August 14, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


Ryan's controversial Social Security plan he doesn't discuss (Tami Luhby, August 14, 2012, CNNMoney) 

Representative Paul Ryan has long wanted to let Americans invest part of their Social Security taxes in private investment accounts.

After legislation he co-sponsored in 2005 went nowhere, Ryan included a detailed plan to privatize Social Security in his budget proposal in 2010. Under that plan, he would allow workers to funnel an average of roughly 40% of their payroll taxes into personal retirement accounts.

Mitt Romney, who chose the Wisconsin lawmaker as his running mate on Saturday, has also voiced support for private accounts. He has said he likes the idea of allowing people to put some of their funds in accounts with higher returns than Social Security.

"Personal accounts will be a big plus," Romney said at a town hall meeting in 2007.

The thinking is that people would gain control over a portion of their retirement savings and be able to build bigger nest eggs by investing in stocks. Another plus: They could pass the accounts along to heirs.

Posted by orrinj at 3:00 PM


Wells Fargo in $6.5 million SEC settlement over risk disclosure (James O'Toole, August 14, 2012, CNNMoney) 

Wells Fargo will pay $6.5 million to settle charges that it failed to disclose the risks of complex investments it sold to municipalities, non-profits and other customers, the Securities and Exchange Commission said Tuesday.

In 2007, the SEC said, Wells Fargo recommended that its institutional clients, typically interested in more conservative investments, buy into complex investments tied to high-risk mortgage-backed securities. Wells Fargo staff made these recommendations without understanding "the true nature, risks, and volatility behind these products," and typically without sharing those risks with customers, the SEC said.

Posted by orrinj at 2:52 PM


Baroness Trumpington: 'At my age I don't give a damn what I say' : From cracking U-boat codes to flicking a V-sign in the Lords, the formidable 89-year-old Baroness Trumpington has done it her way (Elizabeth Grice, 14 Aug 2012, The Telegraph)

At nearly 6ft tall, dressed in a pale grey suit and black patent shoes and trailing a cloud of Paloma Picasso perfume, she is almost too magnificent for domestic life, gracious though her style of domesticity is. People like to caricature her as stentorian, and it's true that her voice leaves no corner of the House of Lords chamber unscoured, but in her quieter moments I have never heard anyone speak with such a lovely intonation.

Where most people have family photographs, she has a storyboard of modern British history: a warmly signed photo of John Major, a picture of her with Ted Heath, a framed letter from Gordon Brown, thanking her for "the vital service" she performed for the country at Bletchley Park during the war. In another photo, resplendent in Royal Mail red, she is next-but-one to the Queen at a state banquet. What was Her Majesty like to talk to? "Cosy."

Then there is the black-and-white image of her inspecting raspberry canes with Lloyd George, when she was a land girl on his Sussex farm in 1940. "I hated being a land girl," she says. "There were only old men there. The young ones had joined up. And it was all apples. No animals, which I love. I lived in Miss Stevenson's bungalow [Lloyd George's mistress and later wife]. I liked her very much."

The land girl episode was mercifully brief, releasing Baroness Trumpington -- or Jean Campbell-Harris, as she was then -- for more exciting duties at the cipher intelligence centre at Bletchley Park. She is free now to talk about how she helped to crack the German U-boat code, but decades of imposed silence have calcified into habit. "You can -- but you can't," she says. "None of us can because we have kept quiet for so long. The shifts were the worst thing: nine to six, four to midnight, midnight to nine. You could never get a sleep pattern. I was tired all the time."

That didn't stop her hitch-hiking to London on 48-hour leaves and dancing all night.

Just as it seems as if the subject of Bletchley has run out of steam, she remembers a "very unsuitable" incident from those days. She and her small group specialising in the analysis of German naval signals were punished for singing the Horst-Wessel-Lied, the Nazi Party's anthem. "You had nothing to do but work so you got up to mischief," she explains. "I know the whole thing."

Suddenly, she breaks into song: "Die Fahne hoch! Die Reiten fest geschlossen! Very naughty, but we were very young."

Anyone who has kept up with the long life and energetic times of the Conservative life peer will know that naughtiness has not been confined to her youth. Only a few months ago, she was captured on camera giving a two-finger sign to Lord King of Bridgwater when he unwisely (and incorrectly, as it happens) referred to her as looking "pretty old" during a Remembrance Day debate.

Twitter fans made her a celebrity overnight. At first she tried to pretend that her fingers had flown up involuntarily, or that she was primping her hair, but she knew it was no good. "It was entirely between him and me -- I thought. I wasn't conscious of there being television [cameras there]. I did that [she repeats the gesture with faux innocence] to his face. His family say he is famous now."

And her gesture has enriched the English idiom. Richard Ingrams, editor of The Oldie magazine, wrote of an obstructive female Morris dancer recently: "I couldn't resist giving her a Baroness Trumpington." Age and a certain bullying charm have licensed her to behave badly when she wants to get her own way in the Lords.

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Posted by orrinj at 2:40 PM


The Forgotten History of Ryan's Medicare Reform : How the House budget chairman developed his premium-support concept, which was originally supported by Democrats. It's the only plan that won't send grandma over a cliff. (JOSEPH RAGO, 8/14/12, WSJ)

Premium support was first proposed by Stanford economist Alain Enthoven in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1978. He observed that the pervasive methods of direct economic regulation of health care did not contain costs and suggested that "managed competition" would do a better job.

'The point," Mr. Enthoven wrote, "is that government has certain limitations that are deeply rooted, if not inherent. Government is good at some things, such as taking money from taxpayers and paying it to social-security beneficiaries, and maintaining competition in many industries; it performs badly at other things." Premium support's "cumulative effect is intended to alter the system radically, but gradually and voluntarily, in the long run."

Mr. Enthoven's reform models were the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, created in 1959, and Calpers, the California health-insurance program for public employees. He used premium support when he designed the Stanford faculty health plan.

Mr. Enthoven's ideas won some support in the Carter administration. Deregulation czar Alfred Kahn publicly endorsed them. Missouri Democrat Dick Gephardt, of all people, pushed them in Congress.

In the 1990s, premium support's chief advocates were Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution and Bob Reischauer of the Urban Institute. Neither shop is known as a hatchery for conservative ideology. (Mr. Aaron has since recanted.) President Clinton's 17-member Medicare commission, chaired by Louisiana Democrat John Breaux, endorsed the reform in 1999.

But Mr. Ryan did what a million blue-ribbon panels never could: In late 2010 and 2011, he led an internal struggle to educate and convince the risk-averse Republican caucus to get behind his plan. Newt Gingrich's notorious remark about "right-wing social engineering" gives a flavor of the objections. The main doubters were the careerist old guard.

When Mr. Ryan's ideas had no chance of enactment, liberals praised his sincerity. President Obama lauded "a serious proposal" worthy of "healthy debate" in 2009. When the House GOP dared to include it in their budget, liberals responded with varying degrees of hysteria. Mr. Obama recently savaged premium support as "social Darwinism," and that was the subtle part.

The main objection is that the premium supports wouldn't keep pace with the rising health costs that Medicare now promotes, forcing seniors to pay for the overflow out of pocket. But that assumes doctors and hospitals won't change their behavior when the incentives change.

If they have to pay out of pocket the costs won't rise.
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Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


Zimemrman's Lawyer Says He Doesn't Need 'Stand-Your-Ground' to Win (ADAM MARTIN , 8/14/12, Atlantic)

Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, told The Associated Press' Kyle Hightower that the facts didn't support a stand-your-ground argument, which is a Florida statute that gives people the right to use deadly force to defend themselves without backing down. Another 23 states have similar statutes. As a refresher, let's look at the language of that law, via the state's online statutes:

A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

That describes Trayvon Robinson, not the armed man who pursued and accosted him.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


The $99 box that wants to crush the Xbox : The designers of the Ouya game console set out to raise $900,000 on Kickstarter. Instead they brought in over $8 million -- and became the most talked about device maker in tech. (Peter Suciu, 8/14/12, Fortune)

 It could be the ultimate high score. Hardware start-up Ouya began a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year hoping to raise $950,000. In the end, it generated enough excitement to bring in more than $8.5 million.

The Los Angeles, California-based startup with the funny sounding, vowel-laden name aims to upend the traditional console gaming market by selling a low-cost gaming system. Based on Google's (GOOG) Android operating system, the system will feature a quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB internal flash storage, HDMI and Wifi connections as well as a wireless controller. Ouya won't be in the business of selling discs -- unlike Microsoft (MSFT), Nintendo (NTDOY) and Sony (SNE). Instead, the company will adopt the app store model that has made Apple's (AAPL) products into a gaming phenomenon.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Trading Places : 'The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City' : a review of THE GREAT INVERSION AND THE FUTURE OF THE AMERICAN CITY By Alan Ehrenhalt  (FRED SIEGEL, August 10, 2012, NY Times Book Review)

The title of his book refers to both the growth of downtown living in once forbidding neighborhoods and, contrary to expectations, the movement of immigrants into the suburbs. Cities like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, he argues, are "gradually coming to resemble" European cities like Vienna or Paris in the 19th century, when the well-to-do lived in the center city and the working classes lived in the suburban rings around the downtown.

And according to Ehrenhalt, today it's not even necessary to move downtown to achieve a sense of urbanity. He's right, although he doesn't cite the specifics. New shopping areas like the Glen in suburban Chicago have been built to suggest the feel of an old city center. Similarly, older suburban downtowns in Highland Park, Ill.; Downingtown, Pa.; and Westfield, N.J., have built on their architecture to create thriving districts with chic restaurants, cafes and boutiques. "Much of suburbia," he argues, "will seek to reinvent itself in a newly urbanized mode." [...]

Ehrenhalt has a hard time explaining what the successes of the new urbanism add up to, though he refers to the writings of Joel Kotkin, whom he describes as "perhaps the most prominent of the downtown debunkers." Kotkin has claimed, on the basis of census data, that the downtown revival Ehrenhalt applauds is merely a niche phenomenon. It is confined, Kotkin says, largely to singles, childless couples, wealthy empty nesters and recently graduated students transitioning to a delayed adulthood.

This argument shadows Ehrenhalt throughout his book. 

If you want to see the future of the American city look at Disneyworld.  You take the monorail in for the day but take your family home at night.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Paul Ryan's voting record: Big-spending conservatism (ANDREW RESTUCCIA and SEUNG MIN KIM, 8/13/12, Politico)

Paul Ryan rose to the top of the political ranks on his reputation as a conservative budget hawk. But his voting record shows him to be far from a pure fiscal conservative.

Ryan voted for the $700 billion bank bailout, the biggest Medicare expansion in U.S. history, a massive highway bill that included the "Bridge to Nowhere" and other big-ticket priorities when George W. Bush was president -- going to bat for a high-spending GOP agenda that the tea party base now looks on with regret.

If the tea party were the base, Mitt Romney wouldn't be the nominee.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


Troubles Abroad Keep Cash Flowing to U.S. (SUDEEP REDDY, 8/13/12, WSJ)

The U.S., despite losing its coveted triple-A debt rating from Standard & Poor's last August, remains a magnet for money fleeing the globe's trouble spots. As Europe's debt crisis rages, turmoil in Greece, Spain or Italy sends investors rushing into the safe arms of the U.S. government.

Markets continue--for now--to worry far more about global economic weakness than rising U.S. obligations, pushing yields lower on Treasury debt. The nation can borrow for a decade for around 1.6%, a near-record low, as investors gladly hand over their money expecting almost no return, after factoring in inflation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Why Is There No Liberal Ayn Rand? : American conservatives have a canon. Why don't American liberals? (Beverly Gage|Posted Monday, Aug. 13, 2012, Slate)

Ask Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan how he became a conservative and he'll probably answer by citing a book. It might be Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Or perhaps he'll come up with Friedrich Hayek's Road to Serfdom, or even Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative. All of these books are staples of the modern conservative canon, works with the reputed power to radicalize even the most tepid Republican. Over the last half-century, they have been vital to the conservative movement's success--and to liberalism's demise.

We tend to think of the conservative influence in purely political terms: electing Ronald Reagan in 1980, picking away at Social Security, reducing taxes for the wealthy. But one of the movement's most lasting successes has been in developing a common intellectual heritage. Any self-respecting young conservative knows the names you're supposed to spout: Hayek, Rand, Ludwig von Mises, Albert Jay Nock. There are some older thinkers too--Edmund Burke, for instance--but for the most part the favored thinkers come out of the movement's mid-20th century origins in opposition to Soviet communism and the New Deal.

Liberals, by contrast, have been moving in the other direction over the last half-century, abandoning the idea that ideas can be powerful political tools.  

...liberalism is female.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


Key test set for sustained hypersonic flight (W.J. Hennigan, 8/13/12, Los Angeles Times)

Since test pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947, engineers and scientists have dreamed of ever-faster aircraft. Now, they face one of their toughest challenges yet: sustaining hypersonic flight -- going five times the speed of sound or more -- for more than a few minutes.

In a nondescript hangar at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, a team of aerospace engineers has been putting the finishing touches on a lightning-quick experimental aircraft designed to fly above the Pacific Ocean at 3,600 mph. A passenger aircraft traveling at that speed could fly from Los Angeles to New York in 46 minutes.

On Tuesday a key test is set for the unmanned experimental aircraft X-51A WaveRider. It will take the aircraft -- attached to a B-52 bomber's wing -- from Edwards to about 50,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean near Point Mugu. From there, its high-speed journey at Mach 6 is expected to last only 300 seconds, but that's twice as long as it's ever gone at that speed.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:59 AM


Syria's Coming Sectarian Crack-Up : Assad's forces will retreat to the north, and an Iranian-backed Alawite canton will be born. (MICHAEL DORAN, 8/13/12, WSJ)

Syria is like Humpty Dumpty. Made up of four or five diverse regions glued together after World War I, the country is an accident of great-power politics. Like neighboring Lebanon, it has now dissolved into its constituent parts. The Free Syrian Army isn't a unified force but rather a network of militias, each with its own regional power base and external patron. [...]

The sectarian nucleus of the state has always been a defining characteristic of the Assad regime. But the Alawite order is collapsing today, and it will never be reconstituted. Syria is now a regional battleground, with Tehran and Moscow backing Assad while Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan back the rebels.

When Assad loses Aleppo and Damascus--and this loss is almost a certainty--his Russian and Iranian patrons won't abandon him. They have no other horse to ride in Syria. Instead they will assist in establishing a sectarian militia, an Alawite analogue to Hezbollah. In fact, such a militia is already rising up naturally, as Sunni defections transform the Syrian military into an overtly Alawite force.

If the rebels finally succeed in dislodging the regime from the main cities, it will retreat to the north, and the autonomous Alawite canton that Bashar al-Assad's grandfather envisioned will finally be born. "Alawistan," as the Mideast scholar Tony Badran called it, will join Hezbollah in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon as another sectarian island in the Iranian archipelago of influence.

What interest can Iran have in a weak heretic state?
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