Archive for Stimulus

Dec
24

Victory Lap

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When the George W. Bush administration set about giving 90 million Americans tax rebates in 2001, it first wasted taxpayer dollars on 90 million letters sent two weeks ahead of putting the checks in the mail to alert people that their checks would be in the mail. When the Obama administration cuts taxes for 95 percent of working Americans, nobody noticed.

One of the biggest problems the Obama administration has had to date is its lack of bold P.R. in promoting its own accomplishments from its bully pulpit. This lame duck congress has been surprisingly productive for Obama, but who will notice (or remember) if he doesn’t do a better job of tooting his own horn? If you didn’t catch the Rachel Maddow Show on Wednesday night, she did a bang-up job of promoting the Obama administration’s accomplishments and contrasting the Democrats’ agenda with the Republicans’. A pity Maddow doesn’t have reach much beyond the liberal choir. For that, Obama’s campaign had best hire a good ad agency, yesterday if not sooner.

Spend some time with this video to see how it’s done in long-form. Now if Obama could just distill this 13 minutes down to a couple of lively 30-sec spots:

Via Digby, Brian Beutler speculates on why the GOP suddenly got the holiday spirit in cooperating with Democrats.

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The tax deal the White House has cut (sort of) has critics all around. It’s not perfect, sure. But it’s the nagging little things. On Wednesday HuffPost wondered about one of those little things:

WASHINGTON – The tax cut deal that President Obama struck with congressional Republicans contains a provision that could ultimately be the undoing of Social Security, say Senate Democrats and backers of the old-age and disability program.

Obama, as part of the Democratic package, secured a roughly 30 percent cut in the payroll tax, from 6.2 to 4.2 percent. Allowing it to expire in a year will mean that workers will see a nearly 50 percent jump in payroll taxes as the rate reverts back — an event that will surely be described as a tax hike. The cut is estimated to cost $120 billion per year.

Democrats have never allowed the rate to be cut, even temporarily, in the history of the program, because payroll taxes feed the Social Security trust fund and create the political base of support for the program, said Nancy Altman, author of “The Battle For Social Security”, a history of the program, and head of the advocacy group Social Security Works. Republicans have won a long-sought victory, even as President Obama hails it as a win for his party.

On Tuesday, Nancy Altman elaborated on possible implications — the end Social Security — at Firedoglake:

… I find it unfathomable that a more conservative Congress, in two years, in an election year, will increase the payroll tax by 2 percent on the very first dollar, and every other dollar up to the cap, earned by virtually every single worker in the country. Consequently, I think we have to assume that the payroll tax holiday will be extended beyond the two years the president is proposing and quite likely could become permanent.

That means that the federal government will have to continue to transfer $120 billion to the Social Security trust funds each and every year even as it has to transfer more and more interest payments as the trust funds continue to grow and as interest rates return to more normal levels. Unless Congress acts to restore Social Security to solvency, the Treasury bonds held in trust will have to be redeemed, again on top of that new $120 billion transfer from the general fund, starting fifteen years from now, assuming Congress even continues to make the $120 billion every year before that point. These dollars will be competing with dollars for defense, environmental protection, education, school lunches, Food Stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, SSI, Pell grants for low income college students, and every other good and service financed by the federal government.

A permanent two percent cut in Social Security contributions doubles the 75 year projected shortfall. Scrapping the cap (eliminating the $106,800 maximum on earnings), tonally eliminates the shortfall today. If FICA is cut by 2 percent, scrapping the cap gets Social Security only halfway there.

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way that wind blows. The rest (including Social Security?) is history waiting to write itself.

Paul Krugman writes today Obama got “a significant amount of short-term stimulus” that could produce “a noticeable net positive for the economy next year,” but he wonders at what cost. There are significant weaknesses in the deal, not the least of which are political implications for 2012:

You may say that economic policy shouldn’t be affected by partisan considerations. But even if you believe that — how’s the weather on your planet?

One of Krugman’s big concerns? That Obama is paying for the release of some hostages by giving the GOP new ones.

Republicans may try using the prospect of a rise in the payroll tax to undermine Social Security finances.

Republicans would do that? Nah!

Alarmist? Maybe. But then again, we have had plenty of reason for alarm lately.

Sep
01

Local Stimulus Effects

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Chris Dixon, candidate for State Senate District 48, highlights this good economic news:

“The Asheville Tribune” Touts Benefits of Federal, State, and Local Economic Stimulus

As the Democratic candidate for State Senate District 48 (Buncombe, Henderson, and Polk counties), I have made local job creation my #1 campaign issue.  It was the loss of the Volvo plant in Arden in December of 2009 that spurred me to run.  So, I was heartened to see the following headline in The Asheville Tribune (Aug. 26-Sept. 1, 2010): “Fletcher company to offer 100 new jobs in expansion plan.”

This is surely good news for a town in the heart of my district, and the page 3 article gives plenty of encouraging details. All told, brake manufacturer Continental Teves will add 388 jobs in “three to four years,” doubling the plant’s workforce to 625 workers.  This will more than replace the 250 jobs shed by Volvo—mostly to unionized plants in Pennsylvania.

However, the most interesting commentary in the article follows:

(Kathryn) Blackwell (corporate spokesperson in Auburn Hills, MI) said brake-making has perked up since deciding a year ago to expand the Fletcher facility. “Then we had two major customers (G.M., Chrysler) coming out of bankruptcy, with no sign of light at the end of the tunnel. But at this point, we’re seeing volumes picking up considerably—beyond most experts’ analysis.”

North American auto production is 25 percent above industry projections this year, Blackwell said, with Detroit’s Big Three needing brakes and other parts. “This is the first good news we’ve had in over two years.”

The article goes on to mention that the Fletcher expansion beat out plants in Europe and Mexico thanks to what Blackwell describes as “Fletcher and Henderson County tax incentives and a state grant of up to $2.2 million.”

Hmmm. Let’s see. GM and Chrysler are still in business thanks to a federal intervention. The Wall Street Journal’s Detroit bureau chief declared, “…President Obama’s auto industry initiatives are working and the president is entitled to take a bow, no matter how much that might pain conservatives.” Henderson County’s all-Republican board of county commissioners conspired with the Fletcher town council and the Democratic administration of Gov. Bev Perdue to bestow various economic incentives upon Continental Teves.

How long before we see a Tea Party protest at the plant gate?  Surely, they won’t sit idly by as socialism and economic bipartisanship (the horror!) gain a foothold in Fletcher.

This is what we need more of–a lot more!

WSJ link: http://online.wsj.com/article/NA_WSJ_PUB:SB10001424052748703999304575399670446387614.html


Chris Dixon for NC Senate

PO Box 1913
Skyland, NC  28776
(828) 290-9710
“Let’s send a NEW voice to Raleigh.”
E-mail: chris@dixonforncsenate.com
Web: Dixon2010.com

More of that, please.

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Prof. Elizabeth Warren and Sarah in her Elaine Marshall for U.S. Senate tee shirt at Netroots Nation 2010

So okay, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were at Netroots. (Harry Reid got the less warm reception.) Sen. Al Franken closed out the conference. But the real rock star treatment went to TARP Congressional Oversight Panel chair, Prof. Elizabeth Warren, who perhaps got more applause and support than anyone.

A close colleague was so pleased to meet Warren that she asked if I would post the picture.

Manufacturing was a hot topic at the conference. We met these guys from the Alliance for American Manufacturing at the conference in Las Vegas. Executive Director Scott Paul mentioned the possibility of holding a forum on manufacturing in Western North Carolina. Rep. Heath Shuler, he noted, is a strong supporter.

I recognize the venue for the America’s Future Now! conference in some shots in the AAM video, so I’d say those segments aren’t exactly man-on-the-street interviews. Their data and presentation nonetheless raised eyebrows.

Nancy Pelosi addressed American manufacturing on Saturday after delivering a special taped message from President Obama:

Pelosi spoke about “Making It in America,” the Democrats’ manufacturing agenda that she said would roll out in coming weeks to help restore and create industrial jobs. “Jobs, jobs, jobs is very important, but we have to get it done,” Pelosi said. “People have to see the difference between what the Republicans want to do about this — nothing — and what we are advocating.”

No, Madame Speaker, people will have to see what we are *doing* about it if jobs, jobs, jobs is to be anything more than a slogan.

Pic lifted from Jason Sandford

Pic lifted from Jason Sandford

With all these Top Ten lists floating around the internets, I thought I’d toss another reflective log on the fire.  Add your own top stories in the comments, and you get bonus points if you put together a Top Ten Local Political Stories of the Decade.

Buncombe County Commissioners and Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce come out in support of I-26 Alternative 3. After the strong design work from the Asheville Design Center and unanimous support from the City Council, it looked like our community might move the mighty DOT to create something that actually works for Asheville.  When the CoC and 3 of 5 County Commissioners swung in the direction of Alternative 3, further delay was guaranteed.

See the rest in ReadMoreLand…    Read More→

energy_savingsIf you didn’t catch David Nash’s presentation at the Council meeting, then you missed hearing about the profound transformation happening in Asheville’s public housing. Check out these numbers:

Stimulus money awarded to Housing Authority of the City of Asheville (HACA) -
$5.9 million

Anticipated Energy Performance Contract Extension in 2010 -
$3.6 million

Eleven new employees on Modernization Crew

Number of windows to be replaced in public housing developments -
3,000 in Pisgah View
2,200 in Hillcrest
1,250 in Deaverview

To be done under contract extension -
313 new dual flush toilets
970 lower flow toilet retrofits
3,600+ lower flow aerators and shower heads

970,000 square feet of living space weatherized

Guaranteed Annual Energy Savings -
680,000 kWh of electricity
180,000 therms of natural gas
41 million gallons of water

$757,000 per year of guaranteed energy cost savings
[This is what's guaranteed, so you can count on it being a lowball estimate]

Annual Carbon Dioxide Reduction -
490 metric tons re: electricity reduction
900 metric tons re: natural gas reduction

Click here to see the whole powerpoint report.

Nov
08

East of the Balsams

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Last night was a monumental one in Washington, where the health care bill H.R. 3962 passed with one Democratic vote to spare, and help from one Republican. For all the kabuki hand-wringing, the choice to be made was not this health care bill verses a better one waiting to be drafted, but this one verses waiting for another generation. Just over half of the Blue Dog Coalition voted for the bill. Their whip, as you may know, did not. And you thought quarterbacks played offense.

Congressman Heath Shuler often explains to Asheville/Buncombe activists something he thinks they need to understand — there is more to his district than Buncombe County. I wince every time he tells a group in Buncombe that they really don’t understand the 11th district “west of the Balsams.”

It’s not the best way to win friends and influence voters in a county with about 40 percent of the registered Democrats in the district. Even if he means well. Even if he’s right.

For readers who are new arrivals, the Balsam ridge forms the border between Haywood and Jackson counties. The Blue Ridge Parkway crosses U.S. 23/74 at Balsam Gap (el. 3400 ft.) between Waynesville (where the congressman lives) and Sylva, NC. Shuler was born further west, in Bryson City, NC in Swain County. Cherokee, Graham, Clay, Swain, Jackson and Macon counties lie “west of the Balsams.” I don’t get out there often enough.

It is a two hour drive from Asheville to Murphy, and a world away. People in these counties well off the interstate grow up and die knowing each other, knowing who is a native and who is not. (I have lived within 90 miles of Asheville longer than the congressman has been alive, yet I will forever be someone who “ain’t from around here.”) Internet connections are spotty out west, I’m told, and not exactly household necessities. The mountain region west of the Balsams is sparsely populated and rugged — not exactly rich with canvassable neighborhoods. Clay and Graham counties each have populations of only about 10,000.

There are Democrats out there. Not hemp-wearing Asheville Democrats, maybe, but Democrats, and more left-of-center than some here believe. At 10 a.m. on a weekday ahead of the 2006 election, it was a delight to find twenty people gathered at a Murphy campaign headquarters to discuss get-out-the-vote efforts. At a meeting this year after one of the votes on the stimulus bill, Democratic county chairs from across the district gave Shuler’s staff a tongue lashing over his no vote.

NC-11 is, on the whole, a moderately conservative one, with about 35 percent Republican registration and some leftover Reagan Democrats on the rolls. In 2008, Obama won only Buncombe county and Jackson county, home of Western Carolina University. He narrowly lost Madison and Swain. Shuler is a good fit for the district, whether Buncombe progressives like it or not. But it might be strategic for the congressman to show them a little more love whether or not they understand how things are done west of the Balsams. His vote on Saturday night did him damage that only a vote for final passage of the health bill might repair. Might.

Democrats in Buncombe are already gearing up for 2010 and choosing which campaigns to get behind with dollars and volunteer hours. Buncombe Democrats won 36 of 36 races in 2008. Democratic turnout was over 2 percent higher here than the statewide average, with voter registration and early voting crushing the GOP candidates. On election night 2008, North Carolina went blue by 14,000 votes. It was Buncombe’s 17,000 vote margin for Obama that put him over the top.

That’s how we do things east of the Balsams.

From various sites, celebrations broke out on the right after hearing that Chicago had lost its bid for the 2016 summer Olympics. From Think Progress:

Soon after news broke that the International Olympic Committee had rejected Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics, which President Obama had personally lobbied for, Weekly Standard blogger John McCormack published a celebratory post on the magazine’s blog, titled “Chicago Loses! Chicago Loses!.” McCormack wrote that “Cheers erupt at WEEKLY STANDARD world headquarters”:

Weekly Standard Post

From the National Journal:

During the Americans For Prosperity’s “Defending the American Dream Summit,” blogger Emily Marie Zanotti of American Princess interrupted a discussion about engaging the right online to announce that Chicago was out of the running — and the room erupted in applause.

“If anyone cares, Chicago is out,” Zanotti said. When the crowd asked what happened, she said, “The very first vote, they did not have any chance at even negotiating. They were out on the first vote.” That news was met with more cheers and high-fives.

Here’s Limbaugh via Media Matters, gleeful about the loss:

LIMBAUGH: For those of you on the other side of the aisle listening in who are upset that I sound gleeful — I am. I don’t deny it. I’m happy. Anything that gets in the way of Barack Obama accomplishing his domestic agenda is fine with me. I stand by — I don’t want Obamacare to succeed. I want national health care, socialized medicine, to fail. I want cap and trade — a national carbon tax emissions policy based on a hoax — I want that to fail. I do not want the government owning car companies. I don’t want the government running banks. I don’t want the government in charge of loans. I don’t want any of it. I want all of that to fail.

Theirs is an epic love story, a love (of country) right out of a Harlequin romance novel. If only liberals loved their country like that.

From Crooks and Liars:

Rep. Alan Grayson had to remind the Republicans that they need to remember what country they live in.

“Someone should remind them what team they’re really on”

And if that’s not enough — via Digby — watch the leader of the “new rightwing populist movement” use Vicks below his eyes to generate tears (“instant sadness”) for a photoshoot, and complain that it doesn’t seem to work like it used to, that his eyes must be getting used to it.

A severely anorexic friend once had her heart stop beating in church. A heart specialist at the service got her going again, but they had to jump-start her twice again on the way to Mission.

She’d recently taken to sucking on a Big Gulp cup of water all day. Flushed all her electrolytes. The hospital had never seen readings that low. But she was no longer using laxatives, she rationalized. That meant she was in recovery.

So what do we make of our friends on Wall Street and their new Big Gulp? Sunday’s New York Times explains:

After the mortgage business imploded last year, Wall Street investment banks began searching for another big idea to make money. They think they may have found one.

The bankers plan to buy “life settlements,” life insurance policies that ill and elderly people sell for cash — $400,000 for a $1 million policy, say, depending on the life expectancy of the insured person. Then they plan to “securitize” these policies, in Wall Street jargon, by packaging hundreds or thousands together into bonds. They will then resell those bonds to investors, like big pension funds, who will receive the payouts when people with the insurance die.

The earlier policyholders die, the more investors … reap?

If my wife had been drinking, she’d have done a spit-take. “What sick f***s would buy these?” she exclaimed. Or think them up?

But thank heavens, they’ve stopped bundling mortgages.

This behavior is like a gambling or meth addiction. It’s not even about the money any more. Wall Street doesn’t need bailouts. It needs rehab and a priest.

Categories : Corruption, Economy, Stimulus
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Jul
06

The Eight Most Dreaded Words

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bidenJoe Biden characterized the eight most dreaded words any law abiding government official might hear as “The vice president’s office is on the phone.”  He was referring to Dick Cheney’s reign of terror.  I think the Obama administration is going to truncate that to the six most dreaded words.  ”The Vice President is on television.”  They will be referring to Joe Biden’s reign of error.

On Sunday, Mr. Biden appeared on ABC’s “This Week” and gave his best answer about why the administration forecasted an 8% unemployment rate when now we’re at a 9.5% and the President believes we will see 10%.  ”The truth is, we and everyone else misread the economy….  And so the truth is, there was a misreading of just how bad an economy we inherited.”

A “misread”?  Excuse me?  This administration put together the most ambitious stimulus package ever, extended and expanded the TARP, rescued two of the Big Three automakers, and is currently pursuing a very ambitious agenda aiming to fundamentally change two pillars of our economy, health care and energy for the future.  They didn’t misread anything.  The President himself said the economy had been “close to the abyss” in a recent 60 Minutes interview.  We’re nowhere near out of the woods, but I think the administration has a “kitchen sink” policy because they know that is how bad it is.

I don’t know why they keep putting Mr. Biden on the Sunday shows.  He often does more harm than good.  This “misread” quote is leading the financial headlines today.  Look for stock markets to take a hit and Republicans to have fresh cannon fodder.  I don’t want the VP to be the guy praising the Emperor’s new clothes.  But he has got to find a better way of delivering bad news.  Admitting to a mistake that the administration didn’t make is not what I have in mind.

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