Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Democrats' Windfall Oil Tax Plan Fails in Senate Vote

Once again the Congress fails to provide relief to a nation that is besieged by an economic crisis:

Saved by Senate Republicans, big oil companies dodged an attempt Tuesday to slap them with a windfall profits tax and take away billions of dollars in tax breaks in response to the record gasoline prices that have the nation fuming.

GOP senators shoved aside the Democratic proposal, arguing that punishing Big Oil won't do a thing to lower the $4-a-gallon-price of gasoline that is sending economic waves across the country. High prices at the pump are threatening everything from summer vacations to Meals on Wheels deliveries to the elderly.

The Democratic energy package would have imposed a 25 percent tax on any "unreasonable" profits of the five largest U.S. oil companies, which together made $36 billion during the first three months of the year. It also would have given the government more power to address oil market speculation, opened the way for antitrust actions against countries belonging to the OPEC oil cartel, and made energy price gouging a federal crime.

"Americans are furious about what's going on," declared Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. He said they want Congress to do something about oil company profits and the "orgy of speculation" on oil markets.

But Republican leaders said the Democrats' plan would do harm rather than good -- and they kept the legislation from being brought up for debate and amendments.

Ron Paul Plans Rally Near Republican Convention

If things weren't looking bad enough for the Republicans. Now they will face the kind of disruption at their convention which for a while was feared by the Democrats:

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is planning a daylong rally in Minnesota during the Republican National Convention that could draw attention from the presumed nominee John McCain.

The Texas congressman with a devoted following has tentatively reserved the Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota on Sept. 2, the second day of the GOP convention.

"We plan on having a large rally," said Paul spokesman Jesse Benton. "We want it to be a celebration of Republican values and what the Republican Party has traditionally stood for."

Benton also said Paul wants to send a message to the GOP "that we need to return to our roots" of limited government and personal responsibility.

The Republican Party will be gathering at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for its four-day event that will end with McCain accepting his party's nomination.

- Related topic:
FOX Commentator Kristol: GOP Concerned McCain not Ready for Obama

FOX Commentator Kristol: GOP Concerned McCain not Ready for Obama

Kristol has good reason to believe McCain can't beat Obama. The main reason, even more than the fiasco in Iraq: the economy. McCain cannot win with an economy in such a weak state. Not to mention that he won't raise as much money as the Democratic Party nominee. This is the Transcript of the noted neocon's views on McCain's chances:

MEGYN KELLY, CO-HOST: Well, the general election is officially underway and some Republicans are downright worried about their candidate. They are concerned that the McCain campaign is not up to the task of facing Barack Obama. And when it comes to campaign presence, well, they see a bit of a charisma gap, underscored, and example, like this one.

[...]BILL KRISTOL WEEKLY STANDARD EDITOR: Well, you've got to laugh and you've got to cry a little bit. No, it is presentation and John McCain can hold his own against Barack Obama. I really believe that. The America people choose which of these two men should be president, despite Obama's skills, I think McCain has a very good chance to win.

But the Obama campaign has been so much more sophisticated and strategic than the McCain campaign. There are lots of Republicans I have talked to are concerned. They're not panicked. They're concerned.

I wrote this little column in the New York Times this morning and I've gotten an amazing number of e-mails and phone calls from people I don't know and people I haven't talked to in months, you know, saying, "Thank god someone said the truth," someone who is friendly to McCain said, look, he deserves a better campaign than he's had so far.

They're tactically not bad. You know, if this story coming out that Jim Johnson, who's heading the VP search for Obama has the sweetheart deals with countrywide, they go jumping on that. There are good staff guys at the McCain campaign. But where is the strategy? What is McCain's overall vision for the economy, even for foreign policy?

Obama Economic Tax Stimulus Plan Unveiled in North Carolina

Economic recovery will require more than just tax cuts. We need major overhaul with an economic system/strategy that has been dysfunctional for decades. This from Time Magazine:

McCain economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin tried over the weekend to make the case that it's Obama who more closely resembles Bush because they're both big spenders. But it's hard to see that one sticking. If this election becomes a referendum on the recent performance of the U.S. economy, Obama wins and McCain loses. It's as simple as that.

Can Obama make this election a referendum on the U.S. economy? He's certainly going to try. If his speech in Raleigh, N.C., Monday afternoon was any indication, though, it's not going to be a slam dunk. It's clear that Obama's economic policies aren't a continuation of the Bush era. But what they are remains a hard-to-summarize mix of moderate Democratic standbys, populist silliness and the occasional truly visionary proposal. They haven't coalesced into anything you could really call a rallying cry. Not yet, at least.

[...]For now, he and his advisers are reciting the details of his three big short-term priorities: a new $50 billion stimulus program, much of it routed into extending unemployment insurance beyond the current 26-week limit and helping struggling state governments; a more aggressive foreclosure-prevention effort, with $10 billion in funding; and a tax cut for Americans making less than $150,000 a year — to be financed with tax increases on those making more than $150,000 a year.

These add up to what you could call the stock Democratic response to tough times. They're not necessarily bad ideas, but they're not what you could call new or transformative either. Obama throws in a few populist panders — he favors a windfall profits tax on oil companies (which could discourage investment in new energy resources), and says he would oppose raising the Social Security retirement age (which if phased in over a long enough period would be the fairest, most sensible way to ease some of the system's long-run funding challenges). Near the end of the speech, there was a hint of Obama's "yes, we can" vision: a plan to give $4,000 a year in tuition aid to college students who pledge themselves to community or national service after graduation.

You can see the internal tensions within the Obama campaign in this laundry list. His economic advisers are moderate, mostly free-market-oriented wonks. His campaign strategists would presumably love it if he breathed a bit more populist fire. And the candidate himself balances a lifelong devotion to progressive causes with what seems to be a pretty keen sense of the tradeoffs inherent in economics. All of which helps explain why, for the moment at least, Obama's most compelling economic argument remains the fact that, on the economy, John McCain sounds an awful lot like George Bush.

FDA Pulls Tomatoes in 17 States After Salmonella Outbreak

Another case in the where the government, especially under George Bush, failed to adequately inspect our food supply. The incompetence and indifference of this White House is nothing short of criminal neglect:

As Texas and the nation grapple with a major outbreak of potentially deadly salmonella poisoning from tomatoes, critics of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are blasting the agency for sluggishness in ensuring the safety of America's food supply.

This latest outbreak, which has sickened 23 people locally, is the third significant salmonella case in America this year.

The FDA's food watchdogs, internal critics contend, are in "a state of crisis" and have stood by as budget and staffing problems have eroded their power to inspect and regulate the expanding food industry.

The FDA, others note, is part of a dangerously fragmented food safety system of 15 agencies — a system challenged by garden variety germs and the spectre of food-targeted bioterrorism.

Despite the system's best efforts, foodborne illnesses continue to pose a significant health threat.

Last year, spinach contaminated with E. coli bacteria sickened 206 Americans, hospitalizing 100 and killing three. Salmonella infections, many of them food-related, afflicted 1.4 million people in 2007.

This year salmonella, which causes severe diarrhea and can be fatal for infants, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, has been spread through tainted cantaloupes, dry cereal and tomatoes.

The current outbreak, believed to be linked to raw tomatoes of unknown origin, has affected 56 people in Texas — 14 in Harris County, five in Brazoria County and two each in Fort Bend and Galveston counties. Thirty-six New Mexico residents and 34 elsewhere in the country also became ill.

Inspections done once every decade!:
As the food industry has rapidly grown in the past 35 years, the study said, the FDA has cut inspections by 78 percent. Now, inspectors visit a given food manufacturing plant once a decade; no inspectors visit farms or retail sales outlets.

The Government Accountability Office, long critical of the FDA, says the agency is part of a fragmented food safety system involving multiple agencies and a welter of laws. The GAO has designated the system a matter of "high risk."