Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, July 8, 2011 8:23 pm

Burn in hell, J. Edgar Hoover

Filed under: Evil,Sad — Lex @ 8:23 pm
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Turns out that the “paranoia” believed to have been partially responsible for Ernest Hemingway’s suicide wasn’t paranoia after all, only perception:

In November [1960] I went out West for our annual pheasant shoot and realized how wrong I was. When Ernest and our friend Duke MacMullen met my train at Shoshone, Idaho, for the drive to Ketchum, we did not stop at the bar opposite the station as we usually did because Ernest was anxious to get on the road. I asked why the hurry.

“The feds.”

“What?”

“They tailed us all the way. Ask Duke.”

“Well … there was a car back of us out of Hailey.”

“Why are F.B.I. agents pursuing you?” I asked.

“It’s the worst hell. The goddamnedest hell. They’ve bugged everything. That’s why we’re using Duke’s car. Mine’s bugged. Everything’s bugged. Can’t use the phone. Mail intercepted.”

We rode for miles in silence. As we turned into Ketchum, Ernest said quietly: “Duke, pull over. Cut your lights.” He peered across the street at a bank. Two men were working inside. “What is it?” I asked.

“Auditors. The F.B.I.’s got them going over my account.”

“But how do you know?”

“Why would two auditors be working in the middle of the night? Of course it’s my account.” …

On Nov. 30 he was registered under an assumed name in the psychiatric section of St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minn., where, during December, he was given 11 electric shock treatments.

In January he called me from outside his room. He sounded in control, but his voice held a heartiness that didn’t belong there and his delusions had not changed or diminished. His room was bugged, and the phone was tapped. He suspected that one of the interns was a fed.

During a short release he twice attempted suicide with a gun from the vestibule rack. And on a flight to the Mayo Clinic, though heavily sedated, he tried to jump from the plane. When it stopped in Casper, Wyo., for repairs, he tried to walk into the moving propeller.

I visited him in June. He had been given a new series of shock treatments, but it was as before: the car bugged, his room bugged. …

Decades later, in response to a Freedom of Information petition, the F.B.I. released its Hemingway file. It revealed that beginning in the 1940s J. Edgar Hoover had placed Ernest under surveillance because he was suspicious of Ernest’s activities in Cuba. Over the following years, agents filed reports on him and tapped his phones. The surveillance continued all through his confinement at St. Mary’s Hospital. It is likely that the phone outside his room was tapped after all.

Thanks a lot, Hoover, you psychotic, sociopathic hypocrite.

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Thursday, July 7, 2011 8:46 pm

“It is the Industrial Revolution — in reverse”

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 8:46 pm
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Murca. Hail. yeah:

In December, the Los Angeles Times reported — very briefly — that from 2007 to 2008, life expectancy in the United States declined by 0.1 year. It should have been the lead story of every newspaper in the country with the largest possible headlines (“LESS LIFE“). Did 9/11 reduce life expectancy this much? Of course not. Did World War II? Not in a visible way — American life expectancy rose during World War II. I can’t think any event in the last 100 years that made such a difference to Americans. The decline is even more newsworthy when you realize: 1. It is the continuation of trends. The yearly increase in life expectancy has been dropping for about the last 40 years. 2. Americans spend far more on health care than any other country. Meaning vast resources have been available to translate new discoveries into practice. 3. Americans spend far more on health research than any other country and should be the first to benefit from new discoveries.

Maybe I’m biased (because my research is health-related) but I think this is the biggest event of our time. It is the Industrial Revolution in reverse — progress grinding to a halt. For no obvious reason, just as the Industrial Revolution had no obvious reason. Health researchers have been given billions of dollars to improve our health, the whole system has been given tens of billions of dollars, and the result is … nothing. Worse than nothing.

No journalist, with the exception of Gary Taubes, seems the least bit aware of this. It is a difficult story to cover, true. But several journalists, such as health writers for The New Yorker (Atul Gawande, Michael Specter, and Jerome Groopman) are perfectly capable of covering it. They haven’t. With a few exceptions, they write about progress (e.g., Peter Provonost’s checklists). It is like only reporting instances when Dirk Nowitzki missed a free throw. Each instance is true but the big picture they create — he misses all free throws — is profoundly false.

I’m not sure whether I agree with Seth Roberts’s explanation for why journalism is working (or failing to work) this way; I think, for one thing, that he’s overlooking significant flaws within the current practice of professional journalism in the U.S. aside from anything having to do with health care that also just happen to affect health-care coverage. But in any event, the larger point is what I want to emphasize here.

I also want to raise a question, one Roberts, at least in this post, does not: Is the same thing happening in the many other countries with more cost-effective health-care systems? I don’t have time right this minute to try to find out, but I’ll see what I can find out when I do get some time.

Why all the screaming?

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 8:44 pm
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I, for one, welcome our new cnidarian overlords.

Beyond this point there be torches and pitchforks

Richard Epstein, quoted without comment:

Take a chief executive officer who earns ten times as much as the president does per hour. What is gained by stranding him in an airport, having him wait with countless other travelers—whose time is not worth one percent of his time—to catch a plane that might not get him to his final destination?

The tougher tax treatment of jet owners will inevitably lead to less use of these corporate jets. What the nation gets in direct taxes against corporate CEOs it loses in the reduced profits of the businesses that no longer use corporate jets as they once did.

OK, one comment: Herbert Hoover screwed up in his response to the Depression, but if one examines the whole of his public career, he wasn’t nearly the bologna pony* that the people who write for the institute that bears his name make him look like.

*h/t: Athenae

Stupid push-polling wasn’t invented yesterday …

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 8:18 pm
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… as Eleanor Roosevelt (via Brad DeLong) informs us.

Quote of the Day

Big Dog edition:

The Republicans, who control the House and now have greater control of the Senate, have now decided — having tripled the debt in the 12 years before I took office and doubled it since I left — that it’s all of a sudden the biggest problem in the world.

 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011 9:55 pm

And now we know; or, if the jackboot fits, we can damned well wear it

Three years and a couple of weeks ago, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba said this:

“The commander in chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture. … After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”

And just before the holiday weekend, we learned:

The Justice Department has opened full criminal investigations of the deaths in CIA custody of two detainees, including one who perished at Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The decision, announced by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., means continued legal jeopardy for several CIA operatives but at the same time closes the book on inquiries that potentially threatened many others. A federal prosecutor reviewed 101 cases in which agency officers and contractors interrogated suspected terrorists during years of military action after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but found cause to pursue criminal cases in only two. …

“On this, my last day as director, I welcome the news that the broader inquiries are behind us,” said a statement from CIA Director Leon Panetta, who will take over as defense secretary on Friday. “We are now finally about to close this chapter of our agency’s history.”

Keep in mind that the military early this year released documentation on the deaths of 190 detainees in U.S. custody, including what the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued for the documents, called 25 to 30 cases of “unjustified homicide.”

So I guess we now know the answer to Gen. Taguba’s heretofore remaining question: No, those who ordered the use of torture will not be held to account.

OK. There we are. Congratulations, folks; our attorney general has just repealed Godwin’s Law by fiat.

Third World: You’re soaking in it

Filed under: America. It was a really good idea — Lex @ 8:51 pm

Athenae for the win:

I know people live richly even among the most brutal poverty, here and elsewhere in the world. I know people can tint their car windows and just keep driving, take the freeway past the old neighborhood, never go down “that” street. I know how hard people can pretend that anyone poor, anyone helpless, anyone hurt deserved what they got.

But contact is inevitable, leading to information bleed: Can you really spend your whole life not knowing that the world is burning down? And that you will be a king over ashes? Is there really enough beauty left, in this scenario, for you to surround yourself so thoroughly you never smell the smoke? I live close to the places you’d speed through, I worked in the places you’d avoid, so maybe that’s why I can’t block it out, the knowledge that you can throw a rock and hit a school district where the windows are grated and the doors are chained and the children at the age of nine know it’s pretty much over for them. How do you not know that, though? How do you not see?

And how does it not haunt you, the knowing?

Geez, A., are there not workhouses? Are there not orphanages?

Get your geek on

Filed under: Geek-related issues — Lex @ 8:10 pm
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The new Scientific American blogosphere is up and running. Well played, Bora and team!

(h/t: Ed)

BAC: Dead bank walking, feeding on the brains of the living

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:00 pm
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I don’t know who Abigail Field is other than a “contributor” (which I presume means freelancer) for Fortune.com, but, boy howdy, did she find out something interesting about Bank of America’s Countrywide holdings:

Last November, a decision in a New Jersey bankruptcy case brought to light the testimony of Linda DeMartini, operational team leader for the litigation management department for Bank of America, which intended to prove the bank had the right to foreclose on a debtor’s mortgage. Instead, her testimony was key to the judge’s ruling that Bank of America (BAC) couldn’t foreclose, and along the way DeMartini made two statements that called into question the securitization of Countrywide loans. She testified that Countrywide didn’t deliver the notes to the securitization trustee, and that Countrywide notes weren’t endorsed except on a case-by-case basis generally long after securitization ostensibly occurred. Both steps are required, in one form or another, under all securitization contracts. …

To check DeMartini’s testimony, Fortune examined the foreclosures filed in two New York counties (Westchester and the Bronx) between 2006 and 2010. There were 130 cases where the Bank of New York (BK) was foreclosing on behalf of a Countrywide mortgage-backed security. In 104 of those cases, the loan was originally made by Countrywide; the other 26 were made by other banks and sold to Countrywide for securitization.

None of the 104 Countrywide loans were endorsed by Countrywide – they included only the original borrower’s signature. Two-thirds of the loans made by other banks also lacked bank endorsements. The other third were endorsed either directly on the note or on an allonge, or a rider, accompanying the note.

The lack of Countrywide endorsements, combined with the bank’s representation to the court that these documents are accurate copies of the original notes, calls into question the securitization of these loans, as well as Bank of New York’s right, as trustee, to foreclose on them. These notes ostensibly belong to over 100 different Countrywide securities and worse, they were originally made as long ago as 2002. If the lack of endorsement on these notes is typical — and 104 out of 104 suggests it is — the problem occurs across Countrywide securities and for loans that pre-date the peak-bubble mortgage frenzy.

The lack of Countrywide endorsements also corroborates DeMartini, who said that in her 10 years at Countrywide she had never seen a note with an endorsement, and that as foreclosures had been increasingly litigated, she had been handling the original notes, not just the copies scanned into the bank’s database.

Bank of America has argued that, really, everything was just fine. Only now comes word that it will be taking a settlement … and quite a nifty one at that:

BofA will pay $8.5 billion to a group of institutional investors to settle claims that the bank violated the representations and warranties when they sold the RMBS [residential mortgage-backed securities — Lex]. They will additionally, according to their press release, “record an additional $5.5 billion provision to its representations and warranties liability for both Government-Sponsored Enterprises (GSE) and non-GSE exposures in the second quarter of 2011.” So that’s a total of $14 billion.

What’s most interesting here is that Bank of America makes this settlement with the trustee for the trusts, the Bank of New York Mellon. And they’re claiming that this will resolve almost all of their Countrywide-issued RMBS, which had an original unpaid principal balance of $424 billion. …

If this holds, and all $424 billion is settled, that would represent 2-3 cents on the dollar. It would be a pretty raw deal for the investors, considering that Countrywide has been accused of not following procedures of conveying assets to the trusts, creating “non-mortgage backed securities.” Yves Smith has argued that these cases are incredibly hard to prove in court, but even she expected a settlement avoiding trial to cost in the range of 10-15 cents on the dollar. It seems like the bank is trying to sucker the public into believing that they are making a major concession with a giant settlement, when they would be wrapping up a lot of their legacy exposure relatively cheaply.

The aforementioned Yves Smith, who has covered this story as closely as anyone, says this sucks:

The so-called Bank of America settlement, in which the Charlotte bank is set to pay $8.5 billion (plus some additional expenses) to settle representation and warranty liability on 530 mortgage trusts representing $424 billion of par value, is being hailed as a possible template for other mortgage issuers and servicers.

I sure hope not, because some of the things I see in this deal look plenty troubling. …

The investors had to overcome procedural issues even to be able to litigate. And MBIA, which is suing over similar issues but didn’t have the procedural impediments, is three years into litigation with Countrywide and is not very far along. This sort of case is a war of attrition and as a result, as we have indicated, even if the facts are lousy, there is reason to think that an eventual settlement would not be all that large even relative to the value of loans being disputed (the investors need to prove not only that the reps and warranties occurred, but that they led to losses. A lot of defaults, particularly post the subprime resets, are due to job losses and reductions in income. They can’t be blamed on failing to live up to the reps and warranties).

So with all these considerations arguing for fighting a few more rounds, and BofA in the past taking a very aggressive posture on disputing these cases, why would it settle? …

Put it simply: BofA can judge what its risks are VASTLY better than the investors. There are a lot of reasons why it would make sense for BofA not to settle now. Yet it was all over this like a cheap suit. That says it must regard this settlement as a real bargain.

I understand that when all the legal, definitional and procedural nuances are threaded, BAC’s actual liability on the Countrywide acquisition would not have been $424 billion. But it still would have been a helluva lot — keep in mind that title chain was flawed in 104 out of 104 randomly selected cases of securitized mortgages examined by Fortune. It’s not impossible that the liability would dwarf the company’s market capitalization (a shade under $110B as I write), which would mean, in a world where the rule of law obtained, the death of the company.

That is not, of course, the world we live in.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 8:52 pm

Thought related to the previous; or, Internetz! Get on this! Now!

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 8:52 pm
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Is “perpetual pansexual pagan party” an Internet meme yet? And if not, why not?

UPDATE: Why, yes. Yes, I believe it is.

NTTAWWT

Filed under: I want my religion back. — Lex @ 8:23 pm
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Sir Charles at Cogitamus serves up the best “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” I’ve ever read, in response to some wingnuttiness about New York’s legalization of gay marriage:

Neil helpfully linked to this article regarding a full-on wingnut screed against the marriage equality law just passed in New York, which announces that the law will lead to a “perpetual pansexual pagan party,” which, if true, may in fact make Andrew Cuomo the next president of the United States — possibly by acclimation.

That’s a terrible thing to wish on anyone.

Saturday, July 2, 2011 10:29 pm

Inept v. Insane

Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice:

Here’s the difference between Bachmann and Palin: While Palin is clearly bored by the dreary, laborious aspects of campaigning and seems far more interested in gobbling up the ancillary benefits of reality-show celebrity, Bachmann is ruthlessly goal-oriented, a relentless worker who has the attention span to stay on message at all times. With a little imagination, you can even see a clear path for her to the nomination. Though she outraged Des Moines Republicans by blowing off a party dinner in late May, she had already visited the state four times this year and scored key endorsements there. Obamacare progenitor Mitt Romney has already half-conceded Iowa by dropping out of the straw poll there, leaving fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty as Bachmann’s main competition for the first big prize of the race…

Even other Republicans, it seems, are making the mistake of laughing at Bachmann. But consider this possibility: She wins Iowa, then swallows the Tea Party and Christian vote whole for the next 30 or 40 primaries while Romney and Pawlenty battle fiercely over who is the more “viable” boring-white-guy candidate. Then Wall Street blows up again — and it’s Barack Obama and a soaring unemployment rate versus a white, God-fearing mother of 28 from the heartland.

It could happen. Michele Bachmann has found the flaw in the American Death Star. She is a television camera’s dream, a threat to do or say something insane at any time, the ultimate reality-show protagonist. She has brilliantly piloted a media system that is incapable of averting its eyes from a story, riding that attention to an easy conquest of an overeducated cultural elite from both parties that is far too full of itself to understand the price of its contemptuous laughter. All of those people out there aren’t voting for Michele Bachmann. They’re voting against us. And to them, it turns out, we suck enough to make anyone a contender.

Do I think this is likely? No; I still think at this point that Romney wins the nomination, although this far out neither I nor anyone else really has a clue.

But do I think this scenario is plausible? Yes, absolutely. It is impossible to overestimate the incidence of batsh*t insanity in my fellow reliable GOP primary voters. They live in Bizarro World, where factual refutations of their beliefs are just more evidence of the conspiracy.

It is equally impossible to overestimate the appetite of TV for people who are willing to do, or unable to refrain from doing, outlandish things. In a media environment even slightly less toxic than the current one, people like Sarah Palin would have been lost to memory a long time ago.

The nomination is probably Romney’s to lose. But there is no guarantee he won’t lose it. If he does, he most plausibly does so to Bachmann, thus giving us a 2012 general-election contest between Inept and Insane. And in a world gone crazy, I don’t want to put one thin dime down on that outcome.

Quote of the day

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns!,Quote Of The Day — Lex @ 5:45 pm
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From Kay at Balloon Juice:

Conservatives like Walker continue to compare voting to buying cold medicine or cashing a check or driving a car, none of which are valid comparisons, because they want us to accept their belief that voting is a privilege, not a right. Fact is, it’s a lie to compare a right (like voting) to a privilege or commercial transaction (like driving or buying cold medicine), and every time you hear that comparison from a conservative, and you hear it a lot, they’re lying to you.

Anyone who insists that voter fraud is a major problem and/or that vote suppression is not is lying or badly misled.

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