RSSCategory: Culture

Matt Taibbi puts the spotlight on the rating agencies

June 20, 2013 | By | Reply More

The financial meltdown could never have happened if the ratings agencies hadn’t rated crap loans as excellent. It would have brought the entire corrupt system to a halt. Matt Taibbi is whipping these culprits with some stunning evidence that has recently come to light.

Thanks to a mountain of evidence gathered for a pair of major lawsuits, documents that for the most part have never been seen by the general public, we now know that the nation’s two top ratings companies, Moody’s and S&P, have for many years been shameless tools for the banks, willing to give just about anything a high rating in exchange for cash.

In incriminating e-mail after incriminating e-mail, executives and analysts from these companies are caught admitting their entire business model is crooked.

“Lord help our fucking scam . . . this has to be the stupidest place I have worked at,” writes one Standard & Poor’s executive. “As you know, I had difficulties explaining ‘HOW’ we got to those numbers since there is no science behind it,” confesses a high-ranking S&P analyst. “If we are just going to make it up in order to rate deals, then quants [quantitative analysts] are of precious little value,” complains another senior S&P man. “Let’s hope we are all wealthy and retired by the time this house of card[s] falters,” ruminates one more.

Here’s Taibbi’s conclusion:

What’s amazing about this is that even without a mass of ugly documentary evidence proving their incompetence and corruption, these firms ought to be out of business. Even if they just accidentally sucked this badly, that should be enough to persuade the markets to look to a different model, different companies, different ratings methodologies.

But we know now that it was no accident. What happened to the ratings agencies during the financial crisis, and what is likely still happening within their walls, is a phenomenon as old as business itself. Given a choice between money and integrity, they took the money. Which wouldn’t be quite so bad if they weren’t in the integrity business.

This is an engaging and detailed article that will leave you frustrated that it’s business as usual for the ratings agencies. Excellent reporting and phenomenal writing by Taibbi.

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The other side of parenting

May 27, 2013 | By | Reply More

I’ve enjoyed being a parent, though it has sometimes been a lot of work. I’m proud of who my two daughters are turning out to be. They teach me many things, including humility.

Recently I read this post at Huffpo, an extraordinarily sad post, or at least that is how I reacted. This website features the comments of people for whom parenting is a sad, and sometimes dismal experience. It includes a “confessional” where people often openly express their dark thoughts regarding their own children. Here’s the post, and here’s the “Scary Mommy Confessional.”

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Bernie Sanders sums up what we can learn from Denmark

May 27, 2013 | By | Reply More

At Reader Supported News, Bernie Sanders notes that Denmark and the United States are very different countries, but insists that there are lessons the U.S. can learn from Denmark:

While it is difficult to become very rich in Denmark no one is allowed to be poor.

Health care in Denmark is universal, free of charge and high quality. . . . They spend about 11 percent of their GDP on health care. We spend almost 18 percent.

Danes understand that the first few years of a person’s life are the most important in terms of intellectual and emotional development. . . [M]others get four weeks of paid leave before giving birth. They get another 14 weeks afterward. . . . [B]oth parents have the right to 32 more weeks of leave during the first nine years of a child’s life. The state covers three-quarters of the cost of child care, more for lower-income workers.

[V]irtually all higher education in Denmark is free.

In Denmark, adequate leisure and family time are considered an important part of having a good life. Every worker in Denmark is entitled to five weeks of paid vacation plus 11 paid holidays. The United States is the only major country that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation time. The result is that fewer than half of lower-paid hourly wage workers in our country receive any paid vacation days.

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New Pope jumps over a very low bar

May 22, 2013 | By | 1 Reply More

Non-believers have been villainized for so long by religious leaders that it leaves us flummoxed when a religious leader fails to take an unfair swipe at us. The religious leader I’m referring to is Pope Francis, and what he said was resoundingly refreshingly ordinary, though it sounded so good coming from the leader of the Catholic Church:

“Atheists should be seen as good people if they do good, Pope Francis has said in his latest urging that people of all religions, and none, work together.

“Just do good, and we’ll find a meeting point,” the pope said in a hypothetical reply to the hypothetical comment: “But I don’t believe. I’m an atheist.”

The new Pope has thus jumped over a very low bar. One small step for a man–one giant leap for a religious leader.

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A breast is a breast is a breast

May 17, 2013 | By | Reply More

According to PolicyMic,

Ladies of New York , you are free to walk bare-breasted through the city! New York City’s 34,000 police officers have been instructed that, should they encounter a woman in public who is shirtless but obeying the law, they should not arrest her. This is a good step towards gender parity in public spaces.

So, a woman’s bare breast should be treated no differently than a man’s breast under the law. Nonetheless, the fact that this NY law is so contentious (or at least newsworthy), means that a breast is not the same as an arm or a leg, especially a woman’s breast. I explore the existential connotations of breasts here.

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The credibility problem of the Fed

May 15, 2013 | By | Reply More

What is the Fed good at? Not much, according to Jessie Eisenger of ProPublica:

Investors . . . have almost no confidence in the Federal Reserve or the economics profession. And for good reason. It’s impressive that the Fed and many economists have successfully predicted the path of interest rates and inflation in the wake of the worst financial crisis in a generation. But neither the central bank nor academicians managed to predict or prevent the crisis in the first place. The failure dwarfs the accomplishment.

The Fed’s track record is out-and-out abysmal.The Fed began its lender-of-last-resort role in 2007, but did little to avoid or minimize the financial crisis. Once it hit, it did the right thing to flood the markets with money, but — along with the Treasury and a passive Justice Department — let banks and top executives off the hook. And now, asset prices are going wild. Junk bonds are up. Stocks are up. Housing in Phoenix and Brooklyn is going mad.

This prebubble euphoria only undermines the Federal Reserve’s fragile credibility. It reinforces the notion that it seems to know only two things: how to inflate bubbles and how to studiously not recognize them.

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Ronald Reagan’s Budget Director describes today’s Republican Party

May 10, 2013 | By | 1 Reply More

I’m convinced that if Ronald Reagan ran for president today, he would not have any chance of being the Republican Party nominee. Further proof of how far the Republican party has drifted comes from David Stockman, who served as Ronald Reagan’s Budget Director. During a recent interview, Stockman was asked about today’s Republican party:

I think the Republican Party is not really a party. It doesn’t stand for anything except reelecting itself. It’s a coalition of gangs….

The Neo Cons which I have no use for are only oriented to an aggressive imperialistic foreign policy, a big defense establishment, and suppression of our civil liberties. That’s a bad. I am against that.

The Tax Cons want to just cut taxes anytime any day regardless of the fiscal situation. That has gone to absurd lengths. I oppose that.

The Social Cons, social policy people, the right to life issue, gay marriage and all that, that’s irrelevant to governing a democracy in a free society.

That is basically the heart of the Republican Party. In that mix how can you find anything that is going to stand for conservative economics, fiscal rectitude, free markets, sound money; it’s not there. The Republican Party is basically irrelevant to the economic crisis that faces the country.

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Lee Camp brings it

May 10, 2013 | By | Reply More

Over the past week, I’ve watched about 20 episodes of Lee Camp’s Moment of Clarity. Camp has the technique down well. Be well informed, then let it fly with equal parts wit and sharp sword. His targets are those who hurt or disparage honorable ordinary people. His videos are well-planned and executed, with the timing of an experienced comedian. Take a look at any of the four posted episodes below, and I suspect that you will become a Lee Camp fan too.

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Facts and figures on American tax evasion

May 8, 2013 | By | Reply More

Shame on those many American tax evaders, those who we euphemistically say are “investing offshore.” Here are some stunning facts and figures, from the Tax Justice Network:

The very existence of the global offshore industry, and the tax free status of the enormoussumsinvestedbytheirwealthyclients,ispredicatedonsecrecy:that is what this industry really “supplies” as it competes for, conceals, and manages private capital from all over the planet, from any and all sources, no questions asked.

We are up against one of society’s most well entrenched interest groups. After all, there’s no interest group more rich and powerful than the rich and powerful, who are the ultimate subjects of our research.

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