Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!!

By the time you start reading this, I’ll be headed back down to Grand Isle to check on the new ‘old’ oil that just surfaced and hit Grand Isle and Elmer’s Island.  The Federal Government and BP are about to leave us since they consider the beaches clean.  Too bad they’re not cleaning up the marshes and the bottom of the Gulf too. I thought I’d start with some of the latest Gulf Gusher news this morning.  This one is from the BBC.  It’s on the impact on animals living at the bottom of the Gulf.

In places the layer of oil and dead animals is 10cm thick

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill “devastated” life on and near the seafloor, a marine scientist has said.

Studies using a submersible found a layer, as much as 10cm thick in places, of dead animals and oil, said Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia.

Knocking these animals out of the food chain will, in time, affect species relevant to fisheries.

She disputed an assessment by BP’s compensation fund that the Gulf of Mexico will recover by the end of 2012.

Millions of barrels of oil spewed into the sea after a BP deepwater well ruptured in April 2010.

Professor Joye told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington that it may be a decade before the full effects on the Gulf are apparent.

She said they concluded the layers had been deposited between June and September 2010 after it was discovered that no sign of sealife from samples taken in May remained.

Professor Joye and her colleagues used the Alvin submersible to explore the bottom-most layer of the water around the well head, known as the benthos.

“The impact on the benthos was devastating,” she told BBC News.

Meanwhile, the BP oil spill claim process has been nearly as devastating to people whose livelihoods depend on the Gulf.  The number of complaints has been tremendous. Another set of ‘final rules’ for damage reimbursement has come out.   Head of the process, Obama appointee Kenneth Feinberg, asked for input from every one for the final criteria.

The final rules also promise to give claimants more data about the status of their claims, including how any payments were calculated and why.

They’ll be bad news to local boat operators who helped with clean-up efforts, though; the final rules say boats used as part of a “Vessels of Opportunity” program can’t get paid for any resulting property damage via the claims facility.

Under the new rules, oyster processors will now be eligible for four times their 2010 documented losses as a lump-sum payment. In earlier versions, only oyster harvesters could get that much.

Although the Facility’s experts predict that the region will fully recover from the spill in 2012 (so claimants in most other fields are being offered a one-time check for double their documented 2010 losses), they estimate it will take oyster beds longer to return to normal.

The final methodology also offers to pay “reasonable costs” of claimants who work with an independent accountant on their claims, and to treat them as part of their losses. That offer should help claimants submit proper documentation to back up their claims; less than 17% had submitted completed 2010 documentation as of Friday, the GCCF said.

BP, for one, submitted a 24-page letter saying that the proposed methodology overstates the region’s losses and that payments were too generous.

More and more information is coming to the surface about the connections between Tea Party politicians, organizers and the John Birch Society.  I’m not sure how many people were aware of  their new governors’ associations and campaign contributors when they voted for him but they should have some awareness now.  You always have to follow the money. No where is this more true than in Wisconsin.

Much of Walker’s critical political support can be credited to a network of right-wing fronts and astroturf groups in Wisconsin supported largely by a single foundation in Milwaukee: the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a $460 million conservative honey pot dedicated to crushing the labor movement.

Walker has deeply entwined his administration with the Bradley Foundation. The Bradley Foundation’s CEO, former state GOP chairman Michele Grebe, chaired Walker’s campaign and headed his transition. But more importantly, the organizations lining up to support Walker are financed by Bradley cash:

The MacIver Institute is a conservative nonprofit that has provided rapid-response attacks on those opposed to Walker’s power grab. MacIver staffers produced a series of videos attacking anti-Walker protesters, including one mocking children. Naturally, the videos have become grist for Fox News and conservative bloggers. In addition, MacIver created studies claiming that Wisconsin teachers and nurses are paid too “generously” and other reports claiming that collective bargaining rights hurt taxpayers. The Bradley Foundation has supported MacIver with over $300,000 in grantsover the last three years alone.

– The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute is a major conservative think tank helping Walker win support from the media. The Institute has funded polls to bolster Walker’s position, and like MacIver, produced a flurry of attack videos against Walker’s political adversaries and a series of pieces supporting his drive against the state’s labor movement. Over the weekend, the Institute secured a pro-Walker item in the New York Times. The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute is supported with over $10 million in grantsfrom the Bradley Foundation.

– As ThinkProgress has reported, the powerful astroturf group Americans for Prosperity not only helped to elect Walker, but bused in Tea Party supporters to hold a pro-Walker demonstration on Saturday. In 2005, the Bradley Foundation earmarked funds to help Koch Industries establish the Americans for Prosperity office in Wisconsin. From 2005-2009, the Bradley Foundation has givenabout$300,000 to Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin (also called Fight Back Wisconsin).

It should be no surprise that Walker’s radicalism is boosted by Bradley money. Today, the Bradley Foundation is controlled by a group of establishment Republicans, along with Washington Post columnist George Will.

I’m not sure if you’ve gotten a chance to check out Yves’ excellent analysis of public vs. private pay scales in Wisconsin from Sunday, but if you haven’t,  you’ll see that the private sector clearly pays more.  One thing that the right wing frequently does when it explores this issue is to throw all public sector and all private sector employees into an average.  This is comparing apples to oranges because public sector jobs frequently take higher levels of education than the overall economy.  Think scientists, teachers, engineers, etc.  Yve’s also point out the roll of the Koch brothers PAC in Walker’s campaign.

First, let’s debunk a couple of issues thrown out by Wisconsin governor Walker’s camp before turning to the real culprit in state budget’s supposed tsuris. The state budget is not in any kind of real peril. The Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated that the state would end fiscal year 2011 with a gross positive balance of $121. 4 million and a net balance (after mandated reserves) of $56.4 million. Walker asserts there is actually a $137 million deficit. But where did that change come from? Lee Sheppard of Forbes estimated that Walker’s tax cuts for businesses would cost at the bare minimum $100 million over the state’s biennial budget cycle. Other sources put a firmer stake in the ground and estimate the costs at at $140 million. Viola! Being nice to your best buddies means you need to go after someone else.

The second major canard is that Wisconsin state employees are overpaid. If any are, it sure isn’t the teachers, nurses, or white collar worker.

There’s a nifty chart there via Menzie Chin at Econbrowser that breaks it down nicely.I’m really getting tired of hearing distorted stories from the right wing on this.  Wisconsin right winger Congressman Paul Ryan is among the seriously confused.  He’s supposed to be the Republican bright bulb on economics too.  You can also add an article at the rather conservative The Economist to those with data showing how public sector employees do not receive better than private sector wages and benefits with an article called  ‘Don’t join the government to get rich’.

But  the Economic Policy Institute tells us that, in Wisconsin, public-sector workers are not in fact paid more than their private-sector counterparts. They’re paid less. You can only make it appear that public-sector workers earn more by ignoring the fact that “both nationally and within Wisconsin, public sector workers are significantly more educated than their private sector counterparts.”

Nationally, 54% of full-time state and local public sector workers hold at least a four-year college degree, compared with 35% of full-time private sector workers. In Wisconsin, the difference is even greater: 59% of full-time Wisconsin public sector workers hold at least a four-year college degree, compared with 30% of full-time private sector workers.

…Public employees receive substantially lower wages, but much better benefits than their private sector counterparts. Wisconsin state and local governments pay public employees 14.2% lower annual wages than comparable private sector employees. On an hourly basis, they earn 10.7% less in wages. College-educated employees earn on average 28% less in wages and 25% less in total compensation in the public sector than in the private sector.

The EPI study does find there’s a class of public-sector workers who earn a bit more than their private-sector counterparts: those without high-school degrees. In other words, district attorneys earn less than corporate lawyers, but janitors at the district attorney’s office may earn more than janitors at a corporate law office—provided the government hasn’t outsourced its facilities staff to the same private company the law office uses, which it may have, since governments have been targeting low-skilled workers for outsourcing precisely because that’s how they can save money.

The article also talks about Republican efforts to let state’s escape their pension obligations through bankruptcy.  I can only imagine how many elderly workers would be impacted by this.  Interestingly enough, Wall Street is against this too since many firms make money managing huge state pension plans and any state bankruptcy would impact bonds issued by states.  It’ll be interesting to see how this unfolds.

It turns out, however, that state governments won’t have the money to pay a lot of those pensions. They’re likely to renege on their promises, and Republicans in Congress want to allow them to declare bankruptcy in order to do so. (Funnily enough, this may be the one area in which labour unions and Wall Street are in alliance: neither one wants states to be allowed to declare bankruptcy.) In other words, as Ezra Klein points out, the public-sector employees got rooked: they accepted lower pay in exchange for retirement benefits, and now the retirement benefits look unlikely to come through.

Pascal Lamy, Director-General of the World Trade Organization has written an article at Project Syndicate indicating that high food prices might be due to protectionist trade policies and a relative small amount of global trade in wheat and other grains. Can the world work together to stop food insecurity?

Export restrictions, for example, play a direct role in aggravating food crises. Indeed, some analysts believe that such restrictions were a principal cause of food-price rises in 2008. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, they were the single most important reason behind the skyrocketing price of rice in 2008, when international trade in rice declined by about 7% (to two million tons) from its record 2007. Similarly, the 2010-2011 price rise for cereals is closely linked to the export restrictions imposed by Russia and Ukraine after both countries were hit by severe drought.

Most people are surprised to learn how shallow international grain markets truly are. Only 7% of global rice production is traded internationally, while only 18% of wheat production and 13% of maize is exported. Additional restraints on trade are a serious threat to net-food-importing countries, where governments worry that such measures could lead to starvation.

Those who impose these restrictions follow a shared logic: they do not wish to see their own populations starve. So the question is: which alternative policies could allow them to meet this goal? The answer to that question consists in more food production globally, more and stronger social safety nets, more food aid, and, possibly, larger food reserves.

A conclusion to the Doha Round of global trade negotiations could constitute part of the medium- to long-term response to food-price crises, by removing many of the restrictions and distortions that have muddied the supply-side picture. A Doha agreement would greatly reduce rich-world subsidies, which have stymied the developing world’s production capacity, and have pushed developing-country producers completely out of the market for certain commodities. The worst kind of subsidies – export subsidies – would be eliminated.

I didn’t cover any of the major international news items today since we’ve been trying to keep live blogs of the global protest contagion.   I’ll try to come back with some pictures and information on the oil in the marshes here in Louisiana so you can see exactly what our government is letting BP get away with.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?