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Barack Obama
"Lincoln Sells Out Slaves"
by: Rob Kailey - Sep 13
1 Comments
If You Haven't Seen This
by: Rob Kailey - Apr 28
5 Comments
Impeach the President?
by: Rob Kailey - Mar 16
15 Comments
It's the system, stupid!
by: Jay Stevens - Oct 24
7 Comments

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Rob Kailey is a working schmuck with no ties or affiliations to any governmental or political organizations, save those of sympathy.
Obama administration

Reports: Obama to reject Keystone XL Pipeline permit

by: Matthew Koehler

Wed Jan 18, 2012 at 11:33:54 AM MST

http://cleangreensustainable.w...
Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Investigation: Big Polluters Freed from Environmental Oversight by Stimulus

by: Matthew Koehler

Mon Nov 29, 2010 at 08:33:14 AM MST

From The Center for Public Integrity (emphasis added):

In the name of job creation and clean energy, the Obama administration has doled out billions of dollars in stimulus money to some of the nation’s biggest polluters and granted them sweeping exemptions from the most basic form of environmental oversight, a Center for Public Integrity investigation has found.

The administration has awarded more than 179,000 “categorical exclusions” to stimulus projects funded by federal agencies, freeing those projects from review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Coal-burning utilities like Westar Energy and Duke Energy, chemical manufacturer DuPont, and ethanol maker Didion Milling are among the firms with histories of serious environmental violations that have won blanket NEPA exemptions.

Even a project at BP’s maligned refinery in Texas City, Tex. — owner of the oil industry’s worst safety record and site of a deadly 2005 explosion, as well as a benzene leak earlier this year — secured a waiver for the preliminary phase of a carbon capture and sequestration experiment involving two companies with past compliance problems. The primary firm has since dropped out of the project before it could advance to the second phase.

Agency officials who granted the exemptions told the Center that they do not have time in most cases to review the environmental compliance records of stimulus recipients, and do not believe past violations should affect polluters’ chances of winning stimulus money or the NEPA exclusions.

The so-called “stimulus” funding came from the $787-billion legislation officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed in February 2009.

Documents obtained by the Center show the administration has devised a speedy review process that relies on voluntary disclosures by companies to determine whether stimulus projects pose environmental harm. Corporate polluters often omitted mention of health, safety, and environmental violations from their applications. In fact, administration officials told the Center they chose to ignore companies’ environmental compliance records in making grant decisions and issuing NEPA exemptions, saying they considered such information irrelevant.


Make sure to give the entire investigation a read.

In the meantime, a certain Talking Heads song sure comes to mind. ...Same as it ever was....

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

It's the system, stupid!

by: Jay Stevens

Sun Oct 24, 2010 at 18:37:25 PM MST

Matt wrote about Ryan Lizza's piece on the failure of climate-change legislation in the Senate, and found in it reason to "abolish the rules" of the Senate, which are "making our nation ungovernable." You probably know filibuster reform had me at "hello," so I put the article on the back burner, only slogging through it today.

Spoiler alert! I'm going to give away the ending, so if you want to be surprised, stop reading now!

The bill failed because of a combination of partisan Republicans, commercial interests' control of Congress, and fearful Democrats with a too-steady eye on polling numbers:

In September, I asked Al Gore why he thought climate legislation had failed. He cited several reasons, including Republican partisanship, which had prevented moderates from becoming part of the coalition in favor of the bill. The Great Recession made the effort even more difficult, he added. "The forces wedded to the old patterns still have enough influence that they were able to use the fear of the economic downturn as a way of slowing the progress toward this big transition that we have to make."

..."The influence of special interests is now at an extremely unhealthy level," Gore said. "And it's to the point where it's virtually impossible for participants in the current political system to enact any significant change without first seeking and gaining permission from the largest commercial interests who are most affected by the proposed change"....

As the Senate debate expired this summer, a longtime environmental lobbyist told me that he believed the "real tragedy" surrounding the issue was that Obama understood it profoundly. "I believe Barack Obama understands that fifty years from now no one's going to know about health care," the lobbyist said. "Economic historians will know that we had a recession at this time. Everybody is going to be thinking about whether Barack Obama was the James Buchanan of climate change."

Quite the shocker, eh? Okay, maybe not. But certainly the failure of climate change legislation is the icing on the cake of the systematic failure of government, finance, and media. Sure, in DC-land, it was collateral damage in its strange Kabuki theater, but climate change is the biggest crisis we've ever faced, our response to it here and now likely determining whether our planet will be habitable for humans in the next generation or so. (Sorry, kids. A bunch of Senators didn't like the idea of hurting coal industry short-term profit.)

There's More... :: (7 Comments, 667 words in story)

"Bush wasn't an aberration"

by: Jay Stevens

Wed Sep 29, 2010 at 09:13:22 AM MST

One of the excellent, new b'bird bloggers - Duganz - already touched on Obama's remarks from his Rolling Stone interview, in which Obama that progressives "need to shake off this lethargy. People need to buck up....If people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place."

It's not the first message from the White House chiding lefties to get over themselves and come back to the polls in November. In Madison this week, Obama urged students to vote in the mid-terms. "The biggest mistake we can make," said the President, "is to let disappointment or frustration lead to apathy and indifference." And, of course, V-P Biden urged Democrats to "remind our base constituency to stop whining," saying the president has done "an incredible job."

Well...er...hm. I now turn to Peter Daou who, in a post excoriating the Obama administration over its invocation of state secrets in request to dismiss a lawsuit against the assassination order out on US citizen al-Aulaqui, explains why it is liberal bloggers and progressive activists don't "stop whining":

Virtually all the liberal bloggers who have taken a critical stance toward the administration have one thing in common: they place principle above party. Their complaints are exactly the same complaints they lodged against the Bush administration. Contrary to the straw man posed by Obama supporters, they aren't complaining about pie in the sky wishes but about tangible acts and omissions, from Gitmo to Afghanistan to the environment to gay rights to secrecy and executive power...

As president, Obama has done much good and has achieved a number of impressive legislative victories. He is a smart, thoughtful and disciplined man. He has a wonderful family. His staff (many of whom I've worked with in past campaigns) are good and decent people trying to improve their country and working tirelessly under extreme stress. But that doesn't mean progressives should set aside the things they've fought for their entire adult life. It doesn't mean they should stay silent if they think the White House is undermining the progressive cause....

From gay rights to executive power to war to the environment, the left increasingly believes the Obama White House lacks the moral courage to undo Bush's radicalism. If anything, the Aulaqi case is an indication Obama will go further than Bush to "prove" his strength.

When the Obama administration appeared to collude with BP to bury the Gulf spill, squandering a historic opportunity to reverse the anti-green tide, it was a moment of truth for environmentalists. Now, it is dawning on some Americans that Bush wasn't an aberration and that a Democratic administration will also treat fundamental rights as a mere nuisance.

Point.

We'll let Kevin Drum take the counter-point:

If you're, say, Glenn Greenwald, I wouldn't expect you to buy Obama's defense at all. All of us have multiple interests, but if your primary concern is with civil liberties and the national security state, then the problem isn't that Obama hasn't done enough, it's that his policies have been actively damaging. There's just no reason why you should be especially excited about either his administration or the continuation of the Democratic Party in power.

On the other hand, if your critique is the broader and more common one - that Obama has moved in the right direction but has been too quick to compromise and hasn't accomplished enough - then I think you should take his defense of his record way, way more seriously. It's all too easy...to convince yourself that he could have waved a magic wand and gotten a bigger stimulus and a better healthcare bill and stronger financial regulation and a historic climate bill. But honestly, you have to buy into some pretty implausible political realities to believe that (Olympia Snowe would have voted for a trillion-dollar stimulus, there were Republican votes for a climate bill if only it had been a bigger priority, healthcare reform could have been passed via reconciliation, Harry Reid could have unilaterally ended the filibuster, etc.). The votes just weren't there and the president's leverage over centrist Dems and recalcitrant Republicans just wasn't very strong. Maybe he could have done better, but the evidence says that, at best, he could have done only a smidge better.

Putting aside Drum's creepy, amoral dismissal of civil rights as a "primary concern" for a few dedicated individuals, he's got a point. The real stumbling block of reform and institutional change has been the Senate. When the Obama team pats itself on the back for its accomplishments - a stimulus bill, the bailout, financial reg, healthcare - it's because it was d*mn hard to get those bills passed. And they did it.

But...assassination programs against US citizens isn't nothing. Foot-dragging on DADT isn't nothing, nor was his administration's offensive defense of DOMA. His near absence in the healthcare debate wasn't nothing - some pressure here and there might have got us a public option. But that's assuming he even supported a public option, and you get the feeling he didn't. And who can forget the sordid back-room deal the administration cut with Big Pharma? Which is to say, these things matter, and they haven't been entirely out of Obama's hands.

And then there's Drum mulling over the alternative:

Well, if the prospect of ripping apart healthcare reform, shutting down the government, deep sixing START, slashing social spending, and reliving the glory days of investigations over Christmas card lists isn't enough to get you motivated, I guess I'm not sure what is.

Whee.

Discuss :: (13 Comments)

The end of DADT?

by: Jay Stevens

Tue May 25, 2010 at 06:51:20 AM MST

Good news:

President Obama, the Pentagon and leading lawmakers reached agreement Monday on legislative language and a time frame for repealing the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, clearing the way for Congress to take up the measure as soon as this week.

Just goes to show that it is possible to pressure the Obama administration from the left.

Discuss :: (8 Comments)

Obama, the unitary executive, and you

by: Jay Stevens

Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 09:05:21 AM MST

The news:

The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them, intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday.

Glenn Greenwald:

No due process is accorded. No charges or trials are necessary. No evidence is offered, nor any opportunity for him to deny these accusations (which he has done vehemently through his family). None of that.

Instead, in Barack Obama's America, the way guilt is determined for American citizens -- and a death penalty imposed -- is that the President, like the King he thinks he is, secretly decrees someone's guilt as a Terrorist.  He then dispatches his aides to run to America's newspapers -- cowardly hiding behind the shield of anonymity which they're granted -- to proclaim that the Guilty One shall be killed on sight because the Leader has decreed him to be a Terrorist.

Greenwald also points out that the SCOTUS in its 2004 Hamdi case that American citizens have a right to challenge their detention by the government as "illegal enemy combatants." It seems obvious the Obama administration's policy to assassinate Americans suspected of "illegal combat" oversteps its constitutional powers - something that, as Greenwald points out, Obama the candidate acknowledged.

There's More... :: (5 Comments, 579 words in story)

Details on student loan reform

by: Jay Stevens

Sun Apr 04, 2010 at 07:57:29 AM MST

Details from Chelsi Moy on the reform of the student loan industry as passed in the healthcare bill:

The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act raised the maximum amount and number of Pell grants offered to low- and middle-income students nationwide.

A decade from now, the Department of Education estimates Montana's students will receive an additional $96 million in Pell grants because of the provision.

Last year, 3,700 UM students qualified for Pell grants, which they don't have to repay.

This year, Hanson estimates 4,900 students will have attended UM with help from a Pell grant. And for students who qualify, there is now Pell grant money available to attend summer semester classes.

In addition, come next fall, the maximum amount available under a Pell grant will increase from $5,350 to $5,550.

The new legislation also streamlines the student loan industry, essentially eliminating the middleman: banks.

Beginning July 1, Uncle Sam will no longer federally guarantee loans from private lenders. Instead, the Department of Education will lend directly to college students.

This change essentially saves billions of dollars in federal subsidies that were going to banks as protection from default, according to a White House press release. The money saved will be used to increase aid to students, for which Hanson is grateful.

Good news. Some folks are worried that service will suffer because private lenders are being taken out of the loan process, but under the former system, the taxpayer was subsidizing the service -- if it's true service will decline.

Whatever. This makes more money available at a greater savings to the taxpayer. What's not to like?

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

Some good news...Pentagon changes DADT policy

by: Jay Stevens

Tue Mar 30, 2010 at 12:13:45 PM MST

Following the lead of b'birders Pete Talbot and JC who alert us to an nuclear-arms-reduction deal between the US and Russia, and the passing of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, I thought I'd give a shout-out to the Obama administration for the Pentagon's tightening the rules of its "Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell" policy.

It's not a directive by the Pentagon to not uphold DADT, but it's pretty close. Check out the actual changes to the policy. The big differences are essentially that a service person has to be caught in flagrante, or have solicited sex, instead of just having suspected homosexual tendencies. That is, hand-holding or kissing won't cut it. Additionally, only officers of higher rank can initiate charges, and the spectrum of accusers has narrowed.

It's not perfect. But the change of policy does two things: first, it protects all but the most flagrant violators of DADT; second, it paves the way for complete repeal of the policy by Congress.

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

Black Liquor Scorecard: Pulp & Paper Companies Take $6.5 Billion from US Taxpayers in 2009

by: Matthew Koehler

Wed Mar 17, 2010 at 07:22:53 AM MST

( - promoted by Jay Stevens)

Smurfit-Stone Container Corp took home $654 million from US Taxpayers, while their net income was only $8 million in 2009

Over the past year I've written a few articles (here and here) about the US pulp and paper industry figuring out how to use an unintended tax loophole in the 2005 highway bill to basically transfer billions in US taxpayer funds right into their own packets.

Last May, the Washington Post provided extensive coverage of the black liquor boondoggle in an article that opened up with: "The Obama administration wants to stop billions of dollars of tax credits and direct payments to the paper industry under a tax provision originally intended to promote alternative fuels for motor vehicles." The same article included this statement from a US Treasury Department official, "Right now this does appear to be a transfer from the taxpayers to this industry."

Talk about a "redistribution of wealth!" Where are the tea-baggers complaining about "socialism" when you need them, eh?

Sadly, for the most part, this multi-billion dollar transfer of taxpayer funds to the pulp and paper industry hasn't gotten nearly the coverage it deserves by the mainstream press. That in itself is just really strange, especially since the US Government appears to be handing out taxpayer dollars like candy at Halloween and Americans of all political stripes are fed up and rightfully worried about our future.

Perhaps the mainstream newspapers in this country are a little gun shy about giving the pulp and paper industry a black eye.  For example, here in Missoula, Montana the local daily paper - the Missoulian - over the past year has completely failed (unless I missed it somewhere) to let their readers know that the Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation (while in bankruptcy and closing mills in Montana, Michigan and elsewhere) collected over half a billion dollars from US taxpayers in 2009. To make matters more interesting, Smurfit's net income for 2009 was only $8 million.  Seriously, is this not a "newsworthy" item?

The fine folks at the Dead Tree Edition blog have put together more detailed information about the black liquor tax credit, which includes a detailed scorecard showing which pulp and paper corporations profitted the most on the backs of US taxpayers. That blog post is pasted below or available here. - mk
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There's More... :: (0 Comments, 609 words in story)

Cobell wins trust lawsuit

by: Jay Stevens

Wed Dec 09, 2009 at 16:37:17 PM MST

Congratulations to Elouise Cobell for her perseverance in a lawsuit to recoup losses from the federal government's mismanagement of tribal land accounts since the 1880s.

Cobell:

Under the terms of the Settlement in Cobell v. Salazar, the federal government will create a $1.412 billion Accounting/Trust Administration Fund and a $2 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund. The Settlement also creates a federal Indian Education Scholarship fund of up to $60 million to improve access to higher education for Indian youth. The Settlement also includes a commitment by the federal government to appoint a commission that will oversee and monitor specific improvements in the Department's accounting for and management of individual Indian trust assets, going forward.

The Missoulian's Buffalo Post has links related to the story, and video of the Interior Department's announcement of the settlement.

The news of the settlement followed just a couple of weeks after the president's promise that he would raise the Indian Health Service budget by 13 percent - not nearly enough money to fully fund tribal health care services, but a welcome infusion of cash for a system in great trouble. Certainly, both the settlement and the increase in the IHS budget are policies that are the exact opposite of the Bush administration's, which stonewalled any dealing with the lawsuit, and cut funding for IHS.You have to think that Montana's late 2008 primary had a lot to do with the recent attention paid to First American interests. Without Obama's effective wooing of tribal support in the state, he might not now have paid as much attention to tribal issues as he is.

And let's not forget that Jon Tester's defeat of Conrad Burns removed a considerable roadblock to Native American interests. As part of his platform, Jon vowed to fight both to raise HIS funding and help settle the Cobell lawsuit. Who knows what role Jon played in all this; what we do know, is that Montana voters removed an obnoxious roadblock to fair restitution for federally managed tribal lands.

Elections have consequences.

Don't mistake this as giving praise to Obama and Tester for this settlement. Obama's administration is merely doing what other administrations should have, and Jon's role - whatever it was - pales in comparison to Eloise Cobell's. She's an excellent example of how dogged determination combined with a just cause can make significant change...

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

The thugs are carrying the day

by: Jay Stevens

Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 06:53:14 AM MST

The biggest fall in this health care debate has be that of Chuck Grassley's integrity. Usually a Senator that usually works in good faith with Baucus in the Senate Finance committee, over health care he's devolved into a scrub. To wit: "We should not have a government plan," said Grassley last week, "that pulls the plug on grandma." And the news today?

Sen. Charles E. Grassley a key Republican negotiator in the quest for bipartisan health-care reform, said Wednesday that the outpouring of anger at town hall meetings this month has fundamentally altered the nature of the debate and convinced him that lawmakers should consider drastically scaling back the scope of the effort.

Get it? Apparently we progressives have going about reform the wrong way. You know, peacefully, and by appealing to reason. I guess we should strap on our assault rifles, push and shove whoever stands in our way, and shout down our elected representatives.

By the way, make no mistake: the traditional media has legitimized this kind of discourse with its coverage of the Tea Baggers.

Meanwhile, Baucus is still hoping for a bipartisan bill.

Meanwhile, anonymous White House sources still think that progressives will be thrilled about a health care bill in which progressive reform is gutted:

The president continues to operate under the belief that liberals will warm to the bill when presented with a goodybag that includes includes an individual mandate, community rating, guaranteed issue, and a minimum required package. There's no chance, really, that a bill WON'T feature these reforms. Quietly, to secure and keep Democrats on board, the White House is going to bargain, providing inducements, like more money for favored projects, etc., in order to secure individual votes.

The public option is the last line of defense for most progressives I know, and even that, for many, is too far. Jed Lewison:

Keeping in mind that this anonymously sourced report could be total bunk, it's worth pointing out that axeing the public option and requiring individuals to purchase coverage under a private health insurance plan would be a horrible political miscalculation. If you think we're having problems selling health care reform now, just wait until we try to explain why all adults under 65 will be required to purchase health insurance from the private sector with no public option.

Oh, you're not interested in making that argument? I didn't think so.

Seriously, who thinks, even with the community standard and other regulatory reforms, that private insurers won't find a way to wiggle out of their obligations? IMHO, even with all the reforms in the bill, without the public option and with an individual mandate and taxing health care benefits make this bill actively bad.

Update: Forward Montana is running a "smoking Grassley" campaign, urging you to contact his office and ask him to get out of our way and let us have health care reform:

Senator Charles Grassley
Washington, D.C. Office: (202) 224-3744
Or contact him on the web.

And then report your story to Forward Montana.

Maybe you should tell 'em you're carrying a gun while you're making the call.

Discuss :: (7 Comments)

Is the F-22 really dead?

by: Jay Stevens

Tue Apr 07, 2009 at 07:11:53 AM MST

Excuse me for not jumping into the love-fest for the new Pentagon budget.

Here's the deal. Yesterday, Secretary Gates announced "cuts" made to the US military budget, which put a few weapons programs onto the cutting-room floor:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates' proposed budget would cut back some of the industry's largest deals, from a big upgrade of Army fighting units to contracts for new cargo planes and stealth destroyers.

Gates said Monday the Pentagon's weapons strategy will focus on equipment that can be used against the insurgencies and irregular threats faced in places like Afghanistan, rather than older programs designed for conventional wars. He also expressed skepticism over some programs with newer, yet unproven technology, like elements of the plan to build a shield from missile attacks.

The big news is that the budget includes a phase-out for the F-22, the world's most technologically advanced -- and, at just over $361 million per -- the most expensive fighter jet ever.

The LA Times calls the budget "just about right." Matt Duss says "Gates' recommendations are an important...move towards a responsible re-balancing of America's defense spending priorities." Noah Shachtman calls Gates' proposals, "the most sweeping overhaul of America's arsenal -- and of the Pentagon's budget -- in decades," lauding the Pentagon's moves towards programs that "concentrate on the dirty, irregular wars America is actually in" and touts the Secretary for "trying to shake the defense establishment free of the Cold War."

Well...for starters, the Pentagon's budget isn't being "cut." It's being increased by about forty billion. The "cuts" bandied about by the press and the administration are really cuts to the proposed increases. So, by "cutting," they mean "increasing less."

And don't get me started on the F-22. Yes, I think it's a good idea to phase out the plane. While Black Hawk Down author Michal Bowden's paen to the fighter jet makes it sound as if the existence of the American Empire hinges on the 60 planes Gates yesterday announced we won't be building, it's likely the nation's security would be better served by cheaper, "more austere" planes "tailored to the missions that actually win wars." Not to mention that the F-22 has yet to fly a combat mission, currently useless in any combat zone where there's an overabundance of radio signals. You know, like...well...everywhere.

And while Montana "boosters" are ruing Gates' decision to scrap the 60 F-22s, warning whoever they can pigeonhole that jobs! will! be! lost! at places like Summit Aeronautics in Helena, it turns out those claims are...er...not exactly true. It was only a year ago that the industry was crying over a labor shortage...and it's not as if the Pentagon has suddenly halted production of all its planes. Quite the reverse: Gates announced that we're doubling down on the F-35, the bomber/strike version of the F-22, and built by the same manufacturer, Lockheed Martin. Likely the jobs lost to the F-22 will be picked up by the near endless orders for the Pentagon's other planes.

(Incidentally, Lockheed Martin's stock rose by about nine percent immediately following Gates' comments yesterday on the Pentagon's new priorities.)

And...the F-22 isn't really dead! HuffPo blogger Chris Kelly points out that the 2009 budget still contains money to build the last four F-22s we've contracted...but leaves the door open for the budget presented in 2010 to buy more of the advanced fighter jets! Or, as aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia commented, it was "just enough of a tactical victory to keep the F-22 going and allow political pressure to be brought to bear." That is, Lockheed Martin's lobbying corps will have a year to focus on Congress to get those 60 planes built.

So, yeah. I'm not sure I'd call this a "victory" of any sorts, especially of government over wasteful spending and big, corporate boondoggles.

Discuss :: (41 Comments)

...and to the banana republic, for which it stands...

by: Jay Stevens

Tue Mar 31, 2009 at 13:18:11 PM MST

Speaking of dealing with the finance industry with kid gloves, check out Simon Johnson's piece in The Atlantic.

The former chief economist at the IMF and MIT economics professor, Johnson notices the similarities of the collapse of the US economy with other collapses overseen by the IMF in "emerging markets." Basically a financial elite partners with its government to undertake ever increasing financial risks where profits are gobbled by the elites and losses underwritten by the government. According to Johnson, during the first throes of financial trouble, the government always ponies up to the economic oligarchs with tax breaks or government bailouts.

Sound familiar? It should. In essence, the financial industry has been leveraging its power over the US government into increasingly favorable deals, in which it receives oodles of taxpayer money while only delaying or mitigating the roots of the current crisis.

Johnson:

The challenges the United States faces are familiar territory to the people at the IMF. If you hid the name of the country and just showed them the numbers, there is no doubt what old IMF hands would say: nationalize troubled banks and break them up as necessary.

This may seem like strong medicine. But in fact, while necessary, it is insufficient. The second problem the U.S. faces-the power of the oligarchy-is just as important as the immediate crisis of lending. And the advice from the IMF on this front would again be simple: break the oligarchy.

The financial elite has too much power over the government and is blocking the most effective solutions to the financial crisis, which would put their power and money at risk. To do that, Johnson recommends breaking up the banks into smaller institutions after nationalization, policing them with robust anti-trust legislation, and capping executive pay.

Basically recreate the banking industry into something that's boring -- and safe. And preferably an industry that doesn't hold disproportionate power over our government.

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

If only...

by: Jay Stevens

Tue Mar 31, 2009 at 06:55:47 AM MST

I'm with Kevin Drum on how the Obama administration is handling the auto industry:

Still and all, don't you wish that Obama were willing to treat bankers the same way he's treating the carmakers? It's pretty much impossible not to compare his tough words this morning with the conciliatory tone and even more conciliatory actions he's taken with the financial industry.

If anything, this only underscores how weak the auto industry is, both economically and politically.

Discuss :: (3 Comments)

Restoring the middle class is key to economic recovery

by: Jay Stevens

Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 07:30:55 AM MST

Okay. I haven't been paying much attention to all the hubbub about AIG bonuses, etc. It's chump change! It has nothing to do with the state of the economy or our ability to get us out of the current crisis! It's just political noise, an issue that serves as an outlet for the public's wrath.

In other news, we're still in the middle of a recession.

For one, James K Galbraith thinks the Obama administration is underestimating the depth of the current crisis and isn't spending enough to blunt it. He argues that doling out cash to banks won't solve our problem: without borrowers -- that is, a financially robust middle class -- the credit crisis won't end:

A brief reflection on this history and present circumstances drives a plain conclusion: the full restoration of private credit will take a long time. It will follow, not precede, the restoration of sound private household finances. There is no way the project of resurrecting the economy by stuffing the banks with cash will work. Effective policy can only work the other way around.

To restore "private household finances," Galbraith puts forth an ambitious government program:

The first thing we need, in the wake of the recovery bill, is more recovery bills. The next efforts should be larger, reflecting the true scale of the emergency. There should be open-ended support for state and local governments, public utilities, transit authorities, public hospitals, schools, and universities for the duration, and generous support for public capital investment in the short and long term. To the extent possible, all the resources being released from the private residential and commercial construction industries should be absorbed into public building projects. There should be comprehensive foreclosure relief, through a moratorium followed by restructuring or by conversion-to-rental, except in cases of speculative investment and borrower fraud. The president's foreclosure-prevention plan is a useful step to relieve mortgage burdens on at-risk households, but it will not stop the downward spiral of home prices and correct the chronic oversupply of housing that is the cause of that.
There's More... :: (1 Comments, 467 words in story)

Obama administration gets friendly with the idea of taxing health care benefits

by: Jay Stevens

Sun Mar 15, 2009 at 10:46:47 AM MST

Great. It now sounds as if the administration is jumping on board Baucus' proposal to tax health care benefits. And on the same faulty premise of "moral hazard":

Mr. Orszag, an economist who has served as director of the Congressional Budget Office, has written favorably of taxing some employer-provided health benefits and using the revenue savings for other health-related incentives. So has another Obama adviser, Jason Furman, the deputy director of the White House National Economic Council.

They, like other proponents, cite evidence that tax-free benefits encourage what Mr. McCain called "gold-plated" policies, resulting in inefficient and costly demands for health care and pressure on employers to hold down workers' pay as insurance expenses rise. And, they say, the policy discriminates against those - many of whom are low-income workers - who do not have employer-provided coverage.

In short, they're considering taxing some benefit payments for two reasons: to raising revenue, and to discourage use of "gold-plated" policies.

Just curious, but does anyone have any evidence that good health insurance policies lead to higher, patient-driven insurance costs?

As for the policy discriminating against those who don't have employer-provided coverage, why not offer those consumers tax deductions for their health-care policy purchases?

Discuss :: (4 Comments)

Max to go after tax havens?

by: Jay Stevens

Fri Feb 27, 2009 at 14:41:35 PM MST

TPM's Zachary Roth recently noted that a bill proposed by Senators Carl Levin and Barack Obama -- the Stop Tax Have Abuse Act (pdf) -- might have prevented the kind of fraud perpetrated on investors by Allen Stanford...only the legislation was tabled in Max Baucus' Tax and Finance Committee.

Now if any of this sounds familiar, it should. Way back when the bill was first routed to Baucus' committee, I noted the legislation would go a long way to fulfilling Baucus' own rhetoric on closing the tax gap. Later, in the context of Chuck Rangel's bald attempt to protect campaign donors from IRS scrutiny into Virgin Islands acounts, I noted the Levin/Obama bill seemingly had died in Baucus' committee; the Senator's office responded by saying that he was working on legislation "to help curb the use of tax havens."

Well, Roth this week received a detailed reply from a Tax and Finance committee aide that included a list of committee accomplishments in fighting offshore tax havens:

The Finance Committee actively fights offshore tax havens - in the JOBS bill with inversions policy, tax shelter penalties, and increased transparency with regard to tax shelter promoters; in last year's military bill, with provisions to stop US companies with Federal contracts from setting up entities in tax havens to run employees through in order to avoid employment taxes. FOGEI/FORI in the energy bill tightened up a bit the way oil and gas pay US tax on foreign-earned income. Other proposals have been made public as well, particularly with regard to Bermuda reinsurance. The Committee also sent the GAO to Ugland House in the Cayman Islands to investigate one of the most notorious suspected tax havens in the world. And the Committee will take this issue up again at a hearing in March.

Now, the Senate moves slow, and I'm not accusing Max Baucus of purposefully dragging his feet on this issue. After all, in 2007 the political environment in the Senate was night compared to February 27th's day. And when Franken is finally seated, attaining cloture on important votes will be all the easier. And that's not to mention the co-sponsor of S681 is sitting in the White House. H *ll, Obama is banking on the closure of tax havens in his budget to reduce the deficit.

Which is a long way of saying that I, too, will be eagerly awaiting the hearings on tax haven legislation in March.

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Tester responds to proposed Obama assault weapon ban

by: Jay Stevens

Fri Feb 27, 2009 at 10:22:55 AM MST

In this piece from The Hill, which focuses on the tough vote that faces appointed NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on a possible assault weapon ban, Jon Tester had this to say about the proposal:

"It's baloney."

Tester and Mark Warner's opposition to the bill (and one assumes Baucus' as well?) means that there would have to be crossover Republican votes for the ban to pass.

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The end of coal?

by: Jay Stevens

Thu Feb 19, 2009 at 11:50:10 AM MST

The news:

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to act for the first time to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that scientists blame for the warming of the planet, according to top Obama administration officials.

The decision, which most likely would play out in stages over a period of months, would have a profound impact on transportation, manufacturing costs and how utilities generate power. It could accelerate the progress of energy and climate change legislation in Congress and form a basis for the United States' negotiating position at United Nations climate talks set for December in Copenhagen.

The implication:

This element of Obama's impending energy policy hasn't gotten nearly the attention it deserves. If he does it right, it could be the secret weapon that kills new coal plants for good -- with far greater certainty than a middling cap-and-trade program. Obama has always said, to those who were listening closely, that he plans to prevent the construction of a new fleet of dirty coal plants, if not by carbon pricing then by other means. EPA regs are the other means. Beyond that, and perhaps even more importantly, EPA regs could hasten the demise of existing coal plants.

Now. Anybody want to bet Montana's future on coal? Time to start thinking up new strategies for bringing in state revenue for schools, folks.

Don't say you weren't warned.

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Good Guv reverses course on fuel efficiency standards

by: Jay Stevens

Sat Jan 31, 2009 at 12:30:39 PM MST

One of the positive effects of the Obama administration is that it's going to allow California to implement its new, strict emissions and mileage standards for cars sold in the state, standards the Bush administration has refused to allow. Why?

As California goes, so goes the country -- and even the world. According to the state Air Resources Board, 71% of the world's population lives in countries with vehicle emissions standards modeled on California's. If the new EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, grants California's latest waiver, 40% of the country will be driving cars that emit fewer greenhouse gases from their tailpipes, and other states are likely to follow the lead.

Letting California set tighter mileage standards for cars is verboten for an Oil Man.

And following Obama's decision was this nice surprise!

A Democratic legislator and the governor's office say Montana should follow in California's footsteps by adopting stricter fuel efficiency standards for some cars and trucks.

"We ought to be concerned in Montana for Montana, and we also ought to be concerned for the planet as a whole," Democratic Sen. Ron Erickson of Missoula told a Senate committee Friday.

The measure would make Montana one of more than a dozen states to take on the more stringent California system.

Representatives of Gov. Brian Schweitzer's office testified in support of the change.

The last sentence is the kicker. It's a complete reversal for the Good Guv from his stance last May, in which he rejected the notion that states regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

And if Montana doesn't follow California's lead, the state will become a dumping ground for the auto industry's leftover low-efficiency autos, something Montanans, living in a small town with very long streets, can't afford...

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