Kevin Drum

Cap and Trade Revenue

| Fri Feb. 27, 2009 1:32 AM PST
This is from the budget outline released by the Obama administration on Thursday:

After enactment of the Budget, the Administration will work expeditiously with key stakeholders and Congress to develop an economy-wide emissions reduction program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions approximately 14 percent below 2005 levels by 2020....

I wonder what their economic assumptions are here?  Here's the revenue timeline, starting in 2012:

At first glance, this strikes me as odd.  With only slight variations, it assumes $80 billion in revenue every year between 2012 and 2019.  But that doesn't really make sense.  What you normally expect with a carbon trading program is that you begin with a high cap (carbon emissions in 2012 will probably start out 10% higher than 2005 emissions) and then ratchet the cap down every year after that.  As the cap goes down, the price of permits goes up.  It's true that the number of permits goes down at the same time, but this shouldn't be enough to make up for the higher permit price.  Overall, until the green technology buildout hits a critical mass, the revenue from the program should go up considerably over time.

But not in this one.  I wonder why?

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Tattoo Removal

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 3:54 PM PST
Greg Sargent watches wingnut TV so you don't have to:

Conservatives are hammering the House’s new $410 billion spending bill because it contains $200,000 for what they’re derisively referring to as “tattoo removal.” Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Drudge, and at least one GOP official on MSNBC, among others, have been all over this today.

....The tattoo pork story kicked off in earnest when the New York Post flagged the “tattoo removal” pork in a story this morning. It was subsequently pushed by Drudge with the headline: “Congress: Big Bucks To Canoes And Tattoos.”

I hardly need to tell you that this is yet another crock to go along with volcano monitoring, field mouse protection, and the train to Las Vegas.  Read Greg for the whole story.  But I suppose resistance is futile.  Nothing is going to stop conservatives from combing through this bill forever looking for minusucle items to fan up some faux outrage over.  They're a tired bunch these days, and this is pretty much all they've got left.

Raining Money

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 2:49 PM PST
James Kwak explains why the latest Treasury rescue plan is great for Wall Street, not so great for the rest of us:

There is nothing inherently wrong with convertible preferred stock. In Silicon Valley, for example, venture capitalists almost always invest by buying convertible preferred. The idea is that in the case of a bad outcome, the VCs are protected, because their shares have priority over the common shares held by the founders and employees....However, in a good outcome, the VCs can exchange their preferred shares one-for-one for common. So if the company gets sold for $100 million, the VCs convert, and they now own 50% of the common stock, so they get $50 million.

....The key in the Silicon Valley example is that the VCs have the option to convert or not. The Treasury Department's new Capital Assistance Program has this precisely backwards....The bank, AT ITS OPTION, can choose to convert the preferred shares into common, at 90% of the average closing share price during the 20 days ending on February 9.

....What's wrong with this? Well, nothing, if your goal is to give banks money. What you've just done is stick the government with the downside risk — we could get paid back in worthless stock — while the bank shareholders get all the upside potential. You've done this by giving the bank, for free, an option that has value. Back of the envelope, Peter [Boone] thinks this option is worth about 65 cents per dollar of money invested. (It's worth so much because bank stocks are so volatile these days.) Put another way, for every $10 billion of capital we invest this way, we are giving away another $6.5 billion.

The rest is a little complicated but worth reading anyway.  "There are some very clever people in Treasury these days," Kwak says, and they're expending a lot of brainpower figuring out ever more elegant ways to spend taxpayer dollars in ways that won't offend the delicate sensibilities of the folks getting the checks.

Feeding at the Federal Trough

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 12:56 PM PST
Gail Collins on Bobby Jindal's response to Obama's speech on Tuesday:

Louisiana has gotten $130 billion in post-Katrina aid. How is it that the stars of the Republican austerity movement come from the states that suck up the most federal money? Taxpayers in New York send way more to Washington than they get back so more can go to places like Alaska and Louisiana. Which is fine, as long as we don’t have to hear their governors bragging about how the folks who elected them want to keep their tax money to themselves. Of course they do! That’s because they’re living off ours.

They are indeed.  Wonky details here.

A Global Meltdown

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 12:26 PM PST
I wrote a little post yesterday rounding up some of the bad economic news from around the world (exports plummeting in Japan, Italy rescuing its banks, Eastern Europe turning into a basket case, Russian GDP down 8%, etc. etc.), but then my browser crashed and I didn't feel like reconstructing it after I was back up and running.  But the bottom line was simple: there's a world of economic pain out there, and economic pain frequently turns into political and national security pain too.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the White House is worried about the same thing, and has asked the CIA to begin preparing a daily report on the global economic crisis:

The CIA's role in producing the report underscores the level of anxiety within the administration over how rapidly the economic downturn is spreading, as well as its potential to hobble foreign governments and trigger instability overseas.

The report, called the Economic Intelligence Brief, was launched at the request of the White House and delivered for the first time Wednesday.

[CIA Director Leon] Panetta said the document would survey major economic developments internationally and focus on how plunging markets and credit pressures are driving the decisions in nations including Russia and China.

The report covers "economic, political, leadership developments" in other countries as well as "the implications of those developments in terms of the U.S. economy," Panetta said.

We're not going to see pitchforks and torches in the United States, but we might in a few other countries before this is all over.  This is a smart move by Obama.

UPDATE: Along these lines, Cernig directs our attention to the recent armed mutiny among the 42,000 members of the Bangladesh Border Guards over lack of pay.  Global warming is implicated too.

Michael Klare has a much more detailed piece on this general subject over at Salon:

If you want to be grimly impressed, hang a world map on your wall and start inserting red pins where violent episodes have already occurred. Athens (Greece), Longnan (China), Port-au-Prince (Haiti), Riga (Latvia), Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sofia (Bulgaria), Vilnius (Lithuania) and Vladivostok (Russia) would be a start. Many other cities from Reykjavik, Paris, Rome and Zaragoza to Moscow and Dublin have witnessed huge protests over rising unemployment and falling wages that remained orderly thanks in part to the presence of vast numbers of riot police. If you inserted orange pins at these locations — none as yet in the United States — your map would already look aflame with activity.

Obama's new briefing is going to be a busy one.

Federal Pay

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 11:58 AM PST
Federal employees are sharing the pain in Obama's FY2010 budget:

Civilian employees of the federal government will be limited to a 2 percent pay increase in 2010 under the proposed budget released this morning by the Obama administration.

...."It's a modest increase, but it certainly is prudent," said Jacque Simon, public policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees...."While it's certainly a modest pay increase, federal employees recognize the severity of the economic situation, and we're viewing it from that context."

Over the past 12 months the Consumer Price Index has gone up 0.4%, so a 2 percent raise isn't exactly iron-fisted.  No wonder the union guy is taking this so serenely.

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Chart of the Day - 2.26.2009

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 10:51 AM PST
Henry Farrell says today that self-reported ideology is pretty unreliable when it comes to blog readers:

Netroots blog readers may identify themselves as being a mixed bag of ideologies....But self-identification here is misleading, as we can see if we look at a scale measuring blogreaders’ attitudes to a number of hot-button political issues such as abortion and the Iraq war, where left and right disagreed strongly at the time the data was gathered.

....Here, we don’t see anything like an even spread between those who are strongly liberal (i.e. inclined to take the ‘liberal’ position on all of these issues), and those who are moderate liberals or centrists. Instead, left blog readers tend to clump heavily at the strongly liberal end of the spectrum, with pretty well no centrists worth talking about.

The same thing is true for conservative blog readers.  I don't find this surprising, but I think a caveat is in order.  The issue scale is apparently based on a survey of only five questions (“partial-birth” abortions, funding for stem cell research, withdrawing troops from Iraq, raising the minimum wage, and extending capital gains tax cuts), and this doesn't allow for much nuance.  For example, there's not much question that I'm further toward the center than, say, Glenn Greenwald or Jane Hamsher, but on this scale we'd all come out identically as raging communists with perfect 5-0 liberal scores.  I think you'd need to dig quite a bit deeper than this to get decent read on the real views of the blogreading public.

Free the Memos

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 10:02 AM PST
In the LA Times today, the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer argues that Barack Obama should release all the confidential memos churned out over the years by George Bush's Office of Legal Counsel:

Lawyers for the office — including John Yoo, Steven Bradbury and Jay Bybee — churned out dozens of memos on torture, rendition, detention without charge and wiretapping without warrants.

....Some of the memos were plainly intended to insulate Bush administration officials from criminal liability....And, according to the Washington Post and other sources, a yet-to-be-released ethics report by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility confirms that lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel intentionally misrepresented or distorted the law to support the Bush administration's policy goals.

....Limited redactions maybe be necessary in extraordinary cases, but national security should not be used as a pretext for the wholesale suppression of the memos. And there are good reasons to release the memos now. By releasing them, the Obama administration would signal that it truly intends to end an era in which the Justice Department became shamefully complicit in the most egregious crimes. Equally important, it would allow the public to better understand the policies that defined the Bush administration and shaped history, and to understand the role that the Office of Legal Counsel played in developing, justifying and advocating those policies.

Read the whole thing.  I suspect this is an area where Obama might need to feel some significant pressure from the left to make him do the right thing.

Haves vs. Have Nots

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 9:24 AM PST
Ezra Klein talks about the healthcare principles outlined in Obama's budget:

The salient fact about health insurance in the United States is not that 15 percent don't have it. It's that 85 percent do....That's why the first three health care principles in Obama's budget speak to the concerns of the insured: Choice, affordability, security. But In his latest column at the Kaiser Family Foundation, Drew Altman suggests a metric we should we be watching to see if they're successful. Polls, he notes, generally ask whether you think health reform will make your family better off. Kaiser recently ran one such survey and the results were moderately encouraging.

At a guess, it's the group in the center that's critical.  Supporters provide the shock troops and the opposition provides, um, the opposition.  But that big middle group that mostly thinks national healthcare is probably good for the country but isn't sure if it's good for them?  They're the ones most easily swayed by conservative scare talk.  Altman notes that these poll numbers are better than the ones Bill Clinton enjoyed in 1993, which is good, but 43% is still a huge number.  That's the battleground.

Carbon Financing

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 12:00 AM PST
The Washington Post reports on Barack Obama's plan for the revenue from his climate change plan:

As for cap-and-trade, the official said the administration believes it will generate enough money to fund a variety of priorities, including investments in renewable energy and rebates for vulnerable consumers who may struggle to pay higher energy bills if utilities pass along the cost to consumers. Obama also wants to use the money to cover the cost of extending his signature Making Work Pay tax credit, worth up to $800 a year for working families. That credit, which will cost $66 billion next year, was enacted in the stimulus package, but is set to expire at the end of 2010.

Hmmm.  That sounds like roughly $100 billion per year.  Is that reasonable?  The United States produces about 7 billion tons of CO2 equivalent a year right now, which means that Obama expects his cap-and-trade plan to generate a price of about $14 per ton in its first year — assuming it covers every single molecule of carbon emitted in the U.S.  If only half of all emissions are covered at first, it means a price closer to $28 per ton.

For comparison, the European ETS cap-and-trade plan currently prices CO2 at about 10 euros per ton.  That's roughly $13.  And that price has dropped considerably over the past few months thanks to the recession.  By 2012 it's likely to be back up in the range of $20 or more.

So at a glance, it looks like Obama's estimates are defensible.  My guess is that they're on the high side, since the initial cap will probably be fairly generous and will therefore generate a relatively low carbon price.  But as the cap goes down, the permit price should go up fairly quickly.  These numbers are at least in the right ballpark.