Sunday Reads

good morning!!!

Here’s an interesting piece in the Christian Science Monitor about an attempt to knock Rahm Emanuel off the ballot for the Chicago Mayoral election.  Emanuel’s eligibility is in question because of his residency in the District as Obama’s Chief of Staff.  Does that duty deserve similar treatment to active duty soldiers?

Chicago area election lawyer Burt Odelson filed his challenge to the Chicago Board of Elections, saying that Emanuel does not meet a state law that requires all candidates to be residents of the municipality in which they seek office for at least one year. He filed on behalf of two Chicago residents; on Wednesday, five other challenges were filed separately. Tuesday is the last day objections can be filed to the election board.

Central to Mr. Odelson’s argument is that Emanuel was removed from voter rolls twice during his two-year tenure in Washington, when he served as White House chief of staff to President Obama. During that time, Emanuel rented out his home. His campaign says he maintained ties to the city by paying property taxes, maintaining a driver’s license, and voting in the February primary.

Economists Olivier Jeanne and Anton Korinek  at VOX are suggesting Pigou taxes  (i.e. sin taxes) on financial corporations that would vary with credit booms and busts.    Rules would change depending on the state of the economy.  Suggestions include requiring higher capital levels or placing some kind of penalty on an organization when they take on large amounts of credit during an asset price boom.  The purpose is to impose the social cost of bailing the organization out on them to prevent from doing so and causing havoc in the financial markets. The idea is that they’d be less able to profit from the leverage so they’d be less likely to  go for the risk.  Suggestions specifically target mortgages with balloons or “teaser rates” since they are more risky and more likely to blow up in the face of market troubles.  The tax would then be used to fund any required bailout.

The optimal tax should also be adapted to the maturity of debt. Long-term debt makes the economy less vulnerable to busts than short-term debt, because lenders cannot immediately recall their loans when the value of collateral assets declines. For example, 30-year mortgages make the economy less prone to busts than mortgages with teaser rates that are meant to be refinanced after a short period of time.

An important benefit of ex-ante prudential taxation during booms is that it avoids the moral hazard problems associated with bailouts. When borrowers expect to receive bailouts in the event of systemic crises, they have additional incentives to take on debt. If the financial regulators accumulate a bailout fund, borrowers may increase their indebtedness in equal measure, leading to a form of “bailout neutrality”

Real Time Economics over at the WSJ has some interesting numbers up on Mortgage defaults.  The ever increasing backlog of defaults is worrisome.

492: The number of days since the average borrower in foreclosure last made a mortgage payment.

Banks can’t foreclose fast enough to keep up with all the people defaulting on their mortgage loans. That’s a problem, because it could make stiffing the bank even more attractive to struggling borrowers.

In recent months, the number of borrowers entering severe delinquency — meaning they missed their third monthly mortgage payment — has been on the decline, falling to about 700,000 in October, according to mortgage-data provider LPS Applied Analytics. But it’s still more than double the number of foreclosure processes started.

I personally enjoyed reading this Michelle Goldberg take-down on the Daily Beast of certain right wing women politicians who are trying to campaign as the ‘real’ feminists while throwing out their rewrites of herstory.  The Right Wing always rewrites history with the worst revisions.  I’m calling what they adhere to feminotexactlyism.  Here’s a few tidbits.

The historical revisionism here recalls that of Christian conservatives who try to paint our deistic Founding Fathers as devout evangelicals. At one point, Palin refers to Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s “Declaration of Sentiments,” which came out of the historic 1848 women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York. Stanton deliberately echoed the language of the Declaration of Independence, referring to the rights that women are entitled to “by the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” To Palin, this mention of God proves that Stanton shared her faith: “Can you imagine a contemporary feminist invoking ‘the laws of nature and of nature’s God?’ These courageous women spoke of our God-given rights because they believed they were given equally, by God, to men and women.”

Not really. Stanton was a famous freethinker, eventually shunned by more conservative elements of the women’s movement for her attacks on religion. In one 1885 speech, she declared, “You may go over the world and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded women.” Ten years later, she published the first volume of The Woman’s Bible, her mammoth dissection of biblical misogyny. Stanton was particularly scathing on the notion of the virgin birth: “Out of this doctrine, and that which is akin to it, have sprung all the monasteries and nunneries of the world, which have disgraced and distorted and demoralized manhood and womanhood for a thousand years.”

For more debunking, including that silly one about Susan B Anthony being some how against abortion, go read the article.  Facts are  such tractable things to Republicans that I wonder why any sane person would quote one without fact checking them first.  I just can’t take any more presidential candidates needing basic re-education; let alone presidents that require it.

Speaking of another one in that category, the national spotlight isn’t doing much good for my governor either.  I’ve got two sources I’ll quote here.  The first one is The American Thinker which you may recall is conservative.  They’ve even got his number.  It seems that just writing books about yourself is not going to be the path to Presidency any more.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is busy promoting his new tome Leadership and Crisis with book tour stops all over the country. This latest tour comes on top of his previous speaking tours to raise campaign cash for himself and various Republican candidates around the country. The only place Governor Jindal has trouble visiting is his home state of Louisiana. The joke in Louisiana is that Bobby is known as a governor in 49 states.

Louisiana blogger Lamar White, Jr. takes it even farther.  Yup, Jindal’s our ROAD Scholar. We can’t keep professors on university payrolls but we can sure pay for him to promote his self-serving book.

The oil spill was a huge scare, but instead of being honest about it, Jindal used it as an opportunity to advance his own political celebrity and perpetuate ridiculously disconcerting and almost masochistic myths about the effects of a deepwater drilling moratorium, none of which turned out to be true. He spent more time posing for the cameras and tagging along with CNN than practically anyone else, yet, in his “memoir,” it’s the Obama Administration who cared about media perception, not him. As an example, he cites a letter he delivered requesting an increase for federally-subsidized food stamps, suggesting that the Obama Administration delayed on their response. According to White House officials, Jindal’s formal request was delivered on the same day that Jindal called a press conference decrying the delays. Pure political theater.

But most importantly, when Jindal says Congressmen should spend more time at home, he should probably listen to his own advice. During the last couple of years, Jindal’s become more known for the things he has done outside of Louisiana than for anything he has done here in Louisiana. Before the November elections, he spent weeks touring the country to support fellow Republican candidates, and only two weeks after the election, he embarked on yet another nationwide tour, this time promoting his memoir.

I have to admit that this next Republican presidential primary is going to have me chewing my finger nails off.  If this is the best they have to offer, we are SO sunk.

Both the Koreas are upping the stakes in the Yellow Sea.  North Korea is sending veiled threats to the U.S about sending its air carrier–USS George Washington–into the area for joint ‘war games’.  SOS Clinton is in talks with the Chinese.  This is from The Guardian.

The world’s diplomatic corps is working feverishly to contain the crisis and make sure there is no further conflict. China, which is widely seen as having influence over the North, has held talks with the US between its foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, and the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. “The pressing task now is to put the situation under control,” the Chinese foreign ministry quoted Yang as telling Clinton.

Meanwhile the US stressed that its military operation with the South – which includes deployment of a nuclear-armed aircraft carrier – was not intended to provoke the North. Yet the North’s news agency addressed that issue: “If the US brings its carrier to the West Sea of Korea [Yellow Sea] at last, no one can predict the ensuing consequences.”

The the joint US-South Korea exercises started late last night.  Here’s the report on them from English Al Jazeera.

South Korea’s military later said that explosions – possibly the sound of artillery fire – were heard on Yeonpyeong Island.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that what is believed to have been a round of artillery was heard on Sunday from a North Korean military base north of the sea border dividing the two Koreas. It was not immediately clear where the round landed.

Residents of the island were ordered to take shelter in underground bunkers, but that order was later withdrawn, according to Yonhap.

Dozens of reporters, along with soldiers and police and a few residents, headed for the bunkers, where they remained for 40 minutes.

I’ve been watching the euro crisis again as the problems with Ireland seem to be creating problems with Spain now.  My print copy of The Economist didn’t come this morning so I’ve been having to read the cyber ink here.  My Saturday night soak in a hot bath was just not the same without it.  So,here’s my idea of a chiller thriller.

Europe’s rescue plan is based on the idea that Ireland and the rest just need to borrow a bit of cash to tide them over while they sort out their difficulties. But investors increasingly worry that such places cannot, in fact, afford to service their debts—each in a slightly different way. In Ireland the problem is dodgy banks and the government’s hasty decision in September 2008 to guarantee all their liabilities. Some investors think this may end up costing even more than the promised EU/IMF loans of some €85 billion ($115 billion)—especially if bank deposits continue to flee the country (see Buttonwood). Ireland’s failing government adds to the doubt, because it could find it hard to push through an austerity budget before a new election (see article). In Greece the fear is that the government cannot raise enough in taxes or grow fast enough to finance its vast borrowing. Likewise in Portugal, which though less severely troubled than Greece nevertheless seems likely to follow Ireland to the bail-out window.

If the panic were confined to these three, the euro zone could cope. But Europe’s bail-out fund is not big enough to handle the country next in line: Spain, the euro’s fourth-biggest economy, with a GDP bigger than Greece, Ireland and Portugal combined.

One has to ask how much the Germans are going to pony up the cross country fiscal policy this will take.   I’m still not ready to call the eminent demise of the EURO since every study that I’ve read–and I’ve read lots over the last three years–points to how much trade and foreign direct investment has come from integration.  This will test a lot of wills; good an otherwise. Meanwhile, the Irish are rebelling over their deal. They don’t want austerity measures any more than the Greeks do or we do for that matter.

The Economist also weighed in on  the “Republican Backlash” to the QE2 calling it perplexing which I believe is equal to me being baffled by the whole thing.  It’s still either they don’t know a damn thing (e.g. Republican presidential wannabe candidate number 1 on the link up top) or they just want the power so they don’t really care (e.g Republican presidential wannabe candidate number 2 on the link up top there).  Has to be.  What is still the weirdest thing to me is how many of them seem to hate Bernanke who is–afterall–a fellow Republican and a Dubya appointee.  What a strange, strange world this has turn out to be.  I mean Ron Paul is going to be in charge of the House subcommittee on Monetary Policy next year.  That’s like putting a representative of Astronauts for a flat earth society in charge of NASA.

Yet the fight is not ultimately over numbers, but ideology. To be sure, the Fed’s reputation has suffered among Americans of all political stripes over its failure to prevent the crisis and its bail-outs of banks. But the tea-party movement holds it in particularly low regard, seeing it as the monetary bedfellow of the hated stimulus and bail-outs. Some 60% of tea-party activists want the Fed abolished or overhauled, according to a Bloomberg poll. One of the movement’s heroes is Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas who wants to scrap the Fed outright and bring back the gold standard. His son Rand, newly elected as a senator from Kentucky, has also been stridently critical. QE can be made to seem sinister: an animated video on YouTube that portrays it as a conspiracy between Goldman Sachs and the Fed to fleece the taxpayer has been viewed over 2m times.

The ideological content of the backlash should not be overestimated. In 1892 William Jennings Bryan, later the Democratic presidential candidate, declared: “The people of Nebraska are for free silver and I am for free silver. I will look up the arguments later.” Liberals accuse the Republican leadership of likewise concocting an excuse to rally their base against Barack Obama. Indeed, the letter to Mr Bernanke criticises QE2 in much the same language used to oppose fiscal stimulus: as a dampener of business confidence and stability.

Well, I’ve just about had it with the print news today.  Do you suppose the Sunday News Programs will have anything on more meaningful?

Ah, probably not.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Saturday Reads

President Obama after being injured while playing basketball

Good Morning!! You probably heard the top story on all the commercial and cable networks last night. President Obama got a split lip from a flying elbow while playing basketball Friday, and needed 12 stitches.

The White House has identified the person whose elbow injured President Barack Obama during a pickup game of basketball on Friday as Rey Decerega, who works for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

Decerega had better watch his back. He did manage to do a little public sucking up:

The White House also released a statement from Decerega, NBC News said: “I learned today the president is both a tough competitor and a good sport. I enjoyed playing basketball with him this morning. I’m sure he’ll be back out on the court again soon.”

Perhaps that will help. Good Luck Ray Decerega!

U.S. officials are freaking out over the upcoming release of diplomatic documents by Wikileaks. According to The Independent:

Frantic behind the scenes wrangling was under way last night as US officials tried to stem the fallout from the expected release of up to three million confidential diplomatic communiques by the Wikileaks website.

Over the past 48 hours, American ambassadors have had the unenviable task of informing some of the country’s strongest allies that a series of potentially embarrassing cables are likely to be released in the coming days….

Downing Street yesterday confirmed that the US ambassador in London had already briefed the Government on what might be contained in the files. Similar meetings were also reported in Turkey, Israel, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Australia.

[MABlue here]
abc has more on the “Big Freakout”. there must really be some unsavory stuff in that report. Apparently, most of the stuff comes from Bradly Manning.
Bracing for WikiLeaks’ Release of Diplomatic Documents, State Department Warns Allies

Senior U.S. officials warn that the next round of WikiLeaks documents would be considerably more damaging than the two previous WikiLeaks document dumps.

“This is outrageous and dangerous,” a senior U.S. official told ABC News. “This puts at risk the ability of the United States to conduct foreign policy. Period. End of paragraph.”

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also weighed in today, telling CNN he hoped these kinds of leaks will eventually be plugged.

According to op-ed commentator Jerome Taylor: This is a public airing of Washington’s dirty linen

What makes the release of diplomatic cables so potentially explosive is that they could cover a vast spectrum of information that America and her allies would like to keep secret. Cables are the diplomatic equivalent of dirty linen that no country wants to see aired in public. “Diplomatic cables might talk about political instability inside the country – there could be information about secret deals, weapons agreements, talks with dissidents, all sorts of things,” explains Yossi Mekelberg, an expert on Israel-US relations at Chatham House. “But cables are not policy papers. When I read cables I’m often surprised at how gossipy they can be.”

The informal nature of such missives has the potential to cause some serious red faces in capitals around the world.

The U.S. has now been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Union was.

The last Red Army troops left Feb. 15, 1989, driven out after nine years and 50 days by the U.S.-backed Afghan fighters known as mujahedin, or holy warriors. Ragtag yet ferocious, they were so spectrally elusive that the Soviet forces called them dukhi, or ghosts. A fitting term, perhaps, for a country that has been called “the graveyard of empires.”

Aren’t you proud to be an American? And our empire hasn’t even collapsed like the USSR’s–yet.

And history twists back on itself. In the Soviets’ war, the United States armed and aided the mujahedin; in this one, Russia is increasingly cooperating with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Moscow agreed this month to let the Western military alliance take armored vehicles through its territory. Last month, Russian counternarcotics agents went along on a joint NATO-Afghan drug raid.

It’s all so pointless…and yet it’s destroying us.

And what about Korea? Is our Nobel Peace Prize-winning President going to get us involved there too? It doesn’t look good:

The joint military exercises the US will conduct with South Korea’s navy on Sunday, off the Korean peninsula in the Yellow Sea, are taking on added significance as a message-bearer to North Korea, following Pyongyang’s shelling of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong on Tuesday.

The Pentagon is quick to point out that the naval exercises are “defensive in nature” and that similar events have been held frequently. But US commanders also acknowledge that this joint exercise is a pointed reminder to the North of US military strength and America’s allegiance with South Korea. The US announced the exercises after the artillery barrage of Yeonpyeong, home to South Korean military bases and a small civilian population.

George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen has an article in the Washington Post in which he argues that the TSA’s naked body scans and “enhanced pat down” searches are unconstitutional. Interestingly, he cites a 2006 decision by then circuit court judge Samuel Alito:

…Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both “minimally intrusive” and “effective” – in other words, they must be “well-tailored to protect personal privacy,” and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats. Alito upheld the practices at an airport checkpoint where passengers were first screened with walk-through magnetometers and then, if they set off an alarm, with hand-held wands. He wrote that airport searches are reasonable if they escalate “in invasiveness only after a lower level of screening disclose[s] a reason to conduct a more probing search.”

As currently used in U.S. airports, the new full-body scanners fail all of Alito’s tests. First, as European regulators have recognized, they could be much less intrusive without sacrificing effectiveness. For example, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, the European airport that employs body-scanning machines most extensively, has incorporated crucial privacy and safety protections. Rejecting the “backscatter” machines used in the United States, which produce revealing images of the body and have raised concerns about radiation, the Dutch use scanners known as ProVision ATD, which employ radio waves with far lower frequencies than those used in common hand-held devices. If the software detects contraband or suspicious material under a passenger’s clothing, it projects an outline of that area of the body onto a gender-neutral, blob-like human image, instead of generating a virtually naked image of the passenger. The passenger can then be taken aside for secondary screening.

Rosen concludes:

…there’s good reason to believe that the machines are not effective in detecting the weapons they’re purportedly designed to identify. For U.S. courts, that’s yet another consideration that could make them constitutionally unreasonable.

Broadly, U.S. courts have held that “routine” searches of all travelers can be conducted at airports as long as they don’t threaten serious invasions of privacy. By contrast, “non-routine” searches, such as strip-searches or body-cavity searches, require some individualized suspicion – that is, some cause to suspect a particular traveler of wrongdoing. Neither virtual strip-searches nor intrusive pat-downs should be considered “routine,” and therefore courts should rule that neither can be used for primary screening.

The only question is whether the Supreme Court will stand up for individual rights or continue to accede to the executive branch’s demands for more Presidential power.

I’m going to end with a funny, but pretty realistic, satirical piece from The Onion: Frustrated Obama Sends Nation Rambling 75,000-Word E-Mail

The e-mail, which was titled “A couple things,” addressed countless topics in a dense, stream-of-consciousness rant that often went on for hundreds of words without any punctuation or paragraph breaks. Throughout, the president expressed his aggravation on subjects as disparate as the war in Afghanistan, the sluggish economic recovery, his live-in mother-in-law, China’s undervalued currency, Boston’s Logan Airport, and tort reform.

According to its timestamp, the e-mail was sent at 4:26 a.m.

“Hey Everyone,” read the first line of the president’s note, which at 27 megabytes proved too large for millions of Americans’ in-boxes. “I’m writing to you because I need to clear up some important issues. First and foremost, I want to say that this has nothing to do with the midterm elections because I was going to send an e-mail regardless of the outcome. However, I guess one could argue that, in the end, the midterms are an important measure of a president’s overall success, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call the results a referendum. Legislatively, I feel I’ve had a lot of success that I think history will judge quite favorably. I mean, pretty much every modern president has seen his party lose seats during a midterm, you know?

Go read the whole thing. It’s really funny, in an lolsob kind of way. Oh…and Fox News published the Onion story on their website without identifying it as satire.

[MABlue’s Saturday picks] It’s all about real life crime and investigation.
From Vanity Fair: The Case of the Vanishing Blonde

After a woman living in a hotel in Florida was raped, viciously beaten, and left for dead near the Everglades in 2005, the police investigation quickly went cold. But when the victim sued the Airport Regency, the hotel’s private detective, Ken Brennan, became obsessed with the case: how had the 21-year-old blonde disappeared from her room, unseen by security cameras? The author follows Brennan’s trail as the P.I. worked a chilling hunch that would lead him to other states, other crimes, and a man nobody else suspected.

Apparently, the Chandra Levy case is not resolved: Reasonable doubt in the Chandra Levy case

How reliable is the conviction of Ingmar Guandique for the 2001 murder, when the key evidence is a disputed prison confession?

There’s a debate going on about the goodness of religion between Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens. By all accounts, Hitch won the 1st round yesterday.
Hitchens defeats Blair in Canadian religion debate

What are you reading this morning?