Saturday, July 30, 2011

Raising the Budget Ceiling- and what else?

Public Citizen is one of the excellent public interest groups founded by Ralph Nader years ago in the 1970s.
Here is a copy of a letter they sent me with their discussion of the current debt ceiling debate in Congress.  It appears they support the the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s People’s Budget.
     I don´t agree with the notion about running larger deficits, only in theory in the sense that greater spending might be necessary in key areas of job creation such as new and clean energy development.  Also, revamping the Small Business Administration and amplifying its work, along with employee-ownership and co-operative business training would be two additional major policies I would advocate.


Washington is in the grip of a fever. It’s hard to find a word other than lunacy to describe what’s going on.

We are veering toward potential economic catastrophe.

And Congress is hung up on a debate that shouldn’t be occurring. It is debating an imaginary problem that conjures scary future scenarios but ignores dire existing circumstances. The consensus proffered solution to the imaginary problem would damage our country and further weaken our economy.

Democrats and Republicans are at loggerheads, but they are disagreeing primarily about how much harm they want to impose. That’s a very consequential disagreement, but it ignores the fact that we don’t need to impose any harm at all.

Let’s correct some of the upside-down components of the current debate.

1. There should not be a debate over increasing the nation’s debt ceiling.

Prior approval of increases — more than 100 — have been routine, and this time should be no different. Raising the debt ceiling merely authorizes the U.S. government to make good on spending previously authorized by Congress.

It is true that Republicans in Congress signaled some time ago that they would not easily agree to another increase in the debt ceiling. That’s why Democrats should have passed an increase in the last Congress, a move they declined to make because of fear of electoral consequences. At very least, the administration should have insisted on increasing the debt ceiling as a condition of agreeing to the December 2010 deal to extend the Bush tax cuts.

2. The government should be running larger, not smaller, deficits.

The country has not recovered from the Great Recession. One in six people who would like a full-time job are unable to find one. We don’t have to worry about hard times coming sometime in the future — we are living in hard times right now!

To fuel a stalled economy and put people back to work, the U.S. government should be spending more money. This is basic Keynesian economics. It shouldn’t be controversial.

State governments are starved for cash, and laying off thousands of teachers, librarians, fire fighters and police. If the federal government gave the states block grants, they could keep people employed, and keep delivering needed services. Our country, and our economy, would be stronger.

Much of the country is suffering through a summer of staggering heat waves. This should be an urgent reminder of the need to take radical action to mitigate catastrophic climate change. Especially with so many people out of work, the government should be spending money to employ people to retrofit buildings around the country and to invest in R&D on solar and wind energy.

And, of course, there is no shortage of other pressing needs to which people can be put to work.

By contrast, cutting spending right now will worsen our very severe economic crisis, and push more people out of work.

3. Our economic problems are present, not future.

It is both bewildering and unconscionable that pontificating politicians and pundits express so much concern for imagined future economic problems while ignoring the real and present suffering that pervades the country.

There is also some very fuzzy math that takes over the discussion. If it continues to grow economically, and if it makes wise investments, the country is going to be significantly richer in the years and decades ahead. We’re not going to be poorer, irrespective of the size of the national debt.

4. It’s actually not very hard to find a few trillion dollars.

To say that the debt ceiling debate shouldn’t be taking place, and that we should be running larger deficits, is not to say there aren’t appropriate areas of the budget to cut, and appropriate revenue streams to tap.

On the spending side, among many other things, we could:
  • Save more than a trillion dollars over 10 years by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Cut more than $500 billion from the Department of Defense budget by replacing private contractors and eliminating weapons systems the Pentagon says it does not need. Hundreds of billions of more in savings are available through modest cuts at DoD. The United States would still have, by far, the world’s largest military. A very modest proposal from the Congressional Progressive Caucus totals $2.3 trillion in savings over 10 years through ending the wars and cutting the Defense budget.
  • Save more than $150 billion in pharmaceutical costs just by negotiating better prices with Big Pharma. More aggressive moves to fix the broken pharmaceutical development system could offer savings far larger, with the government obtaining a significant portion of well over a trillion dollars in savings on pharmaceutical expenditures over 10 years.
On the revenue side, among many other things, we could:
  • Tax Wall Street speculation and raise between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion over 10 years.
  • End offshore tax haven abuses, and raise a trillion dollars over the next decade.
  • Close corporate tax loopholes. By way of illustration, getting rid of just two large breaks, deferral of overseas revenue and accelerated depreciation, would raise about $700 billion. The Treasury Department lists $365 billion in corporate tax breaks being gifted annually — that’s $3.65 trillion over the 10-year period talked about in these debt debates! Thanks to all the loopholes and escapes, corporations are benefiting from record low tax rates — 21% on average (this is what they are actually paying, not the nominal rate). For a handful, the tax system is a source of revenue. Citizens for Tax Justice looked at 12 major companies that together made $171 billion in profits from 2008-2010 and found that the dozen companies together paid negative $2.5 billion in taxes, thanks to $62 billion in tax subsidies.
Many of these and other sensible budget ideas are included in the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s People’s Budget.

A key thing to keep in mind about all these savings and increased revenue is that they should be ploughed back into public investments and public priorities. We need more net spending, not less. Over time, we need to reduce the deficit, but much of that will occur automatically, as the country moves back to fuller employment and more robust growth.

We do not need to touch, nor should we touch, Medicare or Medicaid. Nor should we tamper with Social Security, which is financed separately from the rest of the federal budget and has nothing to do with the debt.

It’s impossible at this point to know how the debt ceiling debate is going to play out. It’s also highly uncertain what happens if the U.S. government defaults — catastrophe may follow, or it may not.

What is certain is that irrationality is ruling the day.

It’s past time to leave behind this orchestrated and false crisis. Our country faces a legion of real and serious problems. It’s time we got to work taking them on.

photograph of Robert WeissmanOnward,
Robert Weissman's signature
Robert Weissman
President, Public Citizen

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Van Jones, Green America, and the NWF

Van Jones, Green America, and the NWF are among some of the latest messages I have received to address the problem of corporate and investor speculative ideology and influence.
Will you help craft our plan to solve this problem by helping to choose the best ideas for making sure we ALL pay our share? To inspire your thinking check out this new video from a group of self-made millionaires and billionaires who get it. They have a simple message of responsibility and patriotism that I wish every giant corporation and ultra-wealthy person shared: "Tax me."
Take a look at the video. Then help choose the best ideas here:

We, the American taxpayers, have put a ton of resources on the table, creating a stable and highly productive environment for businesspeople. If their businesses do poorly, they shouldn't be expected to pay back much in the form of taxes. But if they do well, they SHOULD.
They're benefiting from our public schools, our roads, our courts and so much more that America provides to help them succeed. But they aren't paying us—their real anchor investors—back. Simply put, it's unpatriotic. Those who do well IN America, should do well BY America. That's what made America great, in the first place.
Instead we just keep seeing more tax shelters, tax breaks, and tax loopholes. Now some of these folks are even willing to put our entire country's financial future at risk by using the debt ceiling crisis to push for more cuts to critical government programs—while refusing to consider closing some of those loopholes or raising tax rates on the wealthy.
This has to stop.The question we have to figure out now is how to turn things around. How can we stop tax dodging and make sure all of America's giant corporations and super-rich folks help us invest in a prosperous future for our country?
We can best answer these questions when we put our heads together. So it's up to all of us to take part today. It's easy, and it doesn't take a lot of time. Just click here to visit the new Contract for the American Dream site. Help choose the best ideas:
–Van Jones

Working for safer, toxin-free, personal care products is an important green issue. If toxins that exist in small amounts in the products we use every day can trigger health problems from asthma to cancer, imagine what happens to the workers exposed to these toxins in much higher doses?
The same goes for environmental impact. Years ago, Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Aveda captured my imagination with his simple thought exercise: If all the products we use for caring for our hair and skin were made from organically grown plants, there would be a whole beautiful world of thriving green plants all around us.
Many great, green companies in our Green Pages pursue this mission. In this newsletter issue, online editor Andrew Korfhage interviews Mary Kearns of Herban Lifestyles , a member of our Green Business Network™, and finds out more about her safe, natural, green, and organic soaps, lotions, and body care products that are literally safe enough to eat.
And our senior editor Tracy Fernandez Rysavy, brings us the other side of the story from her article "Is It Poison?" in our April/May Green American magazine.
Tracy exposes how a mere 200 of the roughly 85,000 chemicals used in the US have been tested by the EPA since the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976. Worse, no tests at all have been done to look at the damage caused when more than one chemical is present. And since the average American is exposed to 126 chemicals in their personal care products each day, chemical interactions can multiply the impact on your health.
We call out the 9 worst toxins to avoid in your personal care products (and we've got a downloadable poster of them on our Web site).
Finally, Green America's policy director, Fran Teplitz, informs me of an important new piece of legislation just introduced in the US House of Representatives. The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 would strengthen the authority of the FDA to block the use of unsafe chemicals in our cosmetics and personal care products. Please learn more about this legislation below and take action with our allies at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics today.
Here's to good health and safety for all,
Alisa (signature)
Alisa Gravitz,
Executive Director,
Green America

Plimouth Plantation on the 4th of July

In honor of the 4th of July in the US, I am posting this reference to an interesting museum experience.
You can't change history, but it could change youTM...

An Original Reproduction Pilgrim House, Plimoth PlantationTelling the iconic story of Plymouth Colony was the fulfillment of a young archaeologist’s boyhood dream. With help and support from friends, family and business associates, Henry Hornblower II started the Museum in 1947 as two English cottages and a fort on Plymouth’s historic waterfront. Since then the Museum has grown to include Mayflower II (1957), the English Village (1959), the Wampanoag Homesite (1973), the Hornblower Visitor Center (1987), the Craft Center (1992) and the Maxwell and Nye Barns (1994).
Today, Plimoth Plantation provides an engaging and experiential outdoor and indoor learning environment on its main campus and at the State Pier on Plymouth’s waterfront. Our permanent exhibits tell the complex and interwoven stories of two distinct cultures - English and Native. The main exhibits are enhanced with an exciting menu of special events, public programs and workshops that offer a rich and diverse exploration of the 17th-century.
Generations of families, millions of school children and countless people from all over the world have visited here and participated in Plimoth Plantation’s educational experiences that spark the imagination, delight the senses, touch the heart and enrich the mind.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Romm on Inhofe, Oklahoma, and the US Climate Risks

As Oklahoma Swelters Under Record Heat and Drought, Inhofe Bails on Heartland Denier Conference: ‘I am Under the Weather’

You may recall last year that Senator Inhofe’s grandchildren built an igloo to mock a killer snow storm, calling it ‘Al Gore’s New Home’.  Of course, extreme precipitation is precisely what we expect from human-caused global warming, but the story still got a lot of play in the media.
What’s more ironic is that the Senate’s leading climate denier bailed on the annual Heartland climate science denial conference this morning — saying “I am under the weather” (!) — just as his home state is being slammed by a record-smashing heatwave and a drought more severe than the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
Yes, I know, it’s just coincidence, not a karmic backlash.  But then again climate science projects a permanent dust bowl for the Southwest if we keep listening to Inhofe.  It also projects that by century’s end, the state will be above 90°F for 135 days a year!
What’s also ironic is just yesterday I pointed out that the Texas drought is so bad, “In Austin, They are Praying for a Hurricane.” Incredibly, meteorologist Stephen Mullens, aka Oklahoma City Weather Examiner, in his Wednesday post, “Heat wave records fall: No relief in sight,” writes
It seems the only hope of rain would be for a hurricane to hit the Texas coast and travel northward to Oklahoma. That path is a fairly common one. Fortunately, the scientists at Colorado State University have predicted a 50% probability that the Texas coast will be hit by a hurricane this year.
No, I don’t think one should use the word “fortunately” to describe a hurricane hitting Texas.  But it is a measure of the desperation felt by a state that is three quarters covered by severe drought and that has been above 90 for the entire month.
Here are some of the amazing statistics of this Oklahoma heat wave:

Today marks the 29th consecutive day over 90. That is a record.
Today is forecast to be the 10th day above 100 in June. That is a record.
Today marks the 34th consecutive day above normal.
June 2011 set or tied single-day record high temperatures on the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 27th. Those record temperatures were 103, 104, 101, and 103 degrees, respectively.
This exceptional heatwave (and drought) would in fact be a rather normal June in the second half of this century if Inhofe and his ilk continue to succeed in duping the nation into inaction, as the 2009 NOAA-led impacts report projected:

Back in October, the National Center for Atmospheric Research published a complete literature review, “Drought under global warming: a review.” That study makes clear Dust-Bowlification may well devastate the mid- and south-west even on a moderate emissions path, as the figure below suggests (click to enlarge, “a reading of -4 or below is considered extreme drought”):
drought map 4 2090-2099

The PDSI [Palmer Drought Severity Index] in the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl apparently spiked very briefly to -6, but otherwise rarely exceeded -3 for the decade (see here).  NCAR explains:
The large-scale pattern shown in Figure 11 [of which the figure above is part] appears to be a robust response to increased GHGs. This is very alarming because if the drying is anything resembling Figure 11, a very large population will be severely affected in the coming decades over the whole United States, southern Europe, Southeast Asia, Brazil, Chile, Australia, and most of Africa.
NCAR adds “By the end of the century, many populated areas, including parts of the United States, could face readings in the range of -8 to -10, and much of the Mediterranean could fall to -15 to -20. Such readings would be almost unprecedented.”
For the record, the NCAR study merely models the IPCC’s “moderate” A1B scenario,” atmospheric concentrations of CO2 around 520 parts per million in 2050 and 700 in 2100 (up from 390 now).  We’re currently headed somewhere between the A2 and A1FI pathway, which would takes us to 850 and 1000 ppm by century’s end.
Politico reports of Inhofe today:
The senator has canceled his planned appearance at the Heartland Institute’s Conference on Climate Change today on account of illness, a spokesman tells POLITICO.
The man who is doing more than anyone else to put the entire country under extreme weather said he couldn’t come because he is “under the weather.”  Seriously.
TPM reports:
He couldn’t make it, but did make sure some words got through. “It is my hope that over the next two days you will take a little time to note the tremendous successes we have enjoyed,” Inhofe told attendees in a statement. “Today the mood in Washington is significantly different.”
What Inhofe labels as “tremendous successes” are his efforts to kill bills aimed at preserving a livable climate, thereby increasing both the likelihood and severity of future catastrophic climate impacts for billions of people at home and around the globe.
This amoral hubris won’t result in any punishment by the gods of Greek myth, but it will in all likelihood render his home state a super-hot, deserted, uber-dustbowl for a long, long, long time (see NOAA: Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe).

This NOAA and NCAR data is great!  I agree, though, that the likes of Inhofe are hardly worth wasting real breath on.  However, I think the key to the election of politicians is in the economics of the thing.  Start up solar co-ops are springing up in a few places on the East Coast, while wind co-ops have been big in some European locales with special acknowledgment of Denmark´s pioneers and have spread to Canada.  I know some of the established US electric co-ops are catching on with wind especially.  Biomass has made some progress in Europe, especially Germany.  There´s a pretty good article about one village in the Christian Science Monitor by somebody named Blake.
       In a way, it´s all about the money to these denier creeps, so.... what the heck?  Of course, I had to do my master´s thesis on the subject to really plow through the media and other hype. 

Unions, Banks, and CUs in Florida

This is what it it comes down to in terms of corporate governance and consumer behavior.  I was glad to find out about this development.

Union leaders to pull funds from five banks, look to CUs
Union leaders to pull funds from five banks, look to CUs
ORLANDO, Fla. (4/25/11)--Labor leaders in Central Florida said Thursday they will pull their money out of five banks that support what they call "union-busting" legislation. Instead, they will move their money to community banks and credit unions. They also said they're advising thousands of union members to make the switch as well.
Unions representing police, firefighters, teachers and white-collar and blue-collar workers announced at a news conference they will pull funds from Bank of America, PNC, Regions Bank, SunTrust and Wachovia (Orlando Sentinel April 22).
Each bank is represented on the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which is advocating a measure moving through the state legislature that would prohibit state and local governments from collecting union dues through payroll deduction.
Those involved in the news conference lead the International Association of Fire Fighters; the Fraternal Order of Police; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO.
Copyright © 2011 - Credit Union National Association, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction is prohibited without written consent.

Daly from CASSE- June 27, 2011

Geo-engineering or Cosmic Protectionism?

Herman Daly @ 7:50 pm

by Herman Daly

“We are capable of shutting off the sun and the stars because they do not pay a dividend.” — John Maynard Keynes, 1933
Herman DalyFrederic Bastiat’s classic satire, “Petition of the Candlemakers Against the Sun“, has been given new relevance. Written in 1845 in defense of free trade and against national protectionism in France, it can now be applied quite literally to the cosmic protectionists who want to protect the global fossil fuel-based growth economy against “unfair” competition from sunlight — a free good. The free flow of solar radiation that powers life on earth should be diminished, suggest some, including American Enterprise Institute’s S. Thernstrom (Washington Post 6/13/09, p. A15), because it threatens the growth of our candle-making economy that requires filling the atmosphere with heat-trapping gasses. The protectionist “solution” of partially turning off the sun (by albedo-increasing particulate pollution of the atmosphere) will indeed make thermal room for more carbon-burning candles. Although this will likely increase GDP and employment, it is attended by the inconvenient fact that all life is pre-adapted by millions of years of evolution to the existing flow of solar energy. Reducing that flow cancels these adaptations wholesale — just as global warming cancels myriad existing adaptations to temperature. Artificially reducing our most basic and abundant source of low entropy (the solar flux) in order to more rapidly burn up our scarcer terrestrial source (fossil fuels), is contrary to the interests both of our species and of life in general. Add to that the fact that “candles”, and many other components of GDP, are at the margin increasingly unneeded and expensive, requiring aggressive advertising and Ponzi-style debt financing in order to be sold, and one must conclude that “geo-engineering” the world for more candles and less sunlight is an even worse idea than credit default swaps.
Why then do some important and intelligent people advocate geo-engineering? As the lesser evil compared to absolutely catastrophic and imminent climate disaster, they say. If the American Enterprise Institute has now stopped offering scientists money to write papers disputing global warming, and in fact has come around to the view that climate change is bad, then why have they not advocated carbon taxes or cap-auction-trade limits? Because they think the technical geo-fix is cheap and will allow us to buy time and growth to better solve the problem in the future. One more double whiskey to help us get our courage up enough to really face our growth addiction! Probably we are irrevocably committed to serious climate change and will have to bear the costs, adapt, and hasten our transition to a steady state economy at a sustainable (smaller) scale. Panicky protectionist interventions by arrogant geo-engineers to save growth for one more round will just make things worse.
At the earthly level I am no free trader, and neither was Keynes, but “shutting off the sun and the stars” to protect the fossil fuel economy is carrying protectionism to cosmic extremes. Reality has overtaken satire.