Assorted Links 5/8/10


“How Russians play the balalaika these days.”

  • Understanding Congressional Budgeting and Appropriations, May 13, 2010
  • Strategies for Working with Congress: Effective Communication and Advocacy on Capitol Hill, May 21, 2010
  • Congress in a Nutshell: Understanding Congress, June 3, 2010
  • Congressional Dynamics and the Legislative Process, June 4, 2010
  • Mark Twain on Copyright – “Remarks of Samuel Langhorne Clemens Before the Congressional Joint Committee on Patents, December, 1906 (Mark Twain on Copyright)”
  • Capitol Hill Workshop, June 9-11, 2010
  • Wi-Fi Classroom – How to Find, Track, and Monitor Congressional Documents: Going Beyond Thomas, June 24, 2010
  • Wi-Fi Classroom – How to Research and Compile Legislative Histories: Searching for Legislative Intent, June 25, 2010
  • Persuading Congress: Candid Advice for Executives – “Persuading Congress, by Joseph Gibson, is a very practical book, packed with wisdom and experience in a deceptively short and simple package.

    This book will help you understand Congress. Written from the perspective of one who has helped put a lot of bills on the president’s desk and helped stop a lot more, this book explains in everyday terms why Congress behaves as it does. Then it shows you how you can best deploy whatever resources you have to move Congress in your direction.”

  • Illegal Immigration: Not Like Getting Drunk or Stealing Television Sets – “The best way to get rid of the bad external effects of unlawful immigration is to bring what is lawful in line with what is right. A common North American labor market would bring cross-border labor migration within the rule of law, thereby establishing order and peace where there is now disorder and violence. All this while increasing liberty and encouraging rather than discouraging cooperation and the efficient production of wealth!

    I’m not sure if I buy Ross’s argument that (much more modest) liberalizing reform becomes more realistic if enforcement under current law is improved. To me this sounds like an argument that if the state is able to make its coercion more effective, and the side-effects of its injustice less visible, Americans will feel more comfortable about opening things up a bit. Maybe it works like that, but I’m skeptical. Would a better executed Jim Crow have sped the way toward racial equality?”

  • Tip-Toe to the Exits? – “I got Bank of America to sign off their rights to pursue a deficiency judgement on a short sale, when the mortgage was purchase money. You’d think it would make sense for the lenders to cooperate when the borrower can walk without recourse, but it’s not automatic.

    Maybe this example is a sign of BofA trying to clean out the drawer? This short sale has been in process since September, and we already lost the buyer.

    In addition, for the first time they’ve issued a prompt for me to hurry up with my BPOs. They are making their agents produce two opinions of value before listing, which is annoying, but getting some additional pressure from them might mean they’re trying to pick up steam?”

  • Expect Nothing – “If you want to call for a ‘rescheduling’ of Greece’s debts — a position that is becoming increasingly popular among leading north European intellectuals — that is fine. But you also need to recognize that the policy elite (central banks and ministries of finance) are completely unprepared to handle the consequences, which would be immediate and devastating for other weaker eurozone countries.

    You simply cannot do a low-cost or small unilateral restructuring of government debt in this kind of situation; the market will at once take that as a signal that Portugal, Spain, Italy and perhaps even Ireland will face difficulties (in fact, this is exactly what spreads in the 2-year European government bond market are saying today). The French may smile upon such outcomes with a feeling of superiority, but they might also consider not throwing bricks in glass houses.

    It is fine — even appropriate — to emphasize that big European banks have aided and abetted the irresponsible behavior of eurozone authorities. The profound stupidity of these banks-as-organizations is beyond belief, and it is deeply puzzling quite why leading figures in the US Senate would see them as a model for anything other than what we need to euthanize as soon as possible in the global financial system.

    But do not fall into the trap of thinking just because ‘megabanks are bad’ (undoubtedly true) that you can whack them with losses and not face the consequences — these people are powerful for a reason; they hold a knife to our throats. For all his hubris, missteps, and over-reliance on Goldman group think, Hank Paulson had a point in September 2008: If the choice is chaotic global collapse or unsavory financial rescue, which are you going to choose?

    The Europeans will do nothing this week or for the foreseeable future. They have not planned for these events, they never gamed this scenario, and their decision-making structures are incapable of updating quickly enough. The incompetence at the level of top European institutions is profound and complete; do not let anyone fool you otherwise.”

  • The Mother of All Bubbles: Huge National Debts Could Push Euro Zone into Bankruptcy – “For the moment, this is the last skirmish between the old ideas and ideals of prosperity paid for on credit and a generous state, against the new realization that the time has come to foot the bill. The only question is: Who’s paying?
    . . .
    European governments agree that saving Greece is imperative. They are worried about the euro, and the Germans are concerned about their banks, which, lured by the prospect of high returns, have become saturated with government bonds from Greece and other southern European countries. They are also terrified that after a Greek bankruptcy, other weak euro countries could be attacked by speculators and forced to their knees.

    There are, in fact, striking similarities to the Lehman bankruptcy. This isn’t exactly surprising. The financial crisis isn’t over by a long shot, but has only entered a new phase. Today, the world is no longer threatened by the debts of banks but by the debts of governments, including debts which were run up rescuing banks just a year ago.

    The banking crisis has turned into a crisis of entire nations, and the subprime mortgage bubble into a government debt bubble. This is why precisely the same questions are being asked today, now that entire countries are at risk of collapse, as were being asked in the fall of 2008 when the banks were on the brink: How can the calamity be prevented without laying the ground for an even bigger disaster? Can a crisis based on debt be solved with even more debt? And who will actually rescue the rescuers in the end, the ones who overreached?
    . . .
    All of the major industrialized countries have lived beyond their means for decades. Even in good times, government budget deficits continued to expand. The United States, in particular, paid for its prosperity on credit. The poor example set by the state was contagious — US citizens began buying cars and houses they couldn’t really afford, and banks speculated with borrowed money.

    Things couldn’t possibly go well forever and, indeed, the financial crisis put an end to the days of unfettered spending. To avert a collapse, governments came to the rescue with vast sums of money, guaranteed their citizens’ savings and jump-started the economy with massive stimulus programs — all with borrowed money, of course.
    . . .
    The current government debt bubble is the last of all possible bubbles. Either governments manage to slowly let out the air, or the bubble will burst. If that happens, the world will truly be on the brink of disaster.

    When Greece faces a possible bankruptcy, the euro-zone countries and the IMF come to its aid. But what happens if the entire euro group bites off more than it can chew? What if the United States can no longer service its debt because, say, China is no longer willing to buy American treasury bonds? And what if Japan, which is running into more and more problems, falters in its attempts to pay for its now-chronic deficits?

    The conditions that prevail in Greece exist in many countries, which is why governments around the world are paying such close attention to how — and if — the Europeans gain control over the crisis.
    . . .
    Washington is worried about being drawn into the vortex of national bankruptcies itself. The national debt has exploded in the United States in the last two years, more than in almost any other country, because the government has had to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to support the economy and banks.

    Geithner fears that investors could also at some point lose confidence in the soundness of American government finances. According to a strictly confidential IMF document, referred to internally as an early warning exercise, the US’s finances are still considered sound — with, however, some qualifications.

    The United States is still capable of fulfilling all of its obligations, the document states, but it also points out the worrisome rate at which the national debt is growing.
    . . .
    The rescue package is now a done deal, and the Greeks have a clearer idea of what is in store for them. A European nation has hardly ever been expected to make comparable sacrifices in peacetime. In return for the bailout deal announced Sunday, the Greek government will implement further cost-cutting measures, including drastic reductions in salaries and pensions, further tax hikes and a stricter austerity program for all of the country’s public budgets.

    It won’t be long before new unrest and protests erupt among the Greeks, with their penchant for strikes. Metalworkers and candidates for civil service positions took to the streets of Athens last week, and there were further protests over the weekend. ‘Panic is slowly taking hold in the minds of people,’ says economics professor Savvas Robolis.

    Because the Greeks, despite the massive capital injections from Brussels and Washington, face an extremely uncertain future and the country can expect to see ‘explosive unemployment,’ Robolis isn’t certain that social protests will remain peaceful in the future.

    If not, speculators will quickly pounce on the euro again. They have made enormous profits in recent weeks and months, after betting on Greece’s growing difficulties and a constantly weakening euro. Now they are just waiting for the next opportunity.”

  • Don’t Panic – “Some big stocks like Procter & Gamble and Citigroup had bid-ask spreads effectively at 10%. It wasn’t clear if the Mayan doomsday had been accelerated, Israel was in a war, who knew? Later it was mentioned this was caused by some poor guy at Citi who sold $16 Billion worth of S&P futures, not the $16 Million he was supposed to trade (his performance review this year should be leaked to the internet as comedy gold) Some exchanges are going to cancel some silly trades, but they had to have moved more than 60%, meaning a lot slightly less ridiculous trades are going through.

    Just another reminder: if the market is going bananas, stand back. Retail traders get screwed in these environments, but only the impatient ones. Don’t think you will get out first, the institutions are way ahead of you.”


How to Resist the Federal Government?

  • The Case for Keeping a Clunker – “That less-than-attractive, somehow-still-working car in your driveway? It seems just ripe for a trade-in for a more efficient and green vehicle. Then again, it might be better for your wallet, and the planet, to let it ride out its remaining life.

    Kentin Waits at the Wise Bread blog sums up some of the fallacies of thinking you’ll save money, and environmental impact, by trading in a working but weathered car for a brand-new hybrid. As Waits writes, there’s a lot to be said for the advancements in safety, but depreciation, insurance rates, and manufacturing costs should weigh into the equation:”

  • Google jumps on the online bookstore bandwagon – “Following in the footsteps of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple, Google announced today that the search giant will be launching an online bookstore this summer. The bookstore will launch as Google Editions and will include a Google-managed online storefront as well as an affiliate program that will allow book retailers and independent shops to sell Google Editions’ books on their own website. Google will leverage its current book search service to provide customers with the ability to search and purchase books from the online bookstore.”
  • Three-year bachelor’s degree gains popularity – “Bortolazzo said she knows that finishing college in three years won’t work for most students and that many are not rushing to graduate into a depressed economy. But she recommends a fast track ‘to anybody who is really motivated, feels they have the time to commit to it and really wants to get out in the job market.’

    Students like Bortolazzo are drawing attention these days as families look to reduce tuition bills and colleges try to stretch limited budgets and classroom space. About a dozen, mostly small, U.S. colleges and universities now offer formal routes to earning a degree in three years instead of the usual four or five. And many others, including the University of California, are studying ways to start such an option.

    ‘It’s really indefensible in the current environment for universities not to be exploring more efficient use of their facilities and how to save students time and money,’ said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former U.S. Education Department secretary who is a strong advocate of three-year degrees. Even if they make up a minority of college populations, he said, ‘some well-prepared students can do their work in three years, and colleges should create a track for them.’

    Not everyone agrees. Some educators worry that academic quality could suffer in three-year programs, which usually waive some requirements or push students to take very heavy course loads. Others say that most college students just need the extra year to grow up — and to explore.”

  • Wheat Ridge High School Class of 1970 – “The reonion committee is working away planning the 40th reunion the weekend of August 13-15, 2010. Wheat Ridge, Colorado WRHS1970.com”
  • Common Market Food Co-op – “Common Market Food Co-op was a ‘new wave food co-op’ located at 1329 California Street in Denver, Colorado, from 1975 – 1980. It started as a buying club at the University of Denver in the early 1970s, and for a few years prior to moving to the old Safeway at 13th and California Streets, Common Market operated out of a small storefront on Champa Street.”
  • Shahzad the Sleeper – “JJA: which gets us to the first question after all: was Mr. Shahzad supposed to blow himself up or what? He seems to have been trained by experts in suicide terrorism, after all, and the jihad doesn’t like to leave witnesses behind. As my old Israeli friends can tell you, once a terrorist decides he doesn’t want to go to paradise, he’s likely to be very cooperative with those who love life.

    ML: yes, he seems to be quite happy to talk to interrogators, doesn’t be? But that’s a good question. I remember that in Iraq, Al Qaeda recruited young men who were told that they were not going to die, that they only had to place the car bomb or truck bomb close to the target and then walk away. It was always a lie, however, and there was some very grisly evidence. One poor chap was blown out of his truck and ended up in the hospital. When he realized what had happened he went on Iraqi television to warn his fellow jihadis that they shouldn’t believe the recruiters. I wonder how Shahzad feels. He’s certainly got away from his truck in a big hurry didn’t he?

    JJA: Of course he did. His handlers may have made a mistake. On the one hand, he was almost certainly a sleeper. He came here legally, he had assimilated, and he became a citizen. Then they brought him over for training and sent him back to the battlefield. It’s standard operating procedure.”


Things Economists Should Stay Away From, Fire Safety Edition…

  • How to Block Cellphone Spam – “As it turns out, Verizon Wireless offers these features, too. Sprint and T-Mobile don’t go quite as far, but they do offer some text-spam filtering options. Here’s how you find the controls for each company:

    * AT&T: Log in at mymessages.wireless.att.com. Under Preferences, you’ll see the text-blocking and alias options. Here’s also where you can block messages from specific e-mail addresses or Web sites.

    * Verizon Wireless: Log in at vtext.com. Under Text Messaging, click Preferences. Click Text Blocking. You’re offered choices to block text messages from e-mail or from the Web. Here again, you can block specific addresses or Web sites. (Here’s where you set up your aliases, too.)

    * Sprint: No auto-blocking is available at all, but you can block specific phone numbers and addresses. To get started, log in at www.sprint.com. On the top navigation bar, click My Online Tools. Under Communication Tools, click Text Messaging. On the Compose a Text Message page, under Text Messaging Options, click Settings & Preferences. In the text box, you can enter a phone number, email address or domain (such as Comcast.net) that you want to block.

    * T-Mobile: T-Mobile doesn’t yet offer a ‘block text messages from the Internet’ option. You can block all messages sent by e-mail, though, or permit only messages sent to your phone’s e-mail address or alias, or create filters that block text messages containing certain phrases. It’s all waiting when you log into www.t-mobile.com and click Communication Tools.”

  • Six reasons to hate Facebook’s new anti-privacy system, “Connections” – “Wondering exactly why people are so pissed about Facebook’s latest display of contempt for user privacy? The Electronic Frontier Frontier Foundation’s Kurt Opsahl has a good, short article explaining just what’s going on with the new ‘Connections’ anti-feature:”
  • Do Girls Speed More Than Boys? Survey Says Girls Drive More Aggressively; Insurers Up Rates – “Car accidents are the leading cause of death for U.S. teenagers, according to government statistics. But accident rates have plummeted in recent years, even as the proliferation of digital devices has added a huge new source of distractions.”
  • Woman painting nails before crash found guilty – “Though Lora Hunt insisted she wasn’t painting her fingernails when she hit and killed motorcyclist Anita Zaffke, a Lake County jury Thursday convicted her of reckless homicide in the 2009 crash.
    . . .
    Hunt was charged after her Chevrolet Impala struck and killed Zaffke on May 2, 2009, as she stopped her motorcycle for a traffic signal at Route 12 and Old McHenry Road near Lake Zurich.

    Lake County prosecutor Michael Mermel argued during the trial that Hunt was so distracted as she painted her fingernails that she never saw Zaffke stopped ahead of her.
    . . .
    But her attorney said he thinks authorities filed the charge against Hunt in part because she told police after the crash she had been painting her nails as she drove.”

  • Facebook’s Anti-Privacy Backlash Gains Ground – “Facebook originally earned its core base of users by offering them simple and powerful controls over their personal information. As Facebook grew larger and became more important, it could have chosen to maintain or improve those controls. Instead, it’s slowly but surely helped itself — and its advertising and business partners — to more and more of its users’ information, while limiting the users’ options to control their own information.

    You want to make your Facebook totally private to anyone but your actual friends? You can’t, though you can come close. And it will only take you 50 clicks inside Facebook’s Wonderland-like labyrinth of privacy controls. Have fun.

    This week brought news of two separate bugs that let Websites secretly install their apps on your Facebook profile and let your friends eavesdrop on your private chats. Facebook swatted both bugs relatively promptly, but not before they made their way into the press. I can understand how Facebook missed the chat security hole — you have to follow a fairly arcane series of steps to reproduce it. But calling the secret app problem a ‘bug’ is a bit hard to swallow.

    Somehow, in the months of testing data integration with third parties, we’re expected to believe nobody at Facebook noticed a few extra apps on their profiles? Please.”

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