Monday, December 6, 2010

Last Call

Wrapping up this fine evening, we have the following highlights:

Elizabeth Edwards will stop cancer treatment after doctors advised her that it would not be productive. In a touching Facebook release, she demonstrates strength and class and everything one could hope to muster after an announcement of this nature.

A young woman in London purchased a sandwich and her Stradivarius was stolen. If you think you had a bad day, it can't be compared to how this she feels. A generous reward has been announced, but so far the violin has not turned up.

Haitian government now figure more than 2,000 people have died of cholera since late October. The worse news is that there is not an expected improvement anytime soon. The United Nations said last week that the death and infection tolls could be twice as high as officially reported. It's pretty bad when 2,000 is the optimistic figure.

Missouri's governor Jay Nixon believes that you should have to visit a doctor for a prescription for medicines that are currently available over the counter. This would make it slightly more difficult for meth distributors to use pseudoephedrine to manufacture the drug. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of uninsured Missourians will not be able to get simple medicine and will suffer. This is after rejecting other methods of controlling the legal but abusable substance. There has to be a better way than this, Jay.

Google launches its book store, and is expected to rival Amazon. The formats can be read on the Droid phone, and is actually compatible with nearly every reader except Amazon's Kindle. They have a delightful free section, and at a glance, I was impressed. I'm very curious to see how it holds up in the long run. Amazon has dominated the market for so long, it would take a Google to knock them down a peg. In a final bid for the market, the untapped resource is a way to reach out to writers and help them get their books out to the public. Is Google Publisher next?

Hot Off The Presses, Or Six Hundredths Of A Degree Of Separation

The Daily Mail's David Rose notes that the British Meteorological Office has lowered its 2010 yearly temperature forecast slightly from this time last year.  This means that global warming is over, the cult of climatological change has been completely debunked, and Al Gore is fat.

Never mind that Britain, just as it was last winter and the winter before, was deep in the grip of a cold snap, which has seen some temperatures plummet to minus 20C, and that here 2010 has been the coolest year since 1996.

Globally, it insisted, 2010 was still on course to be the warmest or second warmest year since current records began.

But buried amid the details of those two Met Office statements 12 months apart lies a remarkable climbdown that has huge implications - not just for the Met Office, but for debate over climate change as a whole.

Read carefully with other official data, they conceal a truth that for some, to paraphrase former US Vice President Al Gore, is really inconvenient: for the past 15 years, global warming has stopped.
OK there, Dave.  So, what's the conclusions you're drawing from the forecast then from heat being reflected harmlessly back into space by Al Gore's mass?

But though it was still successfully trying to influence media headlines during Cancun last week by saying that 2010 might yet end up as the warmest year, the small print reveals the Met Office climbdown. Last year it predicted that the 2010 average would be 14.58C. Last week, this had been reduced to 14.52C.

That may not sound like much. But when one considers that by the Met Office's own account, the total rise in world temperatures since the 1850s has been less than 0.8 degrees, it is quite a big deal. Above all, it means the trend stays flat.

Right.  0.06 degrees compared to 0.8 degrees is huge!  Warming is over!  Al Gore is absorbing CO2!  I mean that has to prove global temps are going down, right if it's 14.52 Celsius, yes?

The current record record is 14.52C (58.14F), which was set in 1998.

So...the forecast is lowered so that we simply tie the record for hottest year rather than beat it handily and that proves global warming is done for.  That's science!

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter, Part 47

Tyler Durden notes today's Foreclosuregate proceedings, where Moody's may have just ruined Bank of America's day.

Two weeks ago, the New York Times's Gretchen Morgensen wrote an article in which she touched upon the curious case of Kemp vs. Countrywide Home Loans in which Countrywide held on to the original mortgage note and related docs "even though the pooling and servicing agreement governing the mortgage pool that supposedly held the note required that it be delivered to the trustee, the court document shows" thereby impairing the integrity and validity of all downstream securities.

Prior to this (and since) we have seen many more cases in which there was outright court fraud in some capacity, either w/r/t the PSA or the already well known issue of robosigning. It is no surprise that after making a splash, this topic has disappeared from the mainstream media, as banks are doing all they can to "silence" the debate, whose implications could be terminal for the US leveraged housing paradigm, which has existed since the advent of the GSEs.

Yet, surprisingly, in today's Weekly Credit Outlook, Moody's brings new attention to this particular case, and adds some language that if one were the CEO of Bank of America, one would be very, very nervous, more so than even how damaging the revelations from the Wikileaks disclosure on BofA may end up being. To wit: "We believe the case will lead to increased litigation, higher servicing costs, and more foreclosure delays. This will pressure BofA’s earnings. Increased foreclosure timelines and costs associated with potentially defective loans will also increase losses for Countrywide-sponsored RMBS. This is negative for both BofA and Countrywide-sponsored RMBS." 

Translation: Countrywide/BoA tried to have their cake and eat it too, keeping the mortgage note AND saying "yeah, we turned it into the trust to have it securitized."  Problem is doing both at the same time is securities fraud.  Who knows how many of those Countrywide mortgages that BoA picked up are in two places at once?

Going to be very expensive for BoA to resolve, enough so that Moody's is commenting on it.  Could get really interesting.

Epic Go Go Fraud-zilla Fail

The Justice Department has issued hundreds of warrants in a series of major financial fraud stings.

Nearly 350 people have been criminally charged, law enforcement officials said at news conference Monday at the U.S. Justice Department. They included peopled alleged to be running Ponzi schemes, pump-and-dump schemes and foreign-exchange scams. Officials said they have also charged 189 people in civil actions.

Losses from the alleged frauds cost victims thousands and sometimes millions of dollars, officials said. The total losses from all the alleged schemes totals $8.3 billion, according to a news release.

"These are staggering, staggering numbers," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said at the news conference. 

And yet the people responsible for defrauding us out of trillions and creating the financial crisis are still not only not in jail, but still gainfully employed.

Good work there Eric going after that $8 billion and leaving a thousand times that on the table.


Tax Break Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Part 2

The National Apology For Kentucky Tour continues unabated as it reaches the NY Times.

The developers of Ark Encounter, who have incorporated as a profit-making company, say they expect to spend $150 million, employ 900 people and attract 1.6 million visitors from around the world in the first year. With the Creation Museum only 45 miles away, they envision a Christian tourism corridor that would draw busloads from churches and Christian schools for two- and three-day visits.

It’s our opportunity to present accurate, factual biblical information to people about a subject that they’re really interested in,” said Mike Zovath, a senior vice president of Answers in Genesis.

In the interest of verisimilitude, the ark is to be built with wooden pegs and timber framing by Amish builders, Mr. Zovath said. Animals including giraffes — but only small, young giraffes — will be kept in pens on board.

“We think that God would probably have sent healthy juvenile-sized animals that weren’t fully grown yet, so there would be plenty of room,” said Mr. Zovath, a retired Army lieutenant colonel heading the ark project. “We want to show how Noah would have taken care of them, taken care of waste management, taken care of water needs and food needs.”

Ark Encounter is designed to be a model of environmentally sensitive development, Mr. Zovath said, to minimize its carbon footprint. “I don’t believe in global warming,” he said, “but I do believe we’ve got to be good stewards of everything God’s given us.” 

I do hope the drainage requirements have been taken into account.  If the park ever flash floods, I may die from irony overload.

To recap, these guys are getting $37.5 million of their $150 million investment back in state tax breaks for a building an actual, factual bible theme park.  To everyone who says this is great and wonderful and it will bring jobs to the NKY, would you approve if it was a Muslim theme park?

Why is it okay to approve state taxpayer money for a Christian theme park then?  Or as Joe Sonka puts it, we need a new state advertising logo:

Yabba Dabba D'oh.

Gol...Silver Rush?

Silver just topped $30 on spot pricing today.  It was poking around at $18 an ounce just 4 four months ago and $15 earlier this year.

U.S. silver futures rose above $30 an ounce on Monday, gaining more than 2 percent as gold's rally—along with strong demand from momentum traders and retail investors—lifted the metal to its highest level since 1980.

U.S. March silver futures climbed above $30 on the Comex division of the Nymex, having earlier rose as high as $30.085.

Interesting bubbles we're having here.  Banks have had big positions in gold and silver for a while now and they've got a lot of extra cash to play with to affect commodity positions. Looks like copper may be next.

[UPDATE] Gold also hit an all time nominal spot high of $1,427 an ounce today.

In A Class Action By Itself

The Roberts court has agreed to hear Wal-Mart's case that a massive class-action suit for gender bias leveled against it is just too large to allow to exist.

The U.S. Supreme Court, heeding calls from companies to consider curbing class actions, agreed to decide whether Wal-Mart Stores Inc. must face a gender-bias suit on behalf of potentially 1 million of its workers.
The justices today said they will review a federal appeals court decision that approved a single suit to cover the claims of women who worked at the retailer’s 4,400 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores since 2001. The suit, which threatens Wal-Mart with billions of dollars in liability, would be the largest-ever U.S. employment class action.

The dispute looms as perhaps the biggest business case of the court’s nine-month term. Nineteen companies, including Bank of America Corp. and Microsoft Corp., urged the justices to take up the Wal-Mart appeal. They said the lower court opinion makes it too easy for workers challenging employment practices to secure class-action status and then extract large settlements.

The lower court ruling “would dramatically broaden the circumstances where classes can be certified in all types of cases against all types of companies,” Wal-Mart’s lawyer, Theodore Boutrous, said in an interview.

Wal-Mart of course wants one million plus separate cases, in anticipation that the legal costs of doing that would overload the system, take decades to process, and assure that a huge single settlement can't be leveled against the company.  In effect, it's asking for SCOTUS to define an upper boundary on the size of class-action suits in general.

Banks have Too Big To Fail.  Wal-Mart wants to be Too Big To Sue.

The idea is that if companies perform something egregious enough, a limit on class-action suits and what can be turned into a class-action suit will allow them to basically get away with it because of the prohibitive cost of suing.

SCOTUS could go a couple ways on this, but what Wal-Mart (and the major companies backing it here) are looking for is for the Roberts court to make class-action suits as difficult as possible to create.

That should be disturbing to everyone.

[UPDATE] More on this from the always excellent SCOTUSblog.

We're Steele Making A Terrible Moose-take

Brian Beutler is reporting that Tea Party groups are trying to draft Sarah Palin into getting Michael Steele's job as head of the RNC.

The national Tea Party Nation group is planning to send a letter to Sarah Palin asking the former governor of Alaska and John McCain sidekick to run for chair of the Republican National Committee.

Tea Party Nation leader Judson Phillips says in his letter to Palin that without her at the helm of the RNC, the party will fall back into "establishment" hands.

"We need you as Chairman of the RNC. You have shown in the past no hesitation to take on the establishment. You did it in Alaska," Phillips writes in the letter. "If we end up with establishment control of the GOP and their support for an establishment candidate in 2012, Obama and the socialists will have won...We need someone who will put conservatives in control of the party apparatus, not RINOs."

This ought to be fun, especially since the entire point of RNC chair is to be a gaffe-prone lightning rod to blame for anything that might go wrong.  Governor Half-Term there should fit right into the comedy routine over there.

Unfortunately, her egotistical narcissism won't allow her to do it, because it would be she'd be tied down with "responsibilities" while stringing the press along on the Will She Or Won't She Tour 2010.   Can't have that.

Besides, she's got her sights on the top prize.  Icarus needs a sun to fly too close to, after all.

Too Much Social, Not Enough Security

Yggy discovers the reason why our Washington Centrist betters have no problem cutting Social's not like they'll be missing the cuts.

Even though Social Security is only a very mildly redistributive program, inequality of wealth is such that it’s a vital element of the bottom 60 percent’s living standards but kind of small beer to the top twenty percent. But I would say the other thing here on the Medicare / Social Security contrast is that Medicare isn’t just a subsidy program for old people. It’s also a subsidy program for doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, pharmaceutical executives, etc. Those people have lobbyists, many of their professions are well-respected, and many members of the political/media elite have siblings, cousins, college buddies, and even spouses who work in those fields.

True. But notice what else that low income American seniors depend on: cash assistance programs like SNAP, too. And top earning Americans depend less on pension programs than second quintile Americans.

And what's under attack by these conservative betters of ours? Cash assistance, Social Security, and pensions for government workers, very little of which the top quintile will miss. They have significant earnings and other assets like stocks and bonds...exactly what we're told we have to lower the taxation burden on, and that it's fine that we do this because we can "afford it".

Funny how that works.

America's Stockholm Syndrome

The word from Washington this week is Republican extortion tactics work.

Top senators from both parties indicated Sunday that a deal was likely soon on temporarily extending Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans, along with unemployment benefits that have expired.

However, Republican senators made clear they are unlikely to budge in their opposition to other Democratic priorities in the final weeks of the lame-duck session of Congress that ends in early January.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told the NBC program "Meet the Press" he was "optimistic" about an agreement on the tax rates and jobless benefits, but added there likely wasn't time for the Senate to ratify a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia or complete work on a major defense bill that includes repeal of the "don't ask, don' tell" policy banning openly gay and lesbian soldiers.

Democrats, stymied by the ability of Senate Republicans to filibuster their agenda, shot back with angry words.
"I hope Americans will understand how craven and empty and hollow and contradictory the Republican position is," veteran Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, told CNN.

To recap, Republicans are holding unemployment benefits for millions of Americans hostage.  They want tax cuts for millionaires and to kill the rest of the Obama agenda, i.e. total victory, or else millions of Americans will literally pay a brutal price.  This is called "bipartisanship".

The best part is this will increase the deficit for years to come, and Obama will be blamed for it.  Kerry is right, it's hollow and craven, but the Village will make sure it works by running articles calling this a "deal" rather than dropping headlines like "Republicans Take American Middle Class Hostage, Demand Everything."

For hundreds of millions of Americans, this "deal" is a complete shafting.  But centrism will prevail, centrism in this case being total capitulation to conservative bigots.  If Obama gives this away, even I have to look for my firebagger card.

[UPDATE]   President Obama is expected to make remarks about this deal today in NC.

[UPDATE 2]  Bob Cesca also points out the very likely possibility that Republicans will just refuse to extend unemployment benefits anyway and blame the Dems, demanding the benefits be paid for through additional spending cuts elsewhere.  Total victory indeed.

[UPDATE 3] In fact, Republicans can't wait to kill the deal and blame Obama.


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