Thursday Reads: A Poverty Tour, Confidence Fairies, A-Rod, D.B. Cooper, and Wingnut Censors

Good Morning!! Let me get a sip of my breakfast tea, and then I’ll share what I found in the news today.

After doing his level best to wreck the U.S. economy, President Obama headed to Chicago to celebrate his birthday and rake in some campaign donations.

Taking a brief hometown respite Wednesday night, President Barack Obama used a 50th birthday bash in Uptown to raise re-election money from a friendly crowd as he sought to recharge a presidency showing signs of scars from Washington’s partisan battles.

The president told supporters at the Aragon Entertainment Center that the nation doesn’t have time to “play these partisan games.”

“I hope we can avoid another self-inflicted wound like we saw over the last couple weeks,” Obama said of the recent debt-ceiling gridlock.

Although Obama doesn’t turn 50 until Thursday, his visit symbolized presidentially and politically a need to turn the corner following weeks of bruising debate over raising the nation’s debt ceiling and cutting the country’s deficit.

Awww, poor guy. Screwing the poor, the elderly, baby boomers, and the working- and middle-classes must be really exhausting.

Meanwhile, Tavis Smiley and Cornel West are heading up a “poverty tour”

to highlight what they see as deficiencies in the Obama’s administration and to force the president and Congress to pay more attention to poor people who have been hit hardest by the recession.

Smiley called the legislation, signed by the president, “a declaration of war on the poor.”

“I don’t understand how the president could agree to a deal that does not extend unemployment benefits, does not close a single corporate loophole and doesn’t raise the taxes on the rich,” said Smiley. “The poor are being rendered more and more invisible in this country. Nobody, not the president, not the Republicans in Congress, is speaking to the truth of the suffering of everyday people.”

Paul Krugman was on Keith Olbermann’s show last night. I keep forgetting to watch that! Krugman discussed a number of things related to the debt ceiling bill, including Newt Gingrich’s remark that the Obama’s is “the Krugman Presidency.” It is to laugh!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Today, Obama’s press secretary Jay Carney said there won’t be a double-dip recession and the economy is going to grow.

He blamed the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, higher energy prices, default worries in Europe and recently resolved uncertainty over raising America’s borrowing limit. Carney said, “We believe the economy will continue to grow.”

Al-righty then! I guess we have nothing to worry about.

At his blog, Krugman responded that “hope is not a plan.”

Of course there’s a threat. Larry Summers puts the odds at one in three; I might be slightly more optimistic, but the risk is very real. Who, exactly, is at the White House who knows better?

And think about the politics here. For two years the White House has been determinedly cheerful, always declaring that the recovery was on track, that its policies were working fine. And all it did was squander its credibility. Maybe admitting the truth, saying that in fact we hadn’t done nearly enough, would not have helped get useful legislation through Congress. But at least it would have conveyed the message that the WH was living in the same reality as ordinary workers.

Now they’re doing it again. To what purpose? Do they think the markets will be reassured? Do they think consumers will be reassured? At this point, after the “summer of recovery” came and went a whole year ago?

Apparently, that is what they think. Via Digby, Tim Geithner, who seems to be the person Obama listens to most on economic issues, strongly believes in the “confidence fairy.” He must also be the source of Jay Carney’s belief that we won’t have another recession, because that’s what Geithner told George Stepanopoulos a couple of days ago.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But don’t you think that any deficit reduction now will — will hurt the attempts of the economy to recover?

TIM GEITHNER: You know, I think the — basic reality we live with and, you know, part of governing is recognize we live with — we don’t have unlimited resources, and we inherited and are left with unsustainable deficits long term. And the president understands that for the sake of the economy long-term it’s very important we demonstrate to the American people, to people around the world that we can get our arms around this and start go back to living’ within our means.

Now, we want to do that very carefully so we create room for the economy to grow and we have the resources necessary to invest in things that are going to be very important to the future like education, like infrastructure, like incentives for private investment. And to do that, it is absolutely essential to lock in these long term savings. Now — the president was very strong on this and made sure that we were not going to accept spending cuts that would damage the prospects for near term recovery. Now, with this behind us, and we get this —

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So this won’t cost us jobs?

TIM GEITHNER: No, it will not. Now … if we put this behind us then we can turn back to the important challenge of trying to find ways to make sure that we do everything we can to get more people back to work, strengthen our growth. And we’ll have more ability to do that now with people more confident and we can start to get our arms around the long-term problems.

WTF?! Is this guy for real? As Krugman said, “hope is not a plan,” but they don’t seem to have anything else.

At The Nation, George Zornick asks a very good question: Is it time to downgrade the ratings agencies?

…by almost all accounts inside the beltway, a downgrade in the federal government’s credit rating would be catastrophic. But a closer look at who issues these ratings, how they do it, and the real-world impact of these ratings tells a different story.

The first clue that these ratings might not be highly calibrated, serious indicators of creditworthiness can be found in the 2008 economic collapse. The financial products created by Wall Street that were full of toxic mortgage securities were all blessed with gold-star ratings as safe investments from the country’s three main credit ratings agencies, Moody’s, Fitch and Standard and Poor’s.

These products were so awful as to destroy Lehman Brothers, threaten many other trading firms, and plunge the economy into recession, but the ratings agencies consistently told investors they were safe. As William Greider has noted here, this essentially made the rating agencies “unindicted co-conspirators” in the collapse.

Were these agencies just bad at their jobs? Maybe, but Greider offers another more sinister theory: since the banks pay the rating agencies to examine their financial products, a harmful rating would persuade the banks to just shop elsewhere for a more favorable outcome. “This is an outrageous conflict of interest at the very heart of the financial system,” Greider writes.

Overpaid New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez is in trouble again, this time for illegal gambling. Baseball officials opened an investigation after

Star Magazine reported that Rodriguez “played in an underground, illegal poker game where cocaine was openly used, and even organized his own high-stakes game, which ended with thugs threatening players.”

Under the rules that govern baseball players, Rodriguez will have to truthfully answer baseball’s questions. If he acknowledges that he played in underground games or if officials uncover evidence that he did so, he could face a suspension.

The report Wednesday came a month after Major League Baseball opened its own investigation into Rodriguez’s ties to gambling. The investigation was prompted by a Star Magazine report in June that said Rodriguez had participated in a high-stakes illegal poker game with the actors Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

Hmmm…he was playing with Red Sox fans Affleck and Damon. I wonder who talked to Star Mag? I also learned on Google that A-Rod is dating actress Cameron Diaz. Boy is she making a big mistake.

Here’s an update on the D.B Cooper story I wrote about in the Tuesday Reads: My uncle was D.B. Cooper, Oklahoma woman claims It sounds crazy, but apparently the FBI believe this woman’s story.

To Marla Cooper of Oklahoma, her uncle was D.B. Cooper — except she knew him as Uncle L.D. She believes he died in 1999.

“I saw my uncle plotting a scheme,” Cooper told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin of what she said she remembers witnessing as an eight-year-old girl four decades ago.

Cooper said she was with two uncles at her grandma’s house around Thanksgiving time.

“I was with them while they were plotting it. I didn’t really know what was going on,” Cooper said. “Afterwards on Thanksgiving Day, I saw them return and I heard them discussing what they had done with my father. I have very vivid memories of it.”

Her claim might be cause for healthy speculation, especially 40 years after the fact, but two sources close to the investigation have told CNN that Marla Cooper’s tip led to the FBI reviving the case and for the past year the agency has been actively working the lead.

She says her uncle returned home badly injured and was treated at a VA hospital. Then he disappeared and she never saw him again. Her family made her swear she would never talk about what had happened.

Finally, from Think Progress, here’s an update from the annals of wingnut craziness: MO High School Bans ‘SlaughterHouse Five’ From Curriculum, Library Because Its Principles Are Contrary To The Bible

On Monday at the Republic, MO school board meeting, four Republic School Board members reviewed a year-old complaint that three books are inappropriate reading material for high school children. In a 4-0 vote, the members decided to ax two of the three books from the high school curriculum and the library shelves: Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson was spared. The resident who filed the original complaint targeted these three books because “they teach principles contrary to the Bible”

Wesley Scroggins, a Republic resident, challenged the use of the books and lesson plans in Republic schools, arguing they teach principles contrary to the Bible.

“I congratulate them for doing what’s right and removing the two books,” said Scroggins, who didn’t attend the board meeting. “It’s unfortunate they chose to keep the other book.”

Horrors! Contrary to the Bible? We can’t have that! You know, sometimes I’m very grateful to live in a relatively civilized place like Boston. This is one of those times.

On that note, I’m going to get another cup of tea and then check out what you all are reading and blogging about. Please post your links in the comments.


Tuesday Reads

Oh no! Not another giant snowstorm!

Good Morning!!

Have you heard about the gigantic winter storm that is affecting 29 states?

From the Washington Post:

National Weather Service advisories and warnings are in effect in more than 20 states as a powerful storm gets organized in the Midwest. A blizzard warning is in effect for Chicago, where 12 to 20 inches of snow is possible. Other cities which may experience blizzard conditions include Tulsa, Wichita, Kansas City, and Detroit. Snow is expected to begin tonight and tomorrow from southwest to northeast and continue into early Wednesday.

The Chicago Tribune’s Weather Center cautions: “Snowfall totals in excess of 12 inches coupled with winds of 25 to 40 mph will make long distance travel extremely dangerous if not impossible.”

Wednesday morning into Thursday, the heavy snow moves through central New York, northern Massachusetts,southern Vermont, New Hampshire and southeast Maine.

Weather.com says the storm may be historic, due to the areal coverage of snow forecast – with upwards of 1 foot likely across a “2100-mile long swath from the Southern Plains to coastal New England.”

We’re supposed to get 18 inches in the Boston area, plus it will be mixed with ice pellets on Wednesday. I can’t take it anymore!!!!! All this snow is really getting to me.

In other news, the Republicans are all a-twitter over some guy named Jon Huntsman who is probably going to run for President. I admit I never heard of him and couldn’t care less what he does, but it seems to be the talk of the Village. To top it off, this guy has been working for Obama. Does he have any Democrats working for him?

Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the U.S. ambassador to China, sent a resignation letter to President Barack Obama on Monday, the White House said. Huntsman now is likely to explore a Republican presidential bid, according to supporters.

In a letter hand-delivered to the White House, the former Utah governor said that he wants to return to the United States by May. The letter thanks Obama for the opportunity to serve the country and praises the U.S. embassy staff in Beijing.

If Huntsman won the GOP nomination, he would be challenging the reelection of his former boss. White House officials are furious at what they consider an audacious betrayal, but know that any public criticism would be likely to benefit Huntsman if he enters the primaries.

Huntsman boasts the most foreign policy experience of any of the likely GOP candidates, and would be a formidable entry to the unformed GOP field. He had a fiscally conservative record as governor, opposes abortion and is a strong supporter of gun owners’ rights.

Yep, sounds like Obama’s type.

If you haven’t read Joseph Cannon’s latest, you should rush right over and do so. He has a fascinating, well-researched post up about Ali Abdul Saoud, a.k.a. Ali A. Mohammed, a muslim double agent who worked for both the CIA and al Qaeda and may have been involved (along with Omar Suleiman?) in the assassination of Anwar Sadat.

It’s a fascinating read, and I’m not just saying that because Cannon linked to my post on Suleiman.

This is a frightening story out of Egypt: Google Executive Missing in Wake of Egypt Protests.

An executive for Google Inc. is missing in the wake of Egypt’s tumultuous protests, according to his brother. Wael Ghonim, whose LinkedIn profile says he is head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa at Google, hasn’t been heard from since Friday at 6 p.m., his brother Hazem said.

[….]

Wael Ghonim’s web postings suggest a deepening engagement with politics. His Facebook page lists opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei as a person he admires, along with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Steve Jobs. In mid-January he tweeted that he was traveling to Qatar to participate at an Internet freedom forum hosted by network Al Jazeera.

Later, he sent a tweet that said he was going to join the Egyptian protests despite “all the warnings I got from my relative and friends.”

[….]

On Friday, he tweeted: “Very worried as it seems that government is planning a war crime tomorrow against people. We are all ready to die.”

I think a lot more people are probably dead and missing in Egypt than we are being told. I hope Ghonim will be found.

The Christian Science Monitor asks, “Did Jimmy Carter just throw Obama under the bus?”

Commenting on the week’s tumultuous events in Egypt from the Maranatha Baptist Church near his home in Plains, Ga., the former president who brokered the 1979 peace accord between Egypt and Israel gave a candid personal assessment of Egypt’s embattled leader and said his “guess is Mubarak will have to go.”

President Mubarak has “become more politically corrupt” in recent years and has “perpetuated himself in office,” he told a Sunday school class of 300, according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Assessing the popular uprisings sweeping across the region, he said: “This is the most profound situation in the Middle East since I left office” more than 30 years ago.

I sure hope it’s a different bus than the one we’re under, because I don’t want Obama down here with us.

Speaking of throwing people under the bus, Tom Brokaw made a critical reference to Keith Olbermann in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. Here’s Huffpo’s gossipy take on it.

He told the Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal that NBC was better placed than its rivals because of MSNBC.

“Where it got sticky is when our commentators were anchoring political coverage,” he said, in a clear reference to Olbermann. Brokaw was widely known to have complained about Olbermann’s anchoring of campaign coverage during the 2008 race. “Those are, in some ways, incompatible roles,” Brokaw continued. “We worked our way through that.”

Rosenthal then asked Brokaw what he thought of Olbermann’s exit. “You’re not going to get me to go there,” Brokaw said. But when pushed, he said that MSNBC will weather the storm.

He went there.

Did you hear that Mayor Bloomberg arranged for an undercover investigation of the recent Arizona gun show? The New York Times has the skinny.

The investigation, part of an effort by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s administration to crack down on illegal gun sales nationwide, took place Jan. 23 at the Crossroads of the West Gun Show in Phoenix, officials said.

“The background check system failed in Arizona, it failed in Virginia and it fails in states around the country,” said John Feinblatt, an adviser to Mr. Bloomberg. “If we don’t fix it now, the question is not whether another massacre will occur, but when.”

Private, unlicensed sellers are not required to run federal background checks, but it is a violation of federal law to sell guns to people if sellers suspect they are felons or mentally ill or are otherwise prohibited from buying. In the case of Jared L. Loughner, who is accused of opening fire on the crowd in Tucson on Jan. 8, the gun used in the shootings was bought at a licensed gun dealer, and he passed a background check, the authorities said.

In two instances, the New York undercover officers specifically said before buying a gun, “I probably couldn’t pass a background check,” but were still sold guns, city officials said.

Finally, here’s a fluffy story to go along with the white stuff that a lot of us will be seeing outside our windows today and tomorrow: How Meditation May Change the Brain

…researchers report that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The findings will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes.

I’m not particularly surprised, but the woman who wrote the article is. Check it out.

Sooooo…. What are you reading and blogging about this morning? Please share!


Watch yourself…its a mess out there.

 

Okay, there is a lot going on and I thought I would post an update of sorts to the Wednesday Reads. There is a big storm on the way to the Northeast,  the Olbermann has landed on his own FOK News Channel, and more…

On the SOTU front, more reactions to last nights feature: The Three Stooges meet A Teleprompter

Rep. Weiner: ‘I just needed a drink’ after GOP response – The Hill’s Blog Briefing Room

One Democratic congressman says he was ready to hit the bottle after hearing the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union Tuesday night.

This is for Dak:  It is written by  Ross Douthat.  The Politics of Evasion at the State of the Union – NYTimes.com

If you were a visitor from Mars, watching tonight’s State of the Union address and Paul Ryan’s Republican response, you would have no reason to think that the looming insolvency of our entitlement system lies at the heart of the economic challenges facing the United States over the next two decades. From President Obama, we heard a reasonably eloquent case for center-left technocracy and industrial policy, punctuated by a few bipartisan flourishes, in which the entitlement issue felt like an afterthought: He took note of the problem, thanked his own fiscal commission for their work without endorsing any of their recommendations, made general, detail-free pledges to keep Medicare and Social Security solvent (but “without slashing benefits for future generations”), and then moved swiftly on to the case for tax reform. Tax reform is important, of course, and so are education and technological innovation and infrastructure and all the other issues that the president touched on in this speech. But it was still striking that in an address organized around the theme of American competitiveness, which ran to almost 7,000 words and lasted for an hour, the president spent almost as much time talking about solar power as he did about the roots of the nation’s fiscal crisis.

This bit about the US deficit:

CBO: U.S. budget deficit to reach $1.5 trillion in 2011, highest ever

The weak economy and fresh tax cuts approved last month will help drive the federal budget deficit to nearly $1.5 trillion this year, the biggest budget gap in history and one of the largest as a share of the economy since World War II, congressional budget analysts said Wednesday.

Well, we all knew that he would be back:

Keith Olbermann | FOK News Channel | Deviltry And Mayhem | Mediaite

Maybe you remember Keith Olbermann from the show Countdown, which ran for several years on cable news’ MSNBC? These days, of course, Olbermann’s perhaps best known as the “The Proprietor” of a new Twitter-based news organization called the “FOK News Channel. At least, he’s been billing himself that way since, well, yesterday.

Olbermann, boasting a loyal group of over 208,000 Twitter followers, is clearly showing every sign of leveraging his tweets.

The sidelined star added a second Twitter account ahead of Tuesday’s State of the Union address, dubbing it “FOKNewsChannel” and quickly attracting more than 18,000 followers (or “Friends of Keith,” hence FOK). According to the account’s bio line, FOKNews can be described this way: “Smokestacks Belching News On Twitter Since January 2011.”

Ah, more proof on Obama’s continued MO, copy crap from someone else and add your own cliches as an added touch.

Obama Cribs David Brooks and Thomas Friedman in State of the Union Speech | Firedoglake

If I were President Obama’s English professor, I would take points off for not footnoting his sources. These are guys Obama most certainly reads regularly.

Oh, and it looks like Egypt is becoming more intense:

Pictures: Anger in Egypt – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Clinton urges calm, reform in Egypt amid protests  | ajc.com

Sharpening the U.S. response to massive demonstrations in the Middle East, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that Egypt must adopt broad reforms and not crack down on the crowds demanding the end of the American-backed authoritarian government.

BBC News – Egypt denies clampdown on Twitter and Facebook

And here we go again, the weather channel is calling this a category 1 hurricane…with snow…is it another  snowicane?

Active Watch/Warnings – NOAA’s National Weather Service

I know it is mostly links, and not much commentary, but I wanted to get this posted as quick as possible.

This is an open thread, have at it!


Breaking: Keith Olbermann Signs off “Countdown” for the Last Time.

Here is the video of Olberman’s goodbye statement.

The NYT has a banner up saying “Breaking News: MSNBC Says It Has Ended Keith Olbermann’s Contract.”

That’s all I can find so far. My only guess on the reason for the termination is that it has something to do with the NBC/Comcast merger. I will update as I learn more–or anyone else can feel free to update this post.

Terse statement released by MSNBC:

21 Jan 2011 8:02 PM
STATEMENT REGARDING KEITH OLBERMANN

STATEMENT REGARDING KEITH OLBERMANN:

MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC’s success and we wish him well in his future endeavors.

For more information contact:

Jeremy Gaines
e: jeremy.gaines@nbcuni.com

From the NYT Media Decoder blog:

Keith Olbermann, the highest-rated host on MSNBC, announced abruptly on the air Friday night that he is leaving the show immediately.

The host, who has had a stormy relationship with the management of the network for some time, especially since he was suspended for two days last November, came to an agreement with NBC’s corporate management late this week to settle his contract and step down.

In a closing statement on his show, Mr. Olbermann said simply that it would be the last edition of the program. He offered no explanation other than on occasion, the show had become too much for him.

According to the post, Lawrence O’Donnell’s show “The Last Word,” will replace “Countdown” at 8PM. MSNBC’s “settlement with Olbermann will keep him from moving to another network for an extended period of time.” It sounds like this was Olbermann’s idea, but if so, why announce it so suddenly?

.


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!

By now, you probably have heard that diplomat Richard Holbrooke has died at the age of 69 from an aorta tear.  His obits are chock-full of some amazing accomplishments.  Here’s one example from CNN.

Holbrooke was best known for being “the chief architect of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement” that ended the Bosnian war — the deadly ethnic conflict in the 1990s that erupted during the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Serving President Bill Clinton as assistant secretary of state for Europe from 1994 to 1996, Americans got a taste of Holbrooke’s drive and intellect, as typified in this remark from “To End a War” — his memoir of the Dayton negotiations.

“The negotiations were simultaneously cerebral and physical, abstract and personal, something like a combination of chess and mountain climbing,” he wrote.

After President Obama took office in 2008, Holbrooke took one of the toughest diplomatic assignments — U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the region Obama regards as center of the war on terrorism.

He rated a great one at the Grey Lady.

More recently, Mr. Holbrooke wrestled with the stunning complexity of Afghanistan and Pakistan: how to bring stability to the region while fighting a resurgent Taliban and coping with corrupt governments, rigged elections, fragile economies, a rampant narcotics trade, nuclear weapons in Pakistan and the presence of Al Qaeda, and presumably Osama bin Laden, in the wild tribal borderlands.

One of his main tasks was to press President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to take responsibility for security in his country and to confront the corruption that imperils the American mission there. At times, Mr. Karzai refused to see him, but Mr. Holbrooke was undeterred.

“He’s an enormously tough customer,” Mr. Holbrooke said during one of the periodic breakfasts he had with reporters who covered his diplomatic exploits. “As you’ve heard,” he added with a smile, “so am I.”

He helped his boss, Mrs. Clinton, whom he had supported in her presidential bid, to persuade Mr. Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan, while pressing for more aid and development projects to improve the United States’ image there. But he died before anyone knew if the experiment would succeed.

A brilliant, sometimes abrasive infighter, he used a formidable arsenal of facts, bluffs, whispers, implied threats and, when necessary, pyrotechnic fits of anger to press his positions. President Obama, who praised Mr. Holbrooke on Monday afternoon at the State Department as “simply one of the giants of American foreign policy,” was sometimes driven to distraction by his lectures.

As we posted yesterday, a huge Senate Majority voted to advance the Obama-McConnell Tax deal.  Only 15 senators voted to stop Cloture. The up or down vote will be scheduled for either today or tomorrow. Stay tuned. We’ll follow the details here.

Fifteen lawmakers voted against it, including five Republicans: Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.), Jim DeMint (S.C.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), John Ensign (Nev.) and George Voinovich (Ohio).

Nine Democrats and one independent voted against the bill: Sens. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Pat Leahy (Vt.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Mark Udall (Colo.) and Sanders.

“It makes no sense to me to provide huge tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires while we drive up the national debt that our children and grandchildren will have to pay,” Sanders said in a statement after the vote.

Obama applauded the Senate’s action to move his tax cut compromise with Republicans and urged the House to do the same quickly.

In a statement in the White House briefing room, Obama hailed the Senate’s “strong bipartisan support” for the package and declared “this proves that both parties can in fact work together.”

BostonBoomer brought this my attention so I thought I’d post it.  Is there a Real-Life Da Vinci code in the Mona Lisa?  Cue the Twilight Zone Music.

Intrigue is usually focused on her enigmatic smile.

But the Mona Lisa was at the centre of a new mystery yesterday after art detectives took a fresh look at the masterpiece – and noticed something in her eyes.

Hidden in the dark paint of her pupils are tiny letters and numbers, placed there by the artist Leonardo da Vinci and revealed only now thanks to high-­magnification techniques.

Speaking of secrets, I’ve been looking into the status of Credit Derivatives since Frank-Dodd passed and the NY Times had an article up on Sunday on secret meetings of  a secret Derivatives Dealers Club of 9 on Sunday.  FiscalLiberal and I have been trying to figure out if all the news actually actually reveals anything.    The Financial Times did an update on the area that is an interesting read but doesn’t really say anything’s been solved or changed.

Yet like one of those teenaged vampires on television, the CDS market keeps coming back to life. For example, activity in sovereign CDS is up by a third this year, as speculators and hedgers bet they know more than their counterparties about the probability or timing of Greek or Irish defaults. And no, the sovereign CDS tail is not wagging the sovereign bond dog. For example, there are about $25bn of outstanding CDS on Italy, compared with some $2,000bn of actual Italian bonds.The essential point to remember is that credit derivatives don’t matter very much in determining the state of the real world. The industry, worldwide, almost certainly doesn’t employ more than 10,000 people. It is intended to be a zero-sum business.

The original, modest, purpose of CDS was to provide a low-transaction-cost means of distributing illiquid credit risks around European banks, so as to reduce their risk concentration. Then, the justification became the ease and low cost of hedging credit by buying protection through CDS, rather than going through the expense and uncertainty of maintaining short positions in bonds.

We would all be better off if there were laws to make the majority of these things exchange-traded but  it won’t happen unless governments write the laws.  BostonBoomer knew I’ve been trying to write about this and pointed me to the KO show last night and an interview with Matt Taibbi.  You may want to watch the video at the link.  They talk about the nine dealers from the NY Times link above.  These guys have been blocking the formation of exchanges and lobby hard to keep these things opaque.  You may have read me talk about how information asymmetry relieve messes up a market.  This is a prime example. This KO-Taibbi conversation is easily understood.  I was pretty impressed by what it covered.   KO also throws a gratuitous slam at Obama and Orzag so you might want to watch that just to see how the worm has turned.  Hopefully, I’ll figure out a way to explain this thing simply and have the complete post later.  I’m still trying to get more details.  In my doctoral program, every one saves their one C for the Derivatives Theory course.  Pricing is based on a really complex mathematical model and the language of the deal is written by lawyers. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of!  The math proofs even makes the guys with masters in physics quake. It’s not an easy thing to explain, teach, study or figure out.  I think they like it that way. Like I said, information asymmetry.  Also, KO brings up some nasty stuff about Senator Scott Brown and donations too. Go check it out.

Speaking of nasty stuff, here’s a blast from the past from Slate and Christopher Hitchens. The title alone titillates: ‘How Can Anyone Defend Kissinger Now?  The Nixon tapes remind us what a vile creature Henry Kissinger is’.

Chatting eagerly with his famously racist and foul-mouthed boss in March 1973, following an appeal from Golda Meir to press Moscow to allow the emigration of Soviet Jewry, Kissinger is heard on the tapes to say:

The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.

(One has to love that uneasy afterthought …)

In the past, Kissinger has defended his role as enabler to Nixon’s psychopathic bigotry, saying that he acted as a restraining influence on his boss by playing along and making soothing remarks. This can now go straight into the lavatory pan, along with his other hysterical lies. Obsessed as he was with the Jews, Nixon never came close to saying that he’d be indifferent to a replay of Auschwitz. For this, Kissinger deserves sole recognition.

It’s hard to know how to classify this observation in the taxonomy of obscenity. Should it be counted as tactical Holocaust pre-denial? That would be too mild. It’s actually a bit more like advance permission for another Holocaust. Which is why I wonder how long the official spokesmen of American Jewry are going to keep so quiet. Nothing remotely as revolting as this was ever uttered by Jesse Jackson or even Mel Gibson, to name only two famous targets of the wrath of the Anti-Defamation League. Where is the outrage? Is Kissinger—normally beseeched for comments on subjects about which he knows little or nothing—going to be able to sit out requests from the media that he clarify this statement? Does he get to keep his op-ed perch in reputable newspapers with nothing said? Will the publishers of his mendacious and purloined memoirs continue to give him expensive lunches as if nothing has happened?

Just a suggestion from me.  Drink your coffee before you go read that one. You may feel the need to spit at the screen.

One last depressing thing from the Wonk Room for advocates of GLBT rights.

This afternoon, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs refused to say that President Obama would call on the Senate to stay in session until it brought up the stand-alone measure to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In a series of passive replies to the Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson and the Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld, Gibbs didn’t directly urge the Senate to consider the measure, but said, “our hope is that the Senate will take this up again and we’ll see this done by the time the year ends.” “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and DREAM, along with government funding, are all in a basket of issues that are likely to come after” START, he argued earlier in the press briefing.

Asked by Eleveld why Obama has pledged to stay in DC until the Senate passed START but not DADT, Gibbs replied that the President would wait for the Senate to adjourn before leaving. Gibbs also refused to say if the administration was considering alternatives to legislative repeal …

Guess there’s more important things to do, like say, pass the Paris Hilton Inheritance Windfall Tax Breaks.

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

Keith Olberman Almost Admits He Was Wrong

Remember this speech from February, 2008? Tom Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers was introducing Hillary Clinton at a rally in Ohio.

Guess who was on Countdown with Keith Olbermann tonight?

I wonder if Keith is beginning to regret trying so hard to get Hillary out of the race? I wonder if he remembers suggesting Hillary should be taken in a room by a superdelegate, “and only he comes out”?

Here’s the post by Dave Weigel: We Are All Tom Buffenbarger Now.

Back in 2008, Obama supporters thought Buffenbarger was a racist using right wing talking points against The Messiah. It seems he actually knew a thing or two about Barack “vote present” Obama and his tendency to fold like a cheap suit.

Kudos to Keith Olbermann for having the guts to put Buffenbarger on his show, and congratulations to Buffenbarger for handling the opportunity with class.


Monday Reads

Good Morning!!

I was celebrating my youngest daughter’s 21st birthday last night with the other daughter and her boyfriend in Baton Rouge.  I missed the 60 Minutes interview with the President but FDL put the transcript and video up here. Does this worry any one but Jane Hamsher–who is responsible for the bolding–and me?   This quote is from President Obama.

Well, it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves. We have a long tradition in this country of a desire for limited government, the suspicion of the federal government, of a concern that government spends too much money. You know? I mean, that’s as American as apple pie. And although, you know, there’s a new label to this, I mean those sentiments are ones that a lot of people support and give voice to. Including a lot of Democrats.

And so, the test is gonna be what happens over the next several years, when it’s not just an abstraction, but we have to start making serious choices. I’ve got a deficit commission that I’ve put forward that is gonna be releasing recommendations for how we can start reducing the deficit. And I don’t know yet what they’re gonna say, but I do know what the federal budget looks like. And if you eliminate all the earmarks. If you eliminate all the foreign aid. If you eliminate all the waste and abuse that people, you know, talk about eliminating — you’re still confronted with a fact that the vast majority of the federal budget are things that people really think are important. Like Social Security and Medicare and defense.

And so, you then have to start making some tough decisions about how do we pay for those things that we think are important? And you know, we’re not gonna be able to balance the budget just by slashing the National Parks budget, even if you didn’t think that was a proper function of government. We’re not gonna be able to balance the budget by, you know, eliminating the National Weather Service.

I mean, we’re gonna have to, you know, tackle some big issues like entitlements that, you know, when you listen to the Tea Party or you listen to Republican candidates they promise we’re not gonna touch.

What’s on the table now?  The War in Afghanistan or our social security?  What does the President mean when he says “entitlements”?  I don’t know about you, but I’ve been working since I was 15 and I’ve paid for those ‘benefits’!  I don’t want them handed over to Wall Street or shot into space as a spy satellite instead.

You may have heard already that Olbermann will be back on the air tomorrow. Was it really his ‘questionable’ political donations that forced the suspension?  Here’s an interesting twist from Alternet: ‘If Olbermann’s Donations Are Bad, What About GE’s?’

If supporting politicians with money is a threat to journalistic independence, we should consider the contributions of NBC, and at NBC’s parent company General Electric.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, GE made over $2 million in political contributions in the 2010 election cycle (most coming from the company’s political action committee). The top recipient was Republican Senate candidate Rob Portman from Ohio. The company has also spent $32 million on lobbying this year, and contributed over $1 million to the successful “No on 24” campaign against a California ballot initiative aimed at eliminating tax loopholes for major corporations (New York Times, 11/1/10).

Comcast, the cable company currently looking to buy NBC, has dramatically increased its political giving, much of it to lawmakers who support the proposed merger (Bloomberg, 10/19/10). And while Fox News parent News Corp’s $1 million donation to the Republican Governors Association caused a stir, GE had “given $245,000 to the Democratic governors and $205,000 to the Republican governors since last year,” reported the Washington Post (8/18/10).

Olbermann’s donations are in some ways comparable to fellow MSNBC host Joe Scarborough’s $4,200 contribution to Republican candidate Derrick Kitts in 2006 (MSNBC.com, 7/15/07). When that was uncovered, though, NBC dismissed this as a problem, since Scarborough “hosts an opinion program and is not a news reporter.” Olbermann, of course, is also an opinion journalist–but MSNBC seems to hold him to a different standard.

Okay, good question, if it’s okay for Scarborough why isn’t it okay for Olbermann?  I frankly can’t stand either and don’t watch them, but NBC really messed up with this one.

Mike Kimel at Angry Bear has a some what wonky economic post up today, but it’s worth looking at because it debunks the conservative argument that the Great Depression was solved by war expenditures during WW2 and every thing was just hunky dory after that.  You may recall the bizarre op-ed in WAPO last week by David Broder suggesting that starting a war with Iran would jump start our economy.  Interestingly enough it’s called Very bad economic Theory. Good to see some one tackle yet another canard spread by right wing hopealogues looking for to replace real economic analysis with voodoo doodoo.  There’s links also to this paper which is really odd. It’s a working paper from David Henderson at George Mason University and it’s probably going to stay a working paper just about every where except maybe the AEI or the Club for Growth.  Kimel rips the paper to shreds and does so with some really, nifty graphs!

Finally, it is worth noting – some of the commentators to Tyler Cowen’s post also seemed to incorrectly believe that there was a post WW2 boom, though they tended to attribute that non-existent boom to the fact that the US came out of WW2 intact and went out building up other participants of the war. The fact that there are a variety of incorrect views about what happened in the past is not important. The fact that people believe in things that are demonstrably (and easily demonstrable, at that) not true is vital and unfortunate. As Michael Kanell and I point out in Presimetrics, theorizing based on incorrect facts leads to very poor theory, poor theory leads to abysmal policies, and abysmal policies lead to very unfortunate outcomes that negatively impact the lives of all of us.

US News & World Report–which is no longer being offered in a print edition–has an interesting op ed up by Mort Zuckerman:  ‘America’s Love Affair With Obama Is Over;The administration is running out of time to lower unemployment and fix the economy’.

The last two years have exposed to the public the risk that came with voting an inexperienced politician into office at a time when there was a crisis in America’s economy, as the nation contended with a financial freeze, a painful recession, and two wars. The Democrats were simply not aggressive enough or focused enough in confronting the profound economic crisis represented by millions of ordinary Americans whose main concern was the lack of jobs.

Jobs have long represented the stairway to upward mobility in America, and the anxiety over joblessness became the dominant concern at a time when financial security based on home equity and pensions was dramatically eroding. No great speech is going to change the fundamental fact that millions of people are either jobless or underemployed at a time when only a quarter of the American population describes the job market as good.

Why did Obama put his health plan so far ahead of the economy? To do what the Clintons couldn’t? His rush to do it sparked a broad resistance that has only spread since the bill was passed. The public sensed that healthcare was a victory for Obama, and maybe for the Democrats, but not for the country—and contrary to Democratic hopes, public support for the measure has continued to drop to as low as 34 percent in some polls. A significant majority, some 58 percent, now wish to repeal the entire bill, according to likely voters questioned in a late October poll by Rasmussen.

Let’s see, who have we heard this all from before?

WAPO reports that the U.S. is deploying drones in Yemen now. Are we going to open a third front in the wars in the Middle East now?  How much do those things cost?  Is this yet another example of a sneaking into a skirmish that becomes a war?

The United States has deployed Predator drones to hunt for al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen for the first time in years but has not fired missiles from the unmanned aircraft because it lacks solid intelligence on the insurgents’ whereabouts, senior U.S. officials said.

The use of the drones is part of a campaign against an al-Qaeda branch that has claimed responsibility for near-miss attacks on U.S. targets that could have had catastrophic results, including the recent plot to place parcels packed with explosives on cargo planes.

U.S. officials said the Predators have been patrolling the skies over Yemen for several months in search of leaders and operatives of the group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. After withstanding a flurry of attacks involving Yemeni forces and U.S. cruise missiles earlier this year, AQAP’s leaders “went to ground,” a senior Obama administration official said.

The use of U.S. drones in Yemen underscores the deep U.S. reliance on what has become a signature weapon against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

I think there is probably some things weird in there to say about Biden’s wars and Drone Wars but I can’t seem to do it right now.  All I know is that I’m tired of watching my tax dollars being spent on drones for sale.  Can we buy a few levees and electric grid up grades in the US while we’re at all this?  Maybe they could clean up the Gulf of Mexico?  Keep funding Head Start?  Repave a few bumpy interstate highways?

[MABlue here]
I’m among those who have seen it, but here is the entire interview of President Obama on 60 Minutes. What are your impressions?

Many Democrats are afraid Obama still doesn’t get “it”.
Assessing midterm losses, Democrats ask whether Obama’s White House fully grasped voters’ fears

President Obama‘s failure to channel the anxieties of ordinary voters has shaken the faith that many Democrats once had in his political gifts and his team’s political skill.

In his own assessments of what went wrong, the president has lamented his inability to persuade voters on the merits of what he has done, and blamed the failure on his preoccupation with a full plate of crises.

But a broad sample of Democratic officeholders and strategists said in interviews that the disconnect goes far deeper than that.

Paul Krugman is not happy with QE2. He thinks we didn’t learn anything from a watered down stimulus. [Kat,do we have a problem of multiple personality disorder here? Ben Bernanke, pre-eminent scholar of the Great Depression vs Ben Bernanke, Fed Chair]
Doing It Again

[A]s in the 1930s, every proposal to do something to improve the situation is met with a firestorm of opposition and criticism. As a result, by the time the actual policy emerges, it’s watered down to such an extent that it’s almost guaranteed to fail.

We’ve already seen this happen with fiscal policy: fearing opposition in Congress, the Obama administration offered an inadequate plan, only to see the plan weakened further in the Senate. In the end, the small rise in federal spending was effectively offset by cuts at the state and local level, so that there was no real stimulus to the economy.

Now the same thing is happening to monetary policy.

Oh! And Sarah Palin is unhappy with Ben Bernanke for doing “quantitative easing” at all. She says he should do like Reagan… Or something.
Palin to Bernanke: ‘Cease and Desist’

We shouldn’t be playing around with inflation. It’s not for nothing Reagan called it “as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber, and as deadly as a hit man.” The Fed’s pump priming addiction has got our small businesses running scared, and our allies worried. The German finance minister called the Fed’s proposals “clueless.” When Germany, a country that knows a thing or two about the dangers of inflation, warns us to think again, maybe it’s time for Chairman Bernanke to cease and desist. We don’t want temporary, artificial economic growth bought at the expense of permanently higher inflation which will erode the value of our incomes and our savings. We want a stable dollar combined with real economic reform. It’s the only way we can get our economy back on the right track

Mmmkay!!!!

The age of austerity is coming with a vengeance.
Now in Power, G.O.P. Vows Cuts in State Budgets

Republicans who have taken over state capitols across the country are promising to respond to crippling budget deficits with an array of cuts, among them proposals to reduce public workers’ benefits in Wisconsin, scale back social services in Maine and sell off state liquor stores in Pennsylvania, endangering the jobs of thousands of state workers.

The Hindustan Times has a pretty good coverage of Obama in India

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says India is not stealing US Jobs

India on Monday asserted that it was not in the business of stealing American jobs, even as US President Barack Obama said that deals with India to create 50,000 jobs back home were aimed at assuaging citizens’ fears.

“India is not in the business of stealing jobs from the US… outsourcing (work to India) has helped improve the productive capacity and productivity of America,” prime minister Manmohan Singh said at a joint press conference with visiting US President Barack Obama at Hyderabad House here.

For Heaven’s sake! Can this guy/gal make up his/her mind already?
A very peculiar engagement: Charles had a sex change… then hated being Samantha so became a man again. Now he’s getting married

Born Sam Hashimi, the businessman and divorced father-of-two had a sex-change operation in 1987 to turn him into glamorous interior designer Samantha Kane.

He spent £100,000 on cosmetic operations and tooth veneers to create the ‘ultimate male ­fantasy’ and was so convincing as a woman he had no trouble attracting men, and was briefly engaged to a wealthy landowner.

Then, in 2004, after seven years of living as a woman, he decided he’d made a horrible mistake; the result -he believes now -of a breakdown following the acrimonious end of his 12-year ­marriage and estrangement from his children.

What’s on your Reading and Blogging list today?