Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 14th, 2009

The House healthcare bill

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Looks pretty good on first glance. Steve Benen in Political Animal:

House Democrats were poised to unveil their health care reform package last week, but ran into a little trouble. Leaders said it would be a brief delay, but there was talk of an "indefinite" postponement.

To their credit, the committee chairs and the leadership pulled everything together quickly, and this afternoon presented what appears to be a great piece of legislation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Tuesday the bill is both a starting point and a path to success. She was joined by committee chairmen and other House leaders. They stood before a banner reading "Quality affordable health care for the middle class."

Pelosi and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said the House would pass the bill before the August recess.

There’s a lot to go through, but for industrious readers, the bill is online, as are a lot of related materials from the House Committees on Education and Labor, Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce.

The bill has already drawn enthusiastic praise from the White House. In a statement, President Obama lauded the legislation: "This proposal controls the skyrocketing cost of health care by rooting out waste and fraud and promoting quality and accountability. Its savings of more than $500 billion over 10 years will strengthen Medicare and contribute to our goal of reforming health care in a fiscally responsible way. It will change the incentives in our health care system so that Americans can receive the best care, not the most expensive care. And it will offer families and businesses more choices and more affordable health care."

As for what’s next, my sources indicate that House leaders are moving as quickly as possible on this, and the House Committee on Education and Labor will begin the mark-up of the bill tomorrow afternoon around 3 (eastern).

Update: CBO scores the bill: $1 trillion, just where House Dems were aiming.

Second Update: Jonathan Cohn seems encouraged by the bill, and though it wuoldn’t be fully implemented for a few years, he found that it "will accomplish most of the goals on my mental checklist":

* Generous subisides, available to people making up to 400 percent of the poverty line

* Expansion of Medicaid to cover people making less than 133 percent of the poverty line

* Guarantees of solid benefits for everybody, with limits on out-of-pocket spending

* Strong regulation of insurers, including requirements that insurers provide insurance to people with pre-existing conditions without higher rates

* An individual mandate, so that everybody (or what passes for everybody in these discussions) gets into the system and assumes some financial responsibility

* A public plan, one that appears to be strong, although I’ll reserve judgment on that until I hear from the experts

* Choice of public and private plan, at first just for individuals and small businesses, but later for larger businesses and–possibly–eventually for everybody

* Efforts at payment reform, if not necessarily as strong as they could be

* Investment in primary care and prevention, which is not sexy but potentially important for general health.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 2:39 pm

Philosophy for beginners

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 Dan Coleman blogs:

Philosophy doesn’t have to be daunting. Thanks to the Continuing Education program at Oxford University, you can ease into philosophical thinking by listening to five lectures collectively called Philosophy for Beginners. (Find them on iTunesU in audio and video). Taught by Marianne Talbot, Lecture 1 starts with a “Romp Through the History of Philosophy” and moves in a brief hour from Ancient Greece to the present. Subsequent lectures (usually running about 90 minutes) cover the following topics: logic, ethics, politics, metaphysics, epistemology, and language. For those hankering for more philosophy, I’ve listed below a series of more advanced philosophy courses and also some philosophy podcasts. (You can get more free university courses here and intelligent podcasts here).

Courses

  • ConsciousnessMP3s here – Susan Stuart, University of Glasgow
  • DeathDownload Course – Shelly Kagan, Yale
  • Existentialism in Literature & FilmiTunesFeed – Hubert Dreyfus, UC Berkeley
  • HeideggeriTunesFeedMP3s – Hubert Dreyfus, UC Berkeley
  • Heidegger’s Being & TimeFeedMP3s – Hubert Dreyfus, UC Berkeley
  • Introduction to Practical Reasoning and Critical Analysis of Argument, iTunes – Daniel Coffeen, UC Berkeley
  • Kant’s EpistemologyiTunes – Dr Susan Stuarts, University of Glasgow.
  • Man, God and Society in Western LiteratureiTunesFeed – Hubert Dreyfus, UC Berkeley
  • The Examined LifeiTunes – Greg Reihman, Lehigh University

Podcasts

  • Philosophy Bites iTunes Feed Web Site
    • A British podcast featuring interviews of top philosophers that delves into some essential philosophical questions — what is the meaning of life? what is the nature of reality? what is evil?, etc.
  • Philosophers’ Cafe Feed Web Site
    • Comfortable surroundings for vibrant street level discussions on burning issues of the day. No formal philosophy training required; real life experience desired. Come early, stay late. Presented by Simon Fraser University.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 2:24 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

Great target for plinking

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More info at the Firearm Blog here.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Dean Baker does stimulus arithmetic

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Dean Baker, an economist, in the Guardian:

When her husband was in the oval office, Laura Bush launched an initiative to promote literacy across the United States. Unfortunately, there was no comparable effort to promote numeracy in our nation’s capital. This has been evident in the discussion of the stimulus among politicians and commentators in the week since the June job numbers were released.

Republicans have been anxious to pronounce the stimulus a failure, while Democrats have insisted that the package just needs more time, pointing out that most of the money has not yet been spent. Neither assertion can withstand the test of simple arithmetic.

The basic story is that the stimulus was too small, pure and simple. It would have been too small even if the Obama’s administration’s projections for the severity of the recession had proven accurate. However, since the downturn is considerably steeper than they had projected, the inadequacy of the stimulus is even greater.

Here are the numbers. The unemployment rate is currently 9.5% and virtually certain to cross 10% by the end of the summer. It is likely to hit 11% early next year, but we’ll just work off the 10% figure.

The target for unemployment should be no higher than 5%. (The year-round average for unemployment in 2000 was 4%.) This leaves a gap between actual unemployment and our employment target of five percentage points. As a rule of thumb, it takes a two-percentage point increase in GDP to reduce the unemployment rate by one percentage point. This means that in order to reach our target of 5% unemployment, we would have to increase GDP by 10%, or $1.5tn.

Different types of stimulus have different multiplier effects…

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 1:17 pm

Why conservative media get little respect

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Steve Benen in Political Animal:

When South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) secretly left the country last month, there was quite a bit of email and phone call traffic going in and out of the governor’s office. South Carolina’s The State newspaper obtained records through open record laws, and received nearly 600 pages documenting communications between the governor’s aides.

There are plenty of interesting exchanges — it seems there was genuine, widespread confusion about Sanford’s whereabouts when he went to visit his Argentine mistress — but of particular interest were the emails from conservative media outlets. (via Zachary Roth)

Some outlets, hoping to outdo their competition, were volunteering to coordinate with the governor’s office to spin the story to Sanford’s advantage.

A staffer with The Washington Times wrote in an e-mail that "if you all want to speak on this publicly, you’re welcome to Washington Times Radio. You know that you will be on friendly ground here!"

On June 23, a Fox News Channel correspondent wrote to [Sanford's communications director, Joel Sawyer], "Having known the Governor for years and even worked with him when he would host radio shows for me — I find this story and the media frenzy surrounding it to be absolutely ridiculous! Please give him my best."

The Wall Street Journal‘s Brendan Miniter emailed Sawyer to complain about his own newspaper’s coverage of Sanford’s disappearance. "Someone at WSJ should be fired for today’s story. Ridiculous," Miniter wrote.

Now, I realize that in the media industry, media professionals may try to curry favor with a source (or potential source) in the hopes of landing a bigger story or interview. When a high-profile criminal, for example, is convicted, he or she will likely receive plenty of sympathetic-sounding letters from major news outlets, each trying to land the first post-trial interview.

But this Sanford story seems different, to the extent that conservative news outlets communicated to aides for a conservative governor that they’re on his side. In the case of the Washington Times, there isn’t even a pretense — the staffer wrote that Sanford’s communications director would "on friendly ground." Media professionals are not supposed to coordinate with a controversial figure to make sure his/her story is told the way he/she likes it.

Given these details, Josh Marshall calls the emails, "Hacks on Parade."

There are reportedly other emails that have not yet been published. Maybe they’ll be exculpatory for the conservative media figures, but I kind of doubt it.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Media

Dean Baker: ‘It’s not rationing, stupid!’

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Dean Baker, an economist, in Truthout:

The insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the A.M.A., and the rest of the axis of evil opposed to meaningful health care reform have been working overtime. They are desperately trying to come up with reasons why people in the United States can’t enjoy the same quality of health care as people in other wealthy countries at a comparable price. They want us all to believe that we will always have to pay two or even three times as much for care that produces no better outcomes.

That’s a hard sell, but fortunately the industry groups have lots of money to make their case. They think that they have produced a winning formula. It’s called “rationing.”

Their focus groups showed that people dislike the idea of rationing health care. So, the industry boys have been running around warning that President Obama’s health care plan could lead to rationing. They want everyone to believe that the government is not going to let you or your loved ones get that medical procedure that is necessary to stay alive.

It’s a great story of the industry boys, but it has nothing to do with the world, which is apparent on a moment’s reflection. The most radical proposal on the table at the moment is a public health care insurance option. That means people would have the option to buy into a plan run by the federal government.

Like other plans, a government-run plan would pay for some procedures, but presumably not pay for others. Is this rationing? If you don’t like the government plan, don’t buy into it. Where’s the rationing?

Suppose employers can buy into the government plan for their workers, so you get stuck with the government plan because your boss liked it. Well, tens of millions of workers have bad health care plans because that is what their boss selected. What will have changed because we have a public plan?

Furthermore, even if we only had a public plan that everyone had to buy into (something which is clearly not on the table), it still would not amount to rationing. If there were a medical procedure that the plan would not cover, then anyone would still be entirely free to pay for the procedure out of their own pocket. Where is the rationing?

Rationing is when …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 12:33 pm

Sen. Obama on voting on Chief Justice Roberts’s confirmation

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Obama really hit the nail on the head. Read what he had to say about Sam Roberts. And Obama was right.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 11:05 am

Posted in Congress, Government, Law

Goldman Sachs, the great American bubble machine—complete

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Finally you can read Matt Taibbi’s case against Goldman Sachs in its entirety. And also note this post from Taibbi:

The prosecution wanted to the judge to deny bail, a la Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford, because the stolen code “could be use to manipulate the market in unfair ways.” The judge, to his credit chose to disagree. This was an alleged crime against GOLDMAN, not, presumably a crime against society. Therefore it was a “garden variety” economic crime, meaning that the normal niceties of “free on bail” were available.

via Is the U.S. Government An Arm of Goldman Sachs? – Graham and Dodd Investor — Seeking Alpha.

Apologies for getting to this late — I’m on deadline on something else and haven’t had much time to post — but this just has to be posted, given the continued debate over Goldman Sachs. Surely plenty of people followed the story last week of Sergey Aleynikov, a Russian computer whiz who, well, defected from the employ of Goldman Sachs, apparently taking with him the bank’s proprietary trading code. There is a lot of backstory here that is key: if you’ve followed Zero Hedge’s speculations dating back months about Goldman somehow manipulating program trading at the NYSE, this is connected to that, as the theory here is that Aleynikov stole the computer program that Goldman may have been using to manipulate the NYSE.

Such speculations until recently may have sounded like conspiracy theories, but then last week Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Facciponti stood up in court and let loose a whopper. “The bank has raised the possibility that there is a danger that somebody who knew how to use this program could use it to manipulate markets in unfair ways,” he said.

Again, this is a federal prosecutor quoting Goldman Sachs, admitting in open court that it has been using a computer program that can be used to unfairly manipulate markets. Take that information and couple it with the insane data about Goldman’s share of program trading volume since the beginning of the year and… well, you can draw your own conclusions.

While I’m here: a lot of people have been writing me asking me to respond to Megan McArdle’s bizarre freakout on the Atlantic website, where she lambasted my Goldman piece in curiously discombobulated fashion and then apparently spent the next couple of days jamming her feet in her mouth in the comments section (Megan at 6:52 P.M. on July 10: “No, his facts are wrong, his conclusions are wrong, and only his discomfort with Goldman Sachs’ role in our public life is correct.” Megan three hours later: “Or perhaps a better way to say it is that the facts are right, but the mini narratives are ludicrously wrong.”).  I’m reluctant to get into this, among other things because I’ve already done two different too-long responses to critics of this piece, and I’m also supposed to be writing something else right now, so… But I will get to her later in the week, when I have time, and I’m going to need time, just going by one quick read-through of her piece.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 10:56 am

Interesting albeit mildly depressing

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From the Marijuana Policy Project:

Even though national opinion polling shows that more than 80 million American adults believe that marijuana should be made "legal" for adult use, only 27,000 people have ever donated to MPP.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 10:20 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

Global warming deniers

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We’ll always have them, regardless of the evidence. As I’ve pointed out, some still maintain that the earth is flat. And take a look at this story by John Schwartz in the NY Times:

They walk among us, seemingly little different from you or me. Most of the time, you would never know of their true nature — except that occasionally, they feel compelled to speak up.

Take an example from Lens, this newspaper’s photography blog. A recent feature,“ Dateline: Space,” displayed stunning NASA photographs, including the iconic photo of Buzz Aldrin standing on the lunar surface.

The second comment on the feature stated flatly, “Man never got to the moon.”

The author of the post, Nicolas Marino, went on to say, “I think media should stop publicizing something that was a complete sham once and for all and start documenting how they lied blatantly to the whole world.”

Forty years after men first touched the lifeless dirt of the Moon — and they did. Really. Honest. — polling consistently suggests that some 6 percent of Americans believe the landings were faked and could not have happened. The series of landings, one of the greatest gambles of the human race, was an elaborate hoax developed to raise national pride, many among them insist.

They examine photos from the missions for signs of studio fakery, and claim to be able to tell that the American flag was waving in what was supposed to be the vacuum of space. They overstate the health risks of traveling through the radiation belts that girdle our planet; they understate the technological prowess of the American space program; and they cry murder behind every death in the program, linking them to an overall conspiracy.

And while there is no credible evidence to support such views, and the sheer unlikelihood of being able to pull off such an immense plot and keep it secret for four decades staggers the imagination, the deniers continue to amass accusations to this day. They are bolstered by films like a documentary shown on Fox television in 2001 and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon” by Bart Sibrel, a filmmaker in Nashville.

“There are smart, normal people who buy into these conspiracy theories,” said Philip Plait, an astronomer and author who counters the conspiracy theorists point by point and at excruciating length at his “Bad Astronomy” Web site. He is one of many people who have joined the fight to affirm that It Happened. A group effort, at www.clavius.org, debunks with gusto; its main author, Jay Windley, named the site for the Moon base in Arthur C. Clarke’s classic science fiction novel, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Even though the so-called evidence from the conspiracists can clearly be proved wrong, Mr. Plait said, understanding the proof can require a working knowledge of history and photography and of science and its methodology. “You’ve got to do the work; you’ve got to put the elbow grease to it,” he said, “and most people don’t do the work. So these things get traction.” …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 10:18 am

Posted in Daily life

Chief Justice Roberts is not a good umpire

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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse:

The “umpire” analogy is belied by Chief Justice Roberts, though he cast himself as an “umpire” during his confirmation hearings. Jeffrey Toobin, a well-respected legal commentator, has recently reported that “[i]n every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff.” Some umpire. And is it a coincidence that this pattern, to continue Toobin’s quote, “has served the interests, and reflected the values of the contemporary Republican party”? Some coincidence.

For all the talk of “modesty” and “restraint,” the right wing Justices of the Court have a striking record of ignoring precedent, overturning congressional statutes, limiting constitutional protections, and discovering new constitutional rights: the infamous Ledbetter decision, for instance; the Louisville and Seattle integration cases, for example; the first limitation on Roe v. Wade that outright disregards the woman’s health and safety; and the DC Heller decision, discovering a constitutional right to own guns that the Court had not previously noticed in 220 years. Over and over, news reporting discusses “fundamental changes in the law” wrought by the Roberts Court’s right wing flank. The Roberts Court has not lived up to the promises of modesty or humility made when President Bush nominated Justices Roberts and Alito.

Some “balls and strikes.”

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 10:10 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP, Government, Law

Grace Kelly: Wow! (No, not that one—but wow for her, too)

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In the below, she is 14 years old. (She’s 17 now.)

Grace Kelly and Phil Woods, Part 1

Grace Kelly and Phil Woods, Part 2

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 10:07 am

Posted in Daily life, Jazz, Music, Video

Steve Benen on the broken process

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We need to get rid of the filibuster in the Senate. Benen:

The Washington Post‘s Perry Bacon Jr. and Paul Kane report today on Democratic senators doing this week exactly what they’ve been doing every week since 2007.

Senate Democrats spent their first full day holding 60 votes just as they have spent the previous 2 1/2 years without such a supermajority: scrambling to find Republican support for their key initiatives in order to choke off potential filibusters. [...]

If efforts fail on the bipartisanship front, Democrats are hoping that a tactical parliamentary move will get them around the need for GOP support.

In a closed-door meeting immediately after Franken’s swearing-in, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) asked his caucus to always join ranks in supporting cloture votes. Those procedural votes require 60 senators to agree to halt debate, a step that would derail any potential filibuster.

Once cloture is invoked and the bill moves toward a final vote, Democrats would need just 50 votes on the last roll call, allowing up to 10 conservative Democrats to vote against the legislation.

As we know, of course, center-right Democrats refuse to make such a commitment to their own caucus. Senators like Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh continue to say they may help Republicans stop key bills from even coming to the floor for an up or down vote.

But there’s another detail that the Post article didn’t mention, and which is summarily ignored by the political establishment: we’re dealing with a procedural dynamic that has never existed in American history. There’s never been a time in U.S. history in which a Senate minority caucus could simply stop the majority from bringing all bills and/or mildly controversial nominees to the floor for a vote.

I’m not trying to pick on Bacon and Kane here, but the piece makes the current dynamic — every vote gets a filibuster, and it’s up to an easily-divided Democratic caucus to overcome this hurdle — seem customary and normal, as this is just the way the American government has always operated.

It’s not. Without a hint of debate, the rules have changed, and mandatory supermajorities on everything have become routine. Matt Yglesias recently noted, "This is a very new ‘tradition’ in American governance, it goes against everyone’s common understanding of how democratic procedures are supposed to work, and there’s very little reason to believe that the results will be beneficial in the long run."

Quickly and quietly, the political establishment came to accept that 60-vote minimums on everything of significance are customary. It’s become something everyone simply "knows," despite the fact that this is a fairly radical departure from American norms.

If the nation is comfortable with this dramatic departure from the way the system was designed to function, fine. But let’s not pretend this is normal.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 9:46 am

Posted in Congress, Government

I would bet it’s campaign contributions, not jobs, that’s the concern

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From the Center for American Progress:

President Obama vowed Monday to veto a defense spending bill if the Senate does not remove $1.75 billion in funding for seven additional F-22 fighter jets beyond what the Defense Department requested, reiterating an earlier veto threat issued by the administration last month. Obama’s pledge comes as his former presidential opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), stepped up the fight in Congress with Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) to strip the F-22 funding. The proposed budget presented by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates several months ago did not include funding for the additional F-22 fighters. Opponents of further funding claim that the plane is unnecessary, observing that it was originally built to fight the next generation of Soviet fighter jets that were never built, and that has not been used in either Iraq or Afghanistan. In addition, the F-22 is also incredibly expensive to maintain, costing more than $44,000 an hour to operate, roughly the yearly salary of a platoon leader in Afghanistan. However, over the objections of the Pentagon, members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees included additional funding to purchase more F-22 fighters from Lockheed Martin. Defenders of the F-22 have cited jobs as a primary concern, something Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) termed "weaponized Keynesianism."

Jobs? But I thought the position of the GOP was that government spending does not create jobs. (Maybe the GOP can’t reason very well.)

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 9:33 am

Shadow banking: what it is and how it works

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Interesting article by Mike Rorty in the Atlantic Monthly:

We hear a lot of chatter about the shadow banking system and its crucial role in the financial crisis. But rarely do we find time to step back and ask the basic questions: What is shadow banking, where did it come from, how did it operate, what role did it play in this crisis and how do we deal with it going forward?

I hope this Q&A with a very smart professor and economist at Barnard College Professor Perry Mehrling provides answers to each of those questions.

Mike Rorty: Let’s start by talking about what a traditional bank does, how it takes money and the special kinds of risks it faces.

Perry Mehrling: You are talking about the Jimmy Stewart bank. There are two sides to it, the liability side which looks to the depositor. The other side is lending, for consumer loans and other loans. The regulatory support and backstop for that system was devised over many years to deal with two fundamental problems facing that kind of structure.

One risk is liquidity risk, which is the risk that people on the deposit side might want to take their money out and, since the money is locked up in houses and long term loans, it can’t happen. So there has to be a lender of last resort. There’s a second problem, a solvency problem, which is maybe all those loans go bad, and we want to make sure that the depositors aren’t all wiped out. That’s where the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) comes into the picture, making sure that if the bank is insolvent that the depositors are covered to a certain limit.

I referred to the lender of last resort, and that’s the role of the Federal Reserve in this story. If a bank does not have liquid funds to pay depositors who want to withdraw their money, the Fed can lend a bank the funds it needs in order to make the payment system work. It isn’t then a problem for the depositor, but instead a problem between the bank and the Fed.

That’s traditional banking. One thing to understand is that the regulatory support structure of the government is designed for that kind of banking.

Before we start talking about shadow banks I want to go to this quote I found from your presentation. It’s Fischer Black in 1970:

"Thus a long term corporate bond could actually be sold to three separate persons. One would supply the money for the bond; one would bear the interest rate risk, and one would bear the risk of default. The last two would not have to put up any capital for the bond, though they might have to post some sort of collateral."
- Fischer Black, "Fundamentals of Liquidity" (1970)

It’s amazing in how accurate that quote is, as a motivating factor for what the capital market would become, 20 plus years before credit default swap contracts.

He’s thinking about corporate bonds, and splitting off interest rate risk and selling it separately and splitting off the credit risk and selling it separately. The instruments he is imagining back then are what we know today as interest rate swaps and credit default swaps.

Why do this? The idea is to make the corporate bond market a more complete market. So by being able to trade interest rate risk and credit risk those risks will move to the people most able to bear them, thus lowering the price of that risk and lowering the price of corporate credit.

So let’s talk about shadow banks. What are they, where did they come from, and how did they operate? …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 9:30 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Industry works hard to kill healthcare reform

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From the Center for American Progress:

In an interview with PBS’s Bill Moyers last Friday, former health insurance executive Wendell Potter spoke out against the practices of health insurance companies, stating that "it became really clear to me that the industry is resorting to the same tactics they’ve used over the years, and particularly back in the early ’90s, when they were leading the effort to kill the Clinton [health care] plan." Potter said insurers seek to "drive down" costs by refusing to insure "unhealthy people," a tactic borne out by the fact that 47 million Americans currently lack health insurance. The "insurance industry has been one of the most successful, in beating back any kinds of legislation that would hinder or affect the profitability of the companies," said Potter, the former head of Corporate Communications at health insurance giant CIGNA. Last month, Potter told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation that the industry, which once employed him regularly, drops sick policyholders so they can meet "Wall Street’s relentless profit expectations."

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 9:22 am

Marijuana bills in Congress

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An email from the Marijuana Policy Project:

Do you know about the three great marijuana policy reform bills in Congress right now? Last month, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) introduced two measures in the House of Representatives, and U.S. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) is sponsoring a proposal in the Senate.

One of Congressman Frank’s bills — the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2009 — would eliminate all federal penalties for marijuana possession. The other — the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act — would protect medical marijuana patients.

And Senator Webb’s bill calls for a bipartisan commission to make recommendations for reducing the overall incarceration rate; when asked in April whether drug legalization should be considered, Sen. Webb replied, “Nothing should be off the table.”

A great way to help get these bills moving is to donate to MPP’s Medical Marijuana Political Action Committee (PAC) today.

MPP’s PAC was formed in order to gain access to politicians and their staff, and — as you can tell from the avalanche of new, serious interest in marijuana policy reform just in the last few months — the plan is working. MPP is driving that discussion in the news and among lawmakers, and part of what’s behind it is our PAC.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 9:06 am

Over-classifying

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Walter Pincus in the Washington Post:

Has the U.S. government improperly classified the words and writings of Abu Zubaida, a high-value detainee now being held at Guantanamo Bay?

In a motion made in May in federal district court, attorneys for Abu Zubaida — the nom de guerre of Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein — wrote that the government was classifying what the prisoner was telling them, what he wrote in his diaries before being captured and during his seven years of captivity in Cuba, and even information that they had learned from public documents that he could not possibly know. Many sections of that motion itself — from lawyers Joseph Margulies, George Brent Mickum IV and Baher Azmy — are redacted in the recently declassified public version.

While the executive order authorizing classification requires the information to be "owned," "produced," or "controlled" by the U.S. government, Abu Zubaida’s attorneys say the Justice Department has made a novel argument, that "to detain a prisoner creates a new, parallel authority to classify any and all utterances made by that prisoner for the period he is incarcerated." "Control" means government control over the agency that originates the information, not control over Abu Zubaida "by virtue of its power as a jailer," say his attorneys.

They acknowledge that the government controls access to their client and can limit his access to third parties but say that "authority to make information within a prisoner’s knowledge secret does not similarly follow."

For years, under the system established for Guantanamo Bay detainees’ attorneys, civilian lawyers had to sign agreements saying they would treat as classified any information their clients told them and leave their notes to be declassified by the government. The agreements also require them not to tell their clients information they learn about their cases that has not been cleared by the government, and to submit all their legal motions to be cleared before they can be made public. In addition, they cannot discuss their clients’ cases with lawyers defending other detainees.

As a result, Abu Zubaida’s attorneys argued in a second motion cleared June 22 for public release, they "cannot discuss [all] aspects of the litigation" with their client. They also cannot discuss all the information learned from their client with investigators, experts and other potential witnesses. And they cannot "correct public misperceptions" about Abu Zubaida, which they say the government created.

Take the issue of the waterboarding of Abu Zubaida, which …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 9:04 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Noonan on Palin

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Paul Krugman:

Brad DeLong points out that everything Peggy Noonan says about Sarah Palin could also have been said about Ronald Reagan. But he’s going too far back. Ms. Noonan praised George W. Bush for exactly the qualities she disses in SP:

Now:

Here’s why all this matters. The world is a dangerous place. It has never been more so, or more complicated, more straining of the reasoning powers of those with actual genius and true judgment. This is a time for conservative leaders who know how to think.

Five years ago:

Mr. Bush is the triumph of the seemingly average American man. He’s normal. He thinks in a sort of common-sense way. He speaks the language of business and sports and politics. You know him. He’s not exotic. But if there’s a fire on the block, he’ll run out and help. He’ll help direct the rig to the right house and count the kids coming out and say, “Where’s Sally?” He’s responsible. He’s not an intellectual. Intellectuals start all the trouble in the world.

Of course, what he actually said wasn’t “Where’s Sally?” It was “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 8:56 am

Posted in Daily life, GOP

Bush’s secret spy program

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From the Center for American Progress:

When Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 last year, it mandated that the inspectors general of the different branches of the intelligence community that participated in President Bush’s surveillance operations, known as the President’s Surveillance Program, conduct a comprehensive review of the program. On Friday, the inspectors general released their report, confirming that the Bush administration carried out "unprecedented," massive surveillance activities that stretched beyond the warrantless wiretapping program that had previously been revealed. Soon after the New York Times reported on the existence of a warrantless wiretapping program in 2005, Bush described the effort as his "Terrorist Surveillance Program." But the IG report makes clear that the term describes only one aspect of the overall surveillance program. In 2007, former deputy attorney general James Comey’s testimony before Congress implied that "other programs exist for domestic spying" outside warrantless wiretapping, the existence of which then-attorney general Alberto Gonzales acknowledged in 2007. In constructing the legal rationale for the "Other Intelligence Activities," Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) lawyer John Yoo "did not accurately describe the scope" of the activities, which led former attorney general John Ashcroft to give "his legal authorization to the program for the first two and a half years based on a ‘misimpression‘ of what activities the N.S.A. was actually conducting." The report found that the administration’s "extraordinary and inappropriate" secrecy around the program not only allowed it to be built upon flawed legal arguments, but also "undermined its effectiveness as a terrorism-fighting tool."

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2009 at 8:52 am

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