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March 21, 2010

Health Care Reform And The Deficit

Posted by tunesmith at 11:51 PM

Paul Ryan is a republican congressman that has become something of a hero on the right, as he actually pays attention to wonky details and budgetary figures.

After the reconciliation bill was announced, Ryan sent a letter to the CBO asking for some alternative calculations based off of several different assumptions. Here is the CBO's response.

Ryan's objection is that he believes the Democrats are indulging in some budgetary trickery. I don't have a very fine grasp of the details here, but the gist is that the CBO has agreed with Congress on a particular method of projecting our budget forward. This method bases its assumptions off of legislation that is currently on the books, so it is "technically" accurate. However, Congress has a long history of tweaking some of the same laws every year to change its spending and revenue, and there's every reason to believe this history will continue. These tweaks are not part of the CBO's projections, and so it can be argued that the CBO's projections are not realistically accurate.

This may sound familiar. The Bush administration was infamous for creating budgets each year that didn't include any war cost, and then issuing supplementary budget requests for war funding. In addition, Congress had a long history of passing a yearly fix on the Alternative Minimum Tax - the reason they wouldn't reform it permanently is that it would make the budget figures look too horrible. President Obama was against both of these practices, and sought to normalize the numbers so the yearly budgets would be more realistically accurate, so it is reasonable to want to do the same with the Health Care Reform bill.

The problem is with Medicare. The story is that long ago, Congress passed Medicare reform in an attempt to tamp down rising health care costs. Again, without having a deep grasp of the policy details, the intent was to put a cap on Medicare payments that would adjust each year. The thought was that the cap would help keep health care costs from rising. I imagine what really happened was that since the cap only applied to Medicare spending, and not health care spending as a whole, it didn't have a chance of working - health care costs started rising far too fast for the Medicare cap. As a result, in April 2010, Medicare's payment rates for physicians' services would be reduced by 21% if Congress doesn't step in with its yearly fix. I think this is what they call the "doc fix".

There is a bill that reforms this, which would change the calculations of the health care reform bill - the Medicare Physicians Payment Reform Act of 2009 (H.R. 3961), according to Paul Ryan. Right now the health care bill is projected to decrease the deficit by around $140 billion in the first ten years. If this "doc fix" bill were passed in conjunction with the health care reform bill, the deficit would instead increase over the first decade, by about $60 billion. This is because the "doc fix" bill by itself would cost around $200 billion.

My own sense is that this isn't really an issue, for two reasons:

  1. In both cases, the long-term impact is that the deficit will be increased. It still bends the cost curve down.
  2. Barack Obama's requirement was that it doesn't increase the deficit. But he was obviously referring to the CBO's projections, and his team knows how the CBO projects things. In other words, his unit of measurement was the same as CBO's - it's not accurate to say that since the bill doesn't really decrease the deficit in the first decade, that it doesn't meet Obama's standards. That'd be like me saying a product of $9.99 is less than $10, and then you saying I'm wrong because it's twelve Euros.

Ryan then manages to put together a scenario showing that even the long-term deficit would increase if some other assumptions are changed, but these other assumptions don't hold water in my view. Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell which of his four assumptions really drive the numbers towards deficit expansion.

His most dubious assumption is the one on the excise tax - he assumes it would never take effect. The problem with this assumption is that it is designed to never take effect, by holding health care costs down, which would still be good for the deficit. The excise tax is different than the Medicare problem described above, because it applies to all health care spending, and because it is tied in to the competitive market of the health insurance exchange.

Ryan's assumptions also overlooking one huge point - there are several other cost controls in the bill that have a high likelihood of positively impacting the deficit figures, but cannot be projected by the CBO. Because of that, the CBO assumes that none of them will work at all, when some of them will undoubtedly meet with some success. Ultimately, by trying out different assumptions to get worse-sounding numbers, Ryan is doing little more than trying to fit the data to his own conclusions.

Health Care Bill Passes

Posted by tunesmith at 11:18 PM

A couple of months ago, I predicted what I thought would happen to the health care bill in the wake of Scott Brown's Senate victory in Massachusetts. My predictions were thankfully wrong about the ultimate outcome of the bill. They weren't as wrong as Barney Frank was, who weirdly pronounced health care completely dead (and really shook my faith in him as a leader), but they still underestimated reality.

I have to remember a point that I often make to other people. Those of us that try to be fact-oriented are not really used to being on offense. For those of us who really started paying attention to politics during the birth of the internet age, this is our first experience at really paying close attention at how legislation is done.

And the amount of times something can die and come back to life is mind-numbing. If this were a movie, it would have an awful plot. If our hero died that many times, we'd be considering walking out of the theater, telling him to just die already. Maybe it's satisfying in a pulp fiction sort of way, like in the old radio serials where our hero faces certain death every fifteen minutes.

Nevertheless, it lived, and now it appears immortal. What matters isn't so much a matter of the policy details. It's that an entire frame has been demolished by a new frame. The old frame was that universal health care was a McGuffin, something that would never happen, from being uniquely incompatible with America. The old frame was that an attempt would come along every twenty years, and then be left dormant. And the old frame was that health insurance was something that people would get if they were self-reliant enough to pay for it, or have the kind of employment that would give it to them.

Now the frame is that health coverage is the rule, and not the exception. That people can't have their life ruined if they get sick and then recover. That the nation has a self-interest in looking after the health of its population. This is going to take a while to sink into the nation's psyche, but it's going to have all sorts of butterfly effects. People are going to start arguing for more efficient care, and the government isn't going to be able to abstain. The government will become more efficient, and will be able to use its resource more efficiently in other areas. The population will become healthier as they worry less about being screwed by their insurance policies. They population will become more mobile in terms of switching jobs, and more entrepreneurial as they find less barrier to forming their own businesses.

President Obama said tonight, "This is what change looks like." He was referring to how change often has to be incremental. But it also applies to our incremental understanding. We only have a glimmering of an idea of what kind of change this will create. We'll know a lot more later.

February 18, 2010

Asymmetrical Temper Tantrums

Posted by tunesmith at 01:19 PM

The latest example of asymmetrical temper tantrum is today's pilot who flew into an IRS building in Texas.

I've been thinking about threats to national security, and who and what can be a threat. Obviously, other nations can be a threat, and some organizations like Al Queda can be, too. But when talking about the individual, the measure of how much of a threat an individual can be comes down to one question: What is the maximum amount of damage one person can do?

The key ingredient is leverage. How much leverage can one person have, when they are thinking and acting on their own? One route a person can take is by making themselves a sleeper agent of sorts, by spending years living an outward life that enables them to burrow into some sort of organization where they could have a lot of leverage. Like a government, or a nuclear power plant. But the other type of person is the normal citizen that just freaks out from time to time.

Over the years, does it get more extreme? It seems that someone flying a plane into a building is a post-9/11 occurrence, but I can't help but think that's just a belief borne of 9/11 trauma. This had to have happened before 9/11. But I also can't help but think that each time something like this happens, the pandora's box opens further.

So far it seems to be a matter of a disturbed individual taking a gun to the workplace or to school. In this case, flying a plane into an office building. But it seems possible for a normal citizen to create more leverage and cause even more damage. I have a resistance to even thinking/imagining what kinds of things are possible, and maybe that resistance in all of us is what keeps them from happening. But it does seem the resistance (in society, not in myself) towards imagining these things does go down over time, doesn't it?

At any rate, the question is what defense do we have against asymmetry? Asymmetrical attackers aren't rational actors in the way most nation states are, so you can't exactly use diplomacy, or appeal to their self-interest. In general, the best defense against asymmetrical attacks appears to be decentralized sources of power, whether that means power grids, the financial system, or government.

January 19, 2010

Brown/Coakley, Healthcare, and Democrats

Posted by tunesmith at 06:39 PM

At the time I'm writing this, Brown has a solid lead over Coakley in Massachusetts (I just misspelled it and corrected it) with 2/3 of precincts reporting.

Here are my predictions going forward.

  • Brown will win and be seated as the 41st Republican Senator.
  • Democrats will not attempt to rush the health care bill through conference before Brown gets seated. The optics are horrible.
  • The House will pass the Senate bill, and Obama will sign it into law.
  • There will be some half-hearted attempts at reconciliation for some improvements.
  • Netroots will again get furious about whatever isn't in the bill going forward, or if the reconciliation bill isn't passed.
  • Progressives left and right will agree with Republicans more and more often that the Obama administration is a failure.

Beyond that, it's hard to say. I'm currently feeling pretty discouraged at the direction we're heading, and not for the reasons that many in the netroots aren't.

If I were to phrase it in a way that others would agree with, I'd say that Obama has done a piss-poor job at communicating with the base. If I were to phrase it in a more controversial way, I'd say he's done a piss-poor job at managing the base's expectations. The base is crazy, and that's about where I get off the train. Obama's failure is that he didn't neutralize the base. The base is basically agreeing with the Republicans that the health care bill is awful, and since Republicans are more set up to run against the Democrats than the base is, then that means Republicans get elected.

The base is wrong and stupid, but there's nothing to be done about that short of a massive education effort that won't get through to anyone. We've still got people arguing that dumping the current bill and starting over with reconciliation would be an improved approach, as if them saying it often enough makes it true, not paying attention to the fact that a reconciliation bill would do nothing for ridding society of medical bankruptcy. The Senate bill is a good bill, far better than a good bill, and it can be built upon. On a night like this it seems no one cares about that.

More later, I'm sure, as I get my head on straight again.

January 12, 2010

Explaining The Mandate

Posted by tunesmith at 11:44 PM

It's worth reviewing some of the basics about the health insurance bill.

There are basically two entirely different ways that the health care system currently hurts the sick and the poor. The first is that health care costs are skyrocketing, and responsible health care is getting more and more expensive. But the second is that when serious medical problems do occur, people can go bankrupt and lose their life savings. This is a structurally different problem, in that it is possible to make premiums more affordable without doing anything to protect people from medical bankruptcy.

There are several health insurance practices that make medical bankruptcy possible, such as pre-existing conditions, rescission, and annual/lifetime maximums. In order to protect people from medical bankruptcy, these practices need to be ended.

Here is the problem. The reason these practices are in place are because they make it cheaper for health insurance companies to pay out claims. If they exclude people with pre-existing conditions, they have protected themselves from paying predictable medical costs. If they kick someone off a policy after they get sick (rescission), they've saved themselves a lot of money in expensive care. If they have annual or lifetime caps, they save themselves from having to pay the most expensive of claims, from people who have already racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses.

If they instead had to pay all of these costs, they would undoubtedly be passed along to consumers in the form of higher premiums - even higher than they are now.

What would the result be of this? As health insurance premiums get more expensive, the population becomes more likely to gamble by choosing not to buy health insurance. The healthier someone is, the more likely they are to gamble. When a healthy person leaves, it means the average health of the people left in the insurance plan is worse, which makes the premiums even more expensive. And then it happens again - more healthy people leave, premiums go up. This repeats, and accelerates. The reason we know this is because it is already happening.

The only way to solve this is to get more healthy people into the insurance plans. Then premiums go down for everyone. That is why the mandate is required. Without the mandate, we simply cannot afford to end pre-existing conditions, rescissions, and plan maximums, and it will still be far too possible for people to suffer bankruptcy just from getting injured or sick.

December 20, 2009

General Notes on Health Care Bill Process

Posted by tunesmith at 12:32 PM

The Senate version of the Bill is called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or H.R. 3590. The content of the bill is actually in an amendment, Senate Amendment 2786.

The reason it is H.R. is because according to the Constitution, all revenue-related bills must start with the House. So the Senate took an unrelated House bill called the "Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act of 2009" and hollowed it out and renamed it. This is a common practice.

The CBO has scored the version of the bill that corresponded to when Reid announced that the Senate has the necessary 60 votes to end debate. A blog entry from the CBO referring to this, and their original analysis of the Senate bill, is here.

The Democratic Policy Committee has a summary of the bill here. OpenCongress has a markup of the bill here.

The House version of the bill is called the Affordable Health Care for America Act, or H.R. 3962. This passed the House by a vote of 220-215 on November 7, 2009.

The CBO has scored H.R. 3962 and has summarized it here. OpenCongress has a markup of the bill here.

Hopefully someone will come up with a good way to reconcile the commonalities and browse the differences between the two.

December 17, 2009

On Reconciliation

Posted by tunesmith at 06:22 PM

As the volume of protests against the Senate bill have increased, so has one consistent call: To kill the health care bill as is, and start over with reconciliation.

And then if you follow the discussions online, you'll see a pattern. First, someone will point out that some of the things we really want in a health care bill - like the end of rescission, and the end of using pre-existing conditions to deny care - are not eligible for a reconciliation bill.

Well, someone else responds, there's a great answer for that. You pass TWO bills - one for reconciliation with the stuff we want, and another one with the regulations. That one will have the regulations, and it won't have the controversial stuff, and it should pass with 60 votes no problem, they say.

But, the say, we have to get started. Dump the current bill and start over.

If you're following along, you can see the opportunity here. The current bill already has the controversial stuff stripped out. The current bill is already large identical to the hypothetical "second bill" in the reconciliation approach.

Passing the current bill would make the desired outcome more likely, and would also take less time, than dumping the bill and starting over.

Pursue reconciliation, by all means. But the way to do that is to pass the current bill.

December 15, 2009

Health Insurance Reform

Posted by tunesmith at 01:20 AM

So, there's been quite a bit of drama with Health Insurance Reform this week. This was the week where Reid thought he had a breakthrough with Medicare Reform, but today was the day when Lieberman insisted he'd filibuster it. In return, it appears that Rahm told Reid to give Lieberman whatever he wanted, which means we are probably going to have the Senate pass a bill that doesn't have a public option or a medicare expansion.

It's worth reviewing what has happened up to this point, and who the big winners and losers are, if things go forward from this point.

Winner: Sick people. We've still got a huge expansion of Medicaid going on here. This is huge addition of people to public insurance - bigger than the public option or the medicare expansion ever would have been by itself. We've got the end of rescission, and the end of pre-existing condition exclusions. We've got improved out-of-pocket maximum rules. And the mandates don't matter to them, because the sick people are going to be glad they have insurance.

Winner: Health Insurance companies. They don't have to risk being put out of business by a public plan marketed towards people with money. And, the mandates mean more people will get on their plans.

Winner: Congressional moderates. They've expressed their power and have really split the difference between Progressives and Republicans.

Loser: Republicans. Progressives might howl that Republicans are winning here, but really - they have to deal with a massive expansion of health care that people will feel they have a right to, given to them by the Democrats. And them getting an expansion will be contagious, and they'll feel like they can get more.

Winner: Pragmatic Progressives. See Republicans, above.

Loser: Harry Reid. Maybe there's something I don't know, but we have the spectacle here of Reid getting embarrassed by both Lieberman on one side, and the White House on the other, in agreement and ganging up on him. Meanwhile, progressives are blaming him for not getting the job done, probably unfairly. What Reid seems most guilty of is getting too clever for his own good. By putting the public option and then Medicare in the bill, a lot of his own decisions get gutted and pulled out, embarrassing him and making him look ineffectual. And now, if the bill ends up better than what is in the Senate bill, it is likely it will seem to be in spite of him rather than because of him. I still may not be seeing this clearly, though - his role has done more to expose Lieberman's cynicism than anything else, and there may be advantages in that.

Loser: Daily Kos and the netroots. What a bunch of idiots the daily kos community has become. My own political attitudes have remained largely static over the last few years, but my reading habits have changed a lot. The only places I can go to get any of those "yes, finally someone said it!" relief feelings are Paul Krugman, Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Brad DeLong, and others. I used to get that with Daily Kos - particularly back in the days when several smart Daily Kos columnists were explaining the ins and outs of GWB's Social Security cons - but no longer.

Even Markos - a more pragmatic citizen - is getting sucked in to the mentality. He's off on his twitter feed railing against the bill, saying it's a "bloody abortion" that should be pulled entirely. Ezra Klein makes the point that even as is, the bill will still save over 150,000 lives over ten years. End 150,000 lives because you're not getting what you want politically? What have these progressives become? What is really the bottom line here? What is really more important than saving lives?

Daily Kos and other parts of the netroots have been off on the wrong foot here since the beginning of the Health Care debate. The netroots are great for passion, and mobilizing for things like elections. Causes that require energy, but not a whole lot of logic and deep policy knowledge. But the netroots suck eggs at this kind of thing. What happens is that you get a collection of people with their own petty collection of non-negotiables, people with a talent for rabble-rousing that has no relationship with their ability to deeply understand policy, and they set the terms of war. What follows is a long pattern - large groups of people reinforce to each other that they have power, power they really don't have. They then fail, and then there is a lot of anger, bargaining, and finally a greater sense of bitterness, disengagement, and cynicism. They don't leave the community, they just dial up the snark and tear each other down. I think it's possible that as powerful a platform as the internet was for an out-of-power progressive netroots, it may be just as powerful at creating cynicism and bitterness while the Democrats are in power. At least, unless a major platform change occurs.

What the netroots need to accept is that just because we may have the power to affect elections, it doesn't mean that we have a proportional ability to affect policy. It's not our skill set. Our skill set is in numbers, and in money. Not in our ability to come up with stunning insights about policy, not yet. Any congressional staff can run circles around us. All we can hope to do is positively affect an election cycle, and then see how the results turn out legislatively. If they're not ideal, then all we can do is positively affect the next election cycle, and so on. Maybe someday an open netroots community will pop up that will be able to analyze bills correctly, and lobby, and even write new bills, but we're not even close to that point yet - and it'll take longer if people start sitting out elections just because they didn't get everything they wanted after one year.

You'll notice there's one small player in this drama that I haven't judged: Obama. The man is so far above the fray that it's impossible to judge him until the bill is on his desk. Will he get the credit for a massive positive change in health insurance reform? Or, on balance, will he look weak for not being able to offer a public plan to more segments of the population? I think this will basically come down to messaging and posturing in the late stages, and that is still to be played out.

September 02, 2005

New Orleans

Posted by tunesmith at 12:39 PM


(courtesy of dailykos member highacidity)

I'm actually not sure where to give money at this point. There are a lot of organizations that are starting to match 50c on the dollar, dollar for dollar, etc.

June 29, 2005

Miscellaneous

Posted by tunesmith at 09:30 PM

I've unfortunately been called away to attend a memorial service, so that is why I haven't weighed in on a variety of matters that are of interest to this site. The ultra-short versions are: I'm snickering that there were no retirements for the Supreme Court. I think the Kelo decision is fascinating, and *correct* from the liberal point of view - however, the very premise of eminent domain laws are a different matter entirely, and I haven't really developed my opinion on whether they are a net good or a net evil.

I'm disappointed by the Grokster opinion, I think. I come to that as someone who is heavily involved in both worlds of creative content production (music), and of techo-libertarianism. I think the decision is a good attempt at defining a balance point, so I found the decision competent. But I do think the big content corporations need more of a smackdown than they got. Now we'll just see more bullying from the content corporations in attempts to control or legislate exactly how technological companies market their tools - they'll be just as extreme and dishonest on that tack as they were with deliberately misinterpreting the other content copyright laws.

I would have liked to see some more finesse to the Miller/Cooper decision. There's some valid first amendment worrying now. I think there could have been a better way to underscore first amendment protections, while still forcing Miller or Cooper to speak. The first amendment protections are supposed to help protect against retribution, not to make it easier to participate in retribution.

Finally, I briefly was tempted to support the efforts to pass the bills that ask for a troop withdrawal by a particular date. Now I think it's a bad idea. It really would give too much power to the people that want to undermine whatever positive objectives we might still be able to achieve. But, I do think that we need a more clearly communicated roadmap, where the benchmarks and milestones are perhaps not tied to calendar dates, but known to all and laid out in a clear step-by-step manner. This would be the withdrawal plan. Some of the dependencies are obvious (having Sunni representation completed in the interim government), and some are less obvious (like finding other more reasonable ways to have a working police force - on that, I say bring in the U.N. for real, and give up the spoils that the United States are claiming).

Some interesting battles coming up. Social Security will start happening again, and there are some murmurs of "tax reform" that could really catch Democrats flat-footed. I think that's a case where the Democrats really SHOULD have a plan to present, unlike Social Security. Democrats could create a revenue-neutral plan that would help everyone, and pound it every chance they get in comparison to Bush's plan, and then the conversation would be about progressive versus flat/regressive. And progressive should win, if Democrats are able to claim enough credibility in other areas.

Finally, I'm completely gung-ho about Dean's Democracy Bonds. Brilliant.

May 04, 2005

Research Binge

Posted by tunesmith at 05:19 PM

I stayed up last night researching various things, and ended, exhausted, with several open browser windows. I'm going to write it up here because I have a feeling that others will find it interesting, and because I'd like to close my browser windows.

For a while now, I've wondered what positive impact raising the federal minimum wage would have on payroll tax revenues, and therefore the solvency date of Social Security. I also know that the minimum wage has been shrinking over time.

First, I found this table showing how the minimum wage has been shrinking in real terms in recent years. Here's a graph:

Now, several states have their own minimum wages that are higher than the federal minimum wage. Here's a table. It seems that right here in Oregon and Washington, we have the highest in the nation - plus, they are indexed for inflation. That seems like good news. $7.25 in 1996 dollars, if I'm calculating this correctly, is about $6.22, so you can see where that lies on the graph.

Now, I said it seems like good news. I went over to its article on wikipedia to get some counterpoints. First, let me just say I love wikipedia. It's a place I can go to get consensus counterpoints, knowing that for sufficiently popular subjects, the authorship has grudgingly hashed things out to fairly represent both sides. It's great for politically divisive subjects like this. It turns out that most economists believe that minimum wage, when its many costs and benefits are looked at, is a net loss. "Most", meaning, it is a slight consensus. The more complete way of looking at it is that the need for labor is inelastic up to a certain point - minimum wage is fine, and a net gain, up until that balance point, but beyond that point, it is a net loss. However, it is like most things in economics, where you don't know if you've reached that magical balance point until you've blown right past it. Raise it too high, and the economy starts to suffer as a whole. Most Republicans think that "too high" point is lower than where most Democrats think it's at. :)

We'll come back to this in a moment. I was also researching GDP. One of the common arguments between the left and the right is that one side will often exaggerate the damage or cost of a program by focusing on it in raw dollar figures, comparing it to other cost in the past. The response is usually to complain that our economy has been growing since then, so it's better to look at it in terms of GDP. An excellent example is the national debt. Our national debt is the highest it has ever been in dollar terms, but as a percentage of GDP, it's still not as low as it was during Reagan's term, and the beginning of Clinton's term. When people talk about increasing our nation's financial health, they talk about improving the debt-to-GDP ratio.

Here's a graph of our debt-to-GDP ratio over the last many years:

It's pretty obvious the negative effect that Reagan/Bush I had on the ratio, how much Clinton improved it, and how Bush's presidency has made it dramatically drop again. However, it's not as extreme as it was fifteen years ago, and his budget projections show the ratio rising again (even though it's more likely they will be falling at a gentle slope).

Now, the reason this is used as justification is because the GDP is widely seen as a measure of increasing national financial health, much like an individual's increasing wages. But it turns out that isn't really accurate. From the wikipedia entry on GDP, you can see there are a lot of problems with it. For one thing, it doesn't account for the long-term costs of nonsustainable practices, like the overproduction of natural resources. It doesn't account for opportunity costs. One well-known example is that when a factory produces goods and also pollutes a river, that boosts GDP. When the citizens then clean up the river, that boosts GDP again.

There's a different index that tries to take all this into account - it accounts for the costs of our environmental policies and other externalities. It accounts for the rising wealth gap between our rich and poor. It's called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), and it's supposed to be a replacement for the GDP. Other countries are actually using this thing. It is developed by an organization called Redefining Progress, which releases occasional supports detailing the health of the nation in terms of GPI. Here is a graph of how the growth of our GPI looks, compared to the growth of GDP:

Gpigdp

The reason the two start diverging wildly around the 70's is evidently because that is when the gap between the rich and the poor started increasing dramatically.

With that data, it should be possible to calculate multipliers to convert any GDP-based data into GPI terms. I think with that, we'd see that things are far worse now in real terms than they were before. Some back of the envelope scratchings show that the 2002 debt-to-GPI ratio had already returned us to the same point we were at in 1988. (More recent (or projected) GPI numbers are not available yet.)

While reading about GPI, I came across this interview from one of the economists behind the GPI, and he talked about the minimum wage. It turns out that a far superior technique to increasing the welfare of the poor is through refundable tax credits like the EITC. This basically gives the benefits of a minimum wage, without the costs. By giving people a tax credit, where the difference actually gets refunded to the person if they didn't earn enough to exhaust it, it raises the boats without hurting the businesses that would have to deal with the higher minimum wages. He also talks about free trade versus fair trade, and his opinions of the "right" way to handle it - on the whole, it sounds very balanced. Check it out, it is a good read.

Finally, while following links, I came across information about various UN-recommended techniques to increase financial health in nations and micromarkets. One was converting to GPI-related banking systems, but another was a suggestions to use microcurrencies. I've been interested in this subject for a while, but never to the point of seriously studying it. This is basically locally-oriented favor-tracking. In general, people say that to decrease our environmental footprint on the world, it is better to restrict your commerce in as local a fashion as possible. Local microcurrencies or LETS - where everyone agrees to invent and use a currency that is only good in their locale, after which they trade goods and services in that currency when it's convenient - are a great way to save dollars for other expenses, and raise wealth. I think it's fascinating, and it's one of the areas that I bet will see a tipping point on the web if anyone manages to create a good website for it. It's a perfect add-on to the various peer-to-peer websites we see cropping up all over the place. Imagine it attached to something like craigslist or a political volunteering site. There is already something called Favors, but I'm not sure it's quite the same thing.

May 03, 2005

How To Fix Social Security

Posted by tunesmith at 07:25 PM

First, let it be said that the best approach right now is for our politicians to not even join the discussion about how to tinker with Social Security. We have much more serious problems with the nation's financial health, than a deficit date ten years out and an insolvency date thirty years out.

But this is a discussion board, and we can't really resist thinking of ways to tinker with it anyway. And most of us, uninformed as we are, start to immediately think of ways to raise taxes or cut benefits.

It turns out we wouldn't really have to do either, at least not explicitly. Read on for a summary of what could solve Social Security's solvency "problem", without introducing any of the trauma that Bush would.

All of these recommendations (pdf) come from Robert Ball, a long-time commissioner of Social Security (via Matt Yglesias at Talking Points Memo.)

Right now, over the next 75 years, SSA projects a shortfall of 1.89% of taxable payroll. What that means is that you just need to either raise revenue, cut expenses, or find some other way to make up that shortfall. But remember that raising the tax rate is not the only way to raise revenue. And cutting benefits is not the only way to cut expenses. Here are the recommendations that Balll makes, and how much they positively affect the taxable payroll deficit:

Restore the maximum taxable earnings base to 90%, the level set in 1983. + 0.61%
One of the main problems is that the wealth gap has been increasing - there is a wider distance between the rich and the poor. A side effect is that while the cap has been rising with inflation, the wealth gap has meant that the taxable earnings base has fallen to below 90% . So, this proposal would restore a level that was set twenty years ago. In addition, while the cap would be raised, the corresponding benefit levels would be raised as well, which would retain the "same rules for everyone" balance that protects Social Security's "third rail" status. Removing the cap while retaining the benefit cap would remove some of Social Security's balance, and would make it more vulnerable. Removing the both caps (all at once) entirely can be considered traumatic to people living in expensive markets that aren't otherwise rich - a large tax hit phased in all in one year.
Retain the estate tax at 2009 levels, but devote it to the trust fund + 0.51%
This is a good political compromise, because the 2009 estate tax rates have a high exemption level, but the money that gets taxed would then go to beneficiaries who need the money to protect them from poverty, rather than to the government to pay for normal budgets. This isn't a tax hike at all, merely a reallocation.
Invest some assets of the trust funds in stocks on a system-wide basis + 0.37%
Unlike the private accounts, this would be investing system-wide money into the stock market. The advantages are that no one person would have to liquidate their positions in a down market. It would all even out and the system would be able to ride out the highs and lows. Invested conservatively, this would give better returns than the Treasury Bonds. This doesn't raise taxes or cut expenses, although it does restrict the government from being able to benefit from Social Security's surplus.
Switch to the more accurate CPI ("chained index") for determining growth of benefits after retirement date. + 0.35%
This is technically a benefit cut, but it is evidently a more accurate inflation tracker than the inflation number we use now. (Remember, we are wage-indexed before retirement date, but inflation-indexed after retirement date.)
Cover all state and local government employees + 0.19%
Not all state and government employees are part of the social security system at this point. By converting them to have their pension plans be added on to social security, rather than replacing them, the additional payroll taxes would increase the health of Social Security. This raises revenue without increasing tax rates.
Optional: Increase the payroll tax rates by 0.5% both for workers and employers, starting in the year that the trust fund starts to shrink. + 0.60%
This one is truly a tax hike, but if the trust fund starts shrinking at a later date than is projected right now, then the date of this new tax would be delayed as well!

Now, it turns out that some of those improvements interrelate, so the overall positive impact isn't as good as simply adding them together. But, the summary is that if we implement the first three, Social Security is brought out of the "danger zone" from an actuarial percentage. (They're okay with it being with plus-or-minus 0.7%, because of how much things can change in our economy over the next several years.) If we implement the next two, we're actually in surplus by 0.05%. And if we implement the final bit, we'd have projected solvency for decades beyond the 75-year projection period.

If you would like more details, go read the report authored by Ball - it explains things much more clearly than I can in this limited space. The only thing he didn't go into that I've been curious about is how much payroll tax revenues would increase if we raised the federal minimum wage.

May 01, 2005

Whither Trust Fund?

Posted by tunesmith at 02:27 PM

This is the main thing I don't yet understand about the Pozen plan:

What happens with the Trust Fund? My main objection to prior plan proposals is that there's always been this magic hand-waving where the Trust Fund just kind of disappears, which means that everyone who has paid payroll taxes for the last twenty years has been screwed, by an average amount of over $1000/year. However, I'm unclear on what happens with the Trust Fund this time. I think they declare it "gone", but they also mandate general fund transfers, which is how the Trust Fund would be paid back anyway. And over its lifetime, the general fund transfers would probably exceed the current sum of the Trust Fund.

So in that sense, the Trust Fund argument has less power than it had before. The reason is because it reduces us to arguing about and predicting the future motivations of Republicans. For example:

We're going to come to a time where those general fund transfers will be commonplace. Do you really expect Republicans to accept that? They're just going to argue that Social Security is too expensive. They'll either vote to raise payroll taxes, or, more likely, cut benefits further. This is certainly correct, but the Republicans can just easily feign indignation and claim it's ridiculous while they run for office. The argument is just less effective than it was before. Before, benefit cuts were steep enough that the general fund transfers would never have been enough to pay back the trust fund, which meant a robbery of the trust fund. Now it's not so clear.

Everything else still makes this a raw deal. It's marginally better than the one they were discussing before (progressive wage/inflation indexing is better than straight inflation indexing), but it shouldn't be converted away from wage indexing at all. And the personal accounts are just stupid - your return has to beat inflation just to break even, and in order to match what most of us would get under currently scheduled benefits, the additional return would have to be astronomical.

April 30, 2005

Social Security Scheduled Benefits

Posted by tunesmith at 08:07 PM

In my earlier review of Bush's SS plan, I made one point that is partially incorrect:

In 2041, he says that SS will be bankrupt.  However,  the amount of benefits we will get after 2041, after SS goes "bankrupt", will be greater than what we will get under Bush's SS plan, because his benefit cuts are so steep.

This is only true for most workers. For the poorer workers, they will get equal or less than the designed benefits, but they will get more than the currently scheduled benefits (which are reduced when the trust fund runs out). Middle-class and richer workers will get less than the scheduled benefits.

However, the only reason this is true is because Bush's plan mandates general fund transfers! What that means is that the trust fund becomes meaningless. Now, when the trust fund runs out, benefits get reduced. They're saying, "well, let's just make that not happen!" And then they pretend that the idea just doesn't occur to them for the existing system.

Also, note that this "advantage" for the poor is only true after 2041. Before that point, they get equal to or less than the scheduled benefits (since they aren't reduced).

April 28, 2005

Bush's Social Security Talking Points

Posted by tunesmith at 10:23 PM

Bush held his press conference tonight on Social Security and other matters.

I take Bush's words on means-testing to mean that he wants to convert the benefit formula, which currently uses wage indexing, to a formula that uses a blend of wage indexing and inflation indexing. This is a huge and unnecessary benefit cut.

To take apart some of his talking points:

  • He talked about how in three years SS will start heading towards the red.  This is meaningless - we'd still have a surplus that he would be stealing.  It would just be a slightly smaller amount he'd be stealing in that year.

  • The reason it is "stealing" is because it's taking money from a regressive tax and subsidizing the progressive tax system with it, when he has no intention to pay it back.  That's essentially stealing from the poor to give to the rich.

  • In 2017, he talked about the SS deficit becoming a drain on the federal budget.  He of course didn't talk at all about the need to restrain the already-existing federal budget deficit.  To see some perspective, see this graph of Bush's projected budget deficit, compared to how Social Security affects it:

    See that tiny sliver in 2017, where the line crosses?  That's the "deficit drain" that Bush is so concerned about here.  He's not concerned about the size of the budgetary deficit (which he created), but he's sure concerned about that little sliver - enough to cut our benefits. (By the way, it turns out that orange budgetary deficit projection is too kind to Bush.)

  • In 2041, he says that SS will be bankrupt.  However,  the amount of benefits we will get after 2041, after SS goes "bankrupt", will be greater than what we will get under Bush's SS plan, because his benefit cuts are so steep.

  • "Future generations will get benefits equal or greater than today's seniors".  This is some pretty good misdirection, as far as used-car sales techniques go.  But "equal" means inflation-indexed, when we are currently wage-indexed.  Benefits equal to today's seniors will mean your benefits would grow inflation-indexed, which is a huge cut.  Think of it this way.  Imagine if today's seniors got benefits that were equal (inflation-adjusted) to the seniors forty years ago.  You're basically forcing them to live to a 1960's standard of living.  But even today, more than half of our seniors would be in poverty if not for social security.

  • Bush mentioned that one of our investment options would be to invest in US Treasury Bonds, backed by the full faith and credit of the United States Government.  But he says that our surplus is just a file cabinet full of IOUs, not a bank account.  He omitted that these IOUs are US Treasury Bonds, backed by the full faith and credit of the United States Government.  At one point he made those two points within fifteen seconds.

  • Note that Bush did not say that his plan would keep Social Security from going "bankrupt" (insolvent). It does not guarantee that payroll tax income will exceed social security outflow in any sense, and I'm sure we'll find that it won't. His plan might "solve" it by mandating general fund transfers, but we could mandate that with our existing system without changing everything around.

  • Bush often said something along the lines of: "Social Security benefits should be adjusted so that low-income recipients receive more money." Again, this is dishonest. It's not "more money than they currently would receive", although that's the ambiguity he's trying to hide behind. It's "more money than other recipients will receive after I cut their benefits." He's saying that the low-income recipients would have their benefits cut the least. At best, they'd retain their current benefit level. Everyone else would have deep cuts.

  • Don't forget that the 2017 date depends on an economic projection so low that the performance of private accounts will not even come close to making up for the budget cuts. In turn, if the private accounts behave as Bush projects, the economy would be strong enough that Social Security as designed would not go bankrupt, which means we don't need to mess with it.

April 27, 2005

Political Valley In Rising Trend

Posted by tunesmith at 05:44 PM

Found some silver lining in this post:

Roll Call, on the other hand, finds "a major rift has developed within the House Democratic Caucus, as moderates and liberals wage a war over influence and questions mount over the leadership’s direction for the minority party." The article points to a contentious meeting last week where progressives accused moderates "of selling out to special interests on the bankruptcy bill." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi "expressed particular frustration" that some members vocally joined Republicans in pushing the bill. She made "clear it was inappropriate for Members, despite their support for the bill, to urge the Republicans to bring it up."

Both of these stories are positive. The first story shows that on some key issues, Democrats have been very effective. The second story shows that on other key issues where the party has fractured - bankruptcy, class-action reform, the estate tax and energy policy - progressives are finding their voice, and are increasingly willing to tell it like it is to their colleagues (big kudos to Pelosi). That's a major step forward in building the kind of durable, sturdy opposition party that will be necessary to defeat the GOP. Far from "hurting the party," these progressives are emboldening it for the long run, as they are moving Democrats back to their traditional position as defenders of middle and working class America.


April 21, 2005

Social Security Deficit

Posted by tunesmith at 02:58 AM

Bush makes a big stink about the date that Social Security will go into deficit. His point is that it will then be a huge drain on the government's budget.

Let's just see what that "drain" will look like, compared to Bush's other spending habits. Here's the projected budget deficit, with how the Social Security surplus/deficit affects it, as a percentage of GDP:

See where the line crosses in 2017, and that tiny little sliver that it creates? That's the "drain" that Bush is so concerned about. That's how dishonest he is. He not only ignores the size of the general budget deficit, but adds to it. Then he ignores the Social Security trust fund, and insists that its deficit, which is miniscule compared to the size of the budget deficit, requires that we cut Social Security benefits. He's nothing but a swindler.

The data uses:

  • Historical budget data from the CBO
  • Budget projections from the GAO, assuming the tax cuts are made permanent (a fair assumption given that the House just passed the estate tax bill)
  • SSA Trustee projections for 2005, intermediate projections

April 20, 2005

Bush Signs Bankruptcy Bill

Posted by tunesmith at 05:09 PM

Bush signed the bankruptcy bill today:

"Bankruptcy should always be a last resort in our legal system," he said. "If someone does not pay his or her debts, the rest of society ends up paying them."

In other news, here are the deficit figures for Clinton's last term and Bush's first term, plotted against Social Security, as a percentage of GDP:

Given Bush's policy choices, like making the estate tax cut permanent, the deficit is projected to increase...

So what was that Bush was saying about being responsible with one's debts...?

April 15, 2005

Bankruptcy Bill Counts

Posted by tunesmith at 03:22 AM

TechPolitics has a table of the Yea-voters, sortable by a number of different criteria - what caucus they are in, their district's median household income, etc.

Steve Soto has the list of which Dems voted for bankruptcy bill right after they voted to end the estate tax.

The news of that letter signed by DLC members certainly made the rounds in the blogosphere. But I completely missed that the Blue Dog Coalition had their own letter, and they were a lot more unified. 27 out of 35 Blue Dogs signed the letter. 32 out of the 35 Blue Dogs voted Yea. Interestingly, Barrow was one of the 27 letter-signers, but he voted Nay.

The DLC Dems were more fractured. 20 out of 39 New Democrats signed their letter. 25 out of 39 New Democrats voted Yea. And a few of the letter-signers actually voted Nay: Larson, Inslee, and Smith. Berkley signed the letter but abstained.

April 14, 2005

Bankruptcy Bill Press Release

Posted by tunesmith at 03:01 PM

This press release was just sent out by DebtSlavery.org. It looks like the online activism actually did result in some switched votes. There's a dkos diary about the aftermath where this can be discussed. Some recommendations would help give it visibility.

Progressive Leaders say Bankruptcy Bill Battle is Just the Beginning

Bankruptcy Bill Opponents Thank Congress Members Who Voted No, Promise to  Hold Accountable Those Who Voted Yea, and Prepare for Upcoming Battles

Following Senate passage of the bankruptcy bill on March 10, Democrats.com  and Progressive Democrats of America created a coalition at  www.DebtSlavery.org to work against passage in the House. 

Today that effort fell short by a vote of 302-126.  But compared to the 90  Democrats who voted for a nearly identical bill in 2003, only 73 Democrats  voted Yes this time.  Of the 22 Democrats who campaigned for the bill and  whom DebtSlavery.org targeted to change their votes, three reversed their  positions and voted No - John Larson (D-CT), Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Adam  Smith (D-WA) - while a fourth, Shelley Berkley (D-NV), did not vote.

When Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) proposed to return the bill to committee  to make it less horrendous, her motion failed narrowly by a vote of 200- 229.  The Democratic vote on that motion was 198 to 1, with only Rep. Rick  Boucher (D-VA) joining Republicans.

"Working Americans owe a debt of gratitude to Rep. John Conyers and Rep.  Barbara Lee for their leadership in this struggle," said Bob Fertik,  President of Democrats.com.  "We also thank Rep. Lynn Woolsey for speaking  against this bill in Wednesday's Democratic caucus, and Rep. Jim McDermott  for speaking so eloquently against this outrage on the floor of the House.   Those who rose to speak against the bill on Thursday deserve our thanks,  including Rep. Bill Pascarell, who said he was switching from a Yea vote  to a No, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi."

"But still we must ask: Where was Rep. Pelosi before today?  Why did  Minority Whip Steny Hoyer support this outrageous bill?  Why did Senate  Minority Leader Harry Reid even try to take credit for this Republican  bill?" Fertik said. 

"And why did 'New Democrats' Ellen Tauscher, Ron Kind, Artur Davis, and  Joe Crowley push this bill on their colleagues?  What party do they  imagine they belong to? Who do they think elected them to Congress?"  Fertik asked.

"DebtSlavery.org is just getting started. In three short weeks, we built a  broad and determined coalition of progressives who will fight for economic  justice and will fight against Republican class warfare from above. We  have served notice to 'New Democrats' in the House and Senate that we will  hold them accountable for selling their votes to Big Business and selling  out America's working families," Fertik said.

"We will move on to new bread-and-butter battles, including the Paris  Hilton Estate Tax Cut battle in the Senate, the Loan Shark Predatory  Lending Act in the House, and the Gasoline Price Gouging Energy Bill. We  will unite the Democratic base and reach out to grassroots Independents  and Republicans who want to end Republican class warfare from above. We  will give hardworking Americans a voice - and a choice," Fertik concluded.

"We will remember who voted against the Democratic base," said Tim  Carpenter, Executive Director of Progressive Democrats of America.  "Those  73 House Democrats and 18 House Senators have a year in which to try to  make up for this.  It's hard to see how they'll be able to do it, but  we'll be watching and remembering, and we'll be ready to promote  challengers in 2006."

CONTACT:

David Swanson, Coordinator of www.DebtSlavery.org 202-329-7847,  david@davidswanson.org

Bob Fertik, President of www.Democrats.com 718-424-7772, bob@democrats.com

 Kevin Spidel, PDA Political Director, www.pdamerica.org 602-373-6990,  kevin@pdamerica.org

The DebtSlavery.org coalition includes:

Democrats.com, Progressive Democrats of America, AFL-CIO, The Nation,  National Organization for Women, American Progress Action Fund, National  Community Reinvestment Coalition, People's Email Network, Public Citizen,  Democracy Week, Black Commentator, Thom Hartmann Show, Milwaukee Labor  Press, Politology, Fly By News, Billionaires for Bush, Evans Media USA,  Take Back America, United Progressives for Democracy, Rapid Response  Network, Public Campaign Action Fund, Progressive Populist, ACORN, Drum  Major Institute, Campaign for America's Future.

Bankruptcy Bill Passes House

Posted by tunesmith at 01:59 PM

It's been reported that the bill has passed in the house. This entry will be updated with more details.

Here's the Roll Call. 302-126.

Republicans unanimous in passage, except for three not voting.

Democrats 73 - 125, four not voting. Sanders voted Nay.

There was an earlier Motion to Recommit With Instructions. I don't know what it means, but it sounds like it would have been a good thing. That failed on almost a straight party-line vote. Republicans voted No, 228-1, Johnson of IL breaking ranks. The Democrats voted Yea, 198-1, Boucher breaking ranks.

Boucher has been a real disappointment.

MSNBC's current front-page headline is "Tough Love For Debtors". That's just awful. It links to this article, which is more balanced than its headline.

Bankruptcy Bill: DLC Letters

Posted by tunesmith at 11:56 AM

I want to like the DLC and NDC. I really do. I read their philosophies and principles as they state them, and they sound good and work well with how I think. But they have a bunch of idiots in their membership right now.

MEMORANDUM

To: NDC Members

From: Reps. Ellen Tauscher, Ron Kind, Artur Davis and Adam Smith

Re: NDC Key Vote Alert!

Date: April 13, 2005

Tomorrow, the House will consider S. 256, The Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act. We write to let you know that final passage of the Bill will be a key vote for the NDC and to encourage you to support this common-sense, bipartisan legislation.

Encourages Personal Responsibility

This bill reflects the New Democrat principle of greater personal responsibility by ensuring that those who have the ability to pay off some of their debt do so, and reaffirming that bankruptcy should be a last resort instead of a first option. Requiring people to file under Chapter 7, rather than Chapter 13, and set up a payment plan to repay some or all of their debt is reasonable and fair.

Protects People Living Below Median Income

Only those living above the median income and who have ability to pay debt will be required to do so. Conversely, millionaires who use bankruptcy as a method of financial planning will no longer be allowed to buy extravagantly and subsequently have all debt written off.

Helps Consumers and Small Businesses

Bankruptcy costs are passed on to other consumers, and the average family pays hundreds of dollars a year in higher prices. Small businesses that might otherwise not be paid for their goods or services will have a better chance of gaining compensation as a result of this bill.

Ensures Help for Most Needy

S. 256 includes protections ensuring alimony and child support payments are made. We believe single parents and dependent children need our help far more than millionaires who benefit from current bankruptcy laws. All consideration will be given to factors including job security, medical bills, and other circumstances.

History:

New Democrats have long fought for common sense changes to our bankruptcy laws. Bankruptcy reform legislation has passed the House of Representatives numerous times. In the 108th Congress, it passed 315 to 113 with 90 Democrats voting for it and 70 percent of NDC members supporting it. Earlier this year, S. 256 passed the Senate with a vote of 74 to 25. It is past time that Congress pass sensible bankruptcy reform.

S. 256, The Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act

YES on Final Passage

KEY VOTE ALERT

Atrios has more, including an interview of Tauscher trying to defend herself. I've seen in a couple of places their justification: that they should support bad bills now now so that they can win with good bills later. It's just insane.

April 13, 2005

Bankruptcy Bill: Closed Rule

Posted by tunesmith at 04:28 PM

The House voted today to limit debate and prevent any discussion of amendments to the bill. This effectively killed all debates to the bill that could have limited its negative effects. It was a 7-4 vote, with seven of the nine Republicans voting for it, and all four Democrats opposed. I still have no idea why the committee is 9-4 in favor of Republican membership, it seems like such an extreme ratio.

Here is an explanation of how the House works these days, from The Hammer, a biography of Tom DeLay:

"Only when a majority of the committee completes a draft is a bill brought to the full committee for a formal vote that usually divides along party lines. Gone are the floor debate and the long days of making law in the House chamber. Most Americans don't know that the House now meets only two days a week, doesn't debate, and disposes of legislation in rolling votes, in which long lines of unrelated bills are rolled for up and down votes with an efficiency rarely achieved by O'Hare Airport air traffic controllers. Bills are brought to the floor under closed rules, or amended closed rules, which allow no amendments and only an up or down vote. The committee system, floor debate, bipartisan collaboration, social relations across party lines--all are as dated as the brass spittoons that once graced the members' lounges."

Here's a daily kos diary from Rep. Louise Slaughter, one of the members of the Rules Committee, with more information about the vote and the bill.

Time's running out to call your rep. Please do so, even just to protest.

Bankruptcy Bill: Update

Posted by tunesmith at 11:42 AM

It appears the press conference this morning went over well, with coverage from several press organizations.

This blog over at democrats.com is good to read up on to find more information and status about the bill.

The vote in the House is now expected to happen on Thursday instead of Wednesday, so there is that much more time to make phone calls and talk to your reps.

April 12, 2005

Bankruptcy Bill: Oregon Reps

Posted by tunesmith at 01:40 PM

If you're living here in Oregon, there's definite reason to make some calls today. I just contacted my own Rep, Blumenauer, and confirmed he will be voting against the bill. But I called Wu and he still supports it. There's probably mileage to be had in pestering Wu's office about this. His local phone is (503) 326-2901, or you can find his other contact information here.

Hooley from Salem is a cosponsor and I'd love to hear of some people giving her grief. I haven't checked with Walden (our only Republican). DiFazio is almost certainly voting against it.

Bankruptcy Bill: Today Is The Day

Posted by tunesmith at 01:00 PM

Today is really the last full day to call and pressure your representative to oppose the bankruptcy bill. There are plenty of easy things you can do to oppose this bill - the Action Kit over at debtslavery.org is a good one-stop resource.

You can check the sidebar for lists of representatives to target - clicking on their names will give you their contact information.

If you do not feel educated to be able to be able to argue about the finer points of the bankruptcy bill, don't worry about it - you don't have to justify yourself. If it determines whether or not you will call, you can simply call them, tell them you are opposed to the bill, and angry about it, and that will be better than nothing.

The vote will be tomorrow and we'll have them on record.

Bankruptcy Bill: Congress Members Speak Out

Posted by tunesmith at 12:53 PM

There will be a press conference on Wednesday. 9:30 AM EST at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2237. Here are the details:

Participants will speak briefly and be available after 10 a.m. to answer questions.  Representatives of many organizations not speaking will also be introduced, will hand out statements, and will be available to talk after the event.

 

SPEAKERS:

A number of Congress Members will speak.  They will be joined by:

Travis Plunkett, Legislative Director of the Consumers Federation of America, moderating and speaking on behalf of consumers.

Patricia Friend, President of the Association of Flight Attendants, CWA, AFL-CIO, speaking on behalf of workers.

Robert Gordon, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress.

Joan Entmacher, Vice President of National Women’s Law Center, speaking for women and children.

David Swanson, Coordinator of DebtSlavery.org, PDA Board Member, speaking for grassroots activists.

And a speaker from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

 

ALSO PRESENT:

American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)

American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)

Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)

Center for Responsible Lending

Consumers Union

Demos

National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys

National Consumer Law Center

National Community Reinvestment Coalition

National Organization for Women (NOW)

Progressive Democrats of America (PDA)

Public Citizen

United Auto Workers (UAW)

United States Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG)

 

BACKGROUND:

Many of the organizations represented at this event have worked for several years against this bill.  Many of them have recently formed a coalition at www.debtslavery.org , a website that contains a wealth of information about the bankruptcy bill.  Below are comments from a few of the organizations involved:

 

Association of Flight Attendants President Patricia Friend:

"At a time when over half of our members are working for an airline in bankruptcy, having their wages, their health care and their retirement benefits slashed and being pushed toward bankruptcy themselves, this Congress is preparing to vote to cut off their avenue of personal financial relief."

 

Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook:

"The bankruptcy bill is emblematic of what this Republican Congress is all about: coddle big business and the wealthy at every turn, even when the least fortunate are trampled in the process. Many, many people who land in bankruptcy court end up there because they or a family member got sick and lost their job and medical insurance. A better way to end bankruptcies is to ensure that every person in this country, rich or poor, has access to health care."

 

NOW Action Vice President Olga Vives:

“The federal bankruptcy bill is a gift to the U.S. credit card industry at the expense of women and their families.  Unless we defeat this bill, Congress will simply become the policy arm of Visa and MasterCard – who will soon want their logos on the Capitol Dome in return for all the money they have spent.  In truth, this bill should be called the Credit Card Protection Act, because it downgrades or ignores the economic anguish that overwhelms people – mainly the elderly, our service members, parents receiving child support and families facing ruinous medical emergencies."

 

Public Campaign Action Fund Political Director David Donnelly:

"This bill is nothing but a pay back for the $43 million the credit card, finance and banking industry has poured into the campaign coffers of this Congress.  Leaders in this Congress, like Tom DeLay, have used the credit industry to obtain personal campaign cash advances. And now we're stuck with the debt. Instead of 'reforming' the bankruptcy laws for the rest of us, they should reform the politician-for-hire campaign finance system."

 

ACORN President Maude Hurd:

"The bankruptcy bill is nothing but another giveaway to corporate interests.  The bill will devastate thousands of people who are forced to file for bankruptcy by circumstances beyond their control, like medical emergencies or predatory loans.  We stand firmly against this bill.  But this debate is just one battle in the fight for economic fairness.  We will continue the fight as we take on the Ney bill, which would eliminate laws against predatory lending."

 

RALLIES PLANNED AROUND COUNTRY:

Members of DebtSlavery.org, led by Progressive Democrats of America, plan to hold rallies against the bankruptcy bill at noon local time on Wednesday in at least 14 cities around the country.  For more information, see www.debtslavery.org.

 

CONTACT:

David Swanson, Coordinator of www.DebtSlavery.org 202-329-7847, david@davidswanson.org

Bob Fertik, President of www.Democrats.com 718-424-7772, bob@democrats.com

Kevin Spidel, PDA Political Director, www.pdamerica.org 602-373-6990, kevin@pdamerica.org

 

The DebtSlavery.org coalition includes:

Democrats.com, Progressive Democrats of America, AFL-CIO, The Nation, National Organization for Women, American Progress Action Fund, National Community Reinvestment Coalition, People's Email Network, Public Citizen, Democracy Week, Black Commentator, Thom Hartmann Show, Milwaukee Labor Press, Politology, Fly By News, Billionaires for Bush, Evans Media USA, Take Back America, United Progressives for Democracy, Rapid Response Network, Public Campaign Action Fund, Progressive Populist, ACORN, Drum Major Institute, Campaign for America's Future.


April 11, 2005

Bankruptcy: MoveOn Finally On Board

Posted by tunesmith at 01:35 PM

A few weeks ago, MoveOn was unapologetic about ignoring the bankruptcy bill. They said there were more important things to focus on, blah blah blah. Evidently they've reconsidered - this is a testament to the grassroots activism against this bill and the attention we've paid to it. MoveOn is organizing a pledge to finance radio ads against those who vote for the bankruptcy bill. Check it out.

The vote is evidently going to be on Wednesday.

April 08, 2005

Social Security: Make Your Own Graph

Posted by tunesmith at 12:24 AM

If politology goes a bit quiet from time to time, it's usually going to be because I am working on some software to make politology cooler. I'm going to be doing that often on this site.

I've just finished a nice little tool to help everyone with their social security arguments, or perhaps just to help a little bit with education. It's a graphing tool to explore the social security budget. Right now it handles the history back through 1970, and projections up through 2080. It also allows you to see what past projections looked like so you can see how inaccurate they were. Here's an example graph:

But, that's just an example. You can go here to make your own graph - any year range, other projections, etc. You can then bookmark or link to the page for the graph you create, just by using the url in the url bar. For instance, here's 1970 through 2010.

The tool will be expanded over time. Soon there will also be a trust fund graphing tool. I'm hoping to show the "Low" and "High" projections as well. And over time I'll add other budgetary figures.

It creates a flash, so you can't simply copy the graph. You can always take a cropped screenshot, though. But I'm hoping to soon create code to allow you to embed the resulting flash into your own weblogs using javascript.

If you know of any cool data sources I could use, let me know - I'm interested in Bush's prior-year budget projections, for one thing. Those could be some entertaining graphs.

(The software utilizes a php software package that lets you create any number of cool looking graphs. But the data wrangling, formatting, and dynamic functionality is the part that I did.)

April 06, 2005

Bankruptcy Bill: New Schedule

Posted by tunesmith at 02:37 AM

The Rules Committee Meeting was postponed at the last minute, with no date set for rescheduling.

Also, the vote on the bankruptcy bill was put off from this week because of representatives traveling to the Vatican. It will happen next week.

Keep calling.

April 05, 2005

Bush: Trust Fund Does Not Exist

Posted by tunesmith at 05:29 PM

Bush again claimed there was no trust fund today:

"A lot of people in America think there's a trust," Bush told a forum here, shortly after he stopped off at the Bureau of Public Debt, the agency that keeps records on the nation's debt.

"But that's not the way it works," he said. "There is no trust fund -- just IOUs."

Evidently it exists enough for him to spend it, but not to pay it back.

His implication is that it would put America at dangerous risk to pay it back.

Here are graphs of the surplus/deficit of Social Security, and the size of the trust fund, from 1970 to 1990:

Obviously, we've been able to redeem from the trust fund in the past. America is still here.

April 04, 2005

Bankruptcy Bill: Rules Committee

Posted by tunesmith at 10:43 AM

This Tuesday, April 5, at 5 p.m., the House Rules Committee will decide whether to  allow any amendments to the Bankruptcy Bill that was passed by the Senate (S. 256).

The House currently has an awful record at allowing debate on bills. As this editorial from Louise Slaughter (D-NY) explains:

The "closed rule" became standard fare when DeLay took control of the House leadership from House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., seven years ago. Gingrich promised two-thirds of the bills would be considered under an "open rule" that allowed amendments and plenty of debate.

Now only a handful of bills reach the floor under the "open rule," sometimes as low as 7 percent, the report says.

When the Senate passed this bill, it rejected a dozen crucial changes to make the bill humane - such as exemptions for serious medical problems, exemptions for those in the military, an interest rate limit of 30%, protecting the homes of the elderly, and comparably strict treatment of those who are rich.

A "closed rule" would not give anyone a chance to offer crucial amendments like these.

It is urgent that everyone call the Republican Members of the House Rules Committee to demand an "Open Rule" on S. 256, the Bankruptcy Bill.

DAVID DREIER, CA – CHAIRMAN (202)-225-2305
LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART, FL (202)-225-4211
DOC HASTINGS, WA (202)-225-5816
PETE SESSIONS, TX (202)-225-2231
ADAM PUTNAM, FL (202)-225-1252
SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO, WV (202)-225-2711
TOM COLE, OK (202)-225-6165
ROB BISHOP, UT (202)-225-0453
PHIL GINGREY, GA (202)-225-2931

There are only four Democratic members of the House Rules committee (anyone know why the ratio is only 9-4 in this committee?) and they're expected to vote for "Open Rule" already.

April 02, 2005

Bankruptcy Bill: Week Zero Action Items

Posted by tunesmith at 10:52 PM

This week is the week when the bankruptcy bill (H.R. 685 or S.256) could be voted on in the House.

To put it simply, this bill illustrates our broken Congress. A representative government exists so we can empower our representatives to make the decisions that we don't have to think about. They are to make decisions on behalf of the public, on behalf of the people.

But the people did not lobby for this bill. Furthermore, this bill is not a necessary sacrifice, like taxes for defense, or laws for the public good.

Congress will pass this bill, and it will only pass for one reason - they are able to sneak it by us and reward their lobbyists. The only way to oppose a bill like this is to attain critical mass in public opposition. But the bill is not sexy. It is politically boring. It hurts the public, but quietly. And therefore, it doesn't capture the public imagination, and the public gets abused by Congress.

It proves that our representative government does not function as it should. To abuse a public, all you need is a sleeping public, and a government that does not act in the interests of the public and cannot be held strictly accountable. We have all that.

This will continue to happen, more often and more intensely. The Schiavo affair just underscores that reality. The upcoming judicial appointment battles could drive it to an even greater extreme.

Call your representative to tell them to oppose the bill.

Call the cosponsors to get them to unsponsor.

Call the Democratic Letter Signers to educate them and tell them to vote No.

And think about the greater issues. Think about how we can make ourselves heard more clearly, how we can hold our Congress to greater accountability, and how we can force the government to represent us instead of them. On this weblog, we'll continue to explore ways to make it easier for the grassroots to engage and replace the dysfunctional.

March 31, 2005

Bankruptcy as Debt Slavery

Posted by tunesmith at 01:18 PM

Slavery is a strong word because of the history it evokes that bankruptcy could never compare to. But when you're talking about being beaten down by a system that prevents upward mobility, places corporate profits ahead of personal livelihood, can be stumbled into from plain bad luck, and is just about impossible to escape once entered... the system is the enemy of personal freedom.

The Black Commentator has an article describing the bankruptcy bill, which the House will vote on next week.

The bill that is coming up for a vote in the House would create a new means test that would forbid making any such distinctions.  It would even forbid comparing what someone actually earns with what they actually have to pay for rent and basic expenses.  A court would be forced to use standard government figures for expenses, regardless of what you're actually having to pay.  It would base your income on your last six months of income, even if you just got laid off.  If your income is below the median, it would spare you the means test but require that you purchase credit counseling, even if you have no money to pay for it and it isn't offered anywhere near your home.  It would also require significant new legal expenses and paperwork.

The article is written by the creators of DebtSlavery.org, another effort to oppose the bankruptcy bill.

March 29, 2005

Graphing Social Security

Posted by tunesmith at 02:16 AM

For those that want a prettier graphical view of Social Security's outlook, here is social security's surplus/deficit. Historical since 1970, 2005 projections through 2050, as a percentage of taxable payroll:

Note that we have gone into deficit before, for a many-year period.

Here is the trust fund ratio - assets over expenditures, same time range.

It clearly shows we've drawn from the trust fund successfully in the past, and it worked fine.

That's an interesting dip they've projected from 2004 to 2005 in the most recent Trustee Report.

These graphs are generated dynamically from data I've collected from the SSA Trustee reports. Clicking on the graphs will take you to the site that wrote the base software package. I've written scripts to get parts of the data, but there are plenty of more possible graphs to draw - the "High Cost" or "Low Cost" assumptions, different year ranges, prior year projections, etc. For instance, here is the current projection of the deficit date, compared to projections in some prior years, zoomed to 1996-2020.

Note that the projected date will improve significantly as soon as we begin our next recession. Whaa...?

I'm working on a tool to allow people to select data sources and generate their own graphs through a web form. These are flash files, so you can't copy the images. But you can link to this blog entry, or you can crop screenshots. Watch Politology for more features.

March 28, 2005

Bankruptcy Action Items: Final Week

Posted by tunesmith at 12:04 AM

This is the final week of recess before the House returns to vote on H.R. 685, the Bankruptcy Bill. This is the right time to call your congresscritters and tell them to vote No, or ask them to defend their intended Yes vote.

The House is so far gone that it's not realistic to expect that the bill will be stopped. But Congress is unprincipled on this matter. They know it is a bad bill and are only passing it because of the lack of opposition. Registering your opposition is important.

Refer to the sidebar for the appropriate list. If you get any interesting information, leave a note and it will be incorporated into the list.

Also, I wrote about protest ideas in the past. There is a new site named Plastic Revolution that tracks efforts to mail credit card applications back to to the credit card companies. Check it out.

March 23, 2005

Social Security: Earlier Deficit, But Healthier

Posted by tunesmith at 07:03 PM

I thought this graph was pretty illustrative (click to enlarge):

Iv Lrest Ivb5

(via Bradford Plumer)

Update: Yes, obviously both benchmarks are splitting hairs. When's the next CBO estimate?

Bankruptcy Bill: Letter-Signers Get Defensive

Posted by tunesmith at 01:25 PM

Atrios and AmericaBlog have details on the Democratic letter-signers getting a bit defensive. Here's why:

John Podesta, president of the progressive Center for American Progress (CAP), faced pointed questions from lawmakers at last Thursday’s New Democrat Coalition (NDC) meeting about an inflammatory e-mail his organization sent to liberal activists and bloggers.

In a March 9 e-mail, David Sirota, a fellow at CAP, accused 16 pro-business Democrats of supporting bankruptcy-reform legislation because they received political contributions from the commercial banks and credit-card companies that stand to benefit if the legislation becomes law.

Check the full article here.

I'd love to see them get even more defensive. I'd love to see even one of them back down. Here in Oregon, both Wu and Hooley signed the letter.

Find all the letter-signers here.

March 22, 2005

Bankruptcy Bill: Ongoing Action Items

Posted by tunesmith at 09:51 PM

According to GovTrack.us, the House is due to meet again the week of April 4th. The bill has already escaped committee, so it will be subject to full debate, and then a vote.

At this point the best option is to contact your representative, no matter who it is, tell them not to vote for the bill, and ask them how they are going to vote.

Here in Oregon, I'd like to hear the results of people talking to Wu and Hooley. Hooley is a cosponsor, and Wu signed a letter asking for fast scheduling. You can see all cosponsors and letter-signers by looking at the sidebar on the right, which will remain until this is over. Click on names to find contact information.

You can also use this page to fill out an email form and have the letter automatically sent to your Senators and Representative.

If you have anything interesting to report, please do so - I will have the capability to update the congress-tracking lists on the right to track how people are voting.

March 19, 2005

Bankruptcy Bill Talking Points

Posted by tunesmith at 12:51 PM

Tom over at BizzyBlog has a great summary of talking points against the bankruptcy bill. They're supported by a thorough rebuttal against Todd Zywicki's arguments for the bill. BizzyBlog has done a ton of great research about this bill - it would be a good idea to review his thoughts and then use the talking points on your rep.

March 18, 2005

Bankruptcy Bill Leaves Committee

Posted by tunesmith at 02:03 PM

The NY Times has coverage on the bankruptcy bill - it left committee yesterday on a party-line vote, and will be scheduled for a full vote.

On a party-line vote of 22-13, the House Judiciary Committee approved the bill, which would make it harder for people to wipe away debts in bankruptcy. A lone Democrat, Rep. Rick Boucher of Virginia, joined the majority Republicans to support the legislation.

Earlier in a daylong session, committee Democrats lost in a series of partisan votes when they proposed amendments to the bill.

Talking Points Memo's bankruptcy blog has the details on the failed amendments:

  • An amendment by John Conyers (D-MI) protecting military personnel from predatory payday lenders;
  • An amendment by Mel Watt (D-NC) exempting tuition costs from the expense calculation in the means test;
  • An amendment by Adam Schiff (D-CA) protecting people whose bankruptcy is due to identity theft;
  • An amendment by Howard Berman (D-CA) protecting bankruptcy filers who file due to medical crises;
  • An amendment by Jerry Nadler (D-NY) which would make debts arising from civil rights violations non-dischargable in bankruptcy.

You can watch a webcast of the proceedings.

Bankruptcy: Town Hall Talking Points

Posted by tunesmith at 01:08 PM

An email is circulating by a "Marc Stern" with some ideas on how to deal with any upcoming town halls. The email is directed to bankruptcy attorneys, but most of it is relevant to any concerned citizen.

Congress is in recess.  Our Representatives are coming home to campaign, hold Town Meetings and talk, they think, about Social Security Reform, with their constituents.  They view their vote on BARF as a "free vote," i.e. there is no future debtors lobby so that can give a special interest a gift with little or no consequence.

It is time to let them know that there will be a downside to their support of the bill.  Take some clients.  Don't talk about the means test.  Everyone thinks that debtors who legitimately can pay their bills, should.  They are ready to talk about responsibility and it sounds good.  Don't let them derail the discussion with talk about how people should file Chapter 13.  Even though most of think that it will not work, there is little or nothing to be gained on this issue.

There are other things tucked in the bill that can be extremely hard to defend and they should be put on the spot.  For instance:

Why should investment bankers be exempt from conflict of interest laws? (The Leahy Sarbanes Warner amendment)

Why should some creditors who file frivolous and vexatious motions be immune from 9011 sanctions? Section 102 of the bill dealing with "small businesses" that sound like debt buyers and collection agencies?

Some Representatives have never heard of the "universal default clause" that allows a credit card company to increase your interest rate because you were late on another bill, not theirs.  It is time that they found out.

The attorney liability stuff, especially the debt relief agency materials are another example.

Representatives are not used to being questioned and are not certainly not used to being held accountable.  The time is now.  Even if this thing passes, as we start trying to figure out how or if we are going to practice under the new order, it will be a source of some relief to remember how they couldn't explain it and how embarrassed they were that they did not even know that some of this stuff was in the bill.   More information can be found here:

http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/bankruptcy/

Go out, visit your Representative and ask them.  It might be enlightening, it will almost certainly be fun, and maybe it will do some good.


Bankruptcy Lists

Posted by tunesmith at 03:29 AM

You'll see we've added the following list to the sidebar:

Bankruptcy Lists

It will be there for the duration of the bankruptcy campaign.

I've updated some status - I put Sensenbrenner in the "Definite Yea" category because he's the bill's sponsor, and Conyers in the "Definite Nay" category because he was seen railing against the bill on the House Floor on C-Span.

It's never too early to harangue your congresscritter. From an earlier action post:

Action: Click the above links to find the representatives, and then click their names to get their contact information. This tool makes it very easy to contact them.

Then, tell us what you find out. It is not sufficient to simply give them a piece of your mind. Make your case, and then ask where they stand. If they are one on of the lists, ask them if they will withdraw. Ask them how they are going to vote, and let us know if they are voting yes, no, or are thinking about it. I will then be able to go to the pages for the campaigns and update the status for the representatives in question.

Make your calls. Change some minds. Report back.

Bankruptcy: Warren vs. Zywicki

Posted by tunesmith at 01:02 AM

Trey Jackson has the video of Elizabeth Warren debating Todd Zywicki.

Good stuff. Warren gets the nod on this one. Zywicki implied that since bankruptcies increased while the economy improved, it by definition meant the increase was because of fraud. This is one of the central dishonest arguments for the bill.

Remember, from the pdf I mentioned before:

The bankruptcy filing rate is a symptom. It is not the disease. Some people do abuse the bankruptcy system, but the overwhelming majority of people in bankruptcy are in financial distress as a result of job loss, medical expense, divorce, or a combination of those causes. In our view, the fundamental change over the last ten years has been the way that credit is marketed to consumers. Credit card lenders have become more aggressive in marketing their products, and a large, very profitable, market has emerged in subprime lending. Increased risk is part of the business model. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that as credit is extended to riskier and riskier borrowers, a greater number default when faced with a financial reversal. Nonetheless, consumer lending remains highly profitable, even under current law.

But even more maddening is the assertion that the increased bankruptcy filing rate is a problem. Yes, of course it's a problem. But who is it afflicting? The profitable credit card companies with the financial models that already take the bankruptcy filing rate into account? Or the individuals and families that are experiencing such hardship that they are finding it more necessary to declare bankruptcy? Congress believes that it's the credit card companies that deserve the rescuing.

By the way, to dismiss with a canard - no one is arguing that poor people should not have access to credit. It's fine to use a credit card for emergency funds or short term expenses that will be paid off. But the credit card companies are marketing their product as extra disposable income. Their financial interests are to put people in long term debt at high interest rates. Their job is to create the demand. They are very, very good at it. Personal responsibility doesn't mean we're required to accept the presence of temptation.

March 17, 2005

Bankruptcy News Coverage

Posted by tunesmith at 11:21 PM

There was some news coverage opposing the bankruptcy bill on Thursday. The SF Examiner has this editoral by Darrell Salomon. The SF Chronicle ran Robert Scheer's Tutorial In Greed. The Chronicle had a front page story that is quite good, and another editorial by conservative columnist Debra Saunders.


I am ashamed to note that every Republican senator in Washington voted for this special-interest bonanza. These so-called conservatives should believe in the market and chastise irresponsible lenders.

In addition, 18 Democratic and one independent senator voted yes. "Many Democrats and Republicans saw this as what is seen in Washington as a free vote," Plunkett noted. That is, important interests wanted a "yes" vote, and there was little opposition. "There's no lobby for future debtors," Plunkett added.

As it turns out, the negative media attention has turned up the heat. Yet Plunkett sees a "very, very slim chance" of defeating the bill.

March 16, 2005

Bankruptcy: Wednesday Action Items

Posted by tunesmith at 03:14 AM

Today is House-targeting day, and we have a very cool tool to help us.

Congresstrack.org has developed a tool to enable groups to track where congresscritters stand on particular issues. CongressTrack's creator is allowing the tool to be used by anyone (whether conservative, liberal, or anything else) for the bankruptcy bill.

I've set up three trackers for groups of representatives in the House. I have several categories for the representatives, and they are all currently in the "Uncontacted" category.

The first group is The Cosponsors. It would be a real accomplishment to get someone to unsponsor, the sort of thing that could start feeding on itself. If you go through the list, you might find some real surprises. I am personally very surprised to see Rick Boucher (D-WA) on that list; one of his specialties is internet law and he's always been on the side of the little guy in those battles. There are six other Democrats on the list.

The second group is The House Judiciary Committee. It's likely that many of these are definitely voting against the bill, but they need to be contacted to make sure.

The third group is The Democratic Letter Signers. I just don't understand these people; many of them are asking for a quick turnaround, but have not endorsed the bill. It would be progress if we can get any of these folks to promise to vote No.

Action: Click the above links to find the representatives, and then click their names to get their contact information. This tool makes it very easy to contact them.

Then, tell us what you find out. It is not sufficient to simply give them a piece of your mind. Make your case, and then ask where they stand. If they are one on of the lists, ask them if they will withdraw. Ask them how they are going to vote, and let us know if they are voting yes, no, or are thinking about it. I will then be able to go to the pages for the campaigns and update the status for the representatives in question.

I'll be out part of the day - I have a weekly trip to Seattle to take a film orchestration class - but will keep tabs on comments and status. On Thursday, we'll catch up with the state of things around the blogosphere.

March 15, 2005

Bankruptcy: Tuesday Action Items

Posted by tunesmith at 01:33 AM

Today's action items are to continue with Monday's unresolved items.

We're hearing hints that the House vote may be after Easter recess, the week of April 4th. If that's true, how should we fill the time?

The main ideas I have on my list and have not implemented are:

  • Implementing a Congress tracking tool that someone wrote me about - it allows a group to easily track the positions of a group of congresscritters on an issue. If you call yours, you would update the tool with what they say. We'd probably do this for the judiciary committee members.
  • Identifying a list of hometown newspapers of representatives, and the addresses for letters to the editor.

Other loose ends: I know of interest in South Dakota to put together a delegation to visit Stephanie Herseth, but they need more people. Contact me if you'd like to be put in touch.

There is also an effort to visit reps in Illinois to certain representatives to unsponsor.

Here in Oregon, Wu and Hooley both deserve a visit.

Keep checking out BizzyBlog, which has some great coverage about the effects of this bill, including a rebuttal to Todd Zywicki's recent defense of the bill.

Some posts not about bankruptcy will probably show up here and there, as this blog was originally formed to be about "Politics and Technology in the United States".

March 14, 2005

Bankruptcy: Senator Reid's Statement

Posted by tunesmith at 04:16 PM

Thanks to Nathan, following is the text of Senator Reid's statement about his "Yea" vote on the bankruptcy bill:

People who have the ability to repay their debts should be required to do so. I support this bill because it puts that principle into law and prevents the abuse of bankruptcy laws.

The bill is flawed in several ways. It does not do enough to protect people who declared bankruptcy due to medical emergencies or military service. It does not do enough to protect the employees of corporations like Enron and Worldcom that declare bankruptcy. And it allows people who engage in unlawful projects to avoid accountability. Democrats offered amendments to address each of these flaws, but they were rejected by the Republican majority. I hope the Congress returns to these important issues in the future.

But even with these flaws, the bill is an improvement over current law and merits my support.

How so??

Note that this had to be transcribed by someone who called in and asked for the statement, as Reid's office is refusing to release it through normal public channels or post it on their website.

What an odd statement. List a bunch of specific flaws, speak ambiguously about unidentified benefits, and then defend the bill? Refer to the recent pdf from bankruptcy-law professors, or the awesome video of Dave Ramsey to gather up counterpoints.

Dave Ramsey On Bankruptcy Bill

Posted by tunesmith at 11:31 AM

There's a phenomenal video making the rounds of Dave Ramsey slamming the bankruptcy bill. Check it out.

Bankruptcy: Monday Action Items

Posted by tunesmith at 12:11 AM

Your assignment - work on at least one of the sections below. Make progress today, and report any meaningful news, either through comments or private notes. Enlist your contacts and link freely.

Bookmark Politology. (RSS feed)

House

Here is the summary. The House bill number is H.R. 685. Go to that page and then click "Cosponsors" to view the 83 cosponsors - you might be surprised. (Darlene Hooley in Oregon?)

The bill has been referred to committee. According to Thomas, it has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee (some think the Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law) and the Committee on Financial Services.

Finally, a group of twenty Democrats have written a letter to Hastert asking for quick movement on the bill, saying, "It is our hope that the House of Representatives will consider this important piece of legislation in an expedited manner." In a way this is worse than being a cosponsor because one gets the sense they are worried about the political cost of due consideration. (Note the signatures that are not on the cosponsor list.) It's a cynical dismissal of their duties as our representatives. Check the bottom of this post for the letter and the list of representatives that signed.

There are a lot of implicit action items in that chunk of information, so let me spell them out.

  • If there is a cosponsor on this bill that has no business being a cosponsor, contact them immediately and tell them to withdraw. Note that many of these reps cosponsored en masse on 2/9 - they might not have been paying attention. Getting someone to unsponsor would be a major coup.
  • It is still not clear where the bill is and where it could be frozen. Find out exactly what subcommittee(s) the bill is in (if any), and report back.
  • Go ahead and start contacting the representatives that are in the full Judiciary and Financial committees to apply pressure.
  • For liberals - contact the letter-signing Dems that are frightened of due consideration, and tell them to vote Nay.
  • Enlist your contacts.

Email is okay - if you'd rather simply contact your assigned Senators and Rep, you can use our tool (information). Calling is better. Google a rep's name to find their (206) phone number. From the comments:


Also effective are postal letters to their district (non-DC) offices, letters to the editor, and prepared questions at in-district 'town hall' meetings (call the district offices and ask about the schedule).

Fax your postal letters to get around the delivery delay.

Senate

Keep telling the "Yea" voters what you think of their votes. I really think there is mileage to be won here. Joe Biden has already written a defensive-sounding letter (bugmenot) to the Los Angeles Times defending his vote, so they are feeling heat. Turn it up. Among Biden's points:


In 2001, a similar bill passed the Senate 82 to 16. The provisions affecting consumer bankruptcy were identical to those Chait criticizes.

Someone needs to inform Biden that just because something was wrong yesterday doesn't mean it is right today.

I'm also curious what Reid's statement will say. Keep asking.

Check here for the list of Senators that voted Yea, and check here if you only want to see the ones who are up for re-election in 2006.

What would be ideal is turning a Senator; getting them to admit they misjudged the opposition and join the call to oppose the bill's movement. So, don't be so rude that you undermine that objective.

Media

I need information on a tool that will enable us to easily send Letters to the Editor to certain targeted newspapers. Barring that, when we identify the correct subcommittees, we will need information on the hometown newspapers of representatives, and the address to write or email to.

Conservatives, call Rush and gently register your opposition to the bill while making clear that you are not a plant. Liberals, do NOT call Rush, it's just counterproductive.

Contacting Lou Dobbs is definitely worthwhile as he is already talking about the "assault on the middle class". Getting him to mention politology and the coalition could help build more momentum.

Finally, keep letting us know of visible media mentions of this effort.

Medium Term

I would love to hear about people putting together personal lobbying visits to the offices of their Representatives. From the comments:

Time-consuming but powerful are personal lobbying delegations with the Congressperson -- four to six constituents, ideally people with some weight in the community, even better if they are active in the Rep's party. This will require persistent letter and phone work with the Congressperson's scheduler (see congress.org), as well as recruiting and preparation of the group. They can happen in the DC office or at a district office.

The public doesn't really have a lobbying organization, so it's up to average citizens to set up meetings. Here in Oregon, Wu and Hooley definitely need to be paid a visit, and I'd love to hear of the results.

There are also some interesting musings from a legal perspective about this bill. First, Just One Minute has an idea about a "killer amendment" for the bill. I don't know who to contact in the House about ideas such as these, but I will link to and track efforts from people who want to follow up.

Second, via a private note:


There is one large legal flaw in the bill no one seems to have noticed. The means testing provision separates people by state. Simply put, there's no equal protection under the law. A different standard is applied to citizens from different states. That appears unconstitutional from the start.

I don't know if that is inconsistent with equal protection or not, but it's worth considering.

Support Materials

Here is the text of the letter that twenty Democrats sent to Hastert. See the bottom for their names. Contact them to tell them what you think.


The Honorable J. Dennis Hastert
Speaker
U.S. House of Representatives
H-232, The Capitol
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Speaker:

We write to encourage you to bring bankruptcy reform legislation to the House floor as soon as the Senate completes its consideration of the bill. The New Democrat Coalition has backed common sense bankruptcy reform in the past and helped in passing the bankruptcy reform bill by overwhelming margins in the House of Representatives during the 108th Congress.

Over the last several years, we have worked to advance reasonable and balanced legislation that would require individuals who have the ability to repay their debts to do so, while preserving the important safety net of bankruptcy under Chapter 7 for those who truly need it. We believe that responsible bankruptcy reform embodies the New Democrat principle of personal responsibility, while at the same time adding important new consumer protections such as requiring enhanced credit card disclosure information and encouraging participation in consumer credit counseling.

It is our hope that the House of Representatives will consider this important piece of legislation in an expedited manner. We stand ready to work with you and our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass bankruptcy reform into law.

Sincerely,

Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher
Rep. Adam Smith
Rep. Ron Kind
Rep. Artur Davis
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy
Rep. John Larson
Rep. Stephanie Herseth
Rep. Dennis Moore
Rep. Mike McIntyre
Rep. Joe Crowley
Rep. Jay Israel
Rep. David Wu
Rep. Diane Hooley
Rep. Melissa Bean
Rep. Jim Davis
Rep. Harold E. Ford, Jr.
Rep. Ed Case
Rep. Jay Inslee
Rep. Shelley Berkeley
Rep. Gregory W. Meeks

Bankruptcy: Write Your Congresscritters

Posted by tunesmith at 12:01 AM

Thanks to The People's Email Network, we now have a tool up to easily allow you to write your Congresscritters from Politology.

Visit our Write Your Congresscritters page to send emails. You will type in your address and your message, and the message about the bankruptcy bill will automatically go to your own Senators and your own Representative.

In addition, PEN will be giving updates to members of the House Judiciary Committee about the level of opposition to this bill.

Note - it's viral. You can include email addresses to contacts that you want to enlist, and they will be sent information.

March 13, 2005

Bankruptcy: Bipartisan Letter To The House

Posted by tunesmith at 10:15 PM

A large, bipartisan group of law professors who teach bankruptcy law have drafted a letter (pdf) to be sent to the House Judiciary committee, where the bill currently resides. They strongly oppose the bill - it's worth a read if you want a methodical outline of the case against this bill.

The bankruptcy filing rate is a symptom. It is not the disease. Some people do abuse the bankruptcy system, but the overwhelming majority of people in bankruptcy are in financial distress as a result of job loss, medical expense, divorce, or a combination of those causes. In our view, the fundamental change over the last ten years has been the way that credit is marketed to consumers. Credit card lenders have become more aggressive in marketing their products, and a large, very profitable, market has emerged in subprime lending. Increased risk is part of the business model. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that as credit is extended to riskier and riskier borrowers, a greater number default when faced with a financial reversal. Nonetheless, consumer lending remains highly profitable, even under current law.

The added risk of Chapter 7 bankruptcies is already built into their financial models. This bill rescues no one.

March 12, 2005

Bankruptcy: Weekend Action Items

Posted by tunesmith at 05:34 PM

This weekend is mostly about researching and preparing for the House. We're need to identify where the bankruptcy bill will begin - it appears it is the House Judiciary Committee or a subcommittee - and identify their members. There's already some work being done to that end in the comments. Please weigh in. Rep. Cannon appears to have a key role. From my limited impression of him, he's not devoid of reason. We also need to know the bill number, if it exists yet.

If anyone is willing to do some typesetting work or marketing writing, I'd love to host a pdf flyer that we can print out and drop off in public places. Cribbing the main statement from the original entry is fine. I don't care whether it is politology-branded or not, but it should have directions on where to go to participate. In that vein, if a graphic designer could come up with a badge, brand, or 150x200 box that other blogs could host on their weblog to express support, that would help as well.

I would like pointers to whatever tools there are these days that allow easy creation of Letters to Editor, to focus on local media.

Finally, I'd like more thoughts on exactly how to target a couple of media opinion leaders or PACs; ones that we have a good shot at affecting. I want instructions on how to call into Rush's show, when he's on, and whether he could be convinced to weigh in against this bill with enough prodding from conservative listeners. Any other such organization that could release a statement of opposition after some prodding would be good to target, but we shouldn't get spread out too thin.

This will take us through Sunday. In the meantime, use the comments and private notes to help come up with action items for the first few days of the week.

Bankruptcy Coalition: How This Will Work

Posted by tunesmith at 01:30 AM

We're doing a good job at sticking to this so far. We didn't have major A-list "new links" on Friday, but traffic actually rose from the previous day, so the site is proving sticky. Keep up the interest.

The "coalition" so far has meant many, many blogs linking to this site and expressing support. There are a lot of otherwise-partisan bloggers that are positively thrilled to be working with their counterparts on this issue. This is obviously newsworthy by itself.

But the other newsworthy aspect is that there is a lot more latent opposition to this bill that everyone first thought. We need to work fast for it to have any affect.

This means putting the coalition to work. Here's what we will do:

I will be creating "Action" posts, hopefully one per weekday and weekend. I do not have a mailing list set up to send out Action Items by email - I always thought that was fairly lame, anyway. Instead, this effort will need to rely on weblogs continuing to read the site, and passing on the links to the Action entries. Bookmark the site, or subscribe to its RSS Feed.

The content of the Action posts will basically be determined by reader input. So, send ideas, either in comments, or through private notes.

At this point, it looks like a four-point effort:

The Senate

Yes, the Senate voted. But I'm coming more to the belief that there is real potential here. There was gross cynicism in that 74-25 vote. Expedience was not appropriate in this matter, and we could make it play into our hands. If we are of the belief that we could have changed the Senate vote if we had had more time, then let's use that time to make them regret it. I don't mean that as hyperbole, I mean to actually elicit statements from Senators, forcing them to defend their votes. I'm going to look more into a congress tracking tool over the weekend so we can track what they say.

The House

There will first be committees to focus on. Then it will be the House in general. Evidently, there are several Democrats that wrote an anxious letter asking for quick passage on the Bill (anyone have a link?); it could be beneficial to target them especially. (One of them, Wu, is right here in Portland.)

The Media

Targeting the politicians directly isn't enough. It might be possible to peel off a couple of Republicans, but in general, the Republican majority is far too disciplined - they vote as a bloc. The only way to turn the Republicans is to push them to a critical mass where they found a politically feasible way to change their approach. Their tipping point is invisible, so it's a matter of finding as many different pressure points as possible.

I am thinking: target local media. And also try to turn conservative opinion makers. Just One Minute had earlier asked if Rush could be turned. It's worth exploring. I already saw Lou Dobbs talking about the "assault on the middle class".

There's a separate part to this - PACs. There are a ton of conservative PACs that could possibly be convinced to share public reservations on the bill. And maybe MoveOn can be convinced to reconsider their stance.

The Offline World

I think this needs an offline component. I do not know how effective visits to Congressional offices are when the Congresscritters are in Washington. Interested in opinions here. We also need something that can be printed out and dropped off in public places. I am not a graphic designer, so if you have graphic design or marketing-writing skills, please volunteer with some publication materials. It would be beneficial if they were written from a centrist or conservative perspective. Finally, some have expressed interest in things like marches or boycotts or mass protests. Those sorts of things need far broader support to be meaningful, but I will highlight those with proven momentum.


I recognize that 95% of us are interested in being given assignments so we can get to work. But, I do need help from those that are interested in actually designing tactics and strategy and fashioning an action plan that has a chance at leading to results with the resources we have. Contact me if you can help in that regard. (Please show your hand; if you write with "I can help come up with ideas, sign me up!" you've missed the point entirely. :-) )

Weekend Action Items coming soon.

March 11, 2005

Bankruptcy: Comment Follow-up

Posted by tunesmith at 07:09 PM

We've had some great participation today in the comments and in private notes.

First, Scott Lewis has done some great research comparing the votes of the various Senators to the campaign contributions they got from the credit card companies. One such stat: "Yea" votes got $26,389 in their peak years. "Nay" votes got $14,888. The spread was greater among Democrats alone. Go read.

There's a lot of anger and embarrssment on the Democratic side about Reid's "Yea" vote. He did not set a good example to his colleagues. From the comments:

I just got off the phone with Senator Reid's office. I asked why he voted for the bankruptcy bill. The woman who answered said that the senator has a statement that will be going up on his site. [...] Long and short, she eventually checked with the press office and told me that the statement may go up later today or tomorrow or Monday. She also said that it might not go up at all. I told her that it would be more efficient for the senator to post the statement, rather than have folks keep calling to about this bill. She said, "well I guess people are going to have to continue calling." I think we need to have the phones ring off the hook at his office before we will see any statement. Please ask anyone you know who cares about this to call Senator Reid.
And, a comment from Fact-esque:
I talked to his office too. The line that got me was "It's an improvement over current law. " Yeah? Prove that, Harry.

Among the left, there's been some curiousness about the blogs linking to this site - specifically, a lot of popular conservative blogs, a lot of smaller liberal blogs, and almost no A-list liberal blogs (aside from the public-driven Recommended List over at daily kos). I basically attribute this to there not being an extremely popular liberal blog that enjoys regularly linking to folks outside its immediate network. (Update: I spoke too soon, and missed the support from Talking Points Memo. Wonderful!)

Continue checking out BizzyBlog for more details on how the bill will impact consumers. BizzyBlog makes the point that the companies that will be advantaging from this bill are the same ones that are proving so incompetent in protecting our personal, private information from identity theft.

This is not the only left/right coalition out there. We'll link to other such "orthogonal politics" sites. The Online Coalition is about the FEC. More blogs want to inhabit translator roles; this new blog expressed such a desire in the comments.

Since Chapter 13 doesn't mean low fees, it would hurt the economy:

When you have people paying outrageously high fees and outrageously high interest on their credit card debt, you drain money away from productive portions of the economy. When people fall behind in their bills it is not rare nowdays for credit card companies to charge interest rates on the order of 30%, plus high late fees, plus overlimit fees.

Finally, taking a suggestion from Simian Brain, here is the same table as before, limited by the Senators that are up for re-election in 2006.

AZKyl (R): (202) 224-4521
DECarper (D): (202) 224-2441
FLNelson (D): (202) 224-5274
INLugar (R): (202) 224-4814
MESnowe (R): (202) 224-5344
MIStabenow (D): (202) 224-4822
MOTalent (R): (202) 224-6154
MSLott (R): (202) 224-6253
MTBurns (R): (202) 224-2644
NDConrad (D): (202) 224-2043
NENelson (D): (202) 224-6551
NMBingaman (D): (202) 224-5521
NVEnsign (R): (202) 224-6244
OHDeWine (R): (202) 224-2315
PASantorum (R): (202) 224-6324
RIChafee (R): (202) 224-2921
TXHutchison (R): (202) 224-5922
UTHatch (R): (202) 224-5251
VAAllen (R): (202) 224-4024
VTJeffords (I): (202) 224-5141
WIKohl (D): (202) 224-5653
WVByrd (D): (202) 224-3954
WYThomas (R): (202) 224-6441

Also, Lieberman and Feinstein deserve mention, because despite their "Nay" vote, Lieberman voted for cloture, and Feinstein voted it out of committee.

Wall Street Journal on Bankruptcy Bill

Posted by tunesmith at 06:04 PM

There's an article over at Daily Kos that talks about Wall Street Radio's recent feature on the bankruptcy bill. There are evidently concerns about it being quoted out of context, so I won't excerpt it, but go give it a skim if you're looking for more reinforcement.

March 10, 2005

Bankruptcy: Friday Action

Posted by tunesmith at 08:43 PM

Update: Please check the main weblog regularly to keep up on new action items! Bookmark or subscribe to the rss feed.

House efforts will happen next week. I'll be working on this a bit over the weekend. If you have ideas for a good web tool that would help with this, let me know. Or if you have perl/php/mysql skills to donate.

For Friday - express your displeasure to the Senators who voted yes. Up to you as to how, but phone calls are better than email. No, this doesn't exactly make a difference in the vote, but it's Friday, and it's a good way to vent and reset for next week. Plus, it might do some good.

Here's the table of the Senators who voted yes, and their phone numbers. Note: you do not have an ethical obligation to limit yourself to your own party! Make the point this is a bipartisan issue to the public. If they live in your state, call them, even if they aren't of your party. (Use your judgment on calling an out of state Senator.)

AKMurkowski (R): (202) 224-6665
Stevens (R): (202) 224-3004
ALSessions (R): (202) 224-4124
Shelby (R): (202) 224-5744
ARLincoln (D): (202) 224-4843
Pryor (D): (202) 224-2353
AZKyl (R): (202) 224-4521
McCain (R): (202) 224-2235
COAllard (R): (202) 224-5941
Salazar (D): (202) 224-5852
DEBiden (D): (202) 224-5042
Carper (D): (202) 224-2441
FLMartinez (R): (202) 224-3041
Nelson (D): (202) 224-5274
GAChambliss (R): (202) 224-3521
Isakson (R): (202) 224-3643
HIInouye (D): (202) 224-3934
IAGrassley (R): (202) 224-3744
IDCraig (R): (202) 224-2752
Crapo (R): (202) 224-6142
INBayh (D): (202) 224-5623
Lugar (R): (202) 224-4814
KSBrownback (R): (202) 224-6521
Roberts (R): (202) 224-4774
KYBunning (R): (202) 224-4343
McConnell (R): (202) 224-2541
LALandrieu (D): (202) 224-5824
Vitter (R): (202) 224-4623
MECollins (R): (202) 224-2523
Snowe (R): (202) 224-5344
MIStabenow (D): (202) 224-4822
MNColeman (R): (202) 224-5641
MOBond (R): (202) 224-5721
Talent (R): (202) 224-6154
MSCochran (R): (202) 224-5054
Lott (R): (202) 224-6253
MTBaucus (D): (202) 224-2651
Burns (R): (202) 224-2644
NCBurr (R): (202) 224-3154
Dole (R): (202) 224-6342
NDConrad (D): (202) 224-2043
NEHagel (R): (202) 224-4224
Nelson (D): (202) 224-6551
NHGregg (R): (202) 224-3324
Sununu (R): (202) 224-2841
NMBingaman (D): (202) 224-5521
Domenici (R): (202) 224-6621
NVEnsign (R): (202) 224-6244
Reid (D): (202) 224-3542
OHDeWine (R): (202) 224-2315
Voinovich (R): (202) 224-3353
OKCoburn (R): (202) 224-5754
Inhofe (R): (202) 224-4721
ORSmith (R): (202) 224-3753
PASantorum (R): (202) 224-6324
Specter (R): (202) 224-4254
RIChafee (R): (202) 224-2921
SCDeMint (R): (202) 224-6121
Graham (R): (202) 224-5972
SDJohnson (D): (202) 224-5842
Thune (R): (202) 224-2321
TNAlexander (R): (202) 224-4944
Frist (R): (202) 224-3344
TXCornyn (R): (202) 224-2934
Hutchison (R): (202) 224-5922
UTBennett (R): (202) 224-5444
Hatch (R): (202) 224-5251
VAAllen (R): (202) 224-4024
Warner (R): (202) 224-2023
VTJeffords (I): (202) 224-5141
WIKohl (D): (202) 224-5653
WVByrd (D): (202) 224-3954
WYEnzi (R): (202) 224-3424
Thomas (R): (202) 224-6441

Update: Politology had its first programming bug. ;-) There will be many, many more. My perl script (not me!) confused the phone numbers for Senators Nelson. Apologies, corrected, and thanks for letting me know.

Bankruptcy Bill Passes Senate 74-25

Posted by tunesmith at 03:43 PM

At the last minute several Senators made what they judged to be an expedient choice, and voted "Yes". Senator Clinton abstained due to her husband's surgery. I'll defer to others to capture the ridiculousness of today's vote in their ventings, and perhaps quote some of them here.

We knew that it was late enough that we probably wouldn't be able to affect the Senate vote - we knew that this was more about Taking Names than Kicking Ass. Gear up for the next step. At this point there looks to be more reward in targeting the media than targeting the House, but both should be done.

The media, the house, the committee, and the President. Feel free to suggest ideas.

Update: Here's the roll call.

MSNBC Connected on Politology

Posted by tunesmith at 02:30 PM

Thanks to Jeff Jarvis and MSNBC Connected for the mention (video) today.

We can talk about left versus right until we're red (or blue) in the face, but there are some matters that are about the politicians versus the public. The blogosphere is on the side of the public.

Contact your Senators offices right NOW (they are still debating) to register your disapproval to this bill. There are many Senators making a political judgment that a "YES" vote is a safe vote, and they need to be warned that they may be in for a rude surprise.

The bill's passage needs to at least be delayed so there is more room for public comment.

The Motley Fool on Bankruptcy

Posted by tunesmith at 01:53 PM

The Motley Fool has an article on the bankruptcy bill, as well. They've always struck me as nonpartisan, but are coming out against this bill.

Bankruptcy Bill: Statements of Opposition

Posted by tunesmith at 01:46 PM

From the comments:

As a conservative GOP bankruptcy lawyer, I oppose the proposed changes. However they are couched, they are based upon reactionary social attitudes we haven't heard since the 1920s: that it's somehow "dishonest" and "immoral" for consumers to file bankruptcy. The idea that our entrepreneurial and credit-happy economic system encourages taking risks and borrowing on credit, and that some risk-takers will fail, or credit card holders overextend themselves, is the foundation of the bankruptcy system. If an honest debtor goes into debt to take an economic risk, whether wisely or foolishly, and fails, he or she can get a bankruptcy discharge, and a fresh start in life. The fresh start is not cost-free: the debtor must surrender all assets (except for homestead and exempt property) to the bankruptcy trustee. Among the mean-spirited aspects of the legislation is its attack on bankruptcy lawyers, with requirements that we certify that our clients are telling the truth on their bankruptcy schedules. Clients already swear that their schedules are true under penalty of perjury; lawyers generally lack the resources to audit their indigent clients' books and records for accuracy. Under the current bankruptcy system, creditors willing to pay for audits can do so. Requiring routine audits, and shifting the costs of those audits to indigent consumer debtors and their lawyers adds an additional and cruel economic cost to bankruptcy filings without any real corresponding benefit, a result clearly contemplated by this legislation. Creating the potential to set lawyer against client is only one reason these proposed amendments are offensive.

And the other side of the legal aisle:

The Stinging Nettle is in full support.

Thanks for doing this. I am a Bankruptcy practitioner, usually representing creditors. This law is horrible.


Bankruptcy: The Cost of a Yes Vote

Posted by tunesmith at 12:24 PM

The Senate is still debating this turkey. Our best hope for the Senate right now is to convince them to delay passage. They need to be told that there is significant, late-breaking opposition to this bill.

Congress needs to understand that there is a cost to ramming a bill through so quickly. Some are voting on strong views, but many congresscritters are going to vote Yes on this because they have made a political judgment that it is a safe vote. They need to understand that it could very be very dangerous in hindsight. Threats of supporting a primary opponent might have weight.

If any of the conservative high-traffic blogs want to try and whip up some phone opposition to conservative Senators, it'd be interesting to see what happens.

March 09, 2005

Bankruptcy Protest: A Coalition

Posted by tunesmith at 11:40 PM
Be sure to bookmark or blogroll Politology.US to keep track. Read the main blog for new entries!
Next Action: here.
Bill Passes, 75-24: Remarks here
2:24 PM PST: This coalition was featured on MSNBC Connected's "blog roundup" today - thanks to Jeff Jarvis for the mention. Here's the video. Brief mention on CNN too (video).

The opposition against the bankruptcy bill crosses party lines, among the grassroots.

The support for the bankruptcy bill crosses party lines among Congress.

This is clearly an example where the interests of Congress are divorced from the interests of the public. This bill is about politicians and lobbyists, not the American public.

So we should call them - a lot. Let your congresscritters know that you do not support the bill, that it does nothing for American citizens, and that if the politicians let the credit card companies dictate their vote, we will hold them responsible.

There's appetite for a blogosphere-wide effort against the bankruptcy bill. I will be including a list of conservative and liberal weblogs that are signed on to this effort. All you need to do is leave a comment, preferably a trackback (now enabled), or drop an email, and endorse the effort on your own weblog.

The final Senate vote is expected for today, March 10th. Call your Senator's office today. The House battle is coming soon. For more details, click "Continue Reading".

Updates:

BuzzMachine will be discussing the emerging opposition.

Read this weblog for future updates on the same subject. Bookmark, rss feed...

Instapundit links to the effort.

JustOneMinute has good ideas:

Folks who plan to fight on (don't rush me) ought to check something - where is Rush Limbaugh positioned on this bill?  Could he be re-positioned? (...) Last point - I am not going to instruct activists in how to boil water for coffee, but - is there a House committee this bill needs to clear?  Are there Congressman who might be swayed by phone calls, e-mail, and a letter campaign to their home-town newspapers?  Who are the targets?

Tacitus and Redstate have front-page action alerts on the bill:

The bankruptcy bill before the Congress is bad law, bad practice, and an example of bad faith with the common people whom elected officials presumably serve.

Other sites linking up:
PowerPundit
Think Progress
Heretical Ideas
Centerfield
Insane Troll Logic
Pinko Feminist Hellcat (heh)
(links taken from Technorati)

Here is some of what conservative bloggers are saying about the bankruptcy bill:

Instapundit says:

I'm deeply skeptical of the bankruptcy bill in front of Congress now, and this report on credit-card industry practices goes a long way toward explaining why. Credit extended to people who can't handle it, absurd hidden fees, high interest rates, etc.: There's a lot of scamming here. The argument, of course, is that people who sign up for credit card accounts ought to know what they're getting into. But shouldn't the companies that extend credit to people who obviously can't handle it be held to the same standard?

bizzyblog has a rundown of cross-blogosphere opposition.

RedState has a discussion that shows a lot of conservative opposition to the bill.

Free Republic has opposition to the bill.

Here are the top ten states in terms of bankruptcies - meaning, the states that will be hit hardest by this bill:

1 Utah
2 Tennessee
3 Georgia
4 Nevada
5 Indiana
6 Alabama
7 Arkansas
8 Ohio
9 Mississippi
10 Idaho

Leave comments for more examples of bipartisan grassroots opposition to this turkey, and suggestions for a unified action we could take. Right now the best suggestion is a branded "call-in" day.

March 08, 2005

Bankruptcy Fallout

Posted by tunesmith at 11:09 PM

It's hard to be sure, but I believe March 8th, 2005 will end up a key date for the 2006 and 2008 elections. But it may have even more of an impact on the blogging community.

First, let's define terms. Blogging is going to end up much bigger that people writing entries in reverse chronological order and commenting on them. The blogging community refers both to those who are doing that in the present day, as well as those who participate in what we evolve to be.

Today was a key day for the bankruptcy bill. I'll tell you, I don't know a lot about the bankruptcy bill. A lot of us don't. That's part of the problem. But we all do know that there is something very, very wrong with it. You can just tell by the stench from Washington.

We did what we knew how to do. Josh Marshall set up a Bankruptcy page, but only a couple of days before the key votes. Atrios hosted a "bankruptcy day" where participants were to call and nag various congresscritters. And there were a handful of diaries over at Daily Kos, as always.

It wasn't even close to enough. And today, the blogosphere got a big dose of reality. We're alone in this, and we do not yet have near the amount of power we need to do things right.

First, here is the list of Senators who voted for cloture, which did away with the filibuster threat:

Biden (D-DE)
Byrd (D-WV)
Carper (D-DE)
Conrad (D-ND)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kohl (D-WI)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lieberman (D-CT)
Lincoln (D-AR)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Pryor (D-AR)
Salazar (D-CO)
Stabenow (D-MI)

In addition, Feinstein (D-CA) voted to let it proceed from committee.

On a purely political level, some of these Senators made the right play. But some of them miscalculated. It's too early to tell who's who yet, but the hints of fallout have already began. There is not a lot of Democratic cheerleading going on in the online community today, and to many, a line was drawn by people with long memories. Atrios and Max have predictions of Senators who will never be President because of this.

It's a fair criticism to say that the bloggers are just being dramatic at this point. But I think it's whistling past a graveyard to dismiss it too quickly. We fueled the transition of financing from big corporations to grassroots this election cycle. And the influence of our opinion leaders isn't exactly shrinking. We are the future fundraisers, technology leaders, and PR folks of future campaigns. At the same time that we're forced to accept the lack of power we have now, one gets the sense that the community has recommitted to taking more power in the future.

Now, what caused this failure? We'll explore this in a future post.

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