11th Hour Cat Herding

I’m trying to follow the financial regulation bill as it morphs into something to attract votes. It’s just been announced that Harry Reid

"Too Big to Fail"

will call for a vote because Susan Collins of Maine–and possibly some others– is willing to leave the Just Say No Republican Bloc. Lame Duck Chairman Dodd evidently is playing enough with Blanche Lincoln’s derivative amendment to bring some Naysayers into the fold. The sticking point was derivatives. Lincoln’s amendment sought to ban commercial banks from dealing in derivatives. It was seen as an attempt to bring back some sense of Glass-Stegall to financial institutions. While Blanche was back in her district trying to cast a vote for herself in an election where she now faces a run-off, Dodd was wheeling and dealing on the cornerstone ‘brag’ in her record.

There’s bits and pieces of this story all over the web, but it’s hard to find anything definitive. The best two that I’ve found to date are from Bloomberg and FT. The derivatives amendment is pretty much hated by Republicans who believe that the business will just go elsewhere in the world and make the US banking industry less competitive. There’s also some last minute wrangling to give the states more leeway in terms of their own state banking laws and regulations. This is seen as a compromise because some states could tighten regulations but others could leave them more loose per the federal regulation.

Anyway, I’ll try to highlight some of the articles cited above to see if we can’t get a sense of where this is headed. The first maneuver by Dodd, yesterday, was to keep the Lincoln amendment, but delay implementation for two years, pending a study. This change was dropped earlier today. This maneuver is explained pretty well in this Bloomberg piece.

Dodd filed an amendment yesterday that would delay a measure requiring banks to put their swaps-trading desks in subsidiaries pending a one-year study of its effects by a new council of regulators. The amendment would let the panel eliminate the rule if it was found to “have a material adverse effect on the financial markets and economy.”

The decision against offering the amendment leaves open an issue that has complicated the overhaul debate since Senator Blanche Lincoln proposed her derivatives measure last month. Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat facing a battle for the party’s nomination as she seeks reelection, has said she will defend efforts to strip the provision.

Dodd’s decision means the Senate legislation is likely to include the rule, which would force banks such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. to move swaps trading to subsidiaries, when it comes up for a final vote as soon as this week.

Republicans definitely don’t like this and are arguing that it will actually bring more uncertainty (and therefore variability and instability) to the market. The FT article believes that this may be overstated because it believes the intent of the ban is slightly different than what is portrayed by the industry. They don’t see it as an outright ban but a partial ban impacting some institutions.

However, Mr Dodd’s proposal appears to ban dealing in derivatives only if it does not comply with the Volcker Rule, the proposal elsewhere in the bill that prevents banks from trading for their own account, owning hedge funds and private equity firms.

It also gives discretion to regulators to call off the ban after a study of the consequences to be delivered within a year.

Those regulators have come out strongly against a proposed ban on banks from dealing in swaps, one area of the derivatives market, which is in the existing bill and which Mr Dodd’s language is designed to replace.

Republicans blocked a vote on the Merkley-Levin amendment on Wednesday night which would have increased the scope of the Volcker Rule and which is opposed by most of the banks.

So, this brings us back to the Volcker Rule that we’ve discussed here before. This is a rule that seeks to establish a Glass-Stegall lite that replaces the wall of separation that used to exist between financial intermediary functions (that would be bank deposit/lending activities) and investment banking (that would be market making and financial innovation). Under Glass-Stegall, financial institutions could do one or the other. The could not have units that did both. Again, the FT talks about the amendment that places state and federal banking laws at odds. Notice that Tom Carper(d) from Delaware is doing the heavy lifting for big banks here.

In a partial victory for the banks, senators approved by a vote of 80-18 an amendment from Tom Carper, a Democratic senator from Delaware, to restrict the rights of individual states to apply consumer protection rules to banks. Large banks that operate across state lines had argued that they should be subject to only one standard.

The American Bankers Association said that without it “consumers and their banks could have been subject to potentially hundreds of different and confusing state and local laws covering their loans, checking accounts, credit and debit cards, or ATM usage”.

State attorneys-general will retain a role in protecting consumers but they could not bring class action law suits against national banks and the Office of Comptroller of the Currency could supersede their action under the amendment. Amid other changes and compromises in the final hectic hours of considering the bill, senators were also trying to reach a compromise over language in the bill that places a “fiduciary” duty on banks to look after its clients’ interests. Banks and some regulators say it is unworkable and ignores the realities of market making .

The NYT–in an article this morning–does a pretty good job at dissecting the Republican discontent. Republicans have traditionally been the workhorses for the American Banker’s Association and they’re playing that role here. However, the watering-down process seems due more to Democrats like Carper even though Reid has been trying to find some Republican support for a super majority vote. I’m not sure how far Mitch McConnell can get with this type of rhetoric in this political atmosphere. I believe that he will soften since the Murtha seat in PA 12 was retained by the Democrats and the Rand Paul victory in his home state of Kentucky. The results of the elections last night didn’t say anything positive for candidates supported by either party’s titular heads within the beltway.

The remarks by Republican leaders on Tuesday suggested they saw no benefit in joining with the Democrats even to impose tougher rules on Wall Street. At a news conference, the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, blamed the White House.

“The marching orders are coming from downtown: push the bill as far to the political left as possible,” he said. “Look at the last 15 months. They’re running banks, insurance companies, car companies, taking over the student loan business, taking over health care, now, apparently doing to the financial services industry what they did to the health care industry.”

“This is a massive government overreach,” Mr. McConnell said, adding that Republicans were confident about their political prospects. “The American people are saying, ‘enough’ and I think that’s why everyone is anticipating a major midcourse correction this November.”

Again, Reid will schedule the vote and is planning on support from some Republicans. Politico is reporting that Susan Collins of Maine has bucked the Republican wall of no.

There is still a significant amount of work to be done — and arguments to be had on the Senate floor — before Reid’s 2 p.m. deadline, and it is still not entirely clear that the majority leader has enough votes to clear his 60-vote cloture hurdle.

But one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, will vote yes on cutting off debate, her spokesman told POLITICO Wednesday morning. That makes her the first GOP senator to publicly break with her party on the crucial vote.

Tuesday afternoon Reid had said that “a number” of Republican senators told him they would vote to cut off debate, and Republican aides said they felt Democrats would be able to swing enough votes to move to the next procedural phase of the bill.

Yet aside from Collins, very few GOP senators have stated publicly their support for cloture, and even several Democrats — including Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Ben Nelson of Nebraska — are still on the fence.

Even as the Senate moves ahead on some amendments, Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s proposal forcing banks to spin off their derivatives operations remains safe — for now.

Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) has decided not offer an amendment gutting the provision by delaying implementation for two years while a study is completed., said his spokeswoman Kirstin Brost.

The banking industry pushed back hard against the Dodd compromise, saying it might be worse than Lincoln’s proposal. Learning of the proposal while fighting for the Democratic nomination in Arkansas, Lincoln issued a statement vowing to fight the measure.

One of the notable amendments included in the agreement is to be offered by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) on reviving the Depression Era Glass-Steagall rules designed to control speculation and impose stricter limitations on banks. Cantwell reportedly was holding out a “yes” vote on cloture unless her amendment was considered.

I still am personally more concerned about the reporting and process issues surrounding derivatives contracts more than anything else. To be pragmatic, these financial assets will be offered elsewhere and it doesn’t take much to set up a foreign office to deal with them if the institution is so inclined. In this case, it is much more important for the delivery process to be systematized and clearly reported and for the regulators to be clearly tasked with tracking the results and coming up with some kind of early warning system. With this in mind, I’m not sure the political process will deliver best results either way.

P.S. You can add other things to this thread. I won’t mind at all.


Gulf Gusher Update

It was very stormy today and I am still grading finals but I managed to catch a few things on the local news that show the level of frustration down here with BP and the response to the tragedy unfolding in the Gulf. There’s so much speculation as to how desperate the situation will be that every one wants more information and it doesn’t appear very forthcoming.

A group of fishermen got angry at officials at a meeting in the two hard hit parishes here. That would be Plaquemines and St. Bernard. Both were slammed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and haven’t really recovered to any place you’d call normal. Most of the folks that have stayed there have livelihoods that depend on the gulf including shrimpers and folks that live on commercial and sport fishing. These families are about at the end of their ropes and most have been in the area and in the business for generations. It’s more than just a living to them.

The fishermen said they feel like their livelihood is being threatened and they’re being punished twice — first by the spill and now by their parish and BP.

“We have to suffer because of their damn mistakes,” said Suzanna Guidroz, who works as a deckhand. “They should have had a backup plan for this oil spill before it even happened. It should have been in the works years ago.”

More of the frustration stemmed from the pay that captains and deckhands are being offered, which is far less than they’re used to making.

“I dropped out of seventh grade to do this,” fisherman Michael Thonn said. “I’ve been doing this my whole life, since I was a kid. It’s all I know. How am I supposed to pay my bills? I got family to take care of. I got kids.”

“These fishermen make a lot more than $17 an hour and $250 a day for their boat,” Guidroz said. “They could not compare to what these guys are making out there right now.”

Meanwhile, confusion over the testimony at last week’s congressional hearing has caused Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to fire off a letter to the CEO of BP. Since no one was claiming any responsibility, she felt the urge to get a little clarification.

The letter specifically mentions an interview with Reuters on April 30 in which BP CEO Dr. Anthony Hayword said, “We are taking full responsibility for the spill and we will clean it up, and where people can present legitimate claims for damages we will honor them. We are going to be very, very aggressive in all of that.”

As recent as May 11, Lamar McKay, the chairman and president of BP America, was reported as making similar claims before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. In his testimony, Napolitano’s letter said that McKay agreed that BP will pay all claims, even if they exceed what he described as an “irrelevant” statutory cap of $75 million per incident.

If this winds up in court ala the Exxon Valdez and the AMOCO Cadiz, people will most likely be dead before they have hope of recovering any of the damages. The Napolitano letter followed up the White House Rose Garden speech where TOTUS instructed POTUS to be very angry. I think this means the buck is going to stop on the back of those of us that live on the Gulf right now. Believe me, the pain will spread too. If this thing gets up into the Mississippi, there is no telling what will happen. That’s a major artery for commerce as well as the source of a lot of drinking water. The President seems to think his administration’s response has been okey dokey.

With the Gulf spill, he said, the response was “comprehensive and fast” and the Coast Guard and Interior Department were on the scene almost immediately.

Yeah. That was the same group that pulled us off of roofs during Hurricane Katrina. I’m beginning to trust the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries over just about any body else in the country, frankly. How about sending us a few brilliant engineers to figure out how to plug up the gusher?

Meanwhile, back to the poor folks in Chalmette and to the rest of us that can’t live without our Shrimp Po’ Boys.

All of the waters directly affected by the spill remained closed to commercial and recreational fishing, so no seafood from the region is at risk of oil contamination.

It is almost certain, however, that the life cycle of shrimp in the Gulf will be affected by the spill. Shrimp reproduce and lay their eggs in the Gulf, which is now largely covered in dispersed and floating oil, and then move inshore to the estuaries, which are are also at risk.

I think we’re all kinda tired of making history down here.

You can consider this an open thread, but I have to tell you, there’s not much on my mind right now but how bad this is going to be.


To the rest of the U.S. from Louisiana: SOS

I just got my first notice to grab my shrimper boots and head south from GRIT. Here are some of the latest updates on the Gulf Oil Spill.

The current NOAA trajectory maps predict the movement of oil along the Louisiana coast to the Atchafalaya Bay over the next 72 hours. These trajectories are based on weather patterns and gulf currents. This trajectory could impact some of our beloved barrier islands and thousands of more acres of wetlands. Working with BP, GRIT has identified sites that would be safe and accessible for clean-up prior to the impact of oil. Debris and trash that collects on our shorelines can potentially get covered in oil and make the clean-up of these natural areas even more complicated.

The news from our part of the world is not good. I just read this update from the National Geographic Daily News. I think I would call National Geographic's pictures of a fishing boat tackling the oil spilltoday’s headline a conversation stopper. It reads ” Gulf Oil Leaks Could Gush for Years: “We don’t have any idea how to stop this,” expert says. ” Here are some of the highlights of the article.

If efforts fail to cap the leaking Deepwater Horizon wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico (map), oil could gush for years—poisoning coastal habitats for decades, experts say.

If the oil can’t be stopped, the underground reservoir may continue bleeding until it’s dry, Simmons suggested.

The most recent estimates are that the leaking wellhead has been spewing 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons, or 795,000 liters) of oil a day.

And the oil is still flowing robustly, which suggests that the reserve “would take years to deplete,” said David Rensink, incoming president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

“You’re talking about a reservoir that could have tens of millions of barrels in it.”

National Geographic–known for its excellent indepth coverage and wonderful photos–is at its best with its coverage of this spill. Please spend some time on the site.

Meanwhile, we’re finding just how complicit our own government has been with the oil profiteers.

The federal Minerals Management Service gave permission to BP and dozens of other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without first getting required permits from another agency that assesses threats to endangered species — and despite strong warnings from that agency about the impact the drilling was likely to have on the gulf.

Those approvals, federal records show, include one for the well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and resulting in thousands of barrels of oil spilling into the gulf each day.

The Minerals Management Service, or M.M.S., also routinely overruled its staff biologists and engineers who raised concerns about the safety and the environmental impact of certain drilling proposals in the gulf and in Alaska, according to a half-dozen current and former agency scientists.

Those scientists said they were also regularly pressured by agency officials to change the findings of their internal studies if they predicted that an accident was likely to occur or if wildlife might be harmed.

NPR reports that the government may be under reporting the gusher.

The amount of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico may be at least 10 times the size of official estimates, according to an exclusive analysis conducted for NPR.

At NPR’s request, experts examined video that BP released Wednesday. Their findings suggest the BP spill is already far larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska, which spilled at least 250,000 barrels of oil.

BP has said repeatedly that there is no reliable way to measure the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by looking at the oil gushing out of the pipe. But scientists say there are actually many proven techniques for doing just that.

Steven Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, analyzed videotape of the seafloor gusher using a technique called particle image velocimetry.

Given how little environmental impact studies were done on this site, do you think we really have a handle on what the potential hazard this will be to the wildlife, plantlife, and people down here on the Gulf? I’m torn between anger and panic.


Welcome to the Dead Zone

The more I read about the catastrophe that is spinning exponentially out of control in the gulf, the more I’m convinced that we’ve more to fear from corner cutting profiteers than from any Greek-style deficit debacle or Pakistani Taliban. I want to grab everything I own and my daughter and drive due North. Things are looking very bleak down here.

They’re throwing everything thing they’ve got at the spill now. Tires, golf balls, and dispersant. They’re opening up spillways to try to wash the stuff away from the shores with the freshwater of the Mississippi, fully knowing that the freshwater is toxic to the salt water ecosystem. It’s thought to be less permanently damaging, however, than the oil.

They’re not going to wash us ‘way this time. They’re poisoning us, the land, and the wildlife. It’s just a matter of which poison gets us first.

A relocated New Orleanian sent me this from Protect the Oceans. It’s about that dispersant and it’s damn scary.

It has been confirmed that the dispersal agent being used by BP and the government is Corexit 9500, a solvent originally developed by Exxon and now manufactured by Nalco Holding Company of Naperville, IL. Their stock took a sharp jump, up more than 18% at its highest point of the day today, after it was announced that their product is the one being used in the Gulf. Nalco’s CEO, Erik Frywald, expressed their commitment to “helping the people and environment of the Gulf Coast recover as rapidly as possible.” It may be that the best way to help would be to remove their product from the fray. Take a look at some of the facts about Corexit 9500:

A report written by Anita George-Ares and James R. Clark for Exxon Biomedical Sciences, Inc. entitled “Acute Aquatic Toxicity of Three Corexit Products: An Overview” states that “Corexit 9500, Corexit 9527, and Corexit 9580 have moderate toxicity to early life stages of fish, crustaceans and mollusks (LC50 or EC50 – 1.6 to 100 ppm*). It goes on to say that decreasing water temperatures in lab tests showed decreased toxicity, a lowered uptake of the dispersant. Unfortunately, we’re going to be seeing an increase in temperatures, not a decrease. Amongst the other caveats is that the study is species-specific, that other animals may be more severely affected, silver-sided fish amongst them.

Well, that’s just the basics. This is the bottom line.

Dispersal of the oil does not eliminate it, nor does it decrease the toxicity of the oil. It just breaks it up into small particles, where it becomes less visible. It’s still there, spewing toxicity at an even greater rate (due to higher surface area.) But now it’s pretty much impossible to skim or trap or vacuum or even soak up at the shoreline, because most of it will never make it to the shoreline. Instead, that toxic crude oil AND the dispersant will be spread all over the ocean’s waters. This is why introducing such a product into the crude oil as it comes out from the pipe is a very bad idea for the ocean.

It may not be pretty, but if the oil makes it to the shore, it can be soaked up, cleaned up. To “disperse” it means it will NEVER be cleaned up. It will just stay out there, polluting and poisoning the ocean, her inhabitants, and all the food we take from it.

Of course the talk is all about law suits now that every one’s had their chance before the camera at congressional hearings. The speculation now is of criminal charges.

While Attorney General Eric Holder has confirmed that Justice Department lawyers are helping the agencies involved in the oil spill inquiry with legal questions, department officials have refused to detail what their role entails.

But Uhlmann and other experts said it’s likely prosecutors are already poring over evidence from the spill because under the Clean Water and Air Acts and other federal laws aimed at protecting migratory birds, an accidental oil spill of this magnitude could at least result in misdemeanor negligence charges.

And under the migratory bird regulations, prosecutors have very broad discretion.

In 1999, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the misdemeanor conviction under the Clean Water Act of a supervisor at a rock quarry project that accidentally ruptured an oil pipeline, causing a spill.

For a felony, prosecutors have to demonstrate companies “knowingly” violated the regulations.

Tracy Hester, the director of the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Center at the University of Houston, said prosecutors would be looking for “any possible concealment of the risks, a failure to respond to any known risks, and a failure to report a dangerous situation.”

“Knowing is a slippery term,” Hester said. “But knowing doesn’t necessarily mean that you knew it was a violation of the law. You just have to be aware that what you were doing fell into what is regulated.”

A Under a 1990 federal law, the primary leaseholder of the well, BP, is responsible for picking up the lion’s share of the cleanup costs. Anadarko Petroleum and Matsui Oil Exploration together own 35 percent of the lease, and they would pay that share of expenses.

The law requires BP and the other leaseholders to pay an unlimited amount in direct cleanup costs. Their liability for other damage, such as ruined fisheries and lost tourist revenue, is legally capped at $75 million, although the company says it is willing to pay claims beyond that. Above the cap, the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, financed by a tax on oil companies, is supposed to pick up the tab, up to a total of $1 billion.

Craig Bennett, the director of the Coast Guard’s National Pollution Funds Center, said that as of Wednesday morning, BP had received 6,414 claims, mostly from fishermen for lost wages and damage to their boats. He said the company had paid out $2.5 million so far, and “they have not denied any claims yet.”

So, read that again. It talks about the CLEAN up costs and that’s it. The dispersant stops the crap from coming ashore so they don’t have to clean up. The water rushing out of the Bohemian Spillway or some other place, stops the crap from coming ashore so they don’t have to clean up. BUT, there is still tremendous damage to ecosystems either way. That doesn’t even take into account the impact on the people, the cities, the lost sales, the lost business, the lost tax revenues, and who knows what it does to the property and health of those who are vested down here?

Social and Ecosytems are fragile things. We’re on the verge of wiping out some huge ones. Who is REALLY going to pay for all of this and how do you measure the ultimate cost?


The Greece Card

It’s a simple enough question. Are the problems in Greece being hyped in this country so that politicians can either reduce benefits or privatize parts or all of social security and medicare? I’m thinking that’s a yes.

David Leonhardt, writing at NYT, seems to find some parallels between Greek and US sovereign debt that belay the underlying differences in the two nation’s economies. The first argument is the size of the debt in relation to the size of GDP. Some of his arguments are based on projecting GDP 20 years out which is a specious activity in and of itself. This is something Paul Krugman talked about today on his blog.

Um, that’s comparing a (highly uncertain) projection of debt 20 years from now — a projection that’s based on the assumption of unchanged policy — with actual debt now. Actual US federal debt is only about half that high now. And it’s worth pointing out that Greek debt is projected to rise to 149 percent of GDP over the next few years — and that’s with the austerity measures agreed with the IMF.

While we’re not experiencing a robust recovery that is creating jobs within the usual expectation of Okun’s law, it will certainly be consistently better than the economic growth rate of Greece. Both our growth rates and unemployment rates have historically been better than Greece for a variety of reasons. This was even true during the post WW2 when our debt was a huge multiple of our GDP. Economic Growth compounds and there are a lot of factors that go into a good economy. Good laws, protection of private property,education, technology, and innovation are just among a few that can accelerate a country’s growth rate. Greece is not well known for any of these things.

When I hear many right-wingers’ arguments right now–that it’s the Greek welfare state that is at the heart of Greece’s problem–I cringe. When I know we currently have an administration that buys a weaker form of their viewpoints, I can’t help but think we’re going to revisit privatization of Social Security and benefits cuts in all these kinds of programs. We’re already hearing them referred to as entitlement programs when they are a paid-for benefit program. The difference is that the demographics between the time they were developed and now is quite different along with the expansion of key benefits. The original social security wasn’t really set up with COLA clauses in mind or survivor and disability benefits. The funding mechanism does need to be revisited, however,this doesn’t necessarily mean we have to completely revamp the system.

Leonhardt does eventually get around to elucidating the spending/funding gap which is going to be a problem. My issue is that by playing in to the just like Greece wail of the right wingers, he’s opening us to blaming ‘entitlement programs’ completely with no serious recognition of the burden placed on the country by the excessive Bush tax cuts and two wars. By comparing us to Greece whose problems were triggered by a lot of things–including an Olympics they couldn’t afford–Leonhardt plays into the the current meme about ‘welfare’ states.

As a rough estimate, the government will need to find spending cuts and tax increases equal to 7 to 10 percent of G.D.P. The longer we wait, the bigger the cuts will need to be (because of the accumulating interest costs).

Seven percent of G.D.P. is about $1 trillion today. In concrete terms, Medicare’s entire budget is about $450 billion. The combined budgets of the Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation and Veterans Affairs Departments are less than $600 billion.

This is why fixing the budget through spending cuts alone, as Congressional Republicans say they favor, would be so hard. Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has a plan for doing so, and it includes big cuts to Social Security and the end of Medicare for anyone now under 55 years old. Other Republicans have generally refused to endorse the Ryan plan. Until that changes or until the party becomes open to new taxes, its deficit strategy will remain unclear.

Democrats have more of a strategy — raising taxes on the rich and using health reform to reduce the growth of Medicare spending — but it is not nearly sufficient.

What would be? A plan that included a little bit of everything, and then some: say, raising the retirement age; reducing the huge deductions for mortgage interest and health insurance; closing corporate tax loopholes; cutting pensions of some public workers, as Republican governors favor; scrapping wasteful military and space projects; doing more to hold down Medicare spending growth.

Another consideration is that Greece–as part of the EZ–has less flexibility with monetary and fiscal policy than the United States. It is also obviously a smaller economy with far fewer resources. If you take a trip over to Brad DeLong’s page, he has six different factors that he talks about that are germane to this comparison. This is one that I think is worth mentioning here.

As long as unemployment is unduly elevated–above 7.5%, say–our major economic ill connected with big deficits is not excessive deficits forecast for the 2020s and beyond but excessive unemployment and idle capacity now

So, I’m wondering why are we getting so much discussion about the US becoming Greece these days when so clearly the underlying structures of our US economy are so different? The only thing I can come up with is that folks want to point to Greece’s social programs. They are a huge part of the Greek budget, but, this is a country that also doesn’t build and maintain a huge, world inhabiting, technologically advanced military. As such, they are bound to have a larger portion of their expenditures in butter instead of guns.

I can only figure that this is buttering us up for the inevitable discussion of what to do with Social Security.


Maybe you should Invest in Booms

All we can do is lower the boom (More pictures at the National Geographic Site)

I’m not really certain who to blame right now because–just as it as with Hurricane Katrina and the 2007 financial meltdown–there’s plenty of it to go around. Big messes usually have the finger prints of big corporations,big government agencies and pols, and big investors all over them. These are people that make a lot of money taking chances with every one’s livelihoods, savings, and resources. Some how they always escape the lowering of the boom.

All of these folks are very short-sighted.

Big Corporations only see the next quarterly earnings reports and bonuses. Big Government only sees the next election. Big investors only look at the return on assets over the next earnings window. All of this combined has made my life very complex over the last five years and I’ve just about had enough of it. The problem is that it’s systemic so there’s not much I can do but blog, pull my hair out, and wonder if I my credentials can cause me to land in a better place with a better job.

All this short-sightedness. Where will it lead us?

I have to say, despite everything, I love the city where I live but I’m not sure how much more I can take of local corruption, corporate piracy, and government incompetence. I sit in my little piece of land high and dry with chaos around me. My house did not flood or lose its roof, or suffer much damage during Hurricane Katrina. My house will not be damaged by the oil spill. You have no idea what it’s like, however, being in the middle of a chaos vortex.

I teach, so the only thing that threatens my livelihood is our governor who appears to believe we graduate way too many 4 year college students here. He argued he wanted the technical colleges to have more funds to train folks for life on those oil rigs out there in the Gulf. As I said, I am surrounded by short sightedness and that creates chaos for the lot of us. Chaos the power brokers can avoid as long as we keep re-electing the politicians that do this to us. For certain, most investors only look at their ROA and not what the companies they invest in do to the world around them. Every one puts social responsibility at the bottom of their list.

Local officials have now decided to try their own plan which basically means their going to try to fight with containment. Yup, (with apologies to Winston Churchill)

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight on Breton Sound
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender

So what does that mean? St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro called for all vendors of hard and soft boom to sell him 300,000 more feet of boom. Boom, boom, and more boom. It’s really evident the response to this is pretty much one big hail mary. The containment dome (cement condom used after the spew) has proven to be one big piss in the wind. Ice crystals evidently clogged the top of the thing and it wouldn’t stay put on the ocean floor.

Meanwhile, the response ranks right up there with the Keystone cop response to Hurricane Katrina headed up by heckuva-job-Brownie. Remember “no one could know the levees wouldn’t hold?” Via a link from BB, it looks like we also have “no one could know the spill could be this big.” The battles are fought by the little people and their boats. Meanwhile, every one else yucked it up at a big ol’ dinner inside the beltway.

Plans by BP to sink a 4-story containment dome over the oil gushing from a gaping chasm one kilometer below the surface of the Gulf, where the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and killed 11 workers on April 20, and reports that one of the leaks has been contained is pure public relations disinformation designed to avoid panic and demands for greater action by the Obama administration, according to FEMA and Corps of Engineers sources. Sources within these agencies say the White House has been resisting releasing any “damaging information” about the oil disaster. They add that if the ocean oil geyser is not stopped within 90 days, there will be irreversible damage to the marine eco-systems of the Gulf of Mexico, north Atlantic Ocean, and beyond. At best, some Corps of Engineers experts say it could take two years to cement the chasm on the floor of the Gulf.

Only after the magnitude of the disaster became evident did Obama order Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to declare the oil disaster a “national security issue.” Although the Coast Guard and FEMA are part of her department, Napolitano’s actual reasoning for invoking national security was to block media coverage of the immensity of the disaster that is unfolding for the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean and their coastlines.

From the Corps of Engineers, FEMA, the Environmental Protection Agency, Coast Guard, and Gulf state environmental protection agencies, the message is the same: “we’ve never dealt with anything like this before.”

The Obama administration also conspired with BP to fudge the extent of the oil leak, according to our federal and state sources. After the oil rig exploded and sank, the government stated that 42,000 gallons per day was gushing from the seabed chasm. Five days later, the federal government upped the leakage to 210,000 gallons a day.

I’m getting tired of having my neck of the woods victimized by these failures of engineering wedded to an ‘everything done on the cheap’ attitude of tax haters and profit lovers. This crap never seems to happen in their back yard and always in mine. We pay with for it with our livelihoods and heritage.

So here’s a link to something in TNR called The Crisis Comes Ashore: Why the oil spill could change everything. I’m looking at the headline and thinking, wow, I heard that the response to Hurricane Katrina was going to change everything, and that electing Barack Obama president was going to change everything, and getting rid of Dubya was going to change everything. WHY should I believe this? (BTW, it uses the gulf oil spill to talk about global warming, and calls for stopping the use of fossil fuels which is all very much against the short run interests of big corporations,big government, and big investors.)

It is understandable that the administration will be focused on the immediate crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. But this is a consciousness-shifting event. It is one of those clarifying moments that brings a rare opportunity to take the longer view. Unless we change our present course soon, the future of human civilization will be in dire jeopardy. Just as we feel a sense of urgency in demanding that this ongoing oil spill be stopped, we should feel an even greater sense of urgency in demanding that the much larger and more dangerous ongoing emissions of global warming pollution must also be stopped to make the world safe from the climate crisis that is building all around us.

Okay, so let me pull the punch line on this for you. This article is penned by Al Gore; the coulda been president.

I have only one central question. What ever hope do we have of getting folks to actually think in long run terms in this country when the people in power are rewarded with bonuses in the short run, votes in the short run, and accolades in the short run? Will the bodies of dead dolphins and oily birds, the tears of life long shrimpers who will lose their homes and livelihoods, and the desperate ramblings of an old bitter knitter that keeps getting sideswiped by all this shit really change the incentive structures?


Ritual Mutilation of Women

“…It is degrading. And it is a violation of the physical integrity of a woman’s body, leaving a lifetime of physical and emotional scars.” – Hillary Clinton, in China, Sept 1995.

According to the World Health Organization:

  • Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
  • The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
  • Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later, potential childbirth complications and newborn deaths.
  • An estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM.
  • It is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15 years.
  • In Africa an estimated 92 million girls from 10 years of age and above have undergone FGM.
  • FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
  • It is very difficult for meet to look at that drawing, read the accompanying information, then think about how the American Academy of Pediatrics has trivialized this horrible form of torture to an acronym: FGC (Female Genital Cutting). I might add the drawing came from their site and there’s more information and as well as more gruesome drawings. There is a long list of all the accompanying health and emotional problems that this act of violence causes its victims.

    The AAP’s stated position for GPC (such a almost harmless sounding name) is:

    Immigrants in the United States from areas in which FGC is common may have daughters who have undergone a ritual genital procedure or may request that such a procedure be performed by a physician. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that pediatricians and pediatric surgical specialists should be aware that this practice has life-threatening health risks for children and women. The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes all types of female genital cutting that pose risks of physical or psychological harm, counsels its members not to perform such procedures, recommends that its members actively seek to dissuade families from carrying out harmful forms of FGC, and urges its members to provide patients and their parents with compassionate education about the harms of FGC while remaining sensitive to the cultural and religious reasons that motivate parents to seek this procedure for their daughters.

    How about just calling the police and having the girl removed from the people who want to torture her? Don’t they have a legal obligation to report child abuse?