Obama Slashes Military Pay Raises; 150 Million Seek to Move to US; NAFTA Hikes Sugar Glut

Sunday, 08 Sep 2013 02:38 PM

By Special From Newsmax's Most Informed Sources

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Headlines (Scroll down for complete stories):
1. Obama Slashes Pay Raises for Military
2. Labels on Modified Foods Would Boost Prices
3. Approval of Congress Drops Even During Recess
4. Afghanistan Poised to Be 'World Leader' in Minerals
5. 150 Million Would Move to U.S. If They Could
6. NAFTA Blamed for U.S. Sugar Glut
 

1. Obama Slashes Pay Raises for Military

President Obama has told Congress he will cap next year's pay raise for U.S. military personnel at 1 percent instead of boosting pay by 1.8 percent as called for by a federal law.

The president's move will negatively impact American combat troops scheduled to remain in Afghanistan through 2014.

The federal law says military pay raises must be based on the Employment Cost Index compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which ties military raises to private sector pay growth. Under that formula, military personnel should be getting a 1.8 percent pay raise beginning in January 2014, CNS News reported.

But the law also states that the president can inform Congress of an alternative pay adjustment "if because of national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare, the president considers the pay adjustment which would otherwise be required by this section in any year to be inappropriate."

Obama wrote to congressional leaders: "I am strongly committed to supporting our uniformed service members, who have made such great contributions to our nation over the past decade of war. As our country continues to recover from serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare, however, we must maintain efforts to keep our nation on a sustainable fiscal course."

He also asserted that his decision "will not materially affect the federal government's ability to attract and retain well-qualified members" of the military.

The House passed a bill in July authorizing the 1.8 percent raise, but the Senate has set the raise at 1 percent as recommended by Obama.

Military pay rose 1.7 percent this year and 1.6 percent in 2012.

Retired Air Force Col. Mike Hayden, director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), calculated that the reduced pay raise could cost an officer with 10 years of service about $52 a month next year, or $8,000 over the remaining years of his or her career. It would also cost a service member $20,000 in retirement pay.

Hayden wrote on the MOAA website: "Over the past 12 years, Congress worked hard to fix the 13.5 percent pay gap (and resulting retention problems) caused by repeatedly capping military raises below private-sector pay growth in the 1980s and 1990s.

"History has shown that once Congress starts accepting proposals to cap military pay below private-sector growth, pay caps continue until they have weakened retention and readiness."

Editor's Note:



2. Labels on Modified Foods Would Boost Prices

Connecticut and Maine recently passed bills requiring labels identifying all foods made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and similar legislation is pending in at least 20 states.

But labels on GMO foods would have unforeseen consequences and would be a "bad idea," Scientific American warns.

First of all, the publication points out, farmers have been tinkering with our food to boost production since the dawn of agriculture, and for the past 20 years Americans have been eating plants that have been modified to help crops tolerate drought and resist herbicides. About 70 percent of processed foods in America contain genetically modified ingredients.

"Instead of providing people with useful information, mandatory GMO labels would only intensify the misconception that so-called Frankenfoods endanger people's health," Scientific American (SA) asserts, noting that the Food and Drug Administration has tested all the GMOs on the market and found that they are neither toxic nor allergenic.

The European Union provides a telling example. In 1997, the E.U. began requiring labels on GMO foods. By 1999, major European retailers, fearful that consumers would shun these foods, had removed genetically modified ingredients from their products.

But because conventional crops need more water and pesticides than GMOs do, the unmodified products are usually more expensive, so "we would all have to pay a premium on non-GMO foods — and for a questionable return," SA observes.

A research firm estimated that Proposition 37, a labeling initiative that was narrowly rejected by California voters last year, would have raised the average family's food bill by up to $400 a year.

Indeed, a seven-year study in India showed that farmers growing a genetically modified crop boosted their yield per acre by 24 percent.

German scientists have engineered so-called Golden Rice to produce beta-carotene, which is converted in the body to the active form of vitamin A. Every year, about half a million children go blind as a result of vitamin A deficiency, and 70 percent of those die within a year of losing their sight.

But Greenpeace and other GMO opponents have managed to delay the introduction of Golden Rice to the Philippines, India, and China.

The Insider Report noted in December that prominent experts claimed opposition to GMOs was coming from anti-science, anti-technology groups.

"Activism intended to delay progress toward life-saving products and technologies is irresponsible and despicable," according to an article co-written by Henry I. Miller, the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Miller is also the founding director of the Office of Biotechnology at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The debates over GMO labeling "are about so much more than slapping ostensibly simple labels on our food to satisfy a segment of American consumers," SA noted. "Ultimately we are deciding whether we will continue to develop an immensely beneficial technology or shun it based on unfounded fears."

Editor's Note:



3. Approval of Congress Drops Even During Recess

Congress went into recess in August and many members spent time at home talking to constituents, but public opinion of their performance still dropped during the month.

Just 7 percent of likely voters think Congress is doing a good or excellent job, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. That's down from 10 percent a month ago.

When asked to rate Congress' performance as excellent, good, fair, or poor, 62 percent said poor.

Just 23 percent of respondents believe their representative in Congress is the best possible person for the job. Nearly twice as many, 44 percent, disagree, while 33 percent are not sure.

One-third of those polled think their local representative deserves re-election, but 38 percent believe their representatives do not deserve another term.

Only 15 percent of voters believe that most members of Congress care what their constituents think, and 64 percent disagree. But 27 percent say their own representative cares what they think, while 49 percent disagree.

Other findings of the Rasmussen survey:

  • 67 percent of voters continue to believe most members of Congress are re-elected because the election rules are rigged to benefit them.
  • Among voters who say they are members of the tea party, 15 percent give Congress a good or excellent rating, compared to 6 percent who are not tea party members.
  • 78 percent of Republican voters think it is at least somewhat important for their leaders in Congress to work with the tea party, including 45 percent who believe it is very important.
  • Only one quarter of voters believe the debt ceiling should be raised without any significant spending cuts.

Editor's Note:



4. Afghanistan Poised to Be 'World Leader' in Minerals

Newly mapped deposits of minerals in Afghanistan — most significantly rare earth elements — could prove to be the "silver lining" in the war-torn nation's recent struggles.

Afghanistan remains a ravaged land as members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) prepare to depart.

"However, the resources Afghanistan's land holds — copper, cobalt, iron, barite, sulfur, lead, silver, zinc, niobium, and 1.4 million metric tons of rare earth elements (REEs) — may be a silver lining," according to The American, the online magazine of the American Enterprise Institute.

U.S. agencies estimate Afghanistan's mineral deposits to be worth as much as $1 trillion, and a classified Pentagon memo called the country the "Saudi Arabia of lithium." Lithium is technically not one of the REEs, but it shares some of their uses.

Using new technologies deployed by aircraft, U.S. military and geological experts have been able to peer beneath the surface to map the nation's vast mineral wealth.

Jim Bullion, who heads a Pentagon task force on Afghanistan's postwar development, has said these maps reveal that the country could "become a world leader in the minerals sector."

REEs are crucial to the world economy. They are 17 chemical elements, such as cerium, erbium, and ytterbium, that are used in the manufacture of a wide range of items, including cellphones, televisions, computer components, lasers, fiber optics, and superconductors. And they are crucial to tank navigation systems, missile guidance systems, satellites, and fighter jet engines.

China, which produces 97 percent of the world's REEs, has tried to manipulate the market by slowing or even halting exports.

The United States, Australia, and others stopped mining their own deposits a decade ago because it was cheaper to buy Chinese ores, Newsmax reported earlier.

Afghanistan's REEs could be part of a long-term solution to the supply of the elements and help the country recover after decades of war.

But China has won exploration rights for lithium and some other minerals in Afghanistan, The American reports, adding: "Given China's stranglehold on the REE market, and the West's commitment in blood and treasure to Afghanistan's future, allowing China to stroll in and harvest Afghanistan's rare earth riches seems both unwise and unfair."

The article by Alan W. Down, a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute, suggests that before ISAF nations withdraw, "they should use their considerable leverage to ensure a level playing field for any company willing to take a risk in developing Afghanistan's mineral wealth."

Editor's Note:



5. 150 Million Would Move to U.S. If They Could

Enforcement of the nation's immigration laws is crucial to the future of America due to a "fundamental fact," according to the Center for Immigration Studies — many more people would like to relocate here than the country could reasonably absorb.

"Unless this country becomes a very undesirable place to live and work, there will always be more people wishing to come here than there will be available legal immigration slots," the CIS states in a new report.

"That means [the country] has no other choice than to think seriously about immigration enforcement."

The CIS points to a Gallup poll of more than 450,000 adults in 151 countries conducted over a recent two-year period. It projected that about 13 percent of the world's adults, more than 640 million people, would like to leave their country permanently, and about 150 million of them would prefer to relocate in the United States.

The second most favored country people would like to move to is the United Kingdom — 45 million adults cited the U.K. — followed by Canada (42 million), France (32 million), Saudi Arabia (31 million), Australia and Germany (both 26 million).

Potential migrants who would like to permanently settle in America are most likely to come from populous countries such as China (22 million), Nigeria (15 million), India (10 million), and Bangladesh (8 million), according to Gallup.

Interestingly, only 5 million adults in Mexico say they would like to immigrate to the United States.

In terms of percentage of the population that would like to migrate permanently to America, Liberia leads the way — 37 percent of adults would move to the United States if they could, followed by Sierra Leone (30 percent), Dominican Republic (26 percent), and Haiti (24 percent).

Potential migrants aspire to move to another country "for the simple reason that they are in search of opportunity," Gallup observes.

But the CIS cautions: "Americans by nature are open and friendly people. This creates an understandable presumption of empathy for the millions of illegal aliens now living and working in this country.

"Yet the United States is also a country that takes 'playing by the rules' seriously. We don't generally reward or support cheating, taking unfair advantage, breaking rules and laws for your own benefit, or engaging in self-interested behavior at the expense of the communities of which you are, or want to become, a part.

"Illegal aliens do all of those things and more."

Editor's Note:



6. NAFTA Blamed for U.S. Sugar Glut

The U.S. government has a ton of sugar on its hands — 85,000 short tons, in fact — after domestic processors defaulted on federal loans for the first time in nine years.

Under the loan program, the government extends credit each year to sugar processors, and the loans are due to be repaid mostly in September or October.

But if raw sugar prices fall below a certain price, as they did for much of the year, processors can hand over sugar instead of repaying cash.

So processors have handed over 85,000 tons of sugar worth about $35 million, the Department of Agriculture disclosed on Thursday. The agency also warned that there is a "substantial risk" of additional defaults at the end of September, when over $300 million in loans come due for repayment.

"The forfeitures are a direct result of the pioneering North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico," the Financial Times reported.

"Since the pact took effect for sugar in 2008, Mexican exports across its northern border have surged."

The government determines each year how much sugar most foreign countries can export to the United States without steep tariffs. Mexico is excluded from those limits due to NAFTA.

American sugar cane and sugar beet crops hit record levels in 2012, and Mexico's cane farmers harvested a record 7.4 million tons, with exports to the United States totaling 2.1 tons in the year ending in September — a 93 percent increase over the previous year.

The glut has pushed down prices by 25 percent from a year ago, impacting borrowers who have had to "repay" their loans with sugar.

Jack Roney, chief economist at the American Sugar Alliance, a processors' group, called the forfeitures "an unfortunate consequence of the brutally excessive amounts of sugar sent to the U.S. by Mexico this year."

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Editor's Note:



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