Later On

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

Archive for April 28th, 2017

Man Trump Named to Fix Mortgage Markets Figured in Infamous Financial Crisis Episode

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Matt Taibbi writes in Rolling Stone:

In early 2007, a group of Morgan Stanley bankers bundled a group of subprime mortgage instruments into a package they hoped to sell to investors. The only problem was, they couldn’t come up with a name for the package of mortgage-backed derivatives, which they all knew were doomed.

The bankers decided to play around with potential names. In a series of emails back and forth, they suggested possibilities. “Jon is voting for ‘Hitman,'” wrote one. “How about ‘Nuclear Holocaust 2007-1?'” wrote another, adding a few more possible names: Shitbag, Mike Tyson’s Punchout and Fludderfish.

Eventually they stopped with the comedy jokes, gave the pile of “nuclear” assets a more respectable name – “Stack” – and sold the $500 million Collateralized Debt Obligation with a straight face to the China Development Industrial Bank. Within three years, the bank was suing a series of parties, including Morgan Stanley, to recover losses from the toxic fund.

The name on the original registration document for Stack? Craig S. Phillips, then president of Morgan Stanley’s ABS (Asset-Backed Securities) division. Phillips may not have written the emails in question, but he was the boss of this sordid episode, and it was his name on the comedy-free document that was presented to Chinese investors.

This is just another detail in the emerging absurd narrative that is Donald Trump naming Phillips, of all people, to head up the effort to reform the Government-Sponsored Entities, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

As ace investigative reporter Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times noted in a piece back on April 7th, Phillips headed a division that sold billions of dollars of mortgage-backed investments to Fannie and Freddie. Many of those investments were as bad as the ones his unit sold to the Chinese. In fact, as Morgenson noted, Phillips became a named defendant in a lawsuit filed by the Federal Housing Finance Authority (FHFA), which essentially charged, as the Chinese did, that Morgan Stanley knowingly sold Fannie and Freddie a pile of crap.

Morgan Stanley ended up having to pay $625 million apiece to Fannie and Freddie to settle securities fraud charges in that case.

Phillips worked in an area of investment banking that was highly lucrative and highly predatory. The basic scam in the subprime world in particular was buying up mortgages from people who couldn’t possibly afford them, making those bad mortgages into securities, and then turning around and hawking those same mortgages to unsuspecting institutional dopes like the Chinese and Fannie and Freddie.

Phillips had a critical role in this activity. As Morgan Stanley’s ABS chief, he was among other things responsible for liaising with fly-by-night subprime mortgage lenders like New Century, who fanned into low-income neighborhoods and handed out subprime mortgages to anyone with a pulse.

In a 2012 suit, a group of Detroit-based borrowers accused Morgan Stanley of discriminatory practices, claiming the bank helped New Century target minority areas with predatory loans. One Morgan Stanley due diligence officer, Pamela Barrow, joked in an email about how to go after borrowers.

“We should call all their mommas,” Barrow wrote. “Betcha that would get some of them good old boys to pay that house bill.”

Phillips was named in the suit and quoted in the complaint. He said that New Century was “extremely open to our advice and involvement in all elements of their operation.”

The worst actors in the financial crisis worked in this shady world involving the creation of subprime-backed securities.

Of those bad actors, there is a subset of still-worse actors, who not only sold these toxic investments to institutional investors like pension funds and Fannie and Freddie, but helped get a generation of home borrowers – often minorities and the poor – into deadly mortgages that ended up wiping out their equity. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 April 2017 at 6:52 pm

Jennifer Rubin: Republicans are kidding themselves about Trump’s foreign policy

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In the Washington Post:

Human nature, I suppose, compels us to adapt to and try to make sense out of chaotic, even dangerous situations. We want things to be less than horrible, so the inclination to ignore persistent signs of danger and convince ourselves all is well can overwhelm common sense and honest perception. This tendency, coupled with reluctance to admit error, has prompted some Republicans of late to declare President Trump is navigating toward the “mainstream” on foreign policy. Using the favorite word in an abnormal time, they insist he is “normalizing.” We beg to differ.

Their rationalizing strikes us as not unlike the reaction in the West when each new Soviet leader emerged on the world stage. Oh, but he has Western suits! Oh, he went to an Ivy League school in his youth! The straw-grabbing often involves excessive praise for not doing insane things. (Well, he hasn’t said he would invade any countries!) We are adept at self-delusion.

“Even the hardest line NeverTrumpers such as myself would, for the country’s sake, like to say this is normal. But it’s not. It’s better than it was because of some of the key appointments at the top, particularly the replacement of Michael Flynn by H.R. McMaster,” said former State Department official Eliot Cohen. “But it won’t be normal  even when the new team gets past their backlog of appointments in a year’s time, because of the man at the top. He thinks of foreign policy almost exclusively in personal and transactional terms rather than enduring interests, relationships and values.” Cohen added, “He has advisers who do not agree with one another. And above all, he remains what some of us described last March as ‘unmoored in principle’ — not to mention untrustworthy ignorant, impulsive and narcissistic.” Cohen therefore argued that “in foreign as in domestic policy presidential character counts, and his character remains reprehensible.” . . .

Continue reading.

Later:

Inconveniently interrupting the “He’s getting better!” meme, Trump’s interview with Reuters on Thursday is nothing short of terrifying. His cluelessness about the world persists. “This is more work than in my previous life,” he says. “I thought it would be easier.” That smacks of “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated,” which amounts to admission of complete ignorance of the world’s complexity and insistence that everyone is as blind as he was.

It’s even worse than Rubin says: Trump’s remark shows that he thinks he is informing us, that he is far ahead of us in grasping this, since (in his mind) he always is the winner, the best, the greatest. He’s explaining his discovery to us to astonish us with his (new) knowledge. He thinks he’s showing us how smart he is. His view is distorted by narcissistic delusion, so he simply cannot see himself as most others do—and he makes sure to surround himself with those who are willing to participate in the delusion.

As Rubin says, we are truly heading for disaster.  I would not rule out a nuclear strike on North Korea, civilian casualties be damned! Nor would she, apparently.

Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the United States. And the GOP Congress is so devoid of principle and so cowardly that they are not merely enabling him, they’re supporting and protecting him.

This could get very grim very quickly.

Do read the entire column. We may have cause to look back it as a clarion-clear warning, one that was, alas, ignored.

Written by Leisureguy

28 April 2017 at 3:19 pm

Are Trump voters ruining America for all of us?

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Tom Nichols writes in USA Today:

President Trump’s record in his first 100 days, by any standard of presidential first terms, is one of failure. Aside from the successful nomination of the eminently qualified Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, there are almost no accomplishments — and a fair number of mistakes.

The president’s first national security adviser had to quit after a record-setting tenure of only 24 days. The administration’s first major legislative initiative, on health care, crashed and burned in a spectacular political wreck. Foreign policy has lurched from alienating China to relying on China to help us with North Korea. A rain of cruise missiles on a Syrian air base led to a brief moment of hope for those who care about humanitarian intervention (and a moment of despair for Trump’s isolationist base); less than a month later it is all but forgotten by supporters and critics alike because no actual policy emerged from this stunning use of American force.

Meanwhile, almost every day produces a cringe-worthy moment of messaging failure, from spokesman Sean Spicer’s bizarre comment about how Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons on his own people to Trump’s claim that his ratings on a television news program were bigger than 9/11.

Not surprisingly, Trump is at this point the most unpopular new president in the history of modern polling. What is bewildering is that at the same time, 96% of Trump voters say they have no regrets about their choice. How can this be? Is it just partisanship, with Americans so divided that they will simply cheer on their own team and stay loyal beyond all rational thought?

Possibly. A hard knot of Hillary Clinton’s supporters, for example — led by Clinton herself — refuse to accept that her defeat was anything less than a plot by the Russians or the FBI (or both). The idea that Clinton was an awful candidate who ran a terrible campaign is utterly alien to them.

The wide disagreement among Americans on the president’s performance, however, is more than partisanship. It is a matter of political literacy. The fact of the matter is that too many Trump supporters do not hold the president responsible for his mistakes or erratic behavior because they are incapable of recognizing them as mistakes. They lack the foundational knowledge and basic political engagement required to know the difference between facts and errors, or even between truth and lies.

As the social psychologist David Dunning wrote during the campaign, “Some voters, especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes.” In other words, it’s not that they forgave Trump for being wrong, but rather that they failed “to recognize those gaffes as missteps” in the first place.

This was most evident during the campaign itself, when candidate Trump’s audiences applauded one fantastic claim after another: that he saw Muslims cheering the 9/11 attacks, that the United States pays for over 70% of NATO’s costs, that he knew more than the generals about strategy. When he became president, he continued the parade of strange assertions and obsessions.

To be sure, some of Trump’s voters, like any others, are just cynical and expect the worst from every elected official. Others among them grasp Trump’s failings but fall back on the sour but understandable consolation that at least he is not Clinton. But many simply don’t see a problem. “I think I like him more now that he is the president,” Pennsylvania voter Rob Hughes told New York Post writer Salena Zito.

There is a more disturbing possibility here than pure ignorance: that voters not only do not understand these issues, but also that they simply do not care about them. As his supporters like to point out, Trump makes the right enemies, and that’s enough for them. Journalists, scientists, policy wonks — as long as “the elites” are upset, Trump’s voters assume that the administration is doing something right. “He makes them uncomfortable, which makes me happy,” Ohio Trump voter James Cassidy told the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale. Syria? Korea? Health care reform? Foreign aid? Just so much mumbo-jumbo, the kind of Sunday morning talk-show stuff only coastal elitists care about.

As the social psychologist David Dunning wrote during the campaign, “Some voters, especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes.” In other words, it’s not that they forgave Trump for being wrong, but rather that they failed “to recognize those gaffes as missteps” in the first place.

This was most evident during the campaign itself, when candidate Trump’s audiences applauded one fantastic claim after another: that he saw Muslims cheering the 9/11 attacks, that the United States pays for over 70% of NATO’s costs, that he knew more than the generals about strategy. When he became president, he continued the parade of strange assertions and obsessions.

To be sure, some of Trump’s voters, like any others, are just cynical and expect the worst from every elected official. Others among them grasp Trump’s failings but fall back on the sour but understandable consolation that at least he is not Clinton. But many simply don’t see a problem. “I think I like him more now that he is the president,” Pennsylvania voter Rob Hughes told New York Post writer Salena Zito.

There is a more disturbing possibility here than pure ignorance: that voters not only do not understand these issues, but also that they simply do not care about them. As his supporters like to point out, Trump makes the right enemies, and that’s enough for them. Journalists, scientists, policy wonks — as long as “the elites” are upset, Trump’s voters assume that the administration is doing something right. “He makes them uncomfortable, which makes me happy,” Ohio Trump voter James Cassidy told the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale. Syria? Korea? Health care reform? Foreign aid? Just so much mumbo-jumbo, the kind of Sunday morning talk-show stuff only coastal elitists care about. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 April 2017 at 10:46 am

The iKon 102: Not a universal razor, but absolutely terrific in the right situation

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At long last I think I’ve found the answer to why some report the iKon 102 clogs (for them). I was mystified by the complaints I read, since I have never experienced any clogging at all. I thought of several possible causes of the clogging that some have reported: dry lather, hard water, using shave oil, shaving extremely long stubble. Yesterday in an exchange with a redditor on Wicked Edge, I think I nailed it: the 102 is prone to clog for men whose beards are quite thick and dense and who do not shave every day or two. If a guy with dense, thick stubble shaves a four-day growth with the 102, the razor will clog.

UPDATE: It turns out that another part of the problem is when the lather is too thick (insufficient water). A subsequent message from the redditor mentioned above:

Eureka!! I changed the thickness of the lather and the SC102 had NO clog issues on a good 3+ days of stubble.

When I whip lather I always make it very thick and creamy (opacity level = 1). So if we were to use a opacity scale, with 1 being no transparency while 10 being transparent. I made my lather with an opacity of about 7-8 and this solved the problem.

Extremely happy now!

So it was not simply that he had a thick, dense beard, but also that his lather was too thick. /update

And another update: Even after this man got the lather right, he still had an occasional instance of clogging, and he finally figured out that it was that his beard was, in itself, oily enough that it could clog. Not every day, but he has (obviously) oily skin, and on somedays the oil on the beard made the stubble clog the razor. He has started washing his stubble with a high-glycerin soap (e.g., MR GLO) at the sink just before lathering. He washes his stubble, rinses partially with a splash, and applies a good lather (not too thick). Since doing this, he has not experienced a single instance of his 102 clogging. /update2

It’s common for tools to be suited to particular purposes: we have framing hammers and finish hammers, rip saws and crosscut saws, wide chisels and narrow chisels, fore planes and smoothing planes, luxury sedans and Formula 1 racers. The 102 is a great choice for a daily shaver, and also works well for shaving a multiday stubble on men with normal or light beards. It clogs when men with dense beards shave a multi-day stubble, so it seems logical in that situation to do a first pass with a razor that doesn’t clog. The Merkur Progress, for example, seems immune to clogging and since it’s adjustable, a higher setting can be used for longer stubble; or—at considerably less cost—an efficient and comfortable open-comb razor like the RazoRock Old Type or the Maggard V2OC could be used for the first pass, since open comb razors are not so prone to clogging (which is irrelevant for men who shave every day or two but important for those who shave only every week or two).

Bruce Everiss uses a different razor for each pass to optimize the match between razor and stubble length. He describes that method in three posts: first post, second post, and third post. It’s worth noting that each of the three razors are kept loaded with a blade and ready to go: on finishing a pass, you rinse the razor as usual and put it down, pick up the brush and apply lather for the next pass, and pick up the appropriate razor for the next pass. Thus it takes no more work or time than using the same razor for all three passes. (I mention this because some have the idea that they must transfer the blade from one razor to the next as they go. Not only is this unnecessary, it is undesirable for two reasons: first, blades should be handled as little as possible (normally, you touch the blade only twice: once when you load the razor with the blade and once when you remove the blade to discard it); and second, the brand of blade that works well in one razor may not work well in another. Three different razors may well use three different brands of blades.

Now I know to recommend the (wonderful) iKon 102 specifically to men who shave every day or two (or who have normal or light beards), and to mention that the 102 doesn’t work so well for men with dense, thick stubble who shave infrequently—at least it would not be a good choice for the first pass.

You can read the exchange on reddit. The above summary of findings covers the essential content. Obviously having to deal with clogs makes the shave inefficient and also seems to be hard on the razor. (I have used a 102 for some years and have had zero problems with the threads, though of course I do have quite a few razors in rotation so I don’t use it daily. However, some do use the 102 daily and I’ve not heard reports of problems from them.)

In recognition of finally settling this problem, I brought out the 102 for today’s shave. Prep was done with the Kent Infinity brush, a very nice little synthetic, and Meißner Tremonia’s Strong ‘n Scottish shaving soap, which Maggard Razors describes as “Masculine, strong and incredibly intense. Plenty of genuine Scotch whisky, pure sheep wool fat with the peaty-smoky fragrance of burnt oak.”

The 102 did a superb job: simply wiping away the stubble and, of course, no clogging at all: I shaved yesterday, plus my beard is of normal density. No nicks or burn—the 102 is extremely comfortable and not inclined to nick—but a BBS result without effort.

A splash of Bulgari served as an aftershave, and I’m ready for the day.

Written by Leisureguy

28 April 2017 at 8:14 am

Posted in Shaving

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