Thursday Reads

Good Morning!

Yesterday, Dakinikat wrote a very thoughtful post about the upside-down “morality” that has taken over the Republican Party since the Reagan years. The basis for the post was the op-ed in the NYT yesterday by former executive Greg Smith: Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs.

I thought it was rather courageous of Smith to go public with his moral concerns about the Goldman “culture.” But quite a few writers are mocking him for it. For example, Sara Ball put up a post at Vanity Fair called Why I Am Leaving Pinkberry. She bills it as “parody,” but what’s her point. I don’t even think her piece qualifies as satire. Here’s a bit of it:

TODAY is my last day at the Turtle Bay-area branch of Pinkberry—you know, the one on 54th Street between 2nd and 3rd? After almost 13 months with this company—at first as a summer job while at U.S.C., then in apprenticeships at New York’s Columbus Circle and Bleecker St. branches—I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its personnel, and its flavor inventory. And I can honestly say today that I am really sick of frozen yogurt.

To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interest of our customers continue to be sidelined in the way we, the firm, think about making money. Day in and day out, we are so worried about the line building up, we don’t even ask people how they’re doing anymore. You can forget about spelling their name correctly on the order label. And these customer-service problems will only get worse if this unseasonably warm weather keeps up. Sometimes, in the back room, I’ve heard my colleagues call our patrons “polar bears”—since they get hungrier and sadder as the sky gets sunnier, their yogurt melting out from underneath them.

It isn’t even slightly funny. Goldman Sachs played a huge role in global financial crisis and is almost single=handedly responsible for the ongoing nightmare in Greece. Here’s another parody that makes a bit more sense in light of the evil that Goldman has perpetrated: Why I Am Leaving the Empire, by Darth Vader.

Matt Taibbi, at least, thinks the Smith piece is important enough to take seriously.

The resignation will have an effect on Goldman’s business. The firm’s share price opened this morning at 124.52; it’s down to 120.72 as of this writing (it dropped two percent while I was writing this blog), and it will probably dive further. Why? Because you can stack all the exposés on Goldman you want by degenerates like me and the McClatchy group, and you can even have a Senate subcommittee call for your executives to be tried for perjury, but that doesn’t necessarily move the Street.

But when one of the firm’s own partners is saying out loud that his company liked to “rip the eyeballs out” of “muppets” like you, then you start to wonder if maybe this firm is the best choice for managing your money. Hence we see headlines this morning like this item from “Greg Smith Quits, Should Clients Fire Goldman Sachs?”

Of course Goldman immediately set out to smear their former partner, Greg Smith, with the help of the Wall Street Journal, as Taibbi notes. I wouldn’t be surprised if those “parodies” were part of Goldman’s smear tactics.

As I suspected, the soldier who recently committed mass murder in Afghanistan had previously suffered traumatic brain injury. He may also have PTSD, as do many veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq (and Vietnam).

The U.S. Army staff sergeant who allegedly murdered 16 Afghan civilians in a dead-of-night spasm of shooting, stabbing and fire-setting is reported to have suffered a traumatic brain injury during a deployment to Iraq in 2010….

Research on traumatic brain injury has established a clear link between brain trauma and irritable, aggressive behavior that can be explosive, often without apparent warning or provocation. Sometimes, brain injury magnifies a victim’s longstanding tendency toward irritability, depression or hostility. Some brain traumas bring personality changes in their wake, causing even laid-back types to become irascible and impatient.

For many patients, particularly those who have sustained injury to their brain’s prefrontal cortex, the mechanisms that allow most of us to put the “brakes” on aggressive or inappropriate impulses do not function as well.

The injury happened in 2010, and yet he was deployed to another combat zone! Why? Because the military doesn’t want a draft army. Because then they’d have to deal with the kinds of protests that happened during the Vietnam nightmare. They want a “professional” army, and since they can’t find as much cannon fodder as they’d like, they send the same people back again and again into combat. It’s a perfect recipe for creating psychological disorders that, if not addresed, may lead people to act out violently. Read more at Danger Room, here and here. Joseph Cannon also has published a useful comment from one of his readers on this subject.

There’s another enlightening article at Reuters: Lawmakers press Pentagon on massacre suspect’s brain injury

The Army staff sergeant accused in Sunday’s shooting served three deployments to Iraq before he was sent to Afghanistan last year. The soldier, whose name has not been disclosed publicly, was treated for a traumatic brain injury suffered in a vehicle rollover in 2010 in Iraq, according to a U.S. official.

Representative Bill Pascrell, founder of a U.S. congressional task force on brain injuries, wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta requesting details of the accused soldier’s injury, diagnosis, and when and how he was returned to combat duty.

“I am trying to find out basically whether there was a premature ‘OK’ on this guy,” Pascrell, a Democrat, said in a telephone interview.

“This is not to excuse any heinous acts; we are all sickened by it. But dammit, we all have an obligation to prevent these things,” Pascrell said. “If this soldier fell through the cracks, does that mean that others have?

Good questions! And very good reasons to get our troops out of Afghanistan ASAP. This country will be paying for these wars for a generation. Many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, like Vietnam veterans before them, will act out their psychological problems back here through suicide, murder, child abuse, spouse abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction. I’d love to go down to Congress and explain that these are human beings, not cannon fodder. End these endless wars!! Drug addiction and substance abuse is becoming a big problem in the states, if you are addicted or know someone who needs help, please visit this article about group therapy rehab.

I’ve been meaning to mention another post by Joseph Cannon. I suppose everyone has read it by now, but I haven’t seen any discussion of it at Sky Dancing. In a post about several topics, Cannon linked to an article speculating on the surprising death of Andrew Breitbart.

The Fix wonders why the corporate media has so zealously avoided asking the obvious questions about Breitbart’s death. What drugs was he using? I began to suspect something fishy as soon as I heard that the family was emphasizing that the death was from “natural causes.” Later Breitbart’s father-in-law, actor Orson Bean said it was assumed to be a heart attack. But how many 43-year-old men die from heart attacks? After the autopsy, no cause of death was announced, pending toxicology tests. If Breitbart had a heart attack, why didn’t they report damage to the heart? Or maybe they want to learn whether a drug caused a heart attack. Anyway, go read the article. It’s very interesting. When someone suffers from drug addiction the best way to help them is to take them to a rehab center, learn more about rehab programs on

Apparently Breitbart suffered from ADHD and probably was taking Adderall, an amphetamine (speed). He had confessed to heavy drinking and cocaine use in college, and he was reportedly still a heavy drinker who often seemed to to lose control. I for one will be very interested to learn the results of those toxicology tests.

Here’s a heartbreaking report of a young victim of the international war on women: Moroccan girl commits suicide after being forced to marry her rapist.

A 16-year-old Moroccan girl has committed suicide after a judge ordered her to marry her rapist, according to Moroccan media reports.

Last year Amina’s parents filed charges against their daughter’s rapist, a man 10 years older than her but it was only recently that a judge in the northern city of Tangier decided that instead of punishing him, the two must be married.

The court’s decision to forcibly marry Amina to her rapist was supposed to “resolve” the damage of sexual violation against her, but it led to more suffering in the unwelcoming home of her rapist/husband’s family.

Traumatized by the painful experience of rape, Amina decided to end her life by consuming rat poison in the house of her husband’s family, according to the Moroccan daily al-Massae.

Horrifying, isn’t it? But it’s really not that far away from the advice of Opus-Dei-style theocrat Rick Santorum to rape victims who become pregnant:

SANTORUM: Well, you can make the argument that if she doesn’t have this baby, if she kills her child, that that, too, could ruin her life. And this is not an easy choice. I understand that. As horrible as the way that that son or daughter and son was created, it still is her child. And whether she has that child or doesn’t, it will always be her child. And she will always know that. And so to embrace her and to love her and to support her and get her through this very difficult time, I’ve always, you know, I believe and I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you. As you know, we have to, in lots of different aspects of our life. We have horrible things happen. I can’t think of anything more horrible. But, nevertheless, we have to make the best out of a bad situation.

I know this hasn’t been a very cheerful post, so I’ll end on a positive note. Via Raw Story, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed a complaint with the IRS against Grover Norquist.

Washington, D.C. – Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) called for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate whether Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) and its president Grover Norquist violated federal law by filing a tax return that left out more than half the political activity ATR conducted in 2010. ATR disclosed more than $4.2 million in independent expenditures to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), but asserted on its 2010 tax return that it spent only $1.85 million on political activities.

“Grover Norquist’s numbers just don’t add up,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “Americans for Tax Reform spent millions of dollars in 2010 trying to defeat candidates who disagreed with its agenda, then left most of that spending off its own tax return. Perhaps Mr. Norquist should sign a pledge that he won’t lie to the IRS about his group’s political activity.”

Tax-exempt organizations such as ATR are required to report on their annual tax returns the amount they spent on political activities. This information helps the IRS determine whether a tax-exempt organization is complying with its tax-exempt status and provides at least some transparency for groups involved in politics. Reporting inaccurate information can result in civil penalties and criminal prosecution.

I don’t know if anything will come of it, but it’s sure worth a try. Those are my reading suggestions for today. What do you recommend?

Newsflash folks: This isn’t Market Capitalism, it’s Monopoly

I entered the world of commercial banking the same year that the Monetary Control Act of 1980 (MCA) got passed and signed by Jimmy Carter.  President Jimmy Carter was responsible for the first onslaught of deregulation of all kinds of industries which is important to think about.  It was a Democratic President that pulled the first card from the laws that were put into place to stop the banking crises that had plagued our country in the early years of capitalism.  I should also remind you that the country was founded on a system of economics called mercantilism.  Capitalism didn’t come into being until the early-to-mid-19th-century. (Note to Rick Perry: The US Revolutionary war was not in the 16th or  17th century.) We had series of financial crises in  the 1840s and then in 1870s .  The first one was in 1792 and a politician/financier caused it. 

We didn’t call them recessions bank then.  We called them Panics and they were sourced in banking and nascent financial markets.  They were the result of excessive speculation and/or some Bernie-Madoff-like figure and scheme.  In 1792, the panic was set off by William Duer who used his appointment to the US Treasury by Alexander Hamilton to use insider information in a similar way to Hedge Fund Manager Raj Rajaratnam who was just sentenced to 11 years in jail yesterday.  This is a very old story and really dates back to the birth of capitalism as we know it.

Hamilton was pretty appalled by Duer’s speculative activities.  He wrote this at the time.

“Tis time, there must be a line of separation between honest Men & knaves, between respectable Stockholders and dealers in the funds, and mere unprincipled Gamblers.”

If you start typing Financial Panic into Google, you’ll start seeing a huge number of dates pop up.  From 1792 down to the present time, most of these panics have been clearly rooted in that same problem: speculative bubbles and banking malfeasance.

There’s a clear difference between the good old fashioned community banking that gave me my first job out of my masters program and what we have today.   Much of it is due to that first card pulled from the bottom of the financial market card house by Jimmy Carter in 1980.  You can read about the law at FRB Boston.  There were a lot of responsibilities placed on the FED for oversight at the time but the banks got a lot of benefits including increased access to borrowing money from the FED.  When I was working in Nebraska,  a bank was allowed one branch and a main office. There were restrictions on how far away the branch could be.  I worked for a small bank with a branch across the street at a big shopping center.   That local law was pulled down shortly thereafter because the banks wanted to branch every where into communities they did not know.  There are very few community banks left in the country where your banker knows if you’ll be good for your loan or not based on years of knowing you.

Most small and regional banks have been gobbled up by the top 4 or 5 financial institutions. The majority of financial assets sit in a handful of institutions.  That’s called monopoly, folks.  Monopolies require regulation, not free reign.  That’s basic classical economic theory and has nothing to do with Keynes and politics.  Any microeconomics 101 students should be able to explain why.  They are incredibly inefficient. We say they are not Pareto Efficient, which means some very specific things.  They overprice their products.  They restrict access to these products. They earn profits above and beyond what they should because the revenue far exceeds the productivity of the factors used to produce the service. They create a deadweight loss which is bad for every corner of the economy except for the monopolist.

We have gone from a system where lending risk is personalized and spread around a number of institutions to a situation where it’s all concentrated and automated in the hands of a few big banks. They also can invest in a lot of specious assets.  The banks continued to seek complete interstate banking and eventually got it. The Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act of 1994 gave them exactly what they wanted.  It also allowed bank holding companies to do things that they had previously been disallowed like hold subsidiaries that offered speculative investments.  Interestingly enough, it is much easier to become a bank holding company than it is to become a bank.  Many investment banks became bank holding companies to access borrowing through the Fed Window in 2008 when they had gambled away a good deal of their own capital.

This law was signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton. That’s only the commercial banking side.  The so-called shadow banking industry got freed to speculate at will and be closely aligned with banks and their guaranteed deposit when the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act  (GLBA) was signed by President William Clinton in 1999.  It repealed huge sections of the Glass Steagall Act that were put into place during the Great Depression to deal with all those financial panics that finally led up to the 1929 Bank Run.  If you’re unemployed and you’ve seen your housing equity and your retirement funds depleted, I’d suggest going to Phil Gramm’s house with placards and rotten eggs.  He’s the one mover and shaker that brought all this on to our heads and a symbolic tar and feathering would make me feel good, frankly. (Here’s an academic site with some brief notes on a Mishkin textbook on the history of the repeal of important banking laws for your reference.)

So, it goes with out saying that the minute these things were put into play from 1980 forward, it was only a matter of time before we started to repeating panics and would eventually get another Great Depression.  The panics started in the 1980s. I’d moved out of commercial banking and into the S&L business right before our first panic came.  When S&L’s started giving market rates of interest on their liabilities, they had to start giving new mortgage loans out at exorbitant prices.  My first one–in 1982–was for around 17%.  I got the banker discount which brought it down to 12%.  The problem was that all the liabilities were repricing to market and all the assets (loans) were still stuck at those 1950-1960 home loan interest rates of about 5%.  My dad was barely paying 4% because the bank he used also was funding his floor plan (that’s the cars he had on his inventory sheet as a new car dealer).  His floor plan interest was through the roof in those days because the usury laws had been suspended.  It was in the 20% levels just like credit card debt was at the time.  The commercial banks were seeing incredibly high prime rates of interest and the Savings and Loans were hemorrhaging money.  This is a problem of term mismatch when you rely on arbitrage profits, but I’ll avoid the lecture on that one!  The S&L crisis should’ve been the first cautionary tale from that Monetary Control Act.  I have some pretty wild stories from those days including the Treasurer that I worked for using GNMA futures to day trade to try to up our cash balances.  Illegal yes!  That’s if you’re caught! However, we were the least of the FSLIC’s problems at the time and he got away with it!

The second cautionary tale came with a  Long Term Capital Management that lost tons of money after the Russian Financial Crisis in 1998. That didn’t stop the GLBA at all however.  There was an earlier canary too.  That was Franklin Savings and Loan.  There’s actually a more recent example of the same.  That would be Granite Funds. LTCM made convergence trades that required huge sums of money and enormous leverage to be profitable.  They were eventually bailed out and wound down at a huge cost.  There is absolutely something wrong when we repeatedly have huge organizations collapse because of margin calls.   I point back up to the quote from Alexander Hamilton who got it the first time out.  We still haven’t learned the lessons from any of this because we’re ready and primed for the next financial crisis with European Sovereign Debt too.  The speculators are pulling the same tricks and we’re suffering from the same results.

So, the deal is that after about 100 years of horrible problems, we put a box around the speculators called Glass Steagall.  There is a new box proposed called the Volcker Rule.  The banks are kicking and screaming about even the smallest regulations to stick them back into their boxes.  We cannot afford to repeatedly coddle an industry that systematically creates huge social and economic costs on a regular basis when set free to do as it will. The Volcker Rule–in its current form–is pretty mild.  It’s no where near what ex Fed Chairman Paul Volcker originally offered but it’s a step in the right direction.  That’s why it’s first on my list of demands for OCCUPY activists.

Fitch Ratings on Friday said it sees potential for a delay in the adoption of a newly proposed rule barring banks from trading for their own profits, due to industry opposition that could lead to a political fight.

Banks’ opposition “will likely fuel a lengthy debate in Washington regarding the ultimate scope and precise implementation” of the Volcker Rule, Fitch said in a report released four days after federal banking regulators proposed the rules.

“There is a real possibility that controversy surrounding the proposal could delay the precise definition of restricted trading, particularly in a presidential election year when partisan debate over financial regulation will be intense,” Fitch said.

The rule, named after former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, was required under the financial overhaul that became law last year. The rule would bar banks from trading for their own profit instead of on their clients’ behalf. Banks must hold investments for more than 60 days, and bank managers must make sure employees comply with restrictions.

The day after banking regulators and the Federal Reserve backed the rule, the Securities and Exchange Commission voted 4-0 to send the proposal out for public comment. The public has until Jan. 13 to comment on a rule that’s expected to take effect by July after a final vote by all the regulators. Banks would have until July 2014 to comply.

The industry has said that the proposal would put them at a disadvantage to banks in other countries.

Let me reiterate something I’ve said earlier.  The Scandinavian countries learned from their last disastrous banking crisis in the early 1990s and put their banks back into the box.  This was roughly the same time of our own S&L crisis and came from speculative bubbles.  They all come from speculative bubbles, excess risk taking, and extremely immoral behavior on the part of many bankers/brokers because the extraordinary profits that can be extracted on the ride up are incredible. The Canadians never let them out so they’ve basically been sitting pretty well during this last crisis.  None of these countries had the problems that we and other countries have had since then.  The Volcker Rule is the least we could do to start down the path to sanity.

I want to end this post by pointing out a new voice in the blogging community called Reformed Broker.  His real name is Joshua Brown.  He has written a Dear Wall Street letter that’s worth a read.  He now feels like I felt after living through the S&L crisis and then watching the insanity repeat with LTCM and the others in the late 1990s.  All this fol de rol tanked my 403(B) retirement account as badly as this last bit of craziness has tanked it again. Only this time I am 10 years closer to retirement. Oh, and this time they got my home equity in the process and my job.  The S&L crisis got my job and killed my ability to sell my house.  It also caused incredible damage to my father’s small business.  He sold it at a huge loss just to get out from under the stress that was killing him.  I’ve just about had it now with this nonsense, the bankers, and the politicians that enable them.  As I’ve said it’s been going on for some time and they need to be put back into the box.

I’m going way beyond fair use here, Josh but I wanted your voice to be read by our readers.  Please take this as a compliment and not a copy right violation!

In 2008, the American people were told that if they didn’t bail out the banks, there way of life would never be the same. In no uncertain terms, our leaders told us anything short of saving these insolvent banks would result in a depression to the American public. We had to do it!

At our darkest hour we gave these banks every single thing they asked for. We allowed investment banks to borrow money at zero percent interest rate, directly from the Fed. We gave them taxpayer cash right onto their balance sheets. We allowed them to suspend account rules and pretend that the toxic sludge they were carrying was worth 100 cents on the dollar. Anything to stave off insolvency. We left thousands of executives in place at these firms. Nobody went to jail, not a single perp walk. I can’t even think of a single example of someone being fired. People resigned with full benefits and pensions, as though it were a job well done.

The American taxpayer kicked in over a trillion dollars to help make all of this happen. But the banks didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. The banks didn’t seize this opportunity, this second chance to re-enter society as a constructive agent of commerce. Instead, they went back to business as usual. With $20 billion in bonuses paid during 2009. Another $20 billion in bonuses paid in 2010. And they did this with the profits they earned from zero percent interest rates that actually acted as a tax on the rest of the economy.

Instead of coming back and working with this economy to get back on its feet, they hired lobbyists by the dozen to fight tooth and nail against any efforts whatsoever to bring common sense regulation to the financial industry. Instead of coming back and working with the people, they hired an army of robosigners to process millions of foreclosures. In many cases, without even having the proper paperwork to evict the homeowners. Instead, the banks announced layoffs in the tens of thousands, so that executives at the top of the pile could maintain their outrageous levels of compensation.

We bailed out Wall Street to avoid Depression, but three years later, millions of Americans are in a living hell. This is why they’re enraged, this why they’re assembling, this is why they hate you. Why for the first time in 50 years, the people are coming out in the streets and they’re saying, “Enough.”

And one more time, let’s hear from Alexander Hamilton because it bears repeating!!!

“‘Tis time, there must be a line of separation between honest Men & knaves, between respectable Stockholders and dealers in the funds, and mere unprincipled Gamblers.”

I’ve added a link to Josh’s blog so you can go sample his writing any time you want.  He’s also on twitter as @ReformedBroker.  Okay, this is a little long, and a little like one of my lectures for financial institutions, but I thought you might appreciate how this thing came down and what needs to be done.  Like I said, we need to put them back into a box.  If they are to be free from the chance of bankruptcy, able to access US tax dollars at zero cost, and are still able to create Financial Panics by bad lending and investment practices we have no other chance.  This will repeat ad infinitum and will cost us our personal and national treasures.

Thursday Reads: S & P, the New Madrid Fault, the Gaddafis, and Obama in the Eye of Hurricane Irene

Good Morning!! I think I have some interesting reading for you today, so let’s get right to it.

Last night I wrote about Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein possibly being in trouble with the feds. Interestingly, on Monday another high-profile exec announced he’ll be stepping down. I’m referring to S&P president Deven Sharma. From The New York Times:

The ratings agency Standard & Poor’s said late on Monday that its president, Deven Sharma, who has become the public face of the firm in the wake of its historic downgrade on the United States’ long-term debt rating, will step down and leave the company by the end of the year….

The management change had been in the works for months and was unrelated to either the Justice Department’s inquiry or to the emergence of the activist investors, Jana Partners and the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, according to people briefed on the matter.

Oh really? Kind of a strange coinky-dink, then, isn’t it?

The ratings agency’s decision to downgrade the United States’ long-term credit rating to AA+ from AAA on Aug. 5 set off a storm of controversy, including criticism by President Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. The decision contributed heavily to the worst drop in American stocks since the financial crisis three years ago, as well as volatility that continues to whipsaw the markets weeks later. The other big ratings agencies, Moody’s and Fitch, maintained their top-tier rating on United States debt.

At the same time, the agency is being investigated over whether it improperly rated mortgage securities in the years leading up to the financial crisis. Standard & Poor’s, along with the other major ratings agencies, gave their highest ratings to bundles of troubled loans that appeared less risky during the housing boom, but have since collapsed in value.

Since the financial crisis, the agencies’ business practices and models have been scrutinized by Congress, and Standard & Poor’s is also being investigated by the Justice Department, people briefed on the matter have previously said. At issue is whether the agency’s independent analysis was driven by profits. The Justice Department inquiry, which began before the Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the United States’ debt, is centered on whether analysts’ decisions to assign securities a low credit rating on subprime mortgage loans were overruled by business managers.

Right. I’m sure none of that had anything to do with the president of the troubled company stepping down. /snark

The Financial Times has a piece on the incoming president, Douglas Peterson.

As head of Citigroup’s Japanese operations in 2004, Mr Peterson dramatically bowed in apology before Tokyo regulators after they shut down Citi’s private banking operations there.

Now, as he takes over the embattled ratings agency just weeks after its unprecedented downgrade of US credit, Mr Peterson is likely to find himself before regulators in the US, who are looking into the downgrade and reportedly investigating S&P’s ratings of mortgages before the financial crisis.

Yet, it is Mr Peterson’s experience in Japan, and his more recent turn running Citibank, the retail banking arm of Citigroup, that has given S&P’s owner McGraw-Hill confidence that he is the right man for the job.

Seven years ago, Mr Peterson was given the tricky task of mending relations with Japanese regulators and rebuilding Citi’s tarnished reputation after the US bank’s private banking unit was found to have illegally amassed large profits and was ordered to close down.

By all accounts, the affable Mr Peterson, who is widely described in Tokyo as “nice” and “sincere”, succeeded in reassuring the Financial Service Agency and the Japanese public alike that Citi could once again be trusted with the considerable financial assets of one of the largest economies in the world.

IOW, Peterson has been hired because of his pleasing personality and his ability to make friends and influence people.

But Sean Gregory at Time argues that “A New Leader Won’t Save S&P.”

It’s tempting to read the resignation of Deven Sharma, who stepped down as president of S&P Monday night, as an admission that the rating agency goofed in downgrading the United States’ sovereign rating from AAA to AA+, even as Fitch and Moody’s maintained America’s top grade. Warren Buffett said the U.S. should be rated “quadruple A.” The Treasury department complained that S&P overestimated the nation’s future debt by $2 trillion. Timothy Geithner said that the S&P decision shows “a stunning lack of knowledge about basic U.S. fiscal budget math. And I think they drew exactly the wrong conclusion from this budget agreement.”

Guess Sharma and Geithner won’t be hanging out at any holiday parties. If the S&P downgrade was indeed a mistake, it was an expensive one. In the week after the Aug. 5 S&P downgrade, according to Bloomberg, the market value of global stocks tumbled by $7.6 trillion. Sharma, a former Booz Allen Hamilton consultant who has headed S&P for the past four years, might not be trumping this fact on his newly-polished resume. So you’re the guy who cost the world $7.6 trillion in wealth? You’re hired!

Like FT, Gregory points out that S&P has been shopping for a new leader for months, mostly because Sharma has failed the company in a number of ways. So will a new president make a difference? No, because the ratings agencies simply aren’t qualified to evaluate the credit of sovereign states.

There’s a frightening earthquake story at The Daily Beast: The Quake We Should Fear. Apparently it’s the Midwest that is due for a big one–not the east coast.

Early in the morning of May 16, while most of America was being titillated and transfixed by the appearance in court of the then-suspect Dominique Strauss-Kahn, an urgent message was suddenly received at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Washington, D.C.

Reports were streaming in of a catastrophic earthquake, magnitude 7.7, that had struck the Midwest near the town of Marked Tree, Ark. First reports were alarming: phenomenal property damage; casualty figures were unprecedented; transportation links were severed; and cities like St. Louis, Memphis, Little Rock, and Cincinnati had been thrown into utter turmoil. Eight states were believed to have been directly affected, and it was thought the death toll would be in the thousands.

A gigantic federal relief mission swung into action. Nine thousand National Guardsmen were ordered to be deployed. Triage centers were opened in all the affected cities—a list that grew longer as a secondary magnitude 6.0 earthquake struck close to the city of Mt. Carmel, Ill. The Red Cross deployed emergency teams. Power companies were given priority to restore electricity and gas supplies. Heavy equipment was sent in to clear highways and railway tracks.

Within 72 hours some kind of order was restored. Hospitals found themselves more able to cope with the vast number of patients suffering injuries. Refugees fleeing in panic were being assembled into special camps. Temporary tent cities were set up along the main refugee routes.

Huh? Oh wait. That was a FEMA exercise. But it was based on the real possibility of a major earthquake on the Madrid fault. It’s happened before and is due to happen again.

This year marks the bicentennial of the great swarm of earthquakes that afflicted New Madrid between December 1811 and February 1812—hundreds of them, day after day, but punctuated by four enormous ruptures, two occurring on Dec. 16, and one each on Jan. 23 and Feb. 7. These caused spectacular effects all across the then young, sparsely settled United States—toppling church steeples in South Carolina, ringing church bells in Boston, causing the Mississippi to reverse it course, and sinking numerous properties deep into the liquefied earths of the prairies.

Yikes! But I’m still worried that Boston hasn’t had a major earthquake since 1755–so we’re probably due also.

Yesterday I came across a couple of interesting stories on Muammar Gaddafi and his son Saif that you might want to check out.

From Scientific American: Egotist Rex: Are a Dictator’s Defiant Statements Indicative of Self-Delusion? It’s an interview with George Washington University Professor of Psychiatry Jerrold Post.

The interviewer asks Post about the many bizarre statements that Gaddafi has made since the rebellion began. He seems out of touch with reality. Is he delusional? Post discusses the circles of sycophants that surround every world leader–this may make it difficult for the leader to see what is really happening outside this protective bubble of supporters.

They can have a very unrealistic understanding and believe, as Qadhafi stated again and again, “My people, they all love me.”

I found this language of his quite remarkable. And with Qadhafi as an exaggerated example, this is true of any of the other leaders, too—namely, they believe they have widespread support. If there are public demonstrations against them, that must reflect outside agitators. This was true with [ousted Egyptian president Hosni] Mubarak as well. He spoke of outside conspiracies.

But it is particularly true of Qadhafi. There is an interesting kind of almost syllogism for him: “My people all love me, and therefore if there is anyone protesting against me, they are not really my people, and that must be a consequence of outside provocation.” And one of the points that he made early on was that this was crazed youth who were on hallucinogens with which their Nescafe had been laced, which I thought was rather creative, really.

I found Qadhafi’s language in general very striking. And what is most interesting about it is it is entirely in the first person singular: “My people all love me. They will support me. My people, they love me.” It was very “me” centered.

Next the interviewer asks whether narcissism is a characteristic of many national leaders? The response could perhaps be applied to someone a little closer to home, if you know what I mean. Check it out.

Vanity Fair has a new article up about Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi. It’s rather long, but here’s the introductory paragraph:

Saif al-Islam Qaddafi—son of Muammar, and long regarded as his heir—was subjected to an arrest warrant months ago by the Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Libyan rebels in Tripoli reported that he was in custody, but Saif soon appeared in public, rallying what’s left of pro-Qaddafi forces. As NATO bombs fell on Libya, the distinguished international lawyer Philippe Sands sat down with those who know Saif Qaddafi best—a London professor, his Libyan mentor, and the prosecutor who may decide his fate. Saif Qaddafi may claim that he was merely an intermediary, or a force for moderation, or perhaps even a victim. But whatever the claims, according to the prosecutor, he was deeply complicit in his father’s crackdown this year.

Hurricane Irene could become a category 3 sometime today. It’s still predicted to go right up the coast to New England. States all along the east coast are preparing for the worst. Will it hit the Cape and islands? The LA Times suggests President Obama might have to be evacuated.

First, President Obama’s golf game was interrupted by an earthquake. Now, it appears that Hurricane Irene is beating a path toward Martha’s Vineyard, where the president is vacationing with his wife and two daughters.

The National Hurricane Center’s latest forecast shows Hurricane Irene reaching landfall in the Carolinas late Friday and early Saturday before raking its way up the East Coast and into New England. Coastal areas are urged to keep tabs on the storm’s path and remain alert for possible evacuation orders as the hurricane continues to grow in intensity.

It swelled to a Category 3 storm overnight with winds that could exceed 110 mph, and remains on track to gain in strength and ferocity to become a Category 4 hurricane.

Obama is supposed to be in Washington on Sunday to speak at the opening of the Martin Luther King Memorial and then return to the Vineyard. The storm is supposed to hit DC before moving up to Massachusetts.

The eye of the storm appears to be sticking to the coastal outlines, which could spell trouble for Martha’s Vineyard, an island accessible only by boat or plane. As it has done throughout the storm, the National Hurricane Center stresses that the projected path could change dramatically as weather projections come into sharper focus over the next several days.

Hmmm…. Perhaps Mother Nature is trying to send a message to our obtuse leader: Americans need jobs!! Or maybe not.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. What are you reading and blogging about?

When Will They EVER Learn?

adam-smith-pound-note200px-whiteandkeynesAs reported by today’s NY Times:

WASHINGTON — Without a single Republican vote, President Obama won House approval on Wednesday for an $819 billion economic recovery plan as Congressional Democrats sought to temper their own differences over the enormous package of tax cuts and spending.

There is just no end to the inability of politics to deal withan economic crisis of this proportion.   Despite packing the economic stimulus program with worthless tax cuts and yet another form of rebate,  the Obama administration failed to get a SINGLE republican congressman to vote for its stimulus plan.   Additionally, Obamasold out poor women’s expanded access to birth control in a blink of an eye for absolutely nothing.  Any one who has read any material on economic development knows that family planning plays an essential role in bringing nations and populations out of poverty and into the realm of human capital instead of human detritus.  However, the principle and lesson were handily tossed and as usual, children, women and the very poor will be kept in their place so some political bipartisan marketing can rule the day.   So now we have a less than adequate stimulus plan, packed with expensive little nothings that includes stuff that will NOT work and still not ONE Republican vote for the sell-out.  Way to go oh He-man agent of Change and Feminist in Chief! 

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