Friday, September 25, 2009

gerson correct but incomplete

Michael Gerson notes correctly the problem of hatred being spewed freely on the Internet. He notes that the democratic Germany of the 1920s was subverted and eventually taken over by the Nazis, who were particularly adept at exploiting that day's new technology, radio.

But Gerson is incomplete. First, he doesn't note that radio remains a potent tool to promulgate propaganda and hate thought thru talk radio, which also helps set or at least reinforce the agenda on cable TV and the internet.

And he fails to note that in the US of 2009, as in Germany in the late 1920s/early 1930s, that it is right-wingers who are spewing forth the vast majority of hatred and bigotry. (It's true. You didn't see any armed nuts outside Bush's speeches.)

Oliphant's recent editorial cartoon names names - Fox News. They aren't alone, but are a major contributor. So is most of the Republican Party. Some for failing to repudiate the hatred being promulgated. And worse yet, some for encouraging it.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

it's officially a republican scandal

I was sympathetic to Governor Mark Sanford (R-South Carolina, if you didn't know) for falling in love with another woman. The human heart is fickle. The fact that he charged South Carolina taxpayers for his visits to Argentina gave South Carolinians legitimate reasons to criticize Sanford or to call on him to resign. The fact that he criticized Bill Clinton for fooling around and now is seeking forgiveness makes him a Republican hypocrite - pardon me for repeating myself.

Now, we learn that Sanford, who didn't want to take Federal stimulus money and is definitely one of those who profess to support small government and less spending, doesn't advocate doing things on the cheap when it comes to HIM doing business.

Turns out Sanford and some aids have taken a couple of nice European trips over the past two years, to places like France, Germany, Estonia, Czech Republic, and Poland. Nice trips, but sure governors can travel to promote trade.

But Sanford and company didn't fly commercial. They flew in a nice little chartered aircraft. Cost the South Carolinians a total of $63,000. Now sure, commercial wouldn't have been free. But it would have been a lot cheaper and hey Sanford, I thought you were all about not wasting taxpayers money?

Mark Sanford is now officially a one-man Republican scandal, combining hypocrisy about morals and money into one quintessentially GOP package. Congratulations.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

republicans stay classy

Best thing about President Obama's speech was the GOP showing its true colors. Uncivil and rude. Joe Wilson was merely the most clearly rude.


Sunday, September 06, 2009

stop me before i securitize again

News from the New York Times to warm the cockles of a quant's heart - and send shivers down the spine of the rest of us who don't make a living selling financial products to suckers I mean investors. The geniuses on Wall Street want to
buy “life settlements,” life insurance policies that ill and elderly people sell for cash — $400,000 for a $1 million policy, say, depending on the life expectancy of the insured person. Then they plan to “securitize” these policies, in Wall Street jargon, by packaging hundreds or thousands together into bonds. They will then resell those bonds to investors, like big pension funds, who will receive the payouts when people with the insurance die.

The earlier the policyholder dies, the bigger the return — though if people live longer than expected, investors could get poor returns or even lose money.

Sound familiar? It's like what they did with mortgages and car loans and student loans - buy a bunch without regard for whether they were risky or solid bets, cut them into little itty bitty pieces, convince us (with the help of their lap-dog credit rating agencies, who would rate a CEO's loose bowel movement AA) that it was a good deal, and this distribute risk widely. Of course, it was predicated on people not going into default on mortgages above a certain rate. And THAT was predicated on the real estate market rising continually. Which was a false hope.

So what's wrong with this insurance thing? Already even without securitization investors are taking advantage of the sick and elderly on life settlements. Note that I don't oppose them - but they should be regulated because betting that somebody will die creates some perverse incentives.

And these insurance securities would be based on the idea that people will die on schedule. In other words, if there were a medical breakthrough and life expectancy for these policy holders increased 10%, they could become a losing proposition. So you'd create an incentive on Wall Street that would not favor medical research? Good idea.

Some Wall Street banks are also doing something called "re-remics" - resecuritization of real estate mortgage investment conduits. In other words, repackagins MONEY-LOSING investments into higher-rated ones. How does THAT work?

This all just reinforces the lesson some of us have learned over the past 18 months or so that better financial regulation is critical to the REAL economy, not just to protect the investor class.