- - Tuesday, August 9, 2011

WHITE HOUSE

Car czar Bloom to step down

President Obama’s top manufacturing adviser Ron Bloom will step down at the end of August, the White House said Tuesday.

Mr. Bloom oversaw the restructuring of Chrysler Group LLC and General Motors, helping restore their profitability after multibillion-dollar taxpayer rescues in 2009 that saved them from collapse.

One of his final public acts was to brief the White House press corp last month on a deal between the administration and top automakers to lift U.S. fuel economy standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Mr. Bloom was appointed assistant to the president for manufacturing policy in September 2009. His goal was to aid the White House in revitalizing U.S. factory jobs. But the tepid economic recovery has hobbled hiring and U.S. unemployment remains high at 9.2 percent.

Mr. Obama frequently cites the auto rescue as evidence he is prepared to take politically unpopular decisions to protect U.S. manufacturers. But public anger over the bailout has lingered, with many Americans anxious about their jobs and struggling to make ends meet.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama sees political opportunity in debt crisis

President Obama says there’s some good news from the bitterly partisan debt debate — it made people so frustrated with Washington that Democrats will be able to draw a clear divide with Republicans heading into the 2012 election.

The president says that the public thought divided government might be a good idea but that they didn’t sign up for dysfunctional government. And he said he thinks they’re not convinced by what he described as the Republican strategy of slashing spending on social programs.

The president spoke at two Democratic National Committee events Monday night in Washington, one a fundraiser and the other to reach out to donors. He made some reference to Monday’s stock market plunge, saying that even before recent days in the stock market it was clear the recovery wasn’t happening fast enough.

GUATEMALA

U.S. requests panel to decide labor case

The United States said Tuesday it was requesting a dispute settlement panel to hear its year-old complaint that Guatemala has failed to protect workers’ rights as required under a free-trade agreement.

“While Guatemala has taken some positive steps, its overall actions and proposals to date have been insufficient to address the apparent systemic failures,” U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement.

The action is taken under the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, known as CAFTA-DR.

The Obama administration is hoping to win approval of three long-delayed free-trade pacts with South Korea, Panama and Colombia when Congress returns in September from its recess.

U.S. labor groups strongly oppose the pact with Colombia, which they call the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists because of the Andean nation’s history of anti-union violence.

Guatemala could potentially face millions of dollars in fines if the panel finds it has violated CAFTA-DR.

WYOMING

Bills would crack down on shell companies

Wyoming state legislators will consider three new bills next week aimed at reining in “shell” companies formed under the state’s liberal incorporation laws, said state Secretary of State Max Maxfield.

The move follows a Reuters investigation in June that showed how Wyoming, Nevada and Delaware have become popular business-secrecy destinations at a time when Washington is demanding other countries improve financial and corporate transparency.

Reuters found that one 1,700-square-foot house in Cheyenne is home to more than 2,000 firms, including hundreds of shell companies — paper-only firms with few assets. Some of those firms have been used to shield real estate for a jailed former prime minister of Ukraine, sell fake parts to the Pentagon and process payments for illegal online gambling.

Mr. Maxfield told the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle newspaper Aug. 8 that the bills would strengthen his office’s ability to issue cease-and-desist orders against firms that file false documents with the state, close a fee-related loophole, and ban “nominee” officers and directors. Wyoming is one of only a handful of states which do not already prohibit nominees — individuals who stand in for the real owners of companies to hide their identities.

CALIFORNIA

Brown endorses popular vote bill

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill that would award all of California’s 55 Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote in presidential elections.

The movement by a group called National Popular Vote aims to prevent a repeat of 2000, when Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote but Republican George W. Bush won the electoral vote. The proposed change would ensure the winner of the national popular vote becomes president.

With Mr. Brown’s signature Monday, California became the eighth state to sign on, giving the effort 132 of the 270 electoral votes it needs to take effect.

California and most other states currently have winner-take-all systems that give all the electoral votes to the candidate who wins the most votes in that state.

NEW YORK

Gas drilling protection fund proposed by comptroller

ALBANY — New York Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli proposed Tuesday establishing a fund supported by fees from drillers to clean up environmental damage from natural gas drilling using high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

The program, which would require legislation and also apply to current drilling operations, would be similar to the existing state fund for oil spills financed by an 8-cent per barrel fee on the first transfer of petroleum to a major petroleum facility in the state, as well as recoveries and penalties from those responsible.

Mr. DiNapoli hasn’t specified amounts for the gas-drilling fund and fees, decisions that would be left to the Department of Environmental Conservation. His proposed bill would also require anyone engaging in natural gas production in New York to post a bond to cover potential contamination liability.

The DEC last month proposed regulations to permit hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in most of the state’s potentially lucrative Marcellus Shale formation across the state’s Southern Tier, but prohibited it in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, on state land, and within primary aquifers.

ALASKA

Stevens remembered 1 year after plane crash

JUNEAU — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski remembered her mentor, Ted Stevens, on the one-year anniversary of his death in a plane crash in southwest Alaska.

Ms. Murkowski issued a statement Tuesday calling Stevens a “giant” and describing him as the architect and father of Alaska. Stevens was revered by many Alaskans for bringing home federal aid and projects to build up the state.

Stevens served 40 years in the U.S. Senate. He left politics in 2009 after he was convicted on corruption charges. A federal judge later threw out the verdict, citing prosecutorial misconduct.

Stevens was among five people killed in the Aug. 9, 2010, crash. The exact cause of the accident has not been determined.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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