Important Things with Demetri Martin

After watching two awful movies this weekend (which I will discuss tomorrow), it was wonderful to stumble upon Important Things with Demetri Martin. It’s great sketch-comedy. Here are three sketches which give something of the flavor of the show

News of the Future: Senate Republicans to investigate Obama-era officials

The GOP should be carefully studying what the Democrats do wrt “investigating” officials from the previous administration.

The Weekly Standard
The LA Times reports on the plans for an investigation by Senate Democrats into the CIA under the Bush administration.

Does anyone doubt that this will be a total sham? It will allow the Senate Democrats to “investigate” the evidence they want to look at without considering the national security ramifications. Without having to make a judgment on whether or not the officials broke the law, the Senate Democrats avoid all of the sticky issues concerning whether or not questionable, but not necessarily unlawful, actions were necessary to protect the country. It allows them to cherry-pick the story, present it in a light that is most favorable to them, feeds the base, and keeps alive a “Blame America/Bush/Republicans” storyline indefinitely.

Except for expressing loyalty, the GOP gains nothing out of preventing white house officials from being “investigated,” charged, and so on. However, the GOP can begin laying the groundwork for investigating, charing, and perhaps imprisoning Obama era officials whose work is unpopular (right now, the Treasury Department from Geithner on down).

Of course, this would be anti-democratic, but that does not stop the Democrats. I’m not endorsing such plans, but they should be considered.

Citi Undead

As I write this, it appears that Obama has chosen the worst of all possible paths and chosen to turn Citigroup into a Zombie bank.

Reports from CNBC, Wall Street Journal, Marketplace, Calculated Risk, and so on indicate that the government will in effect sell its preferred shares at a large discount to Citi in exchange for a 40% of the common stock. The government essentially is trading tens of billions of dollars of preferred stock that we bought as part of the TARP into $4 billion, or so, of common stock.

Citi is undead. Citibank is a zombie bank. We are using capital that could be used in other ways to save Citi. We are saving shareholder value for shareholders who helped create this crisis. A few cosmetic changes will be made, a couple people will resign on the board, but we will Citi to continue to act like a growth-oriented company while letting it socialize its losses onto us.

Citi is a zombie bank, like the Zombie banks Japan created in the 1990s. Now that we have demonstrated we care Citi’s shareholders more than the Treasury, and that we have invested in Citi in the most speculative and least safe form imaginable (common shares), does anyone believe that we will let Citi go bankrupt?

If not, there is no reason for any business to use any bank except Citi. Indeed, not doing so may open up officers to charges of negligence. There is some chance that some honest community bank may be seized by the FDIC, and deposits in excess of $250,000 may be lost. Is there anyone left who thinks Citi may suffer the same way?

Today, what remained of the functional parts of our banking system is gone. Instead, our banking system is as corrupt, politically-centered, irresponsible, and worthless as, say, the Chinese banking system in the early 1990s. The difference, of course, is that the Chinese did help pay for millions of dollars worth of bonuses annually. While signaling that shareholders of politically powerful banks should not be wiped out, that upper management of those banks should not be fired, that those who risked assets on such risky institutions should not be wiped out, Obama is clearly stating that he is behind the high salaries and bonuses of those who work in these institutions.

We have corporations in the United States that run on socialized, low-risk, heavy-government-influence lines. They are utilities. They are run to do a technical job well. Those who work in utilities tend to enjoy a middle class lifestyle. I see no signs that Obama is willing to allow his Wall Street fundraisers to fall to such depths. Obama is continuing to subsidize Citibank, allowing Citi shareholders and Citi executives to continue to hold and earn tremendous amounts of wealths while the U.S. Treasury is on the hook for all losses.

The government, by bailing out Citi in the worst way possible, cripples our banking sector.

Props to Obama on Iraq and Mortgages

Obama’s “residual force” is of course a way to keep us in Iraq for years (like McCain wanted)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., suggested a smaller contingent of 15,000 to 20,000 troops, and said she wanted to study Obama’s proposal. “I don’t know what the justification is for the presence of 50,000 troops in Iraq,” Pelosi told MSNBC on Wednesday.

House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John P. Murtha , D-Pa., said only a complete withdrawal would suffice. “I don’t think we need to leave anybody there,” he said. “They have got to be on their own. Their presence alone makes them vulnerable.”

Likewise, Obama’s “upper income” limit on mortgage deducations should slow the reemergence of the high end of the home price bubble

The tax increases would … [reduce] the value of such longstanding deductions as mortgage interest … for people in the highest tax brackets. Households paying income taxes at the 33% and 35% rates can currently claim deductions at those rates. Under the Obama proposal, they could deduct only 28% of the value of those payments.

Now for Obama to let GM go bankrupt and stop throwing away money on F-22s

Captain and the Kings

I was listening to the gspn LOST podcast last night, and was delighted when the closing song was “Can’t Do This On my Own” by Captain and the Kings (an unsigned band). The song is terrific! I can’t find Captain and the Kings on Amazon, iTunes, or other sources, and even their MySpace Music does not have the “buy option enabled.” To listen to the band when my internet connection is fritzy I had to resort to FreeMusicZilla, but I want badly to purchase a full album — the five songs on my space are just not enough!


Now that I’ve said how enjoyable Captain and the Kings are, I’ll take a moment to geek out. I suspect the reason Cliff @ gspn played “Can’t Do this On My Own” are the thematic resemblences between the song and the story of the main character of the most recent episode of LOST, “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham.”

There’s trouble all around
and iI don’t know what to do
I can trust myself
but I know I can’t trust you
Change my name, dye my hair, and start again
is that what I should do?
You won’t know who I am
but I’ll still know you

Start telling me
What I want to hear
Let’s have the truth for a change
The end is drawing near
Time and time and time and time again
Find myself alone
While I’m crying out for help
I can’t do this on my own

I can’t do this on my own
I can’t do this one alone

There’s a cross-roads up ahead
And each rode looks just the same
I’m listening for your voice
I want someone to blame
All my hopes squared high
I told everyone I knew
I want plans to make it work
I guess they’ve fallen through

I can’t do this on my own
I can’t do this one alone

Listen to Captain and the Kings at MySpace Music.

Russian military officeres smuggling anti-submarine weapons to China (?)

Does this story make sense on its face?

Russia’s Chief Military Prosecutor said an attempt to smuggle anti-submarine missiles and aviation bombs was foiled in the Navy. The weapons were meant to be later sold to China.

Sergey Fridinsky said Wednesday that several Navy officers and businessmen were going to smuggle 30 missiles and 200 bombs to Tajikistan. He said criminal cases had been launched against them.

The arms are worth $US 18 million. A prospective buyer was waiting for the weapons in China.

Navy General Staff confirmed the information. According to Navy’s Deputy Commander Igor Dygalo, the smugglers were trying to disguise the arms as outdated munitions.

The ring was busted together by the Navy, the Federal Security Service and the Military Prosecutor’s Office

China already has the CY (Chang Ying / 长樱 / Long Tassel) series of anti-submarine missiles (RAND PDF). While the Russians do have the SS-N-14 and SS-N-16 series of anti-submarine missles, would this be something that China actually needs? I know that China purchased several air-craft carriers from Moscow after the fall of the Soviet Union (I even visisted one, and took pictures). Did China never get around to buying an anti-submarine missle to reverse engineer the technology? I would think that if China really wants anti-submarine missles, there are Chinese factories with Chinese workers (whose profits line the pcoket of Chinese officials) more than happy to do so.

The Kiev, in Dock in Tianjin, China

Without knowing anything about the mysterious world of anti-submarine missile smuggling, it seems more likely this is part of the fallout to the sinking of the Chinese ship “New Star” by the Russian navy. (The surviving Chinese sailors have now gone home to China.)

Tangentially related:

EU: Russia should stay out of Belarus
Russia: EU and US should stay out of Moldova
Russia: US should stay out of Kyrgyzstan
Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan: US welcome

Where Obama’s mortgage bailout will go

Instapundit links to this interesting article:

The beneficiaries of taxpayer charity will be highly concentrated in just five states – California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida and Michigan. That is not because the subsidized homeowners are poor Californians with $700,000 mortgages are not poor, but because they took on too much debt, often by refinancing in risky ways to “cash out” thousands more than the original loan. Nearly all subprime loans were for refinancing, not buying a home.

It turns out that the five states with by far the highest foreclosure rates have some things in common with each other, but very little in common with most other states.

I studied the latest available figures for state foreclosure rates, changes in home prices over one and five years, existing home sales, the percentage of mortgages that are underwater, and unemployment. Then I compared figures for the five most foreclosure-prone states with New York and also with the 25th-ranking median state.

One out of 76 homes in Nevada went into foreclosure in January, for example, compared with one out of 173 in California, with Arizona and Florida close behind. In New York, by contrast, only 1 out of 2,271 homes went into foreclosure.

Of course, real estate speculators existed in every state. Some of them doubtless did not realize that leveraging up to buy a house that one does not plan to live in for many years is about as wise as leveraging up to buy stock that one does not plan to live in for many years.

Certainly, those home-owners are just as sympathetic and deserving of a bailout as all those who borrowed tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy stock.

Right and wrong ways to secure peace in the Western Pacific

Props to China and Taiwan for negotiating a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement

Boos to Republicans for pushing for more F-22s.

Besides being a moneypit, F-22s are an “uncertain weapon.” Because they can only be used in very bad situations, they are worthless for most of the negotiations that China and the United States will actually engage in. Building up our financial position and our economy would do far more to help us wrt China than more jet fighters.

Likewise, the China-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement does more to deter war between China and Taiwan (by economically integrating those two great Chinese-speaking countries) than any amount of F-22s we could buy.

Is financial innovation worth it?

Half Sigma’s post has face validity, but I am aware of my lack of knowledge of how the financial system works.  So instead of agreeing with it, I will ask for comments so I can learn more.

Government run industries tend not to be very innovative, but the only useful innovation to come out of the banking industry in the last century is the ATM machine. Otherwise, when banks innovate, that’s when it’s time to hold on tight to your wallet. Bank innovation tends to fall into two categories: (1) sneakier ways to trick people into getting into more credit card debt and pay more outrageous credit card fees; and (2) complicated financial products like mortgaged backed securities and derivatives which have led to the recent financial collapse which not only ruined that banking industry but took down the whole economy with it.

via Half Sigma: What’s wrong with nationalized banks?.


Chinese and Russian Reactions to Russia’s sinking of the Chinese ship ‘New Star’

Entries in bold are from the Russian Information Agency Novosti. Entires in italics are from Xinhua News Angecy.

January 15
13:25: Foreign ship sinks of Russia’s pacific coast, 8 sailors dead
21:36: Eight sailors drown in Sea of Japan

January 18
11:31: Captain of sunken ship crosed Russian border fearing trial
23:58: Chinese FM confirms cargo ship in a “sea accident” near Vladivostok

January 19
12:49: China demands Russia investigate sinking of Chinese ship
16:34: China demands Russia investigate sinking of Chinese ship – 2
17:44: China says Russia’s investigation into sea acident still going on
20:53: Chinese sailors rescued off Russian coast in good health, 7 still missing
21:56: Moscow blames captain of China’s New Star for tragic sinking

January 20
00:18: China lodges urgent representation again to Russia on cargo ship sinking
13:12: Russian rescuers halt search for sailors on sunken Chinese ship
17:44: Chinese consul general urges Russia to probe sea accident
21:37:China says Russia’s attitude on cargo ship incident “unacceptable”

January 21
20:36: Russian border guards fired on Chinese ship legally – ministry

All of this overlaps with Secretary of State Clinton’s visit to Asia, and the major flurry of news overlaps specifically with Clinton’s’ visit to Beijing.