The US has formalized its pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the non-binding agreement struck at the Copenhagen Climate Summit last month. On Thursday, the Obama administration submitted its plan to reduce emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020. The figure amounts to just four percent of the 1990 levels used as the standard by the rest of the world. The US pledge is contingent on congressional approval. Other countries to submit their reduction targets include the Marshall Islands, which pledge to reduce emissions 40 percent. Marshall Islands Foreign Minister John Silk said, “If one of the smallest and most vulnerable island states can take action, the largest countries have no excuse not to follow our example.”
Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke has been confirmed to a second term. On Thursday, the Senate voted to 70 to 30 to approve Bernanke’s nomination to another four years. Bernanke’s nomination was the most divisive of any Fed nominee in the Senate’s history. His reappointment has come under opposition over his role in the nation’s financial meltdown and the subsequent bailout of Wall Street firms. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders was among Bernanke’s most vocal opponents.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “I think ordinary people do not understand, average American citizens have a hard time understanding, how we reward failure, how we say to somebody who was asleep at the switch in terms of regulating our financial institutions, 'Congratulations! You failed. There's a major recession. You’re getting reappointed!’ I don’t think people understand why and how that should happen.”
The Senate also voted Thursday to raise the legal limit on government borrowing to $14.3 trillion. The $1.9 trillion increase would allow the Treasury to meet its financial obligations through early next year.
President Obama is expected to unveil a new round of proposals today as part of his stated efforts to help create jobs. The $33 billion package would provide incentives for hiring workers and raising wages. Businesses would receive a $5,000 tax credit for each worker hired next year, as well as reimbursements on Social Security taxes. On Thursday, Obama told a Florida audience that job creation is his “top priority.”
President Obama: “The worst of the storm has passed. But, I think all of you understand, the devastation remains. One in ten Americans still can’t find work. That’s why creating jobs has to be our number one priority in 2010.”
Haiti continues to see scenes of chaos as desperate earthquake survivors seek food and water. On Thursday, a large crowd broke through the gates of a government building to storm a group of trucks holding bags of rice. Hospitals continue to report dire shortages of medical supplies, including antibiotics and painkillers. One hospital in Jacmel says it’s treating around 500 patients a day, many of them for the first time. The official death toll remains at around 170,000, although it’s expected top 200,000.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has announced a peace overture aimed at top Taliban leaders. On Thursday, Karzai told an international conference in London he hopes to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban that would end the more than eight years of fighting since the US invasion. The Obama administration has so far refused to endorse the proposal. Addressing the same conference, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US would only back an agreement with low-level Taliban fighters, not leadership.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We have a very clear understanding of what we expect from this process. We expect that a lot of the foot soldiers on the battlefield will be leaving the Taliban because many of them have wanted to leave, many of them are tired of fighting. We believe the tide is beginning to turn against them, and we need incentives in order to both protect them and provide alternatives to them to replace the payment they received as Taliban fighters.”
Iran has executed two people arrested during the protests following last June’s disputed national elections. Both were convicted of belonging to a banned political party. They are believed to be the first executions related to Iran’s post-election unrest.
The Senate, meanwhile, has backed a new round of US sanctions against Iran. The measure would punish companies that help supply Iran with fuel.
In California, the state Senate has voted to establish a statewide single-payer healthcare system. The measure was approved by a vote of 22 to 14. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has vowed to veto the bill. Advocates say around 60 percent of Californians support a single-payer system. The bill now goes before the state Assembly.
Oregon voters, meanwhile, have approved two measures that would raise taxes on high-income residents and corporations to pay for public services. Under measures 66 and 67, residents earning more than $250,000 and large corporations would see tax hikes, while the unemployed would receive tax breaks. It was the first voter-approved statewide income tax increase approved by Oregon voters in nearly eighty years.
A Maryland-based public relations firm has launched a congressional campaign to satirize last week’s Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. In a five-to-four decision, the Court overturned century-old restrictions on corporations, unions and other interest groups from using their vast treasuries to advocate for a specific candidate. In response, the company, Murray Hill, released a campaign ad announcing its candidacy in the Republican primary in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District.
Announcer: “Thanks to an enlightened Supreme Court, corporations now have all the rights the Founding Fathers meant for us. It’s our democracy. We bought it. We paid for it. And we’re going to keep it. That’s why Murray Hill Incorporated is taking democracy’s next step: running for Congress. The way we see it, corporate America has been the driving force behind Congress for years. But now it’s time we got behind the wheel ourselves.”