Monday Reads

library reading room NYPLGood Morning!

There’s more than just a bit of March madness in the air and you don’t have to be watching basketball to catch it.  It seems that the Republican Party’s Teabots have decided to boycott Fox News for being too liberal.  Yes, you read that right.  Fox is not fair and balanced towards their viewpoints so off with th eir heads!!!!

Among the demands the protesters have is that Fox News “be the right-wing CBS News: to break stories, to break information, and to do what news organizations have always done with such stories: break politicians,” that the network have at least one segment on Benghazi every night on two of its prime-time shows; that Fox similarly devote investigative resources to discovering the truth of Obama’s birth certificate; and that the network cease striving to be “fair and balanced.”

“We need Fox to turn right,” said Hjerlied. “We think this is a coverup and Fox is aiding and abetting it. This is the way Hitler started taking over Germany, by managing and manipulating the news media.”

The descriptions of the boycotters and their preferences for conspiracy sites is pretty obvious. Poor Fox and the Republican Party Establishment just cannot shove these loonies back into their boxes.

Agreement has been reached on what to do with Cyprus and its unstable banks.  The agreement will not be put to a vote of parliament.

Cyprus will close down one of its two biggest banks and restructure the second one as part of an international bailout, Cyprus and underwoodinternational lenders agreed on Tuesday.

Bank depositors of up to 100,000 euros will not suffer any losses but bigger depositors will contribute to recapitalizing the bank that is to be restructured – Bank of Cyprus.

Shareholders, bondholders and those who held deposits above 100,000 euros in Laiki bank, which will be closed down, will cover the cost of the resolution, euro zone ministers and the International Monetary Fund decided.

Depositors with more than 100,000 euros in the Bank of Cyprus will see their money above that threshold frozen until it is clear how much of it will be needed to recapitalize the bank so that it can reach a capital ratio of 9 percent.

Here’s some discussion of what the Cyprus fallout could be around the world by Marshall Auerback.  Moody’s says Cyprus is still at risk of default, euro zone exit should these steps resolve the current crisis.  So, what type of precedent does this set for such a risky move with no real guarantee of success?

Regardless of the ultimate form this bailout takes, it is increasingly hard to view Cyprus as a “one-off,” which has no implications for us here in the US. What Cyprus has demonstrated is that even with deposit insurance, your deposits are not in fact a risk-free guaranteed asset, but actually simply another branch in the creditor tree in relation to your bank if it fails. That was made abundantly clear by no less than the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the central bankers’ bank back in the heart of the financial crisis. The BIS noted that bank failures had become increasingly expensive for governments and taxpayers and therefore recommended an “Open Bank Resolution,” which would ensure that, as far as possible , “any future losses are ultimately borne by the bank’s shareholders and creditors.” (See primer on the Open Market Resolution concept by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.)

Why does this matter? Because, you, as a depositor are legally considered a “creditor” of your bank, not simply a customer who may have entrusted your entire life savings with the very same institution.

The science editor at BBC News wonders why there is such a fuss about extinction which leads to the question “would the world be a better place if we still had velociraptors? But, is natural extinction different than man-caused extinction?

We are certainly far better off without velociraptors slashing their way through our cities. Our streets are safer with no sabre-toothed tigers. And imagine trying to swat one of those monster prehistoric insects like a vulture-sized dragonfly.

The question of extinction most recently surfaced at the talks on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) – the treaty meant to save endangered species from the devastating effects of trade.

The slaughter of rhino, the decimation of elephant, the forlorn last stand of the tiger – all had their profiles raised as the delegates in Bangkok negotiated their fate.

And anyone hearing the protests and the campaigns, and the shocking statistics about the losses, might be forgiven for thinking that extinction was some new kind of evil that was not invented until rapacious and uncaring mankind came along.

I should state right now that some of the most ghastly examples are indeed entirely the result of man’s activities, sometimes unwittingly, sometimes carelessly.

hepburn readingWe’re seeing slow, drawn out, death-by-lobbying of the hopes for better gun safety laws.  The NRA is pushing the meme that gun-free zones–like the Sandy Hook School–attract mass murderers.  Mark Follman takes on this myth.

Ever since the massacres in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., this idea has been repeated like some surreal requiem: The reason that mass gun violence keeps happening is because the United States is full of places that ban guns.

Second Amendment activists have long floated this theme, and now lawmaker sacross the nation are using it, too. During a recent floor debate in the Colorado legislature, Republican state Rep. Carole Murray put it this way: “Most of the mass killings that we talk about have been affected in gun-free zones. So when you have a gun-free zone, it’s like saying, ‘Come and get me.'”

The argument claims to explain both the motive behind mass shootings and how they play out. The killers deliberately choose sites where firearms are forbidden, gun-rights advocates say, and because there are no weapons, no “good guy with a gun” will be on hand to stop the crime.

Sound bite sophistry

With its overtones of fear and heroism, the argument makes for slick sound bites. But here’s the problem: Both its underlying assumptions are contradicted by data. Not only is there zero evidence to support them, our examination at Mother Jones of America’s mass shootings indicates they are just plain wrong.

Among the 62 mass shootings over the past 30 years that we studied, not a single case includes evidence that the killer chose to target a place because it banned guns. To the contrary, in many of the cases there was clearly another motive for the choice of location. For example, 20 were workplace shootings, most of which involved perpetrators who felt wronged by employers and colleagues. Last September, when a troubled man working at a sign manufacturer in Minneapolis was told he would be let go, he pulled out a 9mm Glock and killed six people and injured another before putting a bullet in his own head. Similar tragedies unfolded at a beer distributor in Connecticut in 2010 and at a plastics factory in Kentucky in 2008.

Or consider the 12 school shootings we documented, in which all but one of the killers had personal ties to the school they struck.librarian reading

Or take the man who opened fire in suburban Milwaukee last August: Are we to believe that a white supremacist targeted the Sikh temple there not because it was filled with members of a religious minority he despised, but because it was a place that didn’t allow firearms?

Despite the momentum in Congress of the NRA, Mayor Mike Bloomberg is going to spend beaucoups bux trying to get a better outcome.

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg wants new gun control legislation so bad that he’s set to spend a staggering $12 million of his own money on ads targeting US senators in a dozen states.

As the New York Times reports, Bloomberg’s new wave of ads, which begin on Monday, support universal background checks for nearly all gun purchases, but do not mention a ban on assault weapons. The ads, run under the auspices of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group funded and co-chaired by Bloomberg, will target Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Patrick Toomey (R-Penn.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

Bloomberg’s $12 million ad buy further cements his position as the main political force challenging the clout of the National Rifle Association. For decades, the NRA has used its money and manpower to oust politicians who support any new regulation of guns in America. The threat of NRA attacks helped stifle any effort at new gun laws, including requiring background checks for most gun purchases and reinstating the ban on assault rifles, which expired in 2004. Now, by pumping money into Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Independence USA, his super-PAC, Bloomberg hopes to counter the might of the NRA, while giving cover to pro-gun-control legislators.

Today, SCOTUS hears arguments on California’s Prop 8 and will begin to hear arguments on the constitutionality of DOMA.

California Attorney General Kemala Harris gave an impassioned, pithy defense of marriage equality during an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday morning in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s hearing on whether California’s Proposition 8, which overturned the state’s marriage equality law, is itself constitutional.

Asked by CNN’s Candy Crowley to explain why she was refusing to defend the state’s proposition, Harris insisted that the measure undermined the fundamental rights of gay Americans, taking away their equal protections under the law:

I am absolutely against a ban on same-sex marriages because [bans] are simply unconstitutional. And it is one thing to read the polls, which we have discussed which show again that a majority of Americans are in favor of same sex marriage, but it is more important to read the Constitution. And the Constitution of the United States dictates, I believe, under every court precedent that we have discussed in terms of describing marriage as a fundamental right that the same-sex couples that are before the United states supreme court — Mrs. Windsor, Miss Perry — be allowed to have equal protection under the laws as any Americans when it comes to their ability to join themselves with their loving partners in marriage and raise their children. And 61% of Californians are in favor of same-sex marriage.

Harris is considered an up and comer to the national political scene.  You can follow the link above to see the interview.  We will be following the arguments closely today and will keep you updated as things happen.

So. that’s it for me this morning.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Monday Morning Reads: Systems that Benefit the Privileged Elite

educationcorporateschoolGood Morning!

I’m going to start the day’s reads off with two really good articles on modern capitalism.  Both actually have titles that ask questions.  I’ll start with the first one written by Richard Wolfe at The Guardian as reprinted by RS.  ” What’s efficiency got do do with capitalism?”   The answer is absolutely nothing.

What’s efficiency got to do with capitalism? The short answer is little or nothing. Economic and social collapses in Detroit, Cleveland and many other US cities did not happen because production was inefficient there. Efficiency problems did not cause the longer-term economic declines troubling the US and western Europe.

Capitalist corporations decided to relocate production: first, away from such cities, and now, away from those regions. It has done so to serve the priorities of their major shareholders and boards of directors. Higher profits, business growth, and market share drive those decisions. As I say, efficiency has little or nothing to do with it.

This is what we call a “positive” economic discussion on policy in that that the data leads one to the conclusion and values don’t play a role in the argument until the end of the article when the author makes a case for democratization of the economy.  This is called making a “normative” case.  For a “normative” economic discussion from the get-go, turn to this article in WAPO by Steven Perlstein.  “Is capitalism moral?”

Note the Gordon Gekko-like logic here: Because pursuit of self-interest is the essential ingredient in a market system, it somehow follows that individuals and firms are free to act as greedily and selfishly as they can within the law, absolved from any moral obligations. And it’s not just in the movies. The same amorality was on display at those Senate hearings in 2010 where Fabrice “Fabulous Fab” Tourre and the team from Goldman Sachs tried to explain to incredulous lawmakers why it was perfectly reasonable to peddle securities to clients that they had deliberately constructed to default.

Free-market advocates have a stronger moral case against government “confiscating” the money earned by one person to give it to another.

The traditional liberal defense of redistribution, of course, is that a lot of what passes for economic success derives not only from hard work or ingenuity but also from good fortune — the good fortune to be born with the right genes and to the right parents, to grow up in the right community, to attend the right schools, to meet and be helped by the right people, or simply to be at the right place at the right time. A market system should reward virtue, they argue, not dumb luck.

The problem is that we don’t really have anything resembling textbook market capitalism because all markets don’t exhibit characteristics that make them amenable to an unrestrained market.  Also, we have a political class that is easy to capture via donations and lobbying who set up laws that allow already dominant industries to become more monopolistic and less ‘free’ through preferential legal treatment and taxation.  The worst of the folks that scream about the virtues of ‘capitalism’ are the ones that really know nothing about Adam Smith or the origins of the system and its simple agriculture and industrial roots.  For a real life example of the failures of unchecked capitalism, check out BB’s post last night outlining what’s going on in Cyprus.  The overall mismanagement of lending and under-evaluation of risk by British, American and German banks has cost the citizen’s of many countries a lot of wealth.  The Cyprus situation is unprecedented and sets an especially dangerous precedent.  You can see how the powerful can co-opt the system in this play that takes savings from depositors. Markets all over the world are responding.  Asian markets were the first to tank.

I spent a lot of time yesterday in an absolute rage over the rape apologia rampant in coverage by two of CNN’s women journalists who seemed more concerned with the lasting impact the verdict of the trial would have on the convicted rapists than the victim and possibly more victims of their out-of-control male libidos.   There was also more discussion of the role of teen alcohol abuse in the incident that the attitudes and privileged treatment of the male athletic stars by the media.  It was totally disgusting!! I posted  some of this down thread in the Sunday Reads but feel strong that it needs to frontpaged and repeated.  The judge got the verdict right  while CNN turned into a rape apologia factory.

CNN’s Candy Crowley began her breaking news report by showing Lipps handing down the sentence and telling CNN reporter Poppy Harlow that she “cannot imagine” how emotional the sentencing must have been.

Harlow explained that it had been “incredibly difficult” to watch “as these two young men — who had such promising futures, star football players, very good students — literally watched as they believed their life fell apart.”

“One of the young men, Ma’lik Richmond, as that sentence came down, he collapsed,” the CNN reporter recalled, adding that the convicted rapist told his attorney that “my life is over, no one is going to want me now.”

At that point, CNN played video of Richmond crying and hugging his lawyer in the courtroom.

“I was sitting about three feet from Ma’lik when he gave that statement,” Harlow said. “It was very difficult to watch.”

Candy then asked CNN legal contributor Paul Callan what the verdict meant for “a 16 year old, sobbing in court, regardless of what big football players they are, they still sound like 16 year olds.”

“What’s the lasting effect though on two young men being found guilty juvenile court of rape essentially?” Crowley wondered.

“There’s always that moment of just — lives are destroyed,” Callan remarked. “But in terms of what happens now, the most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders. That label is now placed on them by Ohio law.”

“That will haunt them for the rest of their lives.”

The purpose of a justice system is to make sure those guilty of heinous crimes pay for their crimes.  I’m still livid about this and so are most of the folks on my twitter stream. You can look down stream on Sunday’s thread for videos and links.   I found  Dan Wetzel’s post particularly compelling as it describes the entitlements given to male athletes in Steubenville and elseville.

The Big Red players were disorganized crime. No secrets. No code words. No shame. They neither grasped the depth of the crime nor the unrelenting pressure of true authority – not their compliant parents or ball coach, but a legal system that didn’t care a whit about Steubenville High football.

Steubenville’s football program has long been a source of pride in the community. (Reuters)For all the rumors and speculation around town of cover-ups and favoritism being played, the authorities did their job. There is zero indication the Steubenville police did anything but aggressively and swiftly investigate the charges.

When understandable conflicts of interest – only 18,000 people live in the city and everyone knows everyone – arose in the local prosecutors office, the case was handed over to the state’s attorney general out of Columbus. A judge was brought in from across the state, near Cincinnati. And it was Judge Lipps, not anyone around Steubenville, who granted immunity to the witnesses.

Meanwhile, attorney general Mike DeWine called on Sunday for a grand jury to continue an investigation into the case.

“This community desperately needs to have this behind them,” DeWine said. “But this community also desperately needs to know justice was done and that no stone was left unturned.”

It’s still hard to say if Mays and Richmond ever grasped the trouble they were in until Sunday.

Mays knew enough to grow concerned. The girl was never sure whether to press charges, but once her parents found out, there would be no doubt. They culled social media for clues and walked into the Steubenville Police Department with a flash drive of evidence.

Just prior to that, Mays became panicked and texted the girl.

“I’m about to get kicked off my football team,” Mays wrote.

“The more you bring up football, the more pissed I get,” the girl wrote back. “Because that’s like all you care about.”

They had no idea about the severity of what they had done which means there’s an awful lot of parents, teachers, and clergy that need to sit down with some girls and boys and define sexual assault.  They also need to make sure that everyone knows that the laws apply to every one.

I know there are many ‘recovering’  Catholics that read this blog so I thought I’d link to this article in Salon by Andrew O’Hehir entitled “Is Pope Francis a Fraud?”  He makes some valid points about looking at each parish or archdiocese as distinct. He focuses on the recent purge by the Jesuits of their liberal coherts and the position of the new Pope in a church in turmoil.

But the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio emerges from a Jesuit order that has been largely purged of its independent-minded or left-leaning intellectuals, and his reputation at home in Latin America is decidedly mixed. While Francis seems to be an appealing personality in some ways — albeit one with a shadowy relationship with the former military dictatorship in Argentina, along with a record on gay rights that borders on hate speech — it’s difficult to imagine that he can or will do anything to arrest the church’s long slide into cultural irrelevance and neo-medieval isolation. His papacy, I suspect, comes near the end of a thousand-year history of the Vatican’s global rise to power, ambiguous flourishing and rapid decline. It also comes after 40 years of internal counterrevolution under the previous two popes, during which a group of hardcore right-wing cardinals have consolidated power in the Curia and stamped out nearly all traces of the 1960s liberal reform agenda of  Pope John XXIII and Vatican II.A handful of intellectuals, both inside and outside the church, quietly believe that means Pope Francis isn’t a legitimate pope at all.

I can’t speak to any of those being a WASP turned WASB, but I thought I’d share it all the same since I read the article knowing the role of Popes and the church in history.

President Obama is set to nominate Tom Perez for Labor Secretary today.

Perez, 51, is the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division. If confirmed by the Senate, he would replace Hilda Solis, who resigned in January.

The White House portrayed Perez as someone in line with Obama’s sense of social justice. An official lauded Perez for settling the nation’s three largest fair lending housing cases, boosting enforcement of human trafficking laws and protecting rights of veterans and students. He also led the Justice Department in challenging voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina.“Tom is a dedicated public servant who has spent his career fighting to keep the American dream within reach for hardworking middle class families and those striving to get into the middle class,” the White House official said.

I’d say that’s enough of me writing things.  Now, it’s your turn.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

New Stage in Eurozone Crisis: Cyprus Forced to Cover Bailout from Individual Bank Deposits

Lines formed at ATMs in Cyprus after news of bank levy broke

Lines formed at ATMs in Cyprus after news of bank levy broke

This is a topic on which I know very little, but I thought we should have a thread on it anyway.

On Saturday morning, news broke that the terms of a bailout of banks in Cyprus would require a levy on individual depositors–including those holding small accounts. People immediately rushed to ATMs to withdraw as much cash as possible before the deal was voted on. The most accessible article I found on this is by Edward Harrison of Credit Writedowns blog, posted at Alternet: Hell Breaks Loose in Europe as Banking Crisis Unfolds: Depositors’ Money May Be Seized.

Saturday morning we learned that after hours of tense negotiation, Europe has hammered out a 10bn euro “bailout” of Cyprus. I put the term bailout in quotes because the key feature of this deal is the bail-in of Cypriot depositors to the tune of 5.8bn euros, about a third of Cyprus’ GDP. This means that depositors went to sleep on Friday night and woke up Saturday to find that their money, deposited safely in Cypriot banks, had been seized and used to “bail out” the country. While the bail-in became official EU bank rescue policy during the Spanish crisis last summer, bank depositors were never mentioned at that time. I see this as an extreme measure which, if the European banking crisis continues elsewhere, will have very negative implications for bank depositor confidence in other European periphery countries.

There has since been a revision in the amounts to be deducted–I’ll get to that later on.

Back to Harrison:

Cyprus’ finance minister Michalis Sarris said large deposit withdrawals would be banned. Jörg Asmussen, a German member of the ECB board and a key ally of Angela Merkel, added that the part of the deposit base equivalent to the actual bail-in levies would be frozen immediately so the funds could be used to pay for the “bailout”….

Some of the bailout lenders like the IMF had actually been calling for Cyprus to seize all deposits larger than 100,000 euros. So this falls well short of those demands. Nonetheless, a rubicon has been crossed. Not only are senior bank debt lenders now on the hook before a single penny of European Union loans or guarantees flow to busted eurozone countries, but so are subordinated debt holders and so are even depositors. As an EU citizen, you must now believe that any lending exposure you have to a bank whether as a bond lender or deposit lender can be seized and confiscated by government, no matter how small the exposure. The FT notes that “[e]ven Ireland, whose banking sector was about as large relative to its economy as Cyprus’ when it was forced into a bailout in 2010, never considered such a measure.

Read much more at the Alternet link.

Here’s an FAQ on the crisis published at Fortune earlier tonight. The scary introductory paragraphs after the jump:

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