Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Now, the Senate

Senator Arlen Specter has switched parties, and will be running as a Democrat in the next primary election. This doesn't make him a liberal, and the Senate Democratic delegation becomes more conservative with Specter's addition, but it does mean that it will be much easier to pass Democratic-sponsored legislation. It seems that vice-president Joe Biden negotiated the switch. In related news, Senate Republicans have dropped their opposition to Kathryn Sebelius, Obama's nominee for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and she has been confirmed.

Not me!

[Typo corrected on day of publication] From Veracruz, we have frantic denials. From the Mexican newspaper El Universal. Translation courtesy of the Raven's girlfriend.
Xalapa, Veracruz--From December 2008 to March of this year, 500 people from the town of La Glora in the sub-county (municipio) of Perote, have presented respiratory illnesses. Among these cases were two deaths from pneumonia, said the subdirector of Prevention and Control of Disease of the Secretary of Health and Welfare, Alejandro Escobar Mesa, confirming the rash of respiratory illnesses in the stated locality.

Nonetheless, the governor [of Veracruz] Fidel Herrera Beltrán denied that the mountainous municipio of Perote was the birthplace of the lastest outbreak of porcine influenza and he reminded people that this illness is found in Asia.

In a message from the state Capital, he clarified that the origin of the porcine influenza is in Asia, so it cannot be related to the factory farming of pigs in Perote.

"[The virus] is found in Asia, in China. From there it came, via travelers to North America. Certainly from there it went to the D.F. and the State of Mexico. There is no connection with the factory farms in the valley of Pertote", he stated, and denied that the porcine influenza has any relation to Granjas Carroll, which operates in Perote.

Equally, the pig farming business, stated that none of its workers, nor any of its more than half a million pigs have shown any signs of influenza. [Pigs can be healthy carriers--The Translators.]

The company, which operates in the Mexican states of Puebla and Veracruz, clarified that they have no records of outbreaks of porcine influenza in any of its 907 workers, not in their over 60,000 pork bellies, nor in their over half a million pigs.

The official report states that the virus is found in people not linked with pig farming, that is to say, they have never had contact with the pigs. "From which we may conclude that the contagion is human to human."

The SAGARPA [Mexican Dept. of Agriculture] inspector for this region, Octavio Legarreta, stated that at the end of the week he had the valley of Perote inspected with special attention to La Gloria; no pigs with porcine influenza were found.

Nonetheless Escobar Mesa, the Mexican Secretary of Health, confirmed a rash of "respiratory illnesses" in this region. Of the 500 reported, two were influenza, one porcine influenza, which is the first case in this municipio, reported last Sunday.

"Only two cases of influenza, one type A and one type B," he clarified.

(original article)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I keep trying to make up conspiracy theories...

...but the real world keeps topping them. Krawk!

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Wrong People Are in Charge

In response to Krugman's Shabby Celtic Tigers, applicable to his main column today, Erin Go Broke, and, as usual, not passed by the NYT's moderation team. Considering how much appalling garbage gets past their moderators you'd think this would make the cut, but no.
The thing you're not saying, prof, is that the wrong people are in charge. (Bet this doesn't get past NYT moderation, bah!) The bankers and economists who made this mess are still making the policy, and some--most?--of the bankers are corrupt and still looting.

So the questions are: "Who are the right people and how do we put them in charge?"

Monday, April 6, 2009

Testosterone Poisoning, part III

I recently had occasion to cite the study (Coates and Herbert) linking testosterone levels with aggressive trading behavior. This raises a really interesting possibility: could you hominids link economic behavior--ultimately, economic cycles--with measurable physiological changes? If so, that would be a stunning result. And if not, I bet you'd learn a lot of interesting things studying the question.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Croak of the day

"Or maybe Summers advocates pumping money into EPIC FAIL enterprises because men are just bad at math. Look, I know this is going to sound politically incorrect to some people [...]"--"Thoreau" at highclearing.com.

Alternate croak: Summers, Obama, and Testosterone Poisoning

Me in comments on one of Avedon's posts. Take this as another version of Summers/Palin, with a slightly different perspective:
I find myself wondering what the difference between Lawrence Summers and Sarah Palin is. And I think it's mainly that Summers is a well-connected white boy. But the stunning egotism is the same. Probably part of why Summers denigrates women is that they see through him: somewhere, inside, there's a greedy little boy. There's a whole article on testosterone poisoning in the financial system to be written, I think. Geithner, Summers: these people ought not be in charge of anything that matters.

And surely Obama knows what they are. Got a bit of a character problem, there, man. I think Summers, at least, is headed for the door. The huge conflict of interest that the WSJ has revealed is likely to ultimately cost him his job. But is he going to be replaced with anyone more honest and competent?

Ian Welsh Croaks at Class in the USA

America has become the most class ridden society in the Western world, far worse than Britian. Congressional seats are passed on to family members and friends like corrupt boroughs in 18th century England. The rich are bailed out and ordinary people left to sink. Responsibility is enforced on the least in society while the privileged are allowed to skate. Sell a gram of pot, go to jail; but kill hundreds of thousands in an illegal war and it's no big deal.--Ian Welsh at firedoglake

Larry Summers and Sarah Palin: Separated at Birth?

Now we have the news that Larry Summers, chief White House economic advisor, "received about $5.2 million over the past year in compensation from hedge fund D.E. Shaw, and also received hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from major financial institutions." (WSJ) The man has a huge conflict of interest, which apparently he believed just did not matter. So. Put that together with the huge lack of empathy which cost Summers the Presidency of Harvard (Summers argued, echoing talking Barbie, that women were inherently less good at math). Then we have Harvard fund analyst Irene Mack, who Summers had fired for finding the fund management incompetent and raising the issue.

A while back, I linked Teresa Nielsen Hayden's article on Sarah Palin as a narcissist. And I got to thinking, well, what are the differences between Palin and Summers? There seem to be three: Summers is a guy, Summers is actually smart rather than just over-confident, and Summers is the trusted son of of privilege. But why would you put someone so arrogantly wrong-headed in charge of, well, anything? The answer seems to be that rich, well-connected people liked the way his theories supported their privilege. And now he is one of the most powerful economists in the world.

[Added] I suppose Summers dislikes women because they see through him. You hominids are sick with testosterone poisoning.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Testosterone and Trading Software

I quickly learned how fishy this world could be. A client I knew who specialized in auto loans invited me up to his desk to show me how to structure subprime debt. Eager to please, I promised I could enhance my software to model his deals in less than a month. But when I glanced at the takeout in the deal, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Normally, in a prime-mortgage deal, an investment bank makes only a tiny margin. But this deal had two whole percentage points of juice! Looking at the underlying loans, I was shocked.

"Who’s paying 16 percent for a car loan?" I asked. The current loan rate was then around 8 percent.

"Oh, people who have defaulted on loans in the past. That’s why they’re called subprime," he informed me. I had known this guy off and on for years. He was an intelligent, articulate, pleasant fellow. He and his wife came to my house for dinner. He had the comfortable manner of someone who had been to good schools—he was not one of the "dudes" trying to jam bonds into a Palm Beach widow’s account. (Those guys were also my clients.)

"But if they defaulted on loans at 8, how can they ever pay back a loan at 16 percent?" I asked.

"It doesn’t matter," he confided. "As long as they pay for a while. With all that excess spread, we can make a ton. If they pay for three years, they will cure their credit and re-fi at a lower rate."

From Michael Osinki, who wrote some of the software that helped create the ugly financial instruments that have sunk the economy. He even makes my point that an "intelligent, articulate, pleasant fellow" can nonetheless have the ethics of a louse.

Criminal justice reform: croaking in support

The junior Senator from Virginia, Jimmy Webb, has introduced The National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009:
America's criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace. Its irregularities and inequities cut against the notion that we are a society founded on fundamental fairness. Our failure to address this problem has caused the nation's prisons to burst their seams with massive overcrowding, even as our neighborhoods have become more dangerous. We are wasting billions of dollars and diminishing millions of lives.
This took guts. It's a very risky thing for a Senator to do, especially a Senator from a Southern State. May it succeed.

Nationalize, re-regulate, stimulate...

... is my answer when someone complains that Paul Krugman hasn't advocated any positive steps. Has too.


We've been hearing so much about the dangers of socialism lately, that I figured it might be good to hear from an actual socialist. So here we have Bill Moyers interviewing Mike Davis, professor of history at the University of California at Irvine. Via Digby.

Slacktivist. "Imagine a newspaper with no 'Business' section. Where the Business section is now, there is, instead, a 'Work' section."

Stirling Newberry, The Three Faces of the Left.

And eminent leftist economist James K. Galbraith, on how the (first?) great depression ended, and what the state could do, now, if there was the political will.

[added] Extra bonus world financial regulation advocacy (cue the black helicopters). Economist Joseph Stiglitz on global financial reform.