Few folks have been as wrong about climate science as Marc Morano and Dr. Roy Spencer. So it’s no big surprise to see this laughable screaming headline on ClimateDepotted:
Morano apparently couldn’t spend 30 seconds on Google to find the link to Spencer’s post on his new memoir, The Great Global Warming Blunder: How Mother Nature Fooled the Climate Scientist who Wrote this Book. [Okay, I may have changed the subtitle a little bit, but it's Spencer who insists on using unintentionally ironic titles for his novels, like Climate Confusion.]
For those who don’t follow the professional disinformers closely, Spencer (and John Christy) famously made a bunch of analytical blunders and spent years pushing the now long-overturned notion that the satellite data didn’t show significant warming (see “Should you believe anything John Christy and Roy Spencer say?“). Now Spencer is claiming that “When properly interpreted, our satellite observations actually reveal” that the climate system is insensitive to carbon dioxide. Yes, well, he has the secret recipe for properly mis-interpreting satellite data.
But it’s the leeches stuff that shows he also can’t even be bothered to spend 30 seconds using Google to check his own analogies. Here’s the screen capture before he edits it:
Our guest blogger is Sima J. Gandhi, a Senior Policy Analyst with the economic policy team.
As part of his continuing quest to reduce government “to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub,” anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist now wants to hold government hostage to its own deficits. And he has a good plan for doing this.
Norquist is demanding that spending cuts to tax expenditure programs be paired with tax cuts. He’s asking congressional candidates to sign a pledge to “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.” This means savings generated from cuts to the nearly $1.2 trillion in tax expenditure spending would be immediately eaten up by a tax cut, instead of put toward advancing important priorities like closing the deficit.
Tax expenditures are government spending programs that are delivered through the tax code. They use tax subsidies, such as deductions and credits, to transfer government funds. This type of spending constitutes 25% of government spending, and supports a variety of programs including ones that support low-income housing development; corporate research & development; oil, gas, and timber companies; and even small businesses that purchase SUVs. Some of these subsidies make sense. Others warrant a closer look. Funding for those that don’t work should be rightly eliminated. And funding for those that do make sense should continue.
Though tax expenditures are a form of government spending, they feel like tax cuts because they are implemented through the tax code. This makes them politically popular; politicians find it easier to pass government spending programs when they can sell them as tax cuts.
What’s more is that Congress fails to regularly review these tax expenditures, and the government’s budgeting process largely ignores tax expenditure spending. This lack of scrutiny, combined with their popular veneer, makes them a privileged form of government spending that once put in place are hard to dislodge.
Some policymakers are chipping away at this veneer. Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) delivered a speech on the importance of scrutinizing tax expenditures, the White House proposed cutting tax subsidies for oil and gas companies, and even Congress took a step in the right direction when it cut a $20 billion subsidy to paper producers in order to help pay for health care reform.
But the point is that despite their veneer, they are a form of government spending. That’s why Norquist’s pledge to match cuts in deductions and credits with tax cuts is absurd. Government should rightly cut spending where it doesn’t make sense. But the savings should be used to close our fiscal deficit, pay for the protection provided by police and fire fighters, fund education and healthcare programs, and build critical infrastructure like public roads. Cutting spending and cutting taxes is just another way for saying we should return to a Hobbsian state of nature where life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” a “war of every man against every man.” Come on Norquist, let’s get real. A plan to pair spending cuts with spending is an effective spin on a silly plan to drown the government.
Following yesterday’s action at Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA) campaign rally in Los Angeles, GetEQUAL, Lt. Dan Choi and five other gay and lesbian veterans who were discharged under the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy (DADT) “handcuffed themselves to the White House fence” this afternoon to demand that the President follow through on his promise to repeal the policy before the end of the year:
CHOI: We are handcuffing ourselves to the White House gates once again to demand that President Obama show leadership on repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ If the President were serious about keeping his promise to repeal this year, he would put the repeal language in his Defense Authorization budget. The President gave us an order at the Human Rights Campaign dinner to keep pressure on him and we will continue to return to the White House, in larger numbers, until the President keeps his promise to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ this year,” Choi said
It’s hard to say how effective all of this is. On one hand, the actions and the frustration of repeal advocates is certainly understandable. The White House, never very good at dealing with its base whether it be public option advocates or DADT opponents, has started pretending that asking for repeal is the same thing as pushing for one and has done little to advance the cause. DADT activists feel that inserting repeal legislation into this year’s Defense Authorization bill represents the best opportunity for repealing the policy and view the Pentagon’s study as an unnecessary delay tactic. GetEQUAL, Dan Choi and their allies hope that these kinds of actions bring new attention to DADT and pressure the administration to act before its too late.
But others feel that spectacular pronouncements of civil disobedience will alienate the military and the moderate lawmakers whose support is so necessary to pass repeal legislation. A prolonged fight, in other words won’t win over the likes of Jim Webb or Ben Nelson, if anything it may give them pause and make them triple guess their support. Military leaders like Gates, who are generally supportive of repealing the policy, but have repeatedly argued that Congress should not move legislation until a full review is complete, may also be offended by these antics.
Choi and GetEQAUL are trying to force the administration to move the debate forward, instead of simply sitting back and waiting for studies, and that goal is certainly is admirable. It’s way past time for Obama to throw his support behind Lieberman’s repeal measure in the Senate, since it includes language that codifies the Pentagon review process, and recommit to repealing the policy. But whether yelling at him is a better approach than engaging in traditional shoe leather lobbying and organizing, remains to be seen.
Just a few days after Arizona lawmakers passed an immigration law that will essentially require anyone who is or looks like an immigrant to carry their proof of residency at all times, the Arizona House voted for a provision that would require President Barack Obama to show his birth certificate and prove his own citizenship status. Arizona’s local KPHO station broke the news:
The Arizona House on Monday voted for a provision that would require President Barack Obama to show his birth certificate if he hopes to be on the state’s ballot when he runs for reelection. The House voted 31-22 to add the provision to a separate bill. The measure still faces a formal vote.
It would require U.S. presidential candidates who want to appear on the ballot in Arizona to submit documents proving they meet the constitutional requirements to be president. Phoenix Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema said the bill is one of several measures that are making Arizona “the laughing stock of the nation.” Mesa Republican Rep. Cecil Ash said he has no reason to doubt Obama’s citizenship but supports the measure because it could help end doubt.
Casey Newton of the Arizona Republic points out that similar laws have been proposed in Oklahoma, Florida and Missouri, though none have been signed into law. Newton also points out that the bill “originated from a fringe group” known as “birthers.” Many have pointed out that even if the bill gets past the Senate and Gov. Jan Brewer’s (R-AZ) desk, it will likely be determined to be an “unconstitutional imposition of state eligibility requirements on federal candidates.” Experts have also predicted that Arizona’s recently approved immigration law will be found unconstitutional on the grounds that it “singles out the speech of immigrant day laborers for criminalization” and conflicts with the federal government’s enforcement of immigration laws — a function assigned by the constitution.
This morning, the Senate Health, Education, and Labor Committee (HELP) held its first post-health reform hearings on Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) proposal to allow the federal government to review and reject insurance premium increases in states that don’t already have this authority. President Obama included the idea in his health care plan, but it was kept out of the final bill for budgetary reasons, leaving federal regulators without the ability to protect consumers from unreasonable premium hikes.
Already, CEOs of Cigna and Aetna have hinted that they will increase premiums in the near future and during today’s hearing, AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignangi also suggested that high health care premiums are only a symptom of rising health care costs and said that lawmakers should not fault insurers and their relatively small profit margins for rising prices. She argued that Feinstein’s bill did not address the root cause of rising prices and repeatedly invited the Senators to consider the industry’s cost-containment proposals. Ignagni’s effort to shift the blame for rising premiums was unsuccessful, however. The industry’s profits and salaries have made headlines in recent days and several Democrats questioned Ignagni about the increases. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Michael McRaith, Director of the Illinois Department of Insurance, caught Ignagni in a contradiction:
REED: How do you respond to Mr. McRaith’s point that publicly traded companies essentially respond to Wall Street their strategy is denying claims and raising premiums above the cost of inflation. That doesn’t seem to be a cost saving strategy.
IGNAGNI: Sir, our members have, are organized to provide the highest quality care for the lowest price to consumers and to business purchasers…Our members are very clear about their fiduciary responsibilities, in terms of maintaining solvency and their responsibilities to consumers…
REED: So they have no responsibility to their share holders?
IGNAGNI: I said that they have fiduciary responsibility. They have responsibilities with respect to solvency…
REED: What’s their primary responsibility? Their fiduciary responsibility is to their share holders.
IGNAGNI: Their primary responsibility in a growing concern…to do the job you have been asked to do by people who purchase your product.[...]
REED: Frankly, we’re having a discussion about firms that go to the Street and say ‘our strategy is we’re going to deny claims and raise premiums above the medical inflation.’
IGNAGNI: Sir, I thought I said this and I apologize if I didn’t say it, but I dont’ know of any company that has gone to Wall Street that says it is in business to deny claims. [...]
McRAITH: There are companies operating around the country with loss ratios of 50% or less. All I would submit is that what Ms. Ignagni is saying is true…then rate review will only enhance and support that position.
Watch a compilation:
Indeed, Ignagni is arguing that compared to other health care stakeholders, insures maintain relatively small profit margins and raise premiums only to keep up with medical inflation and maintain company solvency. And while Ignagni is correct in her analysis, her frame of reference — placing insurance spending within the broader context of overall health care spending — is purposely misleading. Within the context of overall health care spending, insurers’ profits seem small. But within the context companies’ revenues, insurers skim off approximately 15-20 percent of premium dollars for administrative costs and profits and make a good penny, as the astronomical pay increase to WellPoint’s and UnitedHealth’s CEOs suggest.
That said, insurers are not the main drivers of health care spending. Policy makers do need to adopt more stringent systematic cost controls, but if insurers are as efficient as Ignagni says, why would they oppose federal rate review? There is a lot of waste and inefficiency in health care, and insurers are low hanging fruit and not a bad place to start.
Banking Committee Chair Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) has led Democratic efforts to craft a bill to reform the financial regulatory system, which will be taken up by the Senate in coming days. Despite months of bipartisan negotiation and promises of cooperation, Republicans recently threatened to filibuster the bill. A visibly angry Dodd took to the Senate floor today to condemn the GOP’s obstructionism, calling out their “very false talking points” and warning them that they will have to explain to Americans, “I’m sorry but we’re not on your side:”
DODD: A letter from the Minority Leader said we’ve got 41 votes here to stop you from even debating this bill. Well, you explain that to the American taxpayer, to the small business, to the American family, and to others out there who are paying an awful price because the the mess that the very institutions who are today leading the charge against us getting a bill. Explain to them why the status quo is in their interest and their benefit. Mr. President, those who vote to block this bill will be sending a clear message to American families, businesses, community bankers and tax payers and that message will be, I’m sorry but we are not on your side. We are choosing another side of this equation.
Last month, my good friend the Minority Leader and the Republican senator responsible for campaign fundraising participated in meeting in New York with Wall Street executives. … Comes back right afterwards and we get all of a sudden, we get this rhetoric about too big to fail and we can’t possibly go to this bill. Don’t tell me that miraculously, these things happen and all of sudden we find ourselves with 41 senators [opposed to this bill].
Dodd added that Republicans are using “some very false talking points” that have been debunked by the media and even otherRepublicans. Watch it:
Democratic leaders clearly anticipated that at least one Republican would be unwilling to stand with his party and Wall Street in filibustering regulatory reform. That guess now looks wrong, and it’s not 100 percent obvious what “Plan B” is. Paul Krugman comments:
I have a theory about the problem here. My understanding is that Obama officials have looked at the polls, which show that the public overwhelmingly favors cracking down on Wall Street; so they assumed that the GOP wouldn’t dare stand in the way. But they seem not to have learned, even now, that the right has an awesome ability to create its own reality: that Mitch McConnell et al would stand in the way of reform while claiming to be taking a stand against Wall Street. [...] To break through that, you need hard-hitting campaigns and simple slogans. And I have a sinking feeling that once again, the Obama team is going straight for the capillaries. Let’s hope they prove me wrong.
I think we’re going to see all the hard-hitting rhetoric Krugman could dream of. But I continue to think that people overestimate the good that kind of thing will do. The fundamental problem Democrats keep running up against is that there are zero incumbent Senate Republicans facing tough re-election battles. Jeff Sessions isn’t afraid of Barack Obama’s hard-hitting campaigns. If George Voinovich and Judd Gregg weren’t retiring, they’d have to worry about being painted as tools of Wall Street in their re-election bids. Or if Tom Vilsack were running against Chuck Grassley instead of running the Agriculture Department. If Obama’s approval ratings were high, then I bet Richard Burr would be afraid of being targeted by the White House. Or if Olympia Snowe hadn’t just proven that she can cruise to re-election even in a Democratic wave year, she might be afraid.
Under the circumstances, what’s really needed as “Plan B” is stuff you don’t need 60 votes for. You obviously can’t just “do” bank regulation through reconciliation. But there’s a lot executive agencies can do, and you could pass a bank tax via reconciliation. Someone could probably dream up more stuff. Then beyond that, of course you need to hit the opposition. But realistically even the toughest hits in the world won’t necessarily bend incumbents who don’t feel vulnerable in a general sense.
The Department of Labor unveiled a new public enforcement database last week, the Department of Labor Enforcement Data Site, that increases accountability for companies that violate workplace laws, including mine safety laws. This resource — created in response to the President Obama’s Open Government Initiative — shines a light on practices that are unacceptable and gives the public a chance to get them changed. The site, now in beta form:
– Discloses company-specific data on minimum wage and child labor law violations for the first time without a freedom of information request,
– Unifies data on violations of workplace safety and health, diversity, and employee benefits plan reporting laws, and
– Allows the public, advocacy groups, and particularly workers to track enforcement results, exerting pressure on specific scofflaw employers and the federal enforcement agencies
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has dubbed herself “a new sheriff in town,” and one year into her administration has made effective and innovative enforcement of worker protection laws a top priority. The site is another signal that Solis is serious about protecting America’s workers. While some of the data—including the mine safety data—are available in other locations, by unifying it in one location her department is increasing the public’s ease of access. As Massey’s unsafe mines sadly reveal, if there’s one workplace violation at a firm, there may be other kinds of violations at that site.
The Center for American Progress Action Fund’s American Worker Project has long advocated for a centralized, public website containing workplace enforcement data from all Labor enforcement agencies. The department needs to implement its intended improvements to make the site fully functional, because enforcement of worker protection laws cannot be strengthened fast enough for the safety and well-being of all working Americans. Public oversight and access to enforcement data will be a critical part of increasing accountability and improving oversight in the future.
Politico reports that Glenn Spencer, executive director of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative, calls the new site “a trial lawyer’s dream.”
It seems increasingly likely that the UK general election is going to lead to a hung parliament. If that happens, the Liberal Democrats are going to be in a strong position to demand reform of the electoral system. And it’s interesting to look at the consequences of that. For example, even during their Thatcherite peak, the UK Conservative Party could only muster in the low-forties percent of the vote:
Thanks to first past the post voting, however, they were able to secure some large majorities. Of course you could say the same for Labour. But the difference is that the transformation of the Liberal Party in the Liberal Democrats pulled Britain’s third party to the left, while Tony Blair’s New Labour concept pulled Labour to the right. Consequently, in the present day the LibDems are clearly closer to Labour than to the Tories. On some issues they’re the further-left party and on others they’re the further right party, but the difference is more akin to the gap between “wine track” and “beer track” Democratic politicians than to a gaping ideological chasm. Which is to say that if electoral system reform happens, the UK would seem to be looking at a long series of Labour/LibDems coalitions unless the Conservatives suddenly start drawing a drastically higher share of the vote than they’ve gotten in many decades.