Friday, September 30, 2011

Obama Fights Discrimination Against the Unemployed

     In a time of such high unemployment-and as I have made clear in previous posts I am one of the unemployed-it's great to know that some employers actively work against the unemployed ever working again. There has been a surge in ads the last few years that require applicants to already have a job to even be allowed an interview.

   Now however, advocates for the unemployed are cheered by a recent move by President Obama to not only ban such ads but to enable the unemployed to sue if they believe they have been discriminated against.;_ylt=AjTlshP0UnlcDUnZosRT1uKs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTNqOWtvMm4xBGNjb2RlA2N0LmMEcGtnA2JiNTMwOTJmLWIzMmUtM2E0NC1hOTk4LTA2ZWU4N2RkOWYyNgRwb3MDMQRzZWMDbW9zdF9wb3B1bGFyBHZlcgMyNGU2NDVmMC1lOTNlLTExZTAtYWZkMS02NTNiZWZhM2M1OTI-;_ylg=X3oDMTFpNzk0NjhtBGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDBHBzdGNhdANob21lBHB0A3NlY3Rpb25z;_ylv=3

   Not surprisingly there are advocates for employers decrying the move.

   Advocates for employers oppose the proposed ban. "We do not see a need for it," Michael Eastman of the Chamber of Commerce told the New York Times.

    "Lawrence Lorber, a labor law specialist who represents employers, told the paper the president's proposal "opens another avenue of employment litigation and nuisance lawsuits."

    "Louie Gohmert, a Republican representative from Texas, went further. He told the Times that the proposal would send the following message: "If you're unemployed and you go to apply for a job, and you're not hired for that job, see a lawyer. You may be able to file a claim because you got discriminated against because you were unemployed."

    Great to know that Mr. Eastman "doesn't see a need for it." After all he as job security. As for Rep. Gohmert I know the message you prefer: that employers have carte blanche to discriminate against the unemployed  out of the usual perversity that has enabled some to claim that we may at 9.1% unemployment already be approaching a "natural rate of unemployment."

   It's bad enough that we have  until now been unable to bring down unemployment. But how about the fact that some actively work against bringing it down like Eastman, Gohmer, et al.

   If Mr. Lorber is worried about opening another avenue he only needs to instruct his clients to close their current avenue for putting up The Unemployed Need Not Apply.

Get it Over With Already and Mail in Your Uterus

    Sorry to be blunt but if you are a woman who votes Republican you should just go ahead and do it already. That's what they want. Total disclosure this was Howard Stern's line after women helped some knuckle dragging Rethug get reelected in his district years ago.

   This year alone we had a bill pass in the GOP House that would allow "medical professionals"- note the vagueness of medical professional as opposed to doctor, a designation that could include not just a doctor but a nurse, an administrator or maybe even the hospital janitor or cafeteria lady, technically such people are in some sense "professionals" at a medical facility-to refuse a woman at a hospital an abortion even if needed to save her life. This same medical professional could also refuse to allow her access to another hospital that would perform the abortion.

    We have the other law passed by the House that would redefine rape so that certain types of rape won't be prosecuted as rape, maybe as some lesser charge-like jay walking or illegal fire works use? We have the recent GOP state legislature who had passed a law in the Senate-it has so far been held up in the House-that would drop the period a woman can receive an abortion to 6 weeks-a period before many would even realize they're pregnant.

    Now the House is trying to shake down Planned Parenthood again demanding that they submit records to prove they haven't been using federal funds for abortion and itemizing all the non abortion services they do to make sure they are not in some way complicit with the taint of abortion.

      When you realize that it is Obama alone who stands between these misogynists and total power that you see how irresponsible is the firebagger rap that it makes no difference whether Obama is  reelected or Rick Perry.

Some Good Economic News

    Just remember the operative word here is some. Jobless claims last week dropped 37,000 falling to 391,000 last week well below analyst expectations of 420,000. This was particularly positive as it fell for the first time beneath the psychologically important level of 400,000.

    The next important level is 375,000, which is considered the level it must fall to for the unemployment rate to start falling. The Labor Department did preach caution "that the way it adjusts the data for seasonal fluctuations may have overstated the strength."

Read more:

    In another positive development, the GDP growth rose to 1.3% during the 2nd quarter beating expectations of 1.0%. While to be sure 1.3% is still modest this along with increased consumer spending and increased export growth are another good omen. In a time when these have been in short supply we'll take it.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rick Perry Threatens Bernanke Again

     Say this for the GOP they may not like Operation Twist but they do have their own solution: Operation Tank the Economy. Just to remove any doubt, Rick Perry is at it again threatening Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke declaring that if elected Bernanke will be out at the Fed and there will be no more "money printing."

    Nice. Turns out this is nothing new, the Republicans have a long history of such attacks on monetary and fiscal policy that might work, in fact  there is a long Republican history of economic obstruction. The party of no has been saying no for a long time. Even in the midst of the Depression the Republican boobirds were out trying to thwart FDR's recovery.

    "There is one strong similarity to late 1933; the conservative outrage over the gold-buying program forced FDR to stop it long before he reached his objective of reflating the price level to pre-Depression levels.  Now there are signs that conservative outrage over QE2 may be making it harder for Bernanke to achieve his inflation objectives, which are to return the inflation rate to pre-recession levels.  Plus la change"
    Question, what is the difference between the Republicans and Hitler? Hitler created jobs. The Republican policy is brilliant in a bizzaro world where the point is to lose jobs and damage the economy.

Yankee Fans Celebrate Blowing 7-0 Lead!

    I got to say that speaking as a Yankee fan last night's loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays was bittersweet. Therein lies the paradox: It shouldn't be bittersweet it should just be bitter! The Yankees managed to blow a 7-0  eighth inning lead to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

    However the rub is that the loss enabled the Rays to claim the AL wild card from the Boston Red Sox.  Meanwhile the Yanks had already sewn up first place in the AL East and home filed advantage throughout the AL playoffs so nothing was on the line. True, some might argue that it is not exactly a momentum boost to go into the playoffs Friday on this note, but the Yanks had pulled all their starters by the time of the rally. Yes all things being equal I'd rather not ever see a Yankee team lose that way, but again it was with Triple AAA players and the bonus is it knocked the Sox out of the playoffs.

    Who could have guessed that the Sox who had dominated the Yankees for most of the season beating them the first 9 games against and leading them for most of the season would collapse so totally they even missed the playoffs? The Sox were the favorites this year-similarly in football this year the Eagles are favorited over the Giants making this past Sunday's 29-16 upset of Philly especially satisfying(adding to it further is that the Gaints had lost 6 straight to them previously)-and to not only win the division over them but for them to even miss the playoffs is kind of cool I must admit.

    Last night might be the first time a Yankee loss ever felt kind of good.

I Am So Dependent On My Computer!

     As it is said you don't know what you have till it's gone. And what I had is gone-hopefully only temporarily. Yesterday I somehow lost my computer. I think on the Long Island Bus, I hope so for then there's a decent chance I will find it. Of course if I had left it at the bus stop before I got on then I'm SOL! But seems less likely.

    Have already put in my report with the transit people. Hopefully I will hear back from them today. At present I prefer not to think about  I will do if they don't find it. Really without my computer I am lost. I mean my computer is what has enabled me to get my radio show as I met Bob Abston and Turbo Kitty on Twitter. Of course Diary of a Republican Hater is only possible with a computer. Until (if) they find it I will have to use the library computer to even write Diary though of course they only let you stay on for about 2 hours. I may have to trek from here to other libraries. I have no car as that was repoed in August. My bike got a flat last week. Yeah living the American Dream-LOL! I will get a lot of exercise. This entire recession has been good for getting me used to walking and biking.

   I love technology. I know there are technophiles and technophobes but I'm much closer to the technophiles. And they make so much possible that wouldn't be otherwise! Life before the Internet was the dark ages.

   For now though I have to hope Scarlett O'Hara was right about depending on the kindness of strangers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Business Shows no Interest in Interest

     It is a little known provision of the Dodd-Frank financial reform that passed last year but businesses can now for the first time since the 30s get interest on large checking accounts. This is something businesses have wanted for a long time. Yet they are not exactly snatching them up right now. Why is this?

    A couple of reasons. For one thing while many banks are taking the new opportunity and offering the new accounts most that are aren't advertising it. JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup all now offer interest generating accounts but aren't advertising it. Bank of America on the other hand isn't offering it at all. One of the few large banks that is widely promoting the interest bearing business checking accounts is Capital One who is offering an account specifically targeted at small businesses.

    It's a question of yes we now let you gain interest on your account but we still hope you don't know it. Evidently they fear that more customers who would have opened accounts anyway will now grab the interest accounts than new customers who come to the bank specifically because of the new accounts.

    Then again many businesses prefer to find a bank that will make a deal with them to reduce or eliminate transaction fees(Of course retail customers, that would be us, aren't in the position to negotiate individual deals with banks).

    Certainly right now if you have a choice between an account that gains interest and one with less or no fees it's a no-brainer to choose the latter. The reason comes back to the reason so few businesses have shown any interest in interest;    With interest rates at historic lows there is very little interest to be had. There is little interest in interest because: there is no interest; this is beginning to sound like a Jerry Seinfeld bit!

    Maybe at some time in the future it will be a more attractive deal again though it's hard to imagine when. After all Bernanke has already said they will stay at or near 0 till 2013 to which I should add at least! If the economy doesn't turn around it could be here a lot longer. Japan lowered their rate to near 0 in the 90s during their malaise and as they've never come out of it they have never had occasion to raise rates.

    Still it could change. No one realized it back in 1981 but if you jumped on a 30 year bond then you hit the jackpot. This year these bonds come due and they have paid over 15% interest a year. Comparably bonds today offer a 2% interest rate and yet they're being snatched up on safety.


Will We Go the Way of Japan?

     Lately I've been wondering as sorry as our picture is here in the U.S. are we as bad or worse than Europe? While people like Paul Voicker invoke the spectre of The Great Inflation of the fiendish 70s I have been skeptical that the Great Inflation was even as bad as The Great Moderation he ushered in that he an Greenspan are so inordinately proud of. This inflation as the bogey man of history premise is flawed.

     As I pointed out in previous posts, at least in the 70s student loans weren't the strait jacket they are today-now unlike then you don't even have bankruptcy protection from them, and the inflation of the 70s made those loans worth a lot less which effectively is a wealth transfer from creditors.

    In truth the example we should be consulting now is not the 70s but the 30s. Krugman suggests that we are living in a dark ages of macroeconomics that many things that we previously knew we have forgotten so that while in 1971 economists knew some things they hadn't known in 1931, today in 2011 that's no longer true.

     Again, the 30s are relevant for comparison today but not the 70s. At least Bernanke is supposed to be a scholar about the 30s and not the 70s. While I'm not a fan of his monetarist background it seems that he is at least trying in good faith to stimulate the economy-which is separate from the question of how effective he has been or whether his prescriptions have been right-which is more than you can say for the Republicans in Congress; they may not be impressed by Bernanke's Operation Twist their plan is Operation Tank the Economy. They think this will be their trump card in 2012. Where we see high unemployment and weak growth they see a political opportunity. In light of this Perry's attack on Bernanke as being guilty of treason is pretty ironic.

    While the 30s are the relevant historical analogy for today and we are in Krugman's liquidity trap, there is one other analogy that is apt. The true cautionary tale for today is Japan and their response to their recession of the 90s which they never came fully back from. The spectre of a future where we have much lower growth, permanently, where the new normal is much lower GDP growth and higher unemployment-there are those who are predicting that even after the recovery the unemployment rate will be 6 to 7 percent- which is higher than during the Bush years which were no bargain-is quite real. Speaking of a new normal of 6 to 7 percent unemployment, there are economists, like the dissenters in the Fed meeting back in August who think the new "natural rate of unemployment" is close to being reached already. Maybe the economy is already to0 red hot! Great to know that there are those in the Fed itself who honestly claim to think that there are too many Americans at work now.
    As pessimistic as things look right now-there were a few positive developments in Europe yesterday though the devil is in the details and it may still not be enough; in any case the market seems to have calmed down for now. Interestingly Barroso, the EU President just said that the proposed euro bonds-in my opinion they are a very good idea-would require greater Euro integration a prospect that will give red meat to the nationalists in many of the Euro countries but I actually think would be welcome as well.

    The chance that the future looks like Japan is very real. It could be that Japan's experience will be replicated on a global level with all of Europe and the U.S. going the same way. It did occur to me that we here in the U.S. do have a few advantages over Europe after all and we are less likely to go that way than Europe.

    As I see it we have at least 2 major factors that may end up saving us that Europe lacks. First is our demography, the second is our geography(we have a major spatial advantage and always have).

    What Europe has in common with Japan is a declining population where most of these countries are more culturally homogenous like Japan. In Japan there is a low birth rate and low immigration, Indeed immigration is discouraged. To be Japanese is very different than our conception of to be American where in principle at least we believe in the melting pot and that x factor that defines Americaness is not ethnic. Anyone can be an American if they share our commitment to democracy and liberty. For Japan to be Japanese you must be ethnically so, the x factor of Japanese-ness is ethnic.

   In this Germany-currently the most healthy Western nation-is much closer to than the U.S. Germany currently has a lower unemployment rate than in 2005 and also the best welfare state in the West. But their low birth rate and more homogeneous population is a disadavantage.

   Our heterogeneous country, with a rising birth rate and good population growth, along with the browning of American and the increase of Latinos, bodes well for our future. Population growth and heterogeneous demographics are very conducive to GDP and job growth.

   Our other advantage is geographic and spatial. This advantage is why we have emerged over 200 years-really 400 years staring in Jamestown-as such a wealthy and powerful country. As opposed to Japan or most countries in Europe we have a resource rich country and as opposed to all European countries we have tremendous size and breadth with the continental United States alone spanning a continent.  The declining population of Europe is not helped by the anti immigration policies of most Euro countries either. The French who pride themselves on being the cradle of the Enlightenment and love to contrast their own historic love of darker skinned people to U.S. historic racism have now actually put in practice the new law whereby a woman is fined for wearing a Burqa in public.

   This is also why the concern of someone like Kevin Phillips that the U.S. is gonna go the way of England, Holland or Spain to say nothing of the Romans is while, a legitimate concern and met yet prove right, the U.S is certainly different now from say England at the start of the 20th century. England is a tiny island which would not be close to being the largest state in our Union. It has always lacked resources which is the compulsion that led it to explore and conquer so much of the world. The U.S. such a large and resource rich nation and growing against England's decline is very different. This is not to deny a U.S. demise is possible, just that we have significant advantages that England lacked 100 years ago.

    Still the prognosis is not all to our side. If we have advantages over Germany demographically and geographically, they have some major advantages over us. First and foremost they have a very healthy green energy plan in place where they plan to be fully using alternative energy by 2050-recently Merkel has had to consider moving the date up. In the U.S. we haven't really started and the opposition is shown most recently by the GOP attempt to tie cuts in a program for electric cars to funding Fema for disaster relief.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Strange as it Seems the 70s Weren't That Bad

     Or at least as bad as they're cracked out to be. As mentioned in my last post in economic matters there are always winners and losers.

     For more on this please see

     It is certainly true as Krugman says we shouldn't romanticize the 70s.

     He even goes as far as saying there are worse things than inflation, an unthinkable heresy to suggest right now. But when we look at the 70s we don't see the worst economy anyone has ever lived under. The 30s were much worse. And as Krugman points out, the 30s are much more similar to our situation than the 70s. Why then are the 70s so eviscerated? Because there is a certain ideology that wants to claim that the worst thing in the world is inflation that contrary to Krugman there is nothing worse than inflation.

   Again no reason to romanticize the 70s but there were a few things in that decade that we might appreciate right about now. For one thing student loans in large part because there was such high inflation weren't the strait jacket they are now where it is as though you live your whole life just to pay down debts. Some say we shouldn't live to work but work to live. But at this point we have many who aren't working at all and those who are find themselves saddled with student loans which alone among any kind of debt there is no bankruptcy protection for.

    Indeed as suggested in my last post one group of people who had good reason to hate the 70s were bond sellers. More widely, if we understand the longer period of 1948 till 1980 as Carmen Reinhart does as a period of "financial repression" then we can understand why the bondholders wanted a new regime and why even the memory of the 70s for them is vitriol. Yet there are always winners and losers and what's amazing is that a 30 year bond in 1981 fetched you a 15% interest rate. The lucky stiffs who did buy in at that level get to cash out this year.

    Indeed in the late 70s and early 80s you could get a money market fund for 20%. It was not a great time for stocks but when you can get 20% for letting your money sit in a savings account who needed stocks? So the 70s were a time when high inflation effectuated a massive transfer of wealth from creditors to debtors, and you could have a 20% savings account.

   And for that matter median income and the median standard of living was way above what it is today. Again the 70s were a schizophrenic time and despite what it may seem I am not romanticizing them. There were gas lines, tremendous price instability, etc. But you got to admit that right now debt relief and a 20% interest rate on your savings account sounds pretty good. Today you essentially pay the bank to hold onto your money as you do in the case of bonds who have seen their interest rates at 2% come full circle back to where they were back in 1940 before the start of the '40 year bear market for bonds.'

Financial Repression: The Best of Times and Worst of Times

     One piece of economic ideology that gets my goat are those people-many of them found on the Wall Street Journal editorial page-who buy into the Greenspan Myth: that the current financial crisis as bad as it is has interrupted an economic olden Age, The Great Moderation which lasted from around 1981 till the start of this current crisis. The goal then would seem to be for us to return to this "normalcy" as soon as possible. Yet as a solution to our current problem it is wrong on its face and must be understood as such.

    The Golden Age of The Great Moderation was not quite what it's cracked up to be. For one thing the monetary policy which gave us it coincides with Reaganomics in the realm of fiscal policy. Overall it's hard to say that most Americans are better off than they were 30 years ago when these 2 complementary policies were implemented.

    In economics there are (always) winners and losers. Take almost any economic policy position and no matter how beneficial and effective it might be there will be somebody fighting it. Why? Because it disadvantages them, there is no policy that benefits everybody, never has been.

    Now in fact the era of 1948-77 was a Golden Age for most Americans in terms of a consistent rise in the standard of living. Then came the Reagan Revolution and Paul Voicker's new monetary regime, The Great Moderation. Why if most Americans did better in the previous regime was there this push from conservatives for this new policy regime which has proven to be much less efficacious for most Americans?

    Well consider the work of Carmen Reinhart who refers to the time period of 1948-80 as the age of "financial repression." 1980 was the end of financial repression it was also the end of something else: a 40 year bear market for U.S. bonds.

    That's what I mean about winners and losers or as Dickens put it It was the best of times it was the worst of times!

     The age of financial repression was overall the best of times for most Americans but it was the worst of times for bond sellers. The last 30 years have been the worst of times for most Americans but the best of times for bond sellers.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Financial Repression: Another Idea Whose Time Has Come?

    If you have read me over here at Diary of a Republican Hater you might have guessed by now that I'm a fan of an idea whose time has come. An idea whose time may have come-really it came awhile ago, but never mind, is financial repression. 

    To be sure the title of this post could just as soon be Contra Alan Greenspan because it is his wrongheaded ideas that we must fight if the American Dream is anything more than a faded memory. This term is one used widely by Carmen M. Reinhart among others.

   Greenspan has this ideology that we had this great economy, the Goldilocks Economy that between 1981 or so and 2007 was world class, and the best we've ever had it other than the the days of the gold standard-for some reason he looks back nostalgically on the gold standard now and then. All these musings of Mr. Greenspan can be found in his 2007 The Age of Turbulence.

    The timing of this book could not have been more fortuitous for Greenspan, it came out just a few short months before July 2007 when the Countrywide Financial CEO first suggested just how long it might take the housing market to return. At the time he had suggested it could be 2 years. We are 2 years beyond that date and still in the middle of the housing crisis now but at the time it was an earth shattering worry that it could take that long to come back.

    Greenspan lucky for him at least didn't get egg on his face before the book even hit the shelves-just a few months after. In famous testimony before Congress in 2008 Greenspan admitted to being completely stunned, that he never thought there could be CEOs that might work against the best interests of their own company's long term health. Where was he when the Brooklyn Bridge was being sold?

   It has to be understood that the economy of the last 30 years even prior to the current crisis was a lot more problematic that than the happy label Greenspan and company give it, The Great Moderation.  What is moderated is inflation and prices. As Krugman says the 70s should not be romanticized-as if anyone does-but that time was in crucial respects superior to not just today-which is a given-but even the heyday of the Great Moderation.

   The bad old days for Greenspan-and many policy makers today-is the 70s, the so-called Great Inflation. Yet the 70s was not Hell on Earth in every respect. For one thing the standard of living was much higher for the median American than today. While 1948-77 was a boom time for median wages, in the subsequent period of The Great Moderation-and Reaganomics-median income has stagnated.

   Or take the case of student loans. Due to the high level of inflation in the 70s student loans were not the financial strait jacket they are for students upon leaving school that they are today-as Obama himself has discussed. Indeed what is clear is that while the 70s were not the worst decade for the average American-the worst decades were the 30s, today, and the 2000s during the Bush years were pretty shabby too-they were very bad for student lenders. One reason that inflation is railed against by Greenspan and company is that it executes a redistribution from creditors to debtors.

    This aversion to such a transfer is what is retarding the recovery today. In Europe even when they attempt to help Greece they throw in so many sweeteners to the bondholders that it's very little relief at all and so not effective. Until a serious debt restructuring is executed the problem is not gonna be fixed. In the U.S. we had some of this same crazy focus during the debt ceiling debacle where a balanced budget was focused on to the exclusion of jobs.

    Whatever the future recovery will look like-assuming there is one-a debt restructuring will have to be part of it: if protecting creditors remains the highest priority there will be none. What we need is some financial repression. An example of a successful restructuring was FDR's getting us off the gold standard which effectuated a massive transfer of wealth from creditors-who will do nothing with the wealth but hoard it-to debtors who will facilitate some actual consumer demand-consumers are 70% of economic demand.

U.S. vs. Europe: Who is the Bigger Basket Case?

     We certainly should be and under George W. Bush we would win hands down. We were the biggest basket case with the worst chief executive anywhere in the First World. However times have changed and few places have changed for the better; the only exception to this may be Germany, Finland, and the Netherlands. Germany, the most healthyl Western capitalist country right now has a lower unemployment than in 2005

    Yet they are also the problem: these healthy countries are standing in the way of a proper bail out of Greece and the rest of the periphery countries, treating the Euro crisis as a morality tale out of Aesop's: You should have been good worker ants like we were and now you don't get any honey. The facileness of this mindset is underscored by the fact that Spain and Ireland had budget surpluses in 2007 before the crisis struck, that is to say, they were worker ants for all the good it did them.

    We in the U.S. meanwhile can't even raise the necessary funding for the government for the next month, that August debt agreement notwithstanding. At present FEMA could lose the necessary funding for disaster relief by tomorrow and the government is slated to be partially shutdown by the weekend. Still the GOP House blunders about trying to use disaster relief as an occasion to cut spending for alternative energy.

   Say what you will about the S&P downgrade but in this vein their reasoning was at least right: how can you have any confidence where the U.S government is concerned? S&P had sited an inability of Congress to get anything and pessimism about the Bush tax cuts expiring. Again S&P's premise was sound.

    Europe however is the number 1 headache right now, and considering that our legislative process is currently a vaudeville joke, they have really earned this.

    The Germans and the Finns keep dawdling around preaching austerity and lecturing about fiscal discipline while the cow is leaving the barn. The U.S., IMF, and the rest of the world are imploring Europe to do something more than the half  hearted measures they've employed until now. In theory the Euro countries agree but admit that they worry about the political costs at home.

   President Obama has been on the phone with Angela Merkel daily imploring bold, meaningful action, and Merkel does to a large extent get it. But at home the public is against any help for Greece, et al, and even her own party is deserting her on this. Essentially the European response to the urging of the U.S. and other nations and central banks is that they know action is needed but they need another 6 weeks. That they don't have it seems not to change Europe's plans.

   On the other hand, there are some who had hope that China would bail out Europe. Sure, Europe wont bail out Europe but China will bail out Europe. The Chinese this weekend poured cold water on this scenario. They will buy Euro bonds only if it falls within their appetite for risk. They will not heat up their economy to save Europe and the global economy. "We are not saviors!" China declared.

   China says it will continue to grow at 8-10%  a year but that it will not inflate itself to 16% GDP or anything like that-or even the 12% they achieved back in 2008. China is more concerned about inflation than growth at present.

    So the U.S. has a dysfunctional legislative process, Europe refuses to bail itself out but hopes China will, and the Chinese could help some by growing by more but chooses not to. Like the old saying goes: There are those who are willing to help you but they can't. There are those who can help you but they wont.

For the N.Y. Giants a Strange Consistency After 3 Weeks

     As a Giants fan I have gotten used to lowered expectations. The Giants have never been a team that wins the Super Bowl in August-who picked them to win in 2007?-and since then they have in most seasons not been highly regarded. This year they came in with few picking them to do much and with their only bandwagon the Eli bashers-many of who are Giants fans.

     For myself I couldn't but consider it an ill omen after they lost Week 1 28-14 to their arch rivals the Washington Redskins. The reason this boded ill for me is that these are the Redskins! If there is one thing the Giants have been able to count on year in year out is that their perpetual dominance of Washington only grows. Year after year, in fact the Giants going into week 1 had a 91-61-4 all-time edge against the Skins. Beginning with 1984 the Giants had a 32-17 edge-including their first Super Bowl in 1986 when they beat the Redskins in the NFC East title game to go 3-0 vs them for the season-and had won 6 straight-ie, 3 straight sweeps the last 3 years- currently before week 1. To be blown out like that against Washington then is big news for the Giants.

    In week 2 they came back against the Rams winning 28-16 but-it's the Rams a perennial also-ran the last few years. Yesterday, however was big, and in fact cancels out the negative effects and implications of the week 1 blowout to as the Giants beat another NFC East archival, the Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants relationship to Philly in recent years has been more or less the converse of the Redskins. While we have owned the Skins the Birds have owned us having won the last 6 contests between us since 2008, including a 23-11 drubbing at Giants Stadium in the winter of 2009 to end the Giants chance at defending their Super Bowl title from the previous year. However last year was the nadir for Eagles' dominance of the Jints.

    After losing the last 3 games to Philly by the scores of 17-40, 38-45, and 17-27 the Giants in a game with first place on the line in the East dominated 3 and a half quarters taking a 31-10 lead with under 9 minutes left then mangled to totally self-destruct losing 38-31.

   Yesterday their 29-16 win then takes back the balance from losing to Skins in week 1 and a lot of the ugly taste from all those losses to Philly in recent years. Eli Manning, with his many detractors managed to throw 4 TDs and-believe it or not-have not a single interception for an almost perfect QB rating for the game of 145.7. Though he has the bad rap of throwing so many picks especially in tight spots, a little historical context is in order. In his first few years he tended to have interception counts on the high side, though he always had more TDs than picks. In his first two full seasons-2005 and 2006-he had TD-INT numbers of 24-17 and 24-18, In the Super Bowl year his full season numbers were a little worse (23-20) but he really came on in the playoffs with no interceptions and led 3 comebacks against much more highly regarded opponents(each were favorites of course).

   In 2008 and 2009 he actually had very few picks compared with TDs thrown-21-10 and 27-14 respectively, so both years he had essentially a 2-1 ratio of TDs to INTs which is a superior mark for an NFL QB. Last year though he took a step back, throwing a career high 25 interceptions, though he also set a career record with 31 TDs and also threw over 4000 yds for the second successive year.

    In concluding my savoring this reversal of Giants' fortunes I will note that the final score of all three games are very close to identical. In week 1 they lose 14-28, week 2 they win 28-16, week 3 29-16. The total points have been almost the same each week with 42, 44, and 45 respectively. What's more the winning team each week has scored "about" 28 points and the losing team as scored "about" 16 points-ie, 28 points is the mode for the winning team, 16 has been the mode for the losing team; after all 29 points is "close enough" to 28 when the winning team(in 2 weeks the Giants in the other week Philly) in the other 2 weeks has scored 28 while 14(the losing score in Week 1 for the Giants) is similarly "more or less" the 16 points scored in the other 2 weeks.

   This kind of statistical whimsy is one of the main reasons I became such a big football fan in high school-it was another kind of math for a mathophile; another main reason is that while the NFL is full of numbers it is also full of history-how my teams and the other teams have performed year by year, their series vs series records like when we looked at in the Giants-Eagles and Giants-Redskins rivalries.

   For those who similarly like to study the history of the NFL and series records I recommend

Does the Wall Street Journal Have the Best NFL Analysis?

     If you were to have asked me before this weekend at least what newspaper I would go to if I want the best available football analysis I might have said the Daily News or New York Post-mainstream papers that is not a specialty paper like the Sporting News, etc.-of all the NY papers at least the Wall Street Journal would have been my last choice and I suspect this would be the consensus pick. The Wall Street Journal is a great paper for certain types of news, arguably it is the best for most "hard news", really anything but sports news.

  However a little piece on pg. A26 of Friday's Journal (9/23/11) was very interesting in a section called Take a Number: NFL Week 3: The Massey-Peabody Power Rankings. This ranking system is the brainchild of Cade Massey, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Management, and Rufus Peabody, a Las Vegas sports analyst which projects a team's future performance based on its predicted point differential against an average team on a neutral field.

   Comparing Massey-Peabody against the Vegas line, it did pretty well this week. As the article had pointed out on Friday, while Vegas had the Raiders a 3 and 1/2 point underdog to the Jets M-P had the Raiders as 5.5 favorites based on their respective power rankings-the Raiders going in had a ranking of 7 out of 32 teams with a 2.42-again this suggests that on a neutral field facing an average team you would expect the Raiders to win by about 2.42 points. The highest ranking coming in to yesterday's games was the Packers with a 3.21, the lowest was Kansas City (-4.36)-while the Jets were ranked 15 with a 0.38. Yesterday's strong showing by the Raiders in their 34-24 upset was clearly a good call by P-M.

   What's interesting is that the Jets coming in to yesterday had a P-M ranking of only 15 with a 0.38. This is a team that is fairly highly regarded by conventional opinion, played in the last 2 AFC championship games and was 2-0 over the first 2 weeks with a point differential of 59-27 while their Raider opponent was only 1-1 with a break even in points scored-points allowed (58-58). A major virtue of this system is it based exclusively on 2011 performance. Most of us for example had a harder time in believing in teams like the Lions and Bills until we really see them follow through with early promise. This power ranking system doesn't blush in rating the Detroit Lions highly. Which is a virtue as the Lions came back from a 20-0 deficit to win again yesterday for a 3-0 mark.

    Indeed there were a few very impressive calls for P-M on Sunday. In addition to the Raiders over the Jets they called the Bills earth-shattering 34-31 OT win over the Patriots-Vegas line had Pats as 9 point favorites-and while the Eagles were favored by 8 points over the Giants, Peabody-Massey suggested a close game with the Eagles only a slight favorite due to home field advantage as the rankings had the Giants actually slightly ahead of the Eagles 11th to 12trh respectively(1.24 to 1.00).

    Perhaps then, those of you who like to bet on the NFL should give their system a second look I myself can be a betting man though usually not on football as since I'm a fan I worry betting on the games would ruin it for me-when I want to bet I prefer poker or the stock market. However I must admit that P-M has me intrigued and I will follow it this week again.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bags Fly Free! Meanwhile the Consumer Still Loses

     One thing about me is I am a huge NFL football fan and love nothing better than once the season starts to spend the whole day from 1 to 11 watching football. Indeed as I'm about to bash the airlines industries it's cool that I can praise some business: I spend Sundays during football season at Applebees. They have this great deal where you get $.25 cent wings-you do have to buy in sets of $.10 so your lightest would be 10 wings for $2.50. As for drinks I-I'm not much of a drinker...-I love the deal they have where you can buy a soda for about $2,50 but unlimited refills. They know me at the local Applebees here in Baldwin: the minute I walk in someone will go pour me out a nice tall glass of orange soda full of ice and a straw and I'm in Heaven. For those of you who have more complex pallets than this, there is a deal where you can get 2 mixed drinks for the price of one.

     This last week as I was watching-lot of great games and upsets, seems that the Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders may be back-I got a little irked by the endless commercial by the SouthWest Airlines that bags fly free! It irked me because it just shows you how much further consumer service and satisfaction is yet again further being defined down. Now an airline can brag and make it a major selling point because they-at least for now-are not slapping a $120 fee to fly 2 bags. Far from making them laudable, it enables them to market something which previously with a given. First of all as noted above just because "bags fly free" doesn't mean that SouthWest is necessarily a bargain. It may actually be already charging passengers the same fee but calling it something else. Really "bag fees" like so many service charges and fees are totally arbitrary anyway as you can ascribe the cost of service or goods to anything you want but what matters is the final total price. How do we know that SouthWest while has continued to allow bags to fly free-this used to be the rule, now it's some sort of special privilege we supposedly owe them a great debt of gratitude for-isn't charging us more for peanuts, head phones or whatever? What is the total price you pay to ride this airline as opposed to the ones who no longer allow bags to fly free? Could be it's the same wine, different bottles.

     In addition SouthWest could conceivably at some point in the future decide they can no longer afford to give passengers this "great luxury" and tag on a bag fee themselves. This on top of the extra fees they may have already added that they're not calling a bag fee.

     Ultimately this whole thing adds up to a further erosion of the consumer environment and further defining down what good prices and service means. It's almost like like a school yard bully announcing that he wont charge you a toll in passing him in exchange for not punching you in the arm  like other school yard bullies do. Does this really make him an admirable guy? It's like a baseball team that sets a record for home runs in a season but only by moving in the fences so that while a home run used to be 400 feet now it's about 85-these 85 yds used to be a possible single. Overall the consumer environment further erodes where we have to now be grateful for one company in one area not gouging customers as most others are now doing.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Kweku Adoboli: Rogue Trader

    Charges against UBS rogue trader Kweku Adoboli. were expanded by London authorities yesterday.

    LONDON — Kweku M. Adoboli, the UBS trader accused of costing the big Swiss bank $2.3 billion in losses, will remain in police custody until a hearing next month after his lawyer said in court on Thursday that Mr. Adoboli would not seek bail.

    The British authorities, meanwhile, amended their charges against Mr. Adoboli, adding a second fraud charge for activities from October 2008 through 2010. Mr. Adoboli also faces two charges for false accounting. At the hearing, the prosecutor, David Levy, said Mr. Adoboli had “acted improperly” and that “he carried out reckless and inappropriate trades which he hid.”

    Mr. Adoboli’s lawyer, Patrick Gibbs, did not enter a plea at the hearing, but said Mr. Adoboli was “sorry beyond words for what had happened.”
   He added, “He stands now appalled at the scale of the consequences of his disastrous miscalculations.”

   The question for UBS is how much this ends up hurting them. The board which is meeting in Singapore will discuss whether to demand the resignations of Chief Executive Oswald Grubel, as well as Carsten Kengeter chief of its investment bank, according to a person familiar with the situation. The results of UBS's intital investiation could influence the board's decision, this person said.

    UBS which came back from the brink after 34.3 billion Swiss francs ($38.1 billion) in 2008. We'll see how much this new crisis of confidence costs it.

    For Mr. Adoboli, it doesn't look so great. As I mentioned in a previous post about him, I must say that on a purely human level he seems like a pretty nice guy. He is also black, actually from Africa which as I noted in my last piece (I myself am of mixed race and partly black) sets him up as a kind of trailblazer-can't resist going there...

   It is an accomplishment to have lost $2.3 billion dollars in unauthorized trades ,as I argue in my first piece "The Greatness of Losing on a Grand Scale"

   What can I tell you, I find him hard to dislike. Besides There but for the Grace of God go I! You and I have never done this but we never had the opportunity to. That doesn't necessarily make us morally superior.

Obama Reforms No Child Left Behind

     As Nancy Pelosi would put it, "Thank God!" No Child Left Behind was one of those brilliantly crafted, Orwellian constructs that was about exactly the opposite of what it's name suggested. In point of fact many children were left behind under this miserable brainchild of George W. Bush and it is certainly welcome that it is finally being reformed.

     As Congress, as it often does has been dragging it's feet on reforming NCLB which is as Obama Education Secretary Arnie Duncan says "far too punitive," "far too prescriptive," and filled with perverse incentives, Mr. Duncan has stepped up and instituted much needed changes himself.

     For an idea of how punitive, prescriptive, and rigid NCLB is, it requires schools to by 2014 have 100% of students proficient in math and reading. Those schools that fail face severe consequences, including staff dismissals, conversion to a charter school or closure altogether.

     Under the new system which Obama will announce today, states will qualify for a waiver from existing rules by setting up new procedures for evaluating teachers and principals, among other changes. The evaluations must be linked to the results of student tests and other measures of performance.

      The demands for 100% proficiency are just not realistic and to sanction schools that miss targets is not only punitive it is counter-productive: if a school is failing how does cutting back it's funding and threatening it with a conversion to a charter school or closing it improve it's performance? The incentives are certainly perverse: if the children in a school are not learning properly cut their funding that will teach em!

      The punitive attitude is directed at teachers who presumably are unqualified and unmotivated to provide adequate teaching but it really punishes children who need a proper education and without which we'll never improve the lives and communities of America's failing schools.

    Indeed while the sorry showing we have made in recent released International test results is a source of concern the hard edges in NLRB are part of the problem rather than the solution. That's why far from being about no child left behind it was structured by Bush to leave many children behind if their school fails to focus obssessively on standardized tests.

    "The administration also wants the law -- which passed Congress with broad bipartisan support in 2001 and applies to all public schools receiving federal funding -- to stop labeling so many reasonably managed schools as "failing" for missing required passing rates on state achievement tests, the White House said.
Instead, the administration wants to refocus energy on turning around the few thousand schools in the worst shape -- and for the law to recognize schools making progress, even if they still have academic struggles, a senior administration official said"

Read more:

   Importantly 45 states worked with the Obama Administration and Duncan on these changes and "most states and the District of Columbia plan to adopt a common set of college and career-ready standards, the officials said."

   This is vital as schools do need accountability and the standard should be that students leave high school college ready. But this will take time in many places and require the right policies and support to make it happen not a punitive policy of  pass the test, teach the test, or perish.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Republicans for Jean Trichet

      Lately Ben Bernanke has been under fire. At his last confirmation vote he had the fewest Senators ever vote for a Fed Chairman at 70. Recently he has been taking it from both sides, Right and Left, Republican and Democrat. What kind of assessment does Mr. Bernanke deserve? I will not even deign to go there as doing so is beyond the scope of this post.

     He does seem to be awfully preoccupied with the Depression which may be good or bad dependiing on what lessons he draws from it. At least he is not preoccupied with the 70s as the Congressional Republicans and the Wall Street Journal editorial pages are. However it is possible that Bernanke doesn't always draw the right lessons from his Depression studies and that in some ways he can fall into fighting the last war.

    Still as indicated while you don't want to fight the last war, in the situation we are currently if you must fight the last war it is still preferable for that last war to be the Depression than the 70s. Why is this? Partly, because the 70s while there is no reason to romanticize them were not nearly as bad as either the 30s or indeed today.

   For more on this fallacy of exaggerating the horrors of the 70s, see Tim Duy's excellent piece called aptly enough, "Not the 1970s."

   As he points out, inflation can be problematic but you can also exaggerate it's horrors. There were some virtues in the 70s-pretty decent GDP numbers for one thing. And directly because of inflation Americans who went to college were not life time prisoners to the student lenders as they are today. As Duy puts it,

   "Of course, in the background, the unexpected inflation of the 1970s drove a redistribution of wealth, and it is this that is probably Volker’s real complaint.  My first undergraduate economics professor told a story of how all the student loans he took out in the late 60s and early 70s evaporated in real terms a decade later.  Perhaps Volker would have preferred that he had been weighed down by those debts instead - a situation not unlike today, were the debt overhang is a weight on household spending."

    As he says "the inflationary 1970s look pretty good right now relative to the price stability of the last decade."

    So if we were in the 70s, which we're not, many of us would not be saddled with the loans many of us are today.

   In addition, back then it actually paid to put your money in the bank with double digit interest rates-I know that was harmful in many other areas but there's always a trade off. Again today who wouldn't dream of earning even 5% on your money in this day of perhaps permanent zero percent interest rates-necessarily unless we ever come out of this.

   Bernanke has certainly had a tough 2 weeks: last week MA-Rep (D) Barney Frank chair of the House Financial Services Committee called for the Fed to be radically restructured where the 12 members of the FOMC would now be voted on by the Senate rather than chosen behind closed doors by the bankers.

   While this week the 2 highest ranking Republicans in both the House and Senate tried to warn Bernanke from any more stimulus.

    Of course the award for rhrhetorical excess goes to Rick Perry who declared that Bernanke's attempts at stimulating the economy were "near treasonous" and that he would fire him if elected.

   This is how deeply the Republicans are opposed to anything that could even possibly help the economy in any way no matter how small. Operation Twist may be little more than a cap gun but the even logical possibility that it could possibly work can't be chanced.

   But if the GOP really wants to tank the American economy in style maybe they should consider nominating European Central Bank president Jean-claude Trichet to take Bernanke's job. Because say what you want about Bernanke the one thing you can say in his favor is he's not Jean Trichet. Bernanke tries feebly to stimulate the economy, Trichet isn't even trying to stimulate the European economy.

     We know all about Trichet's suicidal embrace of budget austerity; while there is danger in fighting the last war, it still pays to know about the last war which Trichet clearly doesn't as he fails to grasp the paradox of thrift.

      Right now we are, as Krugman warns us daily(as we or at least our policy makers never seem to get), enmeshed in a classic liquidity trap. Yet Trichet has been in interest rate raising mode since spring 2010. He recently raised rates in August-while at the same time trying to buy euro debt-talk about canceling yourself out. About all you can say is that with a 1.40% interest rate at least he has the weapon of further easing. But he has led Europe to commit the mistakes of 1937: tightening in the middle of the Depression.

    "Since the beginning of its unorthodox interventions, the Fed has bought $1,657 billion in US government debt, representing 16.50% of outstanding federal government debt, amounting to more than the entire US budget deficit for 2010, or about 8.7% of GDP. In addition, there is the $885 billion in MBSs.
In Europe, the ECB bought via its SMP €152.5 billion in eurozone government debt, representing less than 2% of total outstanding European debt. Its purchases of covered bonds from June 2009 to June 2010 totalled €60 billion, which pales in comparison with the Fed's purchases of $885 billion in MBSs."
   So there you have it. Bernanke has at least tried to stimulate and improve the economy. Trichet even in principle insists his hands are tied and all he can do is fight inflation. So if the GOP hasn't nominated this guy yet to replace Bernanke it must be that they don't know his work. Because if you are running Operation Tank the Economy, Trichet has got to be your point man.

Republican Operation Tank the Economy

     The top two ranking Republicans in both the House and Senate-Boehner, Cantor, McConnell, Kyle- took time out from doing nothing about jobs to write a threatening letter to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.

     They demanded that the Federal Reserve " board should resist further extraordinary intervention in the U.S. economy, particularly without a clear articulation of the goals of such a policy, direction for success, ample data proving a case for economic action and quantifiable benefits to the American people."

    They were not done but rather just getting started.
    "It is not clear that the recent round of quantitative easing undertaken by the Federal Reserve has facilitated economic growth or reduced the unemployment rate. To the contrary, there has been significant concern expressed by Federal Reserve Board Members, academics, business leaders, Members of Congress and the public. Although the goal of quantitative easing was, in part, to stabilize the price level against deflationary fears, the Federal Reserve’s actions have likely led to more fluctuations and uncertainty in our already weak economy."

    "We have serious concerns that further intervention by the Federal Reserve could exacerbate current problems or further harm the U.S. economy. Such steps may erode the already weakened U.S. dollar or promote more borrowing by overleveraged consumers. To date, we have seen no evidence that further monetary stimulus will create jobs or provide a sustainable path towards economic recovery."

   "Ultimately, the American economy is driven by the confidence of consumers and investors and the innovations of its workers. The American people have reason to be skeptical of the Federal Reserve vastly increasing its role in the economy if measurable outcomes cannot be demonstrated."

   What is clear is that while they have concerns all right they have nothing to do with the fear that further intervention by the Fed could exacerbate or further harm the economy, if they did they would be all for it.

    They claim that QE2 didn't help and indeed may have hurt by somehow adding "fluctuations and uncertainty" to the already weak economy and it is certainly debatable whether or not Operation Twist will work, it's success in the 60s is still debated but what's clear is the GOP is very concerned that it conceivably could work otherwise they wouldn't be criticizing it. It's not therefore impossible that Operation Twist could work or the GOP wouldn't be "warning" against it.

   For the GOP's agenda is not Operation Twist but Operation Tank the Economy. This explains the bizarre and strident tones they have been attacking Bernanke in with Right wing religious fundamentalist Rick Perry going as far as claiming that Bernanke's actions amounted to treason. Interesting scale of values, if you try albeit unsuccessfully to help the  economy that's treasonous but if you deliberately attempt to tank the economy because you think this will somehow improve your election chances in 14 months that's acceptable, above board behaviour.

    It is for the same reason that they voted down a bill to forestall a government shut down yesterday. In this case their hatred for government went as far as begrudging a disaster relief bill demanding that it be balanced with budget cuts to a valuable electric car plan.

    So in defense of Ben Bernanke's Operation Twist that the market has been so underwhelmed by: if it had no chance of success the Republicans wouldn't be sending Bernanke warnings.



NY Republicans Oppose Redistricting Reform

    Governor Andrew Cuomo put forward a bold new redistricting plan in February that would reduce the NY State Senate's roll in redistricting but not surprisingly the Republicans-who run the Senate by the slim lead of 32-30-are not playing ball.

    To be sure they claim to support reform and you'd never get them to say anything otherwise:

    "It's too soon to speculate about the final lines, but we're committed to a process that is fair, bipartisan and transparent," said Scott Reid, a Senate Republican spokesman.  {WSJ Monday 9/19/11 pg. A20).

    But talk is cheap and so are the Republicans-so cheap that they just voted against funding the government past Sept 30 because they object to funding disaster relief for the tropical storms, Irene and Lee, without further budget cuts.

   As usual the Republican counter-offer is long on rhetoric-fair, bipartisan and transparent-but very meager on substance.

    "Senate Republicans, who fear that the lines produced by a commission would make it harder for them to sustain their slender majority in coming years, are plowing ahead with their own maps, floating the idea of tacking on a 63rd seat in Republican-friendly territory."

     Tacking on an extra seat in Republican-friendly territory? That sounds real fair, bipartisan, and transparent.

      At this point backers of Governor Cuomo's redistricting plan have indicated they may be willing to compromise. Common Cause, for example, has signaled that they could get behind a plan that's not drawn by an "independent" commission-as long as districts are drawn that closely track the boundaries of neighborhoods and communities.

     The open question remains how likely you will get districts "drawn that closely track the boundaries of neighborhoods and communities" if they are drawn by a Republican state Senate.

     At this point the feeling is among the plan's backers that there is not enough time left this year so some such compromise may be necessary.

    This seems to be the same old depressing dynamic where Democrats compromise and then compromise on their previous compromise while the GOP stays put. Yet it may be that Republicans will have to do some compromising too. For the Governor''s plan is very popular with the NY public.

   "Voters gave Cuomo an 86 percent approval rating for his handling of the Irene and Lee storms. His overall approval is at 66 percent, which Quinnipiac notes is “the highest score for any governor in states surveyed by Quinnipiac University and among the highest for any New York governor[.]”

    “New York’s love affair with Gov. Andrew Cuomo persists, perhaps helped along by Irene and Lee,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a statement. “Yes, we like him. Yes, we like his policies. Yes, we think he did a good job on the tropical storms. Yes, he’s dominating the legislature. Maybe we should ask about his Queens accent.”

     "Voters are also telling Cuomo they want independent redistricting, according to the poll. Of those polled, 50 percent say they want an independent commission to redraw political boundaries. But how’s this for low expectations: even more–55 percent–do not believe the governor or the state legislature will keep their promises made during the 2010 elections to use an independent redistricting process."

     In fact New Yorkers say that don't want the State Legislature to draw the district lines of where they and members of Congress get elected and will feel "betrayed" if elected officials don't change the redistricting system.

Troy Davis: Justice Denied

    Despite the many who supported Troy and the effort we all put in to make sure an innocent man was not executed, this is what happened last night at 11 p.m. in the state of Georgia. Originally scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m., Mr. Davis got-what proved to be a very temporary reprieve-when the execution was delayed as the Supreme Court was apparently weighing the case.

    Upon hearing this his supporters broke into cheers outside the prison. However this proved to be if anything a cruel jest as at 11 p.m. the Supreme Court demurred and said they couldn't get involved.

     Troy Davis' last words were an insistence on his innocence: "I am innocent," Davis said moments before he was executed Wednesday night. "All I can ask ... is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth. I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight."

     That we can certainly give him. Even now in his untimely demise that is still worth fighting for: the truth as to what really happened. And Troy has many supporters. All over the world.

      "Troy Davis has impacted the world," his sister Martina Correia said before the execution. "They say, `I am Troy Davis,' in languages he can't speak."

      Of course as so often happens something like this doesn't touch everyone the same way. Understandably so, slain officer Mark McPhail's family sees it differently.

       "I'm kind of numb. I can't believe that it's really happened," MacPhail's mother, Anneliese MacPhail, said in a telephone interview from her home in Columbus, Ga. "All the feelings of relief and peace I've been waiting for all these years, they will come later. I certainly do want some peace."

       She dismissed Davis' claims of innocence.

      "He's been telling himself that for 22 years. You know how it is, he can talk himself into anything."

       It's understandable that in losing a family member you would want closure. But if as is quite likely he was innocent how's that closure? The tragedy is just multiplied.

      Officer Macphail's widow, Joan Macphail-Harris did express some concern for the Davis family, saying that  it was "a time for healing for all families."

     "I will grieve for the Davis family because now they're going to understand our pain and our hurt," she said in a telephone interview from Jackson. "My prayers go out to them. I have been praying for them all these years. And I pray there will be some peace along the way for them."

     Again if it was in innocent man executed as many of us believe it is needless to make the Davis family hurt as her family hurts.

       Davis' supporters staged vigils in the U.S. and Europe, declaring "I am Troy Davis" on signs, T-shirts and the Internet. Some tried increasingly frenzied measures, urging prison workers to stay home and even posting a judge's phone number online, hoping people would press him to put a stop to the lethal injection. President Barack Obama deflected calls for him to get involved.

    "They say death row; we say hell no!" protesters shouted outside the Jackson prison before Davis was executed. In Washington, a crowd outside the Supreme Court yelled the same chant.

     The thing to do is to make sure he didn't die in vain. Following his dying wish is a good place to start.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Are You Vanilla, Neopolitan or Rocky Road?

    As the Elisha Smith case has garnered a lot interest-as I noted before the pieces about her have been my most viewed here at Diary of a Republican Hater this week-I can't help but digressing into some further reflections on it.

     As you may have heard Alisha Smith was recently put on unpaid leave from her job as a lawyer in the NY Attorney General's office after it was revealed-by the NY Post, who else?-that Ms. Smith-aka Alisha Sparks-moonlights as a dominatrix. The official word from AG is that this was not about how she gets her personal pleasure but because she may have violated an AG rule that any outside employment of more than $1000 must be run by a commission first.

     Sure I can see it now: Ms. Smith should have called a board meeting and asked permission to be a dominatrix. Why do I doubt, this very important rule notwithstanding, that if her outside employment was as a baby sitter or bible school teacher whether we would still be having this conversation?

    Like I said I got a tremendous response from readers-there have been a lot of them-on this subject, partly no doubt because "sex sells." I think it also is an issue that touches on many other issues, like civil rights, civil liberties, sexuality, and  women's sexuality. At this point perhaps you can now safely discriminate against only the kinky with the passage of gay marriage in NY and the recongnition of the rights of LGBT people. As I have said, it is interesting that evidently both Alisha Smith(Sparks) and her friend Edyth Maa-Jade Vixen-derive their own personal pleasure from this-generally it is assumed that women do this for economic need or maybe their man is into this but it is assumed that they themselves don't derive personal pleasure from being sexually dominating, even if their male partner does from being sexually dominated. If this were true it leaves the sadomasochistic relationship in the quintessential Zizekean mode of failure, yet another instance of "there is no Sexual Relationship" , "Woman does not exist" and "there is no Big Other."

    As Ms. Smith made just under $80,000 per year as a lawyer for the NY AG presumably she didn't need the money. It should be noted that she certainly earned the money as she had been praised by current NY Gov .-and then NY AG-Andrew Cuomo for her work in successfully prosecuting Bank of America and other such entities and securing significant fines from them. While the tendency is to be struck by the contrast like the NY Post does, "Alisha Smith, 36, who dresses demurely as a buttoned-down prosecutor, turns up the heat when she becomes perky persecutor "Alisha Spark" a nom de dom she uses when she performs at S&M events for pay, according to a fetish source." [NY Post Saturday, September 17, 2011 pg. 7].

   To my mind, there's no contradiction or contrast between her day job as a prosecutor in the NY Attorney General's office and her night job as a dominatrix; to the contrary you could argue that she's consistent as she is dominating in both roles. I mean a prosecutor is a certain kind of persecutor certainly she successfully "persecuted" BOA.

   Her friend Edythe Maa-aka Jade Vixen- has had plenty of controversy of her own. On August 18, she found her 49-year-old boyfriend, engineer Peter Stelzenmuller dead in the attic of their Pennsylvania home. While the police are clear that there is no evidence to support foul play-there were no bruises, etc.-the fact that she is a dominatrix who has written about among other things the joys of oxygen deprivation, etc. does leave them with some questions.

   Then in 2008 Maa's then boyfriend Anthony Ottaviano, a lawyer, was shot and killed by a former client, David Krieg, who then shot and killed himself.

   In talking this over with my co-host Turbo Kitty today on she revealed that the most common way for asphyxiation fans to go is accidental suicide.

   I opined at that point that while I believe to each his own as far as sexual tastes go maybe asphyxiation goes beyond what I might ever want to try. She then asked me a question: Am I Vanilla, Neopolitan, or Rocky Road?
   She revealed that she is a Neopolitan. I admitted that my choice would have to be D as in don't know. She explained that Vanilla is vanilla sex, missionary and then prayer... Rocky Road is asphyxiation and other heavy stuff that has a high causality rate. Neopolitan means you like some light bondage and S&M, and other stuff. OK, I understood immediately: I'm Neopolitan.

   Glad she explained this in case I'm ever at a cool bar I won't look stupid if some attractive stranger asks me this very question.


Alisha Smith aka Alisha Sparks and Edythe Maa AKA Jade Vixen

    Call it a case of giving the people what they want. Because my piece about Alisha Smith, 36, and her sudden suspension as a well paid lawyer (more than $78,000 a year) got by far the most views of the week of any of the many posts I have published-it has been a very prolific week for me-obviously there is some interest about Ms. Smith.

   This is the original piece

    There are many dimensions to this story. Part of it is as I said in the last piece "Alisha Smith Civil Liberties Victim?" is this a case of being targeted for one's private life if those you work for find it, well, kind of weird and off-putting? This sort of thing happens often to teachers, where you'll have a teacher, maybe a good one who has been Teacher of the Year for 10 years but suddenly a risque picture of her comes out from years ago, or she was a stripper at one time and next thing you know she is let go in a very un-summary way.

   While school's usually have a "morals clause" to hide behind I always find these kind of cases a little questionable. I mean in the case of a school it is child's play(kind of a pun I guess) to argue that a teacher's past or present moonlighting gig makes them unfit to teach children. Yet I am always skeptical and feel the burden of proof should be on those who make such accusations. If it is just a matter of naked pictures from her past or even present then if she doesn't do it on school grounds then to me the burden of proof is on you pointing the finger.
  Interestingly the story of Alisha's friend, Edythe Maa-AKA Jade Vixen-is very colorful as well. In an Aug 5 Twitter posting Ms. Smith wrote to her friend, "Ricky's doesn't have the 500 ml. is the cheapest I could find for Eros" a reference to Eros Power, a "premium cream lubricant" on a sex products Web site.

   Ms. Maa actually has some pretty serious legal questions about her too-questions not charges. She has actually been linked to the deaths of three of her male associates since 2008. In the most recent, on Aug 18, she found her boyfriend, 49 year old engineer Peter Stelzenmuller, dead in the attic of their Pennsylvania home. The attic was filled with paraphernalia, including rubber masks, and clothes and cans of whipped cream.

    As noted, this is not the first time her male friends have met an untimely demise. In 2008,

    Maa was working : as a dominatrix when her boyfriend, a New York lawyer, was fatally shot near her Philadelphia apartment by an angry former client. The killer then kidnapped and sexually assaulted Maa before killing himself after a nine-hour standoff with police.

   Today, using the name "Jade Vixen," Maa describes herself online as a "fetish model" who likes latex clothing. Chitwood said her website also makes mention of erotic oxygen deprivation.
Chitwood stressed that police "don't have anything to say that this was foul play at this time," and that Stelzenmuller's body showed no bruises or other injuries. Determination of the cause of death is pending toxicology results, he said.

  "I think you have to look at all the circumstances," Chitwood said. "When you look at [Maa's] history of sadomasochism, and find some stuff on her website about oxygen deprivation and all that, you need to find out if it's accidental or something else."

    In addition, this former client, David Krieg after killing her boyfriend lawyer, Anthony Ottaviano in 2008 blew his own brains out.

    As I mentioned in the last post part of what intrigues me is the idea that these women  are dominatrixes not out of economic need-Alisha makes almost $80,000 a year so it wasn't economic need-or because of a man but out of their own desires. This is interesting as it has been wondered if any women actually do enjoy the idea of sexually dominating a man-as many men like the idea of a woman sexually dominating them. It's the old Zizekan conundrum that "there is no Sexual Relationship" , "Woman does not exist" and "there is no Big Other" meaning there is not Big Other to fully satisfy our needs/wants. Empirically speaking Smith and Jade are very curious entities. I'd be interested to interview them for my radio show if I could find them.

   If anyone knows anything about either of them please feel free to share. It would be a great interview.

   I see that Edythe Maa-Jade Vixen-has had issues with posting her blog before. In a piece on February 23,  2010 she complained that her posts were disappearing. I noticed that when I went to the site, Google Blogspot set up a warning that I was entering a place with some explicit materials and I had to choose between "yes" or "no" that I wanted to see it. That surely didn't help her site.

  For those interested-don't be embarrassed!-here is a site that may be more recent.

  What is interesting is that there is a lot of naked pictures and explicit material on the Internet but much of it doesn't give you the warning blogspot gave about Jade. All I will say is that I do think it is a civil liberties question at least where people who are perceived as having some deviant interests are discriminated against. I will be following the case of Alisha Smith who was officially suspended on Monday without pay "pending a full investigation."


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Fate of Greece: To Default or not to Default

    That is the question and in my last few posts I have tried to look at it with its larger implications for Europe and for the world-ie, us. What is interesting though is that in my last two posts that looked at this I cited some with financial knowledge who gave diametrically opposed views. A CNBC headline warns that a Greek default may mean US recession but Nouriel Roubini-aka Dr. Doom-says that a Greek default at this point it the best outcome both for Greece and Europe.

    It is not clear that the terms the EU is offering are any better today. Today Greece's Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos had a two hour conference call with "officials from the European Commission, International Monetary Fund [cnbc explains] and European Central Bank—collectively known as the troika."

Greece denied reports that it was considering calling for a referendum over its eurozone membership

    "The statement came at the end of a two-hour teleconference between Greece's Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos and officials from the European Commission, International Monetary Fund [cnbc explains] and European Central Bank—collectively known as the troika.
"Good progress was made, and technical discussions will continue in Athens over the coming days," the EC statement said. "The full mission is now expected to come back to Athens early next week to resume the review, including policy discussions."
Global markets had been anxiously awaiting the results of the conference call for some signs of progress.
Venizelos, who held a first call with the troika officials Monday, had to convince them that Greece's delayed reform and cutback program is viable. If so, the country will receive the next euro8 billion ($11 billion) installment of the bailout that has been keeping it solvent since May 2010. "

    Venizelos went about convincing the troika by declaring that, "Our primary target is to shrink the state," deputy government spokesman Angelos Tolkas said on NET radio. "The Greek state budget has stopped paying the wages of some 200,000 civil servants in the last two years. And we are continuing."

     "Stopped paying the wages of" 200,000 over 2 years?! Wonder why there are riots.

Greece to Default But Not Leave Euro Zone?

    That's the word according to the Fitch credit ratings agency today. Greece though is being pushed to implement fiscal reforms with the EU claiming it could run out of money within weeks.

    In itself this may not be such a bad thing so long as Greece doesn't leave the EU as Fitch doesn't believe it will. Still would like to hear some more talk about the debt restructuring that the Economist recommended in this week's edition.

    The concern about Greece is the idea of "contagion" that this could spook investors who will then hit Italy and Spain as their benchmark bonds have remained high despite austerity measures and regular ECB purchases in the bond market over the past month.

    "Standard & Poor's, another ratings agency, cut Italy's credit ratings on Monday, pushing the Italian yield spread over Germany wider."

    Along with today's Fitch view we do have a contrary view out of a guy with a reputation for being contrarian-and often being right-Nouriel Roubini. He argues that Greece should not only default-on this he and Fitch agree-they should quit the euro.

    But this is in contradiction to Fitch who believes that concerns over Greece leaving the euro are "overblown."

   Roubini argues that in fact Greece has gotten a pretty shabby deal from the EU with very little real debt relief. If you take into account the large sweetners given to creditors the real debt relief is close to zero.

   "The major problem, in Roubini's view, is a lack of growth and competitiveness, which can only be overcome by currency depreciation."
   "A return to a national currency and a sharp depreciation would quickly restore growth and competitiveness, as it did in Argentina and many other emerging markets that abandoned their currency pegs," he said.

     The first year hit for Greece would be truly stomach churning, according to a study done by UBS it would lose 40 to 50 percent of it's GDP the first year.

     Nevertheless he argues that as in the case of Argentina which did very well in subsequent years of returning to the peso this will serve both Greece and Europe.

     "Via nominal and real depreciation, the exit path will restore growth right away, avoiding a decade-long depression," said Roubini who warns that contagion for countries such as Italy and Spain is already a reality, and requires liquidity support from the European Central Bank or the European Financial Stability Fund.

     Note Roubini also differs from Fitch-and others-in saying that contagion for Italy and Spain is already a reality and require liquidity support from the ECB.


Greek Default Could Tip US Into Recession

   This is the headline of a CNBC piece yesterday and it says it all.

    Very interesting piece about it in this week's Economist, Sept 17-23(2011).

     Great quote pg. 12, "the euro has reached the point where nobody is going to get what they want-something that needs to be spelled out to the Germans more than anybody.  Over the past 18 months they have grudgingly supported half-rescue after half-rescue-and the bill has gone up. In the end confidence and credibility are all. For the ECB to stand behind less prudent countries may be unwelcome to Germans; but letting the euro fall to bits is much, much worse. Spell that out clearly to your voters, Mrs. Merkel."

    And on page 11, "A rescue must do four things fast. First, it must make clear which of Europe's governments are deemed illiquid and which are insolvent, giving unlimited backing to the solvent governments but restructuring the debt of those that can never repay it. Second, it has to shore up Europe's banks to ensure they can withstand a sovereign default. Third, it needs to shift the euro zone's macroeconomic policy from its obsession with budget-cutting towards an agenda of growth. And finally, it must start the process of designing a new system to stop such a mess ever being created again."

   Particularly like the sound of restructuring the debt of those who can never repay it-this means Greece first and foremost. Also like the sound of "shift the euro zone's macroeconomic policy from its obsession with budget-cutting towards an agenda of growth."

   One might hope that if the magazine of  record for international economics speaks this way presumably somene at the EU might be listening-at least the hope isn't entirely vain.

    Predictably though the Economist dismisses the idea of a European bond, "the political oversight to ensure that high-spending countries do not fritter away other people's money would take years to sort out-and one thing the euro zone does not have is time." True but is this (neurotic-obsessive) concern with the Zizekan Other who enjoys in your place not a misplaced concern right now? Isn't this what got Europe here in the first place: as the Economist says, the idea is anathema to Germany 'for the ECB to stand behind less prudent countries'? It is this preoccupation that Europeans but especially Germany have to get over.

    Again if the Economist gets it maybe there is some hope that the ECB will finally get it. While I don't agree with everything in the Economist piece-as suggested above I do like the idea of European bonds much more than they do though I understand implementing them could take too much time.

    Still their repudiation of austerity as self-defeating is right on target and I imagine that there are policy makers who are at least aware of a piece like this.

     "So far the euro zone's response has relied too much on two things: austerity and pretence. Sharply cutting budget deficits has been the priority-hence the tax rises and spending cuts. But this collectively huge fiscal contraction is self-defeating. by driving enfeebled economies into recession it only increases worries about both government debts and European banks. And mere budget-cutting does not deal with the real cause of the mess, which is a loss of credibility."

     One has to hope there is some sort of enlightened leadership at the ECB. If Europe goes down it will have worldwide consequences, no way can we avoid the trouble either. In the end a large part of the trouble is Germany who has to get over this self-defeating pique of self-righteousness. Whatever the costs of it bailing out Greece, Spain or Italy they are dwarfed by the costs it will suffer-along with the rest of Europe and the world will suffer-if it doesn't.

      The narrative that the EU has to get past, hopefully this Economist piece might contribute to this, is that this is an Aesop's Fable and the distressed EU countries are just short sighted ants who did not adequately prepare for the winter. That this view is too simplistic is crystallized by considering the case of Spain and Ireland who both had budget surpluses before the Crisis of 2008 and yet this didn't save them from being pushed to the brink. They too could be self righteous-after all the crisis itself was largely foreign and American. Hopefully the EU will get past these half measures soon.