Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Washington Continues to Not Understand Taxation, Because Lobbyists…?

Writing for The New Republic, Danny Vinik takes a scathing look at the new tax deal that appears to have bipartisan support in Congress:

Imagine somebody asked you to imagine the worst possible deal on taxes. It'd probably have the following qualities:

It would be bad for the environment.

It would be bad for the deficit.

It would give short shrift to the working poor.

And it would be a bonanza for corporations.

Unfortunately, you don’t have to conjure up such a package. Congressional Republicans already have. And for some unfathomable reason, Senate Democrats including Harry Reid seem inclined to go along — although the White House has vowed to veto such a deal if Congress goes ahead and passes it.

So, it’s unsurprising that the Republican Party is in step behind this deal. But why are some Democrats, in particular Harry Reid? “Look no further than K Street,” Vinik writes.

As you can tell by their price tag, the tax extenders are very important to Big Business and they spend a lot of money lobbying for them. In March, Americans for Tax Fairness released a report on lobbying of major corporations over tax extenders between January 2011 and September 2013. During that time, General Electric, for instance, employed 48 lobbyists who contacted a member of Congress or their staff about the extenders. Overall, more than 1,300 unique lobbyists were involved in the issue. They spent millions of dollars on them as well.

He ends his piece with:

This deal was built on K Street and in the backroom offices of Congress. It’s everything that’s wrong with Washington and Democrats, in particular, should want nothing to do with it.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Six US Banks Funding Terrorism?

This is a story I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere. One to keep an eye on.

US-China Climate Deal in the US Media… (a handful of links)

A round-up of the coverage of the climate deal President Obama negotiated with Xi Jinping.

“China, U.S. agree to limit greenhouse gases” by David Nakamura & Steven Mufson (Washington Post, November 12, 2014)

This article offers some specifics about the new deal. For example, that China, “the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases,” has pledged to cap its (still growing) carbon emissions by 2030, earlier if possible. China has also “set a daunting goal of increasing the share of non-fossil fuels to 20 percent of the country’s energy mix by 2030.” Certainly an ambitious goal. President Obama, meanwhile, announced a new US emissions target, cutting to 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. This is the first time he has set a goal beyond the existing 2020 target of a 17% cut.

“The scale of construction for China to meet its goals is huge even by Chinese standards. It must add 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero-emission generating capacity by 2030 — more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to the total electricity generating capacity of the United States… And to meet its target, the United States will need to double the pace of carbon pollution reduction from 1.2 percent per year on average from 2005 to 2020 to 2.3 to 2.8 percent per year between 2020 and 2025.”

The article also details the progress made on tariffs and military relations. A good, detailed article.

“Republicans Are Furious About Obama’s Climate Breakthrough With China” by Rebecca Leber (The New Republic, November 12, 2014)

“Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just spent his reelection campaign claiming that China would never curb its emissions, so the U.S. shouldn’t either. Many other Republicans have argued the same. And yet China just proved Republicans wrong by committing to reach a peak level of carbon pollution by 2030 — the first time the world’s largest polluter has set a deadline for lowering emissions.”

Naturally, Leber reports, Republican leaders are opposed to it, as they have no other default: McConnell complained about the president’s continued “ideological War on Coal”, and Boehner says Obama is just “doubl[ing] down on his job-crushing policies no matter how devastating the impact”.

“Even China’s Communist Party Accepts That Climate Change Is Real. Republicans Still Don’t” by Brian Beutler (The New Republic, November 12, 2014)

As the title suggests, this article continues the unsurprising “GOP opposes something Obama is for” angle, and highlights the

“important point that the U.S.-China climate change deal turns the most pragmatic conservative argument against limiting our own greenhouse gas emissions — that it would amount to unilateral economic surrender — on its head.”

I particularly liked, and agreed, with the following observation:

“The key thing about the "why should we act if China won’t?!” excuse is a failure of moral imagination. You only say something like that if you're extremely confident that the world's developing economies won't turn around and embarrass you by seeking to limit their own emissions — that they share your particular cynicism, nihilism, or denialism.”

After this flurry of surprised and positive coverage, people have started to look deeper into the different parts of the deal, and some are raising concerns and voicing disappointment that the deal isn’t quite as good as originally thought and claimed…

“The U.S.-China Climate Deal Is Mostly Hot Air” by Tim Mak (The Daily Beast, November 12, 2014)

“The Obama administration may be crowing about its ‘historic’ emissions agreement. But China and the U.S. are already on track to meet these targets.”

“Don’t buy the hype. The announcement is largely a restatement of existing American and Chinese carbon emission trajectories, topped with a new red ribbon.”

Mak is not wholly down on the deal, though, and does The U.S.-China agreement on carbon emissions may not be especially ambitions, but this does not mean that it is without symbolic consequence.

“What’s more meaningful is leaders putting their reputations and political weight behind ambitious emissions reduction targets,” Andrew Eil, a former State Department climate change program coordinator, told The Daily Beast. “The fact that Xi and Obama both put a lot on the line to demonstrate that climate is a big priority is very noteworthy… Most importantly, both for the U.S. and China, it’s a commitment to emissions reduction, full stop, that has not been made before.”

“The Faux US-China Climate Deal” by Zachary Keck (The Diplomat, November 12, 2014)

This was the first article I saw that dug into the details and showed that the deal was not quite as momentous as official releases were claiming. Much of the coverage has “greatly exaggerate the significance of the deal”, which “simply reiterates commitments [Beijing] had previously announced”.

“Is the U.S.-China Climate Pact as Big a Deal as It Seems?” by James Fallows (The Atlantic, November 12, 2014)

The Atlantic’s China expert (I think the first China-related Atlantic story I read was by Fallows, back in 2007), Fallows highlights three key things to keep in mind when learning about the deal: for example,

“To have spent any time in China is to recognize that environmental damage of all kinds is the greatest threat to its sustainability—even more than the political corruption and repression to which its pollution problems are related.”

He is hopeful about the future, despite pointing out that the air quality in Beijing is worse now than it was before the CCP shut down the factories and reduced congestion in order to produce clear skies. Any practical steps towards environmental protection is a good thing. He is not entirely optimistic, however:

“China is a big, diverse, churning, and contradictory place, as anyone who's been there can detail for hours. But for the past year-plus, the news out of China has been consistent, and bad. Many people thought, hoped, or dreamt that Xi Jinping would be some kind of reformer… his has been a time of cracking down rather than loosening up. Political enemies and advocates of civil society are in jail or in trouble. Reporters from the rest of the world have problems even getting into China, and reporters from China itself face even worse repression than before.”

Fallows is also concerned about the “nationalistic, spoiling-for-a-fight tone” that has come into China’s diplomatic dealings and engagement. This deal, however, suggests that maybe things are moving in a better direction.

“The Xi-Obama Meeting: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” by Shannon Tiezzi (The Diplomat, November 13, 2014)

This is a good article, offering, as the title suggests a quick run-down of the various results and developments from the meeting. As well as the climate deal, for example:

“… a new visa deal will allow for 10-year, multiple entry visas for businesspeople and five year visas for students. The streamlined visa process is a step forward in promoting people-to-people exchanges, which both governments routinely hold up as a key to improving mutual trust between the U.S. and China.”


“the two sides continue to have divergent visions for the future of the Asia-Pacific region, and despite nods to cooperation, there’s little indication that Beijing and Washington have found concrete ways to cooperate.”

Given Beijing’s promotion of a vision of the Asia-Pacific with reduced US influence, “we’re seeing battle lines drawn instead of cooperative projects” as American officials become wary and concerned about China’s more assertive.

“Ideological tensions sharpened under Xi Jinping, as he has chosen to fight a public battle against Western influence in everything from think tanks to art and literature. Beijing has also repeatedly and openly blamed the current protests in Hong Kong on interference from the West, including the U.S. government.”


This is, of course, just a small selection of the articles that have been written in the wake of the summit. It’s not difficult to find many, many more. I just thought I’d highlight these ones as good jumping-off points.

Fox News is “like a horror show”

An interesting segment from Huffington Post TV with Viggo Mortensen, about media consumption, Fox News, and seeking out alternative viewpoints:

Mortensen discusses the difference he sees between right-wing and left-wing radio:

“so-called left-wing radio, it’s generally talking points as well, but I think there’s more of an effort to deal with facts, even if there are sins of omission and so forth on the left as well; but it’s generally not as brazen a form of lying as you get from Fox…”

Interestingly, he was asked the Obama administration. It’s always nice when a celebrity, not known for being politically active, shows that they are engaged with the facts and can articulate their opinions without regurgitating vapid sound-bites they’ve heard or read in the media. Obama, he says, “is as much as a hawk” as every other president, Republican or Democrat…

“Government is working really well… for those with armies of lobbyists”

Elizabeth Warren proving once again that she understands US politics, and is able to clarify it for others (on Late Night with Seth Meyers):

“We’ve got to have a government that works not just for the rich and powerful, but for all of our families… A lot of folks are feeling discouraged, and part of that is because government is not working for them. Let’s all be clear: Government does work. It works really well for those who can hire armies of lobbyists. It works really well for those who have armies of lawyers. It works really well for those who can make big campaign contributions. It’s just not working for American families… we have to make it clear in elections whose side you’re fighting on…”

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

MSNBC’s The Cycle on President Obama’s China Trip

A pretty straight forward segment, but worth watching. Isaac Stone Fish is pretty good, and certainly came across best. Although, it wasn’t difficult for him to outshine the four hosts, who offered waffley questions and such vapid offerings as:

“Does President Obama know how to use chopsticks?”

“I bet he’s pretty good with the chopsticks.”

This is what passes for intelligent news discussion of the most populace country, the fastest growing economy, and easily the most important international relationship? Disappointing.