Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bachmann: Too Ignorant To Represent Anyone

Bachmann went on Beck's radio show and made preposterous claims about the impact of other nations developing a hybrid reserve currency. She clearly does not not what she is talking about, but since most people don't either, Beck's audience probably feels threatened by this new menace. Bachmann wants Congress to draft legislation forbidding this new reserve currency, but does not seem to understand that other countries can use whatever they want to for their own financial reserves; Congress does not write law for the whole world.

Is there a responsible Republican anywhere that will put Beck's audience's minds at ease about this non-threat?

Below, read this transcript (from Matt Yglesias) of part of her interview on Beck's show:

BACHMANN: Let me tell you, there’s something that’s happening this week in Congress that could be the eventual unraveling for our freedom, and it’s this. I had asked the Treasury Secretary and Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve Chair, if they would categorically denounce–

BECK: I know.

BACHMANN: –taking the United States off of the dollar and putting us on an international global currency. Because as you know, Russia, China, Brazil, India, South Africa, many national have lined up now and called for an international currency, a One World currency. And they want to get off the dollar as the reserve currency.

BECK: Most people don’t understand what that means.

BACHMANN: What that means is that all of the countries of the world would have a single currency. We would give up the dollar as our currency and we would just go with a One World currency. And now for the first time, we’re seeing major countries like China, India, Russia, countries like that, calling for a one world currency and they want this discussion to occur at the G20. So I asked both the Treasury Secretary and the Federal Reserve chair if they would categorically denounce this. The reason why is because if we give up the dollar as our standard, and co-mingle the value of the dollar with the value of coinage in Zimbabwe, that dilutes our money supply. We lose country over our economy. And economic liberty is inextricably entwined with political liberty. Once you lose your economic freedom, you lose your political freedom. And then we are no more, as an exceptional nation, as we always have been. So this is imperative.

Why Bachmann feels the need to allude to American exceptionalism is anyone's guess. I suspect it is because it has a lot of syllables, The Alaskan Governor talked about it a lot, and people don't know what it means, but it sounds patriotic.

It's embarrassing to have such an idiot in Congress although I expect there are many.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Republican Budget Ideas

Nate Silver came up with this handy graphic outlining GOP plans for improving the budget.

A New Art Form Is Born: Extreme Shepherding

When someone told me this clip revealed what bored shepherds can do with sheep to wile away the hours I had little hope it would be such family entertainment.

Notice how carefully the leg movements of the super-sized walking sheep are coordinated.

Just In Time For The Weekend!

Mostly it's just goofy, but there is some fun dancing in the second half. It also shows some dancing from a perspective I have never before seen------from beneath the floor! Apparently they used a transparent floor.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Behavioral Economist on what went wrong with the economy.

And, why often, our intuitions are wrong, wrong, wrong. Highly recommended.

Not expressing your emotions makes them stronger

Science digest reports that people who don't show feelings in their face have a much more difficult time getting rid of these feelings. Thus, people who have botox injections that paralyze their face muscles may have the unexpected side effect that they become sadder and more negative in outlook. Wow.

‘At the cognitive level, they [people who did not physically express signs of disgust] began to think about disgusting things much more often and also felt much more negatively about other issues. The same phenomenon occurs in a situation where you are not allowed to think of something, say a white bear. Precisely because you are trying to suppress that thought, it becomes hyperaccessible’.

It is interesting that this negative spiral is evident with both conscious and unconscious suppression. ‘We asked some subjects to hold a pen between their lips without telling them the reason. The pen specifically inhibited the facial muscles that people use to express disgust. The same pattern of effects was found in these subjects as in the subjects who suppressed their emotions consciously’. The negative consequences of suppression are thus attributable to suppressed muscles and not to suppressed thoughts.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Miserable Lie: or, why aren't we all furious?

First, read this.
Key quote:
Like feudal lords claiming the economic surplus for themselves while administering austerity for the population at large, the wealthiest 1 per cent of the population has raised their appropriation of the nationwide returns to wealth – dividends, interest, rent and capital gains – from 37 per cent of the total ten years ago to 57 per cent five years ago and it seems nearly 70 per cent today. This is the highest proportion since records have been kept. We are approaching Russian kleptocratic levels.

Did you get that? The top 1% of Americans has SEVENTY PERCENT OF THE WEALTH. We no no longer have a middle class, thanks to Reagan, Bush, and Bush, and a bit of Clinton, too. We are, officially, a banana republic, and headed, with the new treasury plan, deeper into third world territory.

The new wall street - bank bailout plan has been disclosed and it is totally totally off the rails. It allows companies to pay 3% of the price of an asset, and have the government loan them the other 97%, at very good terms.

Here's the pithiest summary that I could find of what's so terribly wrong with this, from a poster named anonymous at naked capitalism here. Basically, we, the poor wage earner taxpayer give even more hunka-hunka-burnin' money to the filthy rich hedge and other financial funds that got us into this mess; the money continues to flow upward.

I am SAC Capital. I get to be one of the bidders on bank assets covered by the program

Citi holds $100mm of face-value securities, carried at $80mm.

The market bid on these securities is $30mm. Say with perfect foresight the value of all cash flows is $50mm.

I bid Citi $75mm. I put up $2.25mm or 3%, Treasury funds the rest.

I then buy $10mm in CDS directly from Citi [or another participant(BOA, GS, etc)] on the bonds for a premium of $1mm.

In the fullness of time, we get the final outcome, the bonds are worth $50mm

SAC loses $2.25mm of principal, but gets $9mm net in CDS proceeds, so recovers $6.75mm on a $2.25mm investment. Profit is $4.5mm

Citi writes down $5mm from the initial sale of the securities, and a $9mm CDS loss. Total loss, $14mm (against a potential $30mm loss without the program)

U.S. Treasury loses $22.75mm

Great program.

Its just a scheme to transfer losses from the bank to the taxpayer with an egregious payout to a middleman (SAC) to effectively money launder the transaction.

You've also transmuted a $30mm economic loss into a $36.75mm economic loss because of the laundering. So its incredibly inefficient.

How did fraud and money laundering become the national economic policy of the US?

One would have to be a criminal to participate in this.

How did we get into this mess? Rachel Maddow has an excellent 7 minute summary of the deregulations that culminated in the current financial meltdown.

Commenter Nick at naked capitalism has another, even more bleak take on what is going to happen to the american taxpayer under the new treasury plan.

Say Bank A has already marked down a portfolio of toxic mortgage securities from its $100M face value down to $80M. Under TALF 2.0 provisions, Hedge Fund B buys this portfolio for $80M with a 3%, or $2.4M, equity stake. The rest comes in the form of non-recourse loans and "gifts" from the Treasury Dept. Bank A gets these toxic mortgage securities off the books and makes a cool $80M.

In reality, on the open markets, a similar portfolio of mortgages recently sells for about 20% of face value. The execs at Bank A know this.

The following week Bank A comes to Hedge Fund B and offers to buy the MBS portfolio from the hedge fund for $20M. Initially, the hedge fund's 3% equity stake would now only be worth $600K. However Bank A offers to pay the hedge fund, say, a $3M "transaction fee" or some other shady payment/purchasing method to go through with the deal.

Hedge Fund B's equity stake is essentially bought for $3.6M ($600K+$3M). In only a week's time, Hedge Fund B has made $1.2M on its initial $2.4M investment. It pays the Feds back the principal on the non-recourse loan it took out and has made more than enough $ to pay whatever miniscule amount it owes for a week's worth of interest payments on the loan.

Bank A has now not only bought back this MBS portfolio actually worth 20 cents on the dollar, it only had to pay $3.6 million or 3.6 cents on the dollar to Hedge Fund B to get it back. Bank A nets $16.4M dollars and has a sweet party. As an added bonus, Bank A believes the portfolio will in time be worth 50% of face value when it matures/the markets recover and makes Vegas money on that 30-point spread.

Meanwhile, the taxpayer gets the epically-sized shaft. The Fed facilitates enormous losses for the taxpayer by making up the vast majority of the differences between current and/or eventual actual market prices and the paid fake/inflated auction price of 80% of face value--or approaching $60M for this portfolio. Add a whole lot of zeros to this number and that’s where taxpayers will be at when all is said and done. Meanwhile the banks make astonishing profits on what could become the greatest bait-n’-switch in modern history and taxpayers wonder why they have to pay $10 for a loaf of brad.

On the plus side, I hear beachside huts in Palau are cheap these days.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Death: the best punk band you've never heard of (unless you read the NYT)

Three teenagers from Detroit in Nineteen Seventy and Five.

Listen. It's even topical: Politicians in my eyes. Imagine MC5 plus Stooges plus plus plus rage and power chords and too too early for their time.....

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Radiohead, the bluegrass version

From the same kind folks (Hard and Phirm) who brought us the musical Pi, here's their bluegrass take on Radiohead.

Happy Pi day (only a day late, gimme a break)

Pi + cute kids + three scoops of, uh, silliness, a pinch of hiphop, and a tablespoon of dadaism. So no griping.

Found, originally, on SciencePunk (where else), here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Music for Friday the 13th

Sorry for my absence, I've been having, duh, a rather too dizzy life (actual, not metaphorical) to do much, but am now ready to post my new favorite band. The ever creative Geebee picked up a cd by the German band Notwist for a whole buck at a yard sale. It's loverly--imagine lyric, sorta chill-out electronica (with a Sigur Ros chaser) played by a REAL BAND with a REAL DRUMMER plus a guitarist/bassist and singer that used to play heavy metal.

Here's them live from Feb.

I Think I'm In Love!

And not with the bald idiot.

Stewart does an absolutely bloodthirsty evisceration of this buffoon after a week of built up anticipation. (Notice how much Kramer's voice gets higher and tenser as he sees his career going down the toilet just like Tucker Someone-or-Other's {John Stewart did him in too, a long time ago.}. Hee hee!)

We are going to need a word to describe Kramer's abject devastation-----like "Borked" (for what happened to Bork). Too bad his name is too common.

For people who want more, you're in luck. But there's even more, the beginning of the kerfuffle from earlier in the week. Boy, this really is right up my alley!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Injustice Everywhere

A 75 year old widow in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to forty lashes for asking her nephew (accompanied by his business partner) to bring some bread to her. Because he was not in her immediate family, this was considered immoral "mingling" between "unrelated" people of the opposite sex. The widow claims to have nursed the nephew occasionally as an infant which would have established a closer kinship in their tradition, but since she had no proof of this, their contact was considered criminal.
The men also await sentencing.

Another travesty in Saudi Arabia involves the marriage of an eight year old girl to a 47 year old man. ( The girl's father owed him money! ) The judge refused to annul the marriage, but had the husband sign a document that said he would not have sex with the girl until she hits puberty. (And when is that, at the appearance of the first pubic hair, or her period, or breast buds?) The girl may not herself file for divorce until she is 18.

"It is incorrect to say that it's not permitted to marry off girls who are 15 and younger," Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, the kingdom's grand mufti, said in remarks quoted Wednesday in the regional Al-Hayat newspaper. "A girl aged 10 or 12 can be married. Those who think she's too young are wrong and they are being unfair to her."

I confess I find it hard to follow his reasoning. Why does the fact that a ten or twelve year old could be married mean that the limit should be extended to even younger ages? An eight year old?!?

And then there is the nine year old Brazilian girl, pregnant with twins by her abusive step-father. Fortunately abortion is legal in Brazil in cases of rape or medical emergencies----and this was both. The small child would likely have died carrying twins to term. She was given the abortion, but now her mother and the doctors have been excommunicated from the Catholic church. The step-father's sin was seen as serious, but not worthy of excommunication.

Although my vengeful nature dreams of a truly Biblical punishment for Bernie Madoff, not to mention those two judges in Pennsylvania who sentenced teens to correctional facilities to get kickbacks, we must all thank our lucky stars that we live in a society where religion does not dominate our legal system. The Brazilian girl has similarly benefited from the separation of church and state. The citizens of Saudi Arabia-----especially the women-----are not so lucky. The rules that govern their lives are religious decrees that none may challenge. We must remain vigilant to keep strictly religious views from being imposed upon our citizenry.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Missing White House Emails Found in the Chattanooga Choo-Choo?

Look What I found on the magical internets!!!!

The Locust Fork News Journal has discovered the location of back-up copies of the missing White House Emails!!!!! (Rubs hands together while cackling.) They're in Chattanooga, TN

I located this link while reading through a comment thread about the clearest case of illegal Governmental wiretapping out there that happened right here in the lovely, if somewhat damp, state of Oregon, the al Haramain case. Here. I recommend everyone to read, at least, the original post. Shortish, to-the-point, fascinating.

Oh, and the post and the brilliant brilliant comment thread, which includes two lawyers involved in the case, clearly spell out the problems with the war-on-terror and more specifically, warrentless wiretapping, that is, if the President makes a mistake he/she can simply classify the documents as state secrets and get off scott-free.

Obama administration, you filed a brief reiterating the Bush doctrine that the PREAZ RULZE!!!1!!!! What? 3 prongs (legislative, executive, judicial), OH NOES, you wrong. In non LOLCAT, the Obama admin has been siding with the Bush admin aka the idea that the president trumps the other two prongs of our gov't. Totally. If the President says that documents are secret, who are we mere Judges to disobey him? No No No No NO NO NO.

So depressing. I'm really afraid that Obama got a taste of power and thought, OOOhhh yummy!

This post is sort of a mess, sorry, so much to say, so few words.