Friday, August 26, 2011

Points of Interest 08/26/2011


They got some big vultures down in Texas.
...the Perry administration wanted to help Wall Street investors gamble on how long retired Texas teachers would live.Perry was promising the state big money in exchange for helping Swiss banking giant UBS set up a business of teacher death speculation.

"What is Debt? – An Interview with Economic Anthropologist David Graeber"

"The laws of physics don’t take any notice of what is going in Congress. They're not subject to repeal or amendment."
While Granger’s committee was slicing funding for international climate projects, Mack was trying to make even deeper cuts. The Florida representative tried to zero out the entire $1.3 billion the president requested for international climate efforts in the 2012 budget. But because his committee didn’t have jurisdiction over the entire amount, he settled for chopping $650 million in funding that his committee does control.

"What it means is that about one out of five civil conflicts since 1950 were in some way influenced by El Nino."

"It's a good thing that the government helps, but if employers paid enough and gave enough hours, then we wouldn't need to be on food stamps."

"When we think about the trade-offs between inflation and unemployment it is important to remember..."
...that the tens of millions of people who are unemployed or underemployed today did not do anything wrong. It was people like Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke who messed up. And of course other actors in national policy debates, who were too obsessed with budget deficits to notice an $8 trillion housing bubble did not help either.

There is an appropriate federal role in incidents like this,” Cantor said."
That role? The bare minimum. According to Cantor, Congress’s traditional practice of providing disaster relief without strings attached — a policy its followed for years — is going way beyond the call of duty. If Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) asks for federal aid, Cantor insists that the relief be offset elsewhere in the federal budget.

"...members of Congress have got to start realizing that complaining about a $174,000 annual salary..."
...sounds ridiculous to the vast majority of Americans. Southerland went on to complain about all “the hours” that he works, but this tone-deaf whining hardly makes the complaints any better — he’s a member of Congress who is well compensated for his long hours. He knew that when he sought that job, and instead of whining, Southerland should thank his constituents for the privilege.

"How Chase Ruined Lives of People Who Paid Off Their Mortgages"

"It's no surprise that liberal Democrats increasingly want Obama to fight back against Republicans..."
...but that's not the real story here. The biggest shifts in attitude have come from the center. Take a look at the circled parts of the table: the entire middle of the political spectrum — liberal Republicans, independents, and conservative Democrats — is speaking pretty loudly here. They want Obama to fight back harder against the shouters in the tea party wing of the GOP.


Just a wee bit uncomfortable answering the questions.

Politics aside, Bill O'Reilly is about the worst interviewer/host on the teevee.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Points of Interest 08/25/2011


Who's really funding these 'SuperPACs'?
According to research by the Center for Responsive Politics, all liberal super PACs have raised a combined $7.61 million during the first half of 2011 -- with more than 80 percent of their money coming from 23 donors. [...]

Meanwhile, conservative super PACs have collected $17.61 million so far -- with more than 80 percent of their money coming from 35 donors.
An alternate perspective on the collapse of Gaddafi's regime.
A veteran of the wars of the former Yugoslavia, he had been hired by the Gaddafi regime to help fight the rebels and, later, NATO. "Discipline was bad, and they were too stupid to learn anything. But things were O.K. until the air strikes commenced. The other side was equally bad, if not worse. [Muammar] Gaddafi would have smashed the rebels had the West not intervened."
"You know, nothing says '21st century global superpower' like schools turning to sheep because they can’t afford lawnmowers."*

"Did the stimulus work? A review of the nine best studies on the subject"

I guess it's a good thing I'm on a diet.

WCBD? (What Could Bernake Do?) Fourteen alternatives to another round of quantitative easing.

There are apparently other ideas under consideration...
...but the refinancing approach, the details of which still need to be worked out, would have the biggest bang for the buck: homeowners, many of whom are currently under water, would stand to save $85 billion. They’d still have a mortgage payment to make, but they’d find it easier to afford and would have more money to spend on other things.
"Now what do you suppose it means that BoA’s surrogates have gotten so angry and panicked and..."
...well, dickish, as Schneiderman continues to insist on actually looking at BoA’s books before making a settlement with them? And do you really think it’s a coinkydink that increasing numbers of Wall Street vultures are raising doubts about what’s in those books at precisely the time Obama’s surrogates are increasing pressure on Schneiderman to drop the legal efforts to do so?
"Braxton County West Virginia (160 miles from Mineral) has experienced a rash of freak earthquakes..."
...(eight in 2010) since fracking operations started there several years ago. According to geologists fracking also caused an outbreak of thousands of minor earthquakes in Arkansas (as many as two dozen in a single day). It's also linked to freak earthquakes in Texas, western New York, Oklahoma and Blackpool, England (which had never recorded an earthquake before).
"This is all about protecting the banks from future enforcement actions on both the civil and criminal sides."
The plan is to provide year-after-year, repeat-offending banks like Bank of America with cost certainty, so that they know exactly how much they’ll have to pay in fines (trust me, it will end up being a tiny fraction of what they made off the fraudulent practices) and will also get to know for sure that there are no more criminal investigations in the pipeline.

*now, it's not a bad idea for environmental reasons, but I agree with the larger point that Americans are not doing right when it comes to emphasizing (and paying for) education.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Points of Interest 08/24/2011


"American Politics More Religious Than American Voters"

"New-student enrollments have plunged—in some cases by more than 45%—in recent months..."
...reflecting two factors: Companies have pulled back on aggressive recruiting practices amid criticism over their high student-loan default rates. And many would-be students are questioning the potential pay-off for degrees that can cost considerably more than what's available at local community colleges.
"It is likely that President Obama blames the recession for the rise in the deficit because it happens to be true."

"More importantly, why are Democrats still lining up behind Rhee?"
She could possibly be one of the most divisive forces in the Democratic party today. Between her cozy relationships with the ultra-right wing "reformers," and her push to bust unions, it makes no sense at all.
The Rhee post also contains a link to a comment by education activist Marion Brady, which is well worth a link of its own.

What is this Keystone XL pipeline all about, anyway?

"The Krugman Google+ Saga: Or, Why Fact-Checking is Important"

"Inherent in Schneiderman’s warnings was an implication that officials negotiating the current deal are willing to give away too much..."
...a suggestion that those involved in the talks describe as inaccurate and infuriating. Several people familiar with the talks said those at the negotiating table have never considered granting banks immunity from claims related to the securitization process, nor have they sought to prevent Schneiderman and others from pursuing broader investigations into other issues, such as securitization, fair housing claims and criminal fraud.
"Raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65 would cost states and private payers about twice as much as it would save the federal government."

Ron Paul forgets that media focus isn't always a good thing.

"Still, it’s worth adding one overlooked point to all this fact-checking."
It’s not just that Perry’s wrong. In many ways, the field of climate science is moving in precisely the opposite direction that he’s suggesting.
"First, because a serious scientist has been vilified, without basis, mainly because his work bears on current politics."
"Oh, never mind" clearance from charges rarely gets as much publicity as the original charges themselves. The fact that every scientific body examining Mann's behavior has exonerated him deserves publicity and emphasis.
"Michele Bachmann, as president of the United States, could keep her promise of lowering the price of gasoline. What voters must ask themselves is: 'What will that cost me?'"

"Anyone who thought former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold was quitting politics with his announcement that he would not run for office in 2012..."
...missed the point of the Wisconsin Democrat's decision. Feingold was not abandoning the fight for progressive values, he was signaling his determination to carry that fight forward as a citizen activist who promises to be a thorn in the side of the political elites of both parties.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Points of Interest 08/23/2011


Kings in everymans clothing.
It’s not hard to guess what these people see in Tea Party politics. Here is a movement united around an unfailing support of tax cuts for people like them, at a time in which poll after poll (23 polls, by one count) reveals the American electorate to be united by unprecedentedly broad-based support for doing the opposite. But there also more specific interests at play: the wealthier freshmen generally made their livelihoods in one of three economic sectors—health care/insurance, real estate and energy—whose profit margins not too long ago appeared particularly vulnerable to Obama’s policy goals.
"With its handling of an ongoing spill in the North Sea..." would seem oil multinational Shell has not absorbed the lesson of BP’s 2010 catastrophe. Small compared to last year’s Gulf of Mexico spill, the Shell leak is nevertheless the worst for the North Sea in over a decade.
A news channel should have enough allotted in the budget for news coverage. dontcha think?

Mike Konczal over at Rortybomb has a good wrap-up of the whole Administration versus AG battle over mortgage fraud investigations.

"Top Ten Myths About the Libyan War"

"This is, to put it mildly, a heartening development, for which President Obama and his team deserve a lot of credit."
Deportations will continue for those who commit felonies and those considered security threats, but DHS and the Justice Department will review existing cases and will “halt deportations of longtime residents with clean police records who came here illegally when they were children, or are close family of military service members, or are parents or spouses of American citizens.”
"(Tax)Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are (tax)free at last!"

"The point is that there is objectively a lot not to like about Bank of America."
And now that investors have decided to start thinking critically, as opposed to blindly accepting bank equity as the faith-based paper that it is, one shouldn’t be surprised that they are getting cold feet. And the fact that the authorities have undermined the limited value of bank balance sheets via allowing all sorts of rosy accounting treatments is a self inflicted wound.
"But apparently President Obama feels that these people need to make greater sacrifices."
For an average retiree who can expect to get benefits for 20 years, President Obama's plan would cut their lifetime Social Security benefits by roughly 3 percent. By comparison, his much feared tax increases on the rich would reduce the after-tax income of someone earning $300,000 a year by just 0.5 percent. In this case, a beneficiary who will be mostly dependent on their Social Security income in retirement will take about six times as large a hit relative to their income under President Obama's plan to cut Social Security than a couple earning $300,000 would from his plan to raise their taxes.

This cut to Social Security seems especially inappropriate since the near retirees who would feel the full impact of this cut have just seen most of their wealth destroyed by the collapse of the housing bubble and the plunge in the stock market. The typical near retiree (ages 55-64) has just $170,000 in net wealth, including the equity in their home.

This means that if they used every last penny in their 401(k) and other savings, they would have just about enough money to pay off the mortgage on a typical home. This would leave them 100 percent dependent on Social Security for their income. And of course, half of near retirees have less than this amount, meaning that they will not even be able to pay off the mortgage on a typical home.
"A delay of just 10 days in renewing the tax would mean the permanent loss of $1 billion in highway funding..."
...(and layoffs for thousands of workers). Longer delays would measurably increase the national unemployment rate. [...]

Incredibly, the system of highway financing championed by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower six decades ago is a target for today’s Tea Party-influenced Republicans.
"Edmund Phelps, a Colombia University professor who won the prize in 2006 for his theory on growth..."
...says that during the past decades the West has lived above its means and in so doing has already consumed part of its future. That means that the United States, but also Europe now face a long period of stagnation.

Phelps says the West has to pay for the mistakes of the past, but if it can get back on track rapidly, recovery can start that much faster and the mistakes will take less of a toll. He considers the political system to be the greatest problem. In the United States, political parties are busy putting spokes in each others’ wheels, while leaders in Europe have managed to create a system of perverted incentives with banks and insurers having to hold government bonds and governments exceeding agreed-on debt ceilings. Phelps says politicians need to show both more courage and a greater sense of responsibility, facing the fact that they are going to have to be the bearers of bad news -- such as tax hikes -- to their citizens.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Points of Interest 08/22/2011


"Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s unprecedented effort to keep the economy from plunging into depression..."
...included lending banks and other companies as much as $1.2 trillion of public money, about the same amount U.S. homeowners currently owe on 6.5 million delinquent and foreclosed mortgages. The largest borrower, Morgan Stanley (MS), got as much as $107.3 billion, while Citigroup took $99.5 billion and Bank of America $91.4 billion, according to a Bloomberg News compilation of data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, months of litigation and an act of Congress.
One may ask how it is possible that Japan, after its experience with the atomic bombings..."
...could allow itself to draw so heavily on the same nuclear technology for the manufacture of about a third of its energy. There was resistance, much of it from Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors. But there was also a pattern of denial, cover-up and cozy bureaucratic collusion between industry and government, the last especially notorious in Japan but by no means limited to that country.
"At a time of harsh austerity, high unemployment and a recession that never ended for most people, workers on the picket line at Verizon pointed to the company’s flagrant greed and union-busting."
While it made $10 billion in profits last year and paid its top five executives $258 million over the last four years, Verizon hasn’t paid a dime in federal income taxes in two years. In fact, it received a $1.3 billion federal tax rebate for 2010.

Despite its success, the company has cried poverty and is seeking big concessions from workers, including massive cuts to health benefits, pensions, job security protections and sick days. Striking workers had the advantage of wide public support—including solidarity pickets far beyond the East Coast—as they highlighted these facts about Verizon’s hypocrisy and anti-worker attacks. Having ended the strike prematurely, however, many workers feel union leaders have squandered that crucial advantage.
Considering things like this, I'm entirely comfortable questioning the impact a candidate's religious beliefs has on their approach to governance.

"A clash between these two newly created legal entities — children and corporations — was, perhaps, inevitable."
Century-of-the-child reformers sought to resolve conflicts in favor of children. But over the last 30 years there has been a dramatic reversal: corporate interests now prevail. Deregulation, privatization, weak enforcement of existing regulations and legal and political resistance to new regulations have eroded our ability, as a society, to protect children.
"The Big Three are well aware that their fates rest, in part, on the outcome of this SEC study, due out next year."
And the S&P's recent downgrade may well have been the industry's shot across the bow, an attempt to intimidate SEC regulators. It appears that the rating agencies have essentially gone from being recipients of bribery to the perpetrators of extortion.

When the Big Three's house of cards finally collapsed, the rest of America paid the price. Until we rein in the corruption of the credit rating agency industry, we are just asking for it to happen all over again.
Texas politics does have this amazing pay-to-play culture...

"If you're a moderate Republican in West Bend, you're a liberal..."


"“Bank of America. We’ll help you out...”

Only about the Benjamins.

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