Saturday, February 14, 2009

Paterson Admits Soda Tax Might Go Down In Flames

Or should I say drown in sugary, high-fructose corn syrup goodness. Yes, the governor seems to be giving up on his 18% proposed tax of soda and fruit drinks that have less than 70% fruit juice. It was played up big in the press when he announced it and immediately was attacked for the "obesity tax" as it was labeled. Perhaps he was trying to emulate Mayor Bloomberg in being another NY Executive nanny, but even the governor doesn't see it happening anymore.

From The NY Times:

The governor’s position emerged during a town hall meeting on Thursday with college students in Morrisville, N.Y. During the question and answer session, Mr. Paterson told the “soda addicts” in the room not to worry because he did not expect the Legislature to pass his proposal for an 18 percent tax on soda and other sugary drinks, and said he put it forward largely to initiate controversy and conversation.

“The tax on soda was really a public policy argument,” the governor said. “In other words, it’s not something that we necessarily thought we would get. But we just wanted the population to know some issues about childhood obesity.”

The proposal, which was projected to raise $400 million a year and help reduce obesity, was a highlight of Mr. Paterson’s State of the State speech last month and set off a spirited debate in New York and around the country.

Aww, how sweet (heh) is that of the governor only wanted us to be aware of our state and national problem by threatening a tax on sugary drinks. If he didn't make such a big deal of it during the State of the State address and in front of subsequent press gaggles, I might actually believe him. Perhaps what actually happened was that Governor Paterson miscalculated the amount of opposition the tax would actually have.

Businesses were quick to organize around this issue and fight the governor on it, even creating a nifty website to show how many people are behind them on it. Producers, distributors, sellers and many in the public were quick to disagree with the governor's proposal. Joshing Politics even got an email from Peppercom Strategic Communications who started PR work for the lobbying effort. Unfortunately though, I hadn't gotten a response (within a day's time) as to how the group wants to help close the budget deficit. I would hope they agree on a fair tax that would go a long way towards solving the problem without cutting too many programs that New Yorkers depend on.

Barack Obama's Valentine Day Address

Barack Obama's weekly address just happens to fall on Valentine's Day but it is fitting that he has a sweet gift for millions of Americans looking for a boost to the dire economy we face. It may not be the panacea to our problems, yet it is certainly a step in the right direction.

2/14/09: Your Weekly Address from White House on Vimeo.

Religious Right Changes Their Name, Values Of Hatred And Intolerance Still Follow

Hope and change were the winning campaign themes of 2008 and now the Republicans are trying to follow suit. One particular group in the GOP tent, the vaunted "Religious Right" is also making a change this year so that they can appeal to others. Of course, that wouldn't include their policy goals and ideas, heaven forbid! Going after teh gays is far more important than trying to combat poverty. No, instead, the change they seek is merely in their name.

From ThinkProgress:

Christianity Today reports that some “politically conservative evangelicals” no longer want to be referred to as the “religious right.” According to social conservative leaders like American Values President Gary Bauer, the term “religious right” and others like it have “become synonymous with extremism“:

Gary Bauer said this week, “There is an ongoing battle for the vocabulary of our debate. It amazes me how often in public discourse really pejorative phrases are used, like the ‘American Taliban,’ ‘fundamentalists,’ ‘Christian fascists,’ and ‘extreme Religious Right.’”

A Focus on the Family official added that the “religious right” label might generate negative impressions: “Terms like ‘Religious Right’ have been traditionally used in a pejorative way to suggest extremism. The phrase ’socially conservative evangelicals’ is not very exciting, but that’s certainly the way to do it.

Bauer is as narrow-minded about reality as are his views of the world. The only reason that everyone else uses "Religious Right" in a pejorative way is that those in the group make themselves deserving of that form. Bauer and his ilk can call themselves "Santa's bigger helpers" or "The Keepers of Falwell spirit" for all I care, but as long as they continue to preach a message of hate and divisiveness they'll always be referred to with a heavy dose of negative connotation.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Koch Sides With Quinn On Increasing Taxes For The Wealthy

Former Mayor Ed Koch and I probably don't agree on many issues but we both Speaker Quinn's bid to raise city income tax on the wealthiest of our inhabitants. I also don't agree with Quinn very often, but that's besides the point. What we have now is a financial crisis that hasn't been seen in a long time and we need to do something concrete about it. Creating a tiered system is definitely a part of a comprehensive plan.

From The Daily Politics:

Koch was on hand at City Hall yesterday for Council Speaker Christine Quinn's State of the City address, during which she proposed a three-tiered plan that would increase taxes on the city's wealthier residents, starting with those who earn $297,000.

"I always believed that rich people should pay more, and I'm one of them," Koch told the DN's Frank Lombardi after Quinn's speech.

He disagreed with Bloomberg's claim that rich people would move out of the city if made to pay higher taxes, saying:

"Not me! And I believe the city is so extraordinary and the dollars that you're talking about by comparison is so miniscule that it would not have such an effect.
Koch sees through that tired argument that rich people would move out of the city. Plenty of locales have tiered systems and the wealthy don't leave those communities simply for having to pay a higher tax rate. There is more to the question of desirability of living in cities than just their tax rates. New York has a lot to offer and as a result, it takes a lot to keep it going. Especially in hard times, we need to pull together and not leave the poor out in the cold, or play on the fears of people by threatening to leave altogether.

Cenk Goes After Congress For Their Fake Outrage

Cenk is exactly right. It is infuriating to see a bunch of Congress members lambasting the executives of the big banks and then after the cameras are off, they go and pull the executive pay caps from the bill that Obama wanted.

One In Nine Houses Are Empty In The U.S.

Thanks to an unregulated economy and a housing boom that kept the system going for the last decade, the effects of that irresponsible growth are being felt throughout the country. GDP is down, jobs are being lost, businesses are going under and the houses that were built by the tens of thousands are being left empty. In fact, out of all houses in the country, one in nine are now vacant.

From USAToday:

Census numbers show:

• More than 14 million housing units are vacant. That number does not include an estimated 4.8 million seasonal or vacation homes, most of which are occupied part of the year. The combined vacancy rate of almost 15% is higher than during previous recessions: 11% in 1991 and 9.4% in 1984.

• About 3% of owned homes are vacant. In normal times, "maybe 1% should be vacant," Myers says.

• More than 9% of homes built since 2000 are vacant compared with about 2% for older homes.

• Homes priced at $500,000 or more are just as likely to be empty as homes that cost less than $100,000.

The numbers show that like jobs reports, the economic situation is much more precarious than in prior recessions. The vacancies show that an incredible amount of people are losing their homes in this recession. The statistics on what happens after a home goes vacant is murky though because it is hard to tell how many people go homeless and what category of homelessness they fit into. The USA Today article seemed to be worried about the security situation squatters brings, but the question of if the squatters were the former owners was not brought up. What we need to be concerned with are the people who no longer have a place to live and not so much the value of the neighborhood.

Another Pedro Espada Campaign Fundaising Mishap

Former Gang of Three member and Senator Pedro Espada is known for his deliberate snubbing of campaign finance rules and regulations. For months he has owed tens of thousands of dollars for violating various statutes and has shown he could care less about them. So it wasn't surprising to have seen an invitation go out for a fundraiser in his honor that yet again flaunted the law.

From The Daily Politics:

The senator, who missed five state Board of Elections deadlines for filing campaign disclosure reports and also owed (as of November) $61,750 worth of penalties to the CFB in connection with his 2001 City Council run, has stumbled yet again - this time sending out a fundraising invite emblazoned with his official state Senate seal.

(Espada has filed some of his 2008 reports, but the bulk of them - including the most recent Jan. 15, 2009 filing - have yet to appear on the board's Web site).

Using one's public office for political purposes is a big no-no.

Andrew Yong, Espada's chief of staff, immediately acknowledged the error when it was brought to his attention and said it will be fixed ASAP. He suggested the mistake was made by a new staffer who isn't yet aware of the campaign finance rules.

Uh-huh, sure. The "new staffer" excuse is an old one in politics and rarely is it honest. If the guy or girl was so new, someone should have been double checking their work. It is common sense to make sure proper procedure is followed and all laws are obeyed. The fact is, if this new staffer had good role models (like the Senator himself) perhaps he or she would have not committed the error in the first place. It isn't like not using the seal is an old arcane law to be followed, it is one of the first things a staffer should know when walking into the office for the very first time.

Congressman Miller Calls Out The Party Of "No"

As the vote on H.R.1 nears in the House and the Senate, it is important to remind the American people who wants to spur the economy with immediate jobs and relief, and those that wish to give more money to the rich through tax breaks. Congressman George Miller does a fantastic job on the floor of the House today.

Governor Paterson, You Owe Us $19,350

The general fund of New York will take that money in hundreds and fifties, or a check will suffice, but that money is owed to us Governor. When you talk a great game of dire budget deficits, shared sacrifice for all* and the need for fiscal responsibility, billing taxpayers for your trip to Obama's inauguration is absolutely obscene.

From The Poughkeepsie Journal:

ALBANY - Gov. David Paterson and three aides billed New York taxpayers $19,350 for their four-night stay at an upscale Washington hotel for the presidential inauguration, despite the governor's repeated warnings about the state's fiscal troubles.

Paterson and three top aides stayed at the luxury AKA White House hotel two blocks from the White House during the inauguration, with the governor billing taxpayers an average of $1,280 a night, according to records of state-issued credit-card expenses.

In total, taxpayers were charged about $4,800 a night for the hotel stays of Paterson, chief of staff Charlotte Hitchcock, special assistant David Johnson and secretary William Cunningham, records obtained from the state Comptroller's Office show. Paterson's bill was $5,123 for the four nights.

So do you think the Governor apologized for this trip he took on our dime, without asking permission? Nope, try again:

Paterson's office defended the spending, saying hotels for the inauguration required a four-night minimum stay and prices were inflated because of the event.

The charges were billed in December in advance of the Jan. 20 inauguration. The governor's office did not provide details on other expenses incurred on the trip.

"Governor Paterson, like many other governors from across the country, represented his state at a moment of national importance," spokeswoman Marissa Shorenstein said.

I'm sure there are plenty of hotels he could have stayed at that didn't cost $19,350 for four days. He certainly did not have to go with three other taxpayer-funded officials with their own $1,000+ per night rooms. When you ask your constituents to go without essential programs, with additional taxes and fees on the middle class, do not stay at a luxurious hotel two blocks from the White House at our expense. "Tasteless" and "insulting" only begins to describe this action by Mr. Paterson.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Now That Gregg Is Gone, How About A Democrat For The Nomination

Ever since I saw Obama nominate Senator Judd Gregg as his potential Commerce Secretary, red flags started to appear. Certainly his advocation for the abolishment of the Commerce Department a couple of years ago was one of those ominous signs. In the last two weeks of the stimulus debate, the guy was absent from nearly all of the activity and today he pulled a fast one on the President, becoming the second man to turn down the job.

From The NY Times:

Mr. Gregg said he alerted Mr. Obama to his decision “several days ago,” but administration officials said the senator’s withdrawal had taken them off guard.

The White House sought to contain the political fallout, issuing a terse statement and pointing out that Mr. Gregg had said he would “support, embrace and move forward with the president’s agenda.”

Mr. Obama, traveling in Illinois, told reporters that he had spoken to Mr. Gregg on Wednesday but that he did not know he planned to withdraw until Thursday. He said that the senator had had a “change of heart” and that he intended to keep his pledge of a bipartisan cabinet.
Yeah yeah, bipartisanship, rah rah. Hooray for camaraderie across the political spectrum.

With all due respect Mr. President, that game is not working at the moment. If Republicans actually played the game of give and take, not just take and take and take, then the issue of bipartisanship should be taken seriously. The reality is that only one side has tried to make compromises, while the other has gone kicking and screaming the whole way for the last three weeks. It is time that we have someone at Commerce that can actually, you know, stand up for the Commerce Department. Whether that be Robert Reich, Lee Stranahan or anyone that can think competently for the betterment of our government and nation, I am glad to hear what they have to say. Chances are, after the last eight years, it would be a good idea to make sure that person does not fall in line with the failed policies of the past.

Cuomo Starting To Sound Like A Candidate

I know, I know, it is speculation since Cuomo keeps denying a run at the Governorship next year. Yet, listening to this short, one minute segment of a speech isn't really about his feats as Attorney General, is it?

Latin America Calls U.S. Drug War A Failure

Not that most unbiased observers don't know already, but the drug war is complete and utter failure. Billions, if not trillions has been wasted on combating the trade of illicit drugs from the producing countries in Latin America to the United States. What's worse, some of that money has gone to the destruction of arable land and the drinking supply. For a long time, a sizable amount of that money has gone to the governments that support the United States' request to go after the producers. Yet even with those bribes, countries across Latin America are speaking up and calling the drug war for what it is.

From The Wall Street Journal:

The available evidence indicates that the war on drugs is a failed war," said former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in a conference call with reporters from Rio de Janeiro. "We have to move from this approach to another one."

The commission, headed by Mr. Cardoso and former presidents Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and César Gaviria of Colombia, says Latin American governments as well as the U.S. must break what they say is a policy "taboo" and re-examine U.S.-inspired antidrugs efforts. The panel recommends that governments consider measures including decriminalizing the use of marijuana.

The report, by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, is the latest to question the U.S.'s emphasis on punitive measures to deal with illegal drug use and the criminal violence that accompanies it. A recent Brookings Institution study concluded that despite interdiction and eradication efforts, the world's governments haven't been able to significantly decrease the supply of drugs, while punitive methods haven't succeeded in lowering drug use.

As economists would say, if there is a demand, suppliers can be found to meet that "need." It is clear that the solution the United States came up with is a complete failure and what's worse, helps to increase the dangerous side effects of the fact that the trade is illegal. Corruption is rampant and fueled by drug money wherever the drugs are produced. The finding of the report is simple, that the U.S. must treat drugs as a health problem, not a criminal one.

Now that change may be hard to understand when you are one that is making money off the whack-a-mole strategy that the DEA and other federal agencies use. When you are busy pursuing armed and extremely dangerous drug cartels, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. Ultimately it is up to the President and Congress to make an attempt to change course and decrease funding for law enforcement and increase that in the health care arena.

Untangling The Web Of Joe Bruno's State Senate

Prosecutors are busy preparing for November's trial against Joe Bruno, but the newly-minted Democratic State Senate is dealing with the aftermath of the corrupt system of patronage that Mr. Bruno and his fellow Republicans had built up in Albany and around the state. Most observers of state politics assumed that the preferential treatment for the former majority party was broad, but not to the degree that they are starting to find out about.

From The NY Times:

They recently realized there are some 75 employees working at the Senate’s own printing plant, a plain brick building on the outskirts of Albany. On Long Island, they found a small television studio, which had been set up — all with public money, with two press aides on hand to help operate it — for the exclusive use of Republican senators to record cable TV shows.

Democrats also came across what they are calling the “Brunomobile,” a $50,000 specially outfitted GMC van, with six leather captain’s chairs (some swiveling), a navigation system, rearview camera and meeting table. Joseph L. Bruno, the former Senate majority leader who was recently indicted on corruption charges, traveled in the van after his use of state helicopters sparked a feud with the Spitzer administration.

Then there are the parking spots, always at a premium near the Capitol. Democrats had been given roughly one spot per senator — there were 30 Democrats last year — and guessed there were perhaps double or even triple that controlled by the majority. Instead, they have learned, there are more than 800.
Sadly, that is just the beginning of it. The inequality between Republicans and Democrats was vast, more so than many others legislatures. That is in part because, as the FBI calls it, the byzantine rules of the State Senate easily hid the patronage and cronyism within.

Now it is the job of the Feds to deal with Mr. Bruno, no matter how hard he proclaims his innocence against the wall of evidence towering above him. In the Senate, it will be up to the Democrats not only to fully air and expose what the Republicans have been up to for the last few decades but to keep it as clean as possible so that their talk of reform is turned into action.

For Every Republican That Complains About Big Government

This is the video that they need to see:

Complaining about a mythical big government is a lot easier when you ignore all the essential programs that Americans rely on day in and day out. It is also easier when you forget the country's past when talking about how great it is to cut out what took so much struggle to enact over the last hundred years.

Quinn's Millionaire Tax???

Speaker Christine Quinn proposed a millionaire's tax for the city yesterday, now this is shocking news. Why, the idea almost sounds as progressive as Senator Schneiderman's proposal to institute a fair tax for the entire state. Raising rates on the wealthy would raise a ton of cash that the rich can afford a lot easier than the poor can handle cuts to essential services. And of course, having the Speaker spearheading this gives it tremendous weight.

From The NY Daily News:

In another one of her rare breaks with Mayor Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is poised to propose a three-tiered tax increase on New Yorkers earning more than $300,000 a year while also eliminating the PIT for low and moderate-income households.

Quinn will unveil what her office is calling a "forward-thinking" and "progressive" plan at her annual State of the City address tomorrow.

Under the plan, the PIT on pre-tax income of between $297,000 and $532,000 would jump from 3.683 percent to 4.25 percent, resulting in a typical tax increase of $374. For households earning $532,000 to $1.2 million, the bump would be to 4.45 percent ($5,571, on average), and $1.2 million and above would pay 4.65 percent ($19,066).

Overall, according to Quinn's office, 96 percent of taxpayers won't see any change in their bills at all.

The increase would bring in $1 billion worth of new revenue, which would be used to pay for the proposed tax cuts (which are also being pushed by Councilman David Yassky and the Drum Major Institute) and also eliminate the sales tax increase the mayor included in his FY2010 budget.

Malcolm Smith should see that the idea of a fair tax is a popular idea and a smart one as well in these troubled times. If Bloomberg-lackey Christine Quinn can muster the guts to introduce this legislation in the city, perhaps he can quit uttering right-wing talking points about the issue and jump on board with 18 of his fellow Senators to get the ball rolling for the entirety of New York.

Oh and of course Quinn will not only have to make sure it gets passed in the City Council, but with a veto-proof majority as well. Mayor Bloomberg in no way wants to raise his own taxes (and that of his elite class) so that we can keep more city programs on-line. To get this to the people will take a lot of fighting and knowing Bloomberg, things can get nasty. I can't say I'm a supporter of Quinn (her history is far too tainted) but I do support her on this.

Congressman Austria Clearly Never Took An American History Class

Sadly, Steve Austria of Ohio sets the bar awfully low in order to get into Congress. You would hope that a person sent to represent hundreds of thousands of Americans might know something about the country's history, but not in Mr. Austria's case. You see, the Republican spin campaign against the stimulus has been in overdrive and that means bursts of revisionist history are bound to be seen all over the place. In this instance, the Congressman from Ohio tries to move the date of the Great Depression ahead by four years.

From The Columbus Dispatch:

U.S. Rep. Steve Austria said he supports a scaled-down federal economic-stimulus proposal, but the Beavercreek Republican told The Dispatch editorial board that the huge influx of money into the economy could have a negative effect.

"When (President Franklin) Roosevelt did this, he put our country into a Great Depression," Austria said. "He tried to borrow and spend, he tried to use the Keynesian approach, and our country ended up in a Great Depression. That's just history."
Um, no, that isn't history, that's your own deluded version of it. After a decade of Republican encouragement (see Presidents Coolidge, Harding and Hoover) of unregulated financial greed and land speculation, the stock market collapsed on October 29, 1929. The nation's GDP plummeted for the next four years, and only began to rebound when FDR started to spend money on the nation's (gasp) infrastructure to get it going again. This isn't fiction Mr. Austria, it is historical fact. Now I know you want to say that FDR failed to get us out of the Great Depression and that only WWII saved us, but that is pure myth.

The facts of the 1920s through the 40s are what they are and here in the first decade of the new millenium, they may not be the same but the similarities are apparent. Unregulated financial markets created unmitigated greed, blowing up a bubble in the housing market (among other sectors, such as the somewhat newly created Credit Default Swap market) and it was only a matter of time before it blew up in our faces. Now we have a giant Republican (and some Democrats who tried to emulate them) mess that Obama has to clean up. And trust me Mr. Austria, it won't be by trying to blow that bubble up again.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What Paterson's Proposed Education Cuts Mean To NY Schools

I'm with Philip, compared to taxing the wealthy, this is madness:

Peanuts, The FDA And Congress

More than several people have died from a peanut butter related Salmonella outbreak and now Congress is actually starting to open their eyes to the problem. The owners of the Peanut Company of America are being investigated criminally and if there is any justice out there in the world, they'll be sent to prison for a long, long time. Recently they decided not to testify in front of Congress, citing the 5th amendment so they wouldn't self-incriminate themselves.

What happened at PCA though can be easily replicated across the country now, especially with reduced oversight at an underfunded and corrupt Food and Drug Administration that is ingrained with anti-government Bush appointees. Congresswoman Diana DeGette's H.R. 815 is a great start to combat outbreaks such as what happened with peanut butter but much, much more is necessary.

The problems at the FDA have been apparent for years now, yet not much has been done in the Bush era. If anything things have gotten worse. More and more of what goes into the FDA comes from the industries they are supposed to be watching. Once Obama gets done with the stimulus, a part of his health care reform must be to make the FDA a regulatory agency worthy of the American people's trust and respect once again. Ordering a review is a good start, but what we really need is concrete action.

Ratner Shouldn't See A Dime Of Stimulus Money

With so much money at stake in the stimulus, there is no shortage of people looking not only to get work to feed their families but to enrich themselves at the expense of the public. Senate Republicans have already reduced the amount of funds to build infrastructure in the name of tax cuts for the rich. If the Senate bill was signed by Obama as is, 42% of that stimulus would be tax cuts and mostly helping those who are on the wealthier end of the spectrum. With that, the remaining funds need to be protected from greedy developers such as Bruce Ratner. While Ratner lobbies for his own ends, the community must fight back.

From NY1:

Brooklyn advocates and officials are speaking out about reports that a city developer is asking congress to help fund construction at the Atlantic Yards site.

Borough President Marty Markowitz is welcoming news that Bruce Ratner is lobbying for a portion of the stimulus package to jumpstart the $4 billion project.

The plan to build an NBA arena and more than a dozen apartments and office towers has reportedly been scaled back due to the stagnant economy.

"It has all the earmarks of exactly all the kinds of projects that Congress is looking for and President Obama is looking for. It will put people to work immediately and it will benefit the community at large," said Markowitz.

"Earmarks" is exactly the wrong word here Mr. Markowitz. These projects aren't just stuck into a bill without careful review. Perhaps Ratner's best friend might want to consult a dictionary...or the bill itself to see what the infrastructure projects are all about. Just because eminent domain was abused for the purpose of AY does not mean Ratner is entitled to Federal money to finance a failed "development" scheme that Ratner eagerly wants completed.

Eminent domain was intended for projects that benefited the entire community and not a few wealthy financiers in the process. Rebuilding roads, laying new water pipes, building more mass transit lines and creating more accessability to broadband internet is what Obama had envisioned. Creating a new energy grid that utilizes green, renewable energy is also a part of that plan. I seriously doubt the names "Bruce Ratner" or "Atlantic Yards" had ever entered the President's mind.

And of course, the Atlantic Yards Report has more on the matter.

Some Republicans Get It And Some Don't

As the stimulus is deliberated in the House-Senate Conference Committee, the politicians are still talking it up...or down in front of the press and the people. It is funny though, to see Republicans like Charlie Crist talking it up so he can help save his state while Republicans like Mitch McConnell remain woefully out of touch with governors like Crist, Schwarzenegger and even Palin.

McCain Screws Arizona To Enlarge Campaign War Chest

John McCain, like the rest of his Senate Republican caucus (save for Specter, Snowe and Collins to some degree) decided that their constituents did not deserve an economic stimulus that would create jobs and help to close state budget deficits around the country. They helped to cut the stimulus and then they voted against it. Arizona alone has a deficit nearly worth a third of their overall budget and has had to cut essential programs in order to stay too far out of the red. Common sense would say that a politician would hide themselves in a cave if they had slashed opportunities of their constituents, but oh, not John McCain.

From The Phoenix Business Journal:

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Tuesday he is definitely running for reelection in 2010 and has begun using criticism of the $838 billion federal economic stimulus plan as a platform to raise money.

McCain, 72, had given indications of a run for fifth term, but publicly told supporters in a fundraising e-mail Tuesday he is definitely seeking reelection. He also used the opportunity to criticize Democrats over the spending package.

“The economic challenges currently confronting our nation are immense and unfortunately, the Democrats in Congress propose addressing these challenges through increased spending that wastes billions of taxpayers dollars and saddles our children and grandchildren with a staggering debt. Their proposals will not stimulate economic growth or create jobs,” McCain said in the e-mail.

McCain has clearly lost touch with the people he is supposed to represent. Obviously that giant thumping he took from Barack Obama in November had no effect on his ego or his sense of reality. In truth, the stimulus in its original form would create or save 3.5 million jobs and a sizable amount of those would be in the Grand Canyon State. Saying that the stimulus would not create jobs is just a flat out lie. Maybe that's why he's losing to a potential Napolitano challenge in the polls thus far.

Cuomo Sets His Sights On Ex-Merrill Lynch Execs

New York pundits have been busy speculating about Andrew Cuomo's chances for a bid to oust Paterson in next year's primaries. Yet the Attorney General is concerning himself with more pressing matters, such as corporate greed. He's been doing going after crooked Wall Streeters for a long time now and especially so in these last few months. The financial industry is rife with greedy traders, corrupt bankers and crooked, so-called government regulators. Cuomo is out to get them all, including those who were at Merrill Lynch in their waning days. In the middle of his bullseye are four executives who swiped $121 million in bonueses just before the firm was overtaken by Bank of America.

From The NY Daily News:

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for the past month has been examining the highly suspicious timing of the last-minute Merrill handouts.

In all, Merrill doled out $3.6 billion in bonuses just days before Bank of America finalized its deal to buy the collapsing firm - with the help of $45 billion in taxpayer money.

Cuomo presented his initial findings Tuesday to Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), whose House Financial Services Committee holds hearings Wednesday in Washington on how banks are spending bailout funds.

"One disturbing question that must be answered is whether Merrill Lynch and Bank of America timed the bonuses in such a way as to force taxpayers to pay for them through the deal funding," Cuomo wrote to Frank.

As the article notes, Cuomo is well prepared to battle these crooks, with subpoenas coming to the odious John Thain and Steele Alphin for starters. Now, what Barney Frank will do with this information is anyone's guess. Frank isn't stupid, he should have known that giving bailout money to these companies was going to be lost somehow, especially since TARP was written with practically no oversight. Perhaps this will shake Congressional leaders enough to wake them up to what is going on up in New York. One thing is for sure though, Cuomo will keep shaking them with the evidence he finds.

Behind The Scenes With Barack Obama

Nightline's Terry Moran interviews the President yesterday as he goes to Florida to talk about the economic stimulus bill:

Paterson Still Undecided On Shared Sacrifice

In the State of the State address Governor Paterson was gung-ho for a nice idea called shared sacrifice. When push comes to shove though, he isn't too sure on exactly who should be sharing that sacrifice. As the Senate Republicans are all too happy to point out, his current plan to tax the middle class will come in at over $3,000 a family (more so if you buy a lot of soft drinks). That of course, alienates a lot of voters. Senate Democrats however, came up with a great idea that mirrors that call Paterson made in his speech that would tax the people that can most afford it. And how does the Governor repay them?

From The NY Daily News:

ALBANY - Gov. Paterson suggested Tuesday he may veto any plan to hike taxes on the wealthy.

"Everybody is trying to find a way that they can keep spending," Paterson complained. "If people think that they are going to create a false economy here by raising taxes ... I am just not going to support this."

Asked specifically if he would veto an income tax hike, Paterson said, "I think I would if there was the type of tax increase that was just designed to re-create spending."

Damn, well that sounds like Senator Schneiderman and his other 17 cosponsors need to go back to the drawing board doesn't it? Oh wait, this is Governor Paterson we're talking about. Well let's see what he said a short time later:
ALBANY - Gov. Paterson refused to rule out a tax hike on the wealthy yesterday, saying he would support an increase only if lawmakers first agreed to spending cuts big enough to signal Albany was "on the road to fiscal discipline.
Well Governor, since the increase in income tax would be about $6 billion...and we have a $13.7 billion dollar budget...I think we can all do the math there. Now Paterson put out a figure saying he wants $11.2 billion dollars in cuts first, but there is always room to negotiate arbitrary numbers such as that one.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Senate Passes Stimulus Bill, Now What?

The Senate passed a heavily redacted stimulus bill today, even less stimulating than what the House passed a week and a half ago. Neither are what Barack Obama initially wanted and even further from what America really needs to get the economy going again. Well, before President Obama signs it, the bill has to go to a House-Senate Conference Committee, that is, unless the House bows down before Senate's version. Granting that doesn't happen, it is time for Obama to get to work so that committee delivers something of value to the nation. Perhaps he might want to remind the members of the Conference what they are doing to their own states by axing so much of the bill's original intent.

From TPM:

Arizona, where Sen. John McCain (R) is touting his dogged opposition to the stimulus, is facing a $1.6 billion budget shortfall that could double in size by next year -- a gap representing nearly one-third of the state's general fund, according to the CBPP.

The state already has eliminated temporary health benefits for the disabled, hiked public university tuition by 9.5%, and instituted a hiring freeze. Meanwhile, McCain and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) are almost certain to vote against even the compromise cuts to state stabilization aid, with McCain thundering that the stimulus will "mortgage the future of our children [with] fiscally profligate spending."

Let's not even mention Nevada, where Sen. John Ensign (R) is opposing state stabilization aid despite a budget deficit that swallows 38% of the general fund. A provision in the stimulus says that states may lose out on money if they do not increase education spending to 2006 levels -- a requirement that Nevada is finding difficult to meet. The state already has delayed a promised kindergarten expansion, cut money for gifted and disabled education, and sliced public university aid, according to the CBPP's analysis.

Which brings us to Maine, the home of lead centrist negotiator Sen. Susan Collins (R). The state budget chief says Maine is hoping for as much as $1 billion in federal aid to help close a deficit that is already forcing layoffs and fee increases. So why did Collins work so hard to trim the estimated $250 million in state stabilization aid that would have gone to her own constituents? If she knows, she's not telling.

And these Republicans are just the tip of the iceberg.

The budget gaps are daunting to say the least. Here in New York the number is $13.7 billion for FY 2010 alone. Yet Republicans and so-called centrists would rather stick to a failed ideology that incorrectly states that tax cuts create jobs. History says otherwise. President Obama is trying to be pragmatic about our economic doldrum and it would be best to put partisan games aside for the sake of the country at least just this once.

Quite Possibly The Smartest Thing Joe Scarborough Has Ever Said

Watch and listen, particularly what starts around the :24 second mark:

Congratulations Joe on your remarkable discovery that for the most part, the media has no clue as to what is going on in the minds of the American people. Now only if you can remember that each and everytime you go on air....oh and tell all your other pundit friends too!

Dean Gets Two Solid Progressive Endorsements For HHS

The drama of Tom Daschle's failed nomination feels like eons ago, what with all this stimulus news going on. Still, we need to fill that very important position in Obama Cabinet filled so that the Secretary can get on with the nation's health and human services business. There is quite a lot of it, ya know? From the very beginning, outgoing DNC Chair Howard Dean had been mentioned to take the position, but apparently Rahm Emanuel isn't Dean's biggest fan. Obama's CoS needs to get over himself, and listen to two former Congressional colleagues of his.

From The Atlantic:

I confess I don't know whether there is room in this world for Howard Dean to be in a cabinet that reports to Rahm Emanuel. I know that Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee is a top candidate. That said, the former Vermont governor, DNC chair, NGA chair, health care expert and presidential candidate has some momentum tonight. Sen. Tom Harkin, who has discussed the job with the White House, has publicly endorsed Dean, as has the influential House member Raul Grijalva, who wrote the following letter to Obama. GrijalvaLetter.pdf
Bredesen would be a terrible choice and Obama would be foolish to pick a guy known for slashing health care services as Governor. Howard Dean on the other hand, had expanded health care to nearly every child in Vermont during his tenure and has been a passionate advocate for health care reform. The "Dr." in his name is just the beginning of his track record of public service and appointing him HHS Secretary would be a great way to continue to build on that resume.

So Many Stimulus Programs, So Little Direction

While Republicans have trouble understanding that a stimulus includes spending, Democrats in New York are trying to figure out what needs to get done as there is a whole list of projects that are ready to get under way. By the latest count, there are 1,900 separate infrastructure or infrastructure-related "shovel-ready" items that have been requested by various officials from Buffalo to Albany and Watertown to Long Island. The question though, is how does it all get done once Obama signs the bill?

From The Ithaca Journal:

State lawmakers and watchdog groups said they have gotten little indication from Paterson's office on how the billions in federal aid for infrastructure projects would be prioritized and which areas of the state would benefit the most.

"The comptroller's office and the governor should design a way to monitor the spending," said Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group. "The last thing we want this to be is about pork and not about stimulus."

Horner said New York needs to develop a transparent system to avoid the stimulus money becoming a "lobbyist feeding frenzy."

Erin Duggan, a Paterson spokeswoman, said the governor plans to announce the process for distributing the money later this week, after the U.S. Senate acts on the bill.
I certainly hope he does. Knowing how things operate (or don't operate) in New York, a lot of that money can easily be mismanaged or simply disappear. Of course, after watching the TARP funds disappear, I don't necessarily trust Congress to watch the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act money either. Somehow though, there has to be a transparent system to watch these funds so that jobs are actually created and infrastructure built and not just mountains of empty rhetoric.

We Came So Close To Complete Economic Ruin

Questions and concerns surrounded the $700 billion that was requested by Hank Paulson in the waning days of George Bush. The number was not explained well at all and now we are starting to get a picture of what was going on between Congress and the markets at the time. I give credit to Congressman Kanjorski for telling this story below, but where was this information back in September when we needed to know it?

Israelis Go To The Polls Today To Decide Their Future

It is late afternoon in Israel and turnout for this year's election is already higher than the last parliamentary race in 2006. The country was united only a few weeks ago during the operation in Gaza, but it is back to its fractious political ways today. The battle though has decidedly shifted over the years. No longer is Labor the power it was under Yitzhak Rabin and earlier on in Israel's history. Labor is a mere side note to the contest between the centrist Kadima led by Tzipi Livni and the iconic figure of Binyamin Netanyahu who runs the right-wing Likud party.

Both candidates have been making appeals across the country

Front-runners Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu made last-minute appeals to Israel's voters Tuesday, as polls opened in a general election that pollsters have said is too close to call.

As Livni cast her ballot in Tel Aviv, the Kadima chairwoman vowed that victory was "within reach."

"I know that the ballot I cast here was 'Ken' Kadima and I know that like me, many others will do so," said Livni, referring to the election code that appears on the ballot for her party. "It's close, it's within reach and what's most important is to go out and vote."

Netanyahu, for his part, urged rightists to vote for his Likud party, warning them that its victory was by no means certain.
Although it is a close race, because of the Israeli system of proportional representation no matter who wins the most seats must form a governing coalition. Conventional wisdom now states that either Livni or Netanyahu must curry the favor of Liberman, who makes Netanyahu look like a leftist. Opinions written in the Huffington Post mostly show the sadness of the left over this election. More than a few writers will vote for the progressive Meretz party, but the are no more than a blip in the current spectrum of Israeli politics.

Across the board though, no matter who Israelis vote for, there is an attitude that the current crop of leaders have nothing on those that came before, such as Golda Meir or David Ben-Gurion. Corruption has rocked the Knesset repeatedly in the last few years and the problems of the State have only gotten worse.

Columnist Nahum Barnea of the Yedioth Ahronoth sums things up:

Barnea argued that the election campaign showed only that Israel's political establishment "no longer meets the needs of the country and society". He wrote: "The larger they are on the billboards, the more they are dwarfed by the country's problems."
One thing is for sure, while this election is important, it can only be a first step towards an eventual peace. If Israelis can moderate their leadership at the polls today and not allow the passionate and violent appeals of Netanyahu and Liberman to lull them into a false sense of security.

More Progressive State Tax Begins To Take Shape


That is the same rate of income tax that a person who earns $50,000 as one that makes $500,000 or even $50,000,000. The burden of course, is on the middle class taxpayer, who feels that 6.85% much more than the other two. Yet in our quest to fill a $13 billion dollar budget gap, our Governor is asking the middle class to bear the brunt of the cuts he wants to enact. The idea of a millionaire's tax was initially floated by progressive groups and unions, only to morph into a more solid plan to make the tax on a more equitable scale. Last week there was talk of this in the State Senate and finally, it is an actual piece of legislation trying to make its way into law.

From The NY Times:

A group of Senate Democrats plans to introduce a bill on Tuesday that would impose an income tax of 10.3 percent on the highest-earning New Yorkers, a rise of 3.45 percentage points, and increase taxes on all households that earn more than $250,000 a year.

The plan, which supporters estimated could bring in up to $6 billion annually to the depleted state treasury, is one of several options Albany lawmakers are considering as an alternative to the reductions in social services and smaller, more focused tax increases that Gov. David A. Paterson has proposed.[...]

With the Democrats now in control, the bill seems to stand a better chance of passing. But not all 32 Democratic members have signed on, including Malcolm A. Smith, the majority leader, who said on Monday that he was not convinced a tax increase was the right solution for New York’s budget crisis.

“Let’s talk about what the problem is,” Mr. Smith said to reporters as he was leaving a conference of the New York Bankers Association in downtown Albany on Monday afternoon. “The problem is foreclosures. The problem is a $15 billion deficit. The problem is trying to figure out how do we create jobs in this economy. So in that regard, I’m not sure if taxes is the way you do that.”
Malcolm seems to be hanging out with the Governor a little too much lately. That was Paterson's argument last month and it didn't hold weight. First of all, the deficit is at $13.7 billion (according to the Governor), not $15 billion. Second, that is still a big number, and we need different ways of addressing the problem. No one is calling this a panacea but closing half of the gap in a progressive tax is a smart idea. The rest can come in smaller cuts and whatever we get from the economic stimulus that the President will hopefully sign soon. The state budget can be balanced, but our leaders need to show...what's that thing called again? Oh yeah, leadership, leadership to get us through these tough times and practice the "shared sacrifice" that they preach.

Q And A With President Obama

In case you went to bed early, the President held a press conference in the White House last night in lieu of the Senate's vote on the stimulus today. After the beating the bill took in debate, Obama needs to help build it back up so that it resembles what it was originally intended to do. He made the case for exactly that:

Monday, February 09, 2009

Paterson Having Trouble Keeping A Handle On His Own Office

New York is counting on having a responsible budget being passed for the next fiscal year. We need an effective and assertive Governor that looks out for the people (and not just the wealthy people) by making smart decisions and keeping things in order so that the budget goes through. Unfortunately, if you judge Paterson's potential to do this on the way he runs his own office, we are in a whole lot of trouble.

From The NY Daily News:

Last week, Paterson's new first deputy secretary, Lawrence Schwartz, got into a heated tiff over office space with the governor's chief of staff, Charlotte Hitchcock.

"It was brought to [Paterson] and he didn't want to get involved, so they're fighting amongst themselves," said a Democrat familiar with the incident.

"He refuses to lead, and nobody is empowered enough to set things straight."

Another Democrat described the executive chamber as engaged in a "Cold War."

Schwartz, the former Westchester deputy county executive, started his new job with Paterson last Monday and was widely expected to bring a measure of discipline to the governor's office.

The administration has been largely rudderless since Paterson's top aide, Charles O'Byrne, resigned in October in the wake of a tax scandal.

Since O'Byrne left nothing we've seen has been good for the reputation of Gov. Paterson. O'Byrne's tax problems were embarrassing, but nowhere near as bad as the loss of control over a possible early budget, the selection of Kristen Gillibrand to the U.S. Senate and now apparently the control of his staff. This isn't a problem caused by one man like Schwartz though, it is Paterson's problem with hte concept of leadership, he needs to start showing it.

SEC Makes A Very "Un" Civil Deal With Madoff

It really is amazing that when the more news you look at, the more pieces of information that sicken you. Take Bernie Madoff for instance. What about him doesn't make someone nauseous? Billions (whether real or imagined) lost, fortunes and nest eggs ruined, meanwhile he has untold riches of others stored away (allegedly, right, I know) in the Caymans or some other island where investigators can't find it. Well as much as Madoff makes me want to hurl, the SEC goes above and beyond to cushion Mr. Madoff while millions of others suffer in this rancid economic environment.

From The Gothamist:

Hilarious: After not doing anything about Bernard Madoff when warned about him years ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission has reportedly agreed to a civil case settlement with Ponzi schemester Madoff. The AP reports the agreement "could eventually force [Madoff] to pay a civil fine and return money raised from investors." Money raised from investors—wait, the money that no one can seem to find? (Fine, they found $950 million of an estimated tens of billions.) Don't worry, there's still that criminal case against Madoff. The AP adds, "The partial judgment must be approved by the judge overseeing the Madoff case in federal court in Manhattan."
It would be hilarious, if only the story wasn't so sad for so many people. It is also a pity that the SEC is on the other end of the deal with Madoff. In my opinion, Madoff is a malicious criminal and the SEC as an institution (and principal actors within) are at the very least criminally negligent. There is far more than $950 million floating around out there as a part of this deal, and you know if Madoff is let out of prison before he dies (chances are that he will) that dirty, stinking, filthy money will be waiting for him somewhere.

Sen. Nelson Doesn't Fool Paul Krugman, Or Anyone Else

Paul Krugman bashed 'Centrists' like Ben Nelson in his weekend column for making substantial cuts to the stimulus bill. In response, Nelson had this lame non-excuse/denial:

Really though, does Nelson believe that Krugman, or any human being with two brain cells to rub together buys this crap?

A Model "T" Idea To Replace Horse Carriages In New York

The debate over whether to allow horse-drawn carriages to operate in New York City has shown both sides of the issue to be quite passionate for their cause. Those feelings have been simmering and certainly boiled over at the Council hearing on the issue at the end of January. Now it comes time to decide what to do about the situation. There is without a doubt strenuous circumstances that these horses are put into, no matter what the carriage drivers try to say. Something must be done and one Councilman must just have an idea ready to be passed as legislation.

From The NY Post:

After 82 years, the Model T is set to replace the horse - again.

A city lawmaker wants to phase out controversial buggy-pulling horses and replace them with eco-friendly electric replicas of vintage Model T Fords.

The proposal - which has been pitched by animal-rights activists for months - has been taken up by Councilman Daniel Garodnick (D-Manhattan), who is hoping to put it before the City Council this spring.

Whether Garodnick gets Quinn's approval to present the bill is still up for debate, though it is better that he is presenting it rather than CM Avella. Of course carriage drivers are still upset over this, apparently for the love of their horses. If they love their horses, they'll send them away from the fumes of NYC and to, clichés aside, greener pastures.

Drilling For Geo-Thermal Energy

Clean energy systems are the key to our future as a 21st century (and beyond) society. I rave about wind and solar often, but thanks to Dan Jacoby I now have a new model to add to those two. Geo-thermal energy has been around a while in the form of dams but using the temperature-moderation abilities of dirt could revolutionize the way we power our homes, businesses and electric cars.

From The Albany Project:

This energy source actually derives from the fact that while the air temperature gets very hot in the summer and just as cold in the winter, just a few feet underground the temperature remains almost constant. As a result, there is often a large difference between the air temperature and the underground temperature. If the heat from the ground can be made to flow into the cold winter air, and the summer heat in the air be made to flow into the cooler ground, that heat flow can be tapped and converted into a usable energy source.

This is known as "geothermal heat exchange."

Using current technology, a geothermal heat exchange system usually involves a closed loop of plastic or copper pipe through which an antifreeze solution is pumped. In the summer, the antifreeze warms up when it is above ground and cools down when underground; in the winter, the reverse occurs.

The warmed (or cooled) liquid is then pumped into a geothermal unit. In the winter, the heat is compressed and distributed throughout the building, helping to heat it. In the summer, the cooler temperature can be used to pull heat from the house, aiding, or even replacing, conventional air conditioning systems.

Sounds simple enough, all we need are the people to build these new systems. Oh, what did you say? We've lost 3.5 million jobs in the last year? Well let's actually utilize the stimulus and put people to work so that we can diversify our nation's energy infrastructure. Instead of those new tacked-on tax cuts, we should replace them with this extremely smart idea.

NYSUT To Paterson, Don't Mess With Our Teachers!

As the battle of the New York State budget heats up, so does the pressure from unions like the NY State Union of Teachers, who would rather see ther wealthy be taxed their fair share instead of cutting the amount of teachers we employ. In these dire times, what we need is more education to ensure a better future for our kids, not the other way around.

Too Many Cuts

Barack Obama is spending part of the week touring the country to drum up support for his stimulus bill. His problem however isn't across America, because frankly, the people support him. It is a certain section of the Senate that is truly hampering a decent stimulus that can start to rev the economic engine of this country again. In the aftermath of "bipartisanship," centrists and conservatives were able to lop off crucial parts of the bill that would have created by some estimates 600,000 jobs by themselves.

Programs like these:

Partially cut:

• $3.5 billion for energy-efficient federal buildings (original bill $7 billion)

• $75 million from Smithsonian (original bill $150 million)

• $200 million from Environmental Protection Agency Superfund (original bill $800 million)

• $100 million from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (original bill $427 million)

• $100 million from law enforcement wireless (original bill $200 million)

• $300 million from federal fleet of hybrid vehicles (original bill $600 million)

• $100 million from FBI construction (original bill $400 million)

Fully eliminated

• $55 million for historic preservation

• $122 million for Coast Guard polar icebreaker/cutters

• $100 million for Farm Service Agency modernization

• $50 million for Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service

• $65 million for watershed rehabilitation

• $100 million for distance learning

• $98 million for school nutrition

• $50 million for aquaculture

• $2 billion for broadband

• $100 million for National Institute of Standards and Technology

• $50 million for detention trustee

• $25 million for Marshalls Construction

• $300 million for federal prisons

• $300 million for BYRNE Formula grant program

• $140 million for BYRNE Competitive grant program

• $10 million state and local law enforcement

• $50 million for NASA

• $50 million for aeronautics

• $50 million for exploration

• $50 million for Cross Agency Support

• $200 million for National Science Foundation

• $100 million for science

• $1 billion for Energy Loan Guarantees

• $4.5 billion for General Services Administration

• $89 million General Services Administration operations

• $50 million from Department of Homeland Security

• $200 million Transportation Security Administration

• $122 million for Coast Guard Cutters, modifies use

• $25 million for Fish and Wildlife

• $55 million for historic preservation

• $20 million for working capital fund

• $165 million for Forest Service capital improvement

• $90 million for State and Private Wildlife Fire Management

• $1 billion for Head Start/Early Start

• $5.8 billion for Health Prevention Activity

• $2 billion for Health Information Technology Grants

• $600 million for Title I (No Child Left Behind)

• $16 billion for school construction

• $3.5 billion for higher education construction

• $1.25 billion for project based rental

• $2.25 billion for Neighborhood Stabilization

• $1.2 billion for retrofitting Project 8 housing

• $40 billion for state fiscal stabilization (includes $7.5 billion of state incentive grants)

Those were programs that states were counting on as a reinvestment in their communities. Those were jobs waiting to happen. That was a network of infrastructure ready to be built. Instead, much of that was replaced by more tax cuts, more of the same policies that have failed us in the last eight years (and up to 30 years back too).

There's nothing more spectacular than seeing Barack Obama in campaign mode, but I'd rather see him working over Congress and making sure that he gets the best possible stimulus out of our Legislative branch that he can.

Smith Says No Gay Marriage This Year...How About We Get Them On Record?

Saturday night Malcolm Smith made a very disappointing statement. After months on the campaign trail promising to pass marriage equality if only we'd elect a Democratic Senate, he doesn't see the bill going anywhere this year (I'm sure all the LGBT groups that gave the DSCC money would have liked to know that). The problem, according to Malcolm is that he just doen;t have the 32 votes necessary to get the bill through.

From The NY Times:

Speaking in Manhattan at a fund-raiser for the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group, Mr. Smith said there was still much work to be done on the issue.

“I know one of your top priorities is the recognition of marriage between same-sex couples — something that I strongly support, something that I believe in and something that we will make happen together,” he told the crowd.

Then, as he received a burst of applause and cheers, he added, “Hold up.” He went on: “Although we do not have the number of votes at this time needed to pass the marriage equality gender bill this legislative session, we are committed to pursuing its passage. And the question is not if; the question is when. So our work still needs to happen for it to happen this year. But I’m going to need your help, and I’m going to need your prayers.”
The Majority Leader can have my prayers, my chants and my meditative thoughts, but only for a price. Everything in Albany costs something right? These things are bleepin' valuable if you know what I'm saying. What I want isn't cash or a prize, what I want is a sign of reform in the Senate. Supposedly that was priority number one (or two or three) for the incoming Democratic majority.

A sign of reform would be to actually let another member of the Senate bring the bill to legalize gay marriage to the floor and let all 62 Senators take a stand on the matter, in public. For decades we have had little to no transparency in our State Legislature, where the crucial deals are made off-site, or somewhere in the LOB. So Smith, what do you say? I'll trade you some prayers if you let the bill go via Committee Chair for an open vote like you promised. Sounds like a fair deal to me.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Sen. Grassley Loves Him Some "Porkulus"

Senator Grassley probably thought he was being witty when he labeled parts of the stimulus bill as "porkulus." Though as most politicians like Grassley, he forgets that the Internet has a funny way of recounting the Senator's own pork-barrel spending and Jon Stewart had no problem in pointing that out.

Europe Cuts Executive Pay Packages, If They Can Understand It So Should We

In case you haven't seen it, the New York Times wrote a ridiculous article this past Thursday about how hard it is soooo hard to live on half a million dollars in Manhattan. They concluded that with all the "necessary" expenses, a salary of $1.6 million is far more agreeable. If you get the urge to knock them the %$#& out, don't worry, you aren't alone. As much as the majority of the wealthy in America bitch and moan about Obama's decision to cap salaries of bailed out institutions, our friends on the other side of the pond clearly get it that we are in a big mess and that everyone needs to get together to help solve this crisis, even if the rich have to take a pay cut.

From (ironically) The NY Times:

“There’s no opposition to giving bonuses or high pay to people who are successful,” said Mr. Bolkestein, now a professor at the universities of Delft and Leiden in the Netherlands. “But there should be no extra money for people who have failed.”

And, in some cases, no jobs. Royal Bank of Scotland Group fired seven nonexecutive directors Friday as part of a restructuring agreement with the British government, which pumped in about $30 billion to rescue the bank.

On Friday, European governments were encouraged to follow the example of the United States by limiting executive pay at companies receiving government aid.

“The commission very much welcomes this kind of limit placed on the pay and bonuses of executives,” a European Commission spokesman, Jonathan Todd, was quoted as saying by Reuters. Such restrictions could be an extra incentive for banks to repay state bailouts.
Restrictions on financial institutions vary, from a ban on all bonuses to capping severance pay packages. It is smart and sensible for the behavior of executives to be held in check. As the article notes, many countries in Europe and the banks themselves are becoming more responsible with their money and what they are paying their employees in light of their bad business practices in recent years. I am sure there a few that protest over there as they do here, but in Europe overall, there is more seriousness in actually getting these banks to act responsibly in light of what is happening to the world economy.