April 7, 2010 archive

Open Forum

I ran across this: Obameter


Are these claims true or false?


Bastardization of the Word ‘Reform’

I have to share this not so surprising article from Newsweek that I came across as I was posting this essay: Is Obama Really Serious About Financial Reform?  Short answer: no.

Well, it looks like we are getting another sorry, weak-ass legislation called “reform”.  First health care or health insurance and now financial regulatory reform.  The House of Representatives passed its weak version of financial regulatory reform last December and now the Senate is working on passing an even weaker version.  But, what would real reform look like?

Please excuse the slight digression.  The Obama Administration lost me as a supporter early on when then President-elect Obama picked Clinton retreads Larry Summers and Tim Geithner to be part of his administration.  In my opinion, the Obama Administration has become part of the problem not the solution whether its the mortgage crisis or financial regulatory reform.

The Obama Administration, much like it handling of health insurance “reform” is either telling us what we want to hear and acting the opposite or its refuses to fight for a set of principles or both.  His supporters will argue he is being pragmatic or realistic based on how screwed up Congress is.  But that really is an excuse for not providing leadership or actually taking a side and strongly advocating a position.  

Last year as the House was starting debate of its financial regulatory “reform”, the President gave a speech in support of strong financial regulatory reform particularly in a Consumer Financial Protection Agency and he specifically mentioned the importance of a “plain vanilla” financial products requirement but someone failed to mention to the President that days or a week before his speech Congressman Barney Frank had already eliminated the requirement of the House’s legislative version.  That was the last we heard of the requirement.

Remember when the President used the phrase of “Wall Street Fat Cats”.  Wow, sounds like he was ready to take Wall Street on – nay.  Days later he softened his words toward Wall Street.  Then comes the “Volcker Rule”.  In January, to much fanfare, the Obama Administration was proposing legislation that would restrict banks from speculative trading that did not benefit its customers.  Sounded good at the time but the devil is in the details particularly when it comes to Senate’s version of “reform”:

[Senator Chris] Dodd’s bill stops short of implementing the Volcker Rule. Instead, it requires that the government “shall issue final regulations implementing” the ban.

The best way to avoid or weaken a potentially strong rule is to leave it to the discretion of regulators.  And what is the White House saying about all this weakening – nothing or worse.  As Simon Johnson pointed out this past week the rhetoric from the Administration and what is actually in the Senate’s legislation don’t jive.  This past Sunday, Larry Summers was singing the praises of the Senate’s version of “reform” on ABC’s This Week but Professor Johnson points out inconsistencies with Summer’s spin:

Larry Summers is incorrect on three important dimensions of the Dodd legislation: it doesn’t “insist institutions have much more” capital requirements, it doesn’t “restrict proprietary trading activities” in any meaningful fashion, and it doesn’t “eliminate the prospect” of a bailout.

Bottomline: From Professor Johnson:

Passing a bill that contains mostly mush is not a good idea – it would only further the perception (and the reality) that this administration is far too close to certain “savvy businessmen” on Wall Street.

So, where are we with the financial regulatory “reform”?   The House passed its weak version last December and Senate is about to amend and vote on its even weaker version very soon.  For a good summary of what is on the table there are the following articles:

Breaking the Bank

Updates on the battle for financial reform

Comparing the House and Senate Financial Reform Bills

What does REAL reform look like?

1)  Consumer Financial Protection Agency – an independent agency with rule making and enforcement authority with very few exempts from oversight and lifting of any federal pre-emption of state consumer laws.  

2)  Derivative Regulatory Reform –  ‘Over the Counter’ (OTC) trading in credit default swap derivatives, or C.D.S.’s, brought down the House of Cards that was the global financial industry and how we deal with derivatives going forward will determine whether we will experience another global financial crisis or not.  Real derivatives reform at the very least should mean the repeal of the Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000.

3)  Too Big to Fail – it doesn’t sound like there is the political courage to break up the financial conglomerates so let me put on my pragmatist hat (LOL).  The objective should be to impose a cost on financial conglomerates that are Too Big to Fail and possibly force them to become smaller.  One way to do this is through specific capital and liquidity requirements placed on the asset side of banks balance sheet:

Capital requirements place a limit on the leverage ratios that banks can run with and thus attempt to limit risk-taking. They also constrain the size of the banks because capital is costly. Finally, they reduce the public-private partnership ratio inherent in any banking system where governments will bail out the depositors in event of failure. The higher the capital held against its assets the more the shareholders are exposed to bank failure.

These capital and liquidity requirements must be specific and not left to the discretion of regulators – somewhat similar to Congresswoman Jackie Speier’s amendment.

The other reform would be a hard rule – meaning a specific law (no discretion left to regulators) that bans any speculative trading that is contrary or in conflict with clients – banks cannot advise clients to invest in certain holdings and then take an opposite investment position – essentially betting against the client’s position.  

4)  Rating Agencies – make it illegal for rating agencies to obtain a fee for ratings from issuers of securities.  Many investors rely too heavily on the ratings issued by Moody’s, S&P and Fitch.  These rating agencies receive a fee for their rating services from the issuers whose securities they are analyzing and rating – huge potential conflict of interest.  This was a very lucrative business for rating agencies and it’s not surprising that because of this payment practice we heard stories like this: How Moody’s sold its ratings – and sold out investors

It’s time to draw that proverbial line in the sand.  Anything short of this is NOT real reform.  How’s that for Change to believe in?

Whistling in the Dark

Whistling in the dark Pictures, Images and Photos

Ever hear an upbeat, high-energy tune which never fails to lift your spirits, and then, one day, you pause to consider its lyrics, only to discover disconcerting gallows humor buried within? Although very few songs fit this mold, once heard, they are oftentimes impossible to forget.

Whistling in the Dark

Whistling in the dark Pictures, Images and Photos

Ever hear an upbeat, high-energy tune which never fails to lift your spirits, and then, one day, you pause to consider it’s lyrics, only to discover disconcerting gallows humor buried within? Although very few songs fit this mold, once heard, they are oftentimes impossible to forget.

Mother Jones: “Pray for the Dead, Fight for the Living”

More deaths for dollars this week as miners died for company greed.  Maximizing shareholder value on the lives of workers.

Mother Jones is often quoted as saying, “Pray for the Dead, Fight like hell for the Living.” The 25 miners who lost their lives in the Upper Big Branch mining disaster call us to both prayer and activism.

We must pray for the miners still missing, the miners who have lost their colleagues and the families of those killed. Let us pray for them individually and through our congregations. … We must also fight to protect those who work in dangerous workplaces like mines.

Interfaith Worker Justice

Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO:

However, this incident isn’t just a matter of happenstance, but rather the inevitable result of a profit-driven system and reckless corporate conduct. Many mining companies have given too little attention to safety over the years and too much to the bottom line.

AFL-CIO: Massey Mine Cited for 450+ Safety Violations Before Deadly Blast

Also on Daily Kos: http://www.dailykos.com/story/…

More after the fold.

U.S. Foreign Policy in Honduras

Crossposted from Antemedius

More on Seeing: American Exceptionalism

While State Department attempts to sell the world that the inauguration of a new president in Honduras has brought an end to the country’s crisis, the continuing assassinations of anti-coup activists and their children stands as sharp evidence to the contrary. Video includes interviews with Father Ismael “Melo” Moreno, director of Honduras’ Radio Progreso, and Adrienne Pine, anthropologist from American University and Honduras expert.

Produced by Jesse Freeston.

Real News Network – April 07, 2010

U.S. covering up reality in Honduras

State Department campaign denies the systemic repression that continues,

nine months after coup

Update: Kyrgyzstan Government Overthrown !

* The NYT is now reporting that the president has fled *

And this:

Opposition leaders said the toll was as high as 100 people, but that figure could not be confirmed.


Kyrgyzstan is in outright revolt, after years of fake elections, and the removal of any semblance of a free media.

They’re between a rock and a hard place since both Russia and the US supports the current regime. The US because it needs the airbase for the Afghan war, and Russia for the same reasons–they also have bases there.

With the unrest deepening, several opposition leaders were arrested, including a former prime minister and presidential candidate, Almazbek Atambaev, and a former speaker of Parliament, Omurbek Tekebaev.

Is the US concerned about arrests, at least 12 protester deaths, the fake elections, the closing of the media?

Uh, no.

The US response?

The United States Embassy in Bishkek issued a statement saying that it was “deeply concerned about reports of civil disturbances.”

There’s some horrifying images on the NYT site, I’ll post only this one:

Today the most famous Person is Mickey Mouse.

During the 2000 debates, George W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.7) and Al Gore at a seventh-grade level (7.6).

In the 1992 debates, Bill Clinton spoke at a seventh-grade level (7.6), while George H.W. Bush spoke at a sixth-grade level (6.8), as did H. Ross Perot (6.3).

In the debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, the candidates spoke in language used by 10th-graders.

In the debates of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas the scores were respectively 11.2 and 12.0.

In short, today’s political rhetoric is designed to be comprehensible to a 10-year-old child or an adult with a sixth-grade reading level. […]

Voltaire was the most famous man of the 18th century.

Today the most famous “person” is Mickey Mouse.

America the Illiterate

Chris Hedges — Nov 10, 2008 (pg 2)

I think, I’m detecting some sort of trend here …

Rednecks on the Rise

And why the teabag movement will ultimately collapse?

Teabaggers, Confederate Flags, and Wishful Thinking

Though I no longer live there, I suppose I will always be a Son of the South.  Where I grew up, a strong sense of solidarity with the Lost Cause of the Confederacy still existed, which to me was more a romantic ideal of what might had been then any desire for Round Two of the conflict.  I always felt it to be analogous to the sort of people who support a particular sports team that is always a heavy underdog and spend much time waxing poetically between themselves about close losses.  “If only”, these attitudes seemed to say.  “If only.”  So on at least one level I think I can understand the mentality of the Teabaggers, since their resistance to Progressive reforms is often tied to a profound sense of nostalgia for some golden age long past and likely never to return.  The particularly irony, of course, is that this epoch they reference never really existed in the first place.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s decision to denote the month of April as Confederate History Month and the controversy surrounding it reminds me of the political back and forth that raged when my home state of Alabama was contemplating removing the Confederate flag from the top of the Capitol building in Montgomery.  Then, as now, many of the same arguments were heard.  After years of debate, the flag was at last taken down.  South Carolina is the last of the southern states to keep the flag flying, but even so, several other Deep South states incorporate the design into their own state flags, having faced massive popular backlash when they threatened to remove the pattern altogether.  

Wednesday Morning Science Supplement

Wednesday Morning Science Supplement is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Science

1 Australian PM calls ship accident ‘outrageous’

by Madeleine Coorey, AFP

Tue Apr 6, 6:34 am ET

SYDNEY (AFP) – Australia’s leader Tuesday voiced anger over a coal carrier which ran aground and spewed oil over the Great Barrier Reef, as officials probed why the ship ran off course in the world heritage site.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called the Chinese-owned Shen Neng 1’s accident “outrageous” and warned the badly damaged ship, which is stranded on a shoal, remained a serious threat to one of the world’s great environmental treasures.

“This remains a serious situation. It remains a serious threat to the Great Barrier Reef,” Rudd said after flying over the crash site off Australia’s northeast.

Muse in the Morning

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Muse in the Morning


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