Links 9/28/11

Your humble blogger will be on Harry Shearer’s Le Show this Sunday. Check here to find local broadcast times.

Vandana Shiva wins Calgary Peace Prize Food Freedom (hat tip reader Aquifer). I never knew Calgary had a peace prize.

Idiot Documentarians Reveal “Secret IRA Terrorism Footage”. It’s a Video Game from 2009.[Update] Kotaku

Phone-hacking: NoW reporter Neville Thurlbeck takes publisher to tribunal Guardian (hat tip Buzz Potamkin)

Greek Vote Approves a Despised Property Tax New York Times

Europe’s junk bond trade hit by turmoil Financial Times

Split opens over Greek bail-out terms Financial Times. This is seriously not good. The impulse is correct, to make banks take more pain, but you don’t retrade a deal at this late stage. Of course, I’m not alone in expecting the complexity and time needed to get various rescue arrangements approved is just not gonna work, but to have a supposedly settled deal go pear shaped is a very bad sign.

Frau Merkel, it really is a euro crisis Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Telegraph. This is an excellent piece. If I did not have competing responsibilities, I’d have written about it.

Euro Crisis Makes Fed Lender of Only Resort Bloomberg

Analysing the latest battle plan Macro Man

Deal…what deal? MacroBusiness. You gotta love Aussie directness.

Tallying the Toll of U.S.-China Trade Wall Street Journal

Scorning Voting, Protests Surge Globally New York Times

WikiLeaked at the State Department Peter Van Buren, TomDispatch (hat tip reader Thomas R)

Health Insurers Push Premiums Sharply Higher New York Times. Mine hasn’t, but instead somehow fails to receive a remarkably large percentage of the claims I submit. This never happened prior to five years ago, and the frequency increased greatly this year.

“Skin in the Game” Fails As a Health Care Cost Control Idea Jon Walker, FireDogLake. I have a 20% co-pay, which I find to be motivating, and I most assuredly do discuss with doctors whether certain tests are needed. I have skipped some that look to be overdoing it (colonscopies @ 50 for people with no risk factors; the US is the ONLY advanced economy where doctors push colonoscopies and adjusted for demographics, our colon cancer death rate is no better than anywhere else). But as readers can probably infer, I am far less deferential towards authority figures than most people. More broadly Megan McArdle argues that the whole idea of patients as informed consumers is bollocks: patients by definition don’t know enough to make informed choices on what constitutes good care. In America, we’ve been trained to think more is better, which is often not correct.

David Brooks Is Upset at Liberals Who INSIST on Applying Arithmetic to Economics Dean Baker, FireDogLake

US inflation expectations lowest for a year Financial Times

Freddie Mac Low-Balled BofA MBS Settlement Dave Dayen, FireDogLake

Rivals Scout Paulson Assets Wall Street Journal

Annals of management consultancy advice, overdraft-fee edition Felix Salmon (hat tip reader Crocodile Chuck)

The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Part I Noam Chomsky, ZSpace (hat tip reader Thomas R)

Antidote du jour. Richard Smith, in a soft rebellion against cute and fuzzy antidote du jour conventions, has submitted a video that is sufficiently intriguing as to offset the fact that is it about octopuses, which are not on many readers’ most favored critters list. Via Chris Boardman:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


      1. wunsacon

        In his defense, Mish “specializes” a bit. And I prefer to see it, rather than seeing bloggers spread themselves too thin. Public union excesses are worth reporting, too.

        (Doesn’t mean I agree with his recommended solutions though…which seem (to me) to be too reactionary and unintentionally supportive of plutocracy.)

        1. Anonymous Jones

          The public union issue is important, in many ways. There are severe problems with the incentives of the agents of our government to make terrible back-end-weighted bargains with the unions.

          That said, just because an issue is important and just because one person focuses on it, it does not follow that such person is not an idiot.

          Mish is an idiot. He obviously has no real-world experience. He doesn’t use logic in his arguments. He is a man of faith and not facts. He is a man who doesn’t see the limits of his own knowledge and intellectual capacity. He is the classic case of a man not smart enough to even have the ability to understand that there are things he does not know. His moronic rantings on broken window arguments, etc. are embarrassing to anyone who can see that he cannot identify that the world is more complicated than his simple analogy and models (insurance both private and social, leading to geographical and inter-temporal shifting of resources…duh).

          I cannot believe there are people who continue to read this site and his at the same time. Yves is a master of logic and rhetoric, who at the same time understands and appreciates the complexity of the world in which we exist. Mish is a raving, religious lunatic, with nothing to offer at all, as far as I can see.

    1. LeeAnne

      I’ve come to feel fond of Cornel West ever since the radio show with Travis Smiley on nurses against banker obscenity (very much like the NYPD goon behavior we saw against peaceful demonstrators). I think he’s great.

      We part however on the example of the Arab Spring. I won’t believe it was a good thing until I see US-backed spooks, torturers and murderers like Suleiman in Egypt out of power -which they are not.

      The minute our FP leader Clinton talked about time and elections, you knew the apparatus of the status quo was being supported.

    1. Yearning To Learn

      agreed, it is always a joy to rediscover “wonder” when one is a tired and emattled adult.

      that was wonder-ful, and was clearly a perfect antidote.


    2. eclair

      Yes, quite an amazing video. At the end, the biologist says that we are fooling ourselves if “we think the world looks like how we see it.” What is “really” there when we “think” we see a piece of sponge or a rock. Shiver.

    3. Justicia

      That was absolutely Fantastic! Nature never ceases to amaze.

      Thank you, thank you for these animal pix, Yves. We humans think we know so much (thumbs and talk) but the evidence of inter-species communication and (yes) affection in so many of these pictures speaks of intelligence we’re just beginning to acknowledge and respect.

      Now, if we could just stop f@ing up the planet and causing species to go extinct I might agree that ‘human intelligence’ isn’t an oxymoron.

  1. LeeAnne

    Very interesting. Does ‘other animals’ include human beings in the narrator’s world If so, that’s a bit daunting. I’ve heard only recently the scientific designation of people as animals as in eugenics and culling the herd.

    1. aet

      You are in error – the language used to describe humans is not ethically determinative, unless racuist, or designed and intended to harm in itself.

      People ARE animals – mammals, to be exact: ethically, the use of that accurate term to refer to people makes no difference at all – unless you are accustomed to treating animals worse than people for that reason alone. But why would you think that’s ethically permitted to begin with, exactly?

      Bringing animals up our ethical level; not people down to the ethical level of animals. that’s what is meant, when we say “people are animals”. And WE have never hurt animals, simply because they were animals, anyhow…I don’t know about you, though….

      1. aet

        Allowing oneself to treat animals worse than one would do people, but ONLY because we call them “animals”: now that’s unethical in and of itself.

        Do you treat some people worse than others ONLY because of what they are called?

          1. skippy

            Beef have you ever wondered what animals, all living life for that matter, think of the names we give them.

            Skippy…especially when its used in a emotional context….ummm.

  2. Jessica

    From “Frau Merkel, it really is a euro crisis Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Telegraph.”

    “Dr Merkel, what we have is the crisis of a foolish monetary union that ought to be shut down but is being kept alive because the priesthood has endowed it with sacred significance. ….To claim that Europe fails if the euro fails is hollow rhetoric. The great democracies of Europe will march on serenely.”

    Yes, but they may well march on without the current priesthood. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. I am the great and powerful Wizard of Oz.

    The longer the current obsolete elites cling to power, the more fundamental will be the change that removes them. So at least, there will be some benefit in the future for the pain so many are paying now.

    1. Linus Huber

      We all seem to be delusional when we really believe that the next generation is going to accept the debts on all levels (government, business, private). What cannot be paid back, will not be paid back. The form is rather unimportant whether it is a currency union or the system the US is trying to apply in form of currency inflation.

      Let us get real slowly. We have to face the fact that whatever entity is bancrupt, to let them go bancrupt whether talking about banks or governments. This is supposed to happen in a capitalistic system. The people in charge simply try to find new schemes to transfer losses of banks to the tax payers. The reason the system is being kept alive is for the looters to be able to continue their looting. Once and only when the looters must recognize that they cannot get away with the loot will the corruption stop.

      1. Jim Haygood

        ‘The people in charge simply try to find new schemes to transfer losses of banks to the tax payers.’

        Quite right — one example being Bernanke’s openly declared War on Seniors. Daniel Amerman frames the specifics of Bernanke’s depradations, in a document that could be cut-and-pasted verbatim into a criminal indictment:

        The Federal Reserve’s “Operation Twist” represents a $400 billion assault on retirement investment portfolios, pension funds, corporate stock valuations and the financial viability of state and local governments.

        The Fed’s announcement that they will be selling $400 billion of short-term treasuries in order to buy $400 billion in long-term treasuries is not the confusing or ineffective obscurity many observers mistakenly believe it to be, but rather it is a textbook example of the strategy of Financial Repression that the US government has chosen in an attempt to avoid either hyperinflation or default. Succinctly put, the key is to take the massive financial pain that would otherwise be forced on the federal government, and instead move the burden elsewhere.

        Because the government shortfalls are in the tens of trillions of dollars over the coming decades, only a huge target would be able to bear this burden, and such a target has indeed been found: retirement investors, pension beneficiaries and Social Security recipients. The damage from this deliberate targeting of retiree lifestyles and retirement investors will not be confined to older Americans, however, but in combination with related Federal Reserve actions, will ripple out through the entire US economy, the investment markets, and the world economy as well.

        Reform of the Federal Reserve is not possible. It must be abolished, and its tainted Eccles Building demolished like Saddam’s statue.

      2. Maximilien

        “The reason the system is being kept alive is for the looters to be able to continue their looting.”

        Exactly. Looters need loot to loot. Take away the loot and, voila, no more looters. Unfortunately the looters will probably just turn to avocations they are equally qualified for—like shoplifting and purse-snatching.

    2. tiebie66

      Harrisburg, PA: it is not a debt crisis, it is a dollar crisis. At what level of granularity should one switch from monetary to fiscal analysis?

  3. Robert Callaghan

    If bondholders and banks take a haircut it’s supposed to be the end of the world as we know it. The U.S. Fed used the world’s reserve currency to create 2 Trillion bucks to save the American banks. Who do you think has to pay that back? Our children, that’s who. So they told Europe, all you have to do is take the $450 billion in the EFSF and magically turn it into 2 Trillion Eurobucks by entering a higher number on their computers. Magic presto! Now they can use the new 2 Trillion Eurobucks created by new debt to pay off the old debt. No wonder they call it high finance. These guys must be freaking high as a kite. So the average person in southern Europe has to watch their taxes go up and their wages and pensions go down while we pretend that it could never happen in the Great White North. We are told that’s what happens when you play with Socialism while at the same time we give future taxpayers’ money to investors and banks. We fearfully accept this pain because the guys with the big fancy words threaten us with worse if we don’t. Their idea of pain is a 50% haircut on investments while lose our pay, jobs, pensions and homes. Stupidity and fear.

    1. reslez

      Our children will pay back whatever they damn well please, and no agreement you or I or Ben Bernanke makes on their behalf will bind them to anything else. The US government has run a deficit for 199 of the last 200 years. Nothing ever gets paid back. That’s how the monetary system works. Guys in fancy suits will try to scare you into cutting benefits and raising taxes so they can pocket the difference. This is a shakedown, nothing more.

  4. psychohistorian


    I am glad to hear that I am not the only one that chooses to do shit on a stick or nothing in lieu of a colonoscopy every few years…..

  5. Foppe

    Ah, finally.. An opening salvo?
    Peter Orszag: “Too Much of a Good Thing: Why we need less democracy“.

    So what to do? To solve the serious problems facing our country, we need to minimize the harm from legislative inertia by relying more on automatic policies and depoliticized commissions for certain policy decisions. In other words, radical as it sounds, we need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions by making them a bit less democratic.

    I know that such ideas carry risks. And I have arrived at these proposals reluctantly: They come more from frustration than from inspiration. But we need to confront the fact that a polarized, gridlocked government is doing real harm to our country. And we have to find some way around it.

    POLARIZATION—the divergence of voting patterns in Congress—was historically low following World War II. But it started rising rapidly in the 1970s, and it’s now at historic highs. To grasp why such bold measures are needed to circumvent polarization, we first need to understand that it cannot be easily fixed and that it is therefore not going away.

    A common idea in Washington policy circles is that gerrymandering is to blame for polarization. In fact, gerrymandering doesn’t play nearly the role that many people believe. This becomes clear when you compare the House with the Senate. If gerrymandering were the main culprit, we would expect polarization to be considerably worse in the House (where districts are gerrymandered) than in the Senate (where they are not). Yet polarization patterns have been roughly similar in both parts of Congress. Indeed, although the political science literature contains deep disagreements about the causes of polarization, it is virtually unanimous in dismissing gerrymandering as an important force. Sean Theriault of the University of Texas at Austin has concluded that redistricting can explain no more than 10 to 20 percent of the rise in polarization. Other estimates are similar. As Tom Mann of the Brookings Institution has argued, “Gerrymandering cannot account for the sharp partisan polarization of the House, and diagnoses that place it at the center of the problem—as well as the prescriptions that invest entirely in redistricting reform—are clearly flawed.”
    ..[then some examples in the middle that are supposed to distract you from the fact that what he’s proposing is quite disturbing]..
    THE PROBLEM WITH such commissions is that, like automatic stabilizers and backstop rules, they reduce the power of elected officials and therefore make our government somewhat less accountable to voters. Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institution at Stanford puts it this way: “There is something undemocratic about entrusting the formation of big policy decisions to expert commissions.” And yet he also goes on to note that “the process is not less democratic than having nine unelected justices with lifetime tenure and no political accountability to anyone but themselves decide such basic questions as when a woman can have an abortion and where a child can go to school.” He concludes that, despite the risks, rising polarization justifies the increased use of these types of commissions.

    As the debt-limit experience vividly illustrated, by polarizing ourselves, we are making our country more ungovernable—and no one has come up with a practical proposal to deal with the consequences. I wish it were not necessary to devise processes to circumvent legislative gridlock, but polarization isn’t going away. John Adams may have been exaggerating when he pessimistically noted that democracies tend to commit suicide, yet, as we are seeing, certain aspects of representative government can end up posing serious problems. And so, we might be a healthier democracy if we were a slightly less democratic one.
    Peter Orszag is vice chairman at Citigroup and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. This article appeared in the October 6, 2011, issue of the magazine.

    That’s the way to do it. First you corrupt the system, and then you argue that “democracy is obviously unworkable,” and we need to protect the people from its worst excesses.

    1. Hugh

      Orszag is a soldier of kleptocracy, the David Brooks of economists. What he is really saying is that he wants the power to loot to be given over to elite technocrats, you know like him. All he’s doing is advocating for one faction of kleptocrats over another.

      The anti-democracy tone of his piece is disturbing but also something of a distraction. Our political process has been so corrupted that it already is anti-democratic. The two party duopoly gives us choices between corporatist kleptocrat A and corporatist kleptocrat B. Orszag’s piece I take to be a tearing down of even the fiction of democratic process. Our kleptocrats are becoming more overt and feeling less and less the need to hide behind the hollowed out remnants of what was our democracy.

      1. Foppe

        Oh, no disagreement there, but I do find it significant that he feels the time is ripe for formal institutionalization of the informal system.

  6. alex

    re: Health Insurers Push Premiums Sharply Higher

    9% increase in a year, over 100% increase over the last decade. Remember, inflation is low, it’s just that medicine is twice as good as it was in the dark ages of a decade ago!

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Are we talking about medicine being inflicted with Baumol’s Disease – no productivity gains but getting more expensive?

  7. deeringothamnus

    I live in Massachusetts, where my wife and I work for ourselves. There is no freaking way we can afford to pay the over $1000 a month that even catastrophic insurance costs here. Yet, we are breaking the law that requires us to buy health insurance. How can they pass a law that forces people to pay more than they can sanely afford, to a private company no less? It is more rational to save that money for retirement, and to pay for band aids, and to try to stay healthy, than to pay this extortion. In other states, there are affordable policies for the type of insurance we need, which is a huge deductable for catastrophic illness. Why am I not allowed to buy Florida insurance if I live in Massachusetts. Is there another country that sells insurance to non residents? Meanwhile, we will save our money and go to Cuba or Mexico if one of us needs medical attention.

    1. Jim Haygood

      ‘Is there another country that sells insurance to non residents?’

      Probably not. But in most of Lat Am, you can establish residency by meeting a fairly modest income requirement.

      Example: someone I know qualified for Argentine residency based on her Social Security income. She joined a private health plan at a Buenos Aires hospital, at a monthly premium of 652 pesos (US $155 a month), with full medical and dental coverage.

      According to her, it is superbly well organized — one is seen for appointments on time. Many of the doctors were trained in the US. Medications through the hospital pharmacy cost about 10% of the US level.

      Perhaps the US Supreme Court will overturn the hateful Obamacare personal insurance mandate. If not, an alternate way to deal with the heavy-handed extortion imposed by godless corpgov Obamunism is to just fly the coop … before they start requiring exit permits.

    2. reslez

      Why am I not allowed to buy Florida insurance if I live in Massachusetts.

      Because all the insurance companies would relocate to South Dakota or Arkansas and offer policies with more holes than Swiss cheese. You’re cheering for a race to the bottom.

    3. taunger

      have you applied to masshealth to see if they will provide low cost healthcare or subsidize your private plan? I do not know your particular situation, but it seems worth a try if you are feeling the pinch.

  8. Jim Haygood

    Bloomberg writes about Portuguese emigration:

    With Portugal predicting its economy will remain mired in recession for the next two years and unemployment at the highest since at least 1983, workers and companies are turning to the former Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique and Brazil.

    Like Greece and Ireland, Portugal, with a resident population of about 10.6 million, has been a country marked by high rates of emigration. About 5.1 million Portuguese or people of Portuguese origin live outside the country, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Lisbon.

    The number of Portuguese citizens registered in Angola, the biggest oil producer in Africa after Nigeria, rose 64 percent to 91,854 by the end of 2010 from two years earlier, according to the Emigration Observatory in Lisbon. In Mozambique, that number increased 23 percent to 20,413 last year compared with 2008, while the number of Portuguese registered in Brazil grew 9 percent to 705,615, the data showed.

    Brazil, which will host soccer’s 2014 World Cup and 2016 summer Olympics, will grow by 3.8 percent in 2011 and 3.6 percent the following year, the IMF predicts. Angola, which is still rebuilding from a 27-year civil war that followed independence from Portugal in 1975, is expected to expand by 3.7 percent this year and 10.8 percent in 2012, according to the lender’s World Economic Outlook published this month. Growth in Mozambique will probably be 7.25 percent this year and remain at an average 8 percent, the IMF predicts.

    Since unemployment is a lagging indicator of the business cycle (staying high for a couple of years after recovery begins), so is emigration. All too often, this results in emigrants leaping from the frying pan into the fire.

    After their 2001 crisis, many Argentines headed for Spain, which was booming at the time — only to slam head-on into the end of the Spanish property bubble in 2006. Meanwhile, Argentina boomed on for another five years afterward.

    Similarly, stories about the seemingly permanent emigration of young Irish to New York were press staples in the 1980s — just before the ‘Celtic tiger’ meme took hold with a vengeance.

    Now the question is whether Portuguese emigrants are heading for Brazil just in time to encounter the end of its decade-long boom. The IMF’s estimates for Brazilian growth reflect a substantial slowdown, and probably still are too optimistic.

    Should Portugal finally get a clue and restore the escudo, my advice to the Portuguese diaspora would be to take the Rio-Lisbon flight the very next morning and, upon arrival, tie up all the distressed property you can get your hands on. Then sit back and ride the mighty devaluation boom.

  9. Susan the other

    If we continue to print up billion dollar batches of money (or skip that part and just offer credit lines) to cover the short term expenses for European banks, and ours, aren’t we going to be the defacto reserve currency for both continents?

    And it all seems like such crude medicine. The only way that printing up money will ever be effective is if we print up so much of it we can infuse economies, ours and others, right down to the grass roots, to the cellular level. So far we just give the banks money. But the banks are analogous to a bad digestive system. They swallow their dose of dollars, digest it loudly, stumble to the john and blast it out. Then they light some incense. The economy isn’t helped but the banks feel like they moved something. And we are all still dying.

    Can’t we come up with a better delivery device for money?

    1. liberal

      I don’t quite understand the property tax that’s proposed—details are lacking. If it’s a true tax on the value of real property, it’s a good thing, especially if it’s arranged so that it falls harder on land than improvements. But the article makes it sound strange; the tax will “depend on the location and size…” or something like that. Maybe they arranged it so that the truly land-wealthy will end up paying a lower rate on their land value, or some other such shenanigans.

  10. mario

    I think it’s possible for people to make informed decisions about their health care: train them as doctors for 10 years.
    Then they will have the ability to make intelligent decisions when their health problems fall within their specialities.

    If you really want them to make good health care decisions for themselves, train them for 50 years in all medical specialities.

    1. petridish

      Along these lines, it is interesting that some 75% of oncologists would not submit to the slash, burn and poison “cures” they recommend to and provide for their patients.

    2. Hugh

      This is actually a sore point with me. There are a handful of disease processes that the public should and can be trained in as part of their basic education: heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, depression. In addition to these, a basic understanding of how the human body works, sex ed, diet, and exercise. Perhaps a few others, like an overview of cancer with a few of the more common cancers: lung, colon, breast, and prostate and finally dementia.

      In K-12, you have years to develop and reinforce an understanding of these. The public doesn’t need a specialist knowledge of any of these, but a general knowledge is not only quite doable but would eliminate a lot of public ignorance and misconceptions. It would also help demystify the medical profession.

      1. mario

        No doubt. But in order to have the kind of consumer savvy that consumers of medical care are supposed to have, they should at a minimum be tenured professors of medicine since tenured professors are charged with evaluating the complex medical decisions of doctors in training.

        1. Hugh

          I was looking at this from a public health perspective. I reject, as I think you do, the idea that healthcare fits in any sense into a consumer paradigm.

      2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        Teaching kids how to be healthy, how not to fall prey to financial predators, etc…anyting good for them, would simply take away the time needed to prepare them to be cogs in the machine.

  11. Hugh

    Well, the most recent solution to the euro crisis didn’t last long. It was a bank bailout that addressed none of the fundamental problems. But what I find most curious about it is how it burst on to the scene and now just a couple of days later everyone is denying any connection to it. So how exactly did it burst on to the scene? It certainly goosed stock markets just at a point where they looked set to do some serious cliff diving. Coincidence?

  12. Pith Helmet

    More broadly Megan McArdle argues that the whole idea of patients as informed consumers is bollocks: patients by definition don’t know enough to make informed choices on what constitutes good care.
    McArdle must have cashed her check from the AMA this week.

  13. liberal

    More broadly Megan McArdle argues that the whole idea of patients as informed consumers is bollocks…

    STOP THE PRESSES!!1! McMegan actually said something intelligent!

  14. Maximilien

    Re: Greek vote approves property tax

    All 154 of Papandreou’s deputies voted for the measure, with not one dissenter.

    This is the problem with parliamentary democracies like Greece’s: If one party achieves a majority, the leader of that party (in this case Papandreou) becomes a defacto dictator until the next election, because party members almost ALWAYS vote his way (at the risk of banishment from the party and loss of perks if they don’t).

    Papandreou could propose that all Greek citizens turn over their houses in exchange for government-issued tents, and the measure would have a good chance of passing because of the parliamentary majority he enjoys and is free to abuse.

  15. Francois T

    This is the problem with parliamentary democracies like Greece’s: If one party achieves a majority, the leader of that party (in this case Papandreou) becomes a defacto dictator until the next election, because party members almost ALWAYS vote his way (at the risk of banishment from the party and loss of perks if they don’t).

    Would you care to elaborate about the counterweights to such dire problems of the parliamentary democracies, which, BTW, happen to be doing better than presidential regimes nowadays? By better, I mean better on measures of civil rights, economics, indices of public health…you know, these quaint and Mr. Softie kind of criteria despised and scorned upon by real tough-minded manly leaders like the US conservatards and Reichpubliscums.

    Inquiring minds would like to know.

Comments are closed.