Notes of Note from John F. Ince

Archive for October, 2010

Ellen Brown: Chinas Creative Accounting: How It Buried Its Debt and Forged Ahead with Stimulus

we have turned our backs on the principles that made us great. But those principles are not rooted in “fiscal austerity.” The abundance that made the American colonies great stemmed from a monetary system in which the government had the power to issue its own money – unlike today, when the only money the government issues are coins. Dollar bills are issued by the Federal Reserve, a privately owned central bank; and the government has to borrow them like everyone else. But as Thomas Edison famously said:If the Nation can issue a dollar bond it can issue a dollar bill. The element that makes the bond good makes the bill good also. The difference between the bond and the bill is that the bond lets the money broker collect twice the amount of the bond and an additional 20%… It is a terrible situation when the Government, to insure the National Wealth, must go in debt and submit to ruinous interest charges at the hands of men who control the fictitious value of gold.

via Ellen Brown: Chinas Creative Accounting: How It Buried Its Debt and Forged Ahead with Stimulus.

Borowitz Report

In a performance guaranteed to raise some eyebrows in Delaware and beyond, Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell said at a senatorial debate last night that she strongly supports “the separation of speech and thought.”

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know if there’s anything about that in the Constitution,” she added.  “In the version of the Constitution that I read, Big Bird didn’t mention it.”

Ms. O’Donnell seemed stumped when the moderator asked whether there were any Supreme Court decisions she disagreed with, finally blurting out, “Ali v. Frazier.”

Her halting answers to many of the questions made some wonder why she had not written answers on her hand as her role model Sarah Palin has been known to do, but Ms. O’Donnell offered this explanation: “As you know, I believe it’s immoral to use your hand to help yourself.”

At the conclusion of the debate, Ms. O’Donnell pronounced herself pleased with her performance, saying that she would spend the next week concentrating on her Halloween costume: “I’m going as a qualified candidate.”

via Borowitz Report.

Time for Some New Stress Tests for Banks – NYTimes.com

How much damage to the financial system should we expect from what is now commonly called the foreclosure morass, the developing scandal involving document robo-signing (and robo-dockets), completely messed up mortgage paperwork and highly publicized inquiries into accusations of systematic and deliberate misbehavior by banks?

The damage to banks’ reputation is immeasurable. They have undermined property rights — the ability to establish clear title is a founding idea of the American republic. They have mistreated customers in a completely unacceptable manner. If people doubted the need for a new consumer protection agency dealing with financial products — and the importance of having a clear-thinking reformer like Elizabeth Warren at its head — they have presumably been silenced by recent events. (If you need to get up to speed on the basics of this issue, see this series of posts by Mike Konczal.)

But what is the cost in terms of additional likely losses to big banks? The likely size and nature of these are leading to exactly the kind of systemic risks that the Financial Stability Oversight Council was recently established to anticipate and deal with.

It is hard to know how the precise numbers for losses will end up; so much uncertainty remains about the basic parameters of the foreclosure problem. A lot of smart people are looking for ways to sue the big banks — in particular to force them to take back (at face value) securities that were issued based on some underlying degree of deception.

This is a fast-evolving situation in which every day brings potentially significant news, but our baseline view is that the losses are in the range of $50 billion to $100 billion — that is, these are “new” losses not yet recognized by banks. (Our downside possibility, with perhaps a 10 percent probability, is that the losses are much larger.)

via Time for Some New Stress Tests for Banks – NYTimes.com.

The Meaning of Friendship in a Social-Networked World – Interesting post from Alex Pattakos

This article raises issues we need to be considering … Your thoughts?

And in a world of hyperconnectivity driven by technology that knows no bounds, what is happening to true friendship? Is it dying away? Or are the various social media “platforms” such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn simply redefining or transforming our modern-day notion of friendship? If so, what are the implications for life as we know it on this planet? Will we be happier? Will it promote the kind of meaningful existence that Aristotle was seeking and advocating?

As I have written in this blog many times before, the search for meaning is not only the primary intrinsic motivation of human beings; it is also a mega-trend of the 21st century. From such a meaning-focused perspective, where does friendship fit in? And how might the social media “advances” to which I’m referring here influence, directly and indirectly, the nature of friendships between people and the human quest for meaning?

To be sure, I have more questions than answers, although there are some trends that are worthy of mention on the subject. A recent article in USA Today by Mark Vernon, a research fellow at Birkbeck College in London, England, addressed the issue of the social media’s influence and concluded, “Just as our daily lives are becoming more technologically connected, we’re losing other more meaningful relationships. Yes, we’re losing our friends.”

In other words, the joys of real human contact are being replaced by electronic stimuli and “shallow” friendships, that is, “social connections” rather than the kind of true friendships described and espoused by Aristotle. In our post-modern society, there is evidence that while we have plenty of acquaintances, more and more of us have few individuals to whom we can turn and share our authentic selves, our deep intimacies.

via Alex Pattakos: The Meaning of Friendship in a Social-Networked World.

The Folk Hero Franchise: Marketing the Chilean Miner Brand

A recent benchmark study of cause marketing by Cone showed that consumers are shopping with a social conscience more than ever before. A full 83 percent said they want more of the products, services and retailers they use to benefit causes such as alleviating world hunger or protecting the environment. So no matter what dotted line the world’s 33 newest folk heroes ultimately sign their names on, the challenge of marketing them to their fullest potential comes with the same imperative their rescuers had:

Dig deep.

via Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval: The Folk Hero Franchise: Marketing the Chilean Miner Brand.

How Gates Changed the Conversation – Technology and Learning – Inside Higher Ed

The real power of the Gates Next Generation Learning Challenge is not the money, although that helps, but the ability to focus the problems in higher education around a defined set of issues. Gates has us all speaking the same language.

In talking with Cameron Evans (Microsoft), Ray Henderson (Blackboard), and Don Kilburn (Pearson), the conversation kept coming back to the role that their companies can play in addressing the issues that have been identified by Gates.

Leadership from technology, LMS, and publishing companies are now all focused on utilizing the power of their companies to work on the specific issues that the Next Generation Learning Challenges are designed to address.

This is different. Gates and the Next Generation Learning Challenge has changed the conversation – and I think that this new conversation is the big story to come out of EDUCAUSE 2010.

via Blog U.: EDUCAUSE 2010: How Gates Changed the Conversation – Technology and Learning – Inside Higher Ed.

Annual Deficit Stays Sky-High – WSJ.com

The Treasury reported a nearly $1.3 trillion deficit for 2010, down from 2009 but still the second-largest in more than 60 years, adding fuel to this year’s political debate about the size of deficits and government.

The Treasury Department said today that the U.S. budget deficit shrank in fiscal 2010 by $122 billion. John McKinnon takes a look at the role the near-record deficit is likely to play in the upcoming election.

The government also announced that, for the second year in a row, Social Security recipients wouldn’t receive a cost-of-living adjustment, because inflation levels have fallen so low in the current economy.

Taken together, the latest announcements could increase the political fallout from the toxic combination of high deficits and low growth.

“If you want to know what’s driving the anger out there, there’s no issue that people are more concerned about than the fiscal condition of the country and the effect it’s having on potential prosperity,” said Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.

The 2010 deficit was so high because of continued weakness in revenue, which is still 14% below 2008 levels, and a 16% increase in outlays over 2008, largely a result of stimulus and safety-net spending, such as unemployment benefits.

Obama administration officials said that they had made progress shoring up the economy through policies including the stimulus, and that they had reduced costs associated with financial-bailout programs.

via Annual Deficit Stays Sky-High – WSJ.com.

The Fed’s New Bubble (Masquerading as a Jobs Program) – Robert Reich

The latest jobs bill coming out of Washington isn’t really a bill at all. It’s the Fed’s attempt to keep long-term interest rates low by pumping even more money into the economy (“quantitative easing” in Fed-speak).

The idea is to buy up lots of Treasury bills and other long-term debt to reduce long-term interest rates. It’s assumed that low long-term rates will push more businesses to expand capacity and hire workers; push the dollar downward and make American exports more competitive and therefore generate more jobs; and allow more Americans to refinance their homes at low rates, thereby giving them more cash to spend and thereby stimulate more jobs.

Problem is, it won’t work. Businesses won’t expand capacity and jobs because there aren’t enough consumers to buy additional goods and services.

The dollar’s drop won’t spur more exports. It will fuel more competitive devaluations by other nations determined not to lose export shares to the US and thereby drive up their own unemployment.

And middle-class and working-class Americans won’t be able to refinance their homes at low rates because banks are now under strict lending standards. They won’t lend to families whose overall incomes have dropped, whose debts have risen, or who owe more on their homes than the homes are worth — that is, most families.

So where will the easy money go? Into another stock-market bubble.

It’s already started. Stocks are up even though the rest of the economy is still down because of money is already so cheap. Bondholders (who can’t get much of any return from their loans) are shifting their portfolios into stocks. Companies are buying back more shares of their own stock. And Wall Street is making more bets in the stock market with money it can borrow at almost zero percent interest.

When our elected representatives can’t and won’t come up with a real jobs program, the Fed feels pressed to come up with a fake one that blows another financial bubble. And we know what happens when financial bubbles get too big.

via Robert Reich: The Fed’s New Bubble (Masquerading as a Jobs Program).

House Advantage – Banks Shared in Profits on Securities Lending, but Not Losses – NYTimes.com

JPMorgan Chase & Company has a proposition for the mutual funds and pension funds that oversee many Americans’ savings: Heads, we win together. Tails, you lose — alone.“If I were a shareholder, I would say, ‘I love Jamie Dimon to death.’ ” — Jerry D. Davis, Chairman of the municipal employee pension fund in New Orleans

Here is the deal: Funds lend some of their stocks and bonds to Wall Street, in return for cash that banks like JPMorgan then invest. If the trades do well, the bank takes a cut of the profits. If the trades do poorly, the funds absorb all of the losses.

The strategy is called securities lending, a practice that is thriving even though some investments linked to it were virtually wiped out during the financial panic of 2008. These trades were supposed to be safe enough to make a little extra money at little risk.

JPMorgan customers, including public or corporate pension funds of I.B.M., New York State and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, ended up owing JPMorgan more than $500 million to cover the losses. But JPMorgan protected itself on some of these investments and kept millions of dollars in profit, before the trades went awry.

How JPMorgan won while its customers lost provides a glimpse into the ways Wall Street banks can, and often do, gain advantages over their customers. Today’s giant banks not only create and sell investment products, but also bet on those products, and sometimes against them, putting the banks’ interests at odds with those of their customers. The banks and their lobbyists also help fashion financial rules and regulations. And banks’ traders know what their customers are buying and selling, giving them a valuable edge.

Some of JPMorgan’s customers say they are disappointed with the bank. “They took 40 percent of our profits, and even that was O.K.,” said Jerry D. Davis, the chairman of the municipal employee pension fund in New Orleans, which lost about $340,000, enough to wipe out years of profits that it had earned through securities lending. “But then we started losing money, and they didn’t lose along with us.”

via House Advantage – Banks Shared in Profits on Securities Lending, but Not Losses – NYTimes.com.

Top 400 Charities See Billions Less In Donations, Biggest Percentage Drop Ever Recorded

WASHINGTON — A new ranking of the nation’s 400 biggest charities shows donations dropped by 11 percent overall last year as the Great Recession ended – the worst decline in 20 years since the Chronicle of Philanthropy began keeping a tally.

The Philanthropy 400 report to be released Monday shows such familiar names as the United Way and the Salvation Army, both based near Washington, continue to dominate the ranking, despite the 2009 declines. The survey accounts for $68.6 billion in charitable contributions.

An earlier report by the Giving USA Foundation found overall charitable giving declined 3.6 percent last year. That report included giving to private foundations and to smaller charities, while the Chronicle’s survey only includes top charities raising money from the public.

“It shows that charities are really having a tough time, and this is some of the most successful charities in the United States,” Chronicle Editor Stacy Palmer said. “Usually bigger charities are more resilient, so that’s the part that is still surprising.”

The top charities may have taken such a hit as giving shifted to smaller, local groups and because people gave less money to arts and cultural groups, Palmer said. Plus, even though the recession has officially ended, unemployment remains high at nearly 10 percent nationally and the economy continues to sputter.

via Top 400 Charities See Billions Less In Donations, Biggest Percentage Drop Ever Recorded.