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Archive for the ‘Economy’ Category

Hundreds arrested in sustained White House tar sands pipeline protests

Posted by Matthew Koehler on September 1, 2011

David Dougherty with The Real News takes a very good in-depth look at the continuing White House protests and the environmental and social issues surrounding the Alberta Tar Sands and the Keystone XL pipeline. Protesters are demanding that President Obama use his veto power to halt proposed expansion of Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada, through Montana and the Great Plains, and then down to refineries in Texas along the Gulf of Mexico.

Also, I just ran across this new report (download pdf) from Oil Change International called Exporting Energy Security: Keystone XL Exposed.


Posted in Climate Change, Economy, Energy, Green jobs, Obama Administration, Unsustainable | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

HuffPost: Senators Back Delay In Crackdown On Fees That Yield Billions For Banks

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 16, 2011

As reported by Zack Carter of the Huffington Post:

WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, a group of nine senators led by Montana Democrat Jon Tester put their names behind legislation to delay the Federal Reserve’s upcoming crackdown on the “swipe fees” that banks charge merchants for processing debit card transactions — a huge moneymaker for the banking industry whose continuation is at the top of the industry’s lobbying wishlist.

Retailers complain that the costs of high swipe fees, also known as “interchange” fees, hurt their business and are ultimately passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices. A provision in last year’s financial-regulatory overhaul requires the Fed to limit such fees, and in December, the central bank proposed a rule that would cap the levies at 12 cents per transaction, a nearly 73 percent drop from the current average of 44 cents per transaction.

Merchants and financial reform advocates celebrated the move, but the banks are obviously loath to give up such a big piece of any revenue stream, let alone the swipe fees that industry analysts at The Nilson Report estimate yield $1.35 billion every month, or $16.2 billion per year. (Half of that total, according to Nilson, goes to just 10 banks.)

Tester’s bill, the Debit Interchange Fee Study Act, would postpone the regulation for two years’ worth of further evaluation — and chances for the bank lobby to erase it entirely….And while Tester and Corker were issuing their statements, the American Bankers Association was holding a meeting on lobbying at the D.C. Marriott Renaissance Hotel in Chinatown. At the meeting, which HuffPost attended, the banking group’s COO, Michael Hunter, coached a packed ballroom of community bankers on ways to convince key lawmakers and staffers to support the bill. The Senate bill and its House companion, Hunter said, were the ABA’s top legislative priorities for the coming year.

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Tom Power on source of state gov’t budget difficulties across US

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 4, 2011

(A good one from University of Montana economist Tom Power, which appeared earlier in the week on MT Public Radio. – mk)

The latest political fad is to blame the budget difficulties at both the federal and state levels on government employees, in particular on their wages, benefits, and right to bargain collectively. There is something massively disorienting about this picture because it involves a distorted rewriting our recent economic history and the basic facts about government employment.

Federal, state, and local government budgets are under stress right now because of the financial collapse that triggered the Great Recession. As financial markets melted down and housing values plummeted, financial and construction workers were laid off wholesale, households stopped spending as much money and started saving so that they had some financial cushion if their family got caught up in the cascading layoffs. Faced with a drop in consumer spending and tight credit markets, businesses shelved expansion plans and did the opposite, laying off workers throughout the economy. Business profits tumbled, wage payments shrank, capital gains disappeared and were replaced with capital losses. The flow of tax revenues to federal, state, and local governments declined dramatically.

But governments still had to meet their usual obligations to put police on the streets, firefighters in fire stations, and teachers in schools. The federal government continued to face the cost of two wars and the world’s mightiest military force spread across the globe. Local governments still had to plow the snow and repair the roads.

In addition governments at all levels faced the increased costs associated with supporting the unemployed, coping with rising poverty, hunger, and homelessness and helping communities and families weather the worst economic decline since the Great Depression, 70 years ago.
It was those shrinking government tax revenues and stable or rising demand for government services that created the budget problems that plague governments at all levels.

It was not the wild spending of liberals or the wages and benefits of government workers who created the current budget problems. When the last Democratic president left office in 2000, the federal budget was running a surplus and most state government budgets were being balanced. It was not wild liberals who insisted on fighting two wars and expanding Medicare benefits while dramatically cutting taxes. It was a conservative Republican, George W. Bush. Instead of asking us to sacrifice to fund those wars and expanded benefits by paying higher taxes, he cut our taxes, started running massive deficits, and insisted that the most patriotic thing for citizens to do was to go shopping, assumedly using their credit cards.

Meanwhile, the deregulation fever spread and the economy lurched from one speculative bubble to another. We were all going to get rich, not by making more or better products, but by investing money in more and more risky financial gambles. The Las Vegas casino became our new economic model. The outcome was the near collapse of the nation’s and the world’s financial system and almost a repeat of the Great Depression. Instead, we “merely” got the Great Recession, the economic pain of which is likely to be with us for at least two more years.

It was not overpaid school teachers or police officers who brought this on us. It was outrageously overpaid financial speculators and corporate CEOs. Strangely enough, I do not hear Republican demagogues urging that the government take action against the real culprits behind the financial collapse and resulting Great Recession. The people who became hundred-millionaires in their high-stakes gambling with our livelihoods and homes go unmentioned. The fact that they are back at work wheeling and dealing and raking in their outrageous salaries, bonuses, and commissions is also ignored.

Instead the state budget deficits are blamed on underpaid school teachers and other civil servants. The fact is that the pay received by most state and local government workers, when adjusted for education, skill, and experience is notoriously lower that the pay in the private sector. Many local government workers actually qualify for food stamps.

It is true that politicians found it easier to make government jobs somewhat more attractive not by raising government workers’ salaries but by offering expanded medical and retirement benefits. Like many large corporations, those politicians also did not adequately fund the pension promises they made to their workers. Those promises did not have to be paid for until some distant point in time when the politicians and corporate CEOs would be long gone. As the failure of corporate pension plans across the nation over the last two decades has demonstrated, such financial irresponsibility has not been limited to the public sector.

The attack on teachers, police officers, fire fighters, and other civil servants as the cause of the various states’ budget problems is cheap scapegoating. Public employees did not cause the Great Recession that cutoff the flow of tax revenues to state government coffers. Very wealthy financial speculators did that. It is pure political demagoguery to use the fear and uncertainty generated by the current economic hard times to attack underpaid workers in order to pursue an unrelated political agenda, namely to renew the ongoing attack on workers’ rights to collectively bargain in their workplace.

There is no doubt that there is more economic pain to come and that government employees are going to have to share in it. Most have offered to do so. That is a fact of life during a serious economic downturn. But blaming the hard times and budget deficits on those whose pay and benefits you are cutting and topping that off by unilaterally taking away some of their civil rights, demoting them to second class citizens, is hardly a way of bringing citizens together to weather, as best we can, these very difficult times. When we need to be pulling together as a nation, state, and community, this partisan scapegoating is simply making bad times worse.

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Is the essential being destroyed to produce the superfluous?

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 4, 2011

That’s the central question asked in a new film Forests by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, who was appointed by the United Nations to produce the official film for the International Year of Forests.

Following the success of Home, which was seen by 400 million people, Arthus-Bertrand began producing a short 7-minute film on forests made up of aerial images from Home and the Vu du Ciel television programmes.

“Over the past 60 years we have inflicted more rapid degradation on the planet than in all of human history. When forests are cleared it is not just animals that are in danger. Is the essential being destroyed to produce the superfluous?”

I’m certainly nothing more than a causal film viewer; however, some of the footage in Forests, where Arthus-Bertrand takes us into the canopy of forests around the world, is just mind-boggling and appears three-dimensional. Enjoy all this green on another gray Montana day!

Posted in Climate Change, Economy, Forests, Sustainable Solutions, Unsustainable | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

New poll shows western voters support environmental protections

Posted by Matthew Koehler on February 24, 2011

A new bi-partisan poll of inter-mountain West voters shows that a strong majority (77%) believe that environmental standards and a strong economy can coexist. The findings, from the first-ever Conservation in the West Survey, reveal differences and many points of agreement among voters on issues such as conservation, regulations, renewable energy and other environmental issues.

The poll, conducted by Lori Weigel at Public Opinion Strategies (a Republican firm) and Dave Metz at Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (a Democratic firm), measured environmental attitudes of 2,200 voters in the five Western states January 23-27, 2011. The survey is being released by the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project, which, for the past eight years, has worked to increase public understanding of vital issues affecting the Rockies through annual report cards, free events, discussions and other activities.

“This research underscores an interesting and important trend in these five states,” said Walt Hecox, Ph.D., professor at Colorado College and director of the State of the Rockies Project. “While there are differences of opinion on a range of issues, there are true common values shared between each state, including a commitment to protect the important natural resources that make this region so unique.”

Click here to view the executive summary or entire report.

Below are some interesting Montana-specific findings, especially in the context of the current gutting/eliminating/slashing of environmental protection laws and regulations by the GOP majorities in Helena.

As part of efforts to improve the state economy and generate jobs as quickly as possible, some people have proposed reducing protections on land, air and water that apply to major industries, including construction and agriculture. Would you prefer that:
• Montana reduce protections for land, air and water that apply to major industries: 20%
• Montana maintain protections for land, air and water that apply to major industries: 73%

Even with state budget problems, we should still find money to protect Montana’s land, water and wildlife.
• Strongly or somewhat agree: 81%
• Strongly or somewhat disagree: 16%

We should ensure that undeveloped, public lands in Montana are kept in their natural state.
• Strongly or somewhat agree: 75%
• Strongly or somewhat disagree: 20%

We need to do more to ensure oil, gas and mining companies follow laws protecting our land, air and water.
• Strongly or somewhat agree: 76%
• Strongly or somewhat disagree: 22%

Posted in Climate Change, Economy, Energy, Sustainable Solutions, Unsustainable, US Congress | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Missoula Indy: GOP lawmakers wage war on MT’s enviro laws

Posted by Matthew Koehler on February 17, 2011

Today, the Missoula Independent’s Matthew Frank has an excellent, in-depth article looking at the sorry state of affairs within the 2011 Montana legislature concerning a little something called “the environment.” If you enjoy breathing air, drinking water, eating food and viewing wildlife in a non-Chernobyl, non-Bhopal sort of way, make sure to give this article a read…and take the appropriate actions.

Posted in Climate Change, Coal, Economy, Energy, Unsustainable | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »