Sunday, May 31, 2009

Kan. abortion doc killed in church; suspect held

WICHITA, Kan. – Dr. George Tiller, who remained one of the nation's few providers of late-term abortions despite decades of protests and attacks, was shot and killed Sunday in a church where he was serving as an usher.

The gunman fled, but a 51-year-old suspect was arrested some 170 miles away in suburban Kansas City three hours after the shooting, Wichita Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz said.


High finance vs. human nature.

by John Lanchester June 1, 2009

The world of banking, it’s becoming clear, operates according to different norms from those of the rest of the business world. Take the offsite corporate weekend. Normal behavior on these occasions consists of punishing the minibar and nursing consequent hangovers, hitting on long-fancied colleagues, and putting embarrassing items, ideally pornographic videos, on one another’s hotel bills. For form’s sake, a few new ideas are cooked up, and then gradually allowed to die a natural death when everyone is back at work and liver-function levels have stabilized. In June, 1994, when a team from J. P. Morgan went on an off-site weekend to Boca Raton, they conformed to normative behavior in certain respects. Binge drinking occurred; a senior colleague’s nose was broken; somebody charged a trashed Jet Ski and many cheeseburgers to somebody else’s account. Where the J. P. Morgan team broke with tradition was in coming up with a real idea—an idea that changed the entire nature of modern banking, with consequences that are currently rocking the planet.

The new idea was based on an old one, that of the swap. Say you’re in the grocery business, and feel gloomy about your prospects. Your immediate neighbor is in the stationery business, and he feels gloomy about his prospects, less so about yours. You get to talking, and one of you hits on a brilliant idea: why not just swap revenues? You take his earnings for the year, and he takes yours. The actual business doesn’t change hands, making the swap, in banking terminology, “synthetic.” The first currency swap took place in 1981, and allowed I.B.M. to trade surplus Swiss francs and Deutsche marks for dollars held by the World Bank. The two institutions exchanged their obligations to bondholders and their bond earnings without actually exchanging the bonds. The deal, brokered by Salomon Brothers, was worth two hundred and ten million dollars over ten years and ushered in a whole new field of finance. As Gillian Tett tells it in her book “Fool’s Gold” (Free Press; $26), by the time of the Boca Raton off-site, swaps had become a roaringly successful feature of the banking world: the volume of such interest-rate and currency derivatives was worth twelve trillion dollars, more than the entire U.S. economy.

USA Today's Latest Scare Story on the Deficit

Suppose that President Obama announced tomorrow that he was going to increase spending on the military by an amount equal to 10 percent of GDP ($1.5 trillion a year or $6 trillion over the course of his presidency). This would not affect USA Today's calculation of debt burdens at all. Suppose that he announced that he would eliminate the corporate income tax and institute a special zero tax bracket for incomes over $100,000. This would also increase annual deficits by about $1.5 trillion. This change also would not affect the deficit as highlighted by USA Today in a front page story.

USA Today's deficit does not take account at all of projections of future income tax revenue or projected spending in most government programs. It only considers commitments to a narrow set of retirement programs and Medicare and it only counts the projected payments of taxes designated for these programs by people already in these programs.

When I'm 65: A Retirement Timeline

1636 Plymouth enacts first pension law for colonists injured while fighting Indians.

1776 During Revolutionary War, US promises annuities to generals, war heroes, and those disabled in battle, in part to curtail desertions in future wars.

1862 Civil War leads to first full-fledged pension system for war vets.

Security Blanket: How Social Security Can Save Us All

Thank god, Bush failed to privatize Social Security. Now it can help to rescue the economy.

it's not widely enough appreciated just how hard this economic crisis is going to be on the old. Why? Because unlike the working population, they are often, well, no longer working. And while the laid off are, of course, in deep trouble, those who hold on to their jobs in a depression do fairly well. Their costs (like gasoline) tend to fall more than their incomes. That means real wages rise, as indeed they have, thus far, in this crisis.

But the elderly tend to live off their assets. These include homes, already down by nearly 30 percent nationally and much more in certain parts of the country. They include corporate stocks, often in 401(k) accounts, down by 50 percent or so, so far. They include cash and bonds, which earn the interest rate—enough said. And there's not much else. A sharp decline in any one of these would be a problem; the simultaneous crash of all three is a calamity for the ages—and the aged.

Who Shredded Our Safety Net?

LIKE MOST PEOPLE whose quality of life depends upon the fluctuations of an IRA, 401(k), 403(b), or other acronym-soup retirement account, I was born long before such things existed. It's easy to forget, now that more than half of us have been made shareholders, that until well past the middle of the 20th century, most people had nothing to do with the stock market: Wall Street was for the wealthy and the reckless. It was a world most Americans didn't understand and, after 1929, didn't trust. Some lucky people had pensions, but few had the privilege of even thinking about retirement. They were too busy trying to survive the present—which in my childhood meant the Great Depression and then World War II.

I spent the war years in Washington, DC, where my father had a minor position in the Roosevelt administration. After school, my brother and I spent most of our time running around the streets, trying to get the air-raid wardens to give us a scrap of nylon parachute, or maybe even one of their cast-off World War I helmets, before the blackout drill began. One evening, my mother called us into the dining room and solemnly presented each of us with a $25 war bond. That was my first contact with the world of investment. Compared to a piece of parachute, it was a real downer.

Pension Privateers

How the boss absconded with your benefits.

john snow won't have to worry about his retirement. When he left the csx railroad to become George W. Bush's second treasury secretary, he took with him a $2.5 million annual pension. The figure was based on 44 years of employment at csx, never mind that Snow had been there for only 25 (during which, incidentally, he brutally cut safety and maintenance, to the point where a jury awarded a widow $50 million in punitive damages after a derailment—money paid by the taxpayers because of a little-known law that insulated Snow and his company from the costs of his egregious judgment). That kind of boost is unheard of for the rank and file, but not at all uncommon for corporate executives and owners.

Snow's case is typical of the way corporate executives have, for the past 35 years, managed to gild their retirement benefits even as they hollowed out workers' pensions.

What One Stimulus Buck Could Do

Can this architect's "14x" plan simultaneously slash CO2, create millions of jobs, and save local government?

Fri May 29, 2009 9:45 AM PST

Okay, quick: Which portion of the US economy consumes the most energy?

Nope. It’s not transportation. Not manufacturing either. The correct answer is the building sector, which guzzles about three-quarters of the nation's electricity and half of our overall energy—and is responsible for almost half of America's carbon emissions.

The crusade for a Christian military

When Sergeant Jeffery Humphrey and his squad of nine men, part of the 1/26 Infantry of the 1st Infantry Division, were assigned to a Special Forces compound in Samarra, he thought they had drawn a dream duty. “Guarding Special Forces, it was like Christmas,” he says. In fact, it was spring, 2004; and although Humphrey was a combat veteran of Kosovo and Iraq, the men to whom he was detailed, the 10th Special Forces Group, were not interested in grunts like him. They would not say what they were doing, and they used code names. They called themselves “the Faith element.” But they did not talk religion, which was fine with Humphrey.

Katha Pollitt: Amber Waves of Blame

Can we please stop talking about feminism as if it is mothers and daughters fighting about clothes? Second wave: you're going out in that? Third wave: just drink your herbal tea and leave me alone! Media commentators love to reduce everything about women to catfights about sex, so it's not surprising that this belittling and historically inaccurate way of looking at the women's movement--angry prudes versus drunken sluts--has recently taken on new life, including among feminists. Writing on DoubleX
.com, the new Slate spinoff for women, the redoubtable Linda Hirshman delivered a sweeping attack on younger feminists for irresponsible partying, as chronicled on, a Gawker-family blog devoted to "Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing." Likewise, a silly "debate" over whether Sex and the Single Girl did more for women than The Feminine Mystique followed the release of Jennifer Scanlon's Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown. As Naomi Wolf wrote in the Washington Post, "The stereotype of feminists as asexual, hirsute Amazons in Birkenstocks that has reigned on campus for the past two decades has been replaced by a breezy vision of hip, smart young women who will take a date to the right-on, woman-friendly sex shop Babeland." Pick your caricature.

What's wrong with parsing feminism along a mother/daughter divide? Everything.

First of all, it's chronologically off. If second wavers are those who made the women's liberation movement in the late 1960s and '70s, they are not the mothers of today's young feminists but their grandmothers. Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, Barbara Seaman and Del Martin are dead. Adrienne Rich is 80, Robin Morgan is 68. Gloria Steinem, still fabulous, celebrated her seventy-fifth birthday on March 25. The wave construct obscures the perspective of women ten or even twenty years younger, like, um, me--in 1966, when NOW was founded, I was a junior in high school--or Susan Faludi (b. 1959), bell hooks (b. 1952) or Anna Quindlen (b. 1952).

Frank Rich: Who Is to Blame for the Next Attack?

AFTER watching the farce surrounding Dick Cheney’s coming-out party this month, you have to wonder: Which will reach Washington first, change or the terrorists? If change doesn’t arrive soon, terrorists may well rush in where the capital’s fools now tread.

The Beltway antics that greeted the great Cheney-Obama torture debate were an unsettling return to the post-9/11 dynamic that landed America in Iraq. Once again Cheney and his cohort were using lies and fear to try to gain political advantage — this time to rewrite history and escape accountability for the failed Bush presidency rather than to drum up a new war. Once again Democrats in Congress were cowed. And once again too much of the so-called liberal news media parroted the right’s scare tactics, putting America’s real security interests at risk by failing to challenge any Washington politician carrying a big stick.

Green Promise Seen in Switch to LED Lighting

To change the bulbs in the 60-foot-high ceiling lights of Buckingham Palace’s grand stairwell, workers had to erect scaffolding and cover precious portraits of royal forebears.

So when a lighting designer two years ago proposed installing light emitting diodes or LEDs, an emerging lighting technology, the royal family readily assented. The new lights, the designer said, would last more than 22 years and enormously reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions — a big plus for Prince Charles, an ardent environmentalist. Since then, the palace has installed the lighting in chandeliers and on the exterior, where illuminating the entire facade uses less electricity than running an electric teakettle.

In shifting to LED lighting, the palace is part of a small but fast-growing trend that is redefining the century-old conception of lighting, replacing energy-wasting disposable bulbs with efficient fixtures that are often semi-permanent, like those used in plumbing.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Thomas Frank

The GOP's Feigned Outrage
It takes chutzpah to protest what you've created.

The Tilting Yard: Gangs of D.C.
Power is sexy in the nation's capital.

Republicans vs. Bureaucrats
You can't starve government and blame it too.

Let's Move Their Cheese
We can get better bank management for a fraction of the cost.

Digby:Panic Artists

I have been desperate for someone other than bloggers to say this for years. Here's Richard Clark:

[L]istening to Cheney and Rice, it seems that they want to be excused for the measures they authorized after the attacks on the grounds that 9/11 was traumatic. "If you were there in a position of authority and watched Americans drop out of eighty-story buildings because these murderous tyrants went after innocent people," Rice said in her recent comments, "then you were determined to do anything that you could that was legal to prevent that from happening again."

I have little sympathy for this argument. Yes, we went for days with little sleep, and we all assumed that more attacks were coming. But the decisions that Bush officials made in the following months and years -- on Iraq, on detentions, on interrogations, on wiretapping -- were not appropriate.

Zoellick Warns Stimulus ‘Sugar High’ Won’t Stem Unemployment

By Timothy R. Homan

May 30 (Bloomberg) -- World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned policy makers that fiscal-stimulus plans are insufficient to turn around the “real economy” and rising joblessness threatens to set off political unrest across the globe.

“While the stimulus has given an impulse, it’s like a sugar high unless you eventually get the credit system working,” Zoellick said in an interview yesterday with Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt.” “When unemployment increases, that’s probably the most political combustible issue.”

U.S. minimum wage hike a stimulus to economy: report

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A higher U.S. minimum wage is providing a cushion to the economy when it is most needed, according to a report released on Thursday.

The Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think-tank based in Washington, said recent rises in the minimum wage have acted as a "stealth stimulus," preventing the worst recession in generations from spiraling out of control.

Paul Krugman: The Big Inflation Scare

Suddenly it seems as if everyone is talking about inflation. Stern opinion pieces warn that hyperinflation is just around the corner. And markets may be heeding these warnings: Interest rates on long-term government bonds are up, with fear of future inflation one possible reason for the interest-rate spike.

But does the big inflation scare make any sense? Basically, no — with one caveat I’ll get to later. And I suspect that the scare is at least partly about politics rather than economics.

First things first. It’s important to realize that there’s no hint of inflationary pressures in the economy right now. Consumer prices are lower now than they were a year ago, and wage increases have stalled in the face of high unemployment. Deflation, not inflation, is the clear and present danger.