Author Archives: jtellerelsberg

Taking bets on new tax cuts

The first President Clinton focused his 1992 campaign with the motto, “it’s the economy, stupid.” As the second President Bush enters his final year in office, with the pressure on to prevent a total rout of the Republican Party next November, he’s discovering a new concern for the economy himself.

President Bush said Tuesday that he is watching very carefully to see if the struggling U.S. economy needs a short-term boost from the federal government.

“We’re listening to different ideas about what may or may not need to happen,” he said. “We’ll work through this. We’ll work through this period of time.”

He wouldn’t comment on any specific ideas he is considering, such as tax cuts aimed at lessening the chance of a recession. “We’ll look at all different options.”

On Monday, Bush talked about recent indicators that have been “increasingly mixed,” a new recognition of the challenges now facing the economy, primarily resulting from a severe housing crisis. Previous Bush statements have paid attention to the financial fears of many American families and the effects of the housing slump, but focused on what he calls the strong fundamentals underpinning the economy… [cont’d]

How shocked! shocked! will we be if he ends up pushing for new tax cuts designed to work some trickle down magic?

Privatized social security–you can’t lose (even if you already have)

Devilstower at DailyKos has done us the favor of a great analysis of the past few years experiment in privatized social security.

Congratulations, Citizen!
by Devilstower
Sun Dec 02, 2007 at 10:29:22 AM PST

Back on 2001, right after Inauguration Day, $10,000 of your Social Security funds were placed in a special private personal magic pony account where it would enjoy the explosive benefits of the our surging prosperity, and the Longest Peacetime Terra-fightin’ Expansion in HISTORY… History… history. All of this made possible by cutting taxes on the productive people at the top of the food chain and removing those regulations that prevented our financial institutions from using all their imagination in creating new ways to loan give… to give you money! We at the Treasury know there was some discussion about not going along with the president’s plan, but I think you’ll agree that what we’ve learned over the last seven years is that the president can do anything he wants and no one will do more than talk about stopping him. So we just did it! Say, why not send us a subpoena? That’d be a hoot!

Now, as we close in on the last year of this glorious wondertime, here’s a quick report on how your outsourced, privately-managed fund has done.


The epitome of an Econ-Atrocity: health insurance sicko as can be

It’s hard to think of something that counts as an “econ-atrocity” more than the health insurance industry’s practice of paying bonuses to employees who meet targets for cancelling policies of sick customers or refusing to cover the care that the customers need. My uncle sent me this link to the latest revelation published in the LA Times:

Health insurer tied bonuses to dropping sick policyholders

By Lisa Girion, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 9, 2007
One of the state’s largest health insurers set goals and paid bonuses based in part on how many individual policyholders were dropped and how much money was saved.

Woodland Hills-based Health Net Inc. avoided paying $35.5 million in medical expenses by rescinding about 1,600 policies between 2000 and 2006. During that period, it paid its senior analyst in charge of cancellations more than $20,000 in bonuses based in part on her meeting or exceeding annual targets for revoking policies, documents disclosed Thursday showed.

As my uncle put in his email’s subject line, “did somebody say, ‘single-payer health plan?'”

MoveOn moves on climate bills

See the blog post I wrote for my employer’s website.

A friend of mine, who knows from my own previous email missives that there are important things afoot in Congress regarding pending legislation on global warming, forwarded me this message from

From: Ilyse Hogue, Political Action
Sent: Tue, 30 Oct 2007 12:23 pm
Subject: Corporate windfall or clean energy economy

Click here to add your name: “Any climate legislation that gives “˜pollution credits’ away for free means windfall profits for big polluters. Congress should ensure that corporations pay taxpayers for these credits. The money raised should help develop clean energy sources and support the workers and consumers affected by the shift to clean energy.”


A back-of-the-envelope sense of the socio-economic impact of reducing fossil fuel usage to fight global warming

I’ve been writing posts recently advocating for a Sky Trust style program to
1) cap carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels
2) auction the permits within that cap
3) pay out revenue from the auction to each American on a per-person basis.

One thing I’ve wondered about is, “what will the impact be on people for reducing the availability of fossil fuels by the amount necessary to aggressively fight global warming?”

The first part of the answer is to see how much reduction of fossil fuels will be necessary. The standard goal being targeted in currently proposed legislation is to cut carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2050. That gives us roughly 40 years (since any program will only begin in a couple years at best), and, depending on the precise details of the program will require annual reductions–for the first bunch of years, at least–of between 2% and 4%. Read more

“Little Green Lies”

From BusinessWeek:

Little Green Lies
The sweet notion that making a company environmentally friendly can be not just cost-effective but profitable is going up in smoke. Meet the man wielding the torch

Sobering thoughts from a dedicated environmentalist business-reformer. Among other things, what this shows is that real change in business behavior won’t come until the economics changes. The price of creating pollution must go up–when (if) it does, the return-on-investment equation will change, and that’s the best hope for changing business behavior and achieving real reductions in pollution. Ideally, this will take the form of a cap-and-trade program where all emission permits are auctioned and revenue recycled as per-capita payments to all Americans, as championed by Peter Barnes.

Telephone justice

Kudos to the folks at the Center for Constitutional Rights and their allies in the struggle to end exploitative telephone contracts in New York state prisons. The problem is not restricted to New York, but that’s where the Telephone Justice coalition has been focusing its efforts.

Typically, states receive kickback commissions from the phone companies who receive the contract, creating a situation in which there is no incentive to seek competitive bids. Unsurprisingly rates for such calls are well above market rates, as much as $6 per minute. The phone companies and prison officials justify the high prices by saying there is a need for added security measures. There is little evidence to justify this claim, especially since calls from all Federal prisons cost just 7¢ a minute.

In any case, the records show that companies and states often make millions of dollars in profits from surcharges and inflated per-minute rates. In New York State, 57.5 percent of the profits – over $200 million since 1996 – were kicked back to the state in the form of commissions.

So it turns out that crime does pay, only it’s the state and telephone companies that are getting paid, not the perpetrator or victim of the crime. The joys of being the middleman. Is it possible that schemes like this contribute to state legislatures’ ongoing practice of finding new ways to put and keep people in jail, from “three strikes” laws to mandatory minimums for victimless crimes? State governments like to find ways to generate revenue without imposing general taxes, and ripping money off from the families of inmates is probably a good way to do so without incurring the wrath of most voters. That’s just one of the arguments made by lawyers at the CCR who helped to end this practice.

The contracts are also unjustifiable as a matter of public policy. The profits returned to the states are treated as income – in New York, they are said to pay for basic prisoner services such as health care and release clothes – and this system is analogous to an unlegislated, regressive, and highly selective tax, under which specific individuals are asked to bear the financial burdens that are the proper responsibility of the state. By imposing such burdens on families of prisoners, the practice resembles a form of collective punishment.

Given the class divide in who goes to jail, and the divide in who tends to vote, relatively few voters are from families with someone in jail. So the people who are being squeezed have no clout with the lawmakers. Well, in New York they’ve managed to earn some clout through the efforts of the Telephone Justice coalition, which was launched by the CCR.

Since 1999, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has been fighting on the ground and in the courts to end the exploitative telephone contract between New York State and MCI/Verizon which charged family members 630% more for collect phone calls from their loved ones in prison than the average consumer. Single-carrier collect call systems are the norm for telephone service in prisons across the United States. Prisoners may only call collect, and loved ones who accept the calls must accept the terms dictated by the chosen phone company. At a time when prisoners are increasingly housed in facilities hundreds of miles away from their home communities, telephones become for many the only way to stay in touch.

This year, after three years of tireless work, we won. [cont’d]

Next step: take the campaign to all the other states. (See the campaign’s endorsers page for links to some other telephone justice efforts around the country.

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