Sunday, May 30, 2010

Shorting Reform

Brilliant piece on financial reform by Michael Lewis.
Working together as a team we have already suppressed debate on many dangerous ideas: that those of us deemed too big to fail are too big and should be broken up, for instance, or that credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations and other financial inventions should simply be banned. We are now at leisure to address the few remaining threats to our way of life. To wit: Continue here.

A disaster is an inexcusable thing to waste

Thomas Friedman always seems to find a clear way to put things.
It took almost the entire press conference at the White House on Thursday for President Obama to find his voice in responding to the oil disaster in the gulf — and it is probably no accident that it seemed like the only unrehearsed moment. The president was trying to convey why he takes this problem so seriously, when he noted:

“When I woke this morning and I’m shaving and Malia knocks on my bathroom door and she peeks in her head and she says, ‘Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?’ Because I think everybody understands that when we are fouling the Earth like this, it has concrete implications — not just for this generation, but for future generations. I grew up in Hawaii where the ocean is sacred. And when you see birds flying around with oil all over their feathers and turtles dying, that doesn’t just speak to the immediate economic consequences of this; this speaks to how are we caring for this incredible bounty that we have. And so sometimes when I hear folks down in Louisiana expressing frustrations, I may not always think that their comments are fair. On the other hand, I probably think to myself, ‘These are folks who grew up fishing in these wetlands and seeing this as an integral part of who they are.’ And to see that messed up in this fashion would be infuriating.”

And a child shall lead them. ...
As Friedman points out, "A disaster is an inexcusable thing to waste." yet this is the second one Obama has let go. He failed to use the financial metldown to get meaningful reform of the bankers. Now he is failing to use the oil spill to get meaningful carbon reform.

Maureen Dowd criticizes Obama as "President Spock."
Once more, he has willfully and inexplicably resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it. …

Even more than with the greedy financiers and arrogant carmakers, it was important to offend and slap back the deceptive malefactors at BP.

Obama and top aides who believe in his divinity make a mistake to dismiss complaints of his aloofness as Washington white noise. He treats the press as a nuisance rather than examining his own inability to encapsulate Americans’ feelings.

“The media may get tired of the story, but we will not,” he told Gulf Coast residents when he visited on Friday. Actually, if it weren’t for the media, the president would probably never have woken up from his torpor and flown down there.

Instead of getting Bill Clinton to offer Joe Sestak a job, Obama should be offering Clinton one. Bill would certainly know how to gush at a gusher gone haywire. Let him resume a cameo role as Feeler in Chief. The post is open.
I don't like excessive emotion. I'm not a fan of melodrama or of acting the role of the victor, the victim, or the righteous. But it's not wrong to show emotion when emotion is appropriate. In this case we need (and expect our President to show) anger (at BP), grief (at the fate of the Gulf), compassion (for the human and non-human suffering), and determination ((a) that justice will be done to the extent possible (b) to stop the leak as soon as possible and (c) to do what we can to prevent it from happening again).

When is money a motivator?

See posting just below on a talk by Dan Pink about what motivates us. In something of a rebuttal, in a column about the Gulf oil blowout and BP, Don Herbert writes:
The biggest, most powerful companies do not have the best interests of the American people in mind when they are closing in on the kinds of profits that ancient kingdoms could only envy. BP’s profits are counted in the billions annually. They are like stacks and stacks of gold glittering beneath a brilliant sun. You don’t want to know what people will do for that kind of money.
The two postings are not necessarily contradictory. The amount of money Herbert is talking about is many orders or magnitude greater than the amount of money Pink was talking about. Size does matter.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

That's what Dan Pink says are our primary motivators. He also says that you need enough money to get money off the table as an issue, but it's not a primary motivator for most people.

They RSAnimate has a whole series of these videos. And they are producing more.

RSAnimate is part of the RSA, which is The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Buy gold?

Or does the fact that it's already headline news mean that (as the video says George Soros says) gold is the ultimate bubble?

Too Pig to Fail

Today's bubble: banks buying sovereign debt

From David Rosenberg's Breakfast with Dave.
We are still in the midst of a credit collapse where there is simply too much debt and debt service globally relative to worldwide income. The fact that we had a year-long respite does not alter this view. It was a respite that was induced by what is now an apparent unsustainable pace of bailout and fiscal stimulus in practically every country on the planet, not just the United States. What has happened was that governments bailed out the banks and massively stimulated the economy but because the revenue cupboard was bare, in part due to the savage effects of the global recession, public sector debt loads exploded at all levels of government, and to varying degrees, in every jurisdiction.

But someone had to buy these government bonds, and who else, but the very same banks that the governments rescued! And, they had a super-steep yield curve to generate profits from this bond-buying activity. Talk about a symbiotic relationship.

Not only that, but because of global bank capital rules, these financial institutions were not compelled to put any new capital into reserve against these government bonds because of their investment-grade status from the ratings agencies, when in fact, very few countries actually deserve the ratings they have when one assesses structural deficit ratios, debt/GDP ratios and interest costs/revenue ratios appropriately. Now, ironically, the governments, having saved the banks, only to then rely on the banks to fund their bloated deficits, are now in a situation where their banks need help again because of the eroding quality of the government debt on these bank balance sheets. Talk about a dangerous game of musical chairs. In any event, the Lex column on page 14 of the FT goes to the root of this today and concludes “with most of the worlds’ banks still woefully undercapitalized, Basel’s capital adequacy rules should end zero weightings.”

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rand Paul faces possible challenge from Libertarian Party

From The Washington Post.
Joshua Koch, Vice Chairman of the Libertarian Party, said that the party is considering running a candidate against Rand Paul because Paul is
out of step with Libertarians. …Paul's views on a variety of subjects differ from the Libertarian Party, including his promised support for any measures to ban abortion and his opposition to same-sex marriage.
Good for the Libertarians.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tracing Snow and Rain to Bacteria That Dwell on Crops

Complex systems are so – complex!

Walking across the campus of Montana State University here, David Sands, a plant pathologist, says the blanket of snow draped over the mountains around town contains a surprise.

The cause of most of it, he said, is a living organism, a bacterium, called pseudomonas syringae.

In the last few years, Dr. Sands and other researchers have accumulated evidence that the well-known group of bacteria, long known to live on agricultural crops, are far more widespread and may be part of a little-studied weather ecosystem. The principle is well accepted, but how widespread the phenomenon is remains a matter of debate.

The accepted precipitation model is that soot, dust and other inert things form the nuclei for raindrops and snowflakes. Scientists have found these bacteria in abundance on the leaves of a wide range of wild and domestic plants, including trees and grasses, everywhere they have looked, including Montana, Morocco, France, the Yukon and in the long buried ice of Antarctica. The bacteria have been found in clouds and in streams and irrigation ditches. In one study of several mountaintops here, 70 percent of the snow crystals examined had formed around a bacterial nucleus.

Some of the bacteria promote freezing as a means of attacking plants. They make proteins that will trigger freezing at higher temperatures than usual and the resulting water ice damages the plant, giving the bacteria access to the nutrients they need.

This ability to promote freezing of water at higher-than-normal freezing temperatures has led Dr. Sands and other scientists to believe the bacteria are part of an unstudied system. After the bacteria infect plants and multiply, he says, they may be swept as aerosols into the sky, where it seems they prompt the formation of ice crystals (which melt as they fall to earth, causing rain) at higher temperatures than do dust or mineral particles that also function as the nuclei of ice crystals.

“The rain is a mechanism that helps these things move,” said Cindy Morris, a plant pathologist with the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, who is studying the bacteria.

The ability of the protein in the bacteria to make snow is well known. Ski areas use a cannon to shoot it into the air with water for snow making, and it is used in cloud seeding efforts to create rain. A single bacterium, far too small to be seen with the naked eye, might make enough protein molecules for a thousand snow crystals.

The researchers believe that there are other bacteria and fungi out there that do the same thing.

Roy Rasmussen, a cloud physicist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, says the research, mostly by plant pathologists, has renewed the study of bacteria as a cause of rainfall by atmospheric physicists. Some big questions remain, though.

“It’s a sound theory,” Dr. Rasmussen said. “The question is, do these guys get into the atmosphere in large enough concentrations to have an effect? My gut feeling is this may be important for specific places and specific times, but it’s not global. It’s not something we missed.”

Russ Schnell, an atmospheric scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, first proposed the importance of bacteria in forming ice crystals in clouds, along with a colleague, Gabor Vali, in a paper in Nature in 1970. “But we didn’t have the techniques to do more,” Dr. Schnell said. “The tools now are unbelievably better than when we were doing this stuff. It’s a neat thing to see.”

Interest in the bacteria has grown because of recent publications, and two international meetings on the subject. Ms. Morris estimated that some 30 scientists around the world are researching the role of bacteria in precipitation.

If Dr. Sands is correct about the importance of bacteria, there would be implications for destruction of vegetation through overgrazing or logging, which might decrease the presence of bacteria and contribute to droughts. On the other hand, because the bacteria flourish on some plants and are sparse on others, planting the right vegetation could enhance rain. “Wheat or barley might differ a thousandfold” in the number of bacteria, Dr. Sands said, “depending on the variety.”

The research continues. In England, scientists are flying into clouds to take samples of cloud water, and analyzing the DNA of microbes in it. Researchers at Virginia Tech have sequenced the DNA of 126 strains of the bacteria to create a database that could allow scientists to trace the bacteria to their geographic origin.

“It’s a complicated system,” said Brent C. Christner, an assistant professor at Louisiana State University, who studies microbial ecology in glacial ice and has found the bacteria in Antarctica. “You can’t bring them into the lab to enumerate them and study them.”

The research could have implications for climate change. Dr. Sands said the bacteria do not grow in temperatures over 82 degrees. If temperatures stayed too warm for too long, he said, they could die. “There’s more work to do,” Dr. Sands said. “It’s a great big complicated picture.”

Monday, May 24, 2010

Missed Signals

From Greater Good
Researchers tested people before and two weeks after they received a Botox treatment that paralyzed the brow-wrinkling muscles used in frowns. During the test, they were asked to read sentences describing an emotional situation that made them happy, sad, or angry. In each case, the participants had to give a signal as soon as they had understood the sentence.

The results showed that after the Botox treatment, participants took longer to understand sentences with sad and angry emotions—the emotions typically expressed by the kind of furrowed brow that the participants were no longer capable of making, thanks to the Botox.

These findings point to a complicated relationship between expressing emotions and feeling them. The authors write that their findings back up the “facial feedback hypothesis,” which claims that your facial expressions influence both your emotions and your interpretation of emotional signals: If you aren’t capable of displaying sad or angry facial expressions, for instance, then you won’t feel or see those emotions out in the world as much.

No on Prop 16

From No on Prop16 Films.

UC Berkeley plans to test freshmen DNA

From The Associated Press
The university [of California, Berkeley] has said it will send test kits to 5,500 new students to analyze genes that help control the body's responses to alcohol, dairy products and folic acid.

The voluntary tests are intended to spur conversation about the growing field of personal genomics, not predict the likelihood of disease, university officials said Thursday. …

Critics, however, worry that students could get the idea the school approves of widely available direct-to-consumer gene-testing kits that claim to predict the risk of future health problems, said Jesse Reynolds, a policy analyst at the Center for Genetics and Society, a bioethics think thank.

Students might think, "Berkeley gave it to us. It must be good. UC Berkeley would never be giving its incoming students anything bad or controversial," Reynolds said. …

University officials said they were careful to choose genes for testing that were not related to serious health issues.

"We wanted to pick genes in which the variants were very easy to understand, not threatening, and probably reveal information students have about themselves already."

Sunday, May 23, 2010


If you have nothing better to do, be a scientist for a few minutes. Use your perceptual abilities to help identify features in celestial images. To get started, click the Zooniverse logo.

White House in Denial; Public Wants Real Action on BP Oil Disaster NOW

Rayne at The Seminal is mad as Hell about the BP oil spill and isn't going to take it any more. He has a list of 11 things the White House should be doing.
  1. Obama needs to use that goddamned unitary executive power he’s been clinging to and declare a state of emergency in federal waters along the Gulf of Mexico, using an Executive Order. This is now an international situation, not just an American one, because the oil will eventually end up in the North Atlantic.
  2. Declare British Petroleum in violation of its lease and kick them off the site. Threaten to seize all American assets of BP-America immediately if they do not assist in setting up a claims system which will be administered and overseen by the U.S. and paid by BP. (Hire all those poor Sallie Mae folks who were going to lose their jobs because of student loan reform for this purpose. /snark)
  3. Ask the Department of Energy’s Steve Chu to create a skunkworks rapid solutions team from NASA and DARPA along with schools which specialize in oceanography, mechanical technology, geology, and computer modeling. Stop waiting for the nice old farts they pulled from JASON because this is an emergency, goddamnitall, we don’t have time for them to come up with a vetted, peer-reviewed whitepaper on this. Don’t listen to anybody’s crap about so-called experts on deepwater drilling and how they’ll solve the problem. As my 16-year-old said, "If there’s experts, where are they? Show me one." Yeah. What she said.
  4. Threaten to kick Ken Salazar to the curb if he doesn’t not immediately have every one of the 15+ deepwater offshore drilling sites reevaluated; every evaluation must be on POTUS desk inside 15 days from the date the Executive Order. And we want the evaluations made public — no more of this bullshit opacity the White House calls transparency. No excuses; all this stuff should have been submitted when BP and the other oil industry firms applied for the leases to begin with.
  5. Approach corporations to develop an X-Prize type program to develop a private solution in tandem with the skunkworks solution. Ask Congress to create a special R&D tax credit for firms which donate money to the X-Prize for development.
  6. Approach Florida State University (which now owns the former Scripps’ Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and its submersibles) along with Mississippi State (which has an oceanography program) and ask them to work with NIUST to develop models of the plume’s distribution, along with identifying the impact short and long-term on the ocean bottom and the ecosystem above it.
  7. Suck up the arrogance and pride and ask the elder statesman of the environment to be the face of this effort. Ask Al Gore to do the legwork with the corporations and educational facilities whose cooperation is needed. Tell him this is to be used as an example of what people can do for the larger environment if they focus on this problem first. If they can solve this, they can solve the big problems.
  8. Tell the Catfood Commission (read: Presidential Deficit Commission) to find a way to shoehorn in funding for an alternative energy Apollo Program or Marshall Plan. If you have to find a front man, go to Al Gore because this was his idea back in 1992. Jeebus, catch a clue and use the resources you have already; Gore wrote it all out for you in 1992.
  9. Call that lazy-assed sad-sack Joe Lieberman and tell him whatever super-secret-y deal you guys have going in the way of a quid pro quo is off if Lieberman cannot find some reason to investigate the relationships between Department of Interior and any corporation with which it deals. Make the call private, and tell him if he doesn’t have hearings within 15 days you are going to publicly call him on the carpet for the benefit of CT voters every chance you get until 2012.
  10. You know damned well if they cut corners in the Gulf of Mexico, they did it elsewhere. Threaten to go for the jugular on them if they don’t continue to play ball with clean-up in the Gulf.Take a bunch of bloggers up to BP’s operations in Alaska and let them roam around for a couple weeks. Make BP pay for it — figure it out, you have the EO in one hand and the power to print money in the other. Keep the pressure on BP until they beg for mercy.
  11. And right now I’m tempted to tell one Barack Obama to get really, genuinely excitedly-upset, be more than that Spock character for once, add the passion of Captain Kirk and the anger of Dr. McCoy in the mix. That fakery last week only made us heave with nausea. And Rahm? Just bite me; whatever counsel you’ve offered Mr. Spock-the-President has been both incompetent and impotent.
And Paul Krugman explains why it won't hurt the President to follow this advice. In fact, it should help him.
Follow the money—donations by corporate political action committees.

Look, for example, at the campaign contributions of commercial banks—traditionally Republican-leaning, but only mildly so. So far this year, according to The Washington Post, 63 percent of spending by banks’ corporate PACs has gone to Republicans, up from 53 percent last year. Securities and investment firms, traditionally Democratic-leaning, are now giving more money to Republicans. And oil and gas companies, always Republican-leaning, have gone all out, bestowing 76 percent of their largess on the G.O.P.

These are extraordinary numbers given the normal tendency of corporate money to flow to the party in power. Corporate America, however, really, truly hates the current administration. Wall Street, for example, is in “a state of bitter, seething, hysterical fury” toward the president, writes John Heilemann of New York magazine. …

So where does that leave the president and his party? Mr. Obama wanted to transcend partisanship. Instead, however, he finds himself very much in the position Franklin Roosevelt described in a famous 1936 speech, struggling with “the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.”

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Roosevelt turned corporate opposition into a badge of honor: “I welcome their hatred,” he declared. It’s time for President Obama to find his inner F.D.R., and do the same.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

John Clarke and Bryan Dawe, Australian comedians,

On the problems with the PIIGS.
Click to go the the site where this can be played. There was no embedding option.

Does the standard of living grow faster when top marginal tax rates are high or low?

Paul Krugman notes that the big increases in family income occurred when the top marginal tax rate was high.

I think a much better graph would show the yearly percentage gain in family income rather than its absolute values.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

In many commodity markets the speculators are the market

Niels C. Jensen points out that commodity markets have changed significantly in the past decade and a half. Once they were used by producers and consumers to hedge their businesses. Now they are traded by people having no basic interest in the commodity.
Many commodity markets are surprisingly small and index linked products such as ETPs have become a larger and larger proportion of the market. As a result, commodities have increasingly become financial rather than real assets – a fact which is still lost by many investors. (As I learned many moons ago, if you are the market, you are in trouble!) [The accompanying chart] illustrates the ratio between physical and financial futures contracts in the crude oil markets. Over the past 15 years, financial futures have grown from 2 times the size of physical markets to almost 12 times the size.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

US drug war has met none of its goals

From The Associated Press
After 40 years, the United States' war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn't worked.

"In the grand scheme, it has not been successful," Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified." …

Using Freedom of Information Act requests, archival records, federal budgets and dozens of interviews with leaders and analysts, the AP tracked where that money went, and found that the United States repeatedly increased budgets for programs that did little to stop the flow of drugs. In 40 years, taxpayers spent more than:
  • $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico — and the violence along with it.
  • $33 billion in marketing "Just Say No"-style messages to America's youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have "risen steadily" since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.
  • $49 billion for law enforcement along America's borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.
  • $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.
  • $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses.
At the same time, drug abuse is costing the nation in other ways. The Justice Department estimates the consequences of drug abuse — "an overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction" — cost the United States $215 billion a year.

Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron says the only sure thing taxpayers get for more spending on police and soldiers is more homicides.

"Current policy is not having an effect of reducing drug use," Miron said, "but it's costing the public a fortune."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Boycott BP Petition

According to BP CEO Tony Hayward, the amount of oil his company is spewing into the Gulf of Mexico is "tiny" compared to "a very big ocean."


Experts estimate that BP's broken pipeline is pumping 50 times - 50 times! - more oil into the ocean than the company first stated publicly. Countless people could lose their livelihoods, and huge underwater oil plumes could devastate sea life and create massive dead zones.
Boycott BP Petition: "Take the Beyond BP Pledge! Drive a car? Like the occasional fountain drink? Send a clear message to BP by boycotting its gas and retail store products. Don't spend a cent of your hard-earned money to feed the bottom line of a corporation that has a sordid history of negligence, willfully violates environmental regulations, and is spewing thousands and thousands of barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico.

I pledge to boycott BP for at least three months."

Let Free Markets Reign!

From Barry Ritholtz's The Big Picture
As Larry Kudlow tells us nightly, “Free market capitalism is the best path to prosperity!” Free markets rock! Get regulations and restrictions out of the way and let good ole free market competition determine the winners and losers. Regulations and government intervention are for (socialist) losers. It’s in our DNA.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw a section of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (Sec. 1004) that places limits on liability for polluters! How un-free-market-like, to limit BP’s liability in the Gulf of Mexico debacle to a mere rounding error of $75 million! What true free-marketeer would ever stand for such nonsense?
Sec. 1004:


(a) GENERAL RULE.—Except as otherwise provided in this section,
the total of the liability of a responsible party under section
1002 and any removal costs incurred by, or on behalf of, the responsible
party, with respect to each incident shall not exceed—

(3) for an offshore facility except a deepwater port, the total
of all removal costs plus $75,000,000;
Balderdash! How dare the government limit BP’s liability. Let the free markets determine BP’s fate. Why should it be otherwise? Should they face multiple lawsuits and get sued out of existence, that’s nothing more than the Darwinism of capitalism.

I’m just guessing here, but I assume when Senator Lisa Murkowski (R – Big Oil’s Pocket, AK) blocked a proposed bill that would have raised BP’s liability from $75 million to $10 billion it was because, as a Republican and free-marketeer, she preferred no cap at all on their liability and wants to see the free markets work as God intended them to (i.e. sans caps). I base that assumption, in part, on Senator Murkowski’s free-market opposition to a windfall profits tax on the oil industry (“…a windfall profits tax is simply no answer at all. In fact, it is counterproductive.”).

So here’s the deal: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If you’re a free-marketeer and believe that BP’s liability for the gulf disaster should be capped by statute — at whatever amount — you’re either not a free-marketeer or a hypocrite.

Market Cap as % of GDP

From Barry Ritholtz.

What should the ratio be? I don't know. The two items are not directly comparable. GDP measures activity beyond that of stocks on the market. But if one assumes that GDP is proportional to the activity of the stocks, then what? There is another issue as well. If the market capitalization includes the values of ETF, then the values of actual companies are being double counted. For this purpose ETFs are like mutual funds. They are a way to invest in a company (really an index of the market or market segment) but they don't change the capitalization of the underlying companies. So they should not be counted. I wonder what you would get if you eliminated ETFs from the market caps.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Disputed Mojave cross honoring US war dead stolen

From The Associated Press
A cross erected on a remote Mojave Desert outcropping to honor American war dead has been stolen less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it to remain standing while a legal battle continued over its presence on federal land.
Apparently the land transfer has not yet occurred. So the site is still Federal land. (See earlier post.)

Here's a bit more of the most recent (May 11) AP story.
Federal courts ruled earlier in this decade that having the cross in the national preserve was unconstitutional. The issue that most recently went to the Supreme Court was the rejection by lower courts of the congressional effort to solve the problem by transferring the land into private hands.

In sending the case back to a lower court, six justices wrote separate opinions. [emphasis added]

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the cross shouldn't be seen merely as a religious symbol.

"Here one Latin cross in the desert evokes far more than religion. It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies are compounded if the fallen are forgotten." [Kennedy's argument makes the point for the other side. There are lots of American graves that aren't marked with crosses. They should be remembered too.]

In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens agreed that soldiers who died in battle deserve a memorial. But the government "cannot lawfully do so by continued endorsement of a starkly sectarian message," Stevens said.
It seems to me that there is a very simple solution. The cross proponents argue that the cross is not intended as a religious symbol but simply as a memorial to war dead. In that case, why not replace the cross with a non-religious memorial. Then the site could remain Federal land, and the dead would still be honored.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Tax Cuts And 'Starving The Beast'

Bruce Bartlett in argues that the Republican strategy of "Starve the Beast" (STB) is a failure and should be abandoned.
Starve the beast was a theory that seemed plausible when it was first formulated. But more than 30 years later it must be pronounced a total failure. There is not one iota of empirical evidence that it works the way it was supposed to, and there is growing evidence that its impact has been perverse--raising spending and making deficits worse. In short, STB is a completely bankrupt notion that belongs in the museum of discredited ideas, along with things like alchemy.
Anyone want to bet on the number of Republican politicians that will have the intellectual honesty to acknowledge this? My guess is zero.

The Airfare Refund That Circled Before Landing

From The Haggler -

Thursday, May 06, 2010

How to harvest a planet for energy

Caleb Scharf on the Shadow Biosphere
A truly wonderful paper was published a couple of years ago in which Falkowski, Fenchel and Delong laid out the big picture for life on Earth. In essence, they argue that single-celled microbial life is the manifestation of an even deeper truth; the core planetary gene set. This is the set of recipes for metabolism, or how to harvest a planet for energy, and we all rely on them. [emphasis added] The result of billions of years of natural selection, these genes are widely dispersed across the microbial biosphere. This is true to such an extent that should 99% of life be wiped out by an asteroid collision, supervolcano, or dirty telephone receiver, the information for the molecular machinery that drives all organisms will be safely preserved in the surviving 1%. The living world does not end, it just reboots. Because of this, carbon-based life is a far more robust phenomenon than we could have ever imagined. It is the ultimate, Google-like, cloud computer.

Break up the banks!

PETITION TO THE SENATE: 'The big Wall Street banks wrecked our economy by becoming too big to fail. We need you to support the Brown-Kaufman proposal to break up the big banks, put hard caps on their size, and end the need for taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street.'
Support it by signing this petition.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Too big to fail is too big to exist

From Public Citizen
Call Your Senators to Strengthen Financial Reform

Tell your senators it’s time to vote to hold Wall Street accountable!

Please call your senators now, using the talking points below. Tell them it’s time to pass the American Financial Stability Act of 2010 with strengthening amendments and to vote “No!” on any anti-consumer amendments or big bank loopholes.

Wall Street has spent tens of millions of dollars to kill reform. Wall Street likes the status quo. Thousands of bankers and lobbyists are roaming the Capitol’s halls, trying to convince your senators that reform is bad for America.

Your senators need to hear the real American story — from YOU!

It’s the final push for real reform! Don't let Wall Street kill the bill!

Public Citizen, the Americans for Financial Reform coalition and thousands of concerned Americans are flooding the Senate with calls. Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your senators. Tell them your story and make sure they pass real financial reform!

Use the number and talking points below to call your senators now!

Call: (202) 224-3121

Talking Points:

1.) I urge you to pass the American Financial Stability Act of 2010 with strengthening amendments and vote “No!” on any anti-consumer, big bank-loophole amendments.


2.) Break up the banks — too big to fail is too big to exist. Vote “YES!” to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sen. Ted Kaufman’s (D-Del.) “Break Up the Banks amendment.” The Brown-Kaufman Amendment would keep financial institutions from growing so big that their failure threatens the economy. Banks that are already dangerously bloated would have four years to break off parts of their business. Measures already in the bill that would help prevent banks from becoming "too big to fail" should stay there.

3.) Defend the consumer protection agency in the bill, and make it stronger and more independent. Don't give veto power over the agency to the banking regulators that were responsible for this crisis, and don't use this bill to block states from protecting their own citizens.

4.) Clamp down on the trade in exotic financial instruments such as derivatives –- the things that threw AIG into crisis and required $180 billion in taxpayer bailout funds. At a minimum, all such instruments must be traded openly on exchanges and backed by sufficient collateral. Giant financial institutions should never again come to the government to make good on debts they can't pay. The bill also should stop banks from engaging in proprietary trading and prevent financial companies from making Goldman-Sachs-style bets against their own clients.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Record-breaking current found deep in Southern Ocean

From New Scientist.
MORE than 3 kilometres down in part of the freezing Southern Ocean, water is flowing at more than 700 metres per hour, making this the fastest-moving deep ocean current ever found. …

With a flow of more than 8 million cubic metres per second, the current transports 40 times as much water as the Amazon. It is likely to be an important component of the global ocean "conveyor belt", which pushes water from the ocean surface to its greatest depths and back again, and has a direct influence on global temperatures.

We are losing our optimism