The Washington Post is reporting the Democratic-led Senate is likely to delay until late next month legislation to punitively tax bonuses at banks and investment firms that receive federal aid. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision comes after the White House and Wall Street expressed concern over plans to heavily tax corporate bonuses. Last week, the House voted to levy a 90 percent tax on bonuses paid since January 1 by companies that owe the government at least $5 billion in bailout loans. On Sunday President Barack Obama said the tax code shouldn’t be used to punish people.
The House vote came just days after it was revealed the failed insurance giant AIG was paying out more than $165 million in bonuses. On Monday, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced AIG employees have voluntarily agreed to give back more than $50 million in bonuses. Eighteen of the twenty-five AIG Financial Products employees who received the biggest retention payments had agreed to return them. Meanwhile, the Dutch banking and insurance giant ING has asked 1,200 senior employees to give up their 2008 bonuses after the firm received state aid. The company gave out $410 million in bonuses last year.
The Dow Jones Index jumped nearly seven percent Monday after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner introduced a plan for hedge funds and other private investors to receive government financing to purchase as much as $1 trillion of so-called toxic assets. The Washington Post reports the Treasury made the program more attractive to private investors after listening to the concerns of hedge funds and private equity funds. The Treasury increased private investors’ share of potential profits from 20 percent to 50 percent. Critics say the plan is written to favor hedge funds and other private investors, instead of taxpayers. If the assets go up in value, the hedge funds stand to benefit greatly, but if the assets fall, taxpayers bear most of the risk. President Obama said said the plan was a key part to rebuilding the nation’s financial system.
President Obama: “As all of you know, we have been busy on a whole host of fronts over the last several weeks, with the primary purpose of stabilizing the financial system, so banks are lending again, so that the secondary markets are working again, in order to make sure that families can get basic consumer loans, auto loans, student loans, that small businesses are able to finance themselves, and we can start getting this economy moving again.”
President Obama will be holding a prime time news conference tonight at 8:00 p.m. EST.
The Obama administration appears to be moving toward regulating greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act. The Environmental Protection Agency has found that climate-warming gases, including carbon dioxide, pose a danger to human health and welfare. Frank O’Donnell of the group Clean Air Watch said, “I think it’s historic news. It is going to set the stage for the first-ever national limits on global warming pollution.”
In news from Israel, Labor chair Ehud Barak has reportedly agreed to join Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government despite opposition from many within the Labor Party. Members of the Labor Party’s executive committee are expected to vote on the deal today. Barak had earlier pledged to stay in opposition if Labor won less than twenty seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. In last month’s election, Labor only won thirteen seats.
Meanwhile, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, accused Israel Monday of committing war crimes in Gaza. Falk called for an independent inquiry to examine possible war crimes committed by both Israel and Hamas.
Richard Falk: “The overall ratio of deaths — 1,434 on the Palestinian side, thirteen on the Israeli side — is suggestive of the one-sidedness of the military encounter and provides a basis for challenging the legality of initiating a military assault with modern weaponry against an essentially defenseless society.”
Richard Falk also accused Israel of preventing Palestinian civilians from fleeing the military assault.
Richard Falk: “This indictment of Israeli tactics is strongly reinforced by a feature of the military operations that is unique in contemporary warfare: namely, coercively confining the Gazan civilian population to the combat zone during the Israeli military operations. This effectively denied to all Palestinians in Gaza the option of becoming refugees. Such a war policy should be treated as a distinct and new crime against humanity and should be formally recognized as such and explicitly prohibited.”
Israel dismissed Falk’s report, saying it was part of a pattern of demonizing Israel by the United Nations. The UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, also criticized Israel’s attack on Gaza and suggested Israeli officials could be tried outside of Israel if Israel does not investigate possible war crimes.
Olivier de Schutter: “We would like to emphasize that the primary responsibility of ensuring the respect of international humanitarian law lies with the national justice system. Should the Israeli military or civilian justice system adequately and transparently investigate allegations of violations of the laws of war and, if necessary, prosecute those responsible, the IDF has no reason to fear that its officers will face indictments in foreign jurisdictions.”
On Monday, Israeli Army spokesperson Major Avital Leibovich defended Israel’s actions and disputed a report that Israeli troops targeted Palestinian medical facilities.
Major Avital Leibovich: “The IDF has decided to open a thorough investigation. Investigation was not complete yet, and when it will be complete, we will be more than happy to share the details with the public. We know and we can say today for a fact that the IDF soldiers were instructed to take very good care of the different medical facilities and medical vehicles in the area in Gaza.”
In other news from the region, the parents of the American peace activist Tristan Anderson flew to Israel yesterday to see their son, who remains in critical condition in a medically induced coma. Israeli troops shot Anderson in the head with a high-velocity tear gas canister. Tristan’s mother, Nancy Anderson, said, “We are scared and really still in shock. To shoot peaceful demonstrators is really horrifying to us. What we want to ask is that the Israeli government publicly take full responsibility for the shooting of our son.” The words of Nancy Anderson.
In Lebanon, a high-ranking member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization was assassinated Monday in a roadside bombing in Lebanon that killed a total of five people. Kamal Medhat was the deputy head of the PLO in Lebanon
In Iraq, a series of bombings Monday killed at least thirty-seven people and wounded five dozen. The deadliest attack occurred when a suicide bomber attacked mourners at a Kurdish funeral in a town north of Baghdad, killing at least twenty-five.
The United Nations has ruled the continued detention of Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi violates Burma’s own laws as well as those of the international community. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has spent thirteen of the last nineteen years under house arrest.
Newly released documents reveal US government lawyers tried to get a British resident held at Guantanamo Bay to sign a deal saying he had never been tortured and that he would not speak to the media as a condition of his release. US lawyers also wanted Binyam Mohamed to plead guilty to secure his freedom, even though he was never charged with a crime. Mohamed was released last month but did not sign such an agreement.
South Africa has barred the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama from attending a peace conference. Archbishop Desmond Tutu accused the South African government of caving in to China, one of South Africa’s largest trading partners. Earlier this month, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said that foreign countries should stay away from any involvement in the Tibet issue. Desmond Tutu said, “We are shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure. I feel deeply distressed and ashamed.”
In news from Capitol Hill, independent Senator Bernie Sanders is attempting to block President Obama’s nominee to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Gary Gensler, a former Goldman Sachs employee. Sanders said Gensler had worked with Sen. Phil Gramm and Alan Greenspan to exempt credit default swaps from regulation, which led to the collapse of AIG and has resulted in the largest taxpayer bailout in US history. He also worked to deregulate electronic energy trading, which led to the downfall of Enron. Sanders said, “We need an independent leader who will help create a new culture in the financial marketplace and move us away from the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior which has caused so much harm to our economy.”
The Vermont Senate voted overwhelmingly yesterday to legalize same-sex marriage. If the bill becomes law, Vermont will become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage without being forced to do so by the courts. Meanwhile, the Boston Globe reports several other New England states are moving forward with similar bills. The New Hampshire House of Representatives is set to vote on the issue later this week. Next month a legislative panel in Maine will hold a hearing on a bill to allow gay couples to marry, just as lawmakers did last month in Rhode Island. Same-sex marriage is already legal in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
President Barack Obama has nominated Neal Wolin to be Deputy Treasury Secretary, Lael Brainard to be the Treasury Department’s top official for international affairs, and Stuart Levey, who will stay on as the top counterterrorism official at the department.
In labor news, the union UNITE-HERE has split in two. On Monday, 150,000 workers left the union to form a new labor group called Workers United, which will be affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. UNITE-HERE was formed in 2004 when UNITE, representing apparel and laundry workers, merged with the larger Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, or HERE.
In media news, the Newhouse family has announced plans to lay off the entire staff at the Ann Arbor News in July and then replace the daily paper with two new companies: a website called AnnArbor.com and a newspaper that will come out only two days a week. The Ann Arbor News has been a daily newspaper for the past 174 years. In addition, three daily Michigan newspapers — the Flint Journal, the Saginaw News and the Bay City Times — will soon be published only on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.
In Canada, the annual seal hunt has begun despite increasing criticism from animal rights organizations. The Canadian government has announced that hunters will be allowed to kill 280,000 young harp seals this year, a slight increase over last year. Although most animals are shot, some are killed by blows from large spiked clubs. International pressure is growing to stop the seal hunt. Last week, Russia banned the hunting of baby harp seals, weeks after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called it a “bloody industry.” Russia’s Minister of Natural Resources called sealing “one of the most inhumane types of hunting in the world.”
And a major new study from the National Cancer Institute has found people who eat the most red meat and the most processed meat have the highest overall risk of death from all causes, including heart disease and cancer. Researchers came to this conclusion after studying the eating habits of more than 500,000 people between the ages of fifty and seventy-one. The researchers said thousands of deaths could be prevented if people simply ate less meat.