Prime Minister George Papandreou’s surprise call for a referendum on the new austerity measures demanded by last week’s eurozone “deal” caught everyone off guard, including his own finance minister. Analysts immediately accused Papandreou of seeking political cover for the increasingly unpopular increased austerity measures to be imposed as a condition for the next insertion of funds from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in two weeks. Knowing that citizens would likely vote against the measures if given the chance, the PM could then pass the blame for failure onto the citizens, leaving himself and his party, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), absolved from blame as the new measures failed.
As an investigation unfolds over a controversial U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee program, another "green" loan recipient lingers at the brink of financial collapse. Massachusetts energy firm Beacon Power Corporation, which develops "flywheel-based" energy storage systems, filed for bankruptcy Sunday after receiving a $43 million Energy Department loan guarantee in August 2010 — only months after taxpayers were put on the hook for a $535 million loan guarantee granted to the now-defunct solar energy company Solyndra.
Beacon Power’s bankruptcy filing arrived just two days after the White House ordered a 60-day "independent analysis" of the DOE’s loan program, where officials will evaluate and improve the monitoring process to "ensure" that government leaders are being "strong stewards of taxpayer dollars."
In August 2010, the Treasury Department’s Federal Financing Bank awarded Beacon Power the loan guarantee to finance a new energy storage plant in Stephentown, New York. But the company claims a run of bad fortune has burdened its financial standing, especially after it was delisted by the Nasdaq following an 80-percent plunge in its shares this year. "The current economic and political climate, the financing terms mandated by DOE, and Beacon’s recent delisting notice from Nasdaq have together severely restricted Beacon’s access to additional investments through the equity markets," CEO F. William Capp alleged in papers filed during Sunday’s bankruptcy proceedings.
One of the many goals of the Occupy Wall Street orchestrators has clearly been to paint America’s richest one percent of the population as the antagonists to the country's prosperity and to the lower and middle classes. Coming to the defense of the top one percent, however, is financial expert Peter Schiff, CEO and chief global strategist of Euro Pacific Capital Inc. and former economic adviser to GOP presidential contender Ron Paul.
Schiff visited the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations last Friday in lower Manhattan holding a sign that read, “I am the 1%. Let’s talk,” and brought along a film crew to video his encounters. His purpose, he said, was to “motivate these protesters and try to educate them about what caused the financial crisis.” He explained that he believes that their anger is “justified, but broadly misdirected.” “It’s not capitalism that has failed them,” emphasized Schiff, "it’s socialism, it’s corporatism, crony capitalism, it’s fascism. That’s the problem. Capitalism is the solution, if we can only fully embrace it.”
The video footage effectively reveals what happens when the so-called “99%” are confronted with legitimate questions regarding their philosophies.
As noted by Schiff, the protesters immediately became defensive when he asked them how much of his own hard-earned money he should be permitted to keep. They shouted that the federal government should eliminate the Bush tax cuts, prompting Schiff to respond, “I am giving the government half of what I earn. You think they should take more? [If they get rid of the Bush tax cuts] I’ll be paying more than 50 percent in taxes.”
As Tea Party supporters cast about for an alternative to the flip-flopping Mitt Romney (and his long history of political liberalism), an increasing number are turning their eyes back to a face from the political past: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
But is Newt Gingrich the new "anti-Romney," or is he simply another Mitt Romney? Despite Gingrich's masterful performance of conservative rhetoric during presidential debates, Tea Party supporters may find Gingrich's record surprisingly liberal and comparable to Romney's record. Conservative opposition to Mitt Romney has focused upon two major issues, Romney's initiation of an individual health care mandate in Massachusetts — which served as the model for Obamacare — and Romney's support for the Wall Street bailouts under the Bush/Obama TARP program.
Gingrich's Support of the Individual Mandate and Federal Health Care
Newt Gingrich has campaigned on a pledge to repeal Obamacare, but he also has a long history of supporting the same government healthcare mandates in Romneycare and Obamacare. In campaign videos, Gingrich insists that “I am completely opposed to the Obamacare mandate on individuals. I fought it for two and a half years at the Center for Health Transformation."
But in a May 15, 2011 interview on NBC's Meet the Press with host David Gregory, Gingrich admitted he has long sought an individual mandate by government:
In late September the Wisconsin Education Association Trust (WEA Trust) announced that it had successfully outbid another insurance carrier to provide health insurance coverage for some 11,000 state employees in west-central Wisconsin. WEA Trust President Mark Moody happily concluded, “It really affirms, independently and objectively, that our rates are competitive.”
The WEA Trust, created in 1970 by Wisconsin’s largest teachers' union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, or WEAC, had become the epicenter for criticism that its collective bargaining rules kept local school districts from requesting bids from competing health insurance companies even though there was the potential for substantial savings in doing so. When the new rules became law on June 29, many districts took advantage of the freedom to request bids, and discovered that in many cases they were greatly overpaying to buy the union’s insurance.
The school district in Hudson, Wisconsin, is expected to save at least $1.1 million a year while the Kaukauna School District, near Appleton, turned a $400,000 deficit into a $1.5 million surplus mostly due to changing insurance carriers. Hartland-Lakeside School District has reduced its insurance premiums from $2.5 million annually to $1.8 million, Pewaukee School District is saving nearly $400,000 a year by switching out of WEA Trust, and Menomonee Falls School District expects to save $1.3 million.
The good news is that Americans' distrust of government is at its highest level ever. It's good news because it shows the public recognizes how poorly we're being governed. Not much good comes out of trusting people who shouldn't be trusted — not much good comes out of re-electing them, either.
Only 9 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is handling its job, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. That's one point higher than the percentage of Americans who said in a 2002 Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll that they believe Elvis could still be alive.
Asked if they approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling job creation, 58 percent disapproved, 35 percent approved, and 7 percent were undecided.
Going back to 1890 on job-creation rates in the United States, Kevin A. Hassett reported in National Review magazine in August that Herbert Hoover and Barack Obama were the only presidents to have negative job creation during their first two and one-half years in office.
When Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) released his economic plan, which calls for eliminating the U.S. Department of Education, the howls of outrage from the media were predictable. Paul was accused of wanting to end the federal student loan program immediately and, therefore, of being anti-education.
Paul responded to his critics with a cogent op-ed in USA Today in which he explained that he had merely proposed transferring the student loan program to another federal agency and has no intention of repealing the program in the short term. However, he added that, in his opinion, the program ought to be retired in the long term, arguing that “we will assist [students] the most by eventually transitioning student aid away from the inefficient and ineffective federal government and back to local governments and private market-based solutions — which simply work better.”
Is Paul correct that federal student loans are a bad idea? Certainly it doesn’t make good financial sense for students to take on tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt in the present economy. Americans already owe about $1 trillion in student loans, and delinquency and default rates are on the rise. Reason’s Tim Cavanaugh wrote in 2010:
Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry spelled out the details of his “Cut, Balance, and Grow” flat tax plan on October 25, saying that “the U.S. government spends too much. Taxes are too high, too complex, and too riddled with special-interest loopholes. And our expensive entitlement system is unsustainable in the long run.” Perry’s plan would offer taxpayers a choice between a new flat rate of 20 percent on incomes over $50,000, or their current income tax rate. The plan would allow them to file their taxes on a postcard, eliminating the enormous current compliance costs in filing their Form 1040s. Various deductions and exemptions would be eliminated, he says, thus improving incentives for entrepreneurs to invest, create, and hire.
In addition, Perry would cap government spending at 18 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and put a freeze on all federal hiring and salaries until the budget is balanced. He would push for the repeal of ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank financial reform laws.
Finally, he would allow participants in Social Security to set up their own personal retirement accounts outside of the current system which would protect their contributions from being raided by Congress to be spent for other purposes.
If the decline in the Portuguese money supply for September is annualized, it will shrink by more than 20 percent, presaging more economic difficulties for a country already reeling from austerity measures imposed by the European Union. Measures of money supply are watched carefully by economists as a portent for economic behavior over the coming six to 12 months.
With an economy already suffering from 12-percent unemployment, a debt-to-GDP ratio approaching an astonishing 360 percent, and the yield on the country’s 10-year treasury debt exceeding 12 percent, it won’t take much to send the Prime Minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, scurrying to the European Central Bank (ECB), hat in hand, for more help.
In fact Portugal's economy may already have gone over the edge. Simon Ward, economist with Henderson Global Investors, said that the mix of fiscal austerity demanded from the ECB in exchange for a bailout of $115 billion earlier this year and monetary tightening by the ECB has forced Portugal to enter a “Grecian vortex.”
I don’t know which I’m more tired of hearing: Barack Obama gloating that one of the richest men in America supports his tax-the-rich efforts, or Warren Buffett whining that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does. Let me state for the record that both men are playing fast and loose with the truth, and they both know it.
It is true that Buffett pays a relatively low rate in taxes on most of his income. That’s because it’s not his salary that matters, but what he receives in dividends from his investments. Such dividends are currently taxed at 15 percent a year. If he pays his secretary a decent wage, which I’m sure he does, her tax rate is surely much higher.
But what Warren doesn’t include in his calculations are the taxes that have already been paid on those dividends before he receives them. You see, corporations must pay Uncle Sam 35 percent of all the profits they make before they can send any of those profits to the owners of the company — that is, the shareholders.