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Welcome to my blog

 

Here I plan to entertain you with interesting news and views on current events.  Your comments are welcome!

By Dan Garner, Nov 17 2016 08:03AM

Many political observers have drawn parallels between the election of Donald Trump and the so-called "Brexit" referendum last June in which a slim majority of voters in the UK indicated their desire to leave the European Union. The UK government has been struggling since that time with what that means and how they are going to make it happen. A recent High Court decision makes it more difficult than Prime Minister Theresa May wanted it to be. An appeal to the Supreme Court will be heard in early December, but the High Court's judgment is likely to be upheld.

There is no provision in the UK Constitution for a referendum, so the Parliament referred the question to the citizens for advisory purposes only. On June 23, 2016, 51.9 percent voted to "leave" the EU while 48.1 percent voted to "remain." The turnout of eligible voters was 72.2 percent, so just over 37 percent of the population voted to "leave" similar to the plurality in the U.S. who elected Donald Trump.

The Prime Minister argued that she had the "royal prerogative" to make treaties and therefore, she could provide notice to the EU of the UK's intention to withdraw. The plaintiffs in the case argued successfully that, since Parliament had voted to join the EU, only Parliament could vote to change the law and withdraw the UK from the EU.

One of the ironies in this dispute is that the Parliament is forced to take a stand on the merits of the question, and the proponents of "Brexit" argued that they wanted to put more power back into the hands of their own government (as opposed to giving up their sovereignty to the EU.) But it is well known that a vast majority of the Members of Parliament favor remaining in the EU, so they have to decide their appropriate role as elected representatives. They are not legally bound by the results of an advisory referendum.

Under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (the "Lisbon Treaty") when a member gives notice of its intent to withdraw from the union, it triggers a 2-year negotiation of the terms of its withdrawal, but the decision to "leave" is irrevocable once Article 50 is invoked. Since that would have inevitable effects on the legal rights of UK citizens, it is a decision that must be made by Parliament.

The Members of Parliament find themselves in the same position as the electors in our own Electoral College, serving as the final check against the tyranny of the majority. My prediction is that Parliament will decide it's just too difficult to withdraw from the European Union. I also predict that the Electoral College will choose the easy path and elect Donald Trump as the next President of the United States.

By Dan Garner, Aug 11 2016 07:21AM

The U.S. Treasury Department reported to Congress on July 26, 2016 that since its inception in 2009, the Homeowner Assistance Mortgage Program (HAMP) had a rejection rate of 7 out of 10 applicants. Thanks to this abysmal approval rate, they have only spent roughly half of the $37.5 billion allocated by Congress for the program. The Obama administration predicted it would help 4 million homeowners, while today fewer than one million are in the program.

Citibank, Chase, and Bank of America each denied more than 3/4 of the applications they received, and these 3 banks accounted for about half of the total 4 million denials over the past 7 years. The failure of the program was not due to lack of interest -- over 6 million homeowners applied for relief. But only 1.8 million were offered a trial modification, and 1.4 million were offered permanent modifications.

The report said that applicants routinely wait more than a few months for a response, and there is widespread lack of compliance with the rules among all the servicers. The horror stories are familiar to everyone who tries to help homeowners in the process, and I can attest to the frustration as I have worked on some applications for longer than a year. It is obvious to consumer advocates that the servicers had no intention of negotiating in good faith with homeowners, and as a result the program is a joke.

HAMP applications will stop being accepted at the end of this year, but it is clear that the program will not be missed by anyone. Its fatal flaw was that it was voluntary, not mandatory, and its administration was in the hands of the very institutions who brought about the housing crash. Thus, it was doomed to fail from the very beginning, and the big banks are merely going through the motions to give the appearance of compliance with the law's intent.

By Dan Garner, Jul 27 2016 12:16AM

A scrappy little group of lawyers and scientists in Eugene, Oregon is shaking up the legal world by suing the federal government, on behalf of young people everywhere, to take action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions for the health of our planet. The group named “Our Children’s Trust” is a nonprofit corporation (http://ourchildrenstrust.org/) and has made surprising progress on recent cases here in the Pacific Northwest. Regardless of your feelings on the climate change debate, if you cheer for the underdogs you have to be impressed by the “David v. Goliath” nature of this undertaking and its goal of literally saving the world.

In Washington State, the group sued the Washington Department of Ecology for failing to write rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions (Zoe and Stella Foster; et. al v. Washington Department of Ecology, Case No. 14-2-25295-1, King County Superior Court.) In an opinion dated May 16, 2016, Judge Hollis R. Hill directed the Department “to adopt a rule to limit greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state . . . by the end of calendar year 2016.” This decision reversed the Court’s previous ruling in November 2015 that the Department did not have to take the action requested by the group. Governor Inslee has appealed the decision.

In Oregon, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Coffin ruled on April 8, 2016 against a motion to dismiss filed by the U.S. Government and an array of fossil fuel trade groups who are the defendants in the case (Kelsey Cascade Rose Juliana; et. al v. The United States of America; et. al, D.Or,2016.) U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken scheduled oral argument in the case for September 13, 2016 in the Eugene federal court. According to a press release issued on June 9, “The plaintiffs sued the federal government for violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, and their right to essential public trust resources, by permitting, encouraging, and otherwise enabling continued exploitation, production, and combustion of fossil fuels.”

Elsewhere, in Massachusetts they obtained a ruling similar to the one in Washington State, directing the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to promulgate regulations to limit and reduce greenhouse gases in compliance with state law (Isabel Kain; et. al v. Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Mass., 2016.)

Scientists for the group argue that immediate action is required to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere from the current level of 395 ppm to 350 ppm by the end of this century. Their plan calls for annual emissions reductions of 6 percent, coupled with massive reforestation (to absorb additional carbon dioxide.) Without such measures, they predict the loss of hundreds of coastal cities due to rising sea levels and consequent mass migrations from them, plus severe fresh water shortages from glacial evaporation, and the extinction of nearly half of all species on earth, partly due to ocean acidification. The loss of that much biological diversity could have catastrophic effects on the food chain and result in sharp increases in malnutrition and starvation.

The legal action being taken by Our Children’s Trust and its environmental allies is known as Atmospheric Trust Litigation (ATL) based on the doctrine that an essential purpose of government is to protect natural resources for the survival and welfare of its citizens. It is being driven by young people because they are the ones who will suffer most if these dire predictions of climate change and its consequences actually come to pass.

As the source of 25 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, the United States has a moral obligation to take the lead in reducing the risks to current and future generations even if we cannot be completely certain of the accuracy of the predictions. Our very survival may depend on it. When the public health is at stake, the prudent course is to err on the side of caution even if it causes some economic dislocation. The alternative could be calamity.

By Dan Garner, Dec 30 2015 03:02AM

In a rare display of bipartisan logrolling, on December 18th our leaders in Washington passed an "omnibus" bill authorizing $1.6 trillion in spending and tax cuts for the next fiscal year. President Obama was only too happy to sign it into law. The new House speaker, Paul Ryan (R-WI), was giddy with the excitement of it all, much to the dismay of the fiscal conservatives who thought he would be tougher than former speaker John Boehner (R-OH). 2016 is an election year and nobody wanted to play the Grinch who stole Christmas. Consequently, just about every cherished tax break was preserved and a number of tax increases were postponed.

Here is my summary of the "goodies" Uncle Sam gave the average taxpayers:

-- the refundable child tax credit of $1000 per qualifying child is made permanent;

-- the tax credits for college, up to $2500 per year per student, are made permanent;

-- those who don't qualify for the college tax credits can deduct tuition and related education expenses up to $4000 per individual or $8000 for 2 people;

-- the school teacher tax deduction of $250 for unreimbursed expenses is made permanent and will be indexed (increased) for inflation in future years;

-- those who live in states with sales taxes can deduct state and local sales taxes in the same way that state and local income taxes can be deducted;

-- homeowners selling their homes for less than their mortgage will continue to avoid taxes on the "forgiven debt" in 2016 (this provision was set to expire at the end of 2015);

-- mortgage insurance will remain deductible as qualified residence interest through 2016;

-- the excise tax on medical devices, intended to help fund "Obamacare," is postponed for the next 2 years, along with the excise tax on very generous medical insurance plans provided by employers.

In addition to the above tax breaks for individuals, a multitude of business tax breaks were made permanent including the R & D tax credit which had been "temporary" since its inception in 1982. Many other breaks were included to stimulate capital investment.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Uncle Sam!

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