Daily Archive: 05/14/2012

May 14 2012

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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New York Times Editorial: Backward on Domestic Violence

In an all-too-rare show of bipartisanship, 15 Senate Republicans joined with the Democratic majority last month to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, the landmark 1994 law that is key to efforts against domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

Unfortunately, the lopsided 68-to-31 Senate vote halted G.O.P. opponents only temporarily. The House Judiciary Committee last week approved its version of the reauthorization bill, which not only omits improvements the Senate bill made to the law but also removes existing protections for immigrant women, putting them at greater risk of domestic and sexual abuse.

Paul Krugman: Why We Regulate

One of the characters in the classic 1939 film “Stagecoach” is a banker named Gatewood who lectures his captive audience on the evils of big government, especially bank regulation – “As if we bankers don’t know how to run our own banks!” he exclaims. As the film progresses, we learn that Gatewood is in fact skipping town with a satchel full of embezzled cash.

As far as we know, Jamie Dimon, the chairman and C.E.O. of JPMorgan Chase, isn’t planning anything similar. He has, however, been fond of giving Gatewood-like speeches about how he and his colleagues know what they’re doing, and don’t need the government looking over their shoulders. So there’s a large heap of poetic justice – and a major policy lesson – in JPMorgan’s shock announcement that it somehow managed to lose $2 billion in a failed bit of financial wheeling-dealing.

Yves Smith: Colleges as Merchants of Debt

Student loan debt slavery is even worse than you probably thought. The Grey Lady tonight has a long, informative story, “A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College“, that early on presents the stunning tidbit that 94% of the recipients of bachelor’s degrees borrowed in order to pay for it. The Times doesn’t report what average debt levels are in this cohort, but the average across all borrowers, per the New York Fed, is $23,000. Remember, this total includes graduates who have have been paying down debt, meaning they’ve amortized principal and almost certainly had borrowed less on average to complete school.

Contrast this “certain to be higher on average than $23,000″ for new graduates with their earning power, or more accurately, lack thereof. The Times article also mentions a Rutgers survey which seems to have some sample bias or underreporting of borrowing (of 2006-2011 graduates, only 55% of the respondents said they had borrowed to help fund college, and the median reported debt level was $20,000). The 2009-2011 graduates’ income averaged $27,000. In addition, only half said that their job required a college degree.

Robert Kuttner: Fiscal Futility

On Wednesday, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation will hold its third annual fiscal summit. We need this event like we need a mass outbreak of sado-masochism. [..]

At Tuesday’s summit, Bill Clinton will offer his version of a deficit reduction plan. Tim Geithner will offer his. Likewise Rep. Paul Ryan, and Democratic Congressmen Chris van Hollen and even Xavier Becerra of the House progressive caucus, and, inevitably, Alan Simpson of the late Bowles-Simpson Commission. Clinton, who will be interviewed by Tom Brokaw, has partnered with the Peterson Foundation on other initiatives. Another speaker is economist Carmen Reinhart, an expert on debt crises, who works at yet another institute named for Peterson. Also speaking will be Foundation’s president and CEO, Michael Peterson, son of the benefactor. (The entire board of directors is Pete Peterson, his wife, and son.) [..]

Austerity is a false cure for a prolonged recession. The Peterson Foundation is peddling fiscal snake oil. It is using a genuine crisis as an excuse to bash social insurance, at a time when we should be expanding social insurance. It’s appalling that so many people are gulled by this propaganda.

Robert Reich: How J.P. Morgan Chase Has Made the Case for Breaking Up the Big Banks and Resurrecting Glass-Steagall

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., the nation’s largest bank, whose chief executive, Jamie Dimon, has lead Wall Street’s war against regulation, announced Thursday it had lost $2 billion in trades over the past six weeks and could face an additional $1 billion of losses, due to excessively risky bets.

The bets were “poorly executed” and “poorly monitored,” said Dimon, a result of “many errors, “sloppiness,” and “bad judgment.” But not to worry. “We will admit it, we will fix it and move on.”

Move on? Word on the Street is that J.P. Morgan’s exposure is so large that it can’t dump these bad bets without affecting the market and losing even more money. And given its mammoth size and interlinked connections with every other financial institution, anything that shakes J.P. Morgan is likely to rock the rest of the Street.

Bill McKibben: The Koch-Stone XL Pipeline

Two pieces of crucial evidence emerged in the tar sands fight yesterday. One, happily, got all kinds of notice — Jim Hansen’s op-ed in the New York Times was the “most emailed” item of the day, which is appropriate since he explained new calculations showing that those Canadian deposits contain “twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history.” If we burn them on top of all the coal and oil and gas we’re already using, “concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era,” the government’s leading climate scientist explained, which you think would be enough to end the debate — even in our weird political culture, there aren’t many leaders clamoring to return us to the Pliocene.

David Sirota: Our Guns and Butter Economy

Obama: Pitchman for Exporting US-Made Weapons

With the economy still struggling and the debates over how to fix the problem more intense than ever, one word still evokes bipartisan consensus: exports. “I want us to sell stuff,” said President Obama, summing up the bipartisan sentiment.

That nebulous word “stuff” is significant. It asks us to see all exports as the same and to refrain from making nuanced value judgments about what exactly we’re shipping overseas. In this cold-blooded view, a job-creating export is a job-creating export, and that’s as far as any conversation should go.

At first glance, such reductionism seems logical, rational, even boringly uncontroversial. But two recent news items highlight how in a globalized economy, there are troubling consequences that come from the particular kind of export economy we’re building.

May 14 2012

On This Day In History May 14

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

May 14 is the 134th day of the year (135th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 231 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1796, Edward Jenner, an English country doctor from Gloucestershire, administers the world’s first vaccination as a preventive treatment for smallpox, a disease that had killed millions of people over the centuries.

Edward Anthony Jenner (17 May 1749 – 26 January 1823) was an English scientist who studied his natural surroundings in Berkeley, Gloucestershire. Jenner is widely credited as the pioneer of smallpox vaccine, and is sometimes referred to as the “Father of Immunology”; his works have been said to have “saved more lives than the work of any other man”.

Smallpox

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu witnessed the Ottoman Empire practice of variolation during her 1716-1718 sojourn in Istanbul, where her husband was the British ambassador. She brought the idea back to Britain. Voltaire, a few years later, recorded that 60% of people caught smallpox, with 20% of the population dying of it. In the years following 1770 there were at least six people in England and Germany (Sevel, Jensen, Jesty 1774, Rendell, Plett 1791) who had successfully tested the possibility of using the cowpox vaccine as an immunization for smallpox in humans. For example, Dorset farmer Benjamin Jesty had successfully vaccinated and presumably induced immunity in his wife and two children with cowpox during a smallpox epidemic in 1774, but it was not until Jenner’s work some twenty years later that the procedure became widely understood. Indeed, Jenner may have been aware of Jesty’s procedures and success.

Jenner’s Initial Theory:

The initial source of infection was a disease of horses, called “the grease”, and that this was transferred to cows by farm workers, transformed, and then manifested as cowpox.

Noting the common observation that milkmaids did not generally get smallpox, Jenner theorized that the pus in the blisters which milkmaids received from cowpox (a disease similar to smallpox, but much less virulent) protected the milkmaids from smallpox. He may have had the advantage of hearing stories of Benjamin Jesty and others who deliberately arranged cowpox infection of their families, and then noticed a reduced smallpox risk in those families.

On 14 May 1796, Jenner tested his hypothesis by inoculating James Phipps, a young boy of 8 years (the son of Jenner’s gardener), with material from the cowpox blisters of the hand of Sarah Nelmes, a milkmaid who had caught cowpox from a cow called Blossom, whose hide hangs on the wall of the library at St George’s medical school (now in Tooting). Blossom’s hide commemorates one of the school’s most renowned alumni. Phipps was the 17th case described in Jenner’s first paper on vaccination.

Jenner inoculated Phipps with cowpox pus in both arms on the same day. The inoculation was accomplished by scraping the pus from Nelmes’ blisters onto a piece of wood then transferring this to Phipps’ arms. This produced a fever and some uneasiness but no great illness. Later, he injected Phipps with variolous material, which would have been the routine attempt to produce immunity at that time. No disease had followed. Jenner reported that later the boy was again challenged with variolous material and again showed no sign of infection.

Known:

Smallpox is more dangerous than variolation and cowpox less dangerous than variolation.

Hypothesis:

Infection with cowpox gives immunity to smallpox.

Test:

If variolation after infection with cowpox fails to produce a smallpox infection, immunity to smallpox has been achieved.

Consequence:

Immunity to smallpox can be induced much more safely than by variolation.

Ronald Hopkins states: “Jenner’s unique contribution was not that he inoculated a few persons with cowpox, but that he then proved they were immune to smallpox. Moreover, he demonstrated that the protective cowpox could be effectively inoculated from person to person, not just directly from cattle. In addition he tested his theory on a series of 23 subjects. This aspect of his research method increased the validity of his evidence.

He continued his research and reported it to the Royal Society, who did not publish the initial report. After improvement and further work, he published a report of twenty-three cases. Some of his conclusions were correct, and some erroneous – modern microbiological and microscopic methods would make this easier to repeat. The medical establishment, as cautious then as now, considered his findings for some time before accepting them. Eventually vaccination was accepted, and in 1840 the British government banned variolation – the use of smallpox itself – and provided vaccination – using cowpox – free of charge. (See Vaccination acts). The success of his discovery soon began to spread around Europe and as an example was used en masse in the Spanish Balmis Expedition a three year mission to the Americas led by Dr Francisco Javier de Balmis with the aim of giving thousands the smallpox vaccine. The expedtition was successful and Jenner wrote, “I don’t imagine the annals of history furnish an example of philanthropy so noble, so extensive as this.”

Jenner’s continuing work on vaccination prevented his continuing his ordinary medical practice. He was supported by his colleagues and the King in petitioning Parliament and was granted £10,000 for his work on vaccination. In 1806 he was granted another £20,000 for his continuing work.

Legacy

In 1979, the World Health Organization declared smallpox an eradicated disease. This was the result of coordinated public health efforts by many people, but vaccination was an essential component. And although it was declared eradicated, some samples still remain in laboratories in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States, and State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology VECTOR in Koltsovo, Novosibirsk Oblast, Russia.

The importance of his work does not stop there. His vaccine also laid the groundwork for modern-day discoveries in immunology, and the field he began may someday lead to cures for arthritis, AIDS, and many other diseases of the time.

May 14 2012

Off with their heads!

The Atrios school of blogging.

JPMorgan Unit’s London Staff May Go as Loss Prompts Exits

By Dawn Kopecki, Bloomberg News

May 13, 2012 8:45 PM ET

The entire London staff of JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM)’s chief investment office is at risk of dismissal as a $2 billion trading loss prompts the first executive departures as soon as this week, a person familiar with the situation said.

May 14 2012

Umm… When your bartender cuts you off…

Maybe it’s time to go to another bar.

No more bets for Greek euro exit

Athens News

10 May 2012

Want a flutter on Greece leaving the euro zone? It may already be too late. A surge in bets has forced Britain’s biggest bookmakers William Hill Plc and Ladbrokes Plc to suspend betting on the odds of Greece dropping out.



“It is safer for us to suspend betting than to keep cutting the odds,” a spokesman for Ladbrokes said. “We have been slashing the odds repeatedly over the last few days.”

Ladbrokes is still taking bets on the Greek stock market losing more than 25 percent of its value in a single day’s trading by the end of 2012.

And if you fear Greece is just the beginning of the end for the European single currency, Ladbrokes is offering odds on the euro ceasing to exist by the end of 2012, which would make punters 33 times their original stake.

Ladbrokes is offering odds of 5/6 that the euro will cease to exist by the end of 2015 and 4/1 on two or more states to leave the euro by the end of the year.

William Hill, however, has closed betting on the euro still being in existence by the end of 2015 – a possibility it sees as closely linked to what is happening in Greece – with the latest odds before suspension at 4/6 in favour and 11/10 against.

(h/t Calculated Risk)

(h/t Matt Taibbi, 991 views)

Jamie’s Cryin: Dimon, J.P. Morgan Chase Lose $2 Billion

Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

POSTED: May 11, 10:48 AM ET

This incident is certain to reignite the debate about Dodd-Frank and may undermine the broad effort to roll back the bill, which we wrote about in the latest issue of the magazine. Staffers on the Hill started mobilizing the instant the Chase news hit the airwaves yesterday, and you can bet we’ll hear more debate in the next few months about not only the Volcker Rule but the Lincoln Rule, which was designed to wall off risky swaps from the federally-insured side of these banks. I’ve heard from all sides today, with some thinking the Chase trade was Dodd-Frank compliant, and others saying it probably violated both the Volcker and the Lincoln rules.

Either way, the incident underscored the basic problem. If J.P. Morgan Chase wants to act like a crazed cowboy hedge fund and make wild exacta bets on the derivatives market, they should be welcome to do so. But they shouldn’t get to do it with cheap cash from the Fed’s discount window, and they shouldn’t get to do it with money from the federally-insured bank accounts of teachers, firemen and other such real people. It’s a simple concept: you either get to be a bank, or you get to be a casino. But you can’t be both. If we don’t have rules to enforce that concept, we ought to get some.

212 views.

China’s Big Banks Look More Like Paper Tigers

By Jonathan Weil, Bloomberg News

May 10, 2012 7:00 PM ET

After spending time combing through the financial reports of China’s biggest publicly traded, state- owned banks, I now understand what Jim Chanos, the famous short- seller, means when he keeps saying they are “built on quicksand.” He’s definitely on to something.



In a Bloomberg Television interview last week, Chanos said “the Chinese banks ought to be sending a thank-you note to Greece and Spain every month for keeping them out of the limelight.” It’s anyone’s guess how long they will stay this way.

May 14 2012

Pique the Geek 20120513: Melatonin, not just a Sleep Aid

Before we get started, please allow me to wish all of the mums, grandmums, greatgrandmums, greatgreatgrandmums, and, often neglected, adoptive and foster mums out there a very HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!  I just got off of the telephone with the former Mrs. Translator after wishing her the same.  I would have wished my mum and grandmum that as well, but they are no longer in the temporal plane.  I did give a card to my special friend since she has a little girl.

Like my current series about The Moody Blues on Popular Culture, this topic was suggested by my very dear high school buddy Steve Ahlert.  (He approved of me using his name.)  Steve and I sort of lost contact for a while, but now we speak almost every day.  I LOVE my Straight Talk unlimited everything, $45 per month plan and my Samsung T528G!

Steve uses melatonin to help him sleep, and it is very effective for him.  Now, Steve is not some new age trend follower.  Actually he is a professional pharmacist, and is the best pharmacist insofar as knowing his area of expertise that I have ever known.  Equally important, the way that he deals with his patients is outstanding.  He has a knack for translating highly technical information to whatever level is necessary for people to understand what they need to do.

Melatonin is interesting because what has turned out to be sort of an incidental effect gave it its name.  It is also interesting from a molecular structure/activity standpoint because it is chemically related to a whole host of psychologically active agents.  Let us examine this interesting substance.

May 14 2012

1% Want To Steal Your Social Security, Pres. Obama Is Helping Them

Practically since the modern social safety net was created wealthy, powerful right-wingers and organizations have been trying to kill it.  In recent years, those right wing forces have had a lot of help from Democrats in making their twisted dreams a reality.  Organizations like the billionaire Koch family created and funded Cato Institute and hedge fund billionaire Peter Peterson’s namesake foundation have led the fight against Social Security.

The extreme right wing’s attacks and deceptive campaigns over the course of decades are now close to fruition with the help of neoliberal Democrats.

President Obama has come very close to helping right-wingers realize their long-desired goal; only the incredible intransigence of congressional Republicans has saved the social safety net thus far.  

May 14 2012

DocuDharma Digest

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DocuDharma

May 14 2012

Sunday Train: Faster Trains Yields More Services Per Day

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Back in the 29 Nov 2009 Sunday Train, Frequency and Waiting on a Train, I reacted to a point made in John McCommon’s book, Waiting on a Train:

“Once those intermodal trains can go through Stampede Pass, it will take some traffic off the main line and free up more room for additional passenger trains,” said Uznanski.

By bringing the number of trains up to eight a day between Vancouver and Portland, ridership and ticket revenue will increase significantly. Currently ticket sales – what is known as farebox – cover 43% of the Amtrak Cascades’ operating expenses; the state subsidizes the remainder. Run eight trains daily, however, the farebox recovery goes up to 70%.

It’s all about frequency. When trains are frequency and convenient, ridership – particularly business travel – grows dramatically, said Uznanski.

It was a mantra I was to hear from experts all across the country – frequency builds ridership and only frequency significantly builds farebox recovery. Sure its great to have trains running more than 100mph in a corridor, but if there are only a couple of trains a day, they just aren’t convenient enough to move people off the highway or away from the airport.

– John McCommons, Waiting on a Train, Chelsea Green Publishing: Vermont, p. 51

This came back to mind when I was thinking last week about the “Cornhusker Rocket” proposal to reintroduce regular corridor service between Omaha and Chicago via Des Moines, Iowa City and the Quad Cities. Often times, a substantial benefit in getting train speeds up is that ability to operate more services per day with the same number of trains.