Biofuels Bad for Planet; Walgreens Mulls Move Overseas; Tunisia Reverses on Israeli Tourists

Sunday, 27 Apr 2014 01:58 PM

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Headlines (Scroll down for complete stories):
1. The 'Unintended Effects' of Government-Mandated Ethanol
2. 1 in 7 Americans Couldn't Survive a Week Without a Job
3. Worldwide Survey: Views Vary Widely on Moral Issues
4. Tunisia's Reversal on Israeli Tourists Sparks Backlash
5. Shareholders Urging Walgreens to Move Overseas
6. 'Worksharing' Can Reduce Unemployment
 

1. The 'Unintended Effects' of Government-Mandated Ethanol

The recent release of a United Nations report on corn ethanol has triggered new discussions on the benefits and drawbacks of the biofuel.

The report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that while biofuels do release smaller amounts of greenhouse gases than gasoline or diesel, "for some biofuels indirect emissions — including from land use change — can lead to greater total emissions than when using petroleum products."

Moreover, the negative consequences of including corn ethanol in the fuel supply are enormous.

In 2000, more than 90 percent of the corn grown in the United States went to feed people and livestock, including many people in undeveloped countries, and less than 5 percent was used to produce ethanol.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 dictated that gasoline contain a minimum volume of renewable fuels. By 2013, 40 percent of the corn crop went to produce ethanol, 45 percent fed livestock, and just 15 percent was used for foods and beverages, according to a report from Forbes.

On average, one bushel of corn can produce nearly three gallons of ethanol. This year the United States — which produces 40 percent of the world's corn and accounts for 70 percent of worldwide corn imports — will use nearly 5 billion bushels to produce more than 13 billion gallons of ethanol fuel.

The corn needed to fill a 25-gallon gas tank with ethanol could feed one person for a year, "so the amount of corn used to make that 13 million gallons will not feed the almost 500 million people it was feeding in 2000. This is the entire population of the Western Hemisphere outside the United States," observed Forbes contributor James Conca.

In 2007, the global price of corn doubled due to the increase in ethanol production, leading to increases in the price of milk, cheese, eggs, meat, cereals, and corn-based sweeteners, and world grain reserves dwindled to their lowest level in over 30 years.

Increased corn prices can also impact a surprising array of other products, including toothpaste, cosmetics, shampoo, and adhesives.

"Additional unintended effects from the increase in ethanol production include the dramatic rise in land rents," as well as an increase in the natural gas and chemicals used for fertilizers, over-pumping of aquifers, and clear-cutting of forests to plant corn crops, Forbes reported.

There have also been reports of vehicles' fuel systems being damaged by the use of ethanol, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

As for the rationale to counter all these negative effects, the International Institute for Sustainable Development has estimated that the CO2 and climate benefits from replacing petroleum fuels with biofuels like ethanol are "basically zero."

Editor's Note:



2. 1 in 7 Americans Couldn't Survive a Week Without a Job

Fourteen percent of Americans, or about one in seven, say they would experience "significant financial hardship" within a week if they lost their job, a Gallup survey reveals.

Another 29 percent say they would face financial troubles within a month if they no longer received a paycheck, while 26 percent wouldn't survive financially more than four months without a job.

Just 17 percent could survive for up to one year, and 14 percent could last more than a year, according to Gallup's poll of adults employed full-time or part-time in all 50 states.

And among those with an annual household income of less than $50,000, 45 percent could not last one month and 25 percent could not last even a week.

Asked how likely it is that they would lose their job in the next 12 months, 16 percent said "very" and 11 percent said "fairly," while 34 percent said "not too likely" and 50 percent said "not at all likely."

"An analysis of these two job-loss questions in combination finds 9 percent of all U.S. workers highly vulnerable to a job loss — saying it is very or fairly likely they will lose their job and that they could go up to a week or a month without a job before experiencing financial hardship," Gallup disclosed.

More than 60 percent of adults ages 18 to 34 could go only one month or less before experiencing hardship, compared to 39 percent of those ages 35 to 54, and 25 percent of workers ages 55 and older, most likely because older workers have had more time to build up savings.

Gallup concludes: "With long-term unemployment a serious problem in recent years, many U.S. workers are not in a position financially to go a month, or even a week, without finding a new job if laid off. That underscores the economic hardship that unemployment of any length can bring on U.S. families, particularly for younger and lower-income workers."

Editor's Note:



3. Worldwide Survey: Views Vary Widely on Moral Issues

The Pew Research Center's latest Global Attitudes survey asked more than 40,000 people in 40 countries what they thought about eight topics that most consider moral issues, and found that views vary greatly in different regions of the world.

European nations and other advanced economies are least likely to deem the issues as morally unacceptable, while Muslim countries are most likely.

For each issue, respondents were asked if it is morally unacceptable, morally acceptable, or not a moral issue.

"Generally, extramarital affairs, gambling, homosexuality, and abortion are deemed unacceptable by the largest number of respondents," Pew stated. "Meanwhile, contraceptives and divorce are seen as acceptable by the greatest number of people."

Here are Pew's findings:

Extramarital affairs: Worldwide, 78 percent say affairs are morally unacceptable, while just 7 percent believe they are acceptable and 10 percent do not consider them to be a moral issue.

The Palestinian territories and Turkey had the highest percentage of people saying affairs are unacceptable, 94 percent, followed by Egypt, Indonesia, and Jordan at 93 percent. The Philippines had the highest percentage among nations that are not predominantly Muslim, 90 percent.

Just 47 percent of respondents in France think affairs are unacceptable, and 40 percent believe they are not a moral issue. In Germany, 60 percent find them unacceptable, as do 62 percent in India. In the United States, 84 percent say they are unacceptable, and just 4 percent say they acceptable.

Gambling: Overall, 62 percent of people believe gambling is morally unacceptable, 11 percent say it is acceptable, and 19 percent don't consider it a moral issue.

Pakistan has the highest percentage of people finding gambling unacceptable, 95 percent, followed by Egypt, Ghana, Jordan, Palestinian territories, and Tunisia, all at 91 percent.

In France, just 13 percent say gambling is unacceptable, and in Canada, 23 percent. In both countries, a majority believes gambling is not a moral issue. In the United States, just 24 percent say it is unacceptable.

Homosexuality: 59 percent believe homosexuality is morally unacceptable, 20 percent find it acceptable, and 13 percent say it is not a moral issue.

A full 98 percent of people in Ghana say homosexuality is morally unacceptable, as do 95 percent in Egypt and Jordan.

Just 6 percent of people in Spain find it morally unacceptable, and 55 percent say it is acceptable. In the United States, 37 percent say it is unacceptable, 23 percent find it acceptable, and 35 percent don't consider it a moral issue.

Abortion: Worldwide, 56 percent consider it morally unacceptable, 15 percent say it is acceptable, and 12 percent don't consider it a moral issue.

The highest percentage of people who say it is unacceptable is in the Philippines, 93 percent, followed by Ghana at 92 percent and Indonesia at 89 percent.

The lowest percentages who consider it unacceptable are in France (14 percent), Czech Republic (18 percent), and Germany (19 percent). Among Americans, 49 percent deem it unacceptable, 17 percent say it is acceptable, and 23 percent say it is not a moral issue.

Divorce: Overall, just 24 percent say it is unacceptable, with the highest percentages in Ghana (80 percent), Uganda (76 percent), and Pakistan (73 percent).

In Spain, just 4 percent find it unacceptable, as do 5 percent in France and 6 percent in Jordan. In the United States, 22 percent say it is unacceptable, 33 percent deem it acceptable, and 36 percent say it is not a moral issue.

Worldwide, just 14 percent of respondents think contraceptive use is unacceptable, 42 percent feel that way about alcohol use — with just 6 percent in Japan and 16 percent in the United States — and 46 percent consider premarital sex morally unacceptable.

Editor's Note:



4. Tunisia's Reversal on Israeli Tourists Sparks Backlash

The Insider Report disclosed in March that Israeli tourists on a cruise ship owned by a U.S.-based firm were barred from disembarking in the port of Tunis and were forced to remain on board while other passengers were allowed off.

Now the Tunisian government has reversed its position and announced that Israeli tourists can enter Tunisia.

"The aim is that the tourist season be a success," Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said at an economic conference in Tunis on Wednesday.

The decision sparked a backlash from the Tunisian opposition, who accused the government of being lenient and "normalizing relations with Israel," according to the Jerusalem Post.

Eighty members of Tunisia's parliament have demanded that the nation's minister of tourism and interior minister be brought in for a hearing on the issue.

"A Tunisian media report recently featured the visit of 61 Israelis, who entered the country on Israeli passports, a precedent-setting event in a country that has no relations with Israel," the Post reported.

Back on March 9, about 20 Israelis on the Norwegian Jade cruise ship were kept on the ship in Tunis, and the ship's owner, Norwegian Cruise Lines, was criticized for failing to inform Israeli passengers ahead of time that they would be barred from disembarking.

The cruise line, which is headquartered in Florida, eliminated Tunisia from its list of destinations to protest the government's action.

In a reported effort to control the damage to Tunisia's image as a tourist destination, the North African nation allocated $6,300 toward renovating a historic synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba, and Tunisia will host a Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue in May.

Editor's Note:



5. Shareholders Urging Walgreens to Move Overseas

A powerful group of Walgreens shareholders is pushing the huge drugstore chain to relocate overseas in order to dodge U.S. taxes.

The shareholders, including Goldman Sachs Investment Partners and several hedge funds, own 5 percent of the pharmacy's stock. They want America's largest drug retailing chain to re-domicile, most likely in Europe, to reduce U.S. taxes — and to do that, 20 percent of Walgreens' shares would have to be owned by foreign investors.

That entered "the realm of possibility" following Walgreens' purchase of nearly a half-ownership of the Swiss-based Alliance Boots health and beauty group for $6.7 billion in 2012, according to The Fiscal Times. Walgreens is scheduled to buy the rest of the firm next year.

Analysts calculate that Boots' tax rate would be about 20 percent because it is domiciled in Switzerland, while Walgreens' would be 37.5 percent.

The shareholder group met in Paris with Walgreens management on April 11 to urge the company to move, thereby boosting its earnings per share by 75 percent.

Another American drug firm, Questcor Pharmaceuticals, recently agreed to be bought by Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, which is based in Dublin, Ireland, where the tax rate is 12.5 percent.

One reason the shareholders are pressuring Walgreens to act quickly is that the Treasury Department has proposed new rules that would require firms hoping to lower their U.S. taxes to be 50 percent foreign-owned instead of 20 percent.

Walgreens management is reportedly reluctant to re-domicile because of possible political and consumer backlash.

"Luckily for U.S.-based companies pondering such a move, typical American consumers are far more concerned about the price and immediate availability of the products they want, as opposed to where the makers of said products are paying their taxes," The Times adds.

"It's the American way, like complaining about the sorry state of the country's roads, bridges, and other crumbling infrastructure such tax dodges make possible."

Walgreens has more than 8,670 stores and some 176,000 employees, and reported $71 billion in revenue in 2012.

Editor's Note:



6. 'Worksharing' Can Reduce Unemployment

Instead of laying off selected workers during an economic downturn, cutting all workers' hours — called worksharing — can benefit employees and employers alike, according to a report from the American Enterprise Institute.

Between January 2008 and December 2009, Americans lost 9.7 non-farm jobs, and the unemployment rate in February of this year remains high at 6.7 percent. The number of workers who have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks now stands at 3.8 million.

"In the midst of this slow and tepid job market recovery, policies that can help the economy avoid such high levels of unemployment remain elusive," state authors Kevin A. Hassett and Michael R. Strain.

"One tool that can help keep a lid on unemployment is worksharing."

Under worksharing, a company would reduce the hours of its workforce instead of instituting layoffs, and workers whose hours were reduced would be eligible for a prorated unemployment insurance payout.

The authors give the example of a firm with 100 employees. In the face of an economic downturn, the company must reduce its wage bill by 20 percent.

Today, most companies would simply lay off 20 employees, and those workers would then receive unemployment insurance benefits financed by taxpayers.

Under worksharing, the company would not lay off any workers and would instead tell every worker to stay home one day a week. Each worker would then be eligible for 20 percent of a weekly unemployment insurance benefit.

In both situations — layoffs and worksharing — the company would reduce its wage bill by 20 percent, while the taxpayers would be responsible for the same amount of money in insurance benefits.

But with worksharing, no one loses his or her job. Workers would continue to earn a decent wage, while the company would avoid hiring costs and training costs when economic conditions improve, and retain valued workers.

Worksharing would also avoid the possibility of some laid-off workers suffering long-term unemployment. The authors assert that firms in general won't interview a worker who has been unemployed for longer than six months. And long-term unemployment leads to higher stress levels that can have negative health consequences.

Several companies have already tried strategies similar to worksharing. Charles Schwab, for example, in 2001 encouraged its employees to take unpaid leave, designating certain Fridays as voluntary days off.

The authors conclude: "To the extent that worksharing can keep some workers in jobs and out of long-term unemployment, it can increase potential output even after the recession passes. In this way, worksharing can add to gross domestic product, increasing labor demand and household incomes in addition to simply spreading the recession-caused pain around."

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