Later On

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Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Corporations are using dubious research to take over prisons

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Certain services should be run by the state, not private corporations (whose efforts are always directed toward cutting costs and increasing profits). These include hospitals, schools, postal services, and prisons. Matt Stroud takes a look at the corporate approach to prisons at The Verge:

Since the mid-1980s, private companies have contracted with states and branches of the federal government to assume certain prison operations. The argument behind these contracts has been that private companies — which are not beholden to things like pension arrangements with correctional officer’s unions — can cut prison spending in ways that governments can not.

For the most part, this argument was theoretical — an idea never definitively proven by any significant academic studies (though some have tried to do so). But then, in April 2013, came a study out of Temple University in Philadelphia. This study found that private prison companies could help governments cut costs from between 12.46 percent and 58.61 percent. It looked like a groundbreaking study on its surface, and the private prison industry ran with it. But recently that appearance has begun to fade and reveal a very different picture: that of corporate prisons taking a page out of Big Tobacco’s playbook.

Private prison companies were doing well enough without the academic boost. Though these companies only oversee about 8 percent of United States prisons, the number of prisoners in private facilities rose by 37 percent between 2002 and 2009, and the companies generally make a lot of money: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the world, has a market cap of $3.74 billion; one of its competitors, the GEO Group, has a market cap of $2.46 billion. But the study was nonetheless helpful; it backed up the savings claims with an ostensibly independent study from a reputable academic institution. It brought private prisons — and the contracts those companies were lobbying to secure with states and the federal government — into policy discussions all over the country. The study’s authors, Temple economics professors Simon Hakim and Erwin A. Blackstone, even wrote op-eds in newspapers where private prisons were being considered by lawmakers. This was all excellent news for private prison companies.

Soon after, however, the study’s findings began to look a little less excellent.

Private prison companies have an enemy in a man named Alex Friedmann. He’s a former CCA prisoner and editor of Prison Legal News who has devoted a significant portion of his post-prison life to pointing out the faults in private prisons. He’s aligned with unions — which are opposed to private prison companies — and he argues that, by cutting costs, these companies put the welfare of prisoners in jeopardy.

When the Temple study was released, he noticed the very last line in a press release that went along with it: “The study received funding by members of the private corrections industry.”

Friedmann wondered: how could the study be independent if it received funding from private prison companies? The press release had made it clear that these companies had helped pay for the study, but the original study itself did not. He wrote about his concerns in op-eds, often responding directly to op-eds written by professors Hakim and Blackstone. He filed an ethics complaint in May 2013 with Temple University alleging that the professors “breached their ethical responsibilities” by not disclosing their funding sources. In the meantime, members of the private prison industry continued to tout the study’s findings.

Then last month, the ACLU got involved, publishing . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2014 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Jazz

Leaked Docs Show Spyware Used to Snoop on U.S. Computers

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So the UK is spying on US computer.. Fair enough, I suppose. Jeff Larson and Mike Tigas report at ProbPublica:

Software created by the controversial U.K. based Gamma Group International was used to spy on computers that appear to be located in the United States, the U.K., Germany, Russia, Iran and Bahrain, according to a leaked trove of documents analyzed by ProPublica.

It’s not clear whether the surveillance was conducted by governments or private entities. Customer email addresses in the collection appeared to belong to a German surveillance company, an independent consultant in Dubai, the Bosnian and Hungarian Intelligence services, a Dutch law enforcement officer and the Qatari government.

The leaked files — which were posted online by hackers — are the latest in a series of revelations about how state actors including repressive regimes have used Gamma’s software to spy on dissidents, journalists and activist groups.

The documents, leaked last Saturday, could not be readily verified, but experts told ProPublica they believed them to be genuine. “I think it’s highly unlikely that it’s a fake,” said Morgan Marquis-Bore, a security researcher who while at The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto had analyzed Gamma Group’s software and who authored an article about the leak on Thursday.

The documents confirm many details that have already been reported about Gamma, such as that its tools were used to spy on Bahraini activists. Some documents in the trove contain metadata tied to e-mail addresses of several Gamma employees. Bill Marczak, another Gamma Group expert at the Citizen Lab, said that several dates in the documents correspond to publicly known events — such as the day that a particular Bahraini activist was hacked.

Continue reading. Countries targeted include:

Islamic Republic of Iran
Russian Federation
Saudi Arabia
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom
United States

Be SURE to read the article at the second link: “Leaked Files: German Spy Company Helped Bahrain Hack Arab Spring Protesters.” Corporations are now helping oppressive dictatorships identify persons to be tortured in case they have information. The companies don’t care: their goal is to increase profits, not protect people fighting against a dictatorship. Dictators often have a lot of money, so they get good service from (sociopathic) corporations.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2014 at 2:46 pm

Wall Street Judge Left With “Nothing But Sour Grapes”

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Kevin Drum has an extremely disheartening post on a matter that clearly illustrates that the game is rigged against the middle and lower classes: we are merely stock used to generate money for the robber barons who control our political and legal system:

A few years ago, federal district judge Jed Rakoff refused to approve an SEC settlement with Citigroup over charges that they had deliberately offloaded toxic mortgage securities into a special fund so that they could make money by betting against their own customers. Rakoff objected partly because he thought the SEC’s proposed fine was too small—”pocket change,” he called it—but mostly because there was no public reckoning of what Citigroup had done. Not only weren’t they required to admit wrongdoing, they weren’t required even to admit the bare facts of what they had done.

Sadly for Rakoff—and for the public—an appeals court overruled him, basically saying that the SEC had full discretion to reach any settlement it desired, and the judge’s only real role was to make sure it wasn’t tainted by collusion or corruption. Earlier this week, Rakoff backed off:

They who must be obeyed have spoken, and this Court’s duty is to faithfully fulfill their mandate.

….Nonetheless, this Court fears that, as a result of the Court of Appeal’s decision, the settlements reached by governmental regulatory bodies and enforced by the judiciary’s contempt powers will in practice be subject to no meaningful oversight whatsoever. But it would be a dereliction of duty for this Court to seek to evade the dictates of the Court of Appeals. That Court has now fixed the menu, leaving this Court with nothing but sour grapes.

Quite so, and the SEC’s long tradition of issuing wrist slaps to big Wall Street firms—and withholding all the details of their corruption frm the public—is now safe once again. Apparently that kind of thing is only for the little people.

Of course, Congress could intervene, giving the SEC more manpower and demanding more accountability, but that’s not going to happen either. After all, sometimes people say mean things about Wall Street firms. Surely that’s punishment enough?

Via Michael Hiltzik, who has more at the link.


Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2014 at 8:14 pm

How Wall Street Tobacco Deals Left States With Billions in Toxic Debt

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Cezary Podkul writes in ProPublica:

In November 1998, attorneys general from across the country sealed a historic deal with the tobacco industry to pay for the health care costs of smoking. Going forward, nearly every cigarette sold would provide money to the states, territories and other governments involved — more than $200 billion in just the first 25 years of a legal settlement that required payments to be made in perpetuity.

Then, Wall Street came knocking with an offer many state and local politicians found irresistible: Cash upfront for those governments willing to trade investors the right to some or all of their tobacco payments. State after state struck deals that critics derided as “payday loans” but proponents deemed only prudent. As designed, private investors — not the taxpayers — would take the hit if people smoked less and the tobacco money fell short.

Things haven’t exactly worked out as planned.

A ProPublica analysis of more than 100 tobacco deals since the settlement found that they are creating new fiscal headaches for states, driving some into bailouts or threatening to increase the cost of borrowing in the future.

One source of the pain is a little-known feature found in many of the deals: high-risk debt that squeezed out a few extra dollars for the governments but promised massive balloon payments, some in the billions, down the road.

These securities, called capital appreciation bonds, or CABs, have since turned toxic. They amount to only a $3 billion sliver of the approximately $36 billion in tobacco bonds outstanding, according to a review of bond documents and Thomson Reuters data. But the nine states, three territories, District of Columbia and several counties that issued them have promised a whopping $64 billion to pay them off.

Under the deals, the debts must be repaid with settlement money and not tax dollars. Still, taxpayers lose out when tobacco income that could be spent on other government services is diverted to paying off CABs. And states can’t simply walk away from the debt — bondholders have a right to further tobacco payments even after a default.

“It’s going to cost taxpayers, either directly or indirectly,” said Craig Johnson, an associate professor of public finance at Indiana University in Bloomington who has studied tobacco bonds and CABs. “I don’t doubt that at all.”

ProPublica’s analysis is the first to measure the magnitude of the high-risk debt involved in the tobacco deals and to calculate how much Wall Street’s dealmakers earned. It also shows how much of the tobacco money has been securitized — that is, turned into payments that go to investors. As of this year, at least one out of every three dollars coming in under the settlement is pledged to investors, according to bond disclosures and payment data from the National Association of Attorneys General, which tracks the flow of funds.

The sure winners so far: Investment bankers from Citigroup, the now defunct Bear Stearns and others who, along with consultants and lawyers, have pocketed more than $500 million in fees for their financial engineering, ProPublica estimates. They now stand to make more as the governments look to rework old deals and try to get even more tobacco cash upfront.

In part, the troubles in the tobacco bonds arise from the same kind of miscalculation that led to the housing bubble.

Just as mortgage lenders bet that home prices would keep rising, the tobacco deals relied on optimistic predictions of how much Americans would smoke. Forecasters rightly saw that cigarette sales would continue to decline, but now the yearly drop — about 3 to 3.5 percent — is nearly double what was cooked into the deals.

Because the bonds sold to investors can stretch 40 years or more, the outdated estimates mean an ever-widening gap between what states expected to collect under the settlement and the payments they promised investors.

The CABs promise gigantic payouts — as high as 76 times what’s borrowed — because nothing is due on them for decades. Meantime, interest compounds on both the principal and accumulating balance.

Defaults by state and local governments are rare, but rating agencies have been warning that tobacco bonds in general could go under en masse. Moody’s said in May that . . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing—there’s much more. Later in the article:

“The securitization scheme not only accelerated the expiration of the usefulness of that money, but basically guaranteed that it would never be used for its conceived purpose,” said Dave Dobbins, an executive with the American Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit created under the settlement to fund smoking-prevention programs.

“Now the money’s gone, the securitization scheme is sort of coming home to roost for some people … and the tobacco problem is still there: 480,000 people [are] expected to die this year due to tobacco-related disease,” Dobbins said.

“It’s a grim story.”

Whenever governments get access to a stream of money, Wall Street bankers pitch deals to turn it into a one-time payment. Bonds are sold to investors, who give the governments cash in exchange for the income stream, similar to a loan. Bankers earn fees based on a deal’s size, giving them every incentive to maximize the value.

The 1998 tobacco settlement was no ordinary revenue stream: It was the biggest financial settlement in legal history, projected to net states and other governments $206 billion just through 2025. “The money is huge,” Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said at the time.

A cottage industry immediately sprouted up on Wall Street. The goal: Convince states to pawn the revenues.

Citigroup, JPMorgan, UBS, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and now-defunct firms like Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch all dedicated bankers to the cause, pitch documents show. Bear Stearns even had its own, 21-strong “Tobacco Securitization Group” devoted to monetizing the settlement.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2014 at 11:00 am

Posted in Business, Government, Health

Coca-Cola admits that swilling highly sugared drinks may not be a good idea

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It took them a while to realize it, though. Bloomberg Businessweek has the story. It’s their cover story, so it goes into some detail.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 August 2014 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Business, Food, Health

One obvious reason Reddit’s sub-reddits are so addictive

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Two words: random reinforcement, the strongest conditioning possible, as I recall. And whenever you look at a subreddit, it has changed somewhat—new entries, reorganizations, replies marked “(new)” if you use Reddit Enhancement Suite, which you surely should.

So that’s one reward: novelty at a comfortable level. And then sometimes, less often, among the differences is something that strikes your fancy, some point of interest to you. And that’s a real reward, since you really like that one, and it comes randomly.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 August 2014 at 11:36 am

How Austerity Wrecked the Recovery in One Chart

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Take a look. Paul Krugman is perfectly correct is his economic analysis, and Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor are wrong.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2014 at 1:22 pm

What is saving the F-35?

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The sunk-cost fallacy is the only thing keeping it afloat. (If only Congress were smarter and had better educations.) Here’s the brief article. The US military’s procurement procedures seem like a bunch of coal miners trying to sail a ship.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2014 at 12:30 pm

Paul Krugman: Dodd-Frank is working

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Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times:

Although the enemies of health reform will never admit it, the Affordable Care Act is looking more and more like a big success. Costs are coming in below predictions, while the number of uninsured Americans is dropping fast, especially in states that haven’t tried to sabotage the program. Obamacare is working.

But what about the administration’s other big push, financial reform? The Dodd-Frank reform bill has, if anything, received even worse press than Obamacare, derided by the right as anti-business and by the left as hopelessly inadequate. And like Obamacare, it’s certainly not the reform you would have devised in the absence of political constraints.

But also like Obamacare, financial reform is working a lot better than anyone listening to the news media would imagine. Let’s talk, in particular, about two important pieces of Dodd-Frank: creation of an agency protecting consumers from misleading or fraudulent financial sales pitches, and efforts to end “too big to fail.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2014 at 6:20 pm

So how’s that legalized-marijuana thing working out for ya?

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In the NY Times Lawrence Downes has a detailed (yet highly readable) report—successes and some gaps—on what actual experience has revealed:

In January, Colorado defied the federal government and stepped with both feet into the world of legal recreational marijuana, where no state had gone before.

For seven months Coloradans have been lawfully smoking joints and inhaling cannabis vapors, chewing marijuana-laced candies and chocolates, drinking, cooking and lotioning with products infused with cannabis oil. They are growing their own weed, making their own hash oil and stocking up at dispensaries marked with green crosses and words like “health,” “wellness” and “natural remedies.” Tourists are joining in — gawking, sampling and tripping in hotel rooms. Business is growing, taxes are flowing, cannabis entrepreneurs are building, investing and cashing in.

Cannabis sales from January through May brought the state about $23.6 million in revenue from taxes, licenses and fees. That is not a huge amount in a $24 billion budget, but it’s a lot more than zero, and it’s money that was not pocketed by the black market.

The criminal justice system is righting itself. Marijuana prosecutions are way down across the state — The Denver Post found a 77 percent drop in January from the year before. Given the immense waste, in dollars and young lives, of unjust marijuana enforcement that far too often targets black men, this may be the most hopeful trend of all.

The striking thing to a visitor is how quickly the marijuana industry has receded into normality — cannabis storefronts are plentiful in Denver, but not obtrusive, certainly not in the way liquor stores often are. Marijuana-growing operations are in unmarked warehouses on the city’s industrial edges.

The ominously predicted harms from legalization — like blight, violence, soaring addiction rates and other ills — remain imaginary worries. Burglaries and robberies in Denver, in fact, are down from a year ago. The surge of investment and of jobs in construction, tourism and other industries, on the other hand, is real.

Continue reading. Some fixes are needed, and some solutions still to be found. There’s quite a bit more to the article, but in realistic terms, the news is very good indeed—that is, things are turning out well for everyone: more tax revenues, more money diverted from black market, less money spent on law-enforcement efforts (and lawsuits), crime down, and so on—the things everyone wanted to happen.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2014 at 1:19 pm

Colorado’s Rollout of Legal Marijuana Is Succeeding

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A very interesting report (PDF) by John Hudak of the Brookings Institution on Colorado’s implementation of legalization of marijuana. Certainly there are things to be fixed: the packaging and sale of edibles deserves a close look. But overall, it’s going quite smoothly, as the report shows. It’s quite a good report: 34 pages and worth reading if your own state is considering legalization, as several now are doing. From the report:

At its heart, this report is about good government and takes no position on whether the legalization of retail marijuana was the correct decision. Instead, it takes for granted that Amendment 64 and its progeny are the law and should be implemented successfully, per voters’ wishes. The report examines what the state has done well and what it has not. It delves into why, and how, regulatory and administrative changes were made. Finally, it offers an evaluation of how effective the implementation has been. Key findings include:

  • It’s too early to judge the success of Colorado’s policy, but it is not too early to say that the rollout—initial implementation—of legal retail marijuana has been largely successful.
  • The state has met challenging statutory and constitutional deadlines for the construction and launch of a legal, regulatory, and tax apparatus for its new policy. In doing so, it has made intelligent decisions about regulatory needs, the structure of distribution, prevention of illegal diversion, and other vital aspects of its new market. It has made those decisions in concert with a wide variety of stakeholders in the state.
  • Colorado’s strong rollout is attributable to a number of elements. Those include: leadership by state officials; a cooperative, inclusive approach centering on task forces and working groups; substantial efforts to improve administrative communication; adaptive regulation that embraces regulatory lookback and process-oriented learning; reorganizing, rebuilding, and restaffing critical state regulatory institutions; and changes in culture in state and local government, among interest groups, and among the public.
  • Regulations address key concerns such as diversion, shirking, communication breakdowns, illegal activity, and the financial challenges facing the marijuana industry. However, some regulations were also intended to help regulators, as they endured rapid, on-the-job training in dealing with legal marijuana.
  • Despite real success, challenges involving edibles, homegrown marijuana, tax incentives, and marijuana tourism remain, and the state must address them in a  more effective way.

Recent failures at the federal level show Americans daily what happens when a government refuses to govern and is unwilling or unable to makes changes in the face of policy realities. Colorado has made a conscious effort to preserve enough flexibility for its policy to remain effective over time. A strong rollout is important, but what happens after that is just as important. With its emphasis on flexibility, Colorado is taking out an insurance policy agains unintended consequences.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2014 at 11:16 am

Background check on background checking

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Francis Clines has an interesting post in the NY Times Editorial Page Editor’s Blog. It begins:

Running security background checks on government job applicants has become a booming private industry in Washington’s war on terror. It’s such a busy sector that one of the many workers vetting citizens managed to review 15,152 clearance cases in a single month last year. That’s about one and a half cases per minute handled by the employee, not allowing for bathroom breaks.

The worker has remained anonymous despite emerging as the Paul Bunyan of bureaucrats in an inspector general’s report detailing gross corner-cutting by a private contractor — USIS or U.S. Investigations Services. For those keeping score, that’s the same contractor that the Justice Department previously accused of signing off fraudulently on more than 650,000 incomplete security checks. That process is called “dumping” or “flushing” — a speed-up to meet productivity demands for the government, which needs to conduct more than two million background checks a year for the Pentagon alone.

What price security is the question threading through the foibles of USIS’s multi-billion-dollar work history. An answer was supplied with the recent news that the company was awarded a new $190 million government contract with the Department of Homeland Security — a development that has roiled members of Congress demanding to know how this could be. (In their dudgeon, lawmakers ignored the fact that Congress, in the frantic days after 9/11, mandated that 90 percent of security clearances be processed within 60 days.)

USIS may just be too big to fail. . .

Can Congress as a body be any more stupid and incompetent? I guess we’ll see.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2014 at 10:54 am

Countries are starting to adopt more vigorous on-line surveillance

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I assume they’re learning from NSA: Universal surveillance of all your citizens is a meme that appeals to governments of many countries, not just the freedom-loving (ironic) US.

At any rate, as Twitter grows, Twitter requests grow: read this article.

And once those governments start to want data, they are going to get it. Why? Because the US claims it can get data that Microsoft stored overseas—data that is not in the US. But the US thinks it can get it—so when some iffy ally wants down that’s stored in the US, the precedent is there. Of course, we’ll also be demanding that the drone attacks they’re launching toward their citizens who fled their country to live in the US—citizens that the other government views as terrorists.

Take an example: Cuba and Venezuela view Luis Posada Carriles as a terrorist—in part because he deliberately blew up a civilian airliner in flight. I think even the US might view that as an act of terrorism—but apparently not, because old Luis was living the life of Riley all during the Bush Administration, and well into the Obama Administration.

Now that the US has established the precedent, what if a drone came over Florida and fired a Hellfire missile, taking out Carriles and everyone else in the apartment building—the “human shields”—who become collateral damage, and perhaps (as the US does when one of its missiles kills civilian bystanders) pay a few thousand dollars a head. And of course both Cuba and Venezuela would deny it (as the US denied its own drone attacks in Yemen for years), so it would be altogether awkward. It looks so different when it goes the other way, doesn’t it?

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2014 at 4:27 pm

Lobbyists Bidding to Block Government Regs Set Sights on Secretive White House Office

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Our regular day-to-day government becomes increasingly secretive as it works against the interests of ordinary citizens to favor the wealthy and power—actions that require great secrecy to avoid a public outcry. That the government is cooperating in this takeover of its resources and mission is shameful, but I doubt that it can or will be reversed until there is general public outrage, and—frankly—the US public is simply too ignorant of what goes on in the government or the world to tackle this. (That is, I imagine, is in part what’s behind the determined GOP effort to destroy private education: an educated public is not so easily pacified.) Kevin Drum points out the essence of that approach:

Dave Weigel explains modern politics in a single sentence:

Voters are aware of a border crisis, they are aware that Barack Obama is president—they blame him for nothing getting done.

Yep. Republicans can basically do anything they want and never get blamed for it. Most voters don’t even know who’s in control of Congress anyway. When something goes wrong, all they know is (a) something went wrong, and (b) Barack Obama is the president and he should have done something about it.

That being the case, what incentive do Republicans have for making things go right? Pretty much none. This is, roughly speaking, a fairly new insight, and it explains most of what you need to know about American politics in the Obama era.

Heather Rogers points out the secretive White House office devoted (apparently) to helping corporations,the wealthy, and the powerful to screw over the American public:

In early 2011, after years of study, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration moved to reduce the permissible levels of silica dust wafted into the air by industrial processes like fracking, mining or cement manufacturing. The move came after years of public comment and hearings, and reflected emerging science about the dangers posed by even low levels of dust. OSHA predicted the rule would save 700 lives annually and prevent 1,600 new cases of silicosis, an incurable, life-threatening disease.

The proposal stirred fierce opposition from an array of industries, which argued that the costs of reducing silica levels far outweighed the potential benefits. When OSHA pushed ahead, the lobbyists took their arguments to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a division of the Office of Management and Budget. Few people have ever heard of OIRA even though it is part of the White House and has broad authority to delay or suggest changes in any draft regulation.

OIRA’s deliberations on the silica rule began in February 2011, and lasted two and a half years. During that time, records show, its officials held nine meetings with lobbyists and lawyers for the affected industries, but sat down only once with unions and once with health advocates.

Last August, the office sent a revised version of the rule back to OSHA; the worker protection agency has yet to act.

Labor advocates noted that the lengthy delay appeased House Republicans and pushed a decision opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce out of the 2012 presidential campaign. “During that delay thousands of workers were further exposed to silica,” said Peg Seminario, director of safety and health at the AFL-CIO. “People have gotten sicker and some will die because of the exposures that have continued to take place.”

What happened to the silica rule is no isolated example. A series of executive orders over the past three decades have given OIRA significant authority to reassess rules on every imaginable subject, from health care to the environment to transportation. The office shares early drafts of rules with the president’s top advisers as well as other Cabinet-level agencies that might object.

Although some on OIRA’s team have degrees in science and engineering, former officials say its leadership and staff are largely drawn from the realms of economics, law and public policy. Regardless, the office does not hesitate to rework agency rules that were years in the making and backed by peer-reviewed science. Often, OIRA officials make a proposed rule appear too costly by revising the calculation of benefits downward. As it did with the silica limits, the office can also prolong the process, holding regulations in limbo for months and sometimes years. . .

Continue reading.

President Obama, in this case, is definitely a part of the problem. His mission should be to protect the public.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2014 at 11:57 am

Senate Bombshell Testimony Today: Citigroup and Bank of America Stock Worthless Without Implied Government Guarantees

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I get the feeling that things are crumbling faster. Pam Martens reports in Wall Street on Parade:

Senator Sherrod Brown, Chairman of the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection, will take testimony at 2 p.m. today on market subsidies enjoyed by implied future government bailouts of the too-big-to-fail status of Wall Street’s bloated and serially malfeasant banks. The hearing is set to coincide with a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

An early peek at written testimony by three separate professors set to testify guarantees a belated July 4 fireworks display — one that is not likely to enjoy a welcome reception within the Wall Street corridors of power. Expect the phone lines of lobbyists and congressional campaign managers to be lighting up all over the nation’s capitol this afternoon.
Professor Edward J. Kane

Professor Edward J. Kane

Edward J. Kane, Professor of Finance at Boston College will get things off to a rousing start by telling the Subcommittee that any suggestion that the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation ended the implied government guarantees “is a dangerous pipe dream.”

A powerful argument made by Kane (see full text of testimony linked below) is that these too-big-to-fail banks enjoy not just a market subsidy on their debt but on their equity as well. Kane writes:

“Being TBTF [too-big-to-fail] lowers both the cost of debt and the cost of equity. This is because TBTF guarantees lower the risk that flows through to the holders of both kinds of contracts. The lower discount rate on TBTF equity means that, period by period, a TBTF institution’s incremental reduction in interest payments on outstanding bonds, deposits, and repos is only part of the subsidy its stockholders enjoy. The other part is the increase in its stock price that comes from having investors discount all of the firm’s current and future cash flows at an artificially low risk-adjusted cost of equity. This intangible benefit generates capital gains for stockholders and shows up in the ratio of TBTF firms’ stock price to book value. Other things equal (including the threat of closure), a TBTF firm’s price-to-book ratio increases with firm size…”

Kane then lands this bombshell: “The warranted rate of return on the stock of deeply undercapitalized firms like Citi and B of A [Bank of America] would have been sky high and their stock would have been declared worthless long ago if market participants were not convinced that authorities are afraid to force them to resolve their weaknesses.”

Kane goes on to say that it is “shameful” for government officials to suggest that bank bailouts were good deals for taxpayers. Kane writes: “On balance, the bailouts transferred wealth and economic opportunity from ordinary taxpayers to much higher-income stakeholders in TBTF firms. Ordinary citizens understand that this is unfair and officials that deny the unfairness undermine confidence in the integrity of economic policymaking going forward.”

Anat Admati, Professor of Finance and Economics at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, who was voted one of Time Magazine’s top 100 influential people in April of this year, writes in her testimony that “The Fed has the responsibility and the ability to protect the public, yet as a regulator, it has failed the public.”

Admati’s testimony places the blame of the 2007-2009 Wall Street collapse squarely at the feet of regulators, writing in her testimony: . . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing. It shows just how badly run our country now is.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2014 at 11:22 am

The Lamest Defense of GMO Foods Ever

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And from Neil deGrasse Tyson, no less. He should know better.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2014 at 10:39 am

Posted in Business, Food, Science

The Only Job With an Industry Devoted to Helping People Quit

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People who got a law degree only to discover that they hate practicing law now have quite a bit of help in getting out of the field.

Update: Link fixed. Thanks to Justin Dearing.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2014 at 9:51 am

Posted in Business, Law

How oil and gas firms gained influence and transformed North Dakota

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A very interesting (and somewhat lengthy) article on the turbulent changes in North Dakota from the boom.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2014 at 10:39 am

An incredible win-win-win

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Veronika Scott is the 24-year-old CEO and founder of Detroit-based nonprofit, The Empowerment Plan, which employs and trains homeless women to become full-time seamstresses who make a coat that turns into a sleeping bag at night and a bag during the day. Funded by donations from foundations, companies, and individuals, The Empowerment Plan is headquartered at Ponyride and has been featured by the New York Times, NPR, The Discovery Channel, The Today Show, and more.

By all means read the interview at the link. This is a person who knows how to put aside your preconceptions and to develop her approach from what she learned by observing and listening—and also looking for ways to improve her entire approach. A wonderful article.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 9:12 am

An amazing confluence of music, networking, high finance, and synergy

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This article is totally amazing—and it gets more so as it goes.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 8:43 pm

Posted in Business, Music


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