Monday Reads

Good Morning!!!

Breaking NEWS update:

Rep. Jane Harman of California to resign

Democrat Jane Harman, who represents a Los Angeles-area district, is expected to leave Congress to lead the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a congressional source says.

U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), a leading congressional voice on anti-terrorism issues, plans to resign from Congress to head up the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a senior congressional source confirmed Monday, setting up a special election to choose her successor in a coastal district that stretches from Venice into the South Bay.

There’s plenty of news to share today so grab a big mug of whatever it is that you drink and join in!!

First, some big news in business and the blogosphere.  AOL Is Buying The Huffington Post.

The two companies completed the sale Sunday evening and announced the deal just after midnight on Monday. AOL will pay $315 million, $300 million of it in cash and the rest in stock. It will be the company’s largest acquisition since it was separated from Time Warner in 2009.

The deal will allow AOL to greatly expand its news gathering and original content creation, areas that its chief executive, Tim Armstrong, views as vital to reversing a decade-long decline.

Arianna Huffington, the cable talk show pundit, author and doyenne of the political left, will take control of all of AOL’s editorial content as president and editor in chief of a newly created Huffington Post Media Group. The arrangement will give her oversight not only of AOL’s national, local and financial news operations, but also of the company’s other media enterprises like MapQuest and Moviefone.

I’m not sure if any of you caught the O’Reilly interview of Obama, but President Obama is insisting that he’s not moving to the center.  The one thing I keep hearing about this interview is that O’Reilly couldn’t stop interrupting the President.  I can only imagine how large that studio had to be to contain those big heads.

President Obama on Sunday dismissed the notion that his administration in recent weeks has pivoted toward the political center to raise his approval ratings as the 2012 campaign nears.

After ushering through Congress measures to throw a lifeline to troubled U.S. corporations, stimulate the economy and dramatically overhaul the nation’s healthcare system, Obama has since cut a deal with congressional Republicans on taxes and called for a freeze on most federal spending.

But when pressed Sunday during a live interview with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly on what political analysts say is a clear sprint toward the center, Obama dismissed the notion with a “no.”

“I haven’t — I didn’t move to… I’m the same guy,” he said.

When O’Reilly said the president’s critics call him “a big government liberal,” Obama replied that he inherited a nation on the brink of an economic crisis. That situation required his administration to take a number of “extraordinary steps” to avoid a severe economic depression, Obama said.

I wrote on the role of speculation in high food prices a few days ago .  Paul Krugman believes it’s a supply problem and wrote about it Sunday on the NYT.   He also considers climate change to be a factor. You may want to check it out.

Overall grain production is down — and it’s down substantially more when you take account of a growing world population. Wheat production (this time not per capita) is way down.

You might ask why a production shortfall of 5 percent leads to a doubling of prices. Part of the answer is that some kinds of demand are growing faster than population — in particular, China is becoming a growing importer of feed to meet the demand for meat. But the main point is that the demand for grain is highly price-inelastic: it takes big price rises to induce people to consume less, yet collectively that’s what they must do given the shortfall in production.

Why is production down? Most of the decline in world wheat production, and about half of the total decline in grain production, has taken place in the former Soviet Union — mainly Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. And we know what that’s about: an incredible, unprecedented heat wave.

Here‘s a wonky link to VOXEU that discusses financial contagion. It’s pretty interesting.  The article deals with contagion in the market for European Sovereign bonds but you can extrapolate the basic intuition to other assets.  Here’s one surprising insight.  It seems that many stocks that performed well during the financial crisis were frequently the one’s most likely to be subjected to ‘fire sales’ later on. That’s a tidbit worth remembering.

First, the fire sale discount is most pronounced for stocks which performed best during the crisis. Figure 2 illustrates this aspect by depicting the relative performance of non-exposed and exposed stocks as a function of the stocks overall return from July 2007 to July 2008. Most of the return shortfall of exposed stocks is concentrated among the stocks with the highest returns. This somewhat counterintuitive result can be explained by fund discretion about which asset positions to liquidate. Faced with funding constraints and investor redemption requests, distressed equity funds liquidated the best performing stocks rather than stocks with recent large capital losses. Thus, fire sales were more pronounced for stocks among the 10% best performing stocks. For these stocks we find average fire sale discounts above 75%.

President Obama addresses the US Chamber of Commerce today.  You can watch it on CSpan.

Picking up on the themes expressed in his State of the Union Address, President Obama will reaffirm his commitment to invest in rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure during a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce today.

During that address before Congress, the President identified innovation, education, and infrastructure as the keys to stimulate the economy by increasing job growth and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Here’s a post for our BostonBoomer from Psychology today. Okay, it’s also for me. It’s called  Buddhism and Neuroscience: Neuroscience finds a friend in Buddhism. Here’s an interesting scientific view of a practice we Buddhists do to realize that there is no “soul”.

When a Buddhist applies the idea of constant change to the self and the soul, he gains an insight that other religions lack.  What we call a mind (or a self, or a soul) is actually something that changes so much and is so uncertain, that our terms for it do not find meaning.  The Buddhist word for self is anatta and it means ‘no self.’   It is used to refer to oneself, while cleverly reminding the user of the word that there is such thing.

Within this framework, one is immediately struck by the disconnect between perception and religious teaching.  All is endlessly changing, but I feel unified and unchanged from moment to moment, year to year.  The way things feel becomes suspect, just as it does in modern neuroscience.  Broadly, both Buddhism and neuroscience converge on similar points of view: the way it feels to be you isn’t how it is, that even our language about ourselves is to be distrusted (witness the tortured negation of anatta), and there is no permanent, constant soul in the background.

Despite saying there is no self, Buddhism does posit an immaterial thing that survives the brain’s death.  Through life there is a consciousness, always changing like the world, one mental state rising like a wave to crash on the beach, then another and another.  After a person’s death, the consciousness re-incarnates.  This isn’t much of a trick, since even during a Buddhist life, each moment can be considered a re-incarnation from the moment before.  The waves still lap, the beach shifted.  If you’re good, they might lap at a higher organism.  If you’re not, well, insects clearly have consciousness and someone’s waves need to supply it.

So how does Buddhism do?  Pretty well.  Buddhism lays out the concept that there is no mind the way we tend to consider them (as we consider our self).  In broad strokes, neuroscience and neurology agree.

Kinda cool hmm?

So, what’s on you reading and blogging list today?

31 Comments on “Monday Reads”

  1. zaladonis says:

    “I haven’t — I didn’t move to… I’m the same guy,” [Obama] said.

    This is true.

    The problem is, he lies. He pretends his health care reform is a Democratic, a liberal or progressive, legislation but it is not. It benefits Pharma and private insurance corporations just as his corporate tax cut proposal does. He’s consistent, it’s just that he’s also deceitful and vague so people make of him what they want to.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    The military is starting to crack down in Egypt–arbitrary arrests of protesters and journalists, people being held without charges, etc.

    The perpetrators of the latest arrests, however, are Egyptian army soldiers, deployed on the streets for the first time in more than two decades after the police all but disappeared following clashes with protesters on Jan. 25. The man most likely to lead the transition to a post-Mubarak era, Vice President Omar Suleiman, is Mubarak’s longtime intelligence chief.

    “If the military is going to continue to arrest activists and arrest journalists, that does point to a pattern of a crackdown,” said Heba Morayef, Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch. “It’s a worrying sign of things to come . . . because the military is going to play a big role going forward.”

    At least 75 Egyptian activists and demonstrators and about 30 foreign journalists have been arrested since the protests began, she said, including at least seven people who disappeared last Thursday as they were returning from a meeting with opposition leader Mohammed ElBaradei. That was the day that targeting activists and journalists appeared to escalate after heavy fighting between protesters and pro-Mubarak forces in Tahrir Square.

  3. Pat Johnson says:

    I’m convinced that Obama’s approval rating is based on “comparison”.

    Pitting his chances against the likes of Bachmann, Palin, Pawlenty, Huckabee, and Romney to name a few of the wingnuts seeking that office, he does appear somewhat more “sane” at least when the question is posed.

    One need only take a look at Palin’s “interview” with a Christian Broadcast Network anchor to realize that “stupidity” just oozes forth from this nitwit who may be seeking the nomination.

    Like asking if you prefer poison over cough syrup served with your ice cream. Of course the cough syrup is bound to win if presented with both choices.

    Otherwise I am unable to see how he commands over 50% unless the question is framed using that analogy.

  4. zaladonis says:

    Here come the Obama cuts.

    $350 million, for community service block grants that cities and towns that allocate to grassroots groups for them to provide basic necessities for poor people …

    Obama will also propose cutting by a quarter, or $125 million, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative which supports environmental cleanup and protection in those giant lakes.

    Cut funds for the poor and the environment; keep financing those wars. So glad we have a Democrat in the White House.

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      I really can’t stand this man. (Obama)

      • zaladonis says:

        This Obama is going to be even worse than the one we’ve seen the past two years, who was even worse than the one we knew existed as State Senator.

        But it’s not only him who’s horrible. He’s got a lot of supporters.

  5. Woman Voter says:

    “Justice Thomas’s wife Virginia Thomas now a lobbyist” @politico reports

    Well, this is a bit shocking, there should be a law, about spouses being lobbyists. Just think if Michelle Obama was a lobbyist, the Tea Party members heads would be exploding with outrage, but a Tea Party SCOTUS wife doing that is A OK with them.

  6. Woman Voter says:

    This explains why the White House is standing by Biden’s man Hosni Mubarak:

    $3.47 billion on #lobbying last year = $753,885 per piece of legislation introduced in #Congress in 2010 #politics #DC

    I suspect any day now Mubarak will move to do away with the protesters and the White House will still be waiting, while claiming to support the spirit of Democracy.

    Huckabee, was on his soap box, in a country with Universal Health Care, yet he thinks Americans with pre-existing conditions can die here. He said the country was a Democracy, yet here he and others start yelling ‘SOCIALISM’ when Americans and soldiers families ask for Universal Health Care coverage.

  7. Fannie says:

    Obama is hyping it up that if they don’t have a smooth transtition in Egypt, there will be anarchy……….that’s all I hear from him.

  8. dakinikat says:

    Okay, now we not only have them redefining rape, but redefining ‘prevention‘.

    But the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and some conservative groups, including the Family Research Council, say birth control is not a preventive service in the usual sense of the term.

    Administration officials and Democrats in Congress said free preventive care was just one of the health care law’s benefits for women. It also prohibits insurers from charging women more than men of the same age for the same coverage. Such disparities have been common. As a result, premiums for women have often been 25 percent to 50 percent higher than those for men.

    “Pregnancy is not a disease to be prevented, nor is fertility a pathological condition,” said Deirdre A. McQuade, a spokeswoman for the bishops’ Pro-Life Secretariat. “So birth control is not preventive care, and it should not be mandated.”

    • Teresa says:

      If it makes her feel any better, prescription drugs of any kind are not considered “prevention” under the UNaffordable care act:

      As far as I know, no explicit policy regarding prescription drugs for insurees on the individual insurance market has been provided under “The Act”. And it appears wherever no explicit policy was enacted, the individual insurance “providers” are cutting services in anticipation of 2014.

      So Ms. McQuade can breathe a sigh of relief.

      • dakinikat says:

        One of the things that so many people don’t realize is that these groups believe birth control to be abortion drugs. For some reason, you can’t get people to believe that.

    • Fannie says:

      For all I care Deirdre can resort to baseball bats for protection. Maybe she ought to have a special run on bats at her church’s local bizarre sale.

      You’d think she would have something better to do, like focusing on the Bishops who are sexually abusing our children. But no, anything that is very successful for women, she and the church wants it tossed to the curve.

      What I see happening is they want to take down Family Planning, so they can run their up and coming non profit clinics, that have signs reading: No birth control, No Abortions, and Viagra Available for Men.

      • dakinikat says:

        Another great read at The American Prospect

        Choice Rankings

        We pushed back against Republicans’ attempt to create a hierarchy of rape. So why are we OK with a hierarchy of abortion?

        In the public conversation about rape, the loudest voices tend to be those describing what it isn’t. It’s not rape if she was drunk. It’s not rape if they were on a date. It’s not rape if she was wearing a short skirt. It’s not rape if the accused is her husband or someone she previously called a friend. In its latest iteration, it’s not rape if she isn’t sufficiently bruised from fighting back.

        This extremely narrow definition nearly became law. After a concerted digital effort by pro-choice activists — and some ribbing from The Daily Show — the GOP announced Thursday it would strip the term “forcible rape” from HR3, the so-called No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. The purpose of the bill is to prevent taxpayer subsidies from funding health-care plans that offer abortion, and while it will now make exceptions for “rape, incest, and the life of the mother,” it still codifies the Hyde Amendment, which has denied abortion access to poor women almost as long as Roe has granted the right to everyone else.

      • Fannie says:

        Dak, where is the search button here? I was looking for the list someone (you?) provided last week as co-sponsors of a bill (couldn’t remember the number, SB5274? or 1366?)……..Time to make more calls.


      • dakinikat says:

        extreme bottom, right hand corner

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      I don’t know how the Catholic Church can get away with this kind of warped sense of birth control, when the cases of priest sexual abuse is so prevalent.

      • Fannie says:

        Not to mention the priest who committed a sexual assault with performing exorisim.

        Not to mention Rep. Bobby Franklin of Cobb Co. Ga. who has introduced a bill changing
        rape victim to rape accuser…….stalking victim to stalking accuser, and domestic violence victim to accuser. I’d love to see his ass behind bars for a few years, maybe he’ll come to understand the term victim.

  9. dakinikat says:

    UN United Nations
    UN warns floods in southern Africa could lead to food shortages

  10. dakinikat says:

    Rich Lowry on Jeb Bush…in 2012!

    just kill me now

    • a few of us have been saying Jeb’s the dark horse to worry about, not Palin.

      If Jeb wants to make a go of it and thinks he stands a better shot in ’16 than in ’12, the GOP elite might well let Obama win. Same goes for any other GOP insider candidate.

      If Jeb runs at all, forget about whether he wins or not– his running would be a sign in and of itself of how fubar our politics have become. No Bush should have ever been able to think of running after what W. and Cheney did. If Jeb can dream the impossible dream again, it’s thanks to axelrahmrove & co.

  11. dakinikat says:

    Well, this explains a lot:

    @keachhagey: Talked to @AriannaHuff about what AOL deal means for ideology: “We don’t think of ourselves as left.”

  12. dakinikat says:

    tpmmedia Talking Points Memo
    DOJ Fights To Keep Bush Official Scott Bloch Out Of Prison ^@ryanjreilly