With the civil trial against BP (for its role in the Spillageddon in the Gulf in May 2010) underway, Public Citizen tell us what's at stake in the trial's current phase. Long story short: the fine against BP could be as low as $3 billion if the judge accepts BP's estimate of how much oil got spilled and fails to find BP "grossly negligent" -- or the fine could be as high as $18 billion if the judge accepts our government's estimate of how much oil got spilled and finds BP grossly negligent. Trouble is, of course, that our government wrote quite lax regulations on offshore drilling, so a judge might hesitate to find BP negligent if they adhered to those regulations. On the other hand, a judge could reason that big corporations had too much of a role in advocating for, or writing, those lax regulations -- and depending on BP's demonstrated role in such advocacy, a judge could well conclude that BP knew full well it was doing wrong and was only trying to evade penalties for wrongdoing. Our friends on the right would call that "judicial activism," but I'd more likely call it justice.
The American Conservative approves of Sen. Mike Lee's tax reform plan, but I'm less sanguine about it myself. Sen. Lee (R-UT) -- more famous for his shrill advocacy of government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act, and somewhat less famous for blocking Mr. Obama's nominees because he could -- would cut the current seven income tax brackets down to two, at 15% and 35%, and while that "preserves" the tax code's progressivity, it also makes it less progressive. Now, Mr. Lee's plan also expands the Child Tax Credit rather dramatically -- by $2,500 per child, which more than compensates for the loss of the 10% tax bracket -- but applying that credit to payroll taxes (which fund Social Security and Medicare for future generations) is a mistake. And while lowering the mortgage deduction cap is also a good idea, surely Mr. Lee knows as well as I do that a lot of working-class folks have homes worth over $300,000 only because they bought them during the housing bubble. Verdict: make a few changes, tack on a 90% tax bracket for millionaire income, and I might be able to settle for this plan -- but I don't see Mike Lee "settling" for a 90% tax bracket.