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Friday, August 31, 2007

For the political race-bettors, an interesting payoff, if you can wiggle your way into it ...

Memorable Movie Lines

[I have to get these in, before the voting closes - I mean, apart from the AFI list, which is so "stock" in many ways.]

Milagro Beanfield War, 1988
director, Robert Redford

more situational humor than anything, but also:

"I'll hit you so hard they'll arrest you in El Paso for speeding."



Fools Rush In, 1997

A cute, fluff of a film with Salma Hayek and Matthew Perry.

Alex Whitman: "You are everything I never knew I always wanted."

Isabel Fuentes: "Whatever you do, don't tell them I picked you up outside a bathroom. "



More ...


"Some time around 1971 Texas businessmen started buying land around the Chama and Red River areas northern New Mexico and proposed a $16 million dam east of Taos and in the end these businessmen controlled most of the water rights thereby forcing many farmers to sell their farm.

Also these developers moved in and made resorts like the one in Red River New Mexico, square dance capital of the world. Red River New Mexico is like the resort you see in the movie DIRTY DANCING except that it's all square dancing where the best come to strut their stuff. As the resorts moved in Land values increased and property taxes increased for private farmers and the farmers could not afford to live on their ranchos so many had to sell out to the land developers.

Same thing going on now in Florida along the Coast. Retirees can no longer afford to live in their homes because of increase taxes due to Resort areas being built close to their property.

A five year struggle soon became the subject of two anthropological studies, a comparative legal case study, a popular novel, and a Hollywood movie. The most popular representation of the event was John Nichols' novel, The Milagro Beanfield War, published in 1974. Although the novel focused on protagonist Joe Mondragon who decides to water his deceased father's beanfield by illegally tapping water belonging to the state of New Mexico, Nichols' story otherwise parallels the events that took place in Taos between 1971-1975. After a standoff with state and federal law enforcement officers, Mondragon earns the support of his community and together they challenge the Miracle Valley Conservancy District in court using petitions.

This is not about Mexicans from Mexico. This is about American Citizens; Citizens of the United States and that includes the Navajo and Pueblo too. Things like this would not happen at Camp David or Kennebunkport, or Martha's Vineyard. It did happen to many citizens of New Mexico in THE MILAGRO."

September is Going to be a Grueling Month

Can you remember a time when so much was on the National Agenda going into the month of September?

Just start making a list of everything coming up and 'must do'. Reform of decades-old federal housing institutions, the Defense Department Funding (with important amendments), S-CHIP, the strategic assessment of the ongoing Iraqi stabilization effort, a possible AG nomination, ...

First Cut on GOP's Housing Proposals - Not Fully On the Mark, Not Far Enough

The first cut of the expected Bush-GOP speech on home lending reform today is that it appears to leave out at least one key aspect of improving 'the system'.

RUN-OF-THE MILL PROPOSALS MISS OPPORTUNITIES

The Ogre of Bankruptcy

It goes back to the GOP's bankruptcy reform, which tried to address issues with abuse of bankruptcy, but may have created as many problems as it sought to solve. Some of the problems, however, are much older, see Bankruptcy Laws Contributing to Foreclosure Epidemic:

The amendment [to existing bankruptcy laws] disfavoring protection of the debtor's principal residence was added at a time -- 1978 -- when home mortgages were nearly all fixed-interest rate instruments with low loan-to-value ratios and were rarely themselves the source of a family's financial distress. As a result, bankruptcy law singled out the home mortgage loan as the major debt for which the bankruptcy court is powerless to provide relief, they said.

Crisis ?= Opportunity for Needed Structural Reform


So far, no indications that the GOP's offering attempts to stimulate the housing market by proposing actions that will increase the amount of decent, affordable housing, rather than just offering insurance subsidies for ever larger and more expensive homes, that are beyond the reach of a great many who could really benefit net national savings in the long run by purchasing a 'starter home'.

REFORMING THE FEDERAL HOUSING INSURANCE

Reforming the FHA has been on the legislative table from earlier this year and is not new (see S.1805, and H.R. 110-217. I don't know why there are two versions in the house.
H.R.1752 and H.R. 1852).

Senator Schumer's bill creates something called a 'high-cost area', which would bring FHA money, possibly, into New York. The worth of that creation seems debatable.

The other changes - from a brief look - appear to center on accepting less cash down in favor of a higher initial insurance premium to the FHA and raising the limits.

"Limits" ought to be formulaic, based on the ratios of some variables and so forth. Putting discretion on limits into the hands of a non-economic model is ... politically inadvisable.

Writing more insurance during a crisis seems like a stupid idea on face value, but one hope is that more FHA insurance could help some people off of crazy-bad private loans and onto something more stable.

Charging more insurance for an ARM is NOT the way to go, frankly. A better model would be to require higher income-to-payment ratio from the borrower, i.e. more capacity to bear the risk of an ARM, rather than that they pay a premium to mitigate a mis-estimate of the same that leads to ... what else, foreclosure (ug!). Rather than add administrative burden, just take use the 'conventional' rules, but apply the maximum rate allowed under the ARM. ARMs are a good invention - it would be a shame if the market for them dried up altogether.

REFORMING THE TAX CODE

This is a good idea. It may well help with loan work-outs and even foreclosures. However, care must be taken (obviously) not to create a loophole for professional real-estate investors to increase their speculation(s) and for wealthy people to overpay now so that they can get a tax-shelter later.

Personally, I don't think it would be easy to write this kind of legislation. It might take a fairly long while to get all the angles down pat so that it was 'good legislation' out the door.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Memorable Movie Lines

On Golden Pond. 1981

script:

What do you do out there
in California?

I mean, what does
one do for recreation...

when one is
and not in school?

We cruise chicks.

- Hmm?
- Cruise chicks.

You know, meet 'em.
Girls.

Try to pick 'em up.

What do you do with 'em
when you have 'em?

Suck face.

I beg your pardon.

You know, kiss.
Suck face. You kiss.


Ever read this book
Treasure Island?

Sexual IQ in America

Rehabilitating Dean Barnett

Glen Greenwald has the take on whether the moral compass of some Right-side commentators doesn't shift with the political breezes a bit too easily.

I don't want to pick on Dean, but perhaps he will be willing, to some unknown extent, to be used as a strawman for what constructive effort is possible across the isle that some of his foot soldiers dig such deep trenches along.

Here are a few reflections on his latest effort to make sense of sexual ethics.

1. “My private life is private, and will remain that way,” everyone would have understood the coded message and backed off."


Confident that the closet is torture enough, I'm all for giving people the personal space required to come out. The question, Dean, is why don't you and yours offer a welcome mat for them to do so in your own party, which would also solve your problem with Mr. Rogers.

2. "But spending a lot of time around gays in my neighborhood, at the gym and at work, I got to know the community. Good people. "


*sigh* You need to go further, Dean. Just jettison wholesale the entire perspective that gay people are morally deficient and need to prove themselves to the worthy as themselves worthy.

The capacity of individuals to act well or poorly has nothing to do with their gayness.

3. "Anyway, my point is that as a Jew, I rush to remind my Gentile friends and readers that this man doesn’t speak for me." ... "It would be to insist that as a community, the people who engage in antics like that are outliers and degenerates."


Unlike your political contingent, quite a lot of liberals don't see themselves in the business of standing in Judgment of people, declaring them degenerates. Some of us actually believe in condemning acts, rather than people.

Your lecture to build faith with those who might (deliberately?) misinterpret Craig's actions as illustrative rather than to point out the artful dodges and hypocrisies of the political Right on the same matters seems oddly placed. If someone does something good or bad, chances are that it reflects on their personal character, rather than anything related to, say, their Jewishness, their Muslim practices, or their red-headedness, right?

All that is even before your request that we all gainsay Craig's repeated public denial that he's gay - why would the gay community be required to formally distance itself from someone who says they aren't gay?

The "Gay Community", by and large, stands for the advancement of civil rights and for services to its own. As such, it's not tied conceptually to the moral trials and tribulations or political successes and failures of any one individual.

Last on Abe Foxman.

There is another point of view that he is a casualty of concerted and misconceived attempt - by the right-wing Jewish community in America? - to use the US as a megaphone to push the hot buttons of Israel's perceived enemies.

As such, you have Mr. Lantos doing such brilliantly conceived things (*cough*) as introducing legislation to condemn stoning on the eve of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, at the hour when America needs maximal Arab-Muslim support. (!)

Now, he has the Armenian genocide hot-topic ...

Memorable Movie Lines

The inimitable Peter Sellers as Inspector Jacques Clouseau.

So very many to choose from.

A selected list:

"Madame, that is by far the ugliest nose I have ever seen and I compliment you on it, it suits you!"

"That is why I have failed where others have succeeded."

"Swine Parrot! That is my own personal mustache!"

"Was it hard in the resistance? Yes, but not as hard as it is now."

and, "Cato, I very much suspect that the Hornet is overdue for a service."



Free Money? How Red is Idaho...

How red is Idaho?

Here's an odd thing. The intrade.com contract on any Republican Senatorial candidate to win bid for re-election in Idaho (Larry Craig's seat) still shows the GOP as the overwhelming favorite.

Is Idaho really THAT red?



Just a note: the volume in this contract is about nil, so the figures ought to be taken with an appropriate grain of salt. Still, it will be interesting to see whether the guys move down the number or just open up the bid-ask spread a ridiculous amount...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Health Insurance Coverage Down; Uninsured Up - again

Pictures of the GOP's inattention ...

New government estimates out this week for 2006. Not pretty. Insurance coverage is down across all categories.

noted: ARMs down to 15% in the week. Mortgage rates down, slightly.

Countrywide goes to confession. Fees and penalties worse than credit card companies. Loans booked at ... unsustainable profitability:

One former employee provided documents indicating Countrywide’s minimum profit margins on subprime loans of different sizes. These ranged from 5 percent on small loans of $100,000 to $200,000 to 3 percent on loans of $350,000 to $500,000. But on subprime loans that imposed heavy burdens on borrowers, like high prepayment penalties that persisted for three years, Countrywide’s margins could reach 15 percent of the loan, the former employee said.

Regulatory filings show how much more profitable subprime loans are for Countrywide than higher-quality prime loans. Last year, for example, the profit margins Countrywide generated on subprime loans that it sold to investors were 1.84 percent, versus 1.07 percent on prime loans. A year earlier, when the subprime machine was really cranking, sales of these mortgages produced profits of 2 percent, versus 0.82 percent from prime mortgages. And in 2004, subprime loans produced gains of 3.64 percent, versus 0.93 percent for prime loans.



Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Does No Bubble Mean No Trouble?

Mr. Pine's highly-levered house.

Here's the thing.

Houses have increasingly been treated like quasi financial assets, financed like a "portfolio asset".

The problem is that, unlike financial assets, housing prices don't move in reverse too easily, and then simply catch their footing.

So, even if there is no bubble, there can be medium-sized trouble (assuming big-trouble is reserved for bubble-trouble).

(I know I promised a longer post on this earlier, but it doesn't look like I'm going to have time to write it. So, here is a shorthand view.)

Dennis Prager: Christ Was a Liberal and He Loved Too Much ...

... and it made him vulnerable. This is what Dennis doesn't consider as he attempts to explore the limits of love, from his particular ... perch.

"Luckily", someone else is paying for you to get his two-bits (warning: you may have to wash yourself off, after getting driveled on, to coin a phrase ...)

It's amazing after the shipwreck that the GOP have delivered in their misconceptualized "GWOT" and go-it-alone approach that he can even try to label a return to a sane policy of engagement as akin to a "psychological problem".

He asks:

The very idea is irrational. Name a country that is loved. Does a single country come to mind?

New Zealand? If memory serves, the Mossad kicked up a storm when it was discovered that they were "coveting" NZ passports ...

Memorable Movie Lines

Best Unspoken Line

Tous Les Matin Du Monde, 1991

Monsieur de Sainte Colombe (Jean-Pierre Marielle), plays the viola da gamba

Larry Craig :: Guilty of Footsie, Guilty of Feeling Guilty about Footsie (including intimidation), and Mocking the Judicial System

At sunset, Emmett, Idaho. (No, it's the Rodeo ...)

HOMOPHOBIC, RIDICULOUS REPUBLICANS - THE GIFT THAT KEEPS GIVING

How do you just plead guilty and then go on to say repeatedly and publicly that you did so just 'cause?

You can get in serious trouble for that ... (it's no wonder to me that he's since retained counsel - at least as far as he is admitting).


On Aug. 9, the day after his guilty plea in Minnesota, Craig told the Statesman he had yet to decide whether he would seek re-election in 2008. He served five terms in the House before he was elected to the Senate. His third Senate term expires in January 2009. Lt. Gov. Jim Risch has said he will likely run should Craig retire. Former Democratic Rep. Larry LaRocco announced in April that he will run for the Senate.

[on DailyKos "The Democratic field has cleared for Larry LaRocco, former staffer to Senator Church, and former U.S. Representative for ID-01. LaRocco is a credible, experienced, and energetic candidate. Having as solid a candidate in place in this race as LaRocco will encourage national fundraising."]

Craig said that he would announce his re-election plans by mid-September. He said personal factors, including spending time with his nine grandchildren, were weighing on the side of retirement. But he also said he enjoyed his job and the benefits of seniority.
If only LaRocco were a Victory Fund candidate ... (Still, he was against the oppressive 2006 Idaho Marriage Amendment).

Maybe, someday, the GOP will welcome openly gay candidates to run for public office, even. Until then ... well, Larry Craig has a 0% rating from the HRC.

Maybe, someday, states like Idaho and Wyoming (which, incredibly, doesn't have a hate-crimes statute) will ... celebrate their gay citizens.

THE GOVERNMENT IS MAKING LISTS AND CHECKING THEM TWICE - YOUR KISSES ARE THEIR BUSINESS

In the meantime, in these places where people are hundreds of miles apart, in places like Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, how mis-guided and mean-spirited is it to launch an attack on adult networking sites? [h/t JMG] I mean, some folks might get tired of waitin' for the rodeo to come to town ...

This looks like the WORST kind of Government snooping, in which the Justice Department gets carte blanche (a) to create lists of everyone who has ever used an adult networking site and maybe (b) electronically snoop around non-adult oriented sites at will in case they are doing anything adult-looking.

The regulations would allow the Attorney General to conduct warrantless searches at will on the sites’ records, including your personal information. There are few safeguards over what the FBI can do with the information it obtains. If a site operator fails to comply with the regulations, he or she would face a prison sentence of up to 5 years.

Update:

The pruriences of the Right

After a longer, more descriptive post than anything on the "left blogosphere" I've read so far, Dean Barnett introduces his personal "ickyness" quotient.

"As one who thinks that if you can’t avoid embarrassments like getting caught with a hooker, the United States Senate probably isn’t the best place for you to work, I’ll still concede [?concede] that what Craig did was obviously more icky than what Vitter did."


Who knew? Cheap, adulterous non-gay sex - (for the second time or so?) - with a hooker is somehow less icky than ... what didn't happen between two gentlemen in a restroom. It appears that just a gay, come-hither stare (or footsie), for Dean, is more "icky" than putting cash on the counter for a good time with a non-gay prostitute ... er, 'profoundly complementary' bang-of-a-good-time, shall we say?

*eyes roll*

Good luck with your icky-hierarchy, Dean.

You're in the right company. I imagine most people at Townhall.com think that anything sexual that they don't do is "icky", starting with a seeming homophobia, but not limited to it.

Memorable Movie Lines

Arthur, 1981

Many, many lines from this film.

Steve Gordon was Oscar nominated for the screenplay and Dudley Moore and John Gielgud were both nominated (Geilgud won and also took home a BAFTA that year for Brideshead). The Burt Bacharach song also took home Oscar for Best Original Song.

Arthur Bach: "I race cars, play tennis, and fondle women, BUT! I have weekends off, and I am my own boss."



Arthur Bach: It's so small, they recently had the whole country carpeted.

The Upcoming "Fine, Deport, and Detain" Recession

Call it the Malkin "Shamnesty" Contraction.

Maybe a new documentary, "Roger and Me" (that'd be Roger Ailes ...).

Smart folks have put right wing talk radio ahead of both that crew and Lou Dobbs for moving opinion fairly significantly against immigration (all of whom appallingly dipped into the 'immigrant disease' bin, noted here, earlier).

The GOP's failure on Comprehensive Immigration Reform may well come to roost in the upcoming months. (It's chilly out there, there, there, and the stresses from a permanent underclass there and there).

The headline says, "NABE: Bad Credit Biggest Risk to Economy". Maybe. But, somehow they aren't so good at seeing the larger trends in peril.

LABOR FORCE GROWTH IS CRITICAL TO ECONOMIC GROWTH

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) assumes that the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will increase by 3 percent a year between 2002 and 2012. The rising economic output necessary to sustain this level of GDP growth can come from increases in 1) productivity growth, 2), labor force participation or 3) labor force growth. In light of the current flattening or decline of labor force participation rates and productivity growth rates, labor force growth will play a particularly critical role in maintaining GDP growth.

...

Labor Force Growth: Labor force growth is the product of two factors: labor force participation and population increase. Given that labor force participation rates in the United States are unlikely to increase, population growth will be the primary source of labor force growth in the years to come. Population growth, in turn, can come from two possible sources: rising birth rates or immigration. In light of the demographic trends of the native-born workforce, immigration will continue to play a critical role in providing the workers needed to sustain overall economic growth.

"Pick 20 workers in the U.S. at random, and one of them is an illegal immigrant", says MSNBC. How does shrinking the labor force by 5% ... er, keep America strong?

Monday, August 27, 2007

American Gay Political Organization At the Start of the 21st Century

A few profs write a book about the Jewish lobby and it raises a firestorm of controversy.

Something tells me that, if someone wrote a similar tomb about the Gay Lobby it would be dead on arrival, in terms of being provocative.

Yet, someone just noted (bloggernista, I think) that there is about a 2%-4% Jewish population in the US, which is more or less the size of the gay population, on some estimates. And, G-d knows, gay people are avid voters.


So how is it that one group constantly gets criticized for too much influence, while another cannot seem to figure out how to get out the door? (hint: it's not the closet any more)

Meanwhile, Israel moves a step closer to becoming part of the problem, rather than a partner for solution seeking.

Defiant to the End, Bush Prepares Latest Recess Appointment List

Well, it stands to reason.


Last, but not least, right on the heels of the Senate voting with one or two exceptions to remove the added-in-conference 'loophole' that led indirectly to the inappropriate removal of some USAGs:

Thursday, April 5, 2007

President Bush, defying Senate Democrats, gave recess appointments yesterday to three controversial nominees, including, as ambassador to Belgium, Republican donor Sam Fox, who had contributed to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group whose ads helped doom Sen. John F. Kerry's 2004 presidential bid

Clear, Hold, Build; Clear, Hold, Build; Clear ...

Sixteen thousand soldiers, 12-days, 63 captured or killed. Implied Ratio: 254:1.

Plenty good came out of this op, but, as Petreaus remarked, we have one shot left - you tell me, did they make big enough waves?

And would you take your measurement of counterinsurgency success now? In terms of action-reaction-counteraction, it's probably too soon, especially without a reliable track-record on which to make estimates of 'hold' and 'build' - check out the 'hold' part of the clear-hold-build below.

--------------
Action:

BAGHDAD — Operation Lightning Hammer concluded Wednesday [Aug 22nd] after a 12-day, large-scale operation to disrupt al-Qaeda and other terrorist elements in the Diyala River Valley, a complex area of villages and palm groves in Iraq’s Diyala province.

The operation, which involved approximately 16,000 Iraqi and Coalition forces clearing [but not holding?] approximately 50 villages, was a key element in Multi-National Corps-Iraq’s overall operation, Phantom Strike; and resulted in 26 al-Qaeda members killed, 37 suspected terrorists detained and the discovery of 10 weapons caches.

-------
Reaction (counter-offensive):

Just as Coalition and Iraq forces wrapped up Operation Lightning Hammer in the Diyala River Valley north of Baqubah, al Qaeda in Iraq conducted two major strikes in the province on August 23 [the day after]: one south and one east of the provincial capital. The first attack, and infantry-styled assault against two villages south of Baqubah, was the more sensational of the two.

Over 200 al Qaeda in Iraq fighters assaulted mosques and the homes of tribal sheikhs in the village of Kanan."They blew up the mosque, then they bombed houses crowded with family members." Brig. Gen. Ali Dalayan, the police chief of Baqubah told AFP. Al Qaeda targeted the tribal sheikhs recently pledged to fight the terror group. Twenty-three people were killed during the battle, including one of the sheikhs, several of his sons, and a policeman, AFP reported. "The attackers however managed to abduct 15 people, eight women and seven children." Twenty-two al Qaeda fighters were later detained south of Kanan.

-------

Counter-action:

So, now what happens? Go back and pay for the same real-estate twice?

Last, don't you wish there were a political history to go along with these dispatches. I remember reading that, early on, there was a big mess with the appointment/election of the Governor of Diyala (as best I recall). But, if you read stuff like this, you see how ... little context there is.

Memorable Movie Lines



The Whales of August, 1987
Libby Strong (Betty Davis): "Life fools you. It always does."

More Bumperstickers

Some more:

Our Defense: Too Sacred to Trust the GOP

Senators who don't "R"-ubberstamp lies '08!

Individual Races:
McConnell is out of touch with Kentucky
Tie a blue ribbon, Bring Sen Cornyn home!
Maine Needs to Be with the Majority in '08

Paper the Pundits

Asking America's Military: Build Nations By the Seat of Your Pants, Mostly;
Year 5-ish of seven, at least, Strategic Review Affirmation Acclamation;


WHAT WILL BE ASKED OF US, WHAT WON'T BE TOLD TO US? TAKE IV

Joe Sudbays' watchful eye catches that the Pentagon is setting up to paper the pundits next month, as the desire to get a lot of information out about Iraq comes to the forefront.

Despite all the added data, it's questionable whether information will emerge that addresses the basic questions, against the strategic backdrop that the US has been, for some time now, the key impediment to those Shia who seek to consolidate their political control (by any means?) after decades of being a majority-minority in Iraq:
  1. 1. The justification for the plus-up was that we needed to 'hold' areas in the clear-hold-build strategy. What percentage of key areas and what percentage of the overall country is now being adequately 'held' versus where it was three, four, and six months ago? What percentage is being held by Iraqi forces alone? In the areas held, how much has the unemployment rate gone down?
  2. 2. The progress against al-qaeda, in al-Anbar, etc., is wonderful - for the Iraqis. How do these local non-failures get consolidated at the National level? The return to civil society seems under attack from all sides - what are the signs of true hope for progress, such as exhaustion from (sectarian) fighting?
  3. 3. Has administration of Justice improved - are there groups watching the watchers (in particular, the Iraq Study Group items 50-61)
  4. 4. What are the options and their associated costs at this point?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bumpersticker Politics


Shape the meme of a Nation?

Mine:

DC, From "Our Town" to "Your Town" in '08

Flash the lights on R-ubberstamp Senators

New is Tried and True: Vote Democratic '08

Bush Senators Bearing Gifts of War Debt-Bye!

Seven years of stay the course - tired yet?

A fresh start starts with a fresh Senate

All in light of this, however, The Small State Albatross: Democracy in America

From Doing Nothing to Saying "No"

The first session of the 110th Congress was so much more active than the GOP's do-nothing 109th Congress, as House members went back to actually working for a living, under new requirements that have them 'at the office' four days a week (or more), instead of the GOP's lolly-gagging three days.

Obstructionism raised to artform, gee thanks, Trent Lott

There are few in-depth analyses that I've seen on how the session faired, under the new GOP obstructionism.

At an astounding pace, the blogosphere continues to develop a decentralized 'institutional memory' that promises to bring increasing accountability to government. Those adding "kill" amendments, etc., will probably get increased "news" coverage.

Among the most egregious was the continued inability to move toward transparency in finance (including earmarks). The DSCC notes:

As the Kentucky Courier-Journal writes:

Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning combined efforts to block passage, by unanimous consent, of S.223, which would promote up-front politics by requiring that senators file their campaign finance reports electronically. That way voters could get the information they need more quickly and more easily.

The Sunlight Foundation complained about behind-the-scenes maneuvers by the two Kentuckians against this broadly supported legislation. The group condemned the "holds" that have been placed anonymously, by members who don't want voters to know they prefer to operate in secret:

"These demands show that, no matter who is objecting to the bill now, McConnell and Bunning will ensure that whenever this bill comes up for unanimous consent, some 'anonymous' senator will raise an objection."

Failed Legislation, from Wikipedia:

(In alphabetical order)

Gay Marriage: Faith, Hope, Charity .. But the Greatest of These

An Epistemology for the Soul

It goes like this:

1. For those who are telling you that sexual orientation is a choice, one can say, "I don't know, I'm not a scientist (and neither are you)."

2. The issue then is not one about definition exclusively, it's about humanity, about doing what is decent, about treating people without discrimination, in the face of heartfelt companionship and caring (even Christlike caring)?

3. Therefore, because we don't know, we love each other and enact laws that show caring, even if that means that, sometimes, 'the law' doesn't look like gazing at perfection.

Now that the Richardson thing is over, we can file this one as a way to talk to those who are so intransigent within their own faith communities.

The best thing that could happen to that intra-faith dialogue, still, in my estimation, is for the discussion to at least tip for a time from "No!", to "IF we were to move toward blessing SSM, what about ...", which is at least the path in which collective talents would prove greater than individual ones, forming perhaps both a better understanding and a better propagation.

/f Gay Marriage: Theology

Sunday Tea Dance

Here is the piece I mentioned last week.

It's a bit long, but there is a wonderful finish, if you stay for that. Also, you have to love the way Jana uses flutters for trills (in some places), turns for turns, and changes in the company to mirror new directions in the music.

Choreography: Jana Kurova
Music: J.S.Bach, Concerto No.1 D minor BWV 1052, 1st Movement (Allegro)
Dancers: students of the first Ballet & Dance Workshop Ostrava

Memorable Movie Lines

Holly Golightly: "... If I could find a real-life place that'd make me feel like Tiffany's, then - then I'd buy some furniture and give the cat a name!"

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Iraqi Economy - Measurement without Data

IMF says that non-oil real GDP in Iraq may have risen in 2006 and will do so in 2007.

Yet other reports say that maybe 1-2 million people have fled the country.

Question:

If 5-10% of the country leave, how likely is it that GDP rises? (Were all of them unemployed?)

Assume that the people who left are the ones who could afford to. If circa 1 million people have left and they had productive capacity of $2,500/year, then we might add about $2.5 billion to the annual and projected Iraqi costs of the war, very conservatively.

Separately, this month a "surge" in electricity (pun intended) is just "six months away", says the military.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Fashionable Conservative, cont.

Chapter notes:

[Herbert] Spencer was, arguably, the single most influential systematic thinker of the nineteenth century, but his influence, compared with that of Darwin, Marx, or Mill, was short-lived. In 1937, the Harvard sociologist Talcott Parsons asked, “Who now reads Spencer?” Seventy years later, the question remains pertinent, even if no one now reads Talcott Parsons, either. In his day, Spencer was the greatest of philosophical hedgehogs: his popularity stemmed from the fact that he had one big, easily grasped idea and a mass of more particular ideas that supposedly flowed from the big one. The big idea was evolution, but, while Darwin applied it to species change, speculating about society and culture only with reluctance, Spencer saw evolution working everywhere.



(h-t Arch Creek Blues)

/f "The Fashionable Conservative"

Fatherhood



Gay Dads. Who knew that the end to civilization looks like the thankless task of keeping diapers clean for a long while and 'sneakering up' ... ? (h-t, lavi soloway)

You see this and then you listen to smart but deeply misdirected people like Alan Keyes, and it becomes clear that Conservatives (including Hadley Arkes?) are intent on having men serve the laws, rather than having the laws serve mankind ...

Lesbian Faces Deportation to Iranian Mullahs-of-Death

Take notice of Pegah Emambakhsh, says Mike Petrelis. I don't have time to double-check that the cause is worthy, but here is a petition, if you do or are willing to follow the lead.

More Bleeding To Do

Robert Stein is thinking like me after stomaching a bit of Bush's politically tortuous VFW speech:

The President should look at what happened after LBJ left office. He lived the remaining four years of his life in a depression so deep that he couldn't write his memoirs and died of a heart attack the day his successor, Nixon, admitted defeat and withdrew from Vietnam.

Had LBJ survived, he would be marking his 99th birthday next week and might have some advice for Bush, his fellow Texan.


For me, the Texas link with OIF was early on, when Senator Phil Gramm used some expression about knocking down rattlesnakes or some such, the same expression that LBJ used. How little schooled most politicians are in the ways of war - we end up, at the margin, making momentus decisions using ... folk wisdoms.

Rove is probably out in Waziristan, TX, writing about how George understands all these nuances, that the diaries of the President will show that he understood that decisions might be costly (I doubt they will ever use the word "wrong"). He was just misunderstood, that's all.

What he was trying to do, in all those speeches, we will be told, is trying to keep up troop morale and trying to bolster support for the war at home.

And - of course - it was the proverbial Priesthood and the Democrats who thwarted his valiant efforts, not the desert sands of a proverbial La Mancha or a misconceived, and therefore poorly executed, War to End All Wars Evil.

Early morning snark

...sometimes you just wake up on a Friday in a snarky mood. Here's an unfair post:

CULTURAL DIFFERENCES THEY DON'T TEACH IN CLASSROOMS


Zhang Shuhong, a 52-year-old businessman, had apparently committed suicide, just days after Mattel blamed his company, Lee Der Industrial, in Foshan, in southern China, for the recall of one million toys coated in toxic lead paint. - NYT


Cayne, an avid golf and bridge player whose hobbies did not appear to suffer during the turmoil, also cut out of a tense early-August call with analysts shortly after it began. - Fortune, on Bear Stearns rumble

Lose Your Home, Pay Uncle Sam

Who knew:

After Foreclosure, a Big Tax Bill From the I.R.S.

the debt canceled by Wells Fargo upon foreclosure was subject to income taxes, as well as penalties and late fees. The couple had a month to challenge the charges.

Foreclosure is one way that beleaguered homeowners can fall into this tax trap. The other is when homeowners are forced to sell their homes for less than the value of the mortgage. If the lender forgives that difference, they are liable for income taxes on that amount.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Recession Fears? "Emergency" cut in Prime Rate, before Fed Meets

So many of the hired economists are worried about recession, not even slowdown, now.

Even the "mainstream media" haven't considered that, if so many economists and advisers are worried about a US recession, they might show leadership by cutting the Prime rate:

IMF: US Problems with Trade "An Episode"

In its latest, from April, the IMF does a long study under the premise that US external imbalances are ... an "episode".

Free trade orthodoxers have only this much left, perhaps, to justify what Larry Summers calls, on the CRose Show, no alternative to "openness".

At least it is a tacit admission that there are potentially serious problems with how free trade is working out, especially with China, so far. Not that 'trade-equity' should be abandoned as a goal wholesale, BUT ...

IMF HONEST ENOUGH TO SAY IT'S THE B.O.T.

Apart from all the nuances, the combined troubles can be summed up in the key statistic, balance on trade, recognizing that the recent stability in net foreign income as a percentage of GDP has largely been due to unsustainable changes in portfolio valuations that are favorable to the USA (of course, the Chinese are aware that their assets are underperforming, as evidenced by the recent purchase of equity stakes in Barclays PLC. In this the Saudis predate them by decades...).

Money quote, from Chapter 3:

In sum, while international financial integration [free trade] allows for a diversification of risk, with balance sheet effects [valuation of net investment positions or capital "stocks"] cushioning external adjustments [changes in terms of trade or trade "flows"], it does not provide a permanent flow of "free lunches."

Changes in asset prices and returns can generate large valuation effects on a year-to-year basis, but would likely play a more modest role over a longer period. Hence, in a debtor country running a large trade deficit [the USA], a correction in the trade balance is eventually inevitable to ensure external sustainability.


I'm not sure there is a problem "gifting" prosperity to the world. It's just not convincing that the trade accounts are the best way to do it.

ABOUT THAT LOOK BACK IN TIME

The IMF's idea that the 'way out' of episodes is to go into slowdown, depreciate your currency, and export your way back to balance is ... the old recipe for doing things that was meant to be forestalled, in part, by such mechanisms as the ERM, in its day. Could the US do it? Not in the mid-term, given how likely it would be that those buying our exports would go into a slowdown at the same time. By the time enough 'de-coupling' occurs, 'slowdown' starts to look far more like 'sharp realignment', and who knows how bad the external position would get by then.

WILL EXCHANGE RATE OVERSHOOT HELP US?

I cannot find current real-effective exchange rates for China* on the web (for now). But for those who think it all will be solved by depreciation, is it really sensible to expect such depreciation far beyond PPP, without that creating its own problems? Do we just accept those problems as a "cost of doing trade"?

HIDDEN, SPRING-LOADED POLITICAL COSTS?

Last, as Summers points out, it is possible that high returns to capital in places like China are exacerbating global, private income distribution inequalities, potentially undermining politically the gains that are made from increased employment and the associated benefits of economic development (net of environmental costs). To this, many free trade orthodoxers are silent ...

The idea that the USA have the capability to manage trade the way Summers suggests seems out of reach because it is out of character. We cannot even get our State Department and our CIA to function for the making of war, yet we are supposed to have a 'sustained, intense trade engagement'? Perhaps, I'm not optimistic enough ...


*from the Cleveland Fed, Feb 2005

US Trade Misery Index - Trade in Goods Only, 2006
(misery index is % of total trade X % of total deficit, scaled)

Country Balance on Goods Trade Rank Percent of B.O.T. Misery Index Rank Cumulative
Total, All Countries -818.10 --- --- ---
Total, Top 15 Countries -613.90 --- --- ---
China -232.6 1 28% 47% 1 47%
Canada -72.8 3 9% 23% 2 69%
Mexico -64.1 4 8% 12% 3 82%
Japan -88.5 2 11% 11% 4 93%
Germany -47.8 5 6% 4% 5 96%
Venezuela -28.2 6 3% 1% 6 97%
Malaysia -23.9 7 3% 1% 7 98%
Korea, South -13.3 10 2% 1% 8 98%
Italy -20.1 8 2% 1% 9 99%
Taiwan -15.2 9 2% 1% 10 99%
United Kingdom -8 12 1% 0% 11 100%
France -12.9 11 2% 0% 12 100%
Brazil -7.2 13 1% 0% 13 101%
Singapore 6.9 14 -1% 0% 14 100%
Netherlands 13.8 15 -2% 0% 15 100%
src: data, but not calcs, from Bureau of the Census

Table 5.
The Largest U.S. Trade Deficits

Country U.S. Trade Deficit
in 2002 in
Billions of Dollars
U.S. Trade Deficit from
January to July 2003
in Billions of Dollars
U.S. Trade Deficit in 2002
as a Percentage
of Total Trade Deficits

China 111.4
70.9
21.9
European Union 88.4
57.2
17.4
Japan 73.2
39.9
14.4
Canada 53.2
33.1
10.4
Mexico 38.6
25.2
7.6
Taiwan 15.1
9.2
3.0
Malaysia 14.4
8.4
2.8
South Korea 14.3
7.4
2.8
Venezuela 11.4
8.1
2.2
Thailand 10.8
5.8
2.1
Saudi Arabia 9.1
9.8
1.8
India 8.4
5.2
1.6
Indonesia 7.8
4.5
1.5
Israel 5.6
3.7
1.1
Nigeria 5.2
5.7
1.0

Memorandum:
All Countries 509.2
330.1
100.0

Source: Congressional Budget Office based on data from the Bureau of the Census.
Note: Numbers are based on free-alongside-ship values of total exports and customs-insurance-freight values of general imports.

Libertarian Liberties

John Stossel goes shrill on WHO statistics, declaring that adjusted for Americans' poor mental health, i.e. Americans' huge penchant for homicide, that ... America-is-nearly -number-one!

This summary says differently.

The WHO has developed a statistic called Disability Adjusted Life Expectancy (DALE). USA ranks 24. (I have not looked into these figures in detail, but, on face, they contradict the conclusion by definition).

The single adjustments that Stossel reportedly makes (he doesn't show his calcs) are ... unscientific, charitably put. How many adjustments does one take? Perhaps one ought to consider adjusting for the health care gradient that countries face, as well. The WHO might call that the Burden of Disease.

The Libertarian idea that individuals can buy their own insurance solves at least the problem of ending the "Nanny Corporation". However, it doesn't meet the goals that people have for insurance, one of which is peace of mind in times of distress - not worrying about whether this hospital charges more than that one and how much did that test the doctor just ordered cost and could you have suggested the hospital use a different laboratory, out of State, unless there is a State regulation or if the doctor would trust the results from that lab ... well, you get the picture.

What's more, there is little protection for consumers against first-degree price discrimination in the Libertarian model - you get sick, your premiums go up. Get sick twice and, like car insurance, you end up with "airport rates". Have one break in coverage and it could be game over, if you have a pre-existing condition.

The Libertarians rely very, very heavily on Government regulation all along the way. If you are willing to go that far, why not just go the next, small step and off load the main ball of wax on a Medicare-like, single-payer system ... and find creative ways to get people to pay for catastrophic and 'old age' health insurance?

"Private Equity": Exascerbating the Credit Cycle

It's all part of the race to have the most risky capital structure possible during boomtimes.
Reasonable people are eschewed as pessimists when things are a go-go economically. After a period of up-up-up, "fortune favors the bold" becomes a political imperative inside business politics.

Perhaps this ensures that the business cycle and the associated credit cycle will never be repealed. However, when it all starts to go bad and threaten the general prosperity, one has to wonder if there isn't more to be done to ... add dampeners on the way up, so that the way down might be more easily managed.

Here are two ad-hoc bits that suggest that "private equity" may be compounding economic risks in the cycle, while mostly adding value to themselves. It's all part of the race to have the most risky capital structure possible during boomtimes:

The average multiple private-equity firms have been paying has been mostly on the rise the past four years, though there was a small dip from 2005 to 2006. In 2003, buyout shops paid an average of about nine times Ebitda [when interest rates we sooo low]. This year, private-equity firms are paying an average of 12.4 times Ebitda, according to FactSet MergerStat [despite interest rates being much higher]. - DealJournal
In a new study to be released tomorrow ... Fitch Ratings says bondholders may face a bigger threat in deals cropping up more and more where companies take on debt to make big payments to shareholders. -DealJournal


The elixir, the calm before the storm [a fed rate cut - kerosene on the flames?]:

Banks are so loose these days when it comes to lending that even many investment bankers are scratching their heads. Here’s a statistic that may help explain: not a single borrower in the so-called leveraged-loan market has defaulted in the past six months, a streak so long it’s happened only once before. -DJournal


[long, but worth it] ... In a recent research report, Standard & Poor's Managing Director Diane Vazza pointed out that for the first time, more than half of Standard & Poor's ratings on U.S. corporate entities, including financial services companies, now fall below investment grade (see " U.S. Ratings Distribution: A Speculative-Grade World," published Aug. 1, 2007, on RatingsDirect, the real-time Web-based source for Standard & Poor's credit ratings, research, and risk analysis). For industrial companies alone, this percentage is well beyond 50% and has been increasing steadily for years.

In an ongoing series of commentaries titled " Special Report: The Leveraging of America," our Industrials analysts have documented this trend in depth, highlighting the role that LBOs, leveraged mergers, and other forms of recapitalization have played in increasing balance sheet leverage and reducing credit quality among U.S. industrial companies. We have believed for some time that this leverage-driven decline in ratings was foreshadowing a likely increase in corporate defaults. This scenario has not materialized to date, in part because the extraordinary liquidity in the market has cushioned financial risk affecting leveraged companies. Our ratings in the leveraged sector fully reflect the likelihood that such liquidity conditions are not permanent, so the market should not be surprised if defaults among leveraged companies begin to rise.

Also,

Something borrowed, something blue, or Gilding the Lily with style:

LBO for highly leveraged companies:

Levering Up: What The Sallie Mae Deal Tells Us About The Financial Sector [DealBreaker]

and:

UBS’s Six-Week Sallie Mae Payday Tops $50 Million

Housing Bubble: Alternative Explanation for Shiller's Building Cost Index

It's always alarming when prices start to get misaligned with costs.

Here's an ad-hoc, alternative explanation to the recent posted graph by the most excellent Prof. Robert Shiller (Yale) that has at least one explanation for a flat-lined building cost index: shoddy construction:

She wasn't an investor. She didn't have a subprime mortgage. But when Jordan Fogal's house became uninhabitable, the 62-year-old grandmother says foreclosure became her best alternative.

Fogal's troubles began when she and her 72-year-old husband, Bob, moved to a new housing development near Houston in 2002. That first night in the new house, the dining room ceiling collapsed. Bob had pulled the plug in the Jacuzzi tub upstairs, and 100 gallons of water came crashing through the ceiling downstairs because the plumbing drains were not connected.

"That was a preview of coming attractions," Fogal says.

Impeachable Offenses

This space intentionally left blank ...

You make the call:

It's the law, but the President slow-walks compliance. Is it acceptable to pick and choose which laws you will enforce or when?

All this against the backdrop of Federalist Society membership showing up on lists of judicial candidates drawn up by the GOP ...

(The more I think about it, the more it is plain that it is no small coincidence that Whitman got the heck out of Bush's EPA just as fast as she got a whiff of Bush-style governance ...)

The Lives of Others (the gay ones)

Market-oriented artist examines forks-in-the-road - is there a tradeoff between sexual identity and money?

Career coach and "market-oriented liberal" (gasp!), Michael Melcher, wonders aloud whether an early life lesson of 'coming out' preps people for better handling "career changes".

Perhaps one has to draw a distinction between life changes and career changes. There are all kinds of emotional events in people's lives, gay or non-gay, that cause them to reassess their job choices, particularly those strapped to the proverbial corporate ladder (or treadmill). Did you ever hear a story of a successful entrepreneur who gave it all up to go back to being, say, a staff attorney?

I wonder how many people feel that "gayness" has influenced their choice about what to do. Probably a lot.

Myself, I'm what career psychologists call a "lifer". Amazingly, I'd still be with the same company I started with out of school, other things being equal. In fact, there is no job that I've done that I couldn't have seen doing for 15, at least. (Well, except that one time ...)

[an aside: my favorite public story of a gay job changer comes from author Paul Monette, who at one time went into interior designing to avoid coming out or something.]

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

We Ain't Got No Stinkin' Strategy

oh, dear, caught with no shorts when the tide went out, it appears.