Apparently, there is a species of katydid that is of the neon-pink variety. Who knew?
I just spent a good amount of time looking at random photos from the new LIFE photo archive hosted by Google
Search millions of photographs from the LIFE photo archive, stretching from the 1750s to today. Most were never published and are now available for the first time through the joint work of LIFE and Google.
There is some pretty amazing stuff in there.
Google, always looking for the next best tool/widget/webapp, is now posting flu trends
based on their (geo-tagged) search data.
Apparently, an increase in certain search terms is a good predictor of what the CDC reports a couple of weeks later. Neat. This is particularly apropos, given my current battle with a head cold.
While I often write about income gaps, the rich versus the poor, and our sea-monster of an economy, I haven't recently (ever?) discussed the wealth gap
. Luckily, my good buddy Tom sent me this graphic recently, to outline the situation:
He says (my emphasis):
Here's an interesting little tidbit I found while trying to remember a statistic I recently heard on NPR regarding the distribution of wealth in the US (which is, of course, different than distribution of "income"). Turns out that many, many individuals in the US have absolutely 0 wealth (determined by the sum of your assets minus your debts).
To sum, the top 5% of households in the US control 60% of all wealth, while the bottom 60% of US households control only 4% of wealth. This stat doesn't even fully reflect the disparity, considering so many Americans actually have negative wealth (owing money, presumably, to the rich), and as you point out, it is so much easier for the wealthy to hide their income (and thus, I imagine, their wealth). These statistics are compiled from the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances.
I never expected it to be so disparate. Certainly I've always thought that the accumulation of wealth is necessary to any economy to drive risk-taking, innovation, and hard-work. Certainly, many economists and free-market wonks alike are quick to tell you this. But I'm wondering if and when the unfettered ability to accumulate wealth becomes detrimental to a functioning economy. I happen to think that similar to the situation when a lack of fiduciary incentive prevents development of economic tools, excess incentive (i.e. ability to accumulate unchecked wealth) leads to exploitation of workers, government policies, etc, leading to inefficient economies.
So, then I remembered this theory about oil rich countries. Turns out (probably according to some pinko commie government-handout-receiving academic elitist) various metrics of "freedoms" of citizens of oil-producing countries have a distinct inverse correlation with the amount of oil in that country (think Russia, Venezuela, the Middle East, etc. Try to forget about Canada). Then there is the interesting anecdote of Bahrain, the tiny Mid East country that used to have highly concentrated natural oil reserves. Bahrain had an ancient monarch when oil was discovered; before you know it some military dictator organizes a coup and establishes a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy. Riches are amassed by the ruling party, while the citizens go hungry. However, the oil ran out quite quickly (it's a small frickin' country!), and the free lunch was over. Within a decade the tyrant was kicked out, replaced by a democracy, the burkas were put on the shelves, and a local economy was initiated. Just sayin', I think there's a thesis in macroeconomics in there somewhere (highly likely), and maybe even some practical lesson for policy-making (less likely).
Luckily, he included a self-deprecating sign-off like you're used to reading here on the blog:
Oh, you have something better to do then read 1500 words of my babble? I didn't even consider that. My bad.
Tom, I read ever word (but there were only 479, according to Microsoft Word).
When nobody was looking, the poor wee little banks got another handout favour, the Washington Post reports. A Quiet Windfall For U.S. Banks
The financial world was fixated on Capitol Hill as Congress battled over the Bush administration's request for a $700 billion bailout of the banking industry. In the midst of this late-September drama, the Treasury Department issued a five-sentence notice that attracted almost no public attention.
But corporate tax lawyers quickly realized the enormous implications of the document: Administration officials had just given American banks a windfall of as much as $140 billion.
The sweeping change to two decades of tax policy escaped the notice of lawmakers for several days, as they remained consumed with the controversial bailout bill. When they found out, some legislators were furious. Some congressional staff members have privately concluded that the notice was illegal. But they have worried that saying so publicly could unravel several recent bank mergers made possible by the change and send the economy into an even deeper tailspin.
"Did the Treasury Department have the authority to do this? I think almost every tax expert would agree that the answer is no," said George K. Yin, the former chief of staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the nonpartisan congressional authority on taxes.
Oh, that's rich. But it gets even more saucy:
More than a dozen tax lawyers interviewed for this story -- including several representing banks that stand to reap billions from the change -- said the Treasury had no authority to issue the notice.
While I've never been much of a soap opera fan, I have to think my giddy incredulity at each new unfolding octopus arm of this sea-creature financial crisis is similar to the emotional high a house wife gets when the opening theme to General Hospital can be heard in the background.
Although the department's action was prompted by spreading troubles in the financial markets, [Deputy Assistant Secretary for Tax Analysis, Robert Carroll] said, it was consistent with what the Treasury had deemed in the December report to be good tax policy.
The notice was released on a momentous day in the banking industry. It not only came 24 hours after the House of Representatives initially defeated the bailout bill, but also one day after Wachovia agreed to be acquired by Citigroup in a government-brokered deal.
The Treasury notice suddenly made it much more attractive to acquire distressed banks, and Wells Fargo, which had been an earlier suitor for Wachovia, made a new and ultimately successful play to take it over.
The Jones Day law firm said the tax change, which some analysts soon dubbed "the Wells Fargo Ruling," could be worth about $25 billion for Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo declined to comment for this article.
Over at the New York Times, the wee
$85 billion bailout for AIG gets a hair larger when nobody cares anymore (the shock is gone by now, right). A.I.G. Secures $150 Billion Assistance Package
The American International Group said on Monday that it lost almost $25 billion in the third quarter and had secured a new $150 billion government assistance package intended to stem the bleeding from its complex financial contracts.
So what did the taxpayers get?
The new assistance package reduces the original $85 billion loan to about $60 billion, lowers the interest rate and gives A.I.G. five years, instead of two, to pay it off.
Great, those sweet rates you saw on the commercial didn't end up being available when you got to the show room floor, mr. taxpayer.
“We’re funding somebody on the other side” of A.I.G.’s derivatives contracts, said Lynn E. Turner, a former chief accountant with the Securities and Exchange Commission who has been critical of the way the insurer’s crisis has been handled. Even though a large amount of public money is being extended, neither A.I.G. nor the federal government has been willing to provide the names of the company’s biggest counterparties, or their amount of exposure..
.. Another critic said that A.I.G. would still have to contend with other financial contracts that were not addressed in the rescue but that might deteriorate in the future. “I think it will help, but I don’t think it will solve the whole problem,” Donn Vickrey, founder of Gradient Analytics, an independent securities research firm, said of the latest plan.
Mr. Vickrey noted that A.I.G. had insured several different types of debt securities, and the type now being dealt with was the first to go bad because it was linked to subprime debt. “As the economy deteriorates, I would expect the other debt lines to incur more losses,” he said.
I could go on picking juicy bits from both those articles, but I guess I could save myself the trouble and just let you read them instead.
Apropos to tomorrow's elections, The New Yorker takes a look at some of the history of voting in the United States
On the morning of November 2, 1859—Election Day—George Kyle, a merchant with the Baltimore firm of Dinsmore & Kyle, left his house with a bundle of ballots tucked under his arm. Kyle was a Democrat. As he neared the polls in the city’s Fifteenth Ward, which was heavily dominated by the American Party, a ruffian tried to snatch his ballots. Kyle dodged and wheeled, and heard a cry: his brother, just behind him, had been struck. Next, someone clobbered Kyle, who drew a knife, but didn’t have a chance to use it. “I felt a pistol put to my head,” he said. Grazed by a bullet, he fell. When he rose, he drew his own pistol, hidden in his pocket. He spied his brother lying in the street. Someone else fired a shot, hitting Kyle in the arm. A man carrying a musket rushed at him. Another threw a brick, knocking him off his feet. George Kyle picked himself up and ran. He never did cast his vote. Nor did his brother, who died of his wounds. The Democratic candidate for Congress, William Harrison, lost to the American Party’s Henry Winter Davis. Three months later, when the House of Representatives convened hearings into the election, whose result Harrison contested, Davis’s victory was upheld on the ground that any “man of ordinary courage” could have made his way to the polls.