President Obama Lifts Sanctions on Iran, Gains Release of Prisoners, Stops Coal Mining on Federal Lands, & Tries to Improve Stagnant Wages
Ten U.S. sailors who wandered into Iranian waters were released after 16 hours, much to the great dismay of GOP candidates who were determined to start World War III. Today conservatives are equally distraught because President Obama’s diplomacy has arranged for the release from Iran of five U.S. citizens, including a Washington Post reporter, after 14 months of secret negotiations. In exchange, the U.S. will release seven Iranians held on sanctions violation with the option of remaining in the U.S. Donald Trump accused the president of “giving” Iran $150 billion, but that money belongs to Iran. The deal between that country and five other countries agreed that Iran would now have access to their own money.
It was the Iranian deal that allowed diplomats from the two countries to talk “face-to-face” about the prisoner situation. Iran negotiators wanted the release of over a dozen Iranians, but the U.S. reduced the list “to exclude anyone who was charged with a crime related to violence or terrorism.” President Obama refused to connect the prisoner release to the Iran agreement because it would be even more difficult to bring them home if the nuclear deal failed. Doing so would also encourage Iran to arrest more U.S. citizens in the future.
Last week Jeb Bush declared it “appalling” that “there’s been no effort to try to support the Americans held hostage by the Iranian government.” This is only one example of ignorant complaints from GOP presidential candidates. Iranians negotiators were very clear that Iran hardliners would cause the release arrangements to explode if the discussions were to be made public. For that reason, HuffPo sat on the information it received last fall from a state official. The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal also did not publicize the negotiations.
Last spring, 21 senators, led by Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to demand the prisoners’ unconditional release. After the exchange, however, Rubio said that the U.S. should never engage in prisoner “swaps.”Chris Christie said that, as president, he would not accept any prisoner exchanges. Ted Cruz is pleased that Pastor Saeed Abedini is returned, but the exchange is still “bad.” Ben Carson said that he would withdraw from the Iran agreement on his first day as president even if it did lay the groundwork for the prisoners’ release. Donald Trump said that Iran got more out of the deal than the U.S.
Since the Iran agreement was signed, Iran released 15 people, disabled two-thirds of its centrifuges, shipped out most of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, and poured concrete into its plutonium reactor so it can no longer be used to make a bomb. Instead of diplomacy, Republicans prefer to drop bombs on Iran.
As of today, the United States and other countries around the world have lifted sanctions against Iran because the country is fulfilling its promises. Iran will immediately be able to recoup $50 billion of its own money now held in restricted accounts, one-third of the $150 billion that they have been unable to access. This reward is for stopping its path toward obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The House had already decided not to sue the president over the Iran agreement but hasn’t come up with a plan regarding its proposed votes against the deal. This GOP failure may be another idiot plan for the history books.
The president’s Saturday morning address has more news that will annoy Republicans. A major problem with the recent recovery providing hundreds of thousands of new jobs is that companies re-hired at lower wages, creating stagnant salaries. This year, the president is initiating a plan of improved unemployment insurance, job training for those who can’t find a job, and wage insurance for people making under $50,000 a year who are re-hired at a lower wage. It would cover up to $10,000 in wage replacement over two years.
In addition, the president’s federally-funded plan would require states to provide insurance for workers laid off from jobs they had held for at least three years. The state unemployment insurance programs would administrate the program. Other measures would mandate that all states provide at least 26 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits and create a permanent program to automatically provide up to 52 additional weeks of federally-funded benefits for states experiencing rapid job-losses or high unemployment.
The proposal, part of the president’s budget and requiring congressional approval, would be paid through a slight increase in employers’ unemployment insurance tax. From 2008 to 2013, extended unemployment insurance benefits helped nearly 24 million workers and lifted 2.5 million people out of poverty in 2012 alone.
In another action that will infuriate conservatives, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced a moratorium on new coal-mining leases on public land along with a multiyear review of how those lease contracts are awarded. Leases may become more expensive for mining companies with increased royalties for the government to offset the damage coal production and consumption do to the environment. This is the first review of the coal program in 30 years.
About 40 percent of all US coal extraction takes place on federal land, much of that in Wyoming, the nation’s top coal producer. Royalty rates for coal mining are much lower than for offshore oil or other publicly owned fossil fuels, a bad deal for the public that has to deal with impacts from local environmental degradation to global climate change. According to a 2015 study, 92 percent of U.S coal reserves need to stay buried in the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
The moratorium will stop about 50 pending coal leases, many of which would probably not have gone into production, but it won’t change existing mining operations. U.S. coal production is at a 30-year low, one of the country’s biggest companies recently declared bankruptcy, and once-promising export markets in China are drying up. Coal companies have currently stockpiled billions of tons of unmined coal that is ready to be developed; a targeted pause on leasing will have no impact on jobs, coal production, energy prices, or grid reliability.
More than 57 percent of all emissions from fossil fuel production on federal lands comes from the combustion of coal. Coal mining in the Wyoming/Montana Powder River Basin is responsible for 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Strip mining and failed mine reclamation produce air and water pollution, and some companies avoid paying their cleanup costs, forcing the expenditures onto taxpayers. About 13,000 people are annually killed by power plant emissions with coal plants the deadliest type of power plant. Even as far away as 20 to 40 miles away from coal plants, women are more likely to give birth to children with low birth weights.
Since 2008, the coal industry’s decline of 15 percent has been largely driven by the rise in natural gas and changes in the global market. Green jobs are replacing those in the coal industry although the two industries employ different types of workers. For the third straight year, solar jobs grew 20 percent in the United States. Last year, the solar industry added jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy—more than jobs created by oil and gas extraction and pipeline sectors combined. Over the last year, the solar industry added jobs twelve times faster than the rest of the economy, even more than the jobs created by the oil and gas extraction and pipeline sectors combined.
The solar industry employs 208,859 people, 77 percent more than the people in the coal mining industry with fewer than 70,000 jobs. The only slowdown in the solar industry comes from states with policies to make electricity for solar households more expensive. For example, Nevada decided to kill solar jobs in its states.
At this time, the United States has a president who looks to the future, leading the nation through diplomacy and clean energy instead of increasing pollution and starting World War III. We can only hope that this trend continues instead of going back a century.