emission from the transport and so on. And all of this is due to a simple idea put forth by one of our maids: instead of leaving all towels visible in the bathrooms, we leave some of the towels in the cupboard with a cute hand-written post-it message on the bathroom mirror inviting the guest to help us protect the environment by only using the towels needed – and if needed, more towels are available in the cupboard.
Of other ways we are enacting out a climate-friendly agenda is by collaborating with suppliers supporting the green initiative. A green chain collaboration so to speak. We buy primarily organic food products and bread, and actually our organic bread supplier, the bakery “Det Rene Brød”, even bought electric cars to deliver the bread to us after having seen our own. We have reduced transportation by, for instance, having milk delivered every other day instead of every day. And all of these great initiatives are based on ideas from employees in the company. Whenever someone gets a new climate-friendly idea, we discuss it and see if we can implement it.
Kanani: The city of Copenhagen intends to become carbon neutral by 2025—the first goal of its kind in the world. Were you inspired by the city’s ambition, or was the city inspired by yours?
Brøchner: This is a difficult question. When the Municipality of Copenhagen launched their Climate+ campaign, which has now resulted in the goal of becoming the world’s first carbon neutral city, we were appointed Climate+ Frontrunner, and I gave a speech at the opening ceremony. But I will say that the city’s ambition and our ambition were two parallel stories or processes. And I am very happy that the city and we share the same ambition, because it is only by working together towards the same goal that we can make a difference.
Kanani: Is pursuing a sustainable and climate-friendly agenda good for business?
Brøchner: Definitely. And in several ways. First, in relation to the market, being sustainable has always been good for us as a small player, as we have achieved great attention. Not only do we receive great media coverage, but it has also meant that we have expanded our client portfolio. Before becoming carbon neutral, it was difficult for us to attract the attention of big companies. However, a few years ago, the Danish government passed a law demanding that all medium-sized and large corporations in their annual accounts report their CSR accounting. These companies are welcome to report that they do not do anything at all, but who wants to write that? So when this law was passed, this definitely put pressure on, for instance, these companies’ green chain collaborations which meant that suddenly international companies like Novo Nordisk wanted us as their hotel partner.
Second, there is no doubt that being sustainable has an economical advantage for all types of businesses. Saving energy for instance also means saving money.
Third, thinking and acting green also has an impact on the company internally. When making an effort for good causes such as protecting our planet, companies will automatically attract the passionate fireballs who want to be part of that company, contributing to the good cause. In this way, sustainability is sustainable; it becomes a positive impact causal loop.
Fourth, being sustainable has had a great impact on me personally. These efforts have expanded my network. Suddenly, I was having dinner with Nobel Pease Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. I have met so many inspiring and creative people throughout this process, and continue to do so—people who have helped me develop my business in many creative ways. I believe that inviting innovation inside is always good for business.
The Obama Administration’s EPA finally takes an honest look at the Gasoline used in the US and at cleaner air by toughening auto-mobile emission rules.
E.P.A. Set to Reveal Tough New Sulfur Emissions Rule.
By CORAL DAVENPORT, The New York Times,
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency plans to unveil a major new regulation on Monday that forces oil refiners to strip out sulfur, a smog-forming pollutant linked to respiratory disease, from American gasoline blends, according to people familiar with the agency’s plans.
When burned in gasoline, sulfur blocks pollution-control equipment in vehicle engines, which increases tailpipe emissions linked to lung disease, asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, aggravated heart disease and premature births and deaths. Proponents of the rule say it will be President Obama’s most significant public health achievement in his second term, but opponents, chiefly oil refiners, say it is unnecessarily costly and an unfair burden on them.
The E.P.A. estimates that the new rule will drastically reduce soot and smog in the United States, and thus rates of diseases associated with those pollutants, while slightly raising the price of both gasoline and cars. The rule will require oil refiners to install expensive new equipment to clean sulfur out of gasoline and force automakers to install new, cleaner-burning engine technology.
E.P.A. officials estimate that the new regulation will raise the cost of gasoline by about two-thirds of one cent per gallon and add about $75 to the sticker price of cars. But oil refiners say that it will cost their industry $10 billion and raise gasoline costs by up to 9 cents per gallon.
The E.P.A.’s studies conclude that by 2030, the cleaner-burning gasoline will yield between $6.7 billion and $19 billion annually in economic benefits by saving lives and preventing missed work and school days due to illness. The agency estimates that, annually, the new rule will prevent between 770 and 2,000 premature deaths; 2,200 hospital admissions and asthma-related emergency room visits; 19,000 asthma attacks, 30,000 cases of symptoms of respiratory symptoms in children, and 1.4 million lost school and work days.
“There is no other regulatory strategy that is as important from a health standpoint, in the foreseeable future,” said S. William Becker, director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. Until now, the sulfur content standards in American gasoline lagged far behind those used in the European Union, Japan and South Korea. The new rule will close that pollution gap by cutting American gasoline sulfur content by more than 60 percent, from 30 parts per million of sulfur down to 10 parts per million, starting in 2017.
The cleaner gasoline standard has been years in the making. Mr. Obama asked the E.P.A. to create the rule in a 2010 presidential memorandum, and public health and environmental advocates lobbied the agency vigorously to complete it. It is the most recent in a cascade of aggressive air pollution regulations that have emerged as a hallmark of the Obama administration.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, the forthcoming gasoline rule was a hotly contested political target. Republicans criticized it as an example of what they called the Obama administration’s regulatory overreach.
But since the presidential election, some Republicans have said they welcome the rule. Gov. Gary R. Herbert of Utah, a conservative Republican, said that because of mountain weather patterns, tailpipe smog is often trapped around Salt Lake City, giving his state many days with “gunky air that rivals L.A.”
Mr. Herbert said the new rule would help clean up his state’s air. “We’ve got to find a way to eliminate that with cleaner fuels and cleaner autos,” he said in an interview. “Dirty air is not a partisan issue. The fact that we have technology that’s available — cleaner burning fuels, cleaner burning autos — we ought to embrace that.”
The new rule will have a significant impact on the health of low-income Americans who live near major highways, said Dr. Al Rizzo, a pulmonologist at Christiana Care Health System in Newark, Del., and a former chairman of the American Lung Association’s board of directors. “The population that lives close to highways, that has the greatest exposure to these pollutants, air quality makes a big difference for them,” Dr. Rizzo said.
But oil refiners say that the new rule will hurt their industry.
Charles T. Drevna, president of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, which lobbies for the oil refining industry, said that the rule comes on top of a series of other burdensome regulations. A decade ago, American gasoline contained 300 parts per million of sulfur, but earlier rules required refiners to cut the sulfur content by 90 percent, down to the current 30 parts per million.
Mr. Drevna said it was easier to comply with the earlier regulations because removing the first 90 percent of sulfur molecules from gasoline can be done without difficulty. Wringing the last 10 percent of those molecules is harder.
“They’re tough little buggers that don’t want to come out,” Mr. Drevna said. “It’s like getting the last little bit of red wine stain out of a white blouse.”
Asked about the E.P.A.’s estimate that the rule would raise prices at the pump by less than a penny a gallon, Mr. Drevna laughed out loud. “I don’t know what model E.P.A. uses,” he said. “The math doesn’t add up.” His industry’s estimate that the rule could raise gasoline prices by up to 9 cents a gallon comes from a study by the American Petroleum Institute, which lobbies for oil companies.
Not all industries oppose the regulation. Although the auto industry estimates that the rule will cost automakers about $15 billion over 10 years, Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, whose members include General Motors, Ford and Toyota, said her group had worked closely with the Obama administration to develop the regulation, and does not oppose it.
That is in part, she said, because complying with the new clean-gasoline regulation will help automakers more easily meet another set of Obama administration regulations, tightening vehicle fuel economy standards.
“We understand that this is the trend, to get cars cleaner and cleaner,” Ms. Bergquist said. “Our engineers are prepared to work for it.”
FROM COHA – The Washington DC based Council on Hemispheric Affairs.
Photo Source: AP.
NOW IT IS THE TIME FOR A WASHINGTON—CARACAS DIALOG, NOT SANCTIONS.
By: Larry Birns, Director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs; Frederick B. Mills, Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs and Professor of Philosophy at Bowie State University.
February 28, 2014
At a time when Washington ought to seize upon overtures from Caracas for the re-establishment of full diplomatic relations and direct talks, the champions of the antiquated embargo against Cuba in the Senate are calling for sanctions against Venezuela. Such an approach to diplomacy with Venezuela would be detrimental to the development of a more constructive and mutually respectful US policy towards the region. Now is the time for a Washington—Caracas dialog, not sanctions.
Democratic Senator Bob Menéndez and Republican Senator Marco Rubio have introduced a proposed resolution in the Senate that would call on the Obama administration to study sanctions against Venezuela. The sanctions would be aimed at punishing “the violent repression suffered by pacific protesters” by targeting individual Venezuelan government officials. Of course, any state actors responsible for the repression of pacific demonstrations ought to be held accountable not only in Venezuela, but anywhere in the world. Indeed, the Venezuelan government is already taking steps to address this. The problem with the resolution is that it reflects a very myopic view of political violence in that nation. It also reflects an unproductive approach to diplomacy towards Venezuela as well as the region.
Not all demonstrations have been pacific. A significant amount of the violent demonstrations are ostensively anti- government. The “exit” strategy being sought after by the ultra-right in Venezuela has generated violent anti-government demonstrations that have called for regime change through extra constitutional means. In other words, through a coup or by creating the escalating violence on the ground that might provoke a coup or an international intervention.
No doubt opposition demonstrators are not a homogeneous group and many prescribe to non-violent means of protesting. Yet it is indisputable that elements of anti-government protests, using the slogans of “exit,” have deployed incendiary bombs, rocks, guns, barricades, wire, and other instruments of violence against government and public property as well as people, resulting in injuries and death. But those who have resorted to violence are most often portrayed in the press as responding to repression, as if the government has no legitimate recourse in response to violent attacks on persons and property. To be sure, violence is generally condemned by the State Department, but accountability is selectively applied predominantly to government actors.
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs has been calling for a change of course in US policy towards Venezuela and the rest of the region based on mutual respect and dialog, not imperial intervention and subordination.
It was Caracas that instigated the tit for tat after the expulsion of consular officials, and COHA called the expulsion of US consular officials into question at the time. But now President Maduro has proposed a new ambassador to the US and direct talks with the Obama administration. The State Department has also, on occasion, expressed an openness to rapprochement, so now is the time to seize the moment, not wait to see which way the political winds will blow in Venezuela.
There is obviously a great ideological divide between nations that prescribe to some version of neoliberalism and those engaging in various experiments in 21st century socialism. Yet such differences need not translate into either hard or soft wars. At the January CELAC meeting in Cuba, the member states, despite their political differences, figured out a way to declare all of Latin America a region of peace and mutual respect. Meanwhile, there is a national peace conference underway in Caracas, called by the government, that commenced two days ago and includes an increasingly broad spectrum of opinion in the opposition, and seeks to overcome the boycott of the MUD. This will take a pull back against war and for political competition through the ballot box.
Surely, in this context, there is room for Washington-Caracas diplomacy. Rather than impose sanctions on Venezuela, Washington ought to accept the proposed Venezuelan ambassador and enter into a dialog with Caracas based on mutual respect and the common goal of regional peace and human development.
Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution.
*Full house for February’s Sustainability Event. A standing-room only crowd enthusiastically engaged in a presentation by Ron Gonen, NYC Deputy Commissioner for Recycling.
Gonen stressed that it is possible for NYC to divert all but 18% of waste from landfills. He explained both the economic and environmental benefits of intensive recycling, and the planning for future residential and commercial composting. To get composting in your building or neighborhood, ask your city councilmember to contact the Sanitation Dept (firstname.lastname@example.org). Other presenters included: Brooklyn College Professor Brett Branco, who stressed sustainable use of phosphorous, a finite resource for agriculture; Elizabeth Balkan, a senior policy advisor to Mayor de Blasio, who talked about how the new city law requiring commercial food waste recycling will be rolled out; and Vandra Thorburn, who established Vokashi, a unique composting service using the Japanese method of fermenting organic matter and returning it to the earth. There was much enthusiastic discussion.
Chesapeake Climate Action Network
*On the Bus to Baltimore. On February 20th, about 30 activists, including a number of Sierra Club members, got on a bus at 7:00 in NYC, picking up another 10-15 at two New Jersey stops, to join a rally against an LNG export facility in Cove Point, Marylandon the Chesapeake Bay. Dominion Resources which built an import facility there, wants to break its agreement to set aside wetlands and build an export facility on those wetlands. The demonstration was spirited and the speakers, including Sierra Club’s Josh Tulkin, were inspiring. The Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Jr. (see picture) made a strong case to the environmental justice aspect of this issue, see picture right. For more pictures, see here.
Divestment Forum Panelists
*Fossil Fuel Stock Divestment is a movement that is quickly gathering steam on campuses across the country. While still principally on campuses, it is moving into city and state governments. Six speakers at a February 26th “Divestment Open House” at the Ethical Culture Society discussed the divestment movement from a variety of perspectives. Sierra Club’s Lisa DiCaprio (far left in photo), spoke about how successful divestment efforts might shift the way investors view the value of fossil fuel investments, making them less attractive. The presentations were followed by a lively Q&A session with the audience.
With Russia growling over the downfall of its ally running Ukraine and still protecting its murderous ally running Syria, there is much talk that we’re returning to the Cold War — and that the Obama team is not up to defending our interests or friends. I beg to differ. I don’t think the Cold War is back; today’s geopolitics are actually so much more interesting than that. And I also don’t think President Obama’s caution is entirely misplaced.
The Cold War was a unique event that pitted two global ideologies, two global superpowers, each with globe-spanning nuclear arsenals and broad alliances behind them. Indeed, the world was divided into a chessboard of red and black, and who controlled each square mattered to each side’s sense of security, well-being and power. It was also a zero-sum game, in which every gain for the Soviet Union and its allies was a loss for the West and NATO, and vice versa.
That game is over. We won. What we have today is the combination of an older game and a newer game. The biggest geopolitical divide in the world today “is between those countries who want their states to be powerful and those countries who want their people to be prosperous,” argues Michael Mandelbaum, professor of foreign policy at Johns Hopkins.
The first category would be countries like Russia, Iran and North Korea, whose leaders are focused on building their authority, dignity and influence through powerful states. And because the first two have oil and the last has nukes that it can trade for food, their leaders can defy the global system and survive, if not thrive — all while playing an old, traditional game of power politics to dominate their respective regions.
The second category, countries focused on building their dignity and influence through prosperous people, includes all the countries in Nafta, the European Union, and the Mercosur trade bloc in Latin America and Asean in Asia. These countries understand that the biggest trend in the world today is not a new Cold War but the merger of globalization and the information technology revolution. They are focused on putting in place the right schools, infrastructure, bandwidth, trade regimes, investment openings and economic management so more of their people can thrive in a world in which every middle-class job will require more skill and the ability to constantly innovate will determine their standard of living. (The true source of sustainable power.)
But there is also now a third and growing category of countries, which can’t project power or build prosperity. They constitute the world of “disorder.” They are actually power and prosperity sinks because they are consumed in internal fights over primal questions like: Who are we? What are our boundaries? Who owns which olive tree? These countries include Syria, Libya, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Congo and other hot spots. While those nations focused on state power do play in some of these countries — Russia and Iran both play in Syria — the states that are more focused on building prosperity are trying to avoid getting too involved in the world of disorder. Though ready to help mitigate humanitarian tragedies there, they know that when you “win” one of these countries in today’s geopolitical game, all you win is a bill.
Ukraine actually straddles all three of these trends. The revolution there happened because the government was induced by Russia, which wants to keep Ukraine in its sphere of influence, into pulling out of a trade agreement with the European Union — an agreement favored by the many Ukrainians focused on building a prosperous people. This split has also triggered talk of separatism by the more Russian-speaking and Russian-oriented eastern part of Ukraine.
So what do we do? The world is learning that the bar for U.S. intervention abroad is being set much higher. This is due to a confluence of the end of the Soviet Union’s existential threat, the experience of investing too many lives and $2 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan to little lasting impact, America’s rising energy independence, our intelligence successes in preventing another 9/11 and the realization that to fix what ails the most troubled countries in the world of disorder is often beyond our skill set, resources or patience.
In the Cold War, policy-making was straightforward. We had “containment.” It told us what to do and at almost any price. Today, Obama’s critics say he must do “something” about Syria. I get it. Chaos there can come around to bite us. If there is a policy that would fix Syria, or even just stop the killing there, in a way that was self-sustaining, at a cost we could tolerate and not detract from all the things we need to do at home to secure our own future, I’m for it.
But we should have learned some lessons from our recent experience in the Middle East: First, how little we understand about the social and political complexities of the countries there; second, that we can — at considerable cost — stop bad things from happening in these countries but cannot, by ourselves, make good things happen; and third, that when we try to make good things happen we run the risk of assuming the responsibility for solving their problems, a responsibility that truly belongs to them.
Sent: Sunday, February 21, 2014 12:37 PM Subject: Fwd: FW: KERRY’S BROTHER CAMERON WRITES A LETTER
While we were traveling last week, an Israeli Knesset member accused my brother of anti-Semitism and a group of rabbis said he is waging “war on God.” I wrote this op-ed in response on the plane back; it appears (in Hebrew) in today’s Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s widest circulation paper. Since it discusses our trip, I thought it might interest you:
By Cameron Kerry
Last week at this time, I was in Terezin, Czech Republic, at the 18th Century fortress where the Nazis gathered Jews from Czechoslovakia, Austria,Germany, and other countries for the tragic journey to death camps further east. I joined a group from the Boston synagogue, of which my wife is the lay head, in traveling to Europe to celebrate Torah scrolls miraculously saved from Czech synagogues during World War II and restored 50 years ago. Both of my daughters became a Bat Mitzvah reading from a scroll rescued from the Bohemian town of Blatna, from which 26 Jews were transported to Terezin and none survived.
At Terezin, I walked along the banks of Ohre River and joined other members of our temple in saying Kaddish at the place where the Nazis poured out the cremated remains of some 22,000 inmates who died at Terezin. These presumably included the remains of my paternal great-uncle Otto Lowe, who died at Terezin in 1942. He, along with his sister Jenni, was transported to Terezin in 1942. Jenni was soon sent to die at Treblinka.
These experiences and their deeply personal meaning for my family make it all the more disturbing that some have recently suggested that my brother, John Kerry, had expressed “anti-Semitic undertones” in his pursuit of a framework for negotiations, and some even suggested that he “has declared war on God.” Such charges would be ridiculous if they were not so vile.
My family’s experience with anti-Semitism and oppression runs deep. On another visit to the Czech Republic last fall, I visited the town where my grandfather Frederick Kerry was born Fritz Kohn. A few years before emigrating to America, while serving in the military, my grandfather converted from Judaism to Catholicism because of anti-Semitism in the ranks. In memory — and in honor — of the Kohns, I planted a tree in my grandfather’s town.
This experience is not limited to the side of the family with Jewish roots. My mother – a Bostonian – was living in Paris training to become a nurse when World War II broke out, and she was among the mass of refugees who escaped the city in front of the Nazis. The sister she left with was later interned for helping the resistance in the south of France, where her activities included helping Jewish families get out of the country. My grandparents’ home was occupied by the Nazis and later destroyed by them because it offered an artillery spotting post in battles with Patton’s army.
All this is part of my brother John Kerry’s DNA. His earliest memory is of holding our mother’s hand as, soon after the war, she walked in tears viewing the ruins of that house. With my father serving his country in the State Department, our family took up a posting in Berlin with bombed, burned out, and shot-up buildings still visible across Europe. My brother embraced my own conversion to Judaism when I got married. He has been part of our family mitzvot. He was present when my daughters read from the Blatna scroll and helped to raise the chairs in which they were paraded on the dance floor.
I recall when he came home from his first visit to Israel with friends from the Boston Jewish community, more than thirty years ago as a young Senator: he spoke vividly of flying an Israeli military jet over the country and realizing how it was possible to cross the country in a matter of moments. Today, his determined work on Middle East peace is informed by an abiding sense of the need to secure Israel as a home for the Jewish people. For years since that first visit, he has engaged passionately with a wide variety of leaders in Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and across the region to understand the way to peace. He also maintained a 100-percent pro-Israel voting record during his nearly three decades in the U.S. senate.
It is this deep involvement that has led to the conviction that Israel’s long-term security requires a two-state solution — that, in the face of the inexorable forces of security, demographics, and geography, Israel cannot sustain occupation of the West Bank and remain both democratic and Jewish. It is the same conclusion that such resolute defenders of Israel as Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon reached and that Prime Minister Netanyahu is confronting now.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Lieberman, and Ambassador Dermer were courageous in their defense of my brother’s motives. We can all debate the effectiveness of security measures, the delineation of borders, arrangements for East Jerusalem, and other real issues among the parties, but there is no truth and no good that can come by calling into question John Kerry’s good faith toward his own heritage. Israel and the Jewish people deserve better than that.
The White House Seder in April 2009. Lesser is fifth from President Obama’s right. (White House / Pete Souza)
Back in April 2008, Eric Lesser began what would become a White House tradition when he helped organize a seder for staffers on the Obama campaign trail. “We were feeling a little down because we realized it wouldn’t be possible to get home for Passover,” the 28-year-old recalled. “So we set up our makeshift seder in this windowless basement in the Sheraton in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and when we were down there getting ready to begin, all of a sudden Senator Obama popped his head in and said, ‘Is this where the seder is?’ and asked, ‘Can I join?’ It was actually a little funny, because we were planning to have a bit of a briefer version, but he was very interested in it, and so we went through almost the entire haggadah, which is much more than I had ever done with my own family.”
The seder became a yearly tradition for the Obama family, and Lesser would go on to serve as a special assistant to David Axelrod and later director of strategic planning for the Council of Economic Advisers. He was profiled–along with his weekly shabbat dinners with other young Obama administration staffers–in the New York Times, and then moved on to Harvard for law school, where he’d previously attended college. And just this week, he launched his own political career by announcing his candidacy for State Senate in Massachusetts.
Lesser casts his campaign as a community-building exercise, rather than a particularly partisan affair. “My family wasn’t very political per se, but was very community-oriented,” he explained. “I was very active in my synagogue in Springfield, MA., Sinai Temple. I was active in my synagogue youth group, which was a branch of NFTY. And that was one of my early paths into community work,” he said. One of Lesser’s first political acts was to work with his local community to successfully fight budget cuts for his high school in 2002. “I’m a proud Democrat, but I don’t particularly care if an idea comes from a Democrat, from a Republican, or from none of the above. My focus is on good ideas,” he said. “We didn’t even know what party the community members and the volunteers were, and we didn’t care. What we cared about was that we fought for a good idea.”
Both of Lesser’s parents worked their way through college in New York–his father as a taxi driver–and became professionals in Holyoke, MA. Lesser’s goal is “to give more families that kind of opportunity”–to enable others to live the success story of his own family’s rise into the middle class. At the moment, however, he is still in listening mode. He intends to release “a variety of new innovative policy proposals.” Until then, he’s demurring on hot button issues like the role of charter schools, which has split progressives across the country, and pitted his former boss President Obama against liberal leaders like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. “My goal now is to listen to people, and to make sure I’m hearing from all people in the district, regardless of party or position.”
In the end, Lesser’s hope for his political career is simple. “My background in Judaism is there’s no greater work than tikkun olam, and that’s always been a very strong part of my identity and my motivating force,” he said. “The idea is that you work in some small way to try to leave things a little better off than how you found them.”
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — President Obama on Tuesday ordered the development of tough new fuel standards for the nation’s fleet of heavy-duty trucks as part of what aides say will be an increasingly muscular and unilateral campaign to tackle climate change through the use of the president’s executive power.
The new regulations, to be drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department by March 2015 and completed a year later so they are in place before Mr. Obama leaves office, are the latest in a series of actions intended to cut back on greenhouse gases without the sort of comprehensive legislation the president failed to push through Congress in his first term.
The limits on greenhouse gas pollution from trucks would combine with previous rules requiring passenger cars and light trucks to burn fuel more efficiently and pending rules to limit the carbon emissions of power plants. Cumulatively, experts said the à la carte approach should enable Mr. Obama to meet his target of cutting carbon pollution in the United States by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. But they said he would still be far short of his goal of an 80 percent reduction by 2050.
“Improving gas mileage for these trucks is going to drive down our oil imports even further,” Mr. Obama said at a Safeway grocery distribution center here, flanked by a Peterbilt truck and Safeway and Coca-Cola cabs. “That reduces carbon pollution even more, cuts down on businesses’ fuel costs, which should pay off in lower prices for consumers. So it’s not just a win-win, it’s a win-win-win. We got three wins.”
Not everyone sees it that way. United States car and truck manufacturers have lobbied heavily against aggressive increases in federal fuel economy standards, saying that they could increase vehicle prices and diminish safety. More broadly, Republicans have said that the president should not single-handedly impose what they consider onerous requirements on vast swaths of the energy economy when Congress has opted against its own intervention.
The announcement was part of the President’s vow in his State of the Union address last month to advance his agenda “with or without Congress.” But while most of the actions taken since then have been relatively modest, like ordering a study of job training programs, one area where Mr. Obama both has the power to take more sweeping action and seems intent on using it is the environment.
In the case of carbon pollution, Mr. Obama has the legal authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act, which requires the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate any substance designated as a pollutant that harms or endangers human health. In 2009, the E.P.A. determined that carbon dioxide, emitted in large quantities from tailpipes and smokestacks, meets that definition.
While Mr. Obama effectively gave up on comprehensive climate legislation after it stalled in the Senate in his first term, aides said he saw climate change as an area where he could still shape his legacy. He recruited John D. Podesta, a former White House chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, to join his team as counselor in part to direct a more aggressive approach to the issue.
The administration has recently sought to elevate the issue. Two weeks ago officials announced creation of seven regional “climate hubs” to help farmers adapt to the impact of climate change, like drought and increased pests. Last week in California’s parched Central Valley, Mr. Obama announced a $1 billion “climate resiliency” fund for affected communities. Last weekend while in Jakarta, Secretary of State John Kerry urged Indonesia to sign a major climate treaty and directed American diplomatic missions to make climate change a top priority.
These accompany more assertive actions the administration is taking to reshape the American energy sector. In August the E.P.A. issued rules requiring automakers to double average fleet economy standards for passenger cars to 50.4 miles per gallon by 2025, which the administration said would cut carbon pollution from vehicles in half.
In September the E.P.A. proposed new rules cutting carbon pollution from future coal-fired power plants, a move that has effectively frozen construction of new coal plants. Mr. Obama has directed the E.P.A. to produce by June a draft regulation targeting existing coal plants, a deeply controversial move that could shutter hundreds of facilities.
“They have to do the actions at home to show the rest of the international community that they’re doing the actions they need the rest of the world to do,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, a Washington research organization.
But environmental advocates warn that the E.P.A. rules will be effective only if they withstand legal and legislative efforts to undo them, which is why they want Mr. Obama to be more energetic about selling them to the public. “If you make a push purely on the executive action front and you don’t back it up with measures to bolster public support, a lot of this can crumble under a new administration,” said Michael Levi, a climate change expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Specialists like Mr. Levi also note that no matter what the United States does on its own, it may not matter if Washington fails to persuade other nations, like China and India, to commit to similar actions, which is Mr. Kerry’s assignment.
In his speech here Tuesday, Mr. Obama said that heavy-duty trucks represent just 4 percent of all vehicles on American highways but generate 20 percent of the carbon pollution produced by the transportation sector.
Environmentalists applauded Mr. Obama’s move. Michelle Robinson, director of the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said improving fuel efficiency of heavy-duty trucks could reduce oil consumption by as much as one million barrels a day in 2035, more than the capacity of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
A coalition of shippers that stand to benefit from lower fuel costs, including FedEx, Wabash National Corporation and Waste Management Inc., welcomed the president’s action and released its own suggestions to shape the administration’s new regulations.
“This collaborative approach will result in realistic, achievable goals and an effective regulatory framework to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Douglas W. Stotlar, president of Con-way Inc., the nation’s third-largest freight company and a member of the coalition.
The American Trucking Association took a more cautious view, saying that it had worked with the administration on previous rules. “As we begin this new round of standards, A.T.A. hopes the administration will set forth a path that is both based on the best science and research available and economically achievable,” said Bill Graves, the association’s chief executive.
Mr. Obama pointed to what he called an emerging consensus. “If rivals like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola or U.P.S. and FedEx or AT&T and Verizon, if they can join together on this, then maybe Democrats and Republicans can do the same,” he said.
Peter Baker reported from Upper Marlboro, Md., and Coral Davenport from Washington.
They had a meeting on February 10th and want you to watch he video. They just do not want to know that we have a Global Warming phenomenon that does not allow us to continue gorging on oil and gas. All what the gluttons of CATO want to see is how the US can now export oil and gas and they make a lot of money by doing so – the hell with the World is what they mean to say.
Boom to Bust? How Export Restrictions Imperil America’s Oil and Gas Bonanza
Featuring James Bacchus, Former WTO Appellate Body Jurist and Former U.S. Congressman; Scott Lincicome, Cato Institute Adjunct Scholar and International Trade Attorney; and Mark Perry, Professor of Economics, University of Michigan–Flint, and American Enterprise Institute Scholar; moderated by Daniel Ikenson, Director, Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies, Cato Institute.
A once-in-a-generation supply shock is transforming global energy markets, lowering crude oil and natural gas prices, and quickly making the United States the world’s largest producer of oil and gas. But energy politics threatens to short-circuit this American economic boom. Of immediate concern are federal regulations — in particular, discretionary export-licensing systems for natural gas and crude oil — that were implemented during the 1970s, an era of energy scarcity. By restricting exports and subjecting approvals to the whims of politicians, the current licensing systems distort energy prices and deter investment and employment in these promising sectors of the U.S. economy. They also irritate global trading partners, likely violate U.S. trade treaty obligations, and undermine other U.S. policy objectives. Ernest Moniz, President Obama’s energy secretary, recently stated that these export restrictions are deserving of “some new analysis and examination in the context of… an energy world that is no longer like the 1970s.” Please join us at the Cato Institute for our examination of these issues.
Columbia Law School Climate Law Blog has posted a new item,
‘New Columbia Resource Tracks the President’s Climate Action Plan.’
On June 25, 2013, President Obama delivered a major speech on the topic of climate change. In it he outlined a broad policy agenda aimed at addressing the challenges posed by the changing climate. The agenda, detailed in The President’s Climate Action Plan, relies almost entirely upon executive powers; Congress is not even mentioned in [...]
You may view the latest post at blogs.law.columbia.edu/climatechange/2014/01/06/new-columbia-resource-tracks-the-presidents-climate-action-plan/
The State Department, in its final environmental review of the project, concluded that the pipeline, which would carry crude from the Alberta tar sands in Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf coast, would not – on its own – have a “significant” effect on carbon pollution.
The report acknowledged that crude from the tar sands was 17% more carbon intensive than conventional oil. But it said that did not mean that the project on its own would worsen climate change by expanding production from the tar sands.
“The approval or denial of any single given project is unlikely to significantly affect the extraction of the oil sands,” Kerri-Ann Jones, assistant secretary of state, said during a conference call with reporters.
The finding clears the way for President Barack Obama to approve a project that has became a highly charged symbol of the fight over North America’s energy future. But he is under no deadline. The State Department said that the environmental impact statement it released on Friday was not an automatic guarantee Keystone XL would be completed.
“It’s only part of what we need to look at in order to make this important decision,” Jones said. She said that the decision-making process would also examine issues of energy security, foreign policy and economic interests, along with climate change.
Eight government agencies and the public now have 90 days to weigh in on the project. Secretary of State John Kerry, who worked on climate change for years in the Senate, will also have a say. The final decision rests with Obama, who will determine whether Keystone XL is in the US national interest.
But after five years of wrangling and delays, it now appears increasingly likely that TransCanada will be able to build the pipeline.
“If anything I would hope we would see a shorter time frame rather than a longer time frame,” Russ Girling, TransCanada’s chief executive, told reporters. “My view is that the 90 days could be truncated significantly because I do believe that a lot of the inter-agency consultation has already taken place.”
Girling said it would take two full years to build the pipeline, once it had final approval.
The State Department, in Friday’s report, essentially concluded that Keystone would have little material effect on greenhouse gas emissions and that Canada would continue to develop and ship tar sands crude with or without the pipeline.
“Approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude at refineries in the United States,” the review said.
The review included models suggesting that transporting oil by rail would generate even more greenhouse gas emissions than a pipeline, and also discussed measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the pipeline.
“The facts do support this project. The science continues to show that this project can and will be built safely,” Girling said. “It will have a minimal effect on the environment and it will not significantly impact carbon emissions.”
The finding came as a bitter disappointment to environmental groups and some Democratic members of Congress, who had urged Obama to reject the pipeline.
“Even though the State Department continues to downplay clear evidence that the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to tar sands expansion and significantly worsen carbon pollution, it has, for the first time, acknowledged that the proposed project could accelerate climate change,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, a campaigner for the Natural Resources Defence Council.
“Piping the dirtiest oil on the planet through the heart of America would endanger our farms, our communities, our fresh water and our climate. This is absolutely not in our national interest.”
The campaign against Keystone XL has become a national movement over the last three years, with environmental activists, Nebraska landowners and hedge fund managers all coming out against the project. In 2012, Obama, under pressure from landowners concerned about underground water sources and sensitive prairie, rejected the first proposed route for the pipeline across Nebraska.
The White House continued to come under pressure from environmental campaigners. Former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer took out television ads on Tuesday, the night of Obama’s state of the union address, attacking Keystone XL, and other wealthy Democratic donors wrote open letters to the White House seeking to shut down the project.
The pipeline would eventually double the amount of crude oil being shipped from Alberta’s tar sands.
Industry groups and supporters said the project would help protect America’s energy supplies and provide jobs.
Republicans in Congress – joined by some Democrats in conservative or oil-producing states – put forward legislation to compel Obama to move on the pipeline. They also warned that rejection of Keystone XL would damage relations with Canada, which has lobbied hard for the project.
Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, built his economic strategy around natural resource extraction – despite its toll on the climate. The Canadian government, in a report to the United Nations last September, estimated its carbon emissions will soar 38% by 2030, largely because of the development of the tar sands.
Others argued that opponents had oversold the importance of Keystone XL as a contributor to future climate change. They said Obama’s commitment to cutting carbon pollution from power plants – the single biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions – would have a far greater impact on the climate.
Obama said last June that he would base his decision on the project’s carbon pollution impacts.
Some campaigners said they hoped Friday’s finding would still provide enough leeway for a refusal.
“The State Department has given Obama all the room he needs to do what he promised in both campaigns: to take serious steps against global warming,” said Bill McKibben, the co-founder of 350.org, which led the fight against the pipeline. “Now we’ll see if he’s good for his word.”
But Obama has been consistent in trying to move on climate change while expanding fossil fuel development, much to the frustration of campaigners who say the two policies are incompatible. In his state of the union address, Obama gave strong support to natural gas development, but made no mention of Keystone.
The State Department had conducted two earlier environmental reviews of the project. Last March, it found that if Obama rejected the pipeline Alberta crude would go to market by rail or other pipelines. But it revisited the issue under criticism from the Environmental Protection Agency, which said the early reviews had not been broad enough.
The State Department is awaiting a separate report from its inspector general, into allegations by environmental groups that a contractor’s review was biased because of connections to TransCanada and the oil industry.
“It seems like it’s been very influenced by industry and that’s highly problematic,” said Scott Parkin, senior campaigner at Rainforest Action Network.
Activists immediately called a series of protests against the decision.
Nearly 80,000 people have signed up to commit civil disobedience to stop approval of the pipeline, said Elijah Zarlin, senior campaign manager at Credo.
“If the State Department is recommending to the president that this is in the national interest, that would trigger action,” he said.
Three quarters through his Presidency Barack Obama still did not tackle the reasons of America’s decline – the fact that its economy is not based on independence that comes only when truly reaching to the sun – the global source of energy that is not under human stranglehold.
We find the speech lacking in what is really important – and it stressed instead the common, more acceptable thinking. That has not helped us sufficiently when compared to the Obama promise of 2008.
The human examples he presented to the Nation were not those who have managed to move the country despite the gridlock- instead we saw models of always honored old style dignity and patriotism.
Like every other review of the President’s speech’s vast sea of topics – we also will just pick for analysis only the topics closest to us – which is obviously the politics of energy and the global environment. But, also true to our style – I am including the full Obama speech with color codes that are reddish for basic policy, green for energy and environment, and bluish for security issues.
The Democrats say – FOLLOW PRESIDENT OBAMA’S LEAD!
They say: President Obama just set the agenda for the nation. Now, it’s up to grassroots organizers to make 2014 a year of action – we wonder what the president asks them to do?
WE FOUND HIS SIXTH STATE OF THE UNION VERY DISAPPOINTING.
THIS IS THREE QUARTER THROUGH HIS PRESIDENCY AND PRESIDENT OBAMA HAS NOT YET FREED HIMSELF OF THE “BUSHISMS” HE INHERITED. PLEASE LET US EXCUSE OURSELVES IN ADVANCE FOR CALLING BULL-SHIT BY ITS HONEST CURRENT NAME - BUSHISM WHICH IF PURSUED IS THE EQUIVALENT OF “BULLSHITISM.”
OK – We know that we used to say that Dick Cheney was the real President in those days – but we are trapped in what we see as a good way of expressing our opinion that we are entering the last quarter of another failed Presidency. G.W. Bush squandered the 9/11 opportunity of declaring that the US and the World at large ought to free themselves from the interests-contrived dependence of the economy on oil by going directly to the nature’s source of energy – the sun. Instead – G.W. Bush went to capture the oil of Iraq as his way of decreasing the country’s dependence on Saudi oil – the Saudis having been the friends of the Bushes and the home base of Al-Qaeda.
Senator Barack Obama was elected the new President because the country wanted to see change and three quarter through his Presidency he still talks in generalities rather then providing concrete examples for change.
YES – the President did say a lot of important things on the economy and on the society. He devoted a large pat of his speech to Climate Change – true, the country has decreased CO2 emissions by losing its heavy industry to production in foreign lands. He did tackle the health-care National Disaster topic but the country is still at the bottom of the totem-pole of advanced nations. He did tackle problems of gender and the pervert insistence on righteousness where some annoint themselves as judges of the way others live but the country still does not have decent gun-laws.
Obama is indeed the best US politics had to offer in a country – as he said – “where the son of a bar-man – Republican Congressman John Boehner can become Speaker of the House of Representatives” – his nemesis – or he himself – the son of a single mother can become the President of the strongest Land on earth.”But Obama did not revolutionize the basic assumptions of Washington DC – the belief that the big industrial interests know what is good for this country and as such hold as hostage the world at large. We promise to get back to this point in our posting of today which we know goes against the grain of Washington officialdom.
The New York Times editorial of today says in part —- “Every winter since 2009, President Obama has stood at the podium of the House and pleaded for the cooperation of Congress. For the last three State of the Union speeches, he has largely been ignored. That has left a growing trail of unfinished business: background checks for gun buyers, immigration reform, a higher minimum wage, tax fairness, universal preschool.
This year was different. Mr. Obama’s speech on Tuesday night acknowledged the obvious: Congress has become a dead end for most of the big, muscular uses of government to redress income inequality and improve the economy for all, because of implacable Republican opposition. As a result, the remainder of Mr. Obama’s presidency will be largely devoted to a series of smaller actions that the White House can perform on its own.
“America does not stand still, and neither will I,” he said. “So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Taking the offensive by veering around Congress isn’t new for the administration, but it is more important than ever. As the president forcefully described, inequality has deepened and upward mobility has stalled. If Republicans in Congress stymie the public’s needs and desires, Mr. Obama should employ every tool in his box to bypass those barriers. The multistate tour that he plans in the coming days will give him a chance to be even more critical of Congress than he was in the House chamber.
Most of the executive actions in the speech have the potential to make a difference, though their diminished scope demonstrates the lost potential caused by political intransigence.“
The QUOTATION OF THE DAY was:
“I’m eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still – and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
But what did he actually propose to do? Who indeed thinks that bringing up the minimum wage of Federal Employees to $10.10/hour will do it? – That is a nice symbol but not a lantern in the darkness of the US economy – it shows that the Republicans are lower then Democrats – but it still is no major attempt at change. Is this the defiant tone that President Obama set in his State of the Union? Does this signal “A Year of Action?” “Those at the top have never done better,” he said. “But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled.”
In the G.O.P. Response to Obama’s Speech, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State responded by blaming Mr. Obama for the country’s economic problems, but the party’s leaders avoided the language of last year’s government shutdown and hoped to present “a more hopeful, Republican vision” intended to appeal particularly to women in a midterm election year. Clear political balderdash delivered by a pretty face.
Now, one of the biggest factors in bringing more jobs back is our commitment to American energy. The “all the above” energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today America is closer to energy independence than we have been in decades. (Applause.)
One of the reasons why is natural gas. If extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change. (Applause.) Businesses plan to invest almost a hundred billion dollars in new factories that use natural gas. I’ll cut red tape to help states get those factories built and put folks to work, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas. (Applause.)
That was followed by quite a bit on climate change. We ask – so what now? Does he really need Congress to have a meaningful impact and change the ways how this country does its energy business? Do we have to look at an injured young military man to get the clear idea that this man was sent in harms way in order to serve our government sponsored addiction to Islamic oil?
What is this dancing around the “ALL OF THE ABOVE” if not another way of saying we will go ahead with oil, gas, and coal n the dark alleys of power in Washington and sprinkle some renewables on it – under the sun?
Yes, we agree that methane gas is better then coal and oil, but basing the US future on fracking for gas is no panacea either. We know that the President did not use the word fracking which is not popular anymore.
WHY NOT GO ALL OUT – IN FULL HONESTY – TO THE SUN?
If Cheney-style Bushism stood for the conquest of the Iraq oil, and the poisoning of West Virginia water came from coal mining, then fracking for gas will just finish of other US environments for no reason of real need.
Poor Cory Remsburg was put on display and reminded us of the American casualties of the Asian wars for oil – this rather then the professed principled patriotism is what I came away with when watching him.
Then my real question is – WHY DID PRESIDENT OBAMA NOT DISPLAY JIGAR SHAH – the LIFE EXAMPLE OF CLIMATE WEALTH? The man who managed to create a WIN-WIN-WIN company by asking Walmart and other large companies to allow him to use the roof of their large stores in order to supply them with electricity at much lower cost then they had to pay to the electric grid company.
Jigar Shah can even supply excess electricity to the grid – and he did not need Congress to act! He would have been a true American Hero who showed what is possible even with gridlock. It is now, with President Obama traveling to the provinces – that perhaps would allow him the potential moment to highlight Jigar – and this is why I decided to post this negative view of the true position of the Presidency at the end of its 75% time in office.
The FULL TRANSCRIPT of President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address – Tuesday, January 28, 2014:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans, today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest levels in more than three decades.
An entrepreneur flipped on the lights in her tech startup and did her part to add to the more than 8 million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years. (Applause.)
An autoworker fine-tuned some of the best, most fuel-efficient cars in the world and did his part to help America wean itself off foreign oil.
A farmer prepared for the spring after the strongest five-year stretch of farm exports in our history.
A rural doctor gave a young child the first prescription to treat asthma that his mother could afford. (Applause.) A man took the bus home from the graveyard shift, bone-tired but dreaming big dreams for his son. And in tight-knit communities all across America, fathers and mothers will tuck in their kids, put an arm around their spouse, remember fallen comrades and give thanks for being home from a war that after twelve long years is finally coming to an end. (Applause.)
Tonight this chamber speaks with one voice to the people we represent: It is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong. (Applause.)
And here are the results of your efforts: the lowest unemployment rate in over five years; a rebounding housing market — (applause) — a manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s — (applause) — more oil produced — more oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world, the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years — (applause) — our deficits cut by more than half; and for the first time — (applause) — for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.
(Cheers, applause.) That’s why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America. After five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth.
The question for everyone in this chamber, running through every decision we make this year, is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress. For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government. It’s an important debate — one that dates back to our very founding. But when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy — when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States — then we are not doing right by the American people. (Cheers, applause.)
Now, as president, I’m committed to making Washington work better, and rebuilding the trust of the people who sent us here. And I believe most of you are, too. Last month, thanks to the work of Democrats and Republicans,Congress finally produced a budget that undoes some of last year’s severe cuts to priorities like education. Nobody got everything they wanted, and we can still do more to invest in this country’s future while bringing down our deficit in a balanced way.
But the budget compromise should leave us freer to focus on creating new jobs, not creating new crises.
And in the coming months — (applause) — in the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together. Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want, for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations. And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all, the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead in America. (Applause.)
Now, let’s face it: That belief has suffered some serious blows. Over more than three decades, even before the Great Recession hit, massive shifts in technology and global competition had eliminated a lot of good, middle-class jobs, and weakened the economic foundations that families depend on.
Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by; let alone to get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.
So our job is to reverse these trends.
It won’t happen right away, and we won’t agree on everything.
But what I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still, and neither will I. (Applause.) So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do. (Cheers, applause.)
As usual, our first lady sets a good example. Michelle’s — (applause) — well. (Chuckles.) (Cheers, applause.) Yeah. Michelle’s Let’s Move! partnership with schools, businesses, local leaders has helped bring down childhood obesity rates for the first time in thirty years, and that’s an achievement — (applause) — that will improve lives and reduce health care costs for decades to come. The Joining Forces alliance that Michelle and Jill Biden launched has already encouraged employers to hire or train nearly 400,000 veterans and military spouses. (Applause.)
Taking a page from that playbook, the White House just organized a College Opportunity Summit, where already 150 universities, businesses, nonprofits have made concrete commitments to reduce inequality in access to higher education and to help every hardworking kid go to college and succeed when they get to campus.
And across the country — (applause) — we’re partnering with mayors, governors and state legislatures on issues from homelessness to marriage equality.
The point is, there are millions of Americans outside Washington who are tired of stale political arguments and are moving this country forward. They believe, and I believe, that here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. That’s what drew our forebears here. It’s how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America’s largest automaker — (applause) — how the son of a barkeeper is speaker of the House — (cheers, applause) — how the son of a single mom can be president of the greatest nation on Earth. (Cheers, applause.)
Now — (sustained cheers and applause) — opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation must be to restore that promise.
We know where to start. The best measure of opportunity is access to a good job. With the economy picking up speed, companies say they intend to hire more people this year.
And over half of big manufacturers say they’re thinking of insourcing jobs from abroad. (Applause.)
So let’s make that decision easier for more companies. Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here, and reward companies that keep profits abroad. Let’s flip that equation. Let’s work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs right here at home. (Cheers, applause.)
Moreover, we can take the money we save from this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes — because in today’s global economy, first- class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure. We’ll need Congress to protect more than 3 million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer. (Cheers, applause.) That can happen.
But — but I’ll act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible. (Applause.)
We also have the chance, right now, to beat other countries in the race for the next wave of high-tech manufacturing jobs. And my administration’s launched two hubs for high-tech manufacturing in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Youngstown, Ohio, where we’ve connected businesses to research universities that can help America lead the world in advanced technologies.
Tonight, I’m announcing we’ll launch six more this year. Bipartisan bills in both houses could double the number of these hubs and the jobs they create. So, get those bills to my desk and put more Americans back to work. (Applause.)
Let’s do more to help the entrepreneurs and small business owners who create most new jobs in America. Over the past five years, my administration has made more loans to small business owners than any other. And when 98 percent of our exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create even more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment and open new markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.” (Applause.)
Listen, China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines; and neither — neither should we. We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow. This is an edge America cannot surrender. Federally-funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smartphones. And that’s why Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery. (Cheers, applause.)
There are entire industries to be built based on vaccines that stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria or paper-thin material that’s stronger than steel. And let’s pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly and needless litigation. (Applause.)
Now, one of the biggest factors in bringing more jobs back is our commitment to American energy. The “all the above” energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today America is closer to energy independence than we have been in decades. (Applause.)
One of the reasons why is natural gas. If extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change. (Applause.) Businesses plan to invest almost a hundred billion dollars in new factories that use natural gas. I’ll cut red tape to help states get those factories built and put folks to work, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas. (Applause.)
Meanwhile, my administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and jobs growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, our communities. And while we’re at it, I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations. (Applause.)
Now, it’s not just oil and natural gas production that’s booming; we’re becoming a global leader in solar too.
Every four minutes another American home or business goes solar, every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced. Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it so we can invest more in fuels of the future that do. (Cheers, applause.)
And even as we’ve increased energy production, we’ve partnered with businesses, builders and local communities to reduce the energy we consume. When we rescued our automakers, for example, we worked with them to set higher fuel efficiency standards for our cars. In the coming months I’ll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.
And taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet. Over the past eight years the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth. (Applause.)
But we have to act with more urgency because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.
The shift — (applause) — the shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require some tough choices along the way.
But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. (Applause.) And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did. (Cheers, applause.)
Finally, if we’re serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement — and fix our broken immigration system. (Cheers, applause.) Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted, and I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: When people come here to fulfill their dreams — to study, invent, contribute to our culture — they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody. So let’s get immigration reform done this year. (Cheers, applause.) Let’s get it done. It’s time.
The ideas I’ve outlined so far can speed up growth and create more jobs. But in this rapidly-changing economy, we have to make sure that every American has the skills to fill those jobs.
The good news is, we know how to do it. Two years ago, as the auto industry came roaring back, Andra Rush opened up a manufacturing firm in Detroit. She knew that Ford needed parts for the best-selling truck in America, and she knew how to make those parts. She just needed the workforce. So she dialed up what we call an American Job Center; places where folks can walk in to get the help or training they need to find a new job, or a better job. She was flooded with new workers, and today, Detroit Manufacturing Systems has more than 700 employees. And what Andra and her employees experienced is how it should be for every employer and every job seeker.
So tonight, I’ve asked Vice President Biden to lead an across- the-board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now. (Cheers, applause.) That means more on-the-job training, and more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life. It means connecting companies to community colleges that can help design training to fill their specific needs. And if Congress wants to help, you can concentrate funding on proven programs that connect more ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs.
I’m also convinced we can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy. But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people. (Cheers, applause.)
Let me tell you why.
Misty DeMars is a mother of two young boys. She’d been steadily employed since she was a teenager, put herself through college. She’d never collected unemployment benefits, but she’s been paying taxes.
In May, she and her husband used their life savings to buy their first home. A week later, budget cuts claimed the job she loved. Last month, when their unemployment insurance was cut off, she sat down and wrote me a letter, the kind I get every day. “We are the face of the unemployment crisis,” she wrote. “I’m not dependent on the government. Our country depends on people like us who build careers, contribute to society, care about our neighbors. I am confident that in time I will find a job, I will pay my taxes, and we will raise our children in their own home in the community we love. Please give us this chance.”
Congress, give these hardworking, responsible Americans that chance. (Cheers, applause.) Give them that chance. Give them the chance. They need our help right now, but more important, this country needs them in the game. That’s why I’ve been asking CEOs to give more long-term unemployed workers a fair shot at new jobs, a new chance to support their families. And in fact, this week many will come to the White House to make that commitment real.
Tonight I ask every business leader in America to join us and do the same because we are stronger when America fields a full team. (Applause.)
Of course, it’s not enough to train today’s workforce. We also have to prepare tomorrow’s workforce, by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education. (Applause.)
Estiven Rodriguez couldn’t speak a word of English when he moved to New York City at age 9. But last month, thanks to the support of great teachers and an innovative tutoring program, he led a march of his classmates through a crowd of cheering parents and neighbors from their high school to the post office, where they mailed off their college applications. And this son of a factory worker just found out he’s going to college this fall. (Applause.)
Five years ago we set out to change the odds for all our kids. We worked with lenders to reform student loans, and today more young people are earning college degrees than ever before. Race to the Top, with the help of governors from both parties, has helped states raise expectations and performance. Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C., are making big strides in preparing students with the skills for the new economy — problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, math.
Now, some of this change is hard.
It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test. But it is worth it — and it is working.
The problem is we’re still not reaching enough kids, and we’re not reaching them in time, and that has to change.
Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education. (Applause.) Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every 4-year-old. And as a parent as well as a president, I repeat that request tonight.
But in the meantime, 30 states have raised pre-k funding on their own. They know we can’t wait. So just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children. And as Congress decides what it’s going to do, I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K that they need. (Applause.) It is right for America. We need to get this done.
Last year, I also pledged to connect 99 percent of our students to high-speed broadband over the next four years. Tonight I can announce that with the support of the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, we’ve got a down payment to start connecting more than 15,000 schools and 20 million students over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit. (Cheers, applause.)
We’re working to redesign high schools and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career. We’re shaking up our system of higher education to give parents more information and colleges more incentives to offer better value, so that no middle- class kid is priced out of a college education. We’re offering millions the opportunity to cap their monthly student loan payments to 10 percent of their income, and I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt. (Applause.)
And I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.
The bottom line is, Michelle and I want every child to have the same chance this country gave us. But we know our opportunity agenda won’t be complete, and too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American Dream as an empty promise, unless we also do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American.
You know, today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.
Women deserve equal pay for equal work. (Cheers, applause.)
You know, she deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. (Cheers, applause.) A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship. (Applause.) And you know what, a father does too. It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode. (Laughter, cheers, applause.) This year let’s all come together, Congress, the White House, businesses from Wall Street to Main Street, to give every woman the opportunity she deserves, because I believe when women succeed, America succeeds. (Cheers, applause.)
Now, women hold a majority of lower-wage jobs, but they’re not the only ones stifled by stagnant wages. Americans understand that some people will earn more money than others, and we don’t resent those who, by virtue of their efforts, achieve incredible success. That’s what America’s all about. But Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty. (Applause.)
In the year since I asked this Congress to raise the minimum wage, five states have passed laws to raise theirs.
Many businesses have done it on their own. Nick Chute is here today with his boss, John Soranno. John’s an owner of Punch Pizza in Minneapolis, and Nick helps make the dough. (Laughter.) Only now he makes more of it. (Laughter.) John just gave his employees a raise to 10 bucks an hour, and that’s a decision that has eased their financial stress and boosted their morale.
Tonight I ask more of America’s business leaders to follow John’s lead. Do what you can to raise your employees’ wages. (Applause.) It’s good for the economy; it’s good for America. (Sustained applause.)
To every mayor, governor, state legislator in America, I say, you don’t have to wait for Congress to act; Americans will support you if you take this on. And as a chief executive, I intend to lead by example. Profitable corporations like Costco see higher wages as the smart way to boost productivity and reduce turnover. We should too. In the coming weeks I will issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour because if you cook — (cheers, applause) — our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you should not have to live in poverty. (Sustained applause.)
Of course, to reach millions more, Congress does need to get on board.
Today the federal minimum wage is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. And Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. It’s easy to remember: 10.10. This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It does not involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise. (Cheers, applause.) Give ‘em a raise.
There are other steps we can take to help families make ends meet, and few are more effective at reducing inequality and helping families pull themselves up through hard work than the Earned Income Tax Credit. Right now, it helps about half of all parents at some point. Think about that. It helps about half of all parents in America at some point in their lives.
But I agree with Republicans like Senator Rubio that it doesn’t do enough for single workers who don’t have kids. So let’s work together to strengthen the credit, reward work, help more Americans get ahead.
Let’s do more to help Americans save for retirement. Today most workers don’t have a pension. A Social Security check often isn’t enough on its own. And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn’t help folks who don’t have 401(k)s. That’s why tomorrow I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA. It’s a — it’s a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg.
MyRA guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in. And if this Congress wants to help, work with me to fix an upside-down tax code that gives big tax breaks to help the wealthy save, but does little or nothing for middle-class Americans, offer every American access to an automatic IRA on the job, so they can save at work just like everybody in this chamber can.
And since the most important investment many families make is their home, send me legislation that protects taxpayers from footing the bill for a housing crisis ever again, and keeps the dream of homeownership alive for future generations. (Applause.)
One last point on financial security. For decades, few things exposed hard-working families to economic hardship more than a broken health care system. And in case you haven’t heard, we’re in the process of fixing that. (Scattered laughter, applause.)
Now — a pre-existing condition used to mean that someone like Amanda Shelley, a physician’s assistant and single mom from Arizona, couldn’t get health insurance. But on January 1st, she got covered. (Applause.) On January 3rd, she felt a sharp pain. On January 6th, she had emergency surgery. Just one week earlier, Amanda said, that surgery would’ve meant bankruptcy. That’s what health insurance reform is all about, the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don’t have to lose everything.
Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than 3 million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans. (Applause.)
More than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage — 9 million. (Applause.)
And here’s another number: zero. Because of this law, no American, none, zero, can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a pre-existing condition like asthma or back pain or cancer. (Cheers, applause.) No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman. (Cheers, applause.) And we did all this while adding years to Medicare’s finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors.
Now, I do not expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. (Laughter.) (Chuckles.) (Laughter.) But I know that the American people are not interested in refighting old battles. So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, increase choice, tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. (Applause.) But let’s not have another 40- something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda.
(Cheers, applause.) The first 40 were plenty. We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against.
And if you want to know the real impact this law is having, just talk to Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky, who’s here tonight. Now, Kentucky’s not the most liberal part of the country. That’s not where I got my highest vote totals. (Laughter.) But he’s like a man possessed when it comes to covering his commonwealth’s families. They’re our neighbors and our friends, he said. They’re people we shop and go to church with — farmers out on the tractor, grocery clerks. They’re people who go to work every morning praying they don’t get sick. No one deserves to live that way.
Steve’s right. That’s why tonight I ask every American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get covered by March 31st. Help them get covered. (Applause.) Moms, get on your kids to sign up. Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application. It’ll give her some peace of mind, and plus, she’ll appreciate hearing from you. (Laughter.)
After all, that — that’s the spirit that has always moved this nation forward.
It’s the spirit of citizenship, the recognition that through hard work and responsibility, we can pursue our individual dreams, but still come together as one American family to make sure the next generation can pursue its dreams as well.
Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote. (Applause.) Last year, part of the Voting Rights Act was weakened, but conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are working together to strengthen it. And the bipartisan commission I appointed, chaired by my campaign lawyer and Governor Romney’s campaign lawyer, came together and have offered reforms so that no one has to wait more than a half hour to vote. Let’s support these efforts. It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank account, that drives our democracy. (Cheers, applause.)
Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day. I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say “we are not afraid,” and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters and our shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook. (Applause.)
Citizenship demands a sense of common purpose; participation in the hard work of self-government; an obligation to serve to our communities.
And I know this chamber agrees that few Americans give more to their country than our diplomats and the men and women of the United States armed forces. (Extended applause.) Thank you.
Tonight, because of the extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure. When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, all our troops are out of Iraq. More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan. With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over. (Applause.)
After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future.
If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al-Qaida. For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country. (Applause.)
The fact is that danger remains. While we’ve put al-Qaida’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved as al-Qaida affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks. In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks. Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses and combat new threats like cyberattacks. And as we reform our defense budget, we have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions. (Applause.)
We have to remain vigilant.
But I strongly believe our leadership and our security cannot depend on our outstanding military alone. As commander in chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office. But I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it is truly necessary, nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts. We must fight the battles — (applause) — that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us — large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.
So even as we actively and aggressively pursue terrorist networks, through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners, America must move off a permanent war footing. (Applause.) That’s why I’ve imposed prudent limits on the use of drones, for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence.
That’s why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that privacy of ordinary people is not being violated. (Applause.) And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay — (applause) — because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world.
You see, in a world of complex threats, our security, our leadership depends on all elements of our power — including strong and principled diplomacy. American diplomacy has rallied more than 50 countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles.
American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated. (Applause.) And we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve — a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear.
As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in the difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and securityfor the state of Israel — a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side. (Applause.)
And it is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program — and rolled back parts of that program — for the very first time in a decade. As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium.
It’s not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify every day that Iran is not building a bomb. And with our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. (Applause.)
These negotiations will be difficult; they may not succeed. We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and we’re clear about the mistrust between our nations, mistrust that cannot be wished away. But these negotiations don’t rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today. (Applause.)
The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible. But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. (Applause.) For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.
(Applause.) If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon. But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance — and we’ll know soon enough — then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.
And finally, let’s remember that our leadership is defined not just by our defense against threats but by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe, to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from fear and want. And no one is better positioned to take advantage of those opportunities than America.
Our alliance with Europe remains the strongest the world has ever known. From Tunisia to Burma, we’re supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of building democracy. In Ukraine, we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully and to have a say in their country’s future. Across Africa, we’re bringing together businesses and governments to double access to electricity and help end extreme poverty. In the Americas, we’re building new ties of commerce, but we’re also expanding cultural and educational exchanges among young people.
And we will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster, as we did in the Philippines, when our Marines and civilians rushed to aid those battered by a typhoon, and were greeted with words like, “We will never forget your kindness” and “God bless America.”
We do these things because they help promote our long-term security. And we do them because we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation. And next week the world will see one expression of that commitment when Team USA marches the red, white and blue into the Olympic stadium and brings home the gold. (Cheers, applause.)
My fellow Americans, no other country in the world does what we do. On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might but because of the ideals we stand for and the burdens we bear to advance them.
No one knows this better than those who serve in uniform. As this time of war draws to a close, a new generation of heroes returns to civilian life. We’ll keep slashing that backlog so our veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned and our wounded warriors receive the health care — including the mental health care — that they need. (Applause.) We’ll keep working to help all our veterans translate their skills and leadership into jobs here at home, and we will all continue to join forces to honor and support our remarkable military families.
Let me tell you about one of those families I’ve come to know.
I first met Cory Remsburg, a proud Army Ranger, at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Along with some of his fellow Rangers, he walked me through the program, the ceremony. He was a strong, impressive young man, had an easy manner. He was sharp as a tack. And we joked around, and took pictures, and I told him to stay in touch.
A few months later, on his 10th deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.
For months, he lay in a coma. And the next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn’t speak; he could barely move. Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, hours of grueling rehab every day.
Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again, and he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again.
“My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.”
Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit. (Cheers, applause.) Cory. (Extended cheers and applause.)
My fellow Americans — my fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged.
But for more than two hundred years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress: to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice and fairness and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen.
The America we want for our kids — a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us — none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, the way Cory summoned what is best in him, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow, I know it’s within our reach.
God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. (Cheers, applause.)
and for further fairness we also give the link to:
Kumi Naidoo | Don’t Bet on Coal and Oil Growth Kumi Naidoo, Reader Supported News Naidoo writes: “A mind-boggling sum of about $800 for each person on the planet is invested into fossil fuel companies through the global capital markets alone. … The amount of money invested into the 200 biggest fossil fuel companies through financial markets is estimated at 5.5 trillion dollars. This should be an impressive amount of money for anyone reading this.” READ MORE
How the Coal Industry Impoverishes West Virginia Omar Ghabra, The Nation Ghabra writes: “There’s a joke circulating among Syrians who fled the brutal conflict devastating their country to the quiet mountains of West Virginia: ‘We escaped the lethal chemicals in Syria only for them to follow us here.’ Of course, what’s happening in West Virginia right now is no laughing matter.” READ MORE
By Kumi Naidoo, Reader Supported News
25 January 14
mind-boggling sum of about $800 for each person on the planet is invested into fossil fuel companies through the global capital markets alone. That’s roughly 10 percent of the total capital invested in listed companies. The amount of money invested into the 200 biggest fossil fuel companies through financial markets is estimated at 5.5 trillion dollars. This should be an impressive amount of money for anyone reading this.
By keeping their money in coal and oil companies, investors are betting a vast amount of wealth, including the pensions and savings of millions of people, on high future demand for dirty fuels. The investment has enabled fossil fuel companies to massively raise their spending on expanding extractable reserves, with oil and gas companies alone (state-owned ones included) spending the combined GDP of Netherlands and Belgium a year, in belief that there will be demand for ever more dirty fuel.
This assumption is being challenged by recent developments, which is good news for climate but bad news for anyone who thought investing in fossil fuel industries was a safe bet. Frantic growth in coal consumption seems to be coming to an end much sooner than predicted just a few years ago, with China’s aggressive clean air policies, rapidly dropping coal consumption in the U.S. and upcoming closures of many coal plants in Europe. At the same time the oil industry is also facing slowing demand growth and the financial and share performance of oil majors is disappointing for shareholders.
Nevertheless, even faced with weakening demand prospects, outdated investment patterns are driving fossil fuel companies to waste trillions of dollars in developing reserves and infrastructure that will be stranded as the world moves beyond 20th century energy.
A good example is coal export developments. The large recent investment in coal export capacity in all key exporter countries was based on the assumption of unlimited growth of Chinese demand. When public outrage over air pollution reached a new level in 2012-2013, the Chinese leadership moved swiftly to mandate absolute reductions in coal consumption, and banned new coal-fired power plants in key economic regions. A growing chorus of financial analysts is now projecting a peak in Chinese coal demand in the near future, which seemed unimaginable just a couple of years ago. This new reality has already reduced market capitalization of export focused coal companies. Even in China itself, investment in coal-fired power plants has now outpaced demand growth, leading to drops in capacity utilization.
Another example of potentially stranded assets is found in Europe, where large utilities ignored the writing on the wall about EU moves to price carbon and boost renewable energy. Betting on old business models and the fossil-fuel generation, they built a massive 80 gigawatts of new fossil power generation capacity in the last 10 years, much of which is already generating losses and now risk becoming stranded assets.
Arctic oil drilling is possibly the ultimate example of fossil companies’ unfounded confidence in high future demand. Any significant production and revenue is unlikely until 2030, and in the meanwhile Arctic drilling faces high and uncertain costs, extremely demanding and risky operations, as well as the prospect of heavy regulation and liabilities when (not if) the first major blowout happens in the region. No wonder the International Energy Agency is skeptical about Arctic oil, assuming hardly any production in the next 20 years. Regardless, Shell has already burnt $5 billion of shareholders’ money on their Arctic gamble.
Those investing in coal and oil have perhaps felt secure seeing the global climate negotiations proceed at a disappointing pace. However, the initial carbon crunch is being delivered by increasingly market-driven renewable energy development, and by national level clean energy and energy efficiency policies — such as renewable energy support schemes and emission regulation in Europe, or clean air policies in the U.S. and in China. Global coal demand, and possibly even oil demand, could peak even before a strong climate treaty is agreed.
Investors often underestimate their exposure to fossil fuels, particularly indirect exposure through e.g. passively managed pension funds and sovereign debt of strongly fossil fuel dependent states. Assessing exposure, requiring fossil energy companies to disclose and reduce carbon risks, and reducing investments in sunset energy technologies will lead to profitable investment in a world that moves to cleaner and smarter energy systems.
Improving competitiveness of renewable energy, growing opposition to destructive fossil fuel projects, concerns on water shortage and the imperative of cutting global CO2 emissions all point in the same direction: Governments, companies and investors should all be planning for a world with declining fossil fuel consumption — not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it makes economic sense. It is the direction the world will be moving to — faster than many yet anticipate.
Following our original posting, we watched today the Fareed Zakaria show at CNN/GPS and reporting from Davos – from the World Economy dialogues, he pointed out that 85 people own as much wealth as the lowest 3.5 billion people of the World.
Then he also mentioned that the 5 members of the family that owns Walmart own a disproportionate part of the wealth of the US – to be exact – just as much as 42% of all Americans.
He also said that there were no problem if everybody would improve their economic standing and the few at the top just grow more – but the reality is that the Middle class is receding and the explanation is that we moved from the human based Manufacturing Age to a machine based Manufacturing Age that does not need humans in the production line. This is endemic and this spiral is bound to drive us further down. Now a big company like Apple employs only 50,000 Americans – so he has a true argument.
Because he mentioned Walmart this triggered my Sustainable Development thinking as I know that the Walmart company is in partnership with Mr. Jigar Shah in order to decrease their expenditure on electricity by allowing him the use of the roofs covering their stores to produce with photovoltaics the electricity they need. In effect they just did what the US government ought to campaign for. If they are so smart they indeed deserve being so rich – and they put the rest of us to shame because we do not have the initiative to improve our lives by ourselves.
In the context of this posting – why do we not rebel against those in Washington that insist the government sends dollars overseas to buy oil when there is no compelling reason to continue this man-made dependency on unneeded resources? Just think what array of industries could spring up from alliances like that of Jigar and Walmart? The whole Davos exercise ought to be reorganized – the apple of the economy is rotten not because of high-tech apples but because of the intentional subsidization of the old low-tech industries and the move to a globalized market that does not allow for globalized sustainability. You can bet safely that the Koch Brothers will push the US deeper in the hole of retardiness – this because it benefits their old ways of making money.
So, we do a pretty good job eating enough potatoes. But the healthier, more brightly colored vegetables like kale and carrots, no so much. We spend four times the amount on refined grains the USDA thinks is proper, and about a fifth of the target expenditure in whole grains. We spend nearly 14 percent of our at-home food budgets on sugar and candies, and another 8 percent on premade frozen and fridge entrees. Whole fruit barley accounts for less than 5 percent of our grocery bill. And so on—a pretty dismal picture.
That chart deals with at-home expenditures. What about our food choices out in the world? The USDA article has more. This chart shows that we’re getting more and more of our sustenance outside of our own kitchens:
And while the article doesn’t offer comparable data to the above at-home chart about expenditures outside the home, it does deliver evidence that our eating out habits are pretty dire as well:
Why do we eat such crap food? The USDA throws up its hands: “Despite the benefits to overall diet quality,” the report states, “it can be difficult to convince consumers to change food preferences.”
But it never pauses top consider the food industry’s vast marketing budget. According to Yale’s Rudd Center, the US fast-food chains like McDonalds, Wendy’s, and Burger King spent $4.6 billion on advertising in 2012. “For context,” Rudd reports, “the biggest advertiser, McDonald’s, spent 2.7 times as much to advertise its products ($972 million) as all fruit, vegetable, bottled water, and milk advertisers combined ($367 million).” I can’t find numbers for the marketing budgets for the gigantic food companies that stock the middle shelves of supermarkets; but according to Advertising Age, Kraft alone spent $683 million on US advertising in 2012.
By contrast, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, the USDA’s sub-agency that “works to improve the health and well-being of Americans by developing and promoting dietary guidance that links scientific research to the nutrition needs of consumers,” had a proposed budget of $8.7 million in 2013.
One of the most laudable American goals in negotiating the trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 other countries was to strengthen environmental protections around the world. But a draft chapter of the agreementmade publiclast weekby WikiLeaksshows that many of the countries involved in the talks are trying to undermine that goal.
American negotiators have sought to make the environmental provisions in the agreement enforceable through a dispute settlement process, an idea that most of the other countries appear to oppose. That list includes countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand that might have been expected to play a more constructive role.
The disagreement is a reminder that this trade agreement is more complex — and in many ways more ambitious — than most. Unlike other agreements that are concerned mainly with lowering import tariffs and quotas, these talks are also trying to set common legal and regulatory standards in areas like the environment, intellectual property, labor rights and state-owned companies.
If done right, agreement on these issues should ease fears that freer trade would lead to greater environmental damage and sweatshop conditions by giving businesses an incentive to ship production and jobs to countries with lower standards. But winning agreement is difficult when a large and diverse group of countries is involved. The other partners are Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Singapore, Mexico, Chile and Peru.
American negotiators began including enforceable environmental standards in trade agreements in 2007 as part of a deal between the Bush administration and Senate Democrats. Since then, American trade agreements have asked trading partners not to weaken their environmental laws and required them to carry out commitments they had already made under treaties like the Montreal Protocol, which aims to protect the ozone layer, and a convention on the trade of endangered species and wild plants and animals.
The Pacific nations are now pushing for a process in which nations would consult with one another about environmental disputes and come up with plans to address them. But it would not include penalties, as the American proposal would.
Even as some Trans-Pacific Partnership countries are rejecting binding commitments on environmental issues, they seem perfectly willing to include such provisions in other areas, including rules governing expropriation in which a state seizes the property of private businesses.
The Office of the United States Trade Representativesaidlast week that it would not back down on its environmental agenda. In a statement, it said, “we will insist on a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter in the T.P.P. or we will not come to agreement.”
It is important that American negotiators stick to that policy. And members of Congress, who have to ratify all trade deals, should insist on it.
What India does in its own country is India’s business, and ethical people all over the world are entitled to express an opinion about how India handles its social system – BUT when India comes to an outside country – they must submit to the laws of that country where they are mere guests. When they go to a State where there is even more discrimination then in their home country – the Indians ought then to behave among themselves at a minimum according to their own mores – this we include for the sake of Indian homes in Arab States.
Above ought to be rock substance for a US paper of the New York Times stature. Any pussifooting around on this just reminds us of worse days for this paper – the days of its refusal to look at the Holocaust for fear of alienating some perceived American interests.
The Indian diplomat charged with visa fraud and mistreating her domestic worker is back in Mumbai, and tensions between India and the United States have eased. But her case and the issues it raised are not resolved, and the damage to India-America relations is unlikely to dissipate soon. This unfortunate episode is a reminder that while both nations are democracies, neither can avoid the hard work necessary to make the relationship work.
The envoy, Devyani Khobragade, was arrested last monthon a criminal complaint charging that she had paid her maid, Sangeeta Richard, $1.42 an hour or less despite promising on her visa application to pay the minimum wage of $9.75 an hour. Prosecutors said that Ms. Richard was not only underpaid but overworked. Last Thursday, a federal grand jury indicted Ms. Khobragade on similar charges and accused her of trying to intimidate the victim.
India, its passions fanned by election-year politics, pushed back hard at what many Indians said was American arrogance. Authorities removed security barriers at the American Embassy in New Delhi, canceled the embassy’s food and alcohol import privileges and engaged in other fits of pique. The State Department, at India’s request, granted Ms. Khobragade diplomatic immunity. But after negotiations with prosecutors on a plea bargain failed, she was asked to leave the United States and, in exchange, an American diplomat was withdrawn from India.
Ms. Khobragade has been hailed at home as a symbol of Indian pride. Her father, a retired bureaucrat and her chief defender, is talking of running for public office with a campaign focused on his daughter’s case. Indians have been overwhelming sympathetic to Ms. Khobragade and shockingly indifferent to Ms. Richard, one of untold numbers of powerless domestic workers lured to America by the promise of a job gone bad.
Even so, the case might have been handled better.The United States cannot ignore laws that mandate how workers should be paid and that they be treated fairly. But federal prosecutors have wide discretion, and the State Department, before the criminal investigation, could have urged India to reassign Ms. Khobragade to New Delhi and required her to make restitution.
The United States has to make sure that foreign diplomats understand American laws, although the indictment says that this defendant knew exactly what she was doing. America should also re-examine its own demands for special privileges for its diplomats overseas. More broadly, the case has exposed differences between the two countries over such basic concepts as fairness and equality, while revealing a troubling level of Indian animosity toward the United States. The two governments are trying to turn the page by resuming high-level meetings. But it will take more than that to achieve the “global strategic partnership” with India that President Obama has boasted about.
Administration Is Seen as Retreating on Environment in Talks on Pacific Trade.
By Coral Davenport of The New York Times, January 15, 2014
Documents obtained by WikiLeaks show that the Obama administration is pulling back on environmental protections to reach a trade deal that is a pillar of the president’s strategic shift to Asia.
Read more at www.onenewspage.com/n/Science/7509arywd/Administration-Is-Seen-as-Retreating-on-Environment-in.htm#ur9WIpYRBZj7S6E2.99
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is retreating from previous demands of strong international environmental protections in order to reach agreement on a sweeping Pacific trade deal that is a pillar of President Obama’s strategic shift to Asia,according to documents obtained by WikiLeaks, environmentalists and people close to the contentious trade talks.The negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would be one of the world’s biggest trade agreements, have exposed deep rifts over environmental policy between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations. As it stands now, the documents, viewed by The New York Times, show that the disputes could undo key global environmental protections.
The environmental chapter of the trade deal has been among most highly disputed elements of negotiations in the pact. Participants in the talks, which have dragged on for three years, had hoped to complete the deal by the end of 2013.
Environmentalists said that the draft appears to signal that the United States will retreat on a variety of environmental protections — including legally binding pollution control requirements and logging regulations and a ban on harvesting sharks’ fins — to advance a trade deal that is a top priority for Mr. Obama.
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Michael Froman, the United States trade representative, said, “We’re pushing hard.” Stephen Crowley/The New York TimesIlana Solomon, the director of the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program, said the draft omits crucial language ensuring that increased trade will not lead to further environmental destruction.
“It rolls back key standards set by Congress to ensure that the environment chapters are legally enforceable, in the same way the commercial parts of free-trade agreements are,” Ms. Solomon said. The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Wildlife Fund have been following the negotiations closely and are expected to release a report on Wednesday criticizing the draft.
American officials countered that they had put forward strong environmental proposals in the pact.
“It is an uphill battle, but we’re pushing hard,” said Michael Froman, the United States trade representative. “We have worked closely with the environmental community from the start and have made our commitment clear.” Mr. Froman said he continued to pursue a robust, enforceable environmental standard that he said would be stronger than those in previous free-trade agreements.
The draft documents are dated Nov. 24 and there has been one meeting since then.
The documents consist of the environmental chapter as well as a “Report from the Chairs,” which offers an unusual behind-the-scenes look into the divisive trade negotiations, until now shrouded in secrecy. The report indicates that the United States has been pushing for tough environmental provisions, particularly legally binding language that would provide for sanctions against participating countries for environmental violations. The United States is also insisting that the nations follow existing global environmental treaties.
But many of those proposals are opposed by most or all of the other Pacific Rim nations working on the deal, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and Peru. Developing Asian countries, in particular, have long resisted outside efforts to enforce strong environmental controls, arguing that they could hurt their growing economies.
The report appears to indicate that the United States is losing many of those fights, and bluntly notes the rifts: “While the chair sought to accommodate all the concerns and red lines that were identified by parties regarding the issues in the text, many of the red lines for some parties were in direct opposition to the red lines expressed by other parties.”
As of now, the draft environmental chapter does not require the nations to follow legally binding environmental provisions or other global environmental treaties. The text notes only, for example, that pollution controls could vary depending on a country’s “domestic circumstances and capabilities.”
11 minutes agoLet’s not worry about getting the best trades we can – let’s worry about the environment. Because after all, allowing Americans to save…
25 minutes agoOnce again, WikiLeaks shows us what we need to know. The environment is the economy. We can learn it now or after much suffering. But it…
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In addition, the draft does not contain clear requirements for a ban on shark finning, which is the practice of capturing sharks and cutting off their fins — commonly used in shark-fin soup — and throwing back the sharks to die. The dish is a delicacy in many of the Asian negotiating countries. At this point the draft says that the countries “may include” bans “as appropriate” on such practices.
Earlier pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement included only appendices, which called for cooperation on environmental issues but not legally binding terms or requirements. Environmentalists derided them as “green window dressing.”
But in May 2007, President George W. Bush struck an environmental deal with Democrats in the Senate and the House as he sought to move a free-trade agreement with Peru through Congress. In what became known as the May 10 Agreement, Democrats got Mr. Bush to agree that all American free-trade deals would include a chapter with environmental provisions, phrased in the same legally binding language as chapters on labor, agriculture and intellectual property. The Democrats also insisted that the chapter require nations to recognize existing global environmental treaties.
Since then, every American free-trade deal has included that strong language, although all have been between the United States and only one other country. It appears to be much tougher to negotiate environmental provisions in a 12-nation agreement.
“Bilateral negotiations are a very different thing,” said Jennifer Haverkamp, the former head of the United States trade representative’s environmental office. “Here, if the U.S. is the only one pushing for this, it’s a real uphill battle to get others to agree if they don’t like it.”
But business groups say the deal may need to ease up. “There are some governments with developing economies that will need more time and leeway,” said Cal Cohen, president of the Emergency Committee for American Trade, a group of about 100 executives and trade associations that lobbies the United States trade negotiator on the deal. “When you think about the evolution of labor provisions, you realize how many centuries the development of high standards took.”
Since the trade talks began, lawmakers and advocacy groups have assailed the negotiators for keeping the process secret, and WikiLeaks has been among the most critical voices. The environment chapter is the third in a series of Trans-Pacific Partnership documents released by WikiLeaks. In November, the group posted the draft chapter on intellectual property. In December, the site posted documents detailing disagreements between the negotiating parties on other issues. The site is expected to release more documents as the negotiations unfold.
A version of this article appears in print on January 15, 2014, on page A17 of the New York edition with the headline: Administration Is Seen as Retreating on Environment in Talks on Pacific Trade.
From HONOLULU – December 23, 2013 President Obama has enrolled in the federal health-care insurance exchanges, selecting just a bronze-tiered insurance plan on the D.C. marketplace, the White House announced today – Monday.
Obama signed up for coverage over the weekend during the start of his holiday vacation here in Hawaii in what a White House official described as a “symbolic” act to promote the Affordable Care Act, his signature legislative achievement.
The president’s health care will continue to be provided by the military, according to a statement distributed to reporters from a White House official who demanded anonymity.
Still, the White House official added, Obama “was pleased to participate in a plan as a show of support for these marketplaces which are providing quality, affordable health-care options to more than a million people.”
Also, the deadline for Americans to sign up through this new federal health insurance exchange for health plans that begin Jan. 1, 2014 was extended from midnight Monday – to Christmas eve – Tuesday – to give last-minute shoppers an extra day to enroll.
About the Obama enrollment, we understand that while he is President he just does not need this insurance because the military will take care of him in any case. Our question is what happens after he leaves the White House. Will this mean that the ex-President opted to be just one of the people and get for himself this Bronze insurance?
HONOLULU — He doesn’t need it and will never use it, but President Obama signed up for Obamacare anyway.The political maneuver, announced Monday by the White House, was aimed at showing solidarity with hundreds of thousands of Americans enrolling in the new federal and state health-care exchanges. The move came after months of prodding from Republicans, who argued that the president should participate in his signature health-care law — although the exchanges are designed primarily for those who don’t have or can’t afford coverage.
Obama was enrolled in the D.C. exchange over the weekend, aides said, purchasing a “bronze”-level plan that will set him back about $400 a month (with a salary of $400,000, the president doesn’t qualify for subsidies). But aides said he won’t use the plan: Obama and his family will continue to receive, as all recent presidents have, medical care through the U.S. military.As this act of political theater played out here in Hawaii, where Obama is vacationing , his administration continued to scramble back in Washington to prepare for the Jan. 1 start of coverage. Administration officials disclosed Monday that they had quietly changed the rules to allow last-minute shoppers an extra day to enroll, pushing the deadline back to midnight Tuesday.Aides said Obama’s unique situation as president meant that he was unable to sign up for a plan online. The databases that HealthCare.gov and related sites use to verify people’s identities did not contain Obama’s personal information, aides said, so staffers had to go in person to the D.C. exchange offices over the weekend to get him enrolled.Obama selected a bronze plan — the cheapest of four categories, below platinum, gold and silver, that designate how much of overall health-care costs are covered by an insurer.
Thus Obama is paying $5,000 a year out of pocket for a plan that a White House official said was merely “symbolic.”
The president “was pleased to participate in a plan as a show of support for these marketplaces, which are providing quality, affordable health-care options to more than a million people,” said an official who was kept anonymous in a statement issued by the White House.
For weeks, Republicans on Capitol Hill have prodded Obama to sign up for coverage under the new law and — as they view it — share in the suffering of other Americans.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), noted that Obama “had the option to keep the plan he had, along with access to the doctors and hospitals he was comfortable with.”
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), said: “Americans are looking for a lot more than symbolic gestures. This law is a train wreck, and no one should be forced to take part in it.”
But one of the House Republicans leading the charge against the health-care law, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), said he was pleased that Obama had enrolled.
“I’m not going to take a cheap shot at him for signing up,” Chaffetz said. “It really wasn’t necessary, but if he didn’t do it, we would all bark at him. .?.?. He’s the president of the United States. His health care is a little different than the rest of us. We get that.”
The GOP push to get Obama to sign up dates to the crafting of the law in 2010. As the Senate neared debate on the bill that would become the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced an amendment that would require Obama and Vice President Biden, as well as the Cabinet and top White House staff members, to purchase health insurance through the marketplaces.
“It’s pretty unbelievable that the president and his closest advisers remain untouched by the reforms they pushed for the rest of the country,” Grassley said at the time. “In other words, President Obama’s health-care reform won’t apply to President Obama.”
Senate Democrats rejected that approach, arguing that the purpose was to cover those not already offered insurance by their employers. Congress approved a separate provision requiring lawmakers and some of their staff members to use the exchanges, but not the president or his aides.
Nonetheless, the White House said at the time that Obama would sign up for an insurance plan through the program once the marketplaces went online.
The issue receded until earlier this month, when White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked whether Obama still planned to sign up and when. Carney confirmed that he would enroll but declined to provide a deadline.
Asked whether the news media could observe the president signing up, Carney did not offer any guarantee. “I’ll get back to you,” he said.
Obama’s enrollment, which aides characterized as an important show of support for the law, was handled with little fanfare. News photographers and reporters were not allowed to witness the president shopping for insurance plans or filling out paperwork. News that he had signed up was distributed to reporters in a one-paragraph statement attributed anonymously to a White House official.
Republican strategist Kevin Madden, a former senior adviser to 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, called the move “a tactic of last resort” during the week of Christmas, when many Americans are focused on the holiday rather than the news.
ould you pay $5 to save $1? I didn’t ace Math in school, but I do at least know that a Lincoln is worth more than a Washington. If you were presented with this deal in a store, to buy a $5 item to get $1 off another, most people don’t see that as a deal. Now, multiply those numbers by a thousand, and you may start to understand why the “young invincibles” of America aren’t participating in the healthcare exchanges.
Two days before Christmas was the last day for people to enroll in the health insurance programs on healthcare.gov to be ready by January 1st. We’re all supposed to enroll by March of 2014 to not be penalized $300 for being uninsured. But for me, $300 is much cheaper than the alternatives. I’m a 26-year-old man who eats his veggies and exercises daily. I don’t get flu shots, and haven’t gotten the flu since I was in middle school (knock on wood). I also meditate daily. As a result, the sickest I ever get is a sniffle here and there. I was 15 years old the last time I got an annual physical exam, and am no worse for wear now than I was 11 years ago.
So why am I paying the $300 penalty? Through healthcare.gov, I found that as a single 26 year-old male living in Dane County, Wisconsin, who expects to make somewhere around $30,000 next year, the most affordable health insurance package for me comes with a deductible anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000. That’s roughly 15 percent of my income that comes out of pocket before my health insurance even kicks in. This “affordable care” would cost me about $150 a month, and I’m having a hard enough time even putting away $100 a month into my savings account when you take rent, a car loan, groceries, gas, heat, and phone bills into account. And unlike most people my age, I was privileged enough to attend college without having to take out student loans, so I’m a lot better off financially than most of my peers.
The biggest healthcare cost of my life was $6,000 in surgery back in Fall of 2011, when I broke my elbow in two places. I was uninsured, so the cost of that procedure came out of pocket. Parents and elderly friends gave me plenty of shit for not having health insurance, saying I could have saved myself a lot of money by being insured. However, if I’d had the health insurance package I mentioned above, $5,000 of that surgery would still have to be paid for out of my own pocket. Sure, I’d save $1,000 in the end, but I’d have to pay $5,000 to do it.
I didn’t suffer any other catastrophic accidents until January of 2013, when I was run off the road while riding a bike in Florida and fractured my right arm. Since I was uninsured, the emergency care clinic down the road from my accident wouldn’t even see me, so I had to drive myself to an emergency room at a hospital close to Immokalee. The total cost of a doctor X-raying my arm and wrapping it up in a bandage and a sling was in the neighborhood of $2,500.
Even if I’d had the health insurance plan I mentioned above back when the accident happened, that entire cost would have still come out of my own pocket. And since I didn’t see the doctor for the rest of the year or hurt myself bad enough to go to a hospital, I wouldn’t have even paid my whole deductible before my health insurance kicked in. I would’ve just paid $150 a month for the remainder of the year, an $1800 blow to my already strained finances – for nothing.
The administration is really hoping that people my age will sign up for health insurance on healthcare.gov. But only 29 percent of people my age say they’ll be signing up. The whole premise of the individual mandate is that when everyone signs up for health insurance, the risk pool becomes healthier as a result, and health insurance becomes less costly for everyone. However, it’s been found that young healthy people not participating would have a very minimal effect on health insurance costs, so our non-participation isn’t the end of the world.
And given situations like mine, why the hell would any young person, in this tenuous economy, want to pay upwards of $1800 in premiums on top of a $2,000 to $5,000 deductible for healthcare costs that may or may not even occur? Does it make more fiscal sense to pay $3800 to $6800 a year to have health insurance and see a doctor when shit happens, or to pay $300 to be uninsured and hope for the best?
This is precisely the problem with the American healthcare system, and with our worthless representatives in Congress. No other developed country makes its citizens endure so much financial strain just to have access to a doctor when they’re hurt or sick. I personally wouldn’t mind paying a few percentage points more in taxes each year so I can see the doctor without worrying about which bill I’ll have to not pay in order to do it. And judging by the debacle of a giant taxpayer-funded subsidy to the private health insurance companies known as Obamacare, I bet most Americans who can’t afford our current healthcare system could alternatively afford a marginally-higher tax rate to have guaranteed healthcare.
The entire reason single payer healthcare – in which one payer, the taxpayer, pays for healthcare – or a public health insurance alternative to the private insurance companies didn’t make it into the final healthcare reform bill was because of corporate-owned senators like Max Baucus, Joe Liebermann, and the entire GOP caucus. It isn’t because they were so concerned about people being able to have the best access to healthcare, but because all of those senators count on the private health insurance industry’s bribes to win the next election cycle. Liebermann’s wife was a lobbyist for Hill & Knowlton, a firm that represented big pharmaceutical and health insurance companies. Insurance companies are the top industry contributing to Baucus’s campaign war chest between 2009 and 2014. Most Americans can put two and two together.
It’s crucial to understand that the only reason private health insurance companies exist is to profit from the illness and injury of others. That’s literally the only reason they’re in business. Sure, abolishing the private health insurance industry may cost a few jobs, but if your job is based on figuring out the best way to make money off of someone else’s suffering, that’s definitely a job that never should have existed in the first place. Healthcare is a human right, not a commodity only the rich deserve.
We won’t have universal healthcare until we have a Congress that listens to the American people. We won’t have a Congress with integrity until the bad ones get voted out. The bad ones won’t get voted out until we get big money out of politics altogether. And that won’t happen until we the people organize for enough states to sign onto a constitutional amendment that says corporations aren’t people and money isn’t speech. So until then, I’ll pay my $300 penalty for being uninsured, and try my best to stay healthy and well while I organize for those things to happen.