The WonkLine: July 27, 2009

Welcome to The WonkLine, a daily 10 a.m. roundup of the latest news about health care, the economy, national security, immigration and climate policy. This is what we’re reading. Tell us what you found in the comments section below, and subscribe to the RSS feed. Also, you can now follow The Wonk Room on Twitter.




Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is facing increased scrutiny from federal officials, who forced him to release 13 of the 74 people he arrested during a three-day crime sweep focused on capturing undocumented immigrants because the arrests did not comply with new directives by the Immigration & Customs Enforcement agency.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates criticized the U.S. immigration system and told government officials and information technology executives in New Delhi that he would like to see immigration exceptions for “smart people.”

The number of people who’ve been told their requests for refugee status, asylum or green cards won’t be processed because of the Patriot Act has risen from 5,304 in December to 7,286 in June.


A Fitch Ratings report finds that about 80 percent of derivative assets and liabilities are held by just five banks: JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley.

The Financial Times reports that the US government is poised to officially take a 34 percent stake in Citigroup, “increasing both its exposure to and influence over the troubled financial group following Sunday’s completion of a long-awaited $58bn share offering.”

The money manager BlackRock is giving taxpayers an opportunity to invest in toxic bank assets. The New York Times reports that “BlackRock is putting together an investment fund that it says will give ordinary Americans a chance to profit from the financial bailouts that they are paying for.”

Climate Change

High temperatures threaten record “coral bleaching and infectious coral disease outbreaks in the Caribbean,” NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch Program predicts. “In June, the world’s ocean surface temperature was the warmest on record.”.

A House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee will convene tomorrow “to re-examine the probable causes and subsequent cleanup of a massive coal ash spill at a Tennessee Valley Authority facility last year,” as a series of reports and assessments in recent weeks “paint a grim picture of the state of coal ash storage in the United States and how TVA handles its own facilities.”

Richard Coniff explores the “political history of cap and trade,” relating that opponents of the system to limit acid rain pollution in the 1990s believed the cap “was going to shut the economy down.”

National Security

A court in army-ruled Burma has heard final arguments in the case involving opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who faces five years in prison if found guilty of breaching a draconian security law. Secretary of State Clinton last week urged Burma’s rulers to free the dissident.

Iran’s opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi said on Monday that the pro-reform protests which erupted after the country’s disputed June presidential vote will continue. “The pro-reform path will continue,” Mousavi said in a statement.

North Korea said today that “it was open to talks about the rising tension over its nuclear weapons program, a marked shift in tactics after months of ratcheting up foreign anxieties with nuclear test and missile launches.”

Health Care

Kaiser Health News is reporting, “as Congress continues to try to scale back the costs of health care legislation, some patient advocates, health care policy analysts and lawmakers fear the plan may be pared to the point of leaving millions of Americans with either inadequate benefits or large out-of-pocket costs.”

Despite Republican claims that a public option would crowd Americans out of their employer-sponsored coverage, the Congressional Budget Office said on Sunday that the House bill would “drive 9 million people off of employer-provided insurance plans but that 12 million people who do not have such coverage now would get it — a net increase of 3 million people insured through their employers.”

Paul Krugman explains why the Blue Dogs are so hypocritical.