Sunday, November 29, 2009

Al Gore: It's time to out-crazy the crazies who keep our country burning oil and coal

This is really funny. And this is another reason why the United States Senate is a crazy institution -- the House elected by the people where every American has equal voting power already passed a bill that would do the right thing on using renewable energy instead of burning so much coal and oil. But the Senate, where every American does not have equal voting power -- far, far from it -- has not passed that bill and very well might not at all. No wonder Al Gore is going to out crazy the crazies who help convince some Senators in empty states to keep us burning coal and oil and not shift to clean and renewable energy.

Out country would be far better off if we got rid of the US Senate. At the very least, we should get rid of the radical rule that it takes 60 votes to pass anything substantive and let a majority of the votes in the Senate pass a bill. (even though a majority of the American people don't get to elect a majority of the Senate).

Anyway, this is a funny thing.

Isn't it common sense that we should tax pollution? That's basically what the House bill would do and that's basically how we stop burning so much oil and coal and shift over to solar and wind power and get more energy-efficient (because it would be cheaper to do that than pay the tax on pollution that comes from the coal and oil).

Want to help? Check out Environment America and join them as a member. They pay for progressive lobbyists in almost every state capital and in DC. Good group.

Break up the big banks and tax speculation for a stronger economy

I like what David Moberg's views on breaking up the too-big-to-fail Godzilla-sized banks that get a blank check from the federal government to cover their losses, but then make record profits and bonuses without delivering the same economic growth and access to capital for small businesses (that actually create jobs) as regular-sized banks do.

His In These Times column is here and the part that resonated the most for me:

Financial industry leaders, in what Johnson calls a “silent coup,” persuaded politicians and regulators from both parties that banks and other institutions were so sophisticated they could assess and manage risk without any oversight. The government deregulated or failed to regulate, letting financial institutions grow so much that they were “too big to fail,” implicitly guaranteeing a federal bailout if they got in trouble, and thus encouraging riskier behavior.
Now ... as the industry fights even modest, common-sense rules, these banks may have become too big to regulate.

I can hear the apologists for the mega-banks make the case that because they hire the smartest mathematicians in the world, they know better than legislators or bureaucrats on how to assess risk, since they develop the most sophisticated models in the world to do just that. Well, I'll never believe that line again for the rest of my life after the meltdown, but I don't want more Godzilla-sized banks in a generation peddling the same line. I'd rather keep the banks at reasonable sizes from now on to prevent another unregulated financial bubble from causing another recession.

Every city ought to have a few major banks that are headquartered in their city. There shouldn't be three or four monster banks sucking up regional banks around the nation that will then inevitably have incredible clout to block common-sense regulation.

Another excellent institutional way to prevent another meltdown is to tax speculation (instead of taxing jobs, like the payroll tax does). This Guadian article by Andrew Clark as well as a New York Times blog piece by Cyrus Sanati lay out bills filed by Congressman John Larson (D-Connecticut) and Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) to tax the bets in the global casino we call the financial markets (that largely caused our recession). 

We had a national transaction tax from 1914 to 1966. I want Congress to bring that tax back and spend that money on things that benefit me -- like paying for teachers or trains or making college free. At the very least, we should follow the title of Representative DeFazio's bill and "Let Wall Street Pay for Wall Street's Bailout' instead of making me pay for Wall Street's bailout. 

The bills are H.R. 1068 and H.R. 3153.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Beyond the Beltway this Sunday (TV and live radio)

I'll be on Beyond the Beltway with Bruce DuMont this Sunday, November 29th on live radio (via WLS 890 am in the Chicago region and around the country on these affiliates) as well as a taped television broadcast on WYCC and Comcast Cable.

I imagine one of the topics will be the Democratic Congress' latest victory to begin debate in the United States Senate, defeating unified Republican opposition to fundamental health insurance reform for the first time in two generations. Thank you voters for electing 60 Democratic Senators (counting the two independents)!

But why do we need 60 votes to reduce the deficit, make Americans healthier and stop hundreds of thousands of medical bankruptcies from happening (when we only need 50 votes to invade other countries or cut taxes for the rich and thereby impoverish the rest of us)? Good question.

When the Democratic Congress passes health insurance reform and President Obama signs it into law in 2010, voters will understand -- probably for a decade or so -- that electing Democrats means they will deliver on improving their lives, and Democrats will do so even when they face fierce and unrelenting Republican opposition (as in health insurance reform). This is far more important to winning elections in the future than trying to appear to be a 'centrist' or 'like a Republican, only pro-choice!' by choosing to fail on delivering on fundamental improvements (like health insurance reform or raising taxes on the wealthy or making education better and more affordable). After all, if the Democrats don't show the major difference between the parties, why bother electing them?

It's a happy coincidence that Democrats do better with voters when they show the fortitude to push through progressive policies while they are in charge of the government. Keep in mind, the people who advise Democrats to go slowly or to compromise with Republicans or to cave on their policies are usually people who really agree with Republican economic policies (that have delivered the largest income inequality in 80 years and the deepest recession in 30).

Democratic policies are better for the economy and better politics in November. Republicans win when we forget that.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A video speech on advocacy, high speed rail, lobbying and citizen participation

I gave a speech to Green Drinks as part of a sustainable transportation discussion last month in Chicago. I talked about high speed rail,, the need to demand that our government budgets reflect our progressive values (show me the money!) and how one person really can make a difference. 

I start at the 8:20 mark or thereabouts. Thanks to Peter Nicholson, President of Foresight Design Initiative for pulling this event together, as well as Rob Sadowsky of the Active Transportation Alliance and Michael Pitula of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization for letting me go on a bit of a rant!

Chicago Green Drinks Panel on Sustainable Transportation from Foresight Design Initiative on Vimeo.