Friday Reads

morning-coffee

Good Morning!!

 

I’m going to begin with some good news today.

It looks like the coming winter will be on the mild side. From Discovery News: Winter Forecast for US Nothing to Shiver About.

Don’t expect the polar vortex to pummel the eastern United States this winter, government scientists said today (Oct. 16).

Overall, forecasters expect mild winter conditions across much of the United States, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said as they issued their annual winter weather outlook.

While there’s always a chance that the polar jet stream will again funnel frigid Arctic air south toward the United States, nothing in the new forecast indicates a rerun of the persistent patterns responsible for the “polar vortex.” “We do not expect to see a repeat of last winter,” said Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Developing El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean will influence this year’s winter weather, with wet conditions forecast from Southern California to South Carolina, and dry conditions expected across the North. Temperatures will be warmer than average in the West and in New England, but colder in the South from Texas east to Florida, according to the forecast.

I hope they’re right!

Now for the latest Ebola news . . .

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Why can’t Dallas hospital workers just stay home until they’re cleared? From The Washington Post: Texas hospital worker quarantined on cruise ship in Caribbean.

A Texas health-care worker who “may have” handled lab specimens from Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan has been isolated on board a Carnival cruise ship in the Caribbean. The worker has shown no symptoms of the disease, according to Carnival, which said it is in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control. A Carnival spokeswoman said the guest, who was not named, will remain on board in voluntary isolation until the ship returns to its home port of Galveston on Sunday.

The Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital employee and a partner boarded the ship Oct. 12 in Galveston, Tex., before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated the requirement for active monitoring, the State Department said in a statement. Although the worker is healthy, the U.S. government is working with the cruise line to get the ship back to America “out of an abundance of caution.”

The employee, who has not been named, did not come into direct contact with Duncan, the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. However, he or she may have been exposed to his clinical specimens, the State Department said.

“It has been 19 days since the passenger may have processed” Duncan’s fluid samples, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement early Friday morning. “The cruise line has actively supported CDC’s efforts to speak with the individual, whom the cruise ship’s medical doctor has monitored and confirmed was in good health. Following this examination, the hospital employee and traveling partner have voluntarily remained isolated in a cabin.”

Belize refused to allow the woman (gender identified by news release) to be leave the ship so she could be evacuated by the U.S.

In its own statement Thursday, the the Belize government said it “was contacted today by officers of the U.S. Government and made aware of a cruise ship passenger considered of very low risk for Ebola….Nonetheless, out of an abundance of caution, the Government of Belize decided not to facilitate a U.S. request for assistance in evacuating the passenger through the Phillip Goldson International Airport.”

Now that the horses are out of the barn, so to speak, officials in Texas have decided to close the barn doors. From USA Today: Travel Ban for Texas health care workers in Ebola case.

Texas health officials have ordered any person who entered the room of the first Ebola patient at a Dallas hospital not to travel by public transport, including planes ship, buses or trains, or visit groceries, restaurants or theaters for 21 days, until the danger of developing Ebola has passed.

The instructions, issued by the Texas Department of State Health Service late Thursday, cover more than 70 health workers involved in providing care for Thomas Duncan, the Liberian national who became the first patient to test positive for Ebola in the United States.

Duncan died Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

The hospital workers were ordered to undergo monitoring twice a day, including one face-to-face encounter.

The health department said anyone failing to adhere to the rules “may be subject to a communicable disease control order.” The health workers were asked to sign a written acknowledgement of the directions when they appear for monitoring.

Amber Vinson

Amber Vinson

According to The Hill, the CDC has now decided it needs to talk to passengers who were on Amber Vinson’s flight from Dallas to Cleveland. Vinson is the second nurse to come down with Ebola after caring for Thomas Duncan, who died of the disease last week.

After reports that she may have shown symptoms on her flight back to Dallas, the CDC asked those passengers to contact the agency. But in a release Thursday night, the CDC expanded that notification to include passengers on Vinson’s flight to Cleveland. The agency said that it wants to interview passengers and that “individuals who are determined to be at any potential risk will be actively monitored.”

Ebola is contagious once an infected person starts exhibiting symptoms, so the CDC wants to keep tabs on anyone that could have come into contact with Vinson when those symptoms began. She traveled to Cleveland on Oct. 10 and returned on Oct. 13, the day before she reported her symptoms to the CDC.

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives decided to get involved in the Ebola crisis, and it wasn’t pretty. BloombergPolitics compiled The Five Worst Questions from the House Ebola Hearing. According to the article, Democrats are wrong to claim that lack of funding made the situation worse. Republicans obsessed over banning travel into the U.S. and “securing the borders.” But the most ludicrous question came from Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA).

Representative Morgan Griffith wanted to know if humans can catch Ebola from dogs, and Frieden said there were no known incidents. But still, the Virginia Republican wanted to know if we could stem the flow of West African dogs traveling into America.

“Don’t you think we ought to at least restrict travel of dogs?” he asked.

“Um,” Frieden replied. “We’ll follow up in terms of what’s possible.”

In addition, President Obama held an “emergency meeting” at the White House yesterday.

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama said he was considering appointing an Ebola “czar” to coordinate the fight against the virus in the United States, but he remained opposed to a ban on travel from West Africa.

Obama’s administration is facing sharp criticism from lawmakers over its efforts to contain the disease at home. Obama authorized calling up military reservists for the U.S. fight against Ebola in West Africa on Thursday….

“It may be appropriate for me to appoint an additional person” to oversee efforts to contain Ebola, Obama told reporters, adding that experts have told him “a flat-out travel ban is not the way to go” because current screening measures at airports are working.

He said he had no philosophical objection to a travel ban but that some travelers might attempt to enter the United States by avoiding screening measures, which could lead to more Ebola cases, not fewer.

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A final dose of stupid came from Sen. Rand Paul, who told an audience of college students that you could catch Ebola by standing three feet from someone who is infected.

His comments directly conflict with statements from world health authorities who have dealt with Ebola outbreaks since 1976.

Paul…made his comments during a stop at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire Wednesday. In his remarks, he called Ebola “incredibly contagious” and suggested it could spread at a cocktail party attended by someone who is symptomatic, according to CNN video footage….

“You’re not going to get AIDS at a cocktail party. No one’s going to cough on you and you’re going to get AIDS. Everybody knows that. That’s what they make it sound exactly like,” Paul, a doctor and potential presidential contender, said Thursday at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. “But then you listen to them closely, they say you have to have direct contact. But you know how they define direct contact? Being within three feet of someone.”

World health authorities have been clear that Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, and that blood, vomit and feces carry the most virus. Health workers are at particular risk because in the course of caring for patients, they draw blood and clean up diarrhea when the patients are most infectious. Likewise in the epidemic zone in West Africa, people involved with burials of highly infectious bodies are at high risk.

In other news . . .

Bill Clinton is heading down to Louisiana on Monday to stump for Mary Landrieu, according to Politico.

Former President Bill Clinton will campaign in Louisiana Monday with Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, joining the endangered incumbent in the state capital of Baton Rouge.

Clinton, unlike President Barack Obama, can be an effective surrogate in the red Southern states where the Democratic majority hangs in the balance.

The visit, Clinton’s second for Landrieu this election cycle, comes a day before the start of early voting, which runs from October 21-28.

Bill Clinton stumps for Coakley

I’ve been hoping Bill would find time to come to Massachusetts to campaign for Martha Coakley for Governor, and what do you know? He blew through here yesterday! He spoke at Clark University in Worcester.

WORCESTER — Former President Bill Clinton told a capacity crowd at Clark University today that elections are just one big job interview.

Speaking in Worcester in support of Martha Coakley’s run for governor, Mr. Clinton said Ms. Coakley’s actions and advocacy as attorney general indicate how well she will perform once she completes that job interview.

“All you’ve got to do,” he told more than 800 people who waited in a line the length of the Main South campus in monsoon-like conditions to get into Atwood Hall, “is increase the number of employers who make the hiring decision.”

Ms. Coakley, a Democrat, and her running mate, Steve Kerrigan of Lancaster, are in a tight race with Republican Charlie Baker and his running mate, Karyn Polito of Shrewsbury. Mr. Clinton tried to convince the crowd they had the potential to make it a landslide.

“I don’t care what the polls say, she can win this race handily if you want it bad enough,” Mr. Clinton said.

Now we just need Hillary to show up.

How about a little economics news? It seems people in Europe are getting fed up with Angela Merkel’s austerity obsession, according to the NYT. I can’t excerpt from the piece, but here’s a report from The Local in Italy:

Italy and France on Thursday reacted to turmoil in global stock markets by stepping up their calls for the European Union to switch course to focus on growth, not on balancing budgets.

But their calls were once again batted away by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who insisted the way out of the crisis was for all eurozone states to stick to agreed rules on the size of their deficits.

In the latest salvos in a simmering row that is set to come to head at a summit of EU leaders next week, Rome and Paris went on the offensive on the sidelines of the ASEM meeting in Milan.

“We in a very delicate moment in terms of the international economic and financial situation,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said.

“Which is all the more reason for Europe to show itself capable of producing an economic response based on investment in growth and not only on rigour and austerity,” Renzi said.

He also said a “focus on growth” was recommended by the IMF – “and they don’t seem to be dangerous communists to me”.

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According to UK Reuters, the U.S. has warned Europe about the possibility of deflation.

The United States on Wednesday renewed a warning that Europe risks falling into a downward spiral of falling wages and prices, saying recent actions by the European Central Bank may not be enough to ward off deflation.

In a semiannual report to Congress, the U.S. Treasury Department also said Berlin could do more to help Europe, namely by boosting demand in the German economy, Europe’s largest.

“Europe faces the risk of a prolonged period of substantially below-target inflation or outright deflation,” the Treasury said.

The Guardian today published a summary of Europe’s “five years of economic crisis.”

Finally, Janet Yellen has expressed concern over growing economic inequality in the U.S. Reuters reports:

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Friday the growth of economic inequality in the United States “greatly” concerned her, and suggested in a detailed speech on the politically charged issue that Americans should ask whether it was compatible with their values.

With global financial markets rebounding from days of frenzied selling, Yellen did not comment on the volatility or on monetary policy. Instead she focused on the gulf between rich and poor that has only grown wider over the last several decades and, she said, through the U.S. economic recovery.

“The extent of and continuing increase in inequality in the United States greatly concern me,” Yellen told a conference on inequality at the Boston branch of the central bank.

“It is no secret that the past few decades of widening inequality can be summed up as significant income and wealth gains for those at the very top and stagnant living standards for the majority,” she told economists, professors and community workers.

“I think it is appropriate to ask whether this trend is compatible with values rooted in our nation’s history, among them the high value Americans have traditionally placed on equality of opportunity.”

Good for Yellen. Now let’s see some action beyond the words.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a fabulous Friday!!

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Tuesday Reads

The Dog Days of Summer, Janet Hill

The Dog Days of Summer, Janet Hill

Good Morning!!

It’s the last week of August, and the dog days of summer have supposedly passed; but the Boston area is supposed to hit ninety degrees today and tomorrow. I’m actually looking forward to it, because it has been so cool here lately–in the sixites and low seventies in the daytime and the fifties at night. Yesterday it got into the high eighties, and it felt wonderful.

The Boston Globe has a story today about Peter Theo Curtis, the writer who was just released from captivity in Syria. His mother lives in Cambridge. I had never heard of Curtis before; apparently his kidnapping was kept secret. The Globe reports: Militants free US writer with Mass. ties who was held in Syria.

Peter Theo Curtis, a writer and scholar with ties to the Boston area who was held captive for nearly two years by one of the Islamic militant groups operating in Syria, was released Sunday after emissaries from the government of Qatar won his freedom on humanitarian grounds, in a stark contrast to the brutal murder of fellow war correspondent James W. Foley .

Curtis’s 22 months in captivity were kept from the public at his family’s request since he was nabbed near the Syrian border in October 2012 by Al Nusra Front, one of the groups seeking to topple President Bashir Assad of Syria. Al Nusra Front has ties to the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

Curtis, 45, who wrote dispatches under the name Theo Padnos and previously chronicled disaffected young Muslims in Yemen in a book titled “Undercover Muslim,” had studied Arabic in Syria.

He was handed over to United Nations peacekeepers in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Sunday evening, a UN spokesman in New York said. After it was determined he was in good medical condition, he was transferred to representatives of the US government, according to the UN.

“We are so relieved that Theo is healthy and safe and that he is finally headed home after his ordeal,” his mother, Nancy Curtis, who lives in Cambridge, said in a statement, “but we are also deeply saddened by the terrible, unjustified killing last week of his fellow journalist, Jim Foley, at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS.”

Foley was from New Hampshire, and the two families have gotten to know each other well, according to Curtis.

Garden Shed - Late Summer, KK Marais

Garden Shed – Late Summer, KK Marais

Syria and Iraq

President Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria, according to BBC News.

Correspondents say the move could mark the first step towards US air strikes inside Syria, where the jihadist group controls vast swathes of territory.

The US is already carrying out strikes against IS in neighbouring Iraq.

On Monday, the Syrian government said it would work with the international community in the fight against IS.

Western governments have so far rejected suggestions that they collaborate with President Bashar al-Assad in an attempt to counter the growing regional threat posed by IS….

On Monday evening, US officials said Mr Obama had approved over the weekend reconnaissance flights by unmanned and manned aircraft, including drones and possibly U2 spy planes.

The US military has been carrying out aerial surveillance of IS – an al-Qaeda breakaway formerly known as Isis – in Iraq for months and launched air strikes on 8 August.

From The Boston Globe, citing “AP sources,” U.S. planes have already begun flying over Syria.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. has begun surveillance flights over Syria after President Barack Obama gave the OK, U.S. officials said, a move that could pave the way for airstrikes against Islamic State militant targets there.

While the White House says Obama has not approved military action inside Syria, additional intelligence on the militants would likely be necessary before he could take that step. Pentagon officials have been drafting potential options for the president, including airstrikes.

One official said the administration has a need for reliable intelligence from Syria and called the surveillance flights an important avenue for obtaining data.

Two U.S. officials said Monday that Obama had approved the flights, while another U.S. official said early Tuesday that they had begun. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter by name, and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Jim Michaels of USA Today spoke to Gen. Dempsey on Sunday about what is being done to deal with ISIS in Iraq.

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT — U.S. airstrikes on Islamic militants in Iraq have blunted their momentum, but defeating them will require a broad regional approach that draws support from Iraq’s neighbors and includes political and diplomatic efforts, the top U.S. military officer said.

The long-term strategy for defeating the militants includes having the United States and its allies reach out to Iraq’s neighbors, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday….

Dempsey is working with Central Command to prepare “options to address [the Islamic State] both in Iraq and Syria with a variety of military tools including airstrikes,” said Col. Ed Thomas, Dempsey’s spokesman, in a statement.

The militant group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has shown itself to be so brutal that Iraq and the U.S. should be able to find “willing partners” to join efforts to defeat the militants, Dempsey said.

But military power won’t be enough, Dempsey said. The strategy must take a comprehensive approach that includes political and diplomatic efforts to address the grievances of millions of Sunnis who have felt disenfranchised by Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government, he said.

Late Summer Garden, John Gordon

Late Summer Garden, John Gordon

I get the feeling that we’re never going to escape involvement in the endless Middle East conflicts, thanks to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the rest of the neocon gang. What a horrible mess! We have our own messes to deal with here, but foreign wars always seem to trump the needs of the American people.

John Cassidy speculates at The New Yorker: What’s Next in Iraq and Syria?

On his first full day back from vacation, President Barack Obama could be forgiven for wishing he were still on Martha’s Vineyard. With confirmation that ISIS fighters have just captured another military base from the government forces of President Assad, and that Qatar has engineered the release of an American freelance journalist who was being held by a non-ISIS jihadist group, Obama has two formidable challenges to deal with.

The immediate task for Obama is deciding whether to launch American bombing raids on ISIS positions inside Syria, while simultaneously preparing his Administration, and the country at large, for the possibility of another video showing an American hostage being butchered. The ISIS militants, having carefully orchestrated the beheading of James Foley following the launch of U.S. strikes inside Iraq, will surely seek to exploit the fate of its remaining American hostages for maximum effect. Any U.S. decision to expand its air campaign is almost certain to be met with the release of more snuff films.

No President—no American—could take such a prospect lightly. At the same time, Obama has to guard against allowing emotion and wishful thinking to take over U.S. policy. That’s what happened after 9/11, and some of the chaos that we now see in the Middle East can be traced back to that historic blunder. What’s needed is calm cost-benefit analysis of the options open to the United States, taking account of its strategic interests, its values, and its capabilities. In short, we need what Danny Kahneman, the Princeton psychologist who pioneered behavioral economics, would refer to as some Type 2 thinking: a disciplined weighing of the likely consequences of our actions. If we give into our Type 1 reaction—horror, outrage, anger—we will be playing into the hands of the jihadists.

One place to start is by acknowledging two errors in thinking that have blighted U.S. policy in the past decade: the conservative delusion that the United States could, more or less single-handedly, use its military power to reinvent the Middle East, and the liberal illusion that we could simply walk away from the mess that Bush, Cheney & Co. created. Without the political willingness and the financial capability to garrison the region in the manner of postwar Germany and Japan, U.S. influence has to be exercised through air power, political proxies, economic inducements, and regional alliances. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that the United States and other Western countries have vital interests at stake, one of which is preventing the emergence of a rogue Islamic state that would provide a rallying point, and a safe haven, for anti-Western jihadists the world over.

Read the whole thing at the link.

A Garden in a Sea of Flowers, Ross Turner

A Garden in a Sea of Flowers, Ross Turner

The Economies of the U.S. and Europe

There has been so much breaking news for the past couple of months that we haven’t talked much about the economies of the U.S. and Europe. But today the European Central Bank is topping the headlines, and last week Fed Chairperson Janet Yellen spoke at Jackson Hole, so I thought I’d post a few economics stories.

Here’s CNN Money’s report on Yellen’s speech, Janet Yellen: Job market not recovered.

That was Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s main message Friday in a much anticipated speech.

“It speaks to the depth of the damage that, five years after the end of the recession, the labor market has yet to fully recover,” she said.

The debate now is whether the job situation in America is healthy enough for the Federal Reserve to start raising interest rates, which have been at historic lows in recent years in an effort to jump start the economy. Yellen, however, said little new on Friday, and U.S. stock markets stayed flat.

Yellen is chair of the committee that sets interest rates, but she only gets one vote. Other members have differing views. The Fed board and other top economists are spending the weekend in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, debating these key issues.

Though the unemployment rate “has fallen considerably and at a surprisingly rapid pace,” Yellen said problems remain.

Yellen called attention to what Americans in the job market already know–though the employment numbers look better, many people have stopped looking for work, and most of the new jobs are part-time and pay low wages.

A few more U.S. economy stories to check out:

The Wall Street Journal: Fed’s Yellen Remains Mum on Timing of Rate Change.

Bloomberg Businessweek: Yellen Job-Slack View Muddied by Pent-Up Wage Deflation.

Slate: The Fed Is Not As Powerful As We Think.

If you think the economy is struggling here, you should take a look at Europe, where austerity thinking has ruled since the economic crisis hit. Yesterday the French government collapsed. From The New York Times, French Cabinet Is Dissolved, a Victim of Austerity Battles.

PARIS — The collapse of the French government on Monday exposed widening divisions both within France’s leadership, and Europe more broadly, over austerity policies that many now fault for threatening to tip the eurozone back into recession.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced that he would dissolve his government after a rancorous battle in his cabinet over whether the belt-tightening measures taken by President François Hollande — at the urging of Germany and European Union officials in Brussels — were impeding France’s recovery.

The dispute broke into the open when Mr. Vall’s outspoken economy minister, Arnaud Montebourg, insisted in an interview over the weekend that austerity had gone too far. “The priority must be exiting the crisis, and the dogmatic reduction of deficits should come after,” he told the newspaper Le Monde.

He also took direct aim at the policies of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. “Germany is caught in a trap of austerity that it is imposing across Europe,” he said.

Even the formerly strong German economy is struggling now, according to Reuters (via NYT), Crisis in Ukraine Drags Economy in Germany.

The eurozone’s flatlining economy took another hit on Monday when data showed German business sentiment sagging for the fourth consecutive month. Chancellor Angela Merkel attributed some of her own country’s decline in the second quarter to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, over which tit-for-tat sanctions threaten trade. The Munich-based Ifo, a research firm, echoed some of those sentiments as it reported its business climate index, based on a monthly survey of some 7,000 companies, fell to a worse-than-expected 106.3 from 108, the lowest level in more than a year. The findings agreed with data earlier in the month on the second-quarter contraction in Germany, the bloc’s biggest economy. Klaus Wohlrabe, an Ifo economist, said his institute expected growth in Germany to be “close to zero” in the third quarter.

A few more headlines on the European economic situation:

The Guardian: An austerity revolt has broken the French government. Will the EU follow?

Bloomberg Businessweek on the European Central Bank, Draghi May Again Find Bazooka Words Beat Action With QE, and an editorial from The Financial Times, Central banks at the crossroads.

Wisteria Flowers in Bloom at Pergola at Portland Japanese Garden Stone Path

Wisteria Flowers in Bloom at Pergola at Portland Japanese Garden Stone Path

Ferguson Stories

Yesterday, on the day of Michael Brown’s funeral, The New York Times published a story that got a great deal of attention because of its insensitive characterization of the dead teenager. Here the paragraph that attracted the angry reaction:

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.

Would the authors have written a similar paragraph about a white homicide victim? From Vox, The New York Times called Michael Brown “no angel.” Here’s how it described serial killers.

The New York Times’s description of Michael Brown as “no angel” has prompted a swift, critical reaction from other media outlets, including Vox, and various people on social media.

Alison Mitchell, national editor for the Times, defended the term in conversations with the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple:

“It comes out of the opening scene,” says Mitchell, who notes that “like many teenagers,” Brown was indeed “no angel.” Okay, but would the New York Times have chosen this term — which is commonly used to describe miscreants and thugs — if the victim had been white? Mitchell: “I think, actually, we have a nuanced story about the young man and if it had been a white young man in the same exact situation, if that’s where our reporting took us, we would have written it in the same way.” When asked whether she thought that “no angel” was a loaded term in this context, Mitchell said she didn’t believe it was. “The story … talks about both problems and promise,” she notes.

The Times’s response has done little to calm the storm. Sean McElwee, research assistant at Demos, dug into the archives to compare the Times’s description of Brown to the newspaper’s previous descriptions of serial killers and terrorists. Of course, comparing articles produced decades apart by different writers and editors isn’t an exact science. But it does lend context to the widespread frustration over how young black men are portrayed in the media.

A series of McElwee’s tweets are posted at the link, and are well worth reading.

One more from Salon by Joan Walsh, Ferguson’s booming white grievance industry: Fox News, Darren Wilson and friends. Check it out at Salon.

How did this post get so long?! I’d better wrap it up. Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great Tuesday!

 

 


Thursday Reads: A Mixed Bag of Stories

matisse_woman_reading

Good Morning!!

Dakinikat has arrived safely in Seattle, where she’ll be visiting with her father, her sister, and her elder daughter Jean. I’m going to fill in for her tomorrow morning, but she’ll be back to her regular blogging schedule soon.

I have no idea what’s happening in the news, because I spent last night watching two PBS shows on the JFK assassination. I’ve still been plowing through JFK books too. But RalphB posted a very interesting link last night that I want to highlight. From Jonathan Cohn, via Bob Cesca, Jonathan Cohn explains How to Interpret Obamacare’s Low Enrollment Numbers for October.

According to HHS calculations, 846,852 people have used the site to complete applications. That means they have created accounts and submitted information to see whether they are eligible for federal programs or tax credits. Those applications include people applying for households with multiple members. In total, it represents 1,509,883 people. The federal government has processed applications for the vast majority of them—98 percent, or 1,477,853 people. Of those, about a third have actually selected a health plan or been deemed eligible for a program like Medicaid. That’s 502,466.

How does that half million break down? About four out of five (396,261) are in Medicaid. The rest (106,185) of them have picked private insurance plans. These numbers include both those who enrolled through the website that the federal government is maintaining (healthcare.gov) and those who enrolled through sites that states like California, Kentucky, and Connecticut are running on their own. The majority (three-fourths) of the people getting private insurance have done so through state sites. Just a quarter, or 26,794, have enrolled through the federal site.

But because the media narrative is that the the Obamacare rollout is “failed,” “botched,” and “worse than expected,” all we’re hearing is the 106,185 figure–as if getting people covered by Medicaid doesn’t count. Tell that to the previously uninsured families who will now be able to take their sick kids to a doctor! By the way, in the first month of the Massachusetts health care exchanges, only 123 people signed up. As Bob Cesca puts it,

because there’s an “Obamacare is a Failed Policy” script that must be serviced, the lowest number of the batch has to be quoted. That’s why you’ve been reading about 106,000 rather than 1.5 million.

Have I told you lately how much I think the corporate media sucks?

secret service badge

At a time when many Americans are remembering the JFK assassination and the lax security that contributed to his death, we’re learning about another scandal in the Secret Service. From The Washington Post: Two Secret Service agents cut from Obama’s detail after alleged misconduct.

A call from the Hay-Adams hotel this past spring reporting that a Secret Service agent was trying to force his way into a woman’s room set in motion an internal investigation that has sent tremors through an agency still trying to restore its elite reputation.

The incident came a year after the agency was roiled by a prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, prompting vows from senior officials to curb a male-dominated culture of hard partying and other excesses….

The disruption at the Hay-Adams in May involved Ignacio Zamora Jr., a senior supervisor who oversaw about two dozen agents in the Secret Service’s most elite assignment — the president’s security detail. Zamora was allegedly discovered attempting to reenter a woman’s room after accidentally leaving behind a bullet from his service weapon. The incident has not been previously reported.

In a follow-up investigation, agency officials also found that Zamora and another supervisor, Timothy Barraclough, had sent sexually suggestive e-mails to a female subordinate, according to those with knowledge of the case. Officials have removed Zamora from his position and moved Barraclough off the detail to a separate part of the division, people familiar with the case said.

The misconduct wasn’t reported to the inspector general until the end of October after the WaPo had started investigating the incident, but

According to the Secret Service’s internal findings, Zamora was off duty when he met a woman at the hotel’s Off the Record bar and later joined her in her room.

The review found that Zamora had removed ammunition from the chamber of his government-issued handgun during his stay in the room and then left behind a single bullet. He returned to the room when he realized his mistake. The guest refused to let him back in. Zamora identified himself to hotel security as a Secret Service agent.

The report apparently didn’t explain why Zamora took a bullet out of this gun or why the woman refused to let him back into her room. We’ll all have to draw our own conclusions.

Janet Yellen

Janet Yellen

Janet Yellen, Obama’s nominee to head the Federal Reserve, will be appearing before the Senate Banking Committee today for her confirmation hearing.

US News and World Report lists “three things to expect” from the hearing: 1.) Republicans talking about inflation, 2) “measured reassurances” to nervous Republicans about nonexisitant inflation from Yellen, and 3) “a jumpy stock market.”

USA Today offers “five things to watch for”: 1) “can she handle a national stage,” 2) “Will she sound like Greenspan or Bernanke?” 3) “How will Yellen reconcile the Fed’s dual mandate to boost employment while keeping inflation low with her own economic philosophy?” 4) “Will she drop clues on tapering?” 5) “How will she handle questions about “too big to fail” banks?”

If Yellen were a man, would USA Today be asking if she can “handle a national stage?” As for question 2, she’ll sound like Bernanke obviously. Read USA today’s speculations at the link.

On the stock question, markets are responding favorably so far. From the WSJ: U.S. Stock Futures Inch Higher.

U.S. stock futures held steady near record levels, as dovish comments from Federal Reserve chairwoman nominee Janet Yellen helped offset disappointing results from some blue-chip companies.

European markets rose as sluggish euro-zone growth figures suggested accommodative monetary policies would remain in place for some time….

Investors will be keenly focused on Ms. Yellen’s confirmation hearing before the Senate banking committee, starting at 10 a.m. In her planned opening statement, released late Wednesday, Ms. Yellen said that because unemployment is still too high, and inflation is running below target levels, the Fed is using its monetary-policy tools, even unconventional ones like asset purchases, to promote a more robust recovery.

“I believe that supporting the recovery today is the surest path to returning to a more normal approach to monetary policy,” Ms. Yellen said.

Investors will be listening to the question-and-answer period for any clues on when she might expect to start winding down, or tapering, the $85-billion-a-month bond purchase program.

From Bloomberg Businessweek: Yellen Says U.S. Performing ‘Far Short’ of Potential.

“A strong recovery will ultimately enable the Fed to reduce its monetary accommodation and reliance on unconventional policy tools such as asset purchases,” Yellen said in testimony prepared for her nomination hearing before the Senate Banking Committee today in Washington. “Supporting the recovery today is the surest path to returning to a more normal approach to monetary policy.”

Yellen, the Fed’s vice chairman, voiced her commitment to using bond purchases known as quantitative easing to boost growth and lower unemployment that remains above 7 percent more than four years after the economy began to recover from the deepest recession since the Great Depression.

“Her approach is, ‘Let’s do more QE now to get the job done faster,’ ” said Laura Rosner, a U.S. economist at BNP Paribas SA in New York and a former researcher at the New York Fed. “Yellen is repeating her commitment to getting the job done.”

In three pages of prepared remarks for the 10 a.m. hearing, released yesterday, Yellen, 67, said unemployment is “still too high, reflecting a labor market and economy performing far short of their potential,” and that inflation is expected to remain below the Fed’s 2 percent goal. She also highlighted areas where the economy has improved, saying housing “seems to have turned a corner” and the auto industry has made an “impressive comeback.”

bodies

The situation in the Philippines is still desperate, according to the NYT: Traumatized City in the Philippines Begins to Bury Its Dead.

TACLOBAN, the Philippines — Pausing occasionally to dodge driving rains by hiding under loose scraps of plywood, a group of firefighters lowered unidentified bodies into a mass grave here Thursday, six days after the city was largely destroyed in Typhoon Haiyan.

For days, the bodies had sat in public. First they were uncovered on roadsides; then they were placed in body bags. After that, they were collected, and nearly 200 were stored at the biggest site, a government office. In the nearby City Hall, the center of local government relief efforts, the stench from the bodies could be powerful when the wind blew off the harbor….

The official death toll for Tacloban City rose to 2,000 on Thursday, but that covers only bodies that have been collected or visually confirmed by authorized officials. The visually confirmed bodies are those readily visible from roadsides, as relief crews have yet to start digging through towering piles of debris, much of it studded with nails.

There are also 3,000 injured, by the official tally, and 194 people for whom the paperwork has been completed for them to be declared missing.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

Up in Canada, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is still refusing to step down:

It’s clear now, amid more damning allegations and public embarrassment, that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has no intentions of relinquishing his post.

City council must decide how to continue operating after Wednesday’sdramatic pleas from councillors for the mayor to seek treatment for alleged substance abuse.

He faces yet another challenging day at City Hall on Thursday following the release of more police documents alleging disturbing details about the mayor’s erratic behaviour.

Ford, however, has repeatedly refused to step aside, even after admitting last week that he had smoked crack cocaine about a year ago possibly while drunk..

“I can’t change the past,” he said in council Wednesday. “All I can do is move on and that’s what I’m doing.”

It’s like a family intervention played out in public; but the target of the intervention is in control of a large city. “He continues to be the chief magistrate of the city; he continues to have signing powers,” says city councilman  Anthony Perruzza.

Ryan Ferguson

Ryan Ferguson

I’ll end with some feel-good news. I’ve been following the Ryan Ferguson story for a few years now. Ferguson is a young Missouri man who has been in prison for 10 years for a murder he didn’t commit. Yesterday he was finally freed. If you aren’t familiar with the case, here is some background from CBS News and a timeline of the case from KDSK.com.

From The New York Daily News:

Ferguson — who was serving 40 years for the 2001 murder and robbery of Kent Heitholt, an editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune — said he was still dealing with the shock of walking out of the clink.

“When I finally realized it was actually over, it was incredible relief because I was afraid,” he told the news station. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. They don’t really tell you a whole lot. It was a sensation like no other, and seeing my family right there and hugging them, and knowing that we were going to go home together — it was amazing.”

A state appeals court vacated Ferguson’s conviction after the panel found he did not receive a fair trial.

The panel found that prosecutors withheld evidence from defense attorneys and managed to get a conviction from two witnesses who later recanted their testimony.

Ferguson was arrested after his friend, Chuck Erickson, told cops in 2003 that the pair attacked Heitholt during a night of drinking. A night janitor, Jerry Trump, also said during the trial that he saw the two teens near the parking lot where the editor was killed.

Erickson later admitted that he lied about what happened the night Heitholt was killed and Trump told a courtroom years later that he was coached by prosecutors before he testified. Trump could face perjury charges.

So…. those are my picks for today. What stories are you following? Please post your links in the comment thread and have a great day.


Tuesday Reads: Philippines Disaster, Economics News, and the Concern Troll Media

November snow1

Good Morning!!

Boy did I ever get a shock when I looked out my window this morning and saw a mix of snow and rain coming down outside. Noooooo! It’s way too early for winter weather. I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come.

Now that I’ve looked at this morning’s news from the Philippines, I’m ashamed to be complaining about a little bit of freezing rain. The disaster following Typhoon Haiyan is beyond belief. ABC News talked to a 19-year-old American woman who who survived the massive storm.

Rebecca Ruth Guy, 19, was living in the city of Tacloban, which bore the full force of the winds and the tsunami-like storm surges Friday. Most of the city is in ruins, a tangled mess of destroyed houses, cars and trees.

“When the storm hit, our apartment was flooding so we tried opening the door but the flooding was already rising up to our chest,” Guy told ABC News.

Faced with a life-and-death situation, Guy’s friend smashed the window so they could climb to the roof and escape the storm surge, which is being blamed for a large part of the destruction and death.

“We got out to the roof,” she said. “The rain was coming, the winds were crazy and it was getting cold. So we ended up sandwiching together and holding onto one another for warmth, praying for protection of the people.

“The most harrowing was when I saw women and children piled under tarpaulin, and when I saw dogs skewered on gates, cars thrown into buildings, people trying to find something to eat, water to drink,” she added.

According to the article, the U.S. sent planes to evacuate Americans living in the Philippines; other residents aren’t so fortunate.

CNN is reporting that 1,774 people are dead; but that number will continue to rise.

Cebu, Philippines (CNN) — Typhoon Haiyan has killed too many people to count so far and pushed to the brink of survival thousands more who have lost everything, have no food or medical care and are drinking filthy water to stay alive.

By Tuesday, officials had counted 1,774 of the bodies, but say that number may just be scratching the surface. They fear Haiyan may have taken as many as 10,000 lives.

The storm has injured 2,487 more since it made landfall six times last Friday, the government said. It has displaced at least 800,000 people, the U.N. said Tuesday.

Unfortunately a new storm and an earthquake have hindered rescue efforts.

As authorities rush to save the lives of survivors four days after Haiyan ripped the Philippines apart, a new tropical low, Zoraida, blew in Tuesday delivering more rain, the Philippine national weather agency PAGASA reported.

Zoraida is not a strong storm, but has dumped just under four inches of rain in some places, CNN meteorologists say….

An earthquake also rattled part of the affected area. The 4.8 magnitude temblor shook San Isidro Tuesday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

Here are a few more links about the storm and its aftereffects:

An aerial view of a coastal town in Samar province on Monday, Nov. 11. (REUTERS/Erik De Castro)

An aerial view of a coastal town in Samar province on Monday, Nov. 11. (REUTERS/Erik De Castro)

The Week: The terrible destruction of Typhoon Haiyan. This one has a number of shocking photos like the one to the left.

CNN: How it happened: Tracing Typhoon Haiyan’s havoc in the Philippines (lots more photos at this link)

NPR: WHO Rates Typhoon’s Medical Challenges ‘Monumental’

NPR: ‘It Looks Like A 50-Mile Wide Tornado’ Hit The Philippines

CTC News: Typhoon Haiyan: Before and after photos of storm’s damage

In other news, here’s one that will interest Dakinikat: Obama to Tap Treasury Official as Top Derivatives Regulator. From The New York Times Dealbook blog:

President Obama will nominate Timothy G. Massad as the new chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission on Tuesday, a White House aide said, choosing the senior Treasury Department official to run an agency that polices some of Wall Street’s riskiest activity.

If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Massad will succeed Gary Gensler, a former Goldman Sachs banker who overhauled the agency in the wake of the financial crisis. Mr. Gensler, credited with turning one of Wall Street’s laxest regulators into one of its most aggressive, must leave office at the end of the year when his term officially expires.

Mr. Massad, an assistant secretary of the Treasury who oversaw the unwinding of the government’s bailout program stemming from the financial crisis, would join the agency as it undergoes a makeover.

Bart Chilton, the agency’s most liberal commissioner, announced last week that he would soon depart. David Meister, the enforcement director who led actions against some of the world’s biggest banks, departed the agency last month. And Jill E. Sommers, a Republican commissioner, left months ago.

The vacancies have raised the stakes for Mr. Massad’s nomination. If Mr. Chilton and Mr. Gensler depart before their successors are confirmed, the five-member commission will be down to just two members: one Republican, Scott D. O’Malia, and one Democrat, Mark Wetjen.

That would not be good. I know Dakinikat is busy today, but here’s another article for her to weigh in on if she has time: Confessions of a Quantitative Easer. From Andrew Huszar at the Wall Street Journal:

I can only say: I’m sorry, America. As a former Federal Reserve official, I was responsible for executing the centerpiece program of the Fed’s first plunge into the bond-buying experiment known as quantitative easing. The central bank continues to spin QE as a tool for helping Main Street. But I’ve come to recognize the program for what it really is: the greatest backdoor Wall Street bailout of all time.

Five years ago this month, on Black Friday, the Fed launched an unprecedented shopping spree. By that point in the financial crisis, Congress had already passed legislation, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, to halt the U.S. banking system’s free fall. Beyond Wall Street, though, the economic pain was still soaring. In the last three months of 2008 alone, almost two million Americans would lose their jobs.

The Fed said it wanted to help—through a new program of massive bond purchases. There were secondary goals, but Chairman Ben Bernanke made clear that the Fed’s central motivation was to “affect credit conditions for households and businesses”: to drive down the cost of credit so that more Americans hurting from the tanking economy could use it to weather the downturn. For this reason, he originally called the initiative “credit easing.”

Huzar claims that Janet Yellen will likely continue Bernanke’s policies.

Even when acknowledging QE’s shortcomings, Chairman Bernanke argues that some action by the Fed is better than none (a position that his likely successor, Fed Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen, also embraces). The implication is that the Fed is dutifully compensating for the rest of Washington’s dysfunction. But the Fed is at the center of that dysfunction. Case in point: It has allowed QE to become Wall Street’s new “too big to fail” policy.

0225-warren-clinton-630x420

More pundits are joining the anti-Hillary ranks. According to The Hill’s Alex Bolton:

Liberal leaders want Hillary Clinton to face a primary challenge in 2016 if she decides to run for president.

The goal of such a challenge wouldn’t necessarily be to defeat Clinton. It would be to prevent her from moving to the middle during the Democratic primary.

“I do think the country would be well served if we had somebody who would force a real debate about the policies of the Democratic Party and force the party to debate positions and avoid a coronation,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, an influential progressive group….

Clinton raised concern among the Democratic Party’s populist base when she recently accepted an estimated $400,000 from Goldman Sachs for two speeches.

Influential progressives wonder whether someone who accepted such a large sum from one of Wall Street’s biggest investment firms could be expected to hold corporate executives accountable if elected president.

They also wonder how aggressively she’d call for addressing income inequality, which many see as one of the biggest economic problems facing the nation.

That’s odd, since Obama ran to Hillary’s right in 2008 and received more contributions from Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms than either Hillary or John McCain. But let’s not get caught up in facts…

Politico has taken up the suggestion from Noam Scheiber at The New Republic that Dakinikat wrote about yesterday that Elizabeth Warren should run against Hillary. Concern trolls Ben White and Maggie Haberman write:

There are three words that strike terror in the hearts of Wall Street bankers and corporate executives across the land: President Elizabeth Warren.

The anxiety over Warren grew Monday after a magazine report suggested the bank-bashing Democratic senator from Massachusetts could mount a presidential bid in 2016 and would not necessarily defer to Hillary Clinton — who is viewed as far more business-friendly — for the party’s nomination.

And the fear is not only that Warren, who channels an increasingly popular strain of Occupy Wall Street-style anti-corporatism, might win. That is viewed by many political analysts as a slim possibility. It is also that a Warren candidacy, and even the threat of one, would push Clinton to the left in the primaries and revive arguments about breaking up the nation’s largest banks, raising taxes on the wealthy and otherwise stoking populist anger that is likely to also play a big role in the Republican primaries.

So what does Warren think about all this?

A spokesperson for Warren declined to comment on whether she would consider a presidential bid against Clinton, though Warren has previously said she has no plans to run. People close to Warren note that she signed a letter from female Democratic senators urging Clinton to run in 2016. And Warren associates, mindful of any appearance of creating the narrative of a Warren-for-president campaign, have corresponded with Clinton associates to stress that they didn’t fuel the New Republic story by Noam Scheiber.

Assholes. Hey, I have an idea–why not get Kirstin Gillibrand to run against Hillary too? Of course Chris Cillizza is also rooting for Warren and Clinton to destroy each other’s chances to do anything positive about the economy:

Quick, name someone who would have a realistic chance of beating out Hillary Clinton for the 2016 presidential nomination. Martin O’Malley? Nope. Joe Biden? Maybe but probably not. Howard Dean. No way. There’s only answer to that question that makes even a little sense. And that answer is Elizabeth Warren.

And so on… bla bla bla… Don’t these idiots have anything important to write about? Like maybe jobs, children without food or health care, or the upcoming battle over the debt limit?

Thank goodness for TBogg at Raw Story: What if Elizabeth Warren went back in time and smothered Baby Hitler in his crib?

If you have been  perambulating about the internet these past few days, the above is exactly the kind of linkbait bullshit narratives that are being peddled by people who have wearied talking about President of New Jerseymerica Chris Christie or whether Rand Paul was the real life inspiration for the J.L. Borges short story, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote. It seems that frustrated  writers lacking hobbies have turned their lonely eyes to the Democratic side of the 2016 presidential election which is just around the corner, if by corner, you mean: three years from now. But with Hilary “Killary” Clinton pretty much chillaxing with the nomination ripe for the taking (providing she doesn’t rehire Mark Penn, aka The Man Who Could Fuck Up A Baked Potato) there isn’t a whole lot of  tension the likes of which you can find on a daily basis on the Republican Wingnut Flavor of the Week side.

So naturally, Noam Scheiber felt obligated to create some Democratic conflict. T-Bogg responds:

I love Elizabeth Warren. I would totally have her baby if she would have me. You love Elizabeth Warren. We all love Elizabeth Warren. Someday Elizabeth Warren t-shirts may very well become as ubiquitous as Che T’s. But, outside of the hazy crazy patchouli-scented fever palaces that are the comment sections of the manic progressive websites, nobody really thinks that Warren could, would, or should run an insurgent primary campaign against Clinton. And, to be quite frank, those who think Warren should run to in order to “start a conversation” are the  kind of people who have attempted this kind of thing in the past and , as my grandmother used to put it, “don’t have dick to show for it”.

Read his replies to Politico and Cillizza at the link. BTW, I wrote comment before I discovered T-Bogg’s piece. Great minds think alike, but T-Bogg expressed my reactions so much better than I could.

That should be enough to get us started on the day’s news. What stories are you following? Please post your links in the comment thread and have a terrific Tuesday!


Live Blogging Janet Yellen

I am absolutely thrilled to be preparing to bring my live blog of former FRB SF President Jane Yellen who is one of the most significant women leaders in economics and finance of our time.  Dr. Yellen was the Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors under President Bill Clinton. She is currently the Vice Chairman of the Fed system.
She’s speaking at the Financial Management Association conference today in Denver.  She is receiving the outstanding Financial Executive Award.

She notes that the recovery is disappointing.  She plans to discuss monetary and fiscal policies that can help the US economy.  She is mentioning that the recovery has improved things since the worst of the recession. But, she still says the economy is less vigorous than desirable.  Recent data says the recession was deeper than thought.

She believes that the temporary factors from the Japanese tsunami that disrupted the auto industry and high gas prices have moderated.  She believes that the restricted access to credit, consumer sentiment, and weak consumer spending is creating  concern among business people.  This has made businesses reluctant to expand their operations.  The housing sector continues to depress the economy.  The housing sector has historically played an important role in improving economic conditions.  This is not happening this time.  There are a lot of factors causing this.

Yellen believes that states are also playing a role in restraining the pace of recovery.  She’s believes that the path of fiscal policy is weighing on both household and business confidence.  The one bright sector in the US economy has been exports but this is not going to continue.  She believes this is due to both the EU situation and the slow down in developing nations’ economies.

She says that financial markets are experiencing unusual volatility which is putting pressure on financial institutions and investors.  The US economy as well as slow growth abroad is part of this.  Also, the EU situation is troubling markets.  She believes that the political considerations in trying to develop and implement solutions to the EU problem is creating stress.  She thinks this could cause a retightening of credit conditions and could impact US financial institutions.  She believes that also the deterioration of the US economic outlook could put stress on banks too.

Yellen is now talking about the outlook for inflation.  She believes that any recent inflation was due to oil and other commodity prices being volatile, and also due to the Japanese earthquake and that inflation will moderate.  She believes that the target inflation rate will be attained.  She believes also that long term inflation expectations remain stable and is more concerned with disinflation or deflation.  She thinks that the risk of that is much higher.

Yellen is speaking now to the dual mandate of the Fed and monetary policy.  She is giving some background on the zero bound policy.  (She’s on the FOMC, btw.)  She’s also speaking to the importance of fomc clarification on monetary policy and the role they have reassuring the market they will keep interest rates low given the current conditions of subdued output.  She is also talking about how a communicated target rate based on employment or inflation might give the market more confidence on the stability of the low targeted fed funds rate.

She expects that unemployment and the economy will improve even though there are significant downside risks.  She says the FOMC is watching things carefully and will use tools as appropriate.

She is now taking questions from the floor.  The first one is basically about the give and take between signals to and from the market and the FOMC on setting market expectations for inflation.

Okay, I need to go prepare to present something so I’m leaving you with this now. Hopefully, this will give you some insight into the FOMC.

Take care