Incoming Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has a legislative agenda for the first 100 hours of democratic rule in the next congress. Many of the proposals sounds straight forward and I will look at each in depth over the coming weeks leading to the start of the 110th Congress. In no particular order, here's her agenda:
- "We will start by cleaning up Congress, breaking the link between lobbyists and legislation and commit to pay-as-you-go, no new deficit spending.
- "We will make our nation safer and we will begin by implementing the recommendations of the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission.
- "We will make our economy fairer, and we will begin by raising the minimum wage. We will not pass a pay raise for Congress until there is an increase in the minimum wage.
- "We will make health care more affordable for all Americans, and we will begin by fixing the Medicare prescription drug program, putting seniors first by negotiating lower drug prices. We will also promote stem cell research to offer real hope to the millions of American families who suffer from devastating diseases.
- "We will broaden college opportunity, and we will begin by cutting interest rates for student loans in half.
- "We will energize America by achieving energy independence, and we will begin by rolling back the multi-billion dollar subsidies for Big Oil.
- "[and,] We will guarantee a dignified retirement, and we will begin by fighting any attempt to privatize Social Security."
While the Iraq Study Group report is short on specifics on how to achieve the goals it sets forth, it is specific on one thing: Oil.
Some interesting, but no doubt partisan, analysis of the report conducted by AlterNet looks into the specific four-point plan they group has for Iraqi oil and the motivation of some of the groups key members to see it happen.
The four point plan, apparently aimed at western control of Iraqi oil assets, is as follows:
- Assist in the privatization of Iraq's oil industry.
- Open Iraq to private foreign oil and energy companies
- Assist in drafting a new "oil" law for Iraq
- Assure that all oil revenue accrue to the central government
One of the big issues for Democrats when they take over in January will be an increase in the minimum wage. The current Federal Minimum Wage is $5.15/hour, but that rate has been eclipsed in 18 states that have a higher minimum wage than the the federal governments requires.
The chart below compares the poverty line (blue) for a single person of working age with the minimum wage (pink).
Two years ago, Bob Woodward, a Washington Post reporter, made an ominous statement regarding gas prices that we are seeing played out now:
"They could go down very quickly. That's the Saudis' pledge." According to Woodward, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, "told President Bush that the Saudis would cut oil prices to ensure a strong economy for Election Day."
And it's not only the Saudi's:
U.S. oil company executives also possess the power to allow price drops for the election. They have enough room to play -- including last year's collective $100 billion in record profits and Exxon Mobil's own near record $10.6 billion profits this past quarter. Oil executives are full of fear over new leadership in a Congress that would investigate them.
Ahead of next week's Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, Paul Wolfowitz, head of the World Bank, has called into question China's lending processes with regards to African countries.
It seems that the Chinese have been ignoring a voluntary set of guidelines known as the "Equator Principles" in their lending, preferring instead a more hands-off approach. The point behind the Equator Principles is to ensure that lenders review the social and environmental impact of the projects they are funding. The goal being to minimize the negative impacts.
Starting in July of 2007, PC manufacturers will need to produce machines that are significantly more efficient to garner the EPA's coveted "Energy Star" rating:
On average, the revised requirements for the Energy Star program will require PCs to be 65 percent more power efficient than current models.
Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy... use the conquered foe to augment one's own strength.
-Sun Tzu, the Art of War
As China's economy continues to grow at an amazing 11%, Chinese companies are starting to flex their muscles outside there own borders. First content to settle, circumvent, or lose and move on in patent suits, they're now ready to bring the battle to American companies.
This year, Netac, a manufacturer of computer flash memory products based in Shenzhen, China, brought a patent suit against a New Jersey rival in a federal court in Texas, in what is believed to be the first time that a mainland Chinese company has sued an American one for patent infringement.
While countries around the world move toward tighter restrictions on products that contain toxic chemicals, the U.S. Is falling behind to the point of accepting imports of products that cannot be sold in their country of origin. L.A. Times quote:
Destined for American kitchens, planks of birch and poplar plywood are stacked to the ceiling of a cavernous port warehouse. The wood, which arrived in California via a cargo ship, carries two labels: One proclaims "Made in China," while the other warns that it contains formaldehyde, a cancer-causing chemical.
Because formaldehyde wafts off the glues in this plywood, it is illegal to sell in many countries â€” even the one where it originated, China. But in the United States this wood is legal, and it is routinely crafted into cabinets and furniture.
Still think illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans? Consider this New York Times story.
Consider these quotes from the article:
The tightening of the border with Mexico, begun more than a decade ago but reinforced since May with the deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops, has forced California growers to acknowledge that most of their workers are illegal Mexican migrants. The U.F.W. estimates that more than 90 percent of the stateâ€™s farm workers are illegal.
For years, economists say, California farmers have been losing their pickers to less strenuous, more stable and sometimes higher-paying jobs in construction, landscaping and tourism.
â€œIf you want another low-wage job, you can work in a hotel and not die in the heat,â€ said Marc Grossman, the spokesman for the United Farm Workers of America. The union calculates that up to 15 percent of Californiaâ€™s farm labor force leaves agriculture each year.
A Christian Science Monitor story calls into question the economic efficiency of Pluggable Hybrid Electric Vehicles.
A groundbreaking study released last week sounds a cautionary note to the consumer. Plug-ins do burn less gasoline than regular hybrids - and gobs less than gasoline-only vehicles - but the high cost of their bigger battery packs will probably neutralize even significant savings at the pump, according to a report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient America (ACEEE)
I have looked into the costs vs savings argument myself, and there is compelling arguments to be made for staying with a gas-powered car if your only concern is money. However, there is more at stake than money. Hybrids, and especially PHEVs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and are beneficial to the environment in terms of the reduction of CO2 emissions. Costs will come down as adoption rates climb.
An article int the Pasadena Star News details how congress allows purchasers of hybrid vehicles a tax credit of up to $1,860. However, that credit is tied to sales quotas and that is leaving Toyota buyers out in the cold as they (Toyota) have now started to exceed their quota.
Meanwhile, purchasers of Hummers and other SUVs get huge tax deductions, as detailed by Taxpayers for Common Sense. The Jobs and Growth Act of 2003 allows for full deductibility of nearly all SUVs.
What can congress be thinking? It is as if throwing CO2 into the air was a national priority instead of a national embarrassment.
The car, called the Xebra, has one significant handicap: it has a top speed of 40 mph.
I think it's nice that people are trying to make these things work, but a car that can only go 40mph I think does more to discredit the electric car movement than support it.
An effort to pass a law requiring large retailers with more than $1 Billion in sales or stores larger than 90,000 square feet was vetoed by Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago. A projected 31-18 vote to override would be three votes short of passing.
The measure would have required those employers to pay $10 per hour plus $3 an hour in benefits by 2010. That is in comparison to the Illinois minimum wage of $6.50 an hour and the embarrassing federal minimum wage of $5.15.
The very idea of patenting an idea rather than an actual invention stinks beyond description, but that's exactly what the folks at the U.S. Patent Office allow. To them, the idea need only be non-obvious, which seems to mean they've never heard of it described before in a patent.
This Frontline PBS story covers the growing controversy surrounding the use of Contractors in military roles in Iraq (although this is not the only place this is being done.) These contractors often are used to serve military purposes but do not answer to the same chain of command and are not subject to the uniform code of military justice.
As if being outside the chain of command weren't enough, the private workers are getting paid substantially better -- something which no doubt damages morale:
Erinys is staffed with an assortment of ex-Special Forces and policemen from around the world. A private security guard at Erinys makes approximately $400 dollars a day, twice what a soldier makes. Some guards make up to $1000 a day.
It is unclear exactly how large of a force the private contractors make up, although the story states that KBR has 50,000 people in Iraq and Kuwait alone. That's more than 1/3 the size of the US Military presence.