Thursday, April 29, 2010

Financial Reform Moves Forward

"Republicans said they now expect Democrats to jettison a $50 billion fund that would have been financed by banks to help liquidate large failing institutions. "

This would be a terrible mistake. Right now, that $50 billion fund is what's preventing the next "too big to fail." It forces banks to put their money on the line - and if one of their number should fail, they don't get bailed out by the government.

They get shut down. The $50 billion goes to protecting the checking/savings/CDs and the like of their customers. Their employees get their final paycheck, the assets are sold, and the investors are left with *nothing* for their bad investment.

Democrats should not remove that provision. If anything, they should replace it with a provision that makes any bank larger than $100 billion dollars automatically broken up into smaller pieces.

One of these two choices is the only way to stop "too big to fail" from ever happening. Either a giant liquidation program to shut down a bank failure, or breaking up banks when they get too big.

Pick your poison, Republicans. Because taxpayers aren't paying for socialized Wall Street anymore.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Rail Then, the Rail Now

When I lived in Salt Lake City, the area was putting in a light rail system. And you will not believe how people reacted. A tax increase? No! People were actually protesting, marching about with signs up about how "Don't use my tax dollars for light rail", old people standing up in town meetings and shouting about the use of "their" money to build the light rail.

Then, it went in. And it proved to be one of the most popular things in Salt Lake. People were using it all the time. So popular the Mormon Church bought the entire rail line once every six months and let people ride free over the weekend. Last I heard, they were expanding the line, traffic was cut down, and it was still going strong.

So I'm not surprised to read that Tampa is having their own issues getting a light rail installed. "Oh, no, you're going to raise out taxes by 1% during a recession and you'll kill business!" "Why build this thing, let's do it later."

Later never comes. And this, combined with the Obama stimulus money, means that *now* is the best time to get the light rail for Tampa installed.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Financial Reform: Republicans want to remove one of the best parts

During the financial crisis, there was a phrase seared into the collective consciousness of the population:too big to fail. The notion that the failure of a particular company or business would lead so such catastrophe, it must be saved at all costs.

There are really only four ways to deal with the problem of "too big to fail":

1. Let it fall anyway. That was tried during the run up to the Great Depression. Didn't work out so well.
2. Bail it out. We did that in 2008' and yeah, the financial system was saved, but the people who helped ruin the economy elated away with their millions of dollars in bonuses, and the financial organizations have no disincentive to act like addicted gambler's with Grandma's retirement money.
3. Make being too big illegal. I personally like this one. You basically expand the monopoly laws to encompass "too big". If a company is too big, you break it up into smaller pieces that have to compete with each other. This insures that the government, which is answerable to the populace at large and not just those rich enough to buy shares, is always much more powerful than the business community. It also has a tendency to make Republican heads explode.
4. Create procedures to shutndown a "too big to fail bank" safely. I rather like this one too. It's also the way the current financial bill works.

Right now, the FDIC exists to make sure that is a bank fails, that the people with accounts in the bank (checking and saving accounts, CDs, etc) still get their money. Basically the FDIC swoops in, takes control of the bank, insures the accounts and gives them to a responsible bank. Usually this takes 48 hours for the transfer to occur, and then the cleanup goes from there.

During the financial collapse, there were plans to take over a giant bank if need be, but the billions of dollars-and the will to use such plans- wasn't there.

The new financial reform bill fixes that. It would set up a banking industry paid for fund of $50 billion dollars and procedures that, should a "too big to fail" bank is about to fail, the answer is "guess what? You're not too big after all. We're taking your assets, firing your management, your investors who encouraged your bad behavior get *nothing*, your customers with checking and savings and mortgages get saved."

It creates a giant Sword of Domacles over the heads of the financial institutions that tells them "you are *not* to big to fail-and if you fail, you lose everything. There will be no more bailouts where you get to go on with business as usual at the expense of the taxpayer."

Which, naturally, is why the Republicans are now lying and calling it a "eternal bailout machine", and why Mitch McConnell is lining up every Republican to filibuster it.

Because unlike the corporate welfare systems the Republicans love, that socialism for the rich and none for the poor, the banks get the profits and the public gets the losses- the financial reform bill stops bad bank behavior. So the banks and their bought politicians will do anything to stop it.

This part of the financial reform bill must not be removed. It must be kept in so big banks know they are not "too big to fail". Sadly, there's word that President Obama will let that part be removed to get Republicans on board.

That would be a horrible idea, and I hope both the President and the Congress fight to keep that part in. Because it's too important.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Florida trying to end Separation of Church and State

I'm not sure if I'm angry about this, or disappointed.

There has been a policy in this country for centuries that holds that the Church and the State should be two separate entities. That people should render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God.

Because of this, our nation gives churches a lot of leeway. They get the same access to fire, police, roads, environmental protection, military defense, so on and so forth - and they don't have to pay a dime in taxes. Their members, in fact, can give money to the church, then claim that as a charitable donation and pay less to the total pool of money that go in to pay for all of those services.

This is done because it's viewed that religious organizations give out more service that they receive. Perhaps in moral instruction, perhaps in community support, or in helping the less fortunate. In return, the notion of Separation was important. We don't make Baptists pay into a fund to pay the Jehovah's Witnesses, or cause the Catholics to support Jewish synagogues. People donate to their own faith (or withhold their money if they don't believe in organized religion), and share all of the services in common.

Evidently, this isn't enough. Now, the state of Florida wants to change the state constitution to allow money to go to religious schools. Remember, its not enough that they already pay no taxes, that their members can get tax breaks on donations to the church, that they receive free services from taxpayer dollars.

Nope. Now, they need everybody else's money to in order to pay for their own schools so they can keep their kids out of public schools, where they might learn about "evolution" or "Thomas Jefferson pushed for separation of church and state" or, horror of horrors, in the Copernican model of the solar system with the sun in the center instead of Earth.

The proposed constitutional amendment would let state dollars flow into the private coffers of religious groups. Oh, I know the justifications - "it's to provide an alternative to the public school system!"

Fine. Fund an alternative, but making others pay for the religious indoctrination of children is part of the reason why we have "separation of church and state." I'm assuming the state will be all right with a Wahhabi Islam instructional school getting taxpayer funds? How about a white supremacy religion getting state funds to instruction children, since "We have to give parents the choice."

No. I say no. If the state wants to provide money to fund private, secular schools as an alternative to the public education system, I will find the move ironic (the private funded by the public), but I'd be all right.

But the idea of making people of other religions pay to already tax exempt, tax donation reducing, and "getting services for free" organizations that have stood in direct opposition to scientific and moral progress - the answer from me is no.

And hopefully we can let our political leaders know the same.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nukes, Naiveté, and Facts

Recently, President Obama signed a treaty with Russia that would help reduce nuclear weapons among both countries.

The START treaty, or "Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty", has actually been about since the 1980's, signed by Ronald Reagan on the US side. This treaty is a renewal of that, and boils down to this:

The United States will cut down it's stockpiles of nuclear missiles to only 1500. In return, so will Russia. There's plenty of other language, such as how they'll verify that the missiles are really destroyed and so on - but that's the gist of it. The two largest nuclear stockpiles in the world will be reduced to having the capacity to destroy the entire world only twice over, instead of 3-4 times over. Both sides will save money (since maintaining, securing, updating nukes is a pretty expensive business).

At the same time, Obama is now hosting a nuclear summit with some 40 other countries, the whole idea being "OK, nuclear weapons in terrorist hands are bad, so how about we figure out ways to keep them from getting any, and at the same time we'll all make less. Sound good?"

Along with this, there's the new US Nuclear Stance. This is the official position as to when the US would determine we should use nuclear weapons. The new stance boils down to this:

1. The US won't use nuclear weapons first against other countries unless we're hit with nuclear weapons first.
2. In fact, if you're a country that signs onto the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty , which says "We won't make more nukes, we won't ship nukes to other places, and we'll try not to let people who shouldn't have nukes get them" - if you're a signer of that treaty, then we won't even threaten you with nuclear weapons, even if you have chemical and biological weapons.
3. Did we mention #2 only applies to countries that signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? If you're not on that list (like, say, Iran and North Korea), then we can threaten to nuke you into Hell when you start acting like you're going to invade someone or offer nukes to terrorist groups.
4. One other note about #2. That bit about "we won't threaten you with nukes even if you have biological or chemical weapons"? That doesn't mean we won't *use* them on you if, say, you hit us with chemical or biological weapons. In fact, if you do, we're more likely to say "Well, we didn't *threaten* you with them - we're just going to use them." So as long as you play nice, we'll play nice.

Seems pretty common sense to me. Ronald Reagen started the process by reducing nuclear weapons by 33%, then the treaty stalled for decades, and now Obama wants to bring it back. He's getting countries to agree to give up their uranium, and is bringing pressure onto nations like Iran and North Korea to do the same.

And then - there's the screeching hordes.

You have Charles Krauthammer writing for the Washington Post with this little bit of willful ignorance:

Imagine the scenario: Hundreds of thousands are lying dead in the streets of Boston after a massive anthrax or nerve gas attack. The president immediately calls in the lawyers to determine whether the attacking state is in compliance with the NPT. If it turns out that the attacker is up to date with its latest IAEA inspections, well, it gets immunity from nuclear retaliation. (Our response is then restricted to bullets, bombs and other conventional munitions.)

Then, there's the actual Nuclear Posture Review (Warning: PDF link!) that says this:

In making this strengthened assurance, the United States affirms that any state eligible for the assurance that uses chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies and partners would face the prospect of a devastating conventional military response – and that any individuals responsible for the attack, whether national leaders or military commanders, would be held fully accountable. Given the catastrophic potential of biological weapons and the rapid pace of bio-technology development, the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons threat and U.S. capacities to counter that threat. (Emphasis added.)

Now, I know the entire report is 45 pages long (oh, the horror!) so maybe it was too long for Mr. Krauthammer to read through in any kind of detail. But the part about "the US reserves the right ot make any adjustment" makes his argument of "Oh, noes, we've been hit with chemical weapons and Obama is preventing us from doing *anything*" is rather silly.

Speaking of silly - guess who? Yes, Sarah Palin (R-Quitter) gave her own little analogy:

Go ahead and punch me in the face, and I’m not going to retaliate.

I rather like the analogy of "A bunch of kids on the playground. One says 'Let's not even fight. But if you do, I promise not to use my gun and blow your head off - unless you pull a knife, in which case your ass is grass.'"

Granted, the fact that Obama's senior thesis in law school was evidently about Soviet nuclear disarmament, and Palin's accomplishment was quitting halfway through her governorship, I don't think this is a contest.

So let's get this right:

Obama wants to continue the path set by Ronald Reagan to eventually disarm the world of all nuclear weapons.

Obama gets Russia to agree to reduce its nukes, removes one of the reasons for countries to get nuclear weapons themselves, and is holding a summit that's getting countries to agree to give up their nuclear bomb making material.

And somehow, according to "serious thinkiners" like Mr. Krauthammer and ms. Palin, that's a bad thing.

Right. Tell you what - while the adults are out there doing things to make the world safer, you guys can stay on the playground and keep fighting amongst yourselves.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bush knew prisoners were innocent

When 9-11 hit, everybody wanted to plant a bullet inside Osama bin Laden's brain.

OK, maybe not everybody, but I'm sure outside of Ghandi, Jesus and Buddha, everybody else was debating whether to nuke the terrorists or shoot them into the stone age.

The feeling was so great that, as Glenn Greenwald writes in his book "How Would a Patriot Act", after 9-11:

The bipartisan support for President Bush was so great that Democrats waived their right to present the traditional response to the president's address.

Anything Bush asked for the country gave him. New powers to wiretap people? Go for it. A war with Afghanistan? Awesome. Expanded military? You got it.

Turns out, it wasn't enough for the the Bush administration. Now we learn Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld knew there were people innocent of any crimes whatsoever, and wanted them kept in Guantanamo prison because it would hurt their case against Iraq.

A man taken from his home, his family, locked into a cell for no reason. Not even a chance at a trial so he can stand before a judge and say "I didn't do it", and people in power, people who swore an oath to defend the values of the Constitution that includes the right of habeas corpus - the right just to question why you've been arrested - they decided that "Well, we could do the *right* thing, but then we couldn't have this awesome war against someone who had nothing to do with 9-11 except that he's brown too."

Oh, I know, I know - "It was all in the past, John." "It was another time, John." "We need to look forward, not backwards."

Only whenever Cheney or his daughter step out to defend those policies, all I can see now are people who when they're confronted with the fact that they've done horrible, monstrous things, the response is a smirk and "So?"

If there's any reason to take any of them seriously, to ever accept them into polite society again, I can't think of a one.