Thursday, September 30, 2010

Just a few hours left!!!

Just a few hours left to contribute for the disclosure report!

We've gotten a lot of financial support this week from concerned Georgians in and around District 17, and we couldn't be more excited! With every new contribution our campaign comes one step closer to winning this seat for the hard-working citizens of this state.

We're not done yet, though. There are only a few hours left before the end of our final full reporting period. Contribute $25, $50, $100 or more before 11:59 p.m. TONIGHT to help us make a difference.

Let's get to work!

p.s. please forward this ask on to others via facebook, twitter, and email. 

The trucks won't load themselves: Thursday September 30th

I'm headed to work.  Don't forget if you like reading this blog and think we need elected officials that proactively engage online in issues, policy, and current events please contribute to my State Senate race.  Your $5, $10, $25.... ($250??) contribution will help me get my message out to voters before election day.  The disclosure deadline is tonight at midnight. Please take a moment to contribute right now.
Here are your morning reads:
quote for the day:
“Information is the currency of democracy.”  --Thomas Jefferson
yesterdays headlines via Democracy Now: 

Court Exempts Corporations from Alien Tort Law

A federal appeals court has ruled US corporations can no longer be sued for human rights violations abroad under the longstanding Alien Tort Statute. Earlier this month, the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Alien tort claims can only be brought against individuals, not corporations. The ruling dismissed a lawsuit accusing the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell of complicity in the murder and torture of Nigerian activists including Ken Saro-Wiwa. In a separate opinion, Second Circuit Judge Pierre Leval criticized the ruling, writing, "The majority opinion deals a substantial blow to international law and its undertaking to protect fundamental human rights… So long as they incorporate, businesses will now be free to trade in or exploit slaves, employ mercenary armies to do dirty work for despots, perform genocides or operate torture prisons for a despot’s political opponents, or engage in piracy—all without civil liability to victims."

Judge Restores Stem Cell Funding Pending Appeal

A federal appeals court has issued a temporary order reinstating government funding for embryonic stem cell research. On Tuesday, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a stay of a lower court injunction that blocked the Obama administration’s reversal of Bush-era restrictions on stem cell funding. The lower court had ruled that the funding violates a 1996 law prohibiting federal money for any research that destroys or threatens human embryos. The funding will be restored pending the administration’s appeal.

US Soldier Held for Killing 2 Troops in Iraq

In Iraq, a US soldier is in custody after allegedly fatally shooting two other soldiers and wounding another in Fallujah last week. The military says the soldiers had gotten into a "verbal altercation" that turned violent.

Passengers of Jewish Aid Boat to Gaza Allege Israeli Mistreatment

Passengers of a Jewish aid boat prevented from reaching Gaza are accusing the Israeli military of excessive force in seizing their ship. On Tuesday, eight of the nine activists aboard the Jewish Boat to Gaza ship Irene were released after being apprehended miles off the Gaza coast. They were attempting to deliver a symbolic load of humanitarian aid to break the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip. Israeli activist and former Israel Air Force pilot Yonatan Shapira said he was beaten and shocked with a taser gun.

Yonatan Shapira: "The soldiers were very brutal to us. They didn’t kill us like they kill the other Palestinians and Muslims, but they were very brutal. I got shot with a taser shock gun, electric, and was brutally treated, just like my brother Itamar. We were detained pretty violently and later, now, were released. And they blame us. They accuse us of attacking the soldiers and threatening the soldiers. And, of course, everything is upside down. It’s a complete lie."

Other passengers included the eighty-two-year-old Holocaust survivor and Israeli resident Reuven Moskovitz, who lived under Nazi occupation as a child in Romania.

Reuven Moskovitz: "We are talking about one-and-a-half million people, 800,000 children. When I was a child, I was imprisoned for five years, and I can’t forget it. I cannot sleep at night. I have nightmares that have haunted me all my life. Do you know what we are doing to these people (in Gaza) and what we are doing to our own soldiers?"

Aid Convoy Arrives in Turkey en Route to Gaza

The Jewish Boat to Gaza was the latest attempt to break the blockade since Israel’s deadly attack on an aid flotilla in May. Meanwhile, a convoy of some forty-five vehicles carrying aid has arrived in Turkey on its way to Gaza from Europe. The convoy, dubbed Viva Palestina, will attempt to reach Gaza next month. British activist Patrick Audai said Israel’s attack on the flotilla motivated him to take part.

Patrick Audai: "When I saw what those Israeli terrorists did to those innocent activists on board the Mavi Marmara—and those people who died, they are heroes, they are the conscience of the world—that’s when I decided that I must make a stand and that I must come to Gaza and take medical aid to relieve the people there from their terrible suffering."

Pakistan Threatens to End Protection of NATO Supply Routes

Pakistan is warning it will stop protecting NATO supply routes to Afghanistan if the US continues to carry out cross-border attacks. More than seventy alleged militants have been killed in recent strikes from US Apache helicopters crossing the Afghan border. According to the Associated Press, Pakistani officials have told NATO leaders in Brussels that they won’t tolerate attacks from manned aircraft. About 80 percent of NATO’s non-lethal supplies in Afghanistan are delivered through Pakistan.

Thousands Protest Siddiqui Sentencing in Pakistan

In other news from Pakistan, thousands of people rallied in Karachi on Tuesday to protest the sentencing of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui in a US court. Siddiqui was sentenced last week to eighty-six years in prison for shooting at her American interrogators while jailed in Afghanistan. Her conviction and sentencing has been widely criticized in Pakistan, where Siddiqui is believed to be innocent and mistreated in US detention. Pakistani political leader Farooq Sattar called for Siddiqui’s repatriation.

Farooq Sattar: "A review is needed here, and intervention by President Obama and the US administration that they must immediately withdraw the cases against Aafia Siddiqui. They must declare this sentence null and void and order for the release of Aafia Siddiqui. And she must be sent back home unconditionally, honorably. She should be acquitted."

Sen. Coburn Stalls Over $900M in Haiti Aid

Republican Senator Tom Coburn has been identified as the lawmaker responsible for holding up over $900 million in congressionally approved aid for Haiti. A supplemental request for Haiti reconstruction passed the Senate in May and then the House in July. But a measure to direct how the money is spent was held up after it was anonymously tabled for further review. The Associated Press reports that Coburn, a doctor, pulled the measure over concerns about a $5 million provision that he says would waste taxpayer dollars. The US still hasn’t delivered a cent of the $1.15 billion in new aid for Haiti it pledged earlier this year. At least six people were killed and over 8,000 tarps and other temporary shelters were destroyed when a storm hit the capital Port-au-Prince last week.

Ousted Colombian Senator Vows to Continue Mediation Efforts

The prominent Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba has spoken out about her removal from the Colombian Senate and eighteen-year ban from public office. Colombia’s Inspector General ousted Córdoba this week for allegedly aiding members of the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Córdoba has been a leading critic of former Colombia president Álvaro Uribe and the US-backed drug war in Colombia. Her mediation efforts have helped free hostages held by the FARC. On Tuesday, Córdoba vowed to remain involved in talks with the rebels.

Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba: "To all the hostages in the world and in the country, to all those hostages of the FARC and the ELN, they have to be completely sure that this will not make us retreat, this will not intimidate us, that this will not scare me, that we will not leave the families alone. And to those who are listening to me in the jungle, you can be sure that even if it comes to that point and I go to jail, from jail my voice will be heard, sovereign, strong, to insist on the necessity of the humanization and the need for peace."

Study: 22% of Plant Species Face Extinction

A new study is warning more than a fifth of the world’s plant species are at risk of extinction. The Sampled Red List Index says 22 percent of almost 4,000 species are threatened, with human-induced habitat loss the cause in over 80 percent of the cases. Stephen Hopper of London’s Royal Botanic Gardens said, "We cannot sit back and watch plant species disappear—plants are the basis of all life on Earth, providing clean air, water, food and fuel. All animal and bird life depends on them, and so do we."

Protests Continue Against FBI Raids, Subpoenas of Antiwar Activists

And protests are continuing nationwide against the FBI for raiding eight homes and offices of antiwar activists in Minneapolis and Chicago last week. On Tuesday, hundreds of people rallied in at least a dozen cities, including Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Here in New York, antiwar activist Jose Martin took part in a demonstration outside a federal building.

Jose Martin: "I lived in Chicago for eight years, and I know everyone who got raided or got contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation this past Friday. They’re all dear friends of mine. Some of them have children in kindergarten. Some of them have babies. And I remember them before they were married in some of these cases. They’re wonderful people, hard-working antiwar activists and solidarity activists, and we need to make sure that no one in any movement turns their back on these folks, because that’s what the Federal Bureau of Investigation wants to do. It wants to ruin their lives, and it wants to make as many antiwar activists turn their back on people who are being harassed as it can."

Eleven activists have been handed subpoenas to appear before federal grand juries, with the first beginning next week.

links for the day:
The easy way to stop currency manipulation
NYTimes: Rivals Reach Consensus on New Earmark Rules
NYTimes: Imagining a Deficit Plan From Republicans
NYTimes: Ohio Tests Arguments of Midterms
NYTimes: House Passes Bill to Help With 9/11 Health Care
NYTimes: In Tax Cut Plan, Debate Over the Definition of Rich
Economist - Politics this week.
Atlanta is the 15th worst traffic city in America.
Fox News, GOP melding into one apparatus
 Being Glenn Beck
Iceland ex-PM faces negligence charges
Republicans Block Bill To Tax Firms That Export Jobs:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Iceland ex-PM faces negligence charges

At least somebody somewhere is trying to hold someone accountable for economic blunders of the financial crisis.  Working people are held accountable every day for how well they do their job. 
There are a lot of policy makers, economists, and talking heads in the United States that failed to see the housing bubble and/or did nothing to avert the financial avalanche that has ruined the lives of millions of Americans who had no control or influence in economic policy.

Iceland’s parliament has voted to press negligence charges against former prime minister Geir Haarde, in the first concrete step to hold politicians accountable for the 2008 bank crisis that left the country’s economy in ruins.

The move came after a parliament-commissioned “truth report” earlier this year accused political leaders and regulators of “gross negligence” in their lax oversight of the banking sector before it collapsed.

Tuesday’s vote paved the way for Mr Haarde to become the first Icelandic leader to be tried by a special constitutional court set up in 1905 to hear cases involving elected officials. Punishment for criminal negligence could include a fine or two years in prison.

Icelandic lawmakers passed a resolution by 33 votes to 30 to take Mr Haarde to court after more than a week of fierce parliamentary debate over whether elected politicians should be held criminally responsible for the crisis.

Mr Haarde took over as prime minister in 2006, leading a rightwing government that championed the rise of Iceland’s banking sector to a point where its assets were 10 times greater than gross domestic product.

He was ousted from power in 2009 after the forced nationalisation of the country’s three biggest banks – Landsbanki, Kaupthing and Glitnir – left the Atlantic island nation and its 320,000 people facing billions of dollars of debts.

The meltdown of Iceland’s banking sector represented one of the most dramatic episodes of the global financial crisis, deepening panic in the markets less than a month after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I need your help!

The deadline for our last full financial reporting period is this week. Contribute $10, $25, $50, $100, or more before 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, September 30 to help our campaign fight the career politicians and bureaucrats in Atlanta!

The trucks won't load themselves... 9/28/2010

I'm headed to work.  Here are yesterdays headlines via Democracy Now:

Obama Invokes "State Secrets" to Defend Assassination Program

The Obama administration has urged a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit challenging the administration’s assertion that it can assassinate US citizens anywhere in the world. Earlier this year the Obama administration authorized the CIA to capture or kill Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who is believed to be in hiding in Yemen. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and Center for Constitutional Rights, al-Awlaki’s father asked a federal judge to issue an injunction and force the administration to publicly reveal its criteria for determining who can be assassinated. In court papers filed on Friday, the Obama administration asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit without hearing the merits of the claims, citing state secrets. The ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights criticized the Obama administration’s stance. In a statement, the groups said, "The idea that courts should have no role whatsoever in determining the criteria by which the executive branch can kill its own citizens is unacceptable in a democracy."

Soldier Faces Military Tribunal for War Crimes in Afghanistan

A military tribunal will begin today for the first of twelve US soldiers accused of forming a secret "kill team" in Afghanistan that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies. The tribunal will decide whether Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock’s case proceeds to court-martial. Morlock is charged with premeditated murder in the deaths of three Afghan civilians, assaulting a fellow soldier, and "wrongfully photographing and possessing visual images of human casualties." Morlock and other soldiers allegedly took photos posing with the dead Afghan civilians. In May, Morlock spoke to investigators and reportedly made a number of statements implicating him and four other soldiers. Morlock’s attorney now says the statements should be discounted because Morlock talked while under the influence of up to ten prescription drugs. The trials of Morlock and the other soldiers will likely be the most high-profile prosecutions of US war crimes to result from the nearly nine-year-old conflict in Afghanistan.

Abused Iraqi Prisoners Held at Abu Ghraib Never Received Compensation

The Associated Press has revealed that Army records show no Iraqi prisoners tortured at Abu Ghraib prison ever received compensation from the United States despite promises by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In 2004 Rumsfeld told Congress that he had found a legal way to compensate Iraqi prisoners who were abused. Rumsfeld said, "It’s the right thing to do. And it is my intention to see that we do." Six years later, no record of payment exists, and the Army cannot verify whether any such payments were made informally through Iraqi leaders. The news come as the Supreme Court is expected to decide this week whether to hear a lawsuit filed by former Abu Ghraib prisoners against two private companies: CACI International and L-3 Services, formerly Titan Corp.

Obama Criticizes GOP Economic Plan

On Saturday, President Obama used his weekly radio address to criticize the Republican Party’s "Pledge to America" manifesto. Obama accused Republicans of wanting to put special interests back in the driver’s seat in Washington.

President Obama: "Now, the Republicans who want to take over Congress offered their own ideas the other day. Many were the very same policies that led to the economic crisis in the first place, which isn’t surprising, since many of their leaders were among the architects of that failed policy. It’s grounded in same worn-out philosophy: cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires, cut the rules for Wall Street and the special interests, and cut the middle class loose to fend for itself. That’s not a prescription for a better future. It’s an echo of a disastrous decade we can’t afford to relive."

Karl Rove Builds Shadow Republican Party

The New York Times reports President Bush’s former adviser Karl Rove is playing a leading role in building what amounts to a shadow Republican Party, a network of donors and operatives that is among the most aggressive in the Republican effort to capture control of the House and the Senate. With help from former White House counselor Ed Gillespie, Rove has started the groups American Crossroads and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, which are spending millions on ads boosting Republicans in some of the most closely contested Senate races. American Crossroads is now planning a barrage of anti-Democratic attack ads that will be run tens of thousands of times, a final get-out-the-vote push with some 40 million negative mail pieces, and 20 million automated phone calls.

West Bank Settlement Freeze Ends

Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank have resumed building work earlier today, a day after a ten-month-long moratorium on settlement construction ended. In the West Bank settlement of Oranit, bulldozers have begun preparing the grounds for more new homes. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to quit the direct peace negotiations unless the moratorium is extended. Despite Abbas’s threat, many Israeli lawmakers called for the construction of more settlements. Aryeh Eldad is a member of the Israeli Knesset.

Aryeh Eldad: "We will start building as in the past. We hope that tomorrow morning we will see more and more and more new buildings in Judea and Samaria to close the gap that was opened in the past ten months that the freeze was empowered over the settlements, and to build everything that is needed for the people who live here."

The Israeli organization Shalom Achshav, or Peace Now, said Israel is prepared to build thousands of more homes in the occupied West Bank.

Yariv Oppenheimer, Peace Now: "According to our information there are 13,000 housing units that has an approval and can be built without a new approval of the government. But we think that in the next few weeks we will see construction of 2,500 housing units immediate. So the other 11,000, it will take some time until the settlers will take advantage of this plans and will go ahead with the construction."

IAEA Rejects Resolution Urging Israel to Join Nuke Treaty

The International Atomic Energy Agency has narrowly rejected a resolution calling on Israel to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Arab states were pushing for the resolution in an attempt to put all of Israel’s nuclear facilities under the oversight of the IAEA. For decades, Israel has been the only nation in the Middle East with a nuclear weapons arsenal, though the country has never acknowledged its nuclear program.

Jewish Activists Set Sail for Gaza

A group of Jewish activists have set sail for Gaza in an effort to defy the Israeli sea blockade. The group said they were taking a symbolic load of medicine, a water-purifying kit and other humanitarian aid. Activists on board include eighty-two-year-old Holocaust survivor Reuven Moskovitz and former Israeli Air Force pilot Yonatan Shapira.

Yonatan Shapira: "Israelis’ propaganda is always self-defensive. Israel tries to be the victim, to put itself as a victim. This is what I received as a child all the way throughout growing until I went to the army to fight in order to be this victim that protects himself."

Five Haitians Die as Storm Sweeps through Camp

In Haiti, at least five people have died after a storm swept through Port-au-Prince on Friday. The storm destroyed thousands of tents in makeshift camps where over a million survivors of January’s earthquake still live. Haitian residents say more money is needed to help the recovery efforts from the devastating earthquake.

Joseph: "The main thing we really need for this country is to help the people to have a chance to live. We’re spending billion, billion of dollars, where many ONGs, many organizations from the US, are taking the money. Seventy-five percent of the money is going outside, and the people are still in this condition. You are telling me people are going to help Haiti?"

Activists Shut Down Australian Coal Port

In Australia, climate change activists from the group Rising Tide shut down operations at the world’s largest coal port on Sunday. Activists occupied the port in Newcastle by entering the port’s three terminals and attaching themselves to loaders.

Harvard Students Protest Martin Peretz

Scores of students at Harvard University held a protest Saturday condemning the school’s decision to honor Martin Peretz, the editor of the New Republic magazine. Students held signs with some of his own recent anti-Muslim remarks and then followed him out of the auditorium. Peretz recently wrote, "Muslim life is cheap, especially to other Muslims." He also wrote that Muslim Americans are not “worthy” of First Amendment rights and alleged that all Muslims are complicit in the “routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood."

Stephen Colbert Testifies on Capitol Hill

And comedian Stephen Colbert testified on Capitol Hill Friday during a hearing examining the effect of American immigration policies on agricultural businesses. Colbert recently took up a dare from the United Farm Workers union to live the life of a farm worker. Colbert lasted one day on the job.

Steven Colbert: "I like talking about people who don’t have any power, and this seemed like one of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet we still invite them to come here and, at the same time, ask them to leave. And that’s an interesting contradiction to me. And, you know, whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers. And these seem like the least of our brothers right now. A lot of people are least brothers right now because the economy is so hard, and I don’t want to take anyone’s hardship away from them or diminish anything like that, but migrant workers suffer and have no rights."

Monday, September 27, 2010

So How Did the Bush Tax Cuts Work Out for the Economy?

The 2008 income tax data are now in, so we can assess the fulfillment of the Republican promise that tax cuts would produce widespread prosperity by looking at all the years of the George W. Bush presidency.

Just as they did in 2000, the Republicans are running this year on an economic platform of tax cuts, especially making the tax cuts permanent for the richest among us. So how did the tax cuts work out? My analysis of the new data, with all figures in 2008 dollars:

Total income was $2.74 trillion less during the eight Bush years than if incomes had stayed at 2000 levels.

That much additional income would have more than made up for the lack of demand that keeps us mired in the Great Recession. That would mean no need for a stimulus, although it would not have affected the last administration's interfering with market capitalism by bailing out irresponsible Wall Streeters instead of letting the market determine their fortunes.

In only two years was total income up, but even when those years are combined they exceed the declines in only one of the other six years.

Even if we limit the analysis by starting in 2003, when the dividend and capital gains tax cuts began, through the peak year of 2007, the result is still less income than at the 2000 level. Total income was down $951 billion during those four years.

Average incomes fell. Average taxpayer income was down $3,512, or 5.7 percent, in 2008 compared with 2000, President Bush's own benchmark year for his promises of prosperity through tax cuts.

Had incomes stayed at 2000 levels, the average taxpayer would have earned almost $21,000 more over those eight years. That's almost $50 per week.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Americans Vastly Underestimate Wealth Inequality, Support 'More Equal Distribution Of Wealth': Study

Americans vastly underestimate the degree of wealth inequality in America, and we believe that the distribution should be far more equitable than it actually is, according to a new study.

Or, as the study's authors put it: "All demographic groups -- even those not usually associated with wealth redistribution such as Republicans and the wealthy -- desired a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo."

The report (pdf) "Building a Better America -- One Wealth Quintile At A Time" by Dan Ariely of Duke University and Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School (hat tip to Paul Kedrosky), shows that across ideological, economic and gender groups, Americans thought the richest 20 percent of our society controlled about 59 percent of the wealth, while the real number is closer to 84 percent.

More interesting than that, the report says, is that the respondents (a randomly selected 5,522-person sample, reflecting the country's ideological, economic and gender demographics, surveyed in December 2005) believed the top 20 percent should own only 32 percent of the wealth. Respondents with incomes over $100,000 per year had similar answers to those making less than $50,000. (The report has helpful, multi-colored charts.)

The respondents were presented with unlabeled pie charts representing the wealth distributions of the U.S., where the richest 20 percent controlled about 84 percent of wealth, and Sweden, where the top 20 percent only controlled 36 percent of wealth. Without knowing which country they were picking, 92 percent of respondents said they'd rather live in a country with Sweden's wealth distribution.

As the new Forbes billionaires list, released Wednesday, testifies, the richest Americans are getting richer, even as the country as a whole gets poorer. After 2005 income inequality continued to balloon.

READ the study

U.S. Chamber, Energy Trade Groups Urge Spending Panels to Block EPA Climate Rules

The groups oppose rules slated to take effect beginning early next year to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other large stationary sources, and the letters express concern that burdensome regulations could eventually apply to a large swath of the economy.

"There is the very real prospect that investments by businesses across the entire economy - the investments that will drive economic recovery and job creation - will be delayed, curtailed or, even worse, cancelled," states the letters to the spending panels obtained by The Hill.

The letters come ahead of the Senate Appropriations Committee markup of EPA's annual spending bill Thursday. Republicans may offer amendments to delay EPA rules, which could draw suppost from some centrist Democrats.

Also, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is seeking a Senate vote this year on his bill that would impose a two-year delay on EPA rules for stationary sources, while Re. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) has floated a companion plan in the House, which is co-sponsored by Re. Rick Boucher (D-Va.).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said that he intends to bring up Rockefeller's bill this year.

State and Local News -- Morning reads 9/25/2010

ATLANTA – A coalition of contractors and environmental groups is pushing a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that they estimate will generate 11,000 jobs upgrading state buildings with energy-efficient fixtures.

Taxpayers for Energy Efficiency announced Tuesday the launch of its $150,000 Yes To Amendment 4 campaign, with a website and a page on the Facebook social-media networking site. The amendment would change the constitution to permit certain multiyear contracts for the retrofitting of the state's 15,000 buildings.

Supporters say it will provide an economic stimulus while reducing energy consumption. And the work would be paid for with the energy savings rather than a new expense to the state's tight budget.  

So-called performance-contracting payment schemes aren't practical as long as the state government can only sign contracts for one year at a time because the annual energy savings won't recoup the cost of the upgrades. But the legislature overwhelmingly approved putting on the ballot a bipartisan constitutional amendment.

Since government tends to hold on to its buildings, many of them have aging lighting fixtures and heat-and-air systems. Budget cuts caused by the recent recession have led many state agencies to put off making repairs and upgrades.

"Amendment 4 is a win-win proposal that will cut government waste, save taxpayers money, create more than 11,000 jobs and make Georgia a more energy efficient state," said Jason Rooks, director of the campaign.

Rooks said Wednesday he didn't know of any organized opposition but worried voters angry at politicians may be leery of supporting the amendment without a campaign to convince them.

 Nearly Two Million Georgians Uninsured in 2009

On September 16th, the Census Bureau released new figures on health insurance in the United States. In 2009, the number of uninsured Americans topped 50 million, propelled by unprecedented declines in employer-sponsored coverage during the recession. Here in Georgia, there were 1.9 million individuals without health insurance, or one in five Georgians. The Affordable Care Act will extend coverage to most of these uninsured Georgians by 2014, when the law is fully implemented. To read the Census Bureau’s report on the new health insurance figures, click here. To read more about the implications for Georgia, click here.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal filed a new financial disclosure statement Thursday after a week of questions about his financial state, including questions about his personal solvency.

The latest disclosure, the second amendment in seven days for Deal, comes after media pressure to explain apparent omissions of assets and debts, and after a report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Deal’s personal finances appeared to be in turmoil.

Deal’s campaign, which began 16 months ago, acknowledged errors in previous filings, saying that it was not familiar with state requirements after the former state legislator had spent 18 years in Congress.

Thursday’s release paints a brighter financial picture for the Gainesville Republican. Deal reports a net worth of $2.86 million, up 38 percent from his disclosure of just a week ago. Deal’s claimed real estate holdings jumped from $1.97 million a week ago to $5.66 million Thursday.

Deal reported substantially more assets and liabilities in the latest disclosure, which included business assets and debts previously not disclosed in congressional or state financial statements.

Jimmy Allen, a Tifton-based forensic accountant and Deal supporter hired by the campaign to review his finances, sat down with the AJC and The Associated Press on Thursday to explain changes to Deal’s financial reports.

The campaign called the meeting Thursday on short notice. Deal was not present. Read more on the financial revisions.

The Henry County Board of Education has continued to review its school bus scheduling and routing options, which also include providing school transportation services to all students.


There are no plans to change current bus routing practices, but “change is always a consideration,” said board member, Pam Nutt.

Changes to transportation practices, she said, are more likely to happen a couple of years from now, when revenues for education are healthier.

“Finances are getting worse and worse,” she said. “And 2011 is supposed to be the ‘drop-dead’ year. The money is really going to continue to be an issue in just providing the basic transportation.”

Nutt said the school board is still reviewing three options for bus routing.

The veteran board member said the first option is continuing the use of a 20-year-old policy that acknowledges non-transportation zones, in which most students living within a mile radius of their assigned schools are not provided transportation services.

Another option, Nutt added, would place elementary school students, living within a mile of their school, back on the school bus at a price tag of about $150,000. The second option involves eliminating the use of non-transportation zones for elementary school students. All elementary school students would be provided school transportation, but their middle and high school counterparts would not receive the same service.

Nutt said the school board’s final option — eliminating the use of non-transportation zone routes altogether — would require about $190,000 more in additional funding, as well as four more school buses, and costs associated with their operation and maintenance.

The one-mile non-transportation-zone policy was originally implemented due to the need for additional bus seats, according to Cliff Shearouse, Henry’s transportation director. “The school system was not able to purchase the number of buses needed,” he explained. “Therefore, the decision from the Board was to strictly enforce the current Board Policy EDD.”

The school board transportation policy, which is available at the school system’s web site, stipulates that only in temporary situations will a bus be loaded more than 20 percent beyond its seating capacity.

The policy, adopted on Aug. 1, 1990, specifies that “those students who live less than one mile from the school to which they are assigned may be transported to, and from, school provided that: The pick-up points are on a route traveled by a bus, and no students are required to stand as a result of those students who live less than one mile frsom their assigned school riding the bus.”

Policy EDD also provides guidance on school bus stops. It states that “all students who reside less than 0.3 miles from an established bus stop will be required to walk to that stop to board a bus.” Exceptions may be made with regard to student and individual safety, special education student riders, inadequate turn-arounds, or risk of property damage.

School officials said, for several years after the policy was adopted, the school system provided courtesy transportation services to even those students living within the one-mile radius, and within the 0.3-mile distance from an existing bus stop.

Then, in 2009, the school board began implementing bus schedules and routes that acknowledged the 1990 school board policy.

“This measure was not taken in order to save money,” said Shearouse, adding that the school board’s “transportation budget was reduced by more than $560,000 by strictly enforcing Board Policy EDD. From this reduction, more than $91,000 was attributed to the implementation of the one-mile, non-transportation zones.”

The transportation director reiterated that implementing the school board policy saved his department from having to purchase additional school buses with funds it did not readily have. The department is responsible for transporting more than 23,000 students daily.

“For the current school year, there are no changes to the current operation of school bus transportation,” continued Shearouse. “At this time, we are planning to continue operating the same next year as we are this year.”

The Covington News recently hired Tharon Giddens to be its new editor. Giddens worked at The Augusta Chronicle for 18 years, spending the last handful as the features editor.

“We’re excited to have Tharon as part of the Covington News team, because of his expertise and years of experience in the newspaper industry,” said Publisher Charles Hill Morris Jr. “He’ll be a great addition, and the entire staff is looking forward to working with him to improve the content and products.”

Giddens has also worked for the Gwinnett Daily News, Anderson Independent-Mail in South Carolina and the Rome News-Tribune and has covered a variety of beats, including local government, cops and courts and features.

“I’m excited to be here. This is a dynamic community,” Giddens said. “It’s a great job opportunity.”

As editor Giddens is responsible for overseeing all editorial content. If a resident has a story idea or wishes to discuss news coverage, please contact Giddens by e-mail at or by phone at (678) 750-5011.

CONYERS — C.J. Hicks Elementary School will continue its path to become Rockdale County’s next charter school.

During its monthly meeting last week, the Rockdale County Board of Education unanimously approved a charter petition from the school to submit to the Georgia Department of Education.

C.J. Hicks Principal Sherrod Willaford wants his building to be the first authorized International Baccalaureate World School implementing the IB Primary Years Programme in Rockdale County Public Schools. The entire process could take a couple of years.

Already, school and system officials have conducted research, visited other IB schools, surveyed staff and parents and developed plans for the program. It would focus on such practices as creative and service-oriented activities; fostering broader social improvement; requiring acquisition of a second language; requiring parental support and time commitment; providing rigorous and ongoing professional training and development; and emphasizing the importance of reflection on a personal and academic level.

The school still would follow federal No Child Left Behind standards, and students would continue taking state-required assessments like the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests. As currently decided, the makeup of the school would be the zoned attendance area, but an opt-out option should be available, school officials have said.

In April, the school board approved the school’s letter of intent to seek admittance to the program, and the school submitted it to the GaDOE for approval.

Now, the school must submit its petition to the GaDOE by Nov. 1 for approval to move forward with the next steps.

If approved, before the program is fully implemented, a one-year trial period would occur, followed by IB team visits for one year.

COVINGTON — The Newton County Board of Education approved a new plan that focuses on student achievement and more effective teaching, while implementing a new principal evaluation system.

During its monthly meeting Tuesday night, the school board unanimously approved a recommendation from Superintendent Gary Mathews that calls for two nonnegotiable goals for the school system — increased student achievement and more effective teaching.



Principal Evaluation Ratings

90-100 points — exemplary/exceeds goals/substantial progress
80-89 points — proficient/met goal/meaningful progress
70-79 points — minimally acceptable/some progress (Below 75 points necessitates a professional development plan unless the principal’s school has earned Adequate Yearly Progress the prior year or two out of the last three years.)
Below 70 points — unsatisfactory/no progress
Source: Newton County School System

“We asked the board to join us in a body of research,” Mathews said Tuesday, adding that the new initiatives are meant to improve the capacity of every teacher to aim for high-quality results.

Taking the idea from the book “District Leadership That Works” by Robert Marzano and Timothy Waters, who study boards of education, Mathews aims to focus attention and improvement on all levels at NCSS, citing students performance that is below state levels and standards on recent results of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, Georgia High School Graduation Tests and college entrance exams, among others.

Accompanying the focus is a new principal evaluation form developed by county office staff and the principals based on the nonnegotiables. Mathews said research shows that more effective principals bring on more effective faculty, thus producing better learning results for students.

“What the principal does and doesn’t do has a big impact on the overall academic health of a school,” Mathews said last week.

Principals earn points when they and their schools achieve certain goals. They could attain more than 40 points when their schools have demonstrated increased student achievement, another 40 points or more for more effective teaching and more points in other areas, according to the forms.

Under increased student achievement, principals could earn 17 points for attaining the primary goal for all schools: earning Adequate Yearly Progress at the end of the year. Additionally, high school principals could earn more points for significant gains on college entrance exams like the ACT and SAT, as well as Advanced Placement and End of Course Tests.

All principals can earn 13 points for their schools achieving a secondary goal: demonstrating an increase of 3 percent in student proficiency in each subgroup over the prior school year in reading, English, language arts, mathematics, social studies and science. Additionally, principals whose students make significant gains in those areas will receive more points.

The third focused goal of achieving a minimum safe harbor — or reducing the failure rate from the previous year — for the Students With Disabilities subgroup will earn a principal 10 points under the increased student achievement section.

The 40 points that principals can earn under more effective teaching come from paralleling learning taking place in monthly leadership meetings and providing a portfolio demonstrating accomplishments.

Principals also earn points for their teaching and learning environments, up to seven points; staff performance and capacity, 15 points; administrative practices, seven points; community relations, six points; and personal development, 10 points.

According to a rating scale, principals who earn between 90 and 100 points — and more is technically possible — are said to be exemplary, exceed goals or have made substantial progress. Those who achieve between 80 and 89 points are proficient and have met goal or made meaningful progress. Between 70 and 79 points is minimally acceptable with some progress being made — scoring below 75 points necessitates a professional development plan unless the principal’s school has earned Adequate Yearly Progress the prior year or two out of the last three years. And those who score below 70 points are performing unsatisfactory and making no progress.

Last week, Mathews said that there is no plan or intent to begin merit pay for NCSS principals based on these evaluations until at least more research is conducted on the effectiveness of such. He said the primary purpose of the new evaluation process is to improve leadership for learning in each of the schools.

The new goals and principal evaluation form are part of the NCSS improvement initiatives, which Mathews said won’t change testing results and other results overnight and could take up to three to five years for a better outcome overall.

“It’s going to take some time,” he said Tuesday.

Health Reform Hits Main Street

Friday, September 24, 2010

Politicians don't elect themselves....

Politicians don't elect themselves.  Its an obvious truism.  Politics is a mathematical equation of time, demographics, money, and volunteers---not to mention the randomness of the political winds.
9 out of 10 political campaigns are won by the candidate with the most money.  There is a reason why you don't see a lot of truck loaders, or bus drivers, or car mechanics elected to office.  Its called money...
That's why I need your help.  Please take a moment to contribute online to my State Senate campaign at
Your $5, $15, $25... $200??? contribution will help me get my message out to voters.  My opponent may have $20,000 sitting around to put into his own campaign but I don't.  If I had $20,000 sitting around I'd be paying down my student loans.
A 30 year old that loads trucks who goes to school part time to finish his undergraduate degree can't win a state senate race by himself.  Its not possible.  I can't bring in the money and volunteers needed to win 50% + 1 of the vote alone. 
That's why I need your help.  Please contribute what you can and then send this ask along to people you know via twitter, facebook, and email.
They said we couldn't beat the State Senate Caucus' candidate in the primary and we won 62% of the vote. 
They'll say a working class blogger with no money can't beat an establishment Republican deep in Red America.  But we can prove them wrong again. Together we can bring a new generation of leadership to Atlanta and shake up the status quo in Georgia politics.
But we only have 38 days to do it...

The Wealthy Public-Sector Worker: A Myth Debunked

So, how much truth is there to the theory that massive pension liabilities and bloated benefits for public workers are increasing our financial woes? According to an analysis by John Schmitt at the Center of Economic and Policy Research, state and local employees are paid more, on average, than private-sector workers - about 13 percent more. But Mr. Schmitt's data also shows that this is actually a false comparison: state and local workers are somewhat older than private-sector workers, and they are actually much better educated (about 23.5 percent have advanced college degrees, as opposed to 8.9 percent in the private sector). About half of all state and local workers are teachers and academic administrators - which means that they're college-educated, at minimum.

Think about it: How many ambitious young people say, "My goal in life is to become a high school teacher - that would put me on easy street"?

It is true that in this country, police and firefighters get pretty generous pay packages, but they also pull people from burning buildings.

State and Local Spending, Wages and RetirementIf you still believe, despite this evidence, that public workers are paid more than they should be, how big an issue is this, really, for state and municipal budgets?

Click here to sign up for Truthout’s FREE daily email updates.

I looked at finance data from the U.S. Census and got the composition of nonfederal government spending shown in the graphic on this page. You'll see two things. First, wages and retirement benefits don't take up an unreasonably large piece of the pie. Second, subtracting a few percentage points either in pay or retirement benefits would not actually make a big difference.

In the end, this is a phony issue.


BACKSTORY: Dwindling Benefits

On Aug. 31, a judge in San Francisco cleared the way for an initiative that would save the city about $170 million - which, if passed by voters, would require city workers to pay more into their pensions and for health care. The Associated Press reported that the union representing the workers had sued to prevent this issue from being included on the November ballot, citing employees' contractual rights.

Such legal challenges have given American conservatives some leverage in recent economic debates. They argue that unions have exacted overly generous entitlement packages for public-sector workers from weak local governments, and that the onus lies with these retirees to reduce their financial expectations - just as those working in the private sector have been forced to do.

The Pew Center on the States has released a study showing that by the end of 2008, state governments faced a $1 trillion shortfall in payouts. Some pension agreements guarantee these payouts, and in most states taxes have filled the gap.

In an effort to address this problem, Colorado passed a law this year reducing a guaranteed annual cost-of-living increase for state retirees. A group of pensioners affected by the change filed a lawsuit in hopes of reversing the legislation, maintaining that they should not be penalized for the bad decisions of the state's pension fund managers.

Supporters point out that such plans were offered as incentives for workers' public service, sometimes in place of Social Security benefits.

The Way Government Bonds Work:

Reporters for the NYT who write on economic policy issues should know the way government bonds work. However, that is apparently not the case with Matt Bai. In defending an earlier article in which he referred to the bonds held by the trust fund as "iou's," Bai responded to a reader's question:

"The principle to which you’re referring is that the government guaranteed all of this Social Security surplus money (which it spent) with Treasury Bills. The reality is that redeeming that trillions of dollars in debt would require issuing trillions more in debt."

Bai's statement is of course true, but that is the case with all government debt. For example, suppose Mr. Bai decided to buy $100,000 of 30-year Treasury bonds. If he did this the government would turn around and spend the money that Bai had lent it. Bai seems to think there is something sinister in this story, but in fact that is usually what happens when a government or company issues bonds: it spends the money.

Thirty years from now, in 2040, Bai will go to cash in his bonds. When he does this, the government will be forced to borrow another $100,000.

This is the same story as the bonds held by Social Security. It is really very, very simple. The government will have to redeem these bonds just like any other bonds. Now, Mr. Bai apparently wants the government to default on the bonds held by Social Security. It could do this just like it could default on any of the bonds it has issued.

The people who would not get the Social Security benefits that they had paid for certainly would have good cause to be very angry if this happened, since it is a policy that is difficult to justify. Of course they may advocate that the country default on its other bonds, which might be appropriate if the country really is in such bad fiscal shape that it can't meet its obligations to its retirees.

As a practical matter, Bai is badly confused about the nature of the country's debt burden. The debt that the country is now accumulating because of the downturn need not pose any long-term fiscal burden since the Fed can just hold the bonds and repay the interest to the government.

The longer-term projections showing a serious deficit problem are all driven by projections of exploding health care costs. If we don't fix our health care system then we will face serious economic problems, one of which will be the budget deficit. However, as all economists know, the real problem is with the health care system.

“Pledge to America” Not as Fiscally Responsible as It Claims

The “Pledge to America” budget would mean $11.1 trillion in deficits over the next 10 years. By 2020, the federal budget deficit would be 6.3 percent of gross domestic product, the federal debt would exceed 93 percent of GDP, and interest payments on the debt would be more than $1 trillion a year. The budget deficit would be about $200 billion larger in 2020 under the “Pledge to America” plan than it would be under President Barack Obama’s budget, and over the next 10 years deficits would be $1.5 trillion higher than under the president’s budget.

The substantial increase in deficits under the “Pledge to America” budget are due to the significant tax cuts that come from extending all expiring tax provisions and the implementation of several new tax cuts. Altogether, tax revenues under the “Pledge to America” plan would average 16.7 percent of GDP. During the last period the federal government ran balanced budgets revenues averaged 20 percent of GDP.

budget comparisons under

The document claims that these cuts will be offset by spending reductions, but their proposals for these reductions add up to significantly less than their revenue cuts. The vast bulk of these spending cuts are achieved through what are described as “hard caps,” but they provide little detail as to what programs would be cut.

The “Pledge to America” also includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. But since the ACA reduces deficits over the next 10 years, repealing it increases the deficit as well.

Impact of Job Loss on Mortality

The decision made by the Federal Government to not increase aggregate demand enough via proper stimulus levels literally kills people...

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims increase

The DOL reports on weekly unemployment insurance claims:

In the week ending Sept. 18, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 465,000, an increase of 12,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 453,000. The 4-week moving average was 463,250, a decrease of 3,250 from the previous week's revised average of 466,500.
Weekly Unemployment Claims Click on graph for larger image in new window.

This graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since January 2000.

The dashed line on the graph is the current 4-week average. The four-week average of weekly unemployment claims decreased this week by 3,250 to 463,250.

The 4-week moving average has been moving sideways at an elevated level for about 10 months - and that suggests a weak job market.

Republicans vow to repeal healthcare law

Congressional Republicans have made the repeal of the Obama administration’s landmark healthcare law a cornerstone of the party’s agenda even though most Republicans in Washington acknowledge there is little chance such a reversal is possible.

The 45-page ”Pledge to America”, unveiled in a timberyard in Sterling, Virginia, by party leaders in the House of Representatives, zeroed in on issues that are popular with conservative voters – including cutting $100bn in government spending – but did little to clarify how a ruling Republican majority would accomplish that goal.

If Republicans gain control of the House, they could seek to block funding to implement the new law through their control of the appropriations process. But Democrats are expected to hold on to their majority in the Senate and President Barack Obama could veto any legislation that seeks to derail his healthcare initiative.

What is Rich?

When I was a little kid, being rich meant being able to buy the stuff I wanted without having to worry about how much it costs.

But as I got older -- and maybe this explains my choice of jobs -- being rich was much more about the ability to do what I wanted with my time. In this sense, you can have considerable wealth, but still not be rich. In fact, the quest for more and more stuff gets in the way (though it depends in part on what you want to do with your free time, if it's to play golf at an expensive club, sufficient wealth is a necessary condition).

Some of the richest people I know are quite poor in terms of having the stuff other people want, but free of the rat race, and as far as I can tell, they are generally happy. I think a lot of people are actually looking for freedom as they accumulate wealth -- they imagine being able to do whatever they want -- but don't realize that working longer and longer hours until there is no time left for anything else is not the best the way to get the freedom they are looking for.

Economist's View: Procyclicality

Paul Volcker on the difficulty of using discretionary authority to impose banking regulations that are restrictive during good times to discourage excessive risk taking, and somewhat more lax during bad times to encourage more lending:

Volcker Spares No One in Broad Critique, by Damian Paletta, RTE:  ...On procyclicality — “It’s the hardest thing as a regulator in my opinion…when things are really going well, the economy is going well, the market is not disturbed, but you see developments in an institution or in markets that is potentially destabilizing, doing something about it is extremely difficult. Because the answer of the people in the markets is, ‘what are you talking about? Things are going really well. We know more about banking and finance than you do, get out of my hair, if you don’t get out of my hair I’m going to write my congressman.’” .

Rules that automatically vary procyclically can help with this problem, that is, if a Congress subject to regulatory capture will impose them and keep them in place. But rules can't cover everything -- it's often the things that the rules don't explicitly cover that are the most problematic -- and some degree discretionary authority is unavoidable in a well-regulated system.

Obama urges Wen to act over renminbi

As Congress prepared to vote on legislation to allow the US to punish China for allegedly undervaluing the renminbi, Mr Obama told Mr Wen that currency policy was “the most important issue” in their discussion, administration officials said.

Jeff Bader, Mr Obama’s senior Asia adviser, said the US was “disappointed that there had not been much movement” since China’s decided to remove a currency peg in June. He said: “this had consequences for the global economy and for the US economy and we look to see more rapid and a significant revaluation in the months to come”.

Speaking on Thursday, after the leaders two-hour meeting on the margins of the UN general assembly, Mr Bader added: “This was a conversation in which the two sides agreed that we have substantial common interests and we wanted to have a candid discussion about the differences.”

Asked to characterise China’s response to the US demands, Mr Bader said Mr Wen had reiterated China’s intention to continue with reforming its exchange rate mechanism.

But at Mr Wen had earlier told businessmen in New York that China would resist US pressure for a revaluation while adding that the dispute should not be allowed to disrupt relations.

Mr Wen said a 20 per cent appreciation of the renminbi would cause job losses and bankruptcies in China without creating jobs in the US. “The conditions for a major appreciation of the renminbi do not exist,” he said.

But Mr Wen also said the two countries were partners. “We don’t have any reason to let our relationship back-pedal.”

Mr Bader said Mr Wen was “well aware” of Congress’s attitude on the Chinese currency and hinted that the administration could take action against Beijing if its economic concerns were not met.

US legislation due to go to a vote of the full House of Representatives next week would allow estimates of currency undervaluation to be used to calculate “countervailing duties” against imports that were deemed to be state-subsidised.

Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, said this week it was time to give the White House leverage in its negotiations with the Chinese government.

“If China allowed its currency to respond to market forces, it could create a million US manufacturing jobs and cut our trade deficit with China by $100bn a year, with no cost to the US Treasury,” she said.

Pointing to recent World Trade Organisation litigation the US has pursued against China, Mr Bader warned that the US could take further action. “If the Chinese don’t take action, we have other means of protecting US interests,” he said

Health Reform Benefits That Start Tody (errr yesterday...)

Starting today, insurers will be required to:

  1. Keep you covered when you get sick: Simple mistakes or typos will no longer be grounds for insurance companies to cancel your insurance.

  2. Cover kids with pre-existing conditions....

  3. Allow young adults to stay on their parents' plan up to age 26....

  4. Remove lifetime [coverage] limits....

  5. Phase out annual [coverage] limits....

For any insurance plan that goes into effect after September 23, 2010, your insurance company must:

  1. Pay for preventive care like mammograms and immunizations....

  2. Give you a better appeals process for insurance claims....

  3. Let you choose your own doctor... choose any available participating primary care provider as your provider, and any available participating pediatrician to be your child's primary care provider.

  4. Provide easier access to OB-GYN services....

  5. Allow you to use the nearest emergency room without penalty: If an emergency arises while you're away, you will no longer have to drive home to your in-network provider to receive in-network benefits.

Campaign begins for energy ballot measure

A group of clean-energy businesses and environmental advocates has launched a media campaign to convince Georgians to approve a proposal promoting greater energy efficiency in state government.

A constitutional amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot would let the state enter into multi-year contracts to replace aging electrical, heating and cooling and water systems in state buildings.

In a campaign that includes a website and several social networking tools, Taxpayers for Energy Efficiency is pushing the measure as a way to boost the economy while cutting government waste.

“Amendment 4 is a win-win proposal that will … create more than 11,000 jobs and make Georgia a more energy efficient state,” said Jason Rooks, the group’s director and president of Clean Energy Strategies LLC of Avondale Estates.

“Rarely do voters have an opportunity to approve an initiative that unites diverse groups from the business community to labor to environmental advocates.”

The amendment was introduced into the Georgia Senate last March with bipartisan backing and passed both legislative chambers overwhelmingly.

It also won support inside Gov. Sonny Perdue’s administration because of its potential to cut about $30 million from the $200 million state agencies now spend each year on electricity and natural gas.

The state has a substantial backlog of needed utility system improvements resulting from both the recession’s impact and an aging inventory of buildings.

The campaign’s website is

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How Large a Debt Level Is "Worrisome?"

Most newspapers make an effort to separate their news reporting from their editorial pages: not the Washington Post. It routinely uses its news pages to push the economic agenda favored by its editors.

Today it told readers that "the national debt is soaring to worrisome levels." It is not clear why anyone who understands economics would find current debt levels "worrisome." Since the debt is being incurred in a context where the economy has vast amounts of idle resources, current deficits pose no real burden on the economy. If the deficit were smaller, the economy would be smaller and the unemployment rate would be higher.

In contrast to the Washington Post, financial markets do not find the government debt the least bit worrisome. They are willing to buy long-term government debt at interest rates below 3.0 percent.

The debt also need pose no burden in future years. There is no reason why the Federal Reserve Board cannot simply buy and hold the bonds issued to finance the debt. In this situation, the debt accrued in these years will impose no additional future tax burden. The interest on the debt will be paid to the Fed, which will then rebate it to the Treasury.

In ordinary times, this approach would lead to inflation, however this is not a problem in the current situation. In fact, most economists agree that a somewhat higher inflation rate would be desirable at the moment. (The Fed is currently buying large amounts of government debt, although it is expected to resell these bonds at some future point.) If the Fed were to continue to hold the bonds it would eliminate most of the deficit problem discussed in this article.

This article relies on no sources who disagree with the Post's editorial position. In fact, the first "expert" cited is Robert Bixby, the executive director of the Peter Peterson funded Concord Coalition.

Treasury set to cut Tarp cost estimate

The Obama administration is set to lower its estimate of the cost of the troubled asset relief programme when it celebrates the end of the bail-out effort next week, senior administration officials say.

Many in the administration have become exasperated that the $700bn scope of the programme is often used in describing it and that it is widely seen as a Democratic initiative when it was created by the Bush administration and backed by almost half of House Republicans.

The Congressional Budget Office now pegs the actual cost at $66bn but the Treasury is expected to produce a lower estimate next week. Some officials and executives whose companies still owe Tarp money believe the final tally could see the government make a profit, depending on the initial public offering of General Motors and eventual sale of shares in AIG.

Tim Geithner, Treasury secretary, gave his strongest defence of Tarp on Wednesday ahead of its two-year anniversary and offered congratulations to those Republicans who backed it.

Saying it was now recognised as “one of the most effective emergency programmes in financial history”, Mr Geithner told officials, and later lawmakers, that there was “something to embrace about Tarp”.

“If you are a conservative Republican, you can celebrate the fact that we solved the most dangerous part of this financial crisis largely with private capital, not public capital,” Mr Geithner told a congressional hearing.  “And you can welcome the fact that we have reduced those investments in the American financial system to a tiny fraction of those I inherited.”

With economic growth sluggish, lawmakers have shied away from trumpeting Tarp, even though many economists and bankers say it shored up the financial system.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why Democrats are going to lose this November.... "The Story That Would Have Been Spun"

Lets have fun with history.  Here is a what if.  What if Obama actually pushed a "Liberal Agenda" (dum dum duhnnn) that Republicans claim he is pushing.  What would the election lay of the land actually look like...

Arin Dube wonders how an alternative world might have played in the press:

Counterfactual: Or a Story that would have been Spun, by Arindrajit Dube: Six weeks before the midterm elections, the Democratic Party is facing major losses in both the House and the Senate, and is looking increasingly likely to lose control of the House altogether.
What is behind this rapid change in fortunes from only two years ago, when the Democrats swept into power? Based on extensive interviews with sources in both parties, including anonymous sources within the White House, it appears that an over-reach by the Obama administration pursuing a progressive and populist platform may have played an important role. Instead of an incrementalist, business-friendly strategy, the administration went to the hilt with policies focused on a greater role of government in providing jobs and healthcare, and perhaps pre-maturely ended American military involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sources both inside and outside the administration agree that the pursuit of a health care policy with a strong role of the federal government (a “public option”) played a large role in solidifying the image of the administration as one that did not spend enough time courting moderate Republicans such as Senator Chuck Grassley. Had the administration not insisted on a strategy that fundamentally ended the control of the health insurance market by a handful of key companies, these sources say that a bipartisan compromise on universal healthcare would most certainly have been reached.
The pursuit of a second stimulus in late 2009 measuring $700 billion dollars was likely the second reason behind the quick turnaround in public opinion. While economists largely credit the second stimulus for lowering the unemployment rate to below 7% through a focus on aid to states and direct hiring initiatives, the political reality remains that there is increasing concern about burgeoning government debt. Although interest rates on treasury bills have not risen – yet – experts we spoke with worry about a sudden increase in such rates at any time. A more measured approach which let the structural problems arising from the bubble sort themselves out though the private market may have not lowered the unemployment rate at the short term. However, politically, our sources say, such an approach would have demonstrated a hard-headed approach that eschews populism, and would have calmed both the markets and an increasingly nervous electorate worried about countercyclical deficit financing.
Finally, while the administration’s economic advisors successfully pushed for a stringent and punishing regulatory policy with respect to the financial sector, some insiders grumble about the early decision by this administration to not recruit more palatable figures such as Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers. Lacking the “soft touch” approach championed by Clinoton-era protégé’s of Robert Rubin, the brash economic team under Obama moved quickly to cap bank size, impose draconian capital reserve requirements, re-instate Glass-Steagall, and strong-arm Congress to impose stringent limits on financial sector pay. While possibly creating a less risky financial market, it no doubt led to a flight of talent from the financial sector. Today, the financial sector’s share of employment is back closer to the late 1980s, which some believe is a cause for concern as financial innovations are unnecessarily stymied through regulatory pressure.
As a result of these and other factors, today’s electorate is taking a hard look at the Democratic Party and its brand of economic policies. Looking back with the advantage of hindsight, perhaps the Democratic Party leaders will decide that pursuing a less populist and redistributive strategy would have secured it a lock on both the Congress and the Presidency for generations to come. And that it was the focus on reducing unemployment and providing affordable healthcare – at the cost of securing bipartisan agreements – that lay the foundations for a resurgent Republican party.

There's another possibility. If Obama had fought harder for some of these things, he probably wouldn't have made much more progress than he did -- perhaps a little, but not much. But the battle would have been worth having as a means of signaling to the base that the things they care about are worth standing up for, and for painting the other side as obstructionists standing in the way of moving forward. I think there are alternative histories where the administration is more combative and less devoted to bipartisanship that would have turned out much better than the reality we are seeing today. But the Obama I want isn't the Obama I have.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The trucks won't load themselves....

I'm headed to work.  Here are your morning reads.  Have a great day!
quote of the day:
“I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen”
                                         --Frank Lloyd Wright

Politics and Corporate Money

CAMBRIDGE – A recent decision issued by the United States Supreme Court expanded the freedom of corporations to spend money on political campaigns and candidates – a freedom enjoyed by corporations in other countries around the world. This raises well-known questions about democracy and private power, but another important question is often overlooked: who should decide for a publicly traded corporation whether to spend funds on politics, how much, and to what ends?

Under traditional corporate-law rules, the political-speech decisions of public companies are subject to the same rules as ordinary business decisions. Consequently, such decisions can be made without input from ordinary shareholders or independent directors, and without detailed disclosure – all safeguards that corporate law establishes for other managerial decisions, such as those concerning executive compensation or related-party transactions.

In a recent article, however, Robert Jackson and I argue that political-speech decisions are fundamentally different from ordinary business decisions. The interests of directors, executives, and dominant shareholders with respect to such decisions may often diverge significantly from those of public investors.

Consider a public corporation whose CEO or controlling shareholder supports a political movement to the country’s right or left and wishes to support it with corporate funds. There is little reason to expect the political preferences of corporate insiders to mirror those of the public investors funding the company. Furthermore, when such divergence of interest exists, using the corporation’s funds to support political causes that the corporation’s public investors do not favor – or even oppose – may well impose on them costs that exceed the monetary amounts spent.

To prevent this, lawmakers should adopt safeguards for political spending decisions that would limit the divergence of such decisions from shareholder interests. For starters, it is important to require traded companies to provide detailed disclosure to public investors about the amounts and beneficiaries of any funds that the company spends, either directly or indirectly.

In expanding corporations’ rights to spend money on politics, the US Supreme Court relied on “the processes of corporate democracy” to ensure that such spending does not deviate from shareholder interests. Clearly, however, such processes can have little effect if political spending is not transparent to public investors.

For such disclosure to be effective, it must include robust rules with respect to political spending via intermediaries. In the US, for example, organizations that seek to speak for the business sector, or for specific industries, raise funds from corporations and spend more than $1 billion annually on efforts to influence politics and policymaking. While the targets of these organizations’ spending are disclosed, there is no public disclosure that enables investors in any public corporation to know whether their corporation contributes to such organizations and how much. Investors deserve to know.

Moreover, a public company’s political spending decisions should not be solely the province of management, as they often are. Independent directors should have an important oversight role, as they do on other sensitive issues that may involve a divergence of interest between insiders and public investors. And these directors should provide an annual report explaining their choices during the preceding year.

Lawmakers also should consider providing public investors with a say over political spending decisions. In the United Kingdom, for example, public companies have been subject to such a requirement for more than a decade. Shareholders of British companies must approve, by majority vote on a shareholder resolution, any political spending that exceeds £5,000. Following the adoption of this legislation, political spending remained significant but fell somewhat below previous levels.

Shareholders may have different views from those of corporate insiders not only with respect to the amount of political spending, but also with respect to how that spending is targeted. This problem can be addressed by permitting shareholders to adopt at the annual meeting binding resolutions concerning corporate political spending.

For example, shareholders could direct that the corporation may not spend funds for certain types of political purposes, or that it must follow certain principles in allocating whatever budget is authorized. The mere existence of shareholder power to adopt such resolutions could well increase insiders’ incentives to target the corporation’s political spending in ways that are consistent with shareholder interests.

Legal rules allowing corporations to spend on politics are premised on the view that expression of corporations’ positions has a legitimate role in the political marketplace. But a corporation’s wishes should not be automatically and necessarily equated with those of its management. That is why we need new legislation to ensure that the use of corporate funds in politics does not stray from the interests of shareholders.  

Centrists team up to fight the Tea Party

Republican and Democratic centrists fought back against the conservative “Tea Party” movement as lurid comments from Christine O’Donnell, its latest champion, threatened her chances of victory in November’s congressional elections.

Colin Powell, former secretary of state under George W. Bush, said it was time to argue over policy rather than “nonsense” and argued for liberalising immigration law. Mr Powell, a Republican, said he would not rule out endorsing President Barack Obama for a second term. “[The Tea Party] may well be a fad unless it converts itself from a movement into something that is a real political organisation that takes stands on positions. Right now what do they really believe in?” Mr Powell told NBC’s Meet the Press.

Ms O’Donnell, who won the Republican primary for a Delaware Senate seat, pulled out of appearances on the Sunday television talk show circuit after the emergence of an interview in 1999 when she said she had “dabbled into witchcraft”. The comments met immediate criticism from religious conservatives.

Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York and another centrist Republican, told the New York Times that the Tea Party’s anger was “not a way to govern” and he would back centrist Democrats and Republicans to take on the movement’s candidates for the November elections.

Downturn longest since Great Depression

The longest US recession since the Great Depression officially ended in June 2009, the body charged with dating US business cycles said on Monday.

The National Bureau of Economic Research said that the recession lasted 18 months, from December 2007 to June 2009. That was longer than the 16 months of the 1973-75 and 1981-82 recessions.

The announcement highlights the extraordinary length of the recession that began when the collapse of the subprime mortgage market triggered the most severe financial crisis since 1929.

An official end date for the recession also makes it official that the recovery since 2009 has been unusually weak and jobless. That gives evidence to those who argued that recovery from a recession caused by a financial crisis would be slow and painful as households struggle to pay down their debts.

Output is up by only 3 per cent after four quarters of recovery compared with 7.7 per cent after the 1982 recession and 6.2 per cent after the recession that ended in 1975.