We Need to Hold Banks Accountable (again)

The financial sector is like a hydra and we need to get it under control. The bad news is that bankers have been able to get away with some unethical practices for the last decade or so. The good news is that finally American politicians are taking notice of this and are talking about what to do.

This discourse is needed now while the banks are stable to try to ensure that the their crazy actions don’t lead to yet another financial boondoggle.

Yes, the banks are back. As the New York Times’s Neil Irwin reported, employment has returned to 2007 levels; the gap between the pay of Wall Street workers and everyone else is back near record levels, and the profits of the financial sector are soaring.

This is, as Irwin notes, a glaring contrast to what occurred after the crash that led to the Great Depression in the 1930s. Then banks were shackled, tightly regulated and greatly diminished in scope and license. The result was decades without major financial crises, during which the economy boomed and the United States grew together, with inequality decreasing. Now, however, while Dodd-Frank reforms have forced some changes, the big banks are more concentrated than ever. They continue to profit from high leverage, exotic trades and very high risk. They remain too big to fail — and apparently the bankers are too big to jail.

More and more studies, including one by the International Monetary Fund, hardly a radical bastion, suggest that a bloated financial sector is bad for an economy. It generates destructive booms and busts. Its high pay entices the most creative to use their talents on financial schemes rather than in more productive activities. Its culture of greed corrupts not just Wall Street but also our politics and economy more generally.

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China and US Agree to Cut Emissions

The world’s largest polluters have agreed that they have a problem and they need to stop it. The USA and China have come to terms with the fact that they are the worst polluters and have both decided to take action using various policy tools and joint cooperation. This is important for many reasons, for one not only does this mean the largest economies will become more efficient and less damaging to the plant. Another reason is that smaller economies (looking at you Australia and Canada) copy American policy, so hopefully the climate change denying government elsewhere will wake up and take action.

Better late than never.

According to the plan, the United States will reduce carbon emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, nearly twice the existing target—without imposing new restrictions on power plants or vehicles.

Tuesday’s announcement is equally remarkable for China’s commitment. For the first time, China has set a date at which it expects its emissions will “peak,” or finally begin to taper downward: around 2030. China is currently the world’s biggest emitter of carbon pollution, largely because of its coal-dependent economy, and reining in emissions while continuing to grow has been the paramount challenge for China’s leaders

It involves a series of initiatives to be undertaken in partnership between the two countries, including:

  • Expanding funding for clean energy technology research at the US-China Clean Energy Research Center, a think tank Obama created in 2009 with Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao.
  • Launching a large-scale pilot project in China to study carbon capture and sequestration.
  • A push to further limit the use of hydroflourocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas found in refrigerants.
  • A federal framework for cities in both countries to share experiences and best practices for low-carbon economic growth and adaptation to the impacts of climate change at the municipal level.
  • A call to boost trade in “green” goods, including energy efficiency technology and resilient infrastructure, kicked off by a tour of China next spring by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

Read more at Mother Jones.

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Vermont Stops Their War on Drugs, Will Help People Instead

The war on drugs is a backwards, destructive, and anti-human campaign that has destroyed lives. It was launched by Nixon and since then it the ‘war’ has negatively impacted everything it touches from people’s lives to the global economy.

The USA tries to enforce it’s inflexible approach around the world, yet at home many states are realizing that it’s a foolish approach. Vermont has now openly backed out of the ignorant ‘battle’ against drugs and is taking a more educated approach: helping people who are addicted rather than punishing them.

Vermont has passed a battery of reforms that have turned the tiny state of about 627,000 people into a national proving ground for a less punitive approach to getting hard drugs under control. Under policies now in effect or soon to take hold, people caught using or in possession of heroin will be offered the chance to avoid prosecution by enrolling in treatment. Addicts, including some prisoners, will have greater access to synthetic heroin substitutes to help them reduce their dependency on illegal narcotics or kick the habit. A good Samaritan law will shield heroin users from arrest when they call an ambulance to help someone who’s overdosed. The drug naloxone, which can reverse the effects of a heroin or opioid overdose, will be carried by cops, EMTs, and state troopers. It will also be available at pharmacies without a prescription. “This is an experiment,” Shumlin says. “And we’re not going to really know the results for a while.”

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USA to Stop Landmine Procurement and Production

Unfortunately not every country has signed the Ottawa Treaty banning anti-personal land mines. Recently the largest producer of armaments, the USA, has opted to stop production of landmines. The army has also committed to not purchasing new landmines.

“Our delegation in Maputo made clear that we are diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with and ultimately allow the United States to accede to the Ottawa Convention – the treaty banning the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of APL,” Caitlin Hayden, National Security Council spokeswoman, said in the statement.

Now mines are rarely used in conflicts, and even countries that have not signed up abide by most of its rules.

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Obama Takes On Coal Power Plants

Coal is one of the worst sources for energy given that its contribution to destruction of our planet is unmatched. There have been attempts to make coal branded as “clean coal” but even then, the radiation emitted from coal power plants is too high and the pollutants released into the air is still too much.

President Obama has decided to transition America’s power supply system away from coal and to better, cleaner alternatives. This is a good step in stemming the amount of pollution the country dumps into the air. Let’s hope that there is more money into sustainable power systems and that other countries (like Canada) will follow Obama’s lead.

If the new rules for power plants and the fuel-emissions standards are both maintained and adhered to, the Administration says, the United States will be on track to meet the targets that President Obama set in 2009, when he pledged, as part of a United Nations accord, to reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas-emission levels seventeen per cent by 2020 and eighty-three per cent by 2050, relative to the 2005 level. Of course, this calculation is a hypothetical one. Congress, ever since it refused to ratify the 1997 Kyoto agreement, has blocked a number of efforts to tackle climate change, including a cap-and-trade bill that would have set an over-all limit for carbon emissions. With the midterm elections on the horizon, its members are unlikely to have a general change of heart now.

Read more here.

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