Law

Give 'Em HELP Harry

The Senate Finance Committee has been the focus of so much attention, for so long a time, that it's easy to forget another committee in the Senate passed its own version of reform several months ago. The Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee had only partial jurisdiction, of course. It couldn't touch Medicare or Medicaid and it couldn't call for new revenue. But it had the opportunity to design a coverage system, including insurance exchanges, plus it had the chance to introduce some quality incentives. So how good a job did the committee do?

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The Wall Street Journal has a terrific piece today about how the recession is accelerating the fraying the post-World War II compact between workers and employers (which has, of course, been fraying for several decades now). Key nugget: Two-thirds of big companies that cut health-care benefits don't plan to restore them to pre-recession levels, they recently told consulting firm Watson Wyatt.

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I have to say, I'm underwhelmed by the ideas the company is tossing around so far. Per this morning's Times piece: Goldman said Thursday that it would donate $200 million to its charitable foundation (that figure represents 6 percent of its third-quarter profit, or about six days of earnings). Rumors are swirling on Wall Street that Goldman might donate even more money to charity, perhaps as much as $1 billion, in an effort to defuse public resentment directed at the bank. Mr. Blankfein has even urged his free-spending bankers to be mindful of conspicuous consumption.

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Lawrence Lessig's denunciation of runaway transparency is insightful but unduly dour about the potential consequences of the release of accurate information about public officials.

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Now, two people will have to choose. The fate of the health care bill is largely in the hands of Barack Obama and Olympia Snowe. The Finance Committee's vote on Tuesday to send its bill to the Senate floor vindicated President Obama's strategy of giving Congress wide latitude to write the early drafts. Major health reform has advanced further than it ever has before. But Obama must now abandon his preference for intervening forcefully only after House and Senate bills go to a conference committee.

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The Civilian Surge Myth

How can we snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in Afghanistan? There's one solution that has attracted analysts of all stripes: a "civilian surge," where development and political advisers working for (or contracted by) the State department and the U.S. Agency for International Development flood the country and turn the tide against the insurgents. The logic, at least, is sound: It takes more than military success to defeat insurgents. Insurgency grows where a corrupt and weak government does not provide security, justice, and opportunity.

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My introduction to the magazine Caijing came while I was researching this recent piece about our economic relationship with China. It's probably the most influential Chinese business magazine and has become a prominent sign of the regime's tolerance of criticism on the economic front. (See my piece for more on that if you're interested.) Anyway, it sounds like we may be at a bit of a crossroads in the life of the magazine--and also the broader policy of allowing this form of government scrutiny.

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Yes, you read it right. Here is the essence: If the Saudis (and other OPEC producers) export fewer hydrocarbons, the buyers should still pay as if they were purchasing the old amount. They should pay what the Saudis could charge when the market was tight and the demand high, and the arrangements should not made in the Arab bazaar, but by treaty. It's a nice world that Riyadh lives in. Perhaps this is King Abdullah's gracious response to President Obama's servile bow. "Less global warming would be good, right?" ask Jad Mouawad and Andrew C. Revkin in a report in Tuesday's Times.

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The on-going “Tonight Show”/YouTube feud between Conan O’Brien and Newark Mayor Cory Booker will evidently reach its culmination Friday when Booker appears on the NBC broadcast. In the interim it has spawned a spate of news stories, an “intervention” by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and, earlier this week, was the focus of Bob Herbert’s New York Times op-ed column.  In paraphrasing Conan, Herbert reports that he “threatened to form an alliance with the mayors of nearby municipalities, thus “creating a geographic toilet seat around the city of Newark,” making it possible to flush the ci

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On Monday, I asked what might explain the 20% difference in wages between government and private sector workers who hold similar jobs. Writing on Forbes.com, Joshua Zumbrun argues that I (and Nancy Folbre, who also defended government wages on Economix) fail to account for the job security involved in having a public sector job: It's just... obliviousness... not to recognize the value of having job security in this economy.

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