Domestic Policy

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  Scott'S Column: President Bush Has Been Abysmal On EnvironmentSeptember 21, 2008 23:18 A federal judge last week silenced a plan to allow 540 snowmobiles to roar through Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks every day this winter.

It was an appropriate, and welcome, rejection, especially for those who believe the parks and the wildlife need protection from the noise and pollution caused by the machines.

But you can bet the Bush administration is figuring out a way to get the snowmobiles back in the park. That’s what it has been doing for the better part of its two terms, after throwing out a Clinton-era decision to phase out the snowmobiles.

Studies consistently show the snowmobiles dirty the air, drive away the wildlife and ruin other visitors’ enjoyment of the winter wonderland. But the Bush administration continues to carry water for the snowmobile industry. Even overwhelming public opinion against the snowmobiles doesn’t change the mindset.

There’s no doubt that many people enjoy snowmobiling, and possibly a limited number in the national park would be acceptable.

But the Interior Department’s proposals have been outrageous. The latest would have allowed more than 500 snowmobiles a day, far greater than the average daily count of 290 snowmobilers in 2006.

The fact that park rangers sometimes have had to wear gas masks to protect their lungs further demonstrates that the pollution in these majestic parks just isn’t worth it.

As federal judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, D.C., remarked in his recent ruling, the National Park Service’s own data say the plan goes against the park service’s mission of protecting park resources. The plan, he said, “will increase air pollution, exceed the use levels recommended by NPS biologists to protect wildlife, and cause major adverse impacts to the natural soundscape in Yellowstone.”

  Greenspan: Economy In 'Once-In-A-Century' CrisisSeptember 14, 2008 11:20 The U.S. credit squeeze has brought on a "once-in-a-century" financial crisis that is likely to claim more big firms before it eases, former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan said Sunday.

Greenspan told ABC's "This Week" that the situation "is in the process of outstripping anything I've seen, and it still is not resolved and it still has a way to go."

"Indeed, it will continue to be a corrosive force until the price of homes in the United States stabilizes," Greenspan said. He predicted that would not happen until early 2009, and said the odds of U.S. recession have gone up in recent months.

"I can't believe we could have a once-in-a-century type of financial crisis without a significant impact on the real economy globally, and I think that indeed is what is in the process of occurring," he said.

While recent declines in the prices of oil and food may help avert a recession, he said, "I wouldn't put my money on it."
  Federal Investigators Accuse Oil Officials Of Gifts, SexSeptember 10, 2008 13:13 Government officials handling billions of dollars in oil royalties engaged in illicit sex with employees of energy companies they were dealing with and received numerous gifts from them, federal investigators said Wednesday.

The alleged transgressions involve 13 Interior Department employees in Denver and Washington. Their alleged improprieties include rigging contracts, working part-time as private oil consultants, and having sexual relationships with - and accepting golf and ski trips and dinners from - oil company employees, according to three reports released Wednesday by the Interior Department's inspector general.

The investigations reveal a "culture of substance abuse and promiscuity" by a small group of individuals "wholly lacking in acceptance of or adherence to government ethical standards," wrote Inspector General Earl E. Devaney.

The reports describe a fraternity house atmosphere inside the Denver Minerals Management Service office responsible for marketing the oil and gas that energy companies barter to the government instead of making cash royalty payments for drilling on federal lands. The government received $4.3 billion in such Royalty-in-Kind payments last year. The oil is then resold to energy companies or put in the nation's emergency stockpile.
  2008 Deficit Forecast Soars To $407BSeptember 09, 2008 14:42 The budget deficit will jump by $246 billion to $407 billion this year, the Congressional Budget Office estimates in a report released Tuesday.

"Over the long run, growing budget deficits and the resulting increases in federal debt would lead to slower economic growth," the agency said.

The budget deficit shot up 153% from last year's shortfall of $161 billion. The government's fiscal year ends Sept. 30. The agency attributes the jump to "a substantial increase in spending and a halt in the growth of tax revenues."

That drop in revenue is driven in part by an estimated 15% decline in corporate tax receipts. They fell as a result of lower corporate profits and tax rules governing how businesses depreciate their investments this year. A second factor is the rebates provided to tax filers from the economic stimulus law Congress passed earlier this year.

The spending hike is partly due to efforts by the government "to cover the insured deposits of insolvent financial institutions," the agency said.

  Socalism in the US? No... just common senseSeptember 09, 2008 11:52 It's amazing that Bunning is allowed to be a Senator with his limited knowledge of how the US system actually works. If not for deregulation and increased privatization by the Bush team, Fannie and Freddie probably wouldn't be in this mess.

Senator Jim Bunning said Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, by rescuing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is acting like China's finance minister and both Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke should step down.

``I sincerely believe that Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke should resign,'' said Bunning, a Republican from Kentucky on the Senate Banking Committee. ``They have taken the free market out of the free market.''

Paulson and the federal regulator for Fannie and Freddie placed the two largest U.S. mortgage-finance companies in a government-operated conservatorship on Sept. 7, ousting their chief executives and eliminating their dividends. Treasury also may purchase up to $200 billion of stock in the firms to keep them solvent.

``We no longer have a free market in the United States, we have a government controlled free market,'' Bunning said in an interview. Paulson, a former chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., ``is acting like the minister of finance in China.''

Bunning, 76, criticized Paulson's successful effort in July to obtain congressional authority to pump unlimited amounts of money into Fannie and Freddie to keep them afloat.
  Feds Unveil Rescue Plan For Fannie, FreddieSeptember 07, 2008 11:18 Federal officials on Sunday unveiled an extraordinary takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, putting the government in charge of the twin mortgage giants and the $5 trillion in home loans they back.

The move marks Washington's most dramatic attempt yet to shore up the nation's housing market, which is suffering from record foreclosures and falling prices.

The sweeping plan, announced by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and James Lockhart, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, places the two companies into a "conservatorship" to be overseen by the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Under conservatorship, the government would temporarily run Fannie and Freddie until they are on stronger footing.

  U.S. Nears Rescue Plan For Fannie And FreddieSeptember 05, 2008 20:25 The government has formulated a plan to put troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac under federal control, dismiss their top executives and prop them up financially, federal officials told the two companies yesterday, according to three sources familiar with the conversations.

Under the plan, which could prompt one of the most sweeping government interventions in the workings of financial markets in U.S. history, federal officials would place the firms under a conservatorship, a legal status giving the government the option and time to restructure and revive the companies, the sources said. The value of the companies' common stock would be diluted but not wiped out; while the holdings of other securities, including company debt and preferred shares might be protected by the government.

  Unemployment Rate Hits 5-Year High Of 6.1%September 05, 2008 08:50 The unemployment rate soared to a nearly five-year high in August as employers trimmed jobs for the eighth straight month, the government reported Friday.

The unemployment rate rose to 6.1%, the highest level since September 2003. That's up from 5.7% in July and 4.7% a year ago.

In addition, the economy suffered a net loss of 84,000 jobs in August, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, compared to a revised reading of a 60,000 job loss in July.

The U.S. economy has lost 605,000 jobs so far this year.

The jobs report immediately drew comment from the presidential candidates as well as the Bush administration.

The White House pointed to other economic readings, including last week's gross domestic product report. It showed second quarter growth jumping to a 3.3% annual rate, helped by economic stimulus checks and strong exports.

"While these (jobs) numbers are disappointing, what is most important is the overall direction the economy is headed," said the White House statement.

But the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said the report points out the failure of Republican policies.

"John McCain showed last night that he is intent on continuing the economic policies that just this year have caused the American economy to lose 605,000 jobs," Obama said in a statement. "John McCain's answer is more of the same: $200 billion in tax cuts to big corporations and oil companies, and not one dime of tax relief to more than 100 million middle-class families."
  Dow Takes a DiveSeptember 04, 2008 16:28 Stocks plummeted Thursday, with the Dow plunging around 345 points as mixed retail sales, lower oil prices and dour labor market readings amplified worries about a global economic slowdown.

The concerns overshadowed a better-than-expected sales report from Wal-Mart Stores and surprisingly strong readings on productivity and the services sector.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU) lost 345 points, or 3%. It was the fourth-biggest one-day decline on a point basis this year and the third-worst day on a percentage basis.

It was the 51st session in 2008 in which the Dow posted triple-digit losses, according to Dow Jones. That's the worst record for the blue-chip barometer since 2002, when the Dow declined at least 100 points 67 times during the year.

The big daily swings this year reflect the markets' volatility amid the uncertainty concerning the economy and financial sector.

The broader Standard & Poor's 500 (SPX) index fell 3.2% and the Nasdaq composite (COMP) lost 3%.

Small caps got pummeled too, with the Russell 2000 (RUT) index plunging 3%.

Friday's focus will be the August employment report from the government. But economists don't expect a job market turnaround anytime soon. (Full story).

Investors have come back from Labor Day and the summer to find that few of the negatives have changed, said Gus Scacco, managing director at AG Asset Management.

  Us Economy Still Stuck As Inflation Heats Up: Beige BookSeptember 03, 2008 21:44 The US economy is sputtering amid weak housing, difficult credit and "retrenchment" in consumer spending, while inflation pressures are high, the Federal Reserve said in its Beige Book report Wednesday.

The report, to be used by its policymakers for their September 16 meeting on interest rates, indicated little improvement from the sluggish pace of activity since July.

Data from the 12 regional Fed banks "indicate that the pace of economic activity has been slow in most districts," the Beige Book said.

"Many described business conditions as 'weak,' 'soft,' or 'subdued,'" the report said.

Some regions showed "weakening," with others seeing modest improvement and others "stabilization," the report said.

The report highlighted troubles facing US consumers, affecting spending that accounts for some two-thirds of economic activity.

"Consumer spending was reported to be slow in most districts, with purchasing concentrated on necessary items and retrenchment in discretionary spending," the report said.

Auto sales were "falling or steady at low levels" while tourism activity was "mixed," with some support from international travelers in a few areas.
  Offshore Oil Drilling Not The Right AnswerSeptember 03, 2008 17:51 I am writing to express my dismay over the number of people, including those in Congress, who wish to persuade Americans that more offshore oil drilling is the answer to high gas prices.

These people are in denial or they simply do not know the real facts when it comes to America's use of this resource.

Those of us looking for a quick fix to high gas prices will not find it if more offshore drilling is allowed or encouraged. It will take at least 10 years before any newly drilled oil would reach your gas tank.

Even if all offshore oil magically came to market today, the vast majority of our oil would still need to be imported from overseas, and we would only save pennies at the pump.

The current moratorium on offshore drilling was enacted decades ago with good reason: to protect us from the danger of oil spills along coastlines and beaches valued by both people and wildlife.

Increased offshore drilling and the burning of fossil fuels causes global warming. Studies link climate change to even stronger hurricanes and other environmental effects that are present today.