Daily Archive: 06/05/2012

Jun 05 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”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Richard (RJ) Eskow: “Middle-Class Millionaires”? Dissecting a Democrat’s Misguided Move

Once again, a Democrat’s letting the Right set the terms of the debate. This time it’s House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who’s undercutting her party’s tax policy in an odd way: by redefining “middle class” so that it includes people making a million dollars a year.

Pelosi’s proposal would be great for millionaires — and bad for everyone else.

It hurts the nation economically by depriving the government of revenue when it should be providing more stimulus funding. It also muddies her party’s messaging, and reinforces the unpatriotic idea that taxes are punishment rather than a fair exchange. Nancy Pelosi is better than this.

Robert Kuttner: Can Merkel Be Moved?

Berlin — Ever since the march to European union began in the late 1940s, French-German collaboration has been at the heart of the project. Until the recent defeat of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, his close alliance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel continued this tradition, albeit on behalf of policies that have driven Europe deeper into depression and inflicted brutal austerity on smaller nations such as Greece and Portugal.

With the May 6 election of French Socialist Francois Hollande on an anti-austerity program, Paris and Berlin are now at odds. If a Social Democratic-Green coalition wins next year’s German elections, expected in September 2013, that would create a progressive Paris-Berlin axis.

There are, however, two huge problems. September 2013 is an eternity away and the European project could go up in smoke in the meantime. The other problem is German public opinion.

Dean Baker: Simple Arithmetic, Not False Narratives Offer Antidote for US Jobs Crisis

Last week’s May jobs numbers were bad news, regardless of how you look at them. Job growth over the last three months has averaged slightly less 100,000 a month, roughly the pace needed to keep pace with labor force growth. The unemployment rate ticked up to 8.2% and the employment to population ratio is still just 0.4 percentage points above its trough for the downturn. And real wages almost certainly declined in May.

However bad this story is, the usual gang of pundits cited in the media had their usual burst of over-reaction. There were many talking of a worldwide slowdown and a possible recession. This is a serious misreading of the jobs report and other recent economic data.

The main story of the apparent weakness of the last three months is the apparent strength of the prior three months. In other words, the story is still the weather. The relatively strong growth in jobs and other measures that was the result of a relatively mild winter meant that we would see weaker growth than normal in the spring.

Chris Hedges: Northern Light

I gave a talk last week at Canada’s Wilfrid Laurier University to the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Many in the audience had pinned small red squares of felt to their clothing. The carre rouge, or red square, has become the Canadian symbol of revolt. It comes from the French phrase carrement dans le rouge, or “squarely in the red,” referring to those crushed by debt.

The streets of Montreal are clogged nightly with as many as 100,000 protesters banging pots and pans and demanding that the old systems of power be replaced. The mass student strike in Quebec, the longest and largest student protest in Canadian history, began over the announcement of tuition hikes and has metamorphosed into what must swiftly build in the United States-a broad popular uprising. The debt obligation of Canadian university students, even with Quebec’s proposed 82 percent tuition hike over several years, is dwarfed by the huge university fees and the $1 trillion of debt faced by U.S. college students. The Canadian students have gathered widespread support because they linked their tuition protests to Quebec’s call for higher fees for health care, the firing of public sector employees, the closure of factories, the corporate exploitation of natural resources, new restrictions on union organizing, and an announced increase in the retirement age. Crowds in Montreal, now counting 110 days of protests, chant “On ne l√Ęche pas“-“We’re not backing down.”

Bill McKibben: The Planet Wreckers

First came the giant billboard with Unabomber Ted Kacynzki’s face plastered across it:  “I Still Believe in Global Warming. Do You?” Sponsored by the Heartland Institute, the nerve-center of climate-change denial, it was supposed to draw attention to the fact that “the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.” Instead it drew attention to the fact that these guys had over-reached, and with predictable consequences.

A hard-hitting campaign from a new group called Forecast the Facts persuaded many of the corporations backing Heartland to withdraw $825,000 in funding; an entire wing of the Institute, devoted to helping the insurance industry, calved off to form its own nonprofit. Normally friendly politicians like Wisconsin Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner announced that they would boycott the group’s annual conference unless the billboard campaign was ended.

Joe Nocera: Turning Our Backs on Unions

The Great Divergence” by Timothy Noah is a book about income inequality, and if you’re thinking, “Do we really need another book about income inequality?” the answer is yes. We need this one.

It stands out in part because Noah, a columnist for The New Republic, is not content to simply shake his fists at the heavens in anger. He spends exactly one chapter on what he calls the “rise of the stinking rich” – that is, the explosion in executive pay and what he calls “the financialization of the economy,” which has enriched one small segment of society at the expense of everyone else.

Mostly, he grapples with the deep, hard-to-tickle-out reasons that the gap between the rich and the middle class in the United States has widened to such alarming proportions. How much have technological advances contributed to income inequality? Globalization and off-shoring? The necessity of having a college education to land a decent-paying job? The decline of labor unions?

Wendell Potter: Guess Who Would Benefit From Privatizing Medicare?

If you think the idea of privatizing Medicare has gone away, that the health insurance industry has thrown in the towel on one of its biggest goals, there was fresh evidence last week that you would be wrong.

As I wrote more than a year ago — when Rep. Paul Ryan (R.-Wis.) unveiled his plan to replace the Medicare system with one that would essentially be run by private insurers — Democrats would be foolish to think that Ryan couldn’t get the public to support the concept. I noted then that insurers would be investing heavily in efforts to convince people that Ryan’s plan represented the only way to save the Medicare program from insolvency.

One of the tried-and-true tactics insurers have used many times to influence public opinion is the enlistment of “third-party advocates” to disseminate industry talking points. Last week an industry friend in high places — Thomas Scully, who headed the Medicare program during much of the George W. Bush administration — weighed in on the matter. It is only a matter of time, Scully told Kaiser Health News, before politicians on both sides of the aisle endorse Ryan’s proposal of providing Medicare beneficiaries with a set amount of money every year to buy coverage from private insurers.

Jun 05 2012

The Megabank Fantasy By The FDIC

After the latest gambling losses by JP Morgan Chase with its “London Whale” deal, the FDIC is still trying to sell the fantasy that they can resolve the problems created by the megabanks. Yves Smith at naked capitalism takes on that myth that was propagated by acting FDIC Chairman, Martin Gruenberg to continue with business as usual:

The guts of the latest FDIC scheme is to resolve only the holding company and keep the healthy subsidiaries, including all foreign subsidiaries, going on a business-as-usual basis:

   …the most promising resolution strategy from our point view will be to place the parent company into receivership and to pass its assets, principally investments in its subsidiaries, to a newly created bridge holding company. This will allow subsidiaries that are equity solvent and contribute to the franchise value of the firm to remain open and avoid the disruption that would likely accompany their closings. Because these subsidiaries will remain open and operating as going-concern counterparties, we expect that qualified financial contracts will continue to function normally as the termination, netting and liquidation will be minimal.

The subsidiaries would be moved over to a new holding company; the equity in NewCo would become an asset of the holding company now in receivership. The old equityholders would likely be wiped out and the bondholders may wind up taking losses.

This all sounds wonderfully tidy and neat, right? Problem is it won’t work. [..]

Remember that in the US, banks (ex Morgan Stanley) have their derivatives booked in the depositary, which means any losses to depositors as a result of derivatives positions gone bad would be borne by taxpayers. And as we’ve written at excruciating length with respect to the Lehman bankruptcy, the magnitude of the losses cannot be explained by overvalued assets plus the costs resulting from the disorderly collapse. Derivatives positions blowing out (as well as counterparties taking advantage of options in how contracts can be closed out and valued) were a major contributor to the size of the Lehman black hole. [..]

It would have been much better for the authorities to make a full bore effort to discourage the use of products that have limited social value and contribute to the excessive integration of firms and markets. Credit default swaps and complex over-the-counter derivatives top our list. But despite the severity of the crisis, regulators and politicians were unwilling to challenge the primacy of the bankers, with the result that the FDIC continues to pretend that an inadequate approach like Dodd Frank resolutions will work. With distress in Europe rising and Morgan Stanley looking wobbly, we are likely to see sooner rather than later how much the failure to implement real reforms will cost us all.

If this sounds all too familiar, it’s because this is just a repeat of the old an stale propping up of TBTF that got the economy into this mess in the first place. In other words, the tax payers will foot the bill for the megabanks gambling losses once again. Obama needs a whole new council of economic advisors with people who have better ideas like Paul Krugman and Yves.

Jun 05 2012

On This Day In History June 5

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.

Click on image to enlarge

June 5 is the 156th day of the year (157th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 209 days remaining until the end of the year

1933, the United States went off the gold standard, a monetary system in which currency is backed by gold, when Congress enacted a joint resolution nullifying the right of creditors to demand payment in gold. The United States had been on a gold standard since 1879, except for an embargo on gold exports during World War I, but bank failures during the Great Depression of the 1930s frightened the public into hoarding gold, making the policy untenable.

Soon after taking office in March 1933, Roosevelt declared a nationwide bank moratorium in order to prevent a run on the banks by consumers lacking confidence in the economy. He also forbade banks to pay out gold or to export it. According to Keynesian economic theory, one of the best ways to fight off an economic downturn is to inflate the money supply. And increasing the amount of gold held by the Federal Reserve would in turn increase its power to inflate the money supply. Facing similar pressures, Britain had dropped the gold standard in 1931, and Roosevelt had taken note.

Prolongation of the Great Depression

Some economic historians, such as American professor Barry Eichengreen, blame the gold standard of the 1920s for prolonging the Great Depression. Others including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman lay the blame at the feet of the Federal Reserve. The gold standard limited the flexibility of central banks’ monetary policy by limiting their ability to expand the money supply, and thus their ability to lower interest rates. In the US, the Federal Reserve was required by law to have 40% gold backing of its Federal Reserve demand notes, and thus, could not expand the money supply beyond what was allowed by the gold reserves held in their vaults.

In the early 1930s, the Federal Reserve defended the fixed price of dollars in respect to the gold standard by raising interest rates, trying to increase the demand for dollars. Its commitment and adherence to the gold standard explain why the U.S. did not engage in expansionary monetary policy. To compete in the international economy, the U.S. maintained high interest rates. This helped attract international investors who bought foreign assets with gold. Higher interest rates intensified the deflationary pressure on the dollar and reduced investment in U.S. banks. Commercial banks also converted Federal Reserve Notes to gold in 1931, reducing the Federal Reserve’s gold reserves, and forcing a corresponding reduction in the amount of Federal Reserve Notes in circulation. This speculative attack on the dollar created a panic in the U.S. banking system. Fearing imminent devaluation of the dollar, many foreign and domestic depositors withdrew funds from U.S. banks to convert them into gold or other assets.

The forced contraction of the money supply caused by people removing funds from the banking system during the bank panics resulted in deflation; and even as nominal interest rates dropped, inflation-adjusted real interest rates remained high, rewarding those that held onto money instead of spending it, causing a further slowdown in the economy. Recovery in the United States was slower than in Britain, in part due to Congressional reluctance to abandon the gold standard and float the U.S. currency as Britain had done.

Congress passed the Gold Reserve Act on 30 January 1934; the measure nationalized all gold by ordering the Federal Reserve banks to turn over their supply to the U.S. Treasury. In return the banks received gold certificates to be used as reserves against deposits and Federal Reserve notes. The act also authorized the president to devalue the gold dollar so that it would have no more than 60 percent of its existing weight. Under this authority the president, on 31 January 1934, fixed the value of the gold dollar at 59.06 cents.

Jun 05 2012

Republicans Off The Track, Democrats Enable Them

Have Republicans become political ‘insurgents’?

   Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute make their first appearance on a Sunday news program since the release of their controversial new book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism.” Mann and Ornstein talk with Up host Chris Hayes and panelists Michelle Bernard, of the Bernard Center, and MSNBC political analyst Michael Steele talk about what they say is the extreme rightward drift of the Republican Party.

From Raw Story:

Mann explained that the separation of powers provided for by our Constitution deliberately creates a situation in which that Congressional majorities are unable to act without some degree of cooperation with the other party. Now that “one of those political parties has veered off the tracks” and become “aggressively oppositional,” it has many tools available to prevent legislation from being passed or enforced.

Ornstein singled out the filibuster as a large part of the problem, because it is being “used routinely,” even on non-controversial legislation. However, he also pointed to Republicans voting even against their own bills in order to avoid giving President Obama anything that would look like a victory.

The elephant in the room is that ideology and obstruction may now be the norm but the Democrats had the opportunity, and still do, to stop the filibuster in the Senate. Thus, the Democrats become the enablers of bad behavior.