Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

Another way a functional Congress would come in handy: Scientists say nuclear fuel pools around the country pose safety and health risks

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Read to see how we seem to be waiting to see what happens when the fuse burns up.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2016 at 12:24 pm

Sanders endorses Tim Canova, DNC Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz’s primary opponent

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And a very good thing. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is in the pocket of payday lenders and has worked to undermine the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau because, basically, Debbie Wasserman Schulz wants to protect the lenders, not the consumers. Debbie is also a Hillary Clinton support, and there’s nothing wrong with that, except that she has used her power as Chairwoman of the DNC in a flagrant, heavy-handed, and biased way. She also opened membership in the DNC to lobbyists. She is a very bad person, and I highly recommend you donate to Tim Canova’s campaign. And I have put my money where my mouth is and have donated repeatedly to his campaign.

David Weigel has a report in the Washington Post:

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders on Saturday announced his support for Tim Canova, the former Capitol Hill staffer challenging Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, in the primary for her House seat.

“Clearly, I favor her opponent,” Sanders told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview scheduled to run on Sunday’s “State of the Union” broadcast. “His views are much closer to mine than as to Wasserman Schultz’s. Let me also say this, in all due respect to the current chairperson: If [I am] elected president, she would not be re-appointed chairwoman of the DNC.”

Canova, a onetime adviser to Sanders who now teaches law and finance at a southeast Florida college, has endorsed the senator’s presidential bid and used it as a model for his own run. Like Sanders, he’s asked that no super PAC be formed to help him; like Sanders, he’s been endorsed by National Nurses United, the politically active union that can throw ads and get-out-the-vote muscle behind campaigns. And like Sanders, he has elevated his own campaign by stacking small dollar donations, more than $1 million of them since his race began.

“Please spread the word that the political revolution that Bernie Sanders has called for is spreading everywhere, including in Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s backyard here in Florida’s 23rd Congressional District,” Canova said in January on the SandersForPresident Reddit forum.

Wasserman Schultz has defended her position with her usual brisk fundraising, and with support from Democratic allies. (Vice President Biden is fundraising for her in early June.) She’s also embraced the incumbent’s usual strategy for handling a challenger — avoiding any engagement with him whatsoever. At the last Sanders-Clinton debate in Brooklyn, Blake Zeff of Cafe asked Wasserman Schultz if she’d debate Canova. “I’m here to talk about the presidential election,” she said, turning away. . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2016 at 8:10 pm

The GOP digests Trump (or vice versa)

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Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker:

“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, / As, to be hated, needs but to be seen,” the poet Alexander Pope wrote, in lines that were once, as they said back in the day, imprinted on the mind of every schoolboy. Pope continued, “Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, / we first endure, then pity, then embrace.” The three-part process by which the gross becomes the taken for granted has been on matchlessly grim view this past week in the ascent of Donald Trump. First merely endured by those in the Republican Party, with pained grimaces and faint bleats of reluctance, bare toleration passed quickly over into blind, partisan allegiance—he’s going to be the nominee, after all, and so is our boy. Then a weird kind of pity arose, directed not so much at him (he supplies his own self-pity) as at his supporters, on the premise that their existence somehow makes him a champion for the dispossessed, although the evidence indicates that his followers are mostly stirred by familiar racial and cultural resentments, of which Trump has been a single-minded spokesperson.

Now for the embrace. One by one, people who had not merely resisted him before but called him by his proper name—who, until a month ago, were determined to oppose a man they rightly described as a con artist and a pathological liar—are suddenly getting on board. Columnists and magazines that a month ago were saying #NeverTrump are now vibrating with the frisson of his audacity, fawning over him or at least thrilling to his rising poll numbers and telling one another, “We can control him.’

No, you can’t. One can argue about whether to call him a fascist or an authoritarian populist or a grotesque joke made in a nightmare shared between Philip K. Dick and Tom Wolfe, but under any label Trump is a declared enemy of the liberal constitutional order of the United States—the order that has made it, in fact, the great and plural country that it already is. He announces his enmity to America by word and action every day. It is articulated in his insistence on the rightness of torture and the acceptable murder of noncombatants. It is self-evident in the threats he makes daily to destroy his political enemies, made only worse by the frivolity and transience of the tone of those threats. He makes his enmity to American values clear when he suggests that the Presidency holds absolute power, through which he will be able to end opposition—whether by questioning the ownership of newspapers or talking about changing libel laws or threatening to take away F.C.C. licenses. To say “Well, he would not really have the power to accomplish that” is to misunderstand the nature of thin-skinned authoritarians in power. They do not arrive in office and discover, as constitutionalists do, that their capabilities are more limited than they imagined. They arrive, and then make their power as large as they can.

And Trump announces his enmity in the choice of his companions. . .

Continue reading.

It is truly a serious—and dangerous—situation. We’ve seen this movie before, and it ended all in tears.

Update: And this long and insightful essay by Jonna Ivin in Stir is worth reading in this context. From the link:

. . . Marginalized people have been fighting for equality for decades. Admittedly, in the quest to fight for the oppressed — people of color, women, religious minorities, the LGBTQ community — we often overlook the fact that classism never completely disappeared. For the white underclass, it’s tempting to feel left out of this fight. But how can people fighting for social equality include poor whites who see them as the enemy?

If poor and working class whites who chant, “Trump, Trump, Trump,” believe they have little in common with these “enemies,” they are mistaken. We are all sides of the same coin, a coin that has been held in the pocket of the elite class since the first settlers arrived in the American colonies.

I’m no one special. I am a poor, uneducated, white woman. I am the white underclass, and I am no one’s enemy. I fight for racial equality because people of color are not my enemy. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people are not my enemy. Immigrants and refugees are not my enemy. Muslims are not my enemy. Native Americans are not my enemy. Single mothers and fathers are not my enemy. People on Medicare, disability, food stamps, and unemployment are not my enemy. The homeless are not my enemy. And it turns out that the people of a small Arkansas town in the middle of the Ozarks are not my enemy.

Other poor people are not the enemy, no matter how they look, how they pray, or who they love. They are fighting to be heard. They are people who, like Trump supporters, agree with the statement, “People like me don’t have any say about what the government does.” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2016 at 11:53 am

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the new gilded age

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James Fallows in this post points out a speech by Elizabeth Warren that is (as he says) “actually worth reading.”

“Actually” in that it was neither just a bleat/complaint about the injustices of the new tech economy nor a simple assurance that technology and innovation will solve all the problems they create. (Ie, that the long-term arc of creative destruction will always bend toward greater creativity.)

Instead Warren addressed the question I said was on my mind, at the end of my March issue article. That was the Second Gilded Age question: if the dislocations, the inequalities, the injustices, but also the possibilities of this era of high-speed technical change parallel those of 125 years ago, is there any hope or guidance to be drawn from the responses of the Progressive era through the New Deal?

Since it’s actually worth reading, actually read it. Here it is. It begins:

Thank you, Ann Marie, for that kind introduction. And thank you to the New America foundation for inviting me to come and speak today about the so-called “gig” economy.

Across the country, new companies are using the Internet to transform the way Americans work, shop, socialize, vacation, look for love, talk to the doctor, get around, and track down a 10-foot feather boa—which was my latest Amazon search. These innovations have improved our lives in countless ways, reducing inefficiencies and leveraging network effects to help grow our economy. This is real growth. For example, increasing broadband penetration boosts GDP and increasing 3G connections increases mobile data use, which, in turn, increases GDP.i

The most famous example is the rise of ride-sharing platforms in our cities. The taxicab industry was riddled with monopolies, rents, and inefficiencies. Cities limited the number of taxi licenses and charged drivers steep fees for taxi medallions.ii They required drivers to pay additional fees to pick up passengers at airports.iii They micromanaged the paint jobs for individual cars and even outlawed price competition.iv Uber and Lyft, two ride sharing platforms that came onto the scene about 5 years ago, radically altered this model, enabling anyone with a smartphone and a car to deliver rides.v They also enabled customers to find a ride any time of day, with the touch of a button. The result was more rides, cheaper rides, and shorter wait times.vi

The ridesharing story illustrates the promise of these new businesses—and the dangers. Uber and Lyft fought against local taxicab rules that kept prices high and limited access to services. vii But as the dispute in Austin, Texas, has demonstrated, the companies fought just as vigorously against local rules designed to create a level playing field between themselves and their taxi competitors, and they have also resisted rules designed to promote rider safety and driver accountability.viii While their businesses provide workers with great flexibility, companies like Lyft and Uber have often resisted the efforts of those same workers to access a greater share of the wealth generated from their work. Their business model is, in part, dependent on extremely low wages for drivers.ix

It’s exciting—and very hip—to talk about Uber and Lyft and Taskrabbit, but the promise and risks of these companies isn’t new. For centuries, technological advances have helped create new wealth and have increased GDP. But it is policy – rules and regulations – that will determine whether workers have a meaningful opportunity to share in that new wealth.

A century ago, the industrial revolution radically altered the American economy. Millions moved from farms to factories. These sweeping changes in our economy generated enormous wealth.

They also wreaked havoc on workers and their families. Workplaces were monstrously unsafe. Wages were paltry and hours were grueling.x

America’s response wasn’t to abandon the technological innovations and improvements of the industrial revolution. We didn’t send everyone back to their farms. No. Instead, we came together, and through our government we changed public policies to adapt to a changing economy – to keep the good and get rid of much of the bad.

The list of new laws and regulations was long: A minimum wage.xi Workplace safety.xii Workers compensation. xiii Child labor laws.xiv The 40-hour workweek. xv Social Security.xvi The right to unionize.xvii

But each of these changes made a profound difference. They put guardrails around the ability of giant corporations to exploit workers to generate additional profits at any cost. They helped make sure that part of the increased wealth generated by innovation would be used to build a strong middle class.xviii

The changes weren’t all focused on workers. Antitrust laws and newly-created public utilities addressed the new technological revolution’s tendency toward concentration and monopoly and kept our markets competitive.xix Rules to prevent cheating and fraud were added to make sure bad actors in the marketplace couldn’t get a leg up on folks who played by the rules. xx

These changes didn’t happen overnight. There were big fights – over decades – to establish that balance. But once in place, these policies underwrote the widely shared growth and prosperity of the 20th Century. xxi From 1935-1980, the 90% — everyone outside the top 10% — got 70% of all income growth. As the economy grew and became more productive, so too did the average worker’s wages.xxii Instead of all the wealth going to a handful of giant companies, factory owners, and investors—the robber barons of the early 20th Century—the growth created by our manufacturing economy supported the growth of a strong, prosperous middle class. That distribution happened because of a newly-emerging basic bargain for workers.

A hundred years ago, nobody grappling with the rapid changes in technology and work seriously entertained the idea of banning manufacturing advances. And today, nobody seriously entertains the idea of pulling the plug on the Internet. Massive technological change is a gift – a byproduct of human ingenuity that creates extraordinary opportunities to improve the lives of billions. But history shows that to harness those opportunities to create and sustain a strong middle class, policy also matters. To fully realize the potential of this new economy, laws must be adapted to make sure that the basic bargain for workers remains intact, and that workers have the chance to share in the growth they help produce.

The challenge today is doubly difficult. At the same time that we need to adapt to new work relationships of a gig economy, the basic bargain of the old work relationships has become badly frayed. Over the past three decades, workers have been under merciless attack. For decades, big – 3 – business has tried to squeeze more profits out of workers by ducking and dodging regulations and by taking advantage of loopholes in employment policy, by skirting enforcement efforts, and even by flagrantly violating the law.xxiii Giant corporations have deployed armies of lobbyists and lawyers to freeze, limit, or dismantle as many worker protections as they could. The result is that for decades, the guardrails that once served to build a robust middle class no longer offered the same kind of protection.

More and more of today’s jobs have sharply limited protections and benefits.xxiv. Long before anyone ever wrote an article about the “gig economy,” corporations had discovered the higher profits they could wring out of an on-demand workforce made up of independent contractors.xxv Labor law makes a sharp distinction between employees and 1099 independent contractors, and many employers figured out how to exploit that distinction. xxvi They hired people who do the work once done by people characterized as employees, but then re-characterized them as independent contractors or as somebody else’s employees.xxvii The result was that these workers lost their benefits, lost the stability of guaranteed work, and lost the ability to form a union and bargain collectively.xxviii

But the employee-1099 divide is not the only way the basic work bargain is fraying. Employees, particularly low-wage employees, face challenges that are not unlike challenges facing gig workers and independent contractors. They too have lost both benefits and the stability of a guaranteed work schedule and a steady income. As employers have moved to just-in-time staffing, more hourly workers are trapped in part-time jobs or stripped-down full-time jobs.xxix An increasing number of workers are in sub-contracting or franchise arrangements where their employment conditions are controlled by firms they can’t bargain with or hold accountable for meeting basic wage or safety obligations. They may not even know the name of their actual employer.xxx

At the same time that the bargain with workers has become increasingly one-sided for millions of independent contractors and hourly employees, yet another part of the basic economic bargain has also begun to fray. The safety net—unemployment insurance, workers comp, Social Security—hasn’t been updated to fill in the holes that employers have created. Temporary workers, contract workers, seasonal workers, permatemps, and part-time workers rarely have access to these benefits, which means that the workers who most need that safety net are least likely to have it.

The gig economy didn’t invent any of these problems. In fact, the gig economy has become a stopgap for some workers who can’t make ends meet in a weak labor market. The much-touted virtues of flexibility, independence, and creativity offered by gig work might be true for some workers under some conditions, but for many, the gig economy is simply the next step in a losing effort to build some economic security in a world where all the benefits are floating to the top 10%.

The problems facing gig workers are much like the problems facing millions of other workers. An outdated employee benefits model makes it all but impossible for temporary workers, contract workers, part-time workers and workers in industries like retail or construction who switch jobs frequently to build any economic security.

Just as this country did a hundred years ago, it’s time to rethink the basic bargain between workers and companies. As greater wealth is generated by new technology, how can we ensure that the workers who support this economy can share in that wealth?

I believe we start with one simple principle: . . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing and think about it. Her conclusion:

. . . My message today is straightforward: Workers deserve a level playing field and some basic protections, no matter who they work for, where they work, or how the law classifies them. They deserve a strong safety net, dependable benefits, and the chance to bargain over their working conditions—that’s the basic deal. And that’s the deal that is necessary to restore a strong and sustainable American middle class.

Most workers aren’t asking for the moon. They want to be able to take care of their families, buy a home, send their kids to college, and save a little money for retirement. They want some security, and they want to know their kids will have a chance to do better than they did. That’s the promise of America, but that promise won’t come true unless we make some real changes.

Workers have a right to expect our government to work for them, to set the basic rules of the game. If this country is to have a strong middle class, then we need the policies that will make that possible. That’s how shared prosperity has been built in the past, and that is our way forward now.

Change won’t be easy. But we don’t get what we don’t fight for. I believe America’s workers are worth fighting for.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2016 at 10:21 am

Will the raids by Wall Street ever stop? The U.S. Government Is Quietly Paying Billions to Wall Street Banks

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Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

Wall Street On Parade has learned, by piecing together the SEC filings of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and previous Federal Reserve studies, that these two companies that have been in U.S. government conservatorship since the 2008 financial crisis, continue to pay out billions of dollars to the biggest Wall Street banks on their derivatives contracts.

This raises multiple red flags, not the least of which is how much does the U.S. public really understand about the 2008 financial crisis and what appears to be a continuing taxpayer bailout. It is well known at this point that AIG had to be bailed out because it owed over $90 billion on its derivative and security loan contracts to Wall Street and foreign banks. Now, it’s looking like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were also Wall Street’s derivatives patsies – or “dumb tourists” as author Michael Lewis might say.

According to Freddie Mac’s first quarter 10K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, this is how much it has paid to its derivatives counterparties in just the past four years: $2.1 billion in 2015; $2.6 billion in 2014; $3.46 billion in 2013; and $3.8 billion in 2012. Fannie Mae’s payouts have been smaller than Freddie Mac’s.

We could not find comparable data for Freddie Mac for the crisis years but its 10K for the first quarter of 2011 shows total derivative losses (declines in the value of its derivatives portfolio plus payouts to counterparties) as follows: $8 billion in 2010; $1.9 billion in 2009; and a stunning $14.95 billion in 2008.

Both the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis have conceded in separate studies that placing Freddie and Fannie under U.S. government conservatorship was critical to stemming the bleeding of the big Wall Street banks because of their derivatives counterparty status. The New York Fed’s staff report of March 2015 noted the following: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The conclusion of the column:

When there are 6,000 banks in the U.S. but only five of them are compelled to hold over 90 percent of hundreds of trillions of dollars in derivatives, it’s time for the American people to demand and receive cogent answers. That is unlikely to happen without the political revolution that Senator Bernie Sanders is calling for.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2016 at 10:01 am

House Republicans Rig Hearing to Block Consumers from Going to Court

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Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

The ink was barely dry on a proposal by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to restore the rights of banking customers to take their grievances into a court of law instead of a system of forced arbitration, when House Republicans threw together a hearing yesterday to scaremonger over make-believe evils of the proposal. The hearing was convened by the Republican-controlled Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee and not-so-subtly titled “Examining the CFPB’s Proposed Rulemaking on Arbitration: Is it in the Public Interest and for the Protection of Consumers?”

The American Law Litigation Daily called the hearing “seriously lopsided.” ValueWalk called it “skewed.” We’re calling it brazenly rigged.

In decades of watching Senate and House hearings, we have never seen a more unlevel playing field. Out of the four witnesses called to testify, three were hand-picked to parrot the position of the banks with one lonely witness on hand to counter their repeated misstatements of fact. Watching that one lone witness, Paul Bland, Executive Director of the nonprofit organization, Public Justice, attempt to provide balance to the proceeding was akin to watching bullies on the playground hurling dumb epithets at the straight-A kid in their class.

Most of the Republicans didn’t even bother to call on Bland or ask his opinion.  At one point, Republican Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri, a former banker himself, posed a slanted question to all four witnesses, then snapped at Bland, “You’re outvoted, it’s three to one.” When you rig a witness panel, naturally you can easily achieve three opinions against one. (On a side note, Luetkemeyer is attempting to do to endangered species what’s currently happening to banking customers – strip them of protections from predators.)

According to a May 13 hearing memo, Bland wasn’t even supposed to be on the witness panel. It was initially structured to hear only what Republicans wanted the public to hear. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2016 at 12:17 pm

Leaks Show Senate Aide Threatened Colombia Over Cheap Cancer Drug

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Zaid Jilani reports in The Intercept on how an aide to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) tried to prevent an inexpensive generic form of a drug used to treat cancer. I guess I assumed that Sen. Hatch opposed cancer, but it did not occur to me that he opposed cancer patients:

Leaked diplomatic letters sent from Colombia’s Embassy in Washington describe how a staffer with the Senate Finance Committee, which is led by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, warned of repercussions if Colombia moves forward on approving the cheaper, generic form of a cancer drug.

The drug is called imatinib. Its manufacturer, Novartis, markets the drug in Colombia as Glivec. The World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines last year suggested it as treatment not only for chronic myeloid leukemia, but also gastrointestinal tumors. Currently, the cost of an annual supply is over $15,000, or about two times average Colombian’s income.

On April 26, Colombian Minister of Health Alejandro Gaviria announced plans to take the first step in a multi-step process that could eventually result in allowing the generic production of the drug. A generic version of the drug that recently began production in India is expected to cost 30 percent less than the brand name version.

Andrés Flórez, deputy chief of mission at the Colombian Embassy in Washington, D.C., wrote letters on April 27 and April 28 to Maria Angela Holguin of Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, detailing concerns he had about possible congressional retaliation for such a move. The letters were obtained by the nonprofit group Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), which works on drug patent issues. They were also leaked to Colombian media outlets El Espectador and NoticiasUno.

In the second letter, after a meeting with Senate Finance Committee International Trade Counsel Everett Eissenstat, Flórez wrote that Eissenstat said that authorizing the generic version would “violate the intellectual property rights” of Novartis. Eissenstat also said that if “the Ministry of Health did not correct this situation, the pharmaceutical industry in the United States and related interest groups could become very vocal and interfere with other interests that Colombia could have in the United States,” according to the letter.

In particular, Flórez expressed a worry that “this case could jeopardize the approval of the financing of the new initiative ‘Peace Colombia.’”

The Obama administration has pledged $450 million for Peace Colombia, which seeks to bring together rebels and the government to end decades of fighting that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and a shattered civil society. These funds will be used for, among other things, removing landmines. The country has the second-highest number of landmine fatalities in the world, behind only Afghanistan.

Hatch has close ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Pharmaceutical and health product manufacturers form the second-largest pool of donors to his campaigns. The industry’s main trade association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) spent $750,000 funding an outside nonprofit that backed Hatch’s re-election in 2012. The lobbying group also employed Scott Hatch, one of the senator’s sons, as a lobbyist, while donating to his family charity, the Utah Families Foundation.

For his part, Eissenstat has won . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2016 at 11:15 am

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