As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Prioritize The Populism

Out of nowhere, the Obama Administration and its federal agencies have started to crack down on speculation and monopolies, while improving individual safety. These populist positions deserve pride of place from the White House; they should talk a lot more about them.

Hold a press event about stopping oil speculation:

In a big departure from the hands-off approach to market regulation of the last two decades, the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Gary Gensler, said his agency would consider new limits on the volume of energy futures contracts that purely financial investors would be allowed to hold.

The agency also announced that it would pull back part of the veil on the oil and gas markets, publishing more detailed information about the aggregate activity of hedge funds and traders who arbitrage between domestic and foreign energy prices.

....Oil prices have swung wildly in the last year, hitting about $145 a barrel last summer, then plunging to $33 in December before rising to about $70.

....A growing number of critics have blamed some of the extreme volatility on the role of purely financial investors — those who are simply betting on the direction of energy prices, as opposed to those who actually use such products, like airlines....Non-commercial traders accounted for almost a fifth of the activity in several major oil and gas products for the week that ended June 30, according to data compiled by the commodities agency.

Matt Taibbi, in his great story on Goldman Sachs, writes about how last year, "a barrel of oil was traded 27 times, on average, before it was actually delivered and consumed." That's just unconscionable, and the CFTC has a role to play in dialing that back.

Furthermore, the President should deliver a live speech on telecom monopolies:

The U.S. Justice Department has begun looking at big telecom companies to try to determine if they have abused their market power, the Wall Street Journal reported in its online edition Monday.

The journal, which cited people familiar with the matter, said that the Antitrust Division's review was in its very early stages and was not official.

Lawmakers have recently raised questions about whether large wireless carriers were hurting smaller rivals by entering exclusive agreements with the makers of popular phones.

I think they could reel in a lot of people by telling them they shouldn't have to change carriers to use an iPhone.

Finally, rather than a fact sheet and a webcast, how about a prime-time special on food safety?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is issuing a final rule to control Salmonella contamination of eggs during production. This rule is estimated to reduce the number of foodborne illnesses associated with consumption of raw or undercooked contaminated shell eggs by approximately 60%, or 79,000 illnesses every year, and will generate annual savings of over $1 billion [...]

Stepped Up Enforcement in Beef Facilities: FSIS is issuing improved instructions to its workforce on how to verify that establishments handling beef are acting to reduce the presence of E. coli. Also, FSIS is increasing its sampling to find this pathogen, focusing largely on the components that go into making ground beef.

Preventing Contamination of Leafy Greens, Melons, and Tomatoes: By the end of the month, FDA will issue commodity-specific draft guidance on preventive controls that industry can implement to reduce the risk of microbial contamination in the production and distribution of tomatoes, melons, and leafy greens. These proposals will help the Federal government establish a minimum standard for production across the country. Over the next two years, FDA will seek public comment and work to require adoption of these approaches through regulation [...]

Building a National Traceback and Response System: A system that permits rapid traceback to the source of foodborne illness will protect consumers and help industry recover faster. Yet despite the dedicated efforts of food safety officials across the country, our current capacity to traceback the sources of illness suffers from serious limitations [...]

Improving Organization of Federal Food Safety Responsibilities: Building a more effective safety system requires federal agencies to improve management of their food safety responsibilities and coordinate more effectively with each other.

I hear that the President's approval rating is sinking in Ohio. They are experiencing a terrible economy like the rest of the country, but they also see bank bailouts without the same attention paid to the auto industry, and think they're getting the shaft. Maybe if they knew that their government was trying to stop oil speculation to lower the price of their gas, stop the phone companies from ripping them off, and stop food manufacturers from making them sick, they'd have a little more comfort that their President is on their side.

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