By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger
This week marks the final edition of the Weekly Audit. It has been a pleasure compiling the best financial and economic writing in the Media Consortium. Thanks to all the contributors whose work we've showcased and to all the loyal readers who have shared in this experience.
Debt Ceiling 101
As the Weekly Audit wraps up, we're looking ahead to some critical economic issues facing the country. Christen Simeral and Veronica Beebe of The American Prospect explain what the debt ceiling is and why the debate over raising it is shaping up to be the political battle of the year.
In short, the debt ceiling is the maximum amount the government can borrow. The debt ceiling is currently $14.294 trillion. At the current rate of spending, we're due to hit the wall around May 16, if Congress doesn't vote to raise it. Usually, raising the debt ceiling is a formality. Congress has voted to raise the debt ceiling 10 times in the last 10 years.
If the debt ceiling isn't raised, the government can't take on any new spending commitments. Worse still, the government may not have the cash it needs to pay tax refunds, Social Security payments, and other critical disbursements. Failing to raise the debt ceiling would hurt the U.S.'s credibility in global markets, making it more expensive for us to borrow money in the future.
The war on unions
All across the country, right wingers are trying to turn union workers into scapegoats for the nation's economic woes.
Right wing media baron Andrew Breitbart tried to frame some labor history instructors at the university of Missouri by deceptively splicing together hours of classroom footage to make it look like the professors were advocating violence and sabotage, Dave Gilson of Mother Jones reports. The unedited video shows that the instructors are discussing the bloody history of the American labor movement, in which violence has overwhelmingly been perpetrated by management against workers.
Multinational corporations are renewing their lobbying push for more NAFTA-like trade deals, Michelle Chen reports for Colorlines.com:
The construction giant Caterpillar is reportedly planning to treat its workers to steaming cups of Colombian coffee in the coming weeks, to warm them to the benefits of doing business with their "partners" in Latin America. While employees enjoy their break, lobbyists will be working hard, in their name, to peddle so-called "open markets" in Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
Chen reports that lobbyists for multinationals are besieging Congress to push for three new accords. The Panama deal is expected to be first on the agenda. Advocates for fair trade have been fighting these deals since the George W. Bush administration.
The push for deregulated international trade is on at the state level, too. The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is handing out boilerplate resolutions to state representatives urging Congress to approve the trade deals. Chen notes that the Koch Foundation is among the major backers of ALEC.
High gas prices
Gas prices have long been seen as a bellweather of the electorate's state of mind. When gas is cheap, incumbents rest a little easier. When gas prices rise, challengers start licking their chops. Daniel J. Weiss and Valeri Vasquez report in Campus Progress that rising gas prices are frustrating consumers and enriching speculators:
This year "it"s like déjà vu all over again." Oil prices are rising to heights not seen since 2008. Oil rose from $85 per barrel to $112 per barrel in a little more than two months--a whopping one-third leap. Gasoline prices have followed along, rising by 70 cents per gallon--or 23 percent--during this same time. As our economy struggles to recover from the Great Recession, Americans are again forced to pinch pennies to afford their commute to work, school, and worship. Meanwhile, oil companies prepare to reap record profits in the first quarter of 2011.
The authors note this combination of rising pump prices and soaring corporate profits looks an awful lot like the oil shock of 2008, which helped push the economy into recession.
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