A Nobel gesture

Congratulations to Richard Thaler on his 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics. The professor took some hardly veiled shots at the Preznit, but also offered some “gee, I just can’t figure it” about the stock market:

“His ratio of certitude to knowledge is nearing record highs,” Thaler said on Bloomberg Radio with Tom Keene and David Gura. “We all need a lot of humility, and especially about the economy.”
Thaler also expressed surprise that the stock market is returning good performance with few disruptions during what he sees as uncertain political times. Congress is grappling with a tax reform proposal, but infighting among Republicans has called into question whether a package will ultimately pass.

“Who would have thunk that the stock market would just continue to go up” during “what has to be the most uncertain times of my lifetime,” Thaler said. “Surely it can’t be based on the certitude that there will be a massive tax cut, given the seeming inability of the Republican Congress to get their act together. So I don’t know where it’s coming from.”

Well, who knows? If you read PK, he seems clear headed about it, if full of Robert Hughes allusions. But how about this: Maybe the indices keep going up, despite the uncertainty and turmoil, because as a set of money-making wagers, they actually feed on that level of chaos. Maybe as a ruse, or cover, for the Ponzi nature of the games being plied and played. The ‘it’s all so complex and confusing, who knows how it works’ absolutely accrues to the benefit of some. See the bankster/fraudsters of 2008 and how they have ascended to far more dizzying heights in the time since, and the extent to which questions about all this convenient success equal nothing more than conspiracy theories. They don’t even bother with calling people Commies anymore.
Quite a trick.

A Financial Choice, Act II

In early September 2008, I drove down to Charleston to visit a cousin who had recently suffered a terrible accident. Throughout the drive I listened to extended public radio reports on an evolving calamity: the collapse of Lehman Brothers financial services firm. The horror that the government was going to allow such a large firm to go under was decorated with the baroque gadgetry of terms that would become more familiar in the coming years: credit default swaps, subprime mortgage lending, tranches, CDOs. The gore and detail of the cover that had been constructed around scams and fraud at the broadest level was audible in the voices of interviewers and guests. There was a tinge of disbelief within their attempts to explain what these terms meant and how they had gotten us all (!) into so much peril. It was as close to 1929 as we had come and potentially far worse – so extensively had the giant vampire squid of financial engineering welded its tentacles to every sector. Housing, banking, investing, construction, debt, bonds… this is business America now, and every other activity is vulnerable to its caprice. It was the stretch run of a presidential election as well; one candidate tried to suspend the campaign, the other fortunately tried to hold things together.

And he did mange to hold things together, despite rather obvious at the time challenges he personally faced. But the Lehman moment got everyone’s attention, everyone who mattered. $700 billion for Troubled Asset Relief (TARP), $250 billion for Capital Purchase(CPP), in addition to billions more in government-backed guarantees to individual banks. And eventually, in July 2010, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was enacted. It seemed the public assistance required to save the vampire from itself had sealed the argument in favor of financial reform.

Yesterday, the Republican House of Representatives passed the Financial Choice Act and can you guess what it does? Right! Overturns Dodd-Frank. And not only is it a bad idea to weaken a law that requires stronger banks,

The bill also offers the wrong kind of relief. During the last crisis, all kinds of financial activity — including insurance, money-market funds and speculative trading at banks — depended on government support. That’s why Dodd-Frank placed limits on banks’ trading operations and provided added oversight for all systemically important institutions, and why regulators require them to have enough cash on hand to survive a panic.
Those provisions aren’t perfect — simpler and more effective options exist — but the Choice Act just scraps them. What’s more, it would eliminate the Office of Financial Research, created to give regulators the data they need to see what’s going on in markets and institutions. The law would leave regulators in the dark, and taxpayers implicitly or explicitly backing much of the financial sector.

If you didn’t click, that’s coming from fcking Bloomberg. The financial industry doesn’t even think it’s a good idea. In trying to undo more Obama-era legislation, the know-nothings in Congress are re-setting the table for our financial catastrophe guests. Sure, certain things could make Dodd-Frank unnecessary. But unfortunately, none of the thousands of people, firms, funds and frauds who populate this sector care about a stronger financial system or its being more competitive. It’s the logic of business – the democracy, whiskey, sexy of fools.
Image: Detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch, ca. 1500

The Rain in Nanjing

Welcome to this post about how crappy the air in Beijing is. Terrific, thanks. And you? Okay everybody take a seat and a dust mask respirator. Here we go.

Do you happen to see the film Interstellar? It’s Matthew McConaughey in a new kind of car commercial… kidding, it’s interesting, if not good – no, it’s thrilling, if an odd-brand of heavy science blockbuster. I enjoyed it. But…

The dilemma constructed to necessitate finding a new planet is the Earth becoming unlivable – mostly, we can’t grow food anymore and there are horrible dust storms and… okay has anyone in Beijing seen the movie? They probably can’t see it because of the pollution, because they are basically living in the movie right now:

A sports class is in full swing on the outskirts of Beijing. Herds of children charge after a football on an artificial pitch, criss-crossed with colourful markings and illuminated in high definition by the glare of bright white floodlights. It all seems normal enough – except for the fact that this familiar playground scene is taking place beneath a gigantic inflatable dome.

“It’s a bit of a change having to go through an airlock on the way to class,” says Travis Washko, director of sports at the British School of Beijing. “But the kids love it, and parents can now rest assured their children are playing in a safe environment.”

Beijing marathon runners don face masks to battle severe smogThe reason for the dome becomes apparent when you step outside. A grey blanket hangs in the sky, swamping the surroundings in a de-saturated haze and almost o

bscuring the buildings across the street. A red flag hangs above the school’s main entrance to warn it’s a

no-go day: stay indoors at all costs. The airpocalypse has arrived.

Come on. And this, bon Dieu:

This year’s Beijing marathon, held on a day that exceeded 400 on the scale, saw many drop out when their face-mask filters turned a shade of grey after just a few kilometres. Some said it felt like running through bonfire smoke. With such hazardous conditions increasingly common, it’s not surprising that foreign companies are now expected to pay a “hardship bonus” of up to 20 or 30% to those willing to work in the Chinese capital.

And yet denial still persists. Many Beijingers tend to use the word “wumai” (meaning fog), rather than “wuran” (pollution), to describe the poor air quality – and not just because it’s the official Newspeak of weather reports. It’s partly because, one local tells me, “if we had to face up to how much we’re destroying the environment and our bodies every day, it would just be too much.” A recent report by researchers in Shanghai described Beijing’s atmosphere as almost “uninhabitable for human beings” – not really something you want to be reminded of every day.

We wouldn’t want that. They won’t even use the right word for it. I know – we have our own problems calling things what they are. And like the Chinese, we know what to do about the proliferation of gun violence and people without healthcare, but also choose to do nothing about it. In this search for clean air getaways and other euphemisms we know what to do and what words to use.

I’m just saying. It’s air. You sort of… need it.It’s just that the power of cinema to show us a believably horrible scenario based on what we are doing right now that is truly too horrifying to contemplate much less address crosses back and forth between enough lines that perhaps we should evacuate the idea that there are any lines between now and then because there might not be. We might be there.

Image: Not from the film Interstellar. At all.

Ruling on Clean Air

Not sure who reads unsigned editorials anymore, but there was a good one from the Times on Thursday touting a new EPA ruling on expansions of the Clean Air Act:

The rule, which takes effect in 2012, would cut emissions of sulfur dioxide, a component of acid rain, and nitrogen oxide, a component of smog, by more than half by 2014 compared with 2005 levels.

As is true of nearly every regulation spawned by the landmark 1970 Clean Air Act, the rule’s benefits will greatly outweigh its costs to industry — a truth routinely ignored by the act’s critics, most recently the Tea Party supporters in Congress. The E.P.A. estimates annual benefits at $120 billion to $240 billion, mostly from fewer premature deaths, hospital visits and lost work days associated with respiratory illnesses.

By contrast, the costs of new pollution controls and plant retirements are estimated at $800 million annually, on top of about $1.6 billion in capital improvements already under way in anticipation of the rule.

These new regulations are part of a package that includes new mileage standards for cars and reductions in other greenhouse gases – a way for WH to do the job of congress through the EPA.When cap and trade went from a foregone conclusion to a dead letter, there was really little other option for the Obama Administration to act on climate change, air and water pollution or any other snapshot of the future of the country than to issue new EPA guidelines. Again, howls of indignation from the Confederates, while the corporations on whose behalf they roam work feverishly to come up with new eco-themed advertising to disguise their craven end-times profiteering. For those who would like to see through the smoke, the crushing hand of government regulation momentarily stuns the intruder by being at home. Now where’s that bat?

Expense of the Environment

It’s an interesting concept, especially as we’ve all but stopped letting the costs of war preclude us from war-making, but how much should protecting the environment cost us? In money and competitiveness, the issue is contentious, rife with conflicts, false promises and disinformation. But, let no one tell you that Republican officeholders at every level stand for anything but rolling back regulations and agencies charged with protecting the environment. While there was hardly ever any doubt about this, now there is not even a pose.

The budget approved by the legislature, led by Republicans for the first time in a century, eliminates the program as part of roughly $23 million in environmental program cuts that would chop more than 150 positions. All told, the department’s budget would be cut by 12 percent, more than double the cuts proposed by Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat.

The legislative budget also would shift some operations to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which is led by a Republican commissioner, a move some fear would change the focus from environmental protection to business enhancement.

That’s in North Carolina, but it is everywhere the same. Democrats get elected promising to enact new regulations and fund alternatives; Republicans get elected promising to rein in regulations and lavish spending on boondoggles. Eye; beholder. I especially like this:

“I don’t want to destroy anything,” said state Sen. Don East, a Surry County Republican and an environmental budget writer. “I just don’t think these very stringent environmental rules that we are living under are going to do what the environmentalists say they do.”

How could they? I believe he doesn’t want to do any harm to anything, including taking any power away from anybody to release anything anywhere. You know, the little guy. Sorry, dude. That’s not a choice anymore. Now you have to actually make choices. Oh: you are.