June 5, 2011

Madison Farmer's Market Scenes June 3, 2011









Posted by jez at 4:13 PM

April 13, 2011

White House visitor logs leave out many

Viveca Novak & Fred Schulte:

A foot of snow couldn't keep Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Jennifer Hudson and other celebrities away from a star-studded celebration of civil-rights-era music, hosted by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at the White House in February 2010.

Dylan's haunting rendition of "The Times They Are a-Changin'" was a highlight of the dazzling evening. The digitally friendly White House even posted the video of his performance on its website.

But you won't find Dylan (or Robert Zimmerman, his birth name) listed in the White House visitor logs -- the official record of who comes to call at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., which is maintained by the Secret Service.

Ditto Joan Baez.

Posted by jez at 10:37 AM

December 23, 2010

2011: And Still No Energy Policy

Ed Wallace:

"First generation [corn] ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small."

- Al Gore, speaking at a Green Energy Conference on November 22, 2010

"Ethanol is not an ideal transportation fuel. The future of transportation fuels shouldn't involve ethanol."

- Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, November 29, 2010

No one knows what brought on the blast of political honesty in the last eight days of November. Having been a rabid ethanol booster for most of his political career, there was former Vice President Al Gore reversing course and apologizing for supporting ethanol. Of course Gore's reason for taking that position was perfectly understandable -- for a politician. As he told the Athens energy conference attendees, "One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers of Iowa because I was about to run for President."

Translated from politics-speak into English, pandering to farmers gets votes. But if your claimed position is to plan some sort of energy policy for everyone else, then getting farmers' votes shouldn't determine what's the right thing to do for the nation's fuel supplies.

Posted by jez at 5:55 AM

November 7, 2010

Germany Criticizes Fed Move Finance Minister Says Policy 'Doesn't Add Up,' Sees U.S. Model in 'Deep Crisis'

Patrick McGroarty

German officials, concerned that Washington could be pushing the global economy into a downward spiral, have launched an unusually open critique of U.S. economic policy and vowed to make their frustration known at this week's Group of 20 summit.

Leading the attack is Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who said the U.S. Federal Reserve's decision last week to pump an additional $600 billion into government securities won't help the U.S. economy or its global partners.

The Fed's decisions are "undermining the credibility of U.S. financial policy," Mr. Schäuble said in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine published over the weekend, referring to the Fed's move, known as "quantitative easing" and designed to spur demand and keep interest rates low. "It doesn't add up when the Americans accuse the Chinese of currency manipulation and then, with the help of their central bank's printing presses, artificially lower the value of the dollar."

At an economics conference in Berlin Friday, Mr. Schäuble said the Fed's action shows U.S. policy makers are "at a loss about what to do."

Mr. Schäuble hit back at critics in the Der Spiegel interview. "Germany's exporting success is based on the increased competitiveness of our companies, not on some sort of currency sleight-of-hand. The American growth model, by comparison, is stuck in a deep crisis," he said. "The USA lived off credit for too long, inflated its financial sector massively and neglected its industrial base. There are many reasons for America's problems--German export surpluses aren't one of them."

Posted by jez at 9:22 PM

Wisconsin Evokes Democrats' Dilemma

Douglas Belkin & Neil King, Jr.

Last week's election rout did more than put Republicans in charge of the U.S. House of Representatives. It upended the electoral map that propelled President Barack Obama to the White House.

Mr. Obama bagged traditionally liberal Wisconsin and its ten electoral votes two years ago, part of a sweep that also included states that hadn't tilted Democratic for decades. That went into reverse Tuesday. The party suffered heavy losses in Ohio and Pennsylvania, two big states that had backed Mr. Obama in 2008, as independent voters swung to the right. Other presidential territory--Virginia, Indiana and North Carolina--swung back to the GOP.

The depth of the party's losses outside Washington, in state-level-contests, can be seen in this working-class city. The president won handily here in 2008 along with surrounding Brown County. Last week, Republicans carried all 18 races on the county's ballots, right down to the clerk of the court. The GOP took control of the governor's office, the state assembly and the state senate--the first time the state has reverted so abruptly to one side since 1938.

Posted by jez at 9:16 PM

October 13, 2010

Why America is going to win the global currency battle

Martin Wolf:
The US is going to win this war, one way or the other: it will either inflate the rest of the world or force their nominal exchange rates up against the dollar. Unfortunately, the impact will also be higgledy piggledy, with the less protected economies (such as Brazil or South Africa) forced to adjust and others, protected by exchange controls (such as China), able to manage the adjustment better.

It would be far better for everybody to seek a co-operative outcome. Maybe the leaders of the group of 20 will even be able to use their “mutual assessment process” to achieve just that. Their November summit in Seoul is the opportunity. Of the need there can be no doubt. Of the will, the doubts are many. In the worst of the crisis, leaders hung together. Now, the Fed is about to hang them all separately.
Moahmed El-Erian has more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:59 AM

September 9, 2010

US Tax Reform: How about this for a tax plan: cut most people’s taxes by half, eliminate the need to file returns, and provide the Treasury with a better way to reduce the deficit. Sound impossible? It’s not. Here’s how to get it done.

Keith Libbey & Evan Thomas:
Most Americans spend dozens, if not hundreds, of hours attempting, not always successfully, to do their tax returns. We spend almost $30 billion paying accountants to fill out the complicated forms, and by some estimates we devote $110 billion of our own labor just keeping track of all the necessary records and paperwork. Americans pay about 85 percent of the taxes they owe, better than in most countries, but the shortfall is still a drain on the Treasury (and the rich seem to find a way to avoid taxes legally). Is this costly, demoralizing struggle between the IRS and the rest of us really necessary?

The short answer is no. There is a way to relieve almost all Americans of the annual April 15 nightmare. What’s more, it’s a necessary first step toward a plan to cut the looming federal deficit. The time is right for thoroughgoing tax reform—a true clean slate—that will bring in more revenue while giving the public a greater sense of fairness. The reforms we propose will even allow most people to take home more pay than they do now.

The place to start is to cut almost everyone’s payroll and income taxes by half. Yes, you read that right. Cut most tax rates, which now run from 10 to 39 percent, by half. All individual taxes would be collected through company withholding taxes on compensation (salary, bonus, deferred payments, etc.) and investment income (dividends, interest, capital gains, rents) to individuals. The very rich—those making more than $2 million a year—would still pay a top tax rate of 30 percent on earned income. The rate on investment income would be 15 percent. The result: individuals would not have to file tax returns, most Americans would take home more pay than they do now, the tax base would be broadened, and the AMT—the alternative minimum tax, which sweeps up more taxpayers every year—would be eliminated.

Too good to be true? There’s no free lunch. The revenue lost to the government—roughly half of all personal federal taxes—has to come from someplace else. The best fix is to eliminate all deductions and exemptions for individual taxpayers—all those tax breaks that were intended to promote economic activity or serve worthy social goals but have ended up creating myriad unfair outcomes. It’s true that the wealthiest 1 percent currently pays about 18 percent of all taxes. Still, thanks to clever tax dodges, the top 400 income earners pay an average tax rate of 16.6 percent; megabillionaire Warren Buffett notes that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:58 AM

July 26, 2010

US Senate Candidate Ron Johnson's WisPolitics Appearance

A brief clip from Jeff Mayer's introductory Q & A with Senate Candidate Ron Johnson. from Jim Zellmer on Vimeo.

Johnson faces Dave Westlake in the September Republican primary. The winner will take on 18 year incumbent Democrat Senator Russ Feingold.

In my humble opinion, should the November election turn on economic issues, the Republicans will win (Feingold's 30 years in the political world is a liability in this scenario). On the other hand, should the election turn on debates, Russ will be tough to beat.

I hope we have a serious competitor to Herb Kohl.....

I attended a Senator Feingold WisPolitics appearance last fall.

I very much appreciate candidates and office holders taking questions from the public in such settings. I asked Ron Johnson a question on three of Senator Feingold's votes: The 2004 5.25% offshore tax scheme for big business, the Patriot Act and the vote to kill Washington, DC vouchers. Websites: Russ Feingold, Ron Johnson and Dave Westlake.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:21 PM

June 28, 2010

Three privacy initiatives from the Office of Management and Budget The U.S. government has a new take on federated identity, storage and social networks.

Andy Oram:
Last Friday was a scramble for government security personnel and independent privacy advocates, and should also have stood out to anyone concerned with the growth of online commerce, civic action, and social networking. The U.S. government's Office of Management and Budget, which is the locus of President Obama's drive toward transparency and open government, popped out three major initiatives that combine to potentially change the landscape for online identity and privacy, not only within government but across the Internet.

In this blog I'll summarize the impacts of all three documents, as well as the next steps that I see necessary in these areas. The documents (all distributed as PDFs, which is not the easiest format to draw commentary) are:
  • A discussion draft of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. Comments can be viewed and entered on a feedback site.
  • An OMB Memorandum on Guidance for Online Use of Web Measurement and Customization Technologies.
  • An OMB Memorandum on Guidance for Agency Use of Third-Party Websites and Applications.
These documents are not long, but the complexity of the policy areas they address ensure that no blog could cover everything of importance, nor could a single commentator like me provide a well-rounded view. I'll focus on the changes they make to policies that are known to require change, with a "job well done" pat on the back. In highlighting gaps and omissions, I'll deliberately swim around the shoals that others have loudly pointed to already, focusing instead on problems that I believe deserve more attention.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:43 PM

May 29, 2010

Feingold for Senate Campaign @ the Madison Farmer's Market



I've appreciated a number of Russ's votes, but found his recent vote to kill the Washington, DC voucher program unpalatable. No K-12 program is perfect, but given the very challenging District K-12 climate, it is difficult to see the status quo improving on its own.

Russ Feingold will likely face Republican Ron Johnson this fall.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:18 PM

May 28, 2010

Identity cards scheme will be axed 'within 100 days'

BBC:
The National Identity Card scheme will be abolished within 100 days with all cards becoming invalid, Home Secretary Theresa May has said.

Legislation to axe the scheme will be the first put before parliament by the new government - with a target of it becoming law by August.

The 15,000 people who voluntarily paid £30 for a card since the 2009 roll out in Manchester will not get a refund.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:28 PM

April 21, 2010

The decline of the Great Writ: The sad history of habeas corpus

The Economist:
Habeas Corpus: From England to Empire. By Paul Halliday. Harvard University Press; 502 pages; $39.95 and £29.95. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk

WHEN discussing habeas corpus or the “Great Writ of Liberty”, as the most revered legal device of the Anglophone world is often known, jurists and civil libertarians tend to become misty-eyed. In 1777 Charles James Fox, a radical British politician, described habeas corpus during a parliamentary debate on its suspension as “the great palladium of the liberties of the subject” and deplored the “insolence and temerity” of those “who could thus dare to snatch it from the people”.

Nearly 230 years later, in an impassioned attack from the Senate floor on the Bush administration’s bill to suspend habeas corpus for anyone determined to be an “unlawful enemy combatant”, Barack Obama declared: “I do not want to hear that this is a new kind of world in which we face a new kind of enemy.” Another senator, Arlen Specter, roared: “The right of habeas corpus was established in the Magna Carta in 1215…what the bill seeks to do is set back basic rights by some 900 years.” In Britain, Lord Hoffmann, a law lord reviewing government “control orders” to detain terrorist suspects in 2007, thundered: “Such is the revulsion against detention without charge or trial, such is this country’s attachment to habeas corpus, that the right to liberty ordinarily trumps even the interests of national security.”
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:06 AM

March 30, 2010

What Does Greece Mean to You?

John Mauldin:
“To trace something unknown back to something known is alleviating, soothing, gratifying and gives moreover a feeling of power. Danger, disquiet, anxiety attend the unknown – the first instinct is to eliminate these distressing states. First principle: any explanation is better than none… The cause-creating drive is thus conditioned and excited by the feeling of fear…” Friedrich Nietzsche

“Any explanation is better than none.” And the simpler, it seems in the investment game, the better. “The markets went up because oil went down,” we are told, except when it went up there was another reason for the movement of the markets. We all intuitively know that things are far more complicated than that. But as Nietzsche noted, dealing with the unknown can be disturbing, so we look for the simple explanation.

“Ah,” we tell ourselves, “I know why that happened.” With an explanation firmly in hand, we now feel we know something. And the behavioral psychologists note that this state actually releases chemicals in our brains that make us feel good. We become literally addicted to the simple explanation. The fact that what we “know” (the explanation for the unknowable) is irrelevant or even wrong is not important to the chemical release. And thus we look for reasons.

How does an event like a problem in Greece (or elsewhere) affect you, gentle reader? And I mean, affect you down where the rubber hits your road. Not some formula or theory about the velocity of money or the effect of taxes on GDP. That is the question I was posed this week. “I want to understand why you think this is so important,” said a friend of Tiffani. So that is what I will attempt to answer in this week’s missive, as I write a letter to my kids trying to explain the nearly inexplicable.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:44 PM

February 12, 2010

Iceland aims to become an offshore haven for journalists and leakers

Jonathan Stray:
On Tuesday, the Icelandic parliament is expected to introduce a measure aimed at making the country an international center for investigative journalism publishing, by passing the strongest combination of source protection, freedom of speech, and libel-tourism prevention laws in the world.

Supporters of the proposal say the move would make Iceland an “offshore publishing center” for free speech, analogous to the offshore financial havens that allow corporations to hide capital from authorities. Could global news organizations with a home office in Reykjavík soon be as common as Delaware corporations or Cayman Islands assets?

“This is a legislative package to create a haven for freedom of expression,” Icelandic member of parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir confirmed to me, saying that a proposal for comprehensive media law reform will be filed in parliament on Tuesday, and that whistle-blowing specialists Wikileaks has been involved in drafting it. There have been persistent hints of an Icelandic media move in recent weeks, including tweets from Wikileaks and a cryptic message from the newly created @icelandmedia Twitter account.

The text of the proposal, called the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, is not yet public, but the most detailed evidence comes from a video of a talk by Julian Assange and Daniel Schmitt of Wikileaks, given at the Chaos Communications Congress hacker conference in Berlin on Dec. 27:
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:00 PM

February 7, 2010

Trouble Down South for US Republicans

Ryan Bowman and Andrew K. Woods:
At first glance, McLeod’s Tyre Shop in Lucedale, Mississippi, seems an unlikely venue for a political salon. It is a large, spare room, its contents pushed to the corners as if by an invisible centrifugal force, or maybe the weak wind of the ceiling fan. To the right of the entrance, four tyres stand on tiny podiums like sculptures in an art gallery. In the far right-hand corner of the room, a large 1920s stove slumbers beneath a Mississippi State football flag, which Doug McLeod hung to taunt his rivals from Ole Miss – the University of Mississippi. And in the far left-hand corner, a long counter is crowded with well-thumbed copies of every newspaper (local, state and national) from the past two weeks – kindling for starting and settling scores.

“A Mississippi lady once asked me where I went to church. I told her Sacred Heart and she said, ‘Well, we all have to worship somewhere, don’t we?’”

We walk in at the tail end of an argument between four men, just in time for McLeod to jam his finger into one of the newspapers and say, with an air of finality, “And that’s why they should raise interest rates.” McLeod has owned this tyre shop for more than 30 years, and in that time he has established himself as a local character and the shop as a destination: a place where he and others can hold forth. The scene is both chaotic and relaxed, with high-energy McLeod spinning like a top while visitors sit or lean, idling on about all subjects but their tyres.

The men assembled here, in one of the most Republican counties in the American deep south, are conservative. In fact, the latest demographics say they – southern, white males aged over 35 – are the Republican party. Despite differences on many subjects – football, Ford trucks, fiscal policy – they all agree that their interests are not represented in Washington, not by Barack Obama and the Democrats and not even by their own party.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:50 PM

February 5, 2010

How to Get Our Democracy Back: If You Want Change, You Have to Change Congress

Larry Lessig:
We should remember what it felt like one year ago, as the ability to recall it emotionally will pass and it is an emotional memory as much as anything else. It was a moment rare in a democracy's history. The feeling was palpable--to supporters and opponents alike--that something important had happened. America had elected, the young candidate promised, a transformational president. And wrapped in a campaign that had produced the biggest influx of new voters and small-dollar contributions in a generation, the claim seemed credible, almost intoxicating, and just in time.

Yet a year into the presidency of Barack Obama, it is already clear that this administration is an opportunity missed. Not because it is too conservative. Not because it is too liberal. But because it is too conventional. Obama has given up the rhetoric of his early campaign--a campaign that promised to "challenge the broken system in Washington" and to "fundamentally change the way Washington works." Indeed, "fundamental change" is no longer even a hint.

Instead, we are now seeing the consequences of a decision made at the most vulnerable point of Obama's campaign--just when it seemed that he might really have beaten the party's presumed nominee. For at that moment, Obama handed the architecture of his new administration over to a team that thought what America needed most was another Bill Clinton. A team chosen by the brother of one of DC's most powerful lobbyists, and a White House headed by the quintessential DC politician. A team that could envision nothing more than the ordinary politics of Washington--the kind of politics Obama had called "small." A team whose imagination--politically--is tiny.

These tiny minds--brilliant though they may be in the conventional game of DC--have given up what distinguished Obama's extraordinary campaign. Not the promise of healthcare reform or global warming legislation--Hillary Clinton had embraced both of those ideas, and every other substantive proposal that Obama advanced. Instead, the passion that Obama inspired grew from the recognition that something fundamental had gone wrong in the way our government functions, and his commitment to reform it.

For Obama once spoke for the anger that has now boiled over in even the blue state Massachusetts--that our government is corrupt; that fundamental change is needed. As he told us, both parties had allowed "lobbyists and campaign contributions to rig the system." And "unless we're willing to challenge [that] broken system...nothing else is going to change." "The reason" Obama said he was "running for president [was] to challenge that system." For "if we're not willing to take up that fight, then real change--change that will make a lasting difference in the lives of ordinary Americans--will keep getting blocked by the defenders of the status quo."
"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss"....
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:39 AM

January 7, 2010

Bill Gross Puts US On Notice over Debt Binge

Tom Petruno:
If the bond vigilantes are ready to ride again, there should be little doubt who will be leading the charge.

Bond guru Bill Gross at Pimco in Newport Beach this week has ramped up his warnings to the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve about the perils of unfettered government borrowing.

In an interview in Time magazine on Tuesday, Gross suggested that Pimco, which manages nearly $1 trillion in mostly fixed-income assets, now feels more comfortable owning German government debt than U.S. Treasury debt:

"There are a number of reasons to have doubts about Treasuries, not just because of America's sovereign risk but also from the standpoint of an over-owned currency [the dollar]. . . . At Pimco we would probably try and substitute for our Treasuries with sovereign bonds of potentially higher quality. Germany looks interesting to us. Germany has problems, but it's in a much better budget situation than the U.S. because of a constitutional amendment three months ago that forces a balanced budget in four years."
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:32 AM

December 29, 2009

Neda Soltan: Person of the Year

Times of London:
Every few years a man, or a woman, whose name is often familiar to few beyond the circle of their family and friends, is ambling through a more or less anonymous life when they find themselves ambushed by history. For many of these people, their life changes forever. Frequently, tragically, it ends; leaving behind an image that haunts the world long after they themselves have gone.

Neda Soltan was such a person, a young beautiful woman who had studied philosophy, was now an aspiring singer, who found herself abruptly catapulted from the crowds of Tehran to become the face of protest against Iran’s repressive rulers; a symbol of rebellion against the fraudulent election that had just returned Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to power.

Like the nameless student who taunted that tank in Tiananmen Square, like Jan Palach, the Czech student who died after setting himself alight in Wenceslas Square in January 1969 to protest against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, Neda Soltan became the icon for the mutiny against Iran’s brutish regime as images of her face, and amateur footage of her murder by a sniper from the pro-government Basij militia, sprinted around the world. Like the photograph taken in South Vietnam of a bewildered young girl, the victim of a napalm attack, running naked down a road; and like the images of those skin-and-bones internees, standing semi-naked in the prison camp run by Bosnian Serb forces in Omarska in 1992, their ribs as prominent as xylophone keys, the image of Neda Soltan lying bleeding on a Tehran street has become the shorthand for the horrors of a conflict. With their beseeching eyes such images become, as the war photographer Don McCullin has pointed out, our modern versions of religious icons.
Certainly a superior choice to the Political Class bank's CEO: Goldman's Lloyd Blankein.
Posted by James Zellmer at 1:15 AM

December 16, 2009

Congress Travels, The Public Pays

Brody Mullins & TW Farnam:
The expenses racked up by U.S. lawmakers traveling here for a conference last month included one for the "control room."

Besides rooms for sleeping, the 12 members of the House of Representatives rented their hotel's fireplace-equipped presidential suite and two adjacent rooms. The hotel cleared out the beds and in their place set up a bar, a snack room and office space. The three extra rooms -- stocked with liquor, Coors beer, chips and salsa, sandwiches, Mrs. Fields cookies and York Peppermint Patties -- cost a total of about $1,500 a night. They were rented for five nights.

While in Scotland, the House members toured historic buildings. Some shopped for Scotch whisky and visited the hotel spa. They capped the trip with a dinner at one of the region's finest restaurants, paid for by the legislators, who got $118 daily stipends for meals and incidentals.

Eleven of the 12 legislators then left the five-day conference two days early.

The tour provides a glimpse of the mixture of business and pleasure involved in legislators' overseas trips, which are growing in number and mostly financed by the taxpayer. Lawmakers travel with military liaisons who carry luggage, help them through customs, escort them on sightseeing trips and stock their hotel rooms with food and liquor. Typically, spouses come along, flying free on jets operated by the Air Force. Legislative aides come too. On the ground, all travel in chauffeured vehicles.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:27 AM

November 25, 2009

Presidential Cabinet Appointments: Private Sector Experience 1900-2009



Nick Schultz:
A friend sends along the following chart. It examines the prior private sector experience of the cabinet officials since 1900 that one might expect a president to turn to in seeking advice about helping the economy. It includes Secretaries of State; Commerce; Treasury; Agriculture; Interior; Labor; Transportation; Energy; and Housing & Urban Development and excludes Postmaster General; Navy; War; Health, Education & Welfare; Veterans Affairs; and Homeland Security — 432 cabinet members in all.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:37 AM

Auditing the central bank: a jolly good thing!

Willem Buiter:
What is so important about H.R. 1207: the Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2009 aka the ‘Audit the Fed’ bill? This bill “To amend title 31, United States Code, to reform the manner in which the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System is audited by the Comptroller General of the United States and the manner in which such audits are reported, and for other purposes.” may not sound terribly exciting, but in addition to making the Fed accountable for its quasi-fiscal activities, it could well set an important precedent for the enhanced accountability of operationally independent central banks everywhere.

The Finance Committee of the US House of Representatives has just passed this bill, which is an amendment sponsored by Representatives Ron Paul (Republican) and Alan Grayson (Democrat) to Representative Barney Frank’s HR 3996, the “Financial Stability Improvement Act of 2009″. The amendment allows the US Government Accountability Office to conduct a wide-ranging audit of the financial activities of the Federal Reserve Board. Specifically (and quoting from the RonPaul.com website):

The Paul/Grayson amendment:
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:20 AM

October 10, 2009

How banks will get customers to cover a round of big losses

John Dizard:
This, they toss off with the certainty of wine-fuelled genius, also explains the rise in the gold price.

Actually, I do not think that is how the bank risk paradox will play out.

There are going to be much larger write-offs and reserves taken at all the big banks, with the peak in reported bad news probably coming next year. However, the taxpayer will not be asked for more capital, and the Federal Reserve and Treasury will gradually dismantle the temporary support structures, just as they say.

How is this possible? Because the public will pay through usury, not taxation. There is a big difference, of course. Usury is less visible, and you cannot effectively vote against it.

Blood will flow, but it will do so not as a catastrophic bath for the banks, but as a gradual transfusion to them from their customers.

There will be headline risk for the banks' management and public securities, which is why I think that their CDS protection is too cheap at the moment.

One source of headline risk is the spectre of Federal Government reform of the financial system. God knows there is a good case to be made for de-cartelising the industry, but that is not going to happen.
Bank spreads are at record levels. Their cost of funds is nearly 0, while they lend it out at 4.99% or (much) greater. Plus, the fees.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:09 PM

May 16, 2009

The Machinery Behind Health-Care Reform How an Industry Lobby Scored a Swift, Unexpected Victory by Channeling Billions to Electronic Records

Robert O'Harrow, Jr:
When President Obama won approval for his $787 billion stimulus package in February, large sections of the 407-page bill focused on a push for new technology that would not stimulate the economy for years.

The inclusion of as much as $36.5 billion in spending to create a nationwide network of electronic health records fulfilled one of Obama's key campaign promises -- to launch the reform of America's costly health-care system.

But it was more than a political victory for the new administration. It also represented a triumph for an influential trade group whose members now stand to gain billions in taxpayer dollars.

A Washington Post review found that the trade group, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, had worked closely with technology vendors, researchers and other allies in a sophisticated, decade-long campaign to shape public opinion and win over Washington's political machinery.
Automation certainly makes sense, but we taxpayers should not be subsidizing it....
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:58 AM

May 13, 2009

America's Triple A Credit Rating at Risk

David Walker:
Long before the current financial crisis, nearly two years ago, a little-noticed cloud darkened the horizon for the US government. It was ignored. But now that shadow, in the form of a warning from a top credit rating agency that the nation risked losing its triple A rating if it did not start putting its finances in order, is coming back to haunt us.

That warning from Moody’s focused on the exploding healthcare and Social Security costs that threaten to engulf the federal government in debt over coming decades. The facts show we’re in even worse shape now, and there are signs that confidence in America’s ability to control its finances is eroding.

Prices have risen on credit default insurance on US government bonds, meaning it costs investors more to protect their investment in Treasury bonds against default than before the crisis hit. It even, briefly, cost more to buy protection on US government debt than on debt issued by McDonald’s. Another warning sign has come from across the Pacific, where the Chinese premier and the head of the People’s Bank of China have expressed concern about America’s longer-term credit worthiness and the value of the dollar.

The US, despite the downturn, has the resources, expertise and resilience to restore its economy and meet its obligations. Moreover, many of the trillions of dollars recently funnelled into the financial system will hopefully rescue it and stimulate our economy.
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:43 PM

May 1, 2009

The Political Elite.....

Woody Hochswender:
That is why it was all the more bewildering to have Sen. Dodd come to the gymnasium of the Cornwall Consolidated School on a beautiful spring afternoon for two hours and somehow manage not to utter a single word about the controversies surrounding his role as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

These are not exactly state secrets. There was the widely reported sweetheart or VIP mortgage loan from Countrywide Financial to the senator as well as the six-figure campaign contributions from the American Insurance Group whose executives, according to language Sen. Dodd wrote into a bailout bill, were entitled to large bonuses paid for with our tax dollars.

The organizer and moderator of Saturday's forum, Harriet Dorsen, a member of the local Democratic Party committee, told the Lakeville Journal newspaper last week, "I think there are going to be a lot of tough questions."

There weren't. They were all softballs. Instead of the usual give and take, with citizens speaking their minds, all the questions had to be written out in advance on index cards and then submitted to the moderators. A contingent from the Lakeville Journal (including my wife, Cynthia, who is the newspaper's executive editor) was on hand, armed with probing questions.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:48 AM

March 18, 2009

How Rich Countries Die

Philip Greenspun:
This is a book report on The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities, by Mancur Olson. There isn’t a whole lot about how nations pulled themselves out of their medieval stagnation (see A Farewell to Alms for that), so a better title for this still-in-print book from 1982 would be “How Rich Countries Die.”

Table 1.1 shows annual rates of growth in per-capita GDP for each of three decades, the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, in a range of rich countries. Contrary to our perception of the U.S. as a growth dynamo and the Europeans as sclerotic, France and Germany tremendously outperformed the U.S., as did most of the other countries. If we have grown larger it is because our population has expanded much faster than the European countries.

Chapter 2 summarizes Olson’s groundbreaking work on how interest groups work to reduce a society’s efficiency and GDP. Some of this work seems obvious in retrospect and indeed Adam Smith noted that businessmen rarely met without conspiring against the public interest. There are a handful of automobile producers and millions of automobile consumers. It makes sense for an automobile company, acting individually, to lobby Congress for tariffs. The company will reap 20-40 percent of the benefits of the tariff. It doesn’t make sense for an individual consumer, however, to lobby Congress. It will cost him millions of dollars to lobby against Congress and preventing the tariff will save him only a few thousand dollars on his next car purchase. The economy suffers because some resources that would have been put to productive use are instead hanging around Washington and because cars are more expensive than they should be.
Posted by James Zellmer at 2:27 PM

February 11, 2009

February 1, 2009

A Guide To Bailout Transparency Sites

Elinore Longobardi:
It is no secret that bailout transparency is a problem.

Now that taxpayers have become financiers, we have a right to know where the money is going. In search of organizations with the curiosity and resources to help figure that out, we trolled the Internet for good, easily available bailout information and came up with several sites worth looking at.

You can get charts describing the allocation of bailout money from a variety of sources. Some are easier to find than others, and we’ll leave it up to the reader to figure out what it means that the WSJ has a quick link for the Super Bowl but not the bailout.

But even after you find them, charts will only get you so far.

If you are looking to understand the big picture, you should go first to organizations that focus specifically on tracking the bailout. Not only do they piece together information from a variety of sources, saving you the trouble, but a few also do their own snooping around.

A good place to start is Open the Government, an organization devoted to greater government transparency in general, and with a specific page on the bailout. The page is a good launching pad because it compiles a lot of information—from government organizations, news outlets and watchdogs—as well as providing a calendar of relevant dates. In the spirit of common cause, Open the Government also links to other bailout watchdog groups.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:40 PM

November 17, 2008

Memorandum to US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson

Michael Lewis:
A former chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. does not mingle with boat dealers; he mingles with investment bankers; and the first rule, before handing out taxpayer money, is to have mingled with the people you want to hand it to.(That way they know whom they owe). I admire your ability to recognize your “circle of competence” and live within it.

Still, I do feel that in me, and my little literary business, there is opportunity for you, and your $700 billion. Allow me to explain why.

Be Fair

1) By giving the money to me, instead of someone less deserving, you will make the world a fairer place.

As much as I admire all of your decisions I can’t help but notice that the main qualification of the bankers to whom you have been giving money, so that they might make smart loans, is that they have gone almost bankrupt by making stupid loans.

As your mind is subtle, I can only assume that you secretly believe that the American economy right now needs not smart loans, but more stupid ones -- and thus that you have targeted the bankers who have proven they can make them.

I, unfortunately, have not flirted with bankruptcy, or made any stupid loans. But here’s my point: I haven’t been given the chance! Allow me to prove my financial ineptitude to you. I swear to you that when I return for my second round of assistance I will have proven myself fully qualified to receive it.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:11 AM

November 9, 2008

The Crisis Last Time

Richard Parker:
For writers who seek to influence public affairs, timing plays a paramount role. And few writers have had better timing than Adolf Augustus Berle.

In the summer of 1932, with America trapped in the greatest financial crisis in its history, Berle published “The Modern Corporation and Private Property,” a scholarly yet readable analysis of America’s largest companies and their managers. Berle is largely forgotten today, yet with that book he succeeded in persuading Americans to see their economic system in a new way — and helped set the stage for the most fundamental realignment of power since abolition.

The stock market had plunged vertiginously three years earlier, and by 1932 Americans were desperate to reverse the much wider collapse that had ensued — and to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. The New Republic was soon hailing “The Modern Corporation” as the book of the year, while The New York Herald Tribune pronounced it “the most important work bearing on American statecraft” since the Federalist Papers. Louis Brandeis would cite its arguments in a major Supreme Court ruling on corporate power. Running for president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt recruited Berle — a Republican Wall Street lawyer who had supported Hoover — to join his “brain trust,” and that fall entrusted him with drafting what became the most important speech of the campaign. After the election, Berle remained in New York, yet his connection to the president he audaciously addressed as “Dear Caesar” was such that Time would characterize “The Modern Corporation” as “the economic bible of the Roosevelt administration.”
Fascinating.
Posted by James Zellmer at 10:02 PM

November 5, 2008

Mainstream Media: The Morning After

Listening to NPR this morning, I was somewhat amazed to hear this assertion during the top of the hour news: "stock futures opened lower today, not due to the election, but rather the weak economy". How in the world do they have any idea? Personally, it must be the warmer than usual November Midwest weather :)

The market was up on election day.
Posted by James Zellmer at 7:42 AM

November 3, 2008

Vote!



Wisconsin polling locations can be found here.

Posted by jez at 1:33 AM

October 21, 2008

Classic Car & Campaign Poster



A Madison street scene: "Obamanos 2008" in a classic Mercedes 280SE.
Posted by James Zellmer at 4:12 PM

September 26, 2008

My Thoughts on the Proposed $700,000,000,000 Fed/Wall Street / MortgageBailout

My email to Wisconsin Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl. I also sent this to Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin:

Dear Senator Feingold:

I am writing to express my opposition to the proposed $700,000,000,000 toxic debt instrument bailout.

I believe it is wrong for us to continue the practice of spending beyond our means and simply passing more debt to our children and grandchildren. It is also wrong to stoke the fires of inflation.

If you believe these funds are necessary, then I suggest the following:

  1. Mandatory across the board spending cuts that pay for at least 50% of this initiative. They must be across the board.
  2. A slight change in tax policy so that every American pays some taxes. The annual base tax cost should follow spending changes. Choose a small number. Think of this as a "co-pay". We have a real problem with the perception that federal (and state) dollars somehow fall out of the sky.
  3. You might be able to insert the beginning of a consumption tax. I would be in favor of such a tax on luxury vehicles, large boats and private aircraft over $1M.
  4. Restore the estate tax rate to early 1990's levels.
  5. Gas tax. Add a provision to raise the gas tax annually. We need to do this for economic and national security reasons.
In other words, if necessary, support the initiative, but not on the backs of our children and grandchildren.

Best wishes,

Jim

Related:

Posted by jez at 8:19 PM

September 23, 2008

The Power of One

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to hear "her deepness" Sylvia Earle speak. She included this short video in her presentation - "the Power of One".

Earle emphasized the opportunities we all have to change the world. I recalled her talk while visiting with Hal Herron recently. Herron, of Riverton, Wyoming has been adding outdoor art to his home town in an interesting way.

Museums often create large banners to promote an exhibit. Herron sought out these banners after a showing is complete. He pays for shipping to Riverton and places them around the community for all to enjoy. Fascinating. He forwarded two photos, seen below:




Bill Perkin's full page New York Times ad in today's paper is another illustration of the "Power of One".

Perkins approach requires a certain size checkbook, of course :)

All of which reminds me of the "two greatest commandments".

Posted by jez at 8:38 AM

September 18, 2008

The Presidential Contest in Wisconsin

The Economist:

TAMMY WYNEN stands near the back of a crowd outside a paper mill in Kimberly, Wisconsin. At a bank of microphones, speakers rail against Adam Smith; one, from the United Steel Workers, literally blames "The Wealth of Nations" for the mill's impending closure. Many also hint that the soon-to-be unemployed mill workers should vote for Barack Obama in November.

But Mrs Wynen, a 27-year veteran of the paper mill, is not so sure. She cannot remember the last time she saw Mr Obama recite the pledge of allegiance. And her family loves Sarah Palin, John McCain's new running-mate. Her children have lines from Mrs Palin's convention speech off pat. Still, Mrs Wynen says she doesn't know who she will vote for. The candidates look poised to spend a lot of time and money in Wisconsin wooing her.

Posted by jez at 8:59 AM

August 19, 2008

Lessig on John McCain's Technology "Platform"

Larry Lessig



I have my doubts - unfortunately - that Obama will be much better on the crucial broadband issue for two reasons:

  • AT&T, very good at spreading the love money, or the king of telco lobbying is sponsoring the Democratic convention
  • Our own Democratic Governor - Jim Doyle, recently signed a AT&T supported "Video competition bill" into law - maybe useful for AT&T, but hardly good for citizens.

Posted by jez at 12:54 PM

August 17, 2008

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

BRODY MULLINS and ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON:

When the Democratic Party holds its convention the week after next, members of Congress will be able to hear singer Kanye West at an all-expenses paid party sponsored by the recording industry.

They can play in a poker tournament with Ben Affleck, courtesy of the poker industry. They can try to hit a home run at Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, thanks to AT&T Corp. Free drinks and cigars will be on offer at a bash thrown by the liquor industry.

The corporate largesse is on tap despite new ethics laws and rules that both chambers of Congress adopted in 2007, aimed at weakening the links between lawmakers and lobbyists. Spearheaded by the Democratic Party, the ethics effort included an attempt to ban corporations and lobbyists from throwing lavish parties for members at the national political conventions.

But in the months since the new rules took effect, lawmakers have watered down the guidelines, and Capitol Hill and K Street have teamed up to find ways around the guidelines as written. Politicians and lobbyists are now preparing about 400 of the biggest parties -- both at the Democratic gathering in Colorado and when Republicans convene the following week in St. Paul -- that conventioneers have ever seen.

Posted by jez at 3:33 AM

May 24, 2007

Earmarks, "Phonemarking", Congressional Excesses and Wisconsin Representative David Obey

John Solomon & Jeffrey Birnbaum:

But the new majority is already skirting its own reforms.

Perhaps the biggest retreat from that pledge came this week, when House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) told fellow lawmakers that he intends to keep requests for earmarks out of pending spending bills, at least for now. Obey said the committee will deal with them at the end of the appropriations process in the closed-door meetings between House and Senate negotiators known as conference committees.

Democrats had complained bitterly in recent years that Republicans routinely slipped multimillion-dollar pet projects into spending bills at the end of the legislative process, preventing any chance for serious public scrutiny. Now Democrats are poised to do the same.

"I don't give a damn if people criticize me or not," Obey said.

Obey's spokeswoman, Kirstin Brost, said his intention is not to keep the projects secret. Rather, she said, so many requests for spending were made to the appropriations panel -- more than 30,000 this year -- that its staff has been unable to study them and decide their validity.

For instance, a new emergency spending bill for the Iraq war passed by the House this month had no specific earmarks, but it included a clause declaring that all the projects lawmakers had included in a previously vetoed bill were, in effect, included.

Likewise, the House Appropriations Committee report accompanying the Iraq supplemental spending bill vetoed by President Bush boldly declared: "This bill, as reported, contains no congressional earmarks, limited tax benefits, or limited tariff benefits." But it set aside money for pet projects including $25 million for spinach, $60 million for salmon fisheries and $5 million for aquaculture.

"Absolutely nothing has changed," said the Center for Defense Information's Winslow T. Wheeler, a Senate appropriations and national security aide who worked for both Democrats and Republicans over three decades before stepping down in 2002. "The rhetoric has changed but not the behavior, and the behavior has gotten worse in the sense that while they are pretending to reform things, they are still groveling in the trough."

A 2006 spending bill included $6.9M for Obey's Northern Wisconsin District. Much more on earmarks, including those spread around Madison, here.

More from the Examiner here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 2:46 PM

March 29, 2007

Chad Vader meets Mayor Dave and Maya Cole

Maya Cole met Chad Vader last weekend at Indie Coffee.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:50 AM

November 3, 2006

Rhetoric & Reality: Mapping Congress' Voting Records on Technology

Declan McCullough:
Ever since the mid-1990s, politicians have grown fond of peppering their speeches with buzzwords like broadband, innovation and technology.

John Kerry, Al Gore and George W. Bush have made fundraising pilgrimages to Silicon Valley to ritually pledge their support for a digital economy.

But do politicos' voting records match their rhetoric? To rate who's best and who's worst on technology topics before the Nov. 7 election, CNET News.com has compiled a voter's guide, grading how representatives in the U.S. Congress have voted over the last decade.

While many of the scored votes centered on Internet policy, others covered computer export restrictions, H-1B visas, free trade, research and development, electronic passports and class action lawsuits. We excluded the hot-button issue of Net neutrality, which has gone only to a recorded floor vote in the House of Representatives so far, because that legislation has generated sufficient division among high-tech companies and users to render it too difficult to pick a clear winner or loser.

The results were surprisingly mixed: In the Senate, Republicans easily bested Democrats by an average of 10 percent. In the House of Representatives, however, Democrats claimed a narrow but visible advantage on technology-related votes.
John Kerry finished second last in the Senate. Locally, Ron Kind, Mark Green and Tom Petri "scored" above 50%. Senate / House scoring methodology. For example, both Senators Feingold and Kohl voted for the National ID card and linking databases while Representative Baldwin voted against it.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:55 AM

October 27, 2006

Schwarzenegger's campaign Combines Shopping & Voting Databases

AP:
Gin or vodka? Ford or BMW? Perrier or Fiji water? Does the car you buy or what's in your fridge say anything about how you'll vote?

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign thinks so.

Employing technology honed in President Bush's 2004 victory, the Republican governor's re-election team has created a vast computer storehouse of data on personal buying habits and voter records to identify likely supporters. Campaign officials say the operation is the largest of its kind in any state, at any time.

Some strategists believe consumer information can reveal a voter's politics even better than a party label can.

"It's not where they live, it's how they live," said Josh Ginsberg, the Schwarzenegger campaign's deputy political director.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:21 PM

August 27, 2006

Public Test of the City's New Voting Equipment

Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl:
This is to give notice that the Office of the Madison City Clerk will conduct a public test of the electronic voting equipment (including the AutoMark Voter Assist Terminals) in accordance with Section 5.84(1) Wisconsin State Statutes:

August 28 – September 1, 2006 8 a.m.-Noon and 2-4 p.m. (or until complete) Room 104 of the City-County Building 210 Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., Madison [Map]

Maribeth Witzel-Behl, Interim City Clerk
Check it out!
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:06 PM

November 3, 2005

Baldwin Votes Against Internet Free Speech

Tammy Baldwin voted against internet free speech yesterday [The House voted 225 to 182 on the Online Freedom of Speech Act (H.R. 1606) -- a majority but less than the two-thirds required for a "suspension" bill to clear the House. via instapundit]. An explanation would be useful. Jim Abrams has more. There's certainly growing activism online. Adding complexity via more and more laws will be a loss for everyone (which is, perhaps one perspective of Baldwin and others who voted against H.R. 1606). Google News has more. As is typical, the small players get screwed in these deals, while the special interests on both sides spend money to get around the legal spaghetti, as we saw in the last national elections.

Ed Cone says "Email your congressman and tell him you want to blog without Federal regulation."

Wisconsin's House delegation voted as follows: Mark Green (R) voted Yes along with Ron Kind (D), Jim Sensenbrenner (R) - (I agree on something with Sensenbrenner???) and Mark Ryan (R).

Voting No with Baldwin (D) were Petri (R), Obey (D) and Moore (D).

Send Tammy Baldwin a note with your views on this important, local issue.

California Democrat Zoe Lofgren's supportive comments on this bill. Slashdot and Declan have more.
Posted by James Zellmer at 6:59 AM

August 2, 2005

Pocan Bill Proposes Paper Trail for Electronic Voting

Anita Weier:

Legislators from both political parties have authored a bill that would require that electronic voting machines in Wisconsin produce a paper ballot that could be reviewed by the voter and that would be kept in case a recount is needed.

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, Rep. Steve Freese, R-Dodgeville, and Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, are circulating the bill among fellow legislators in the hope of obtaining co-sponsors.

Posted by Erika Frederick at 8:45 AM

March 24, 2005

Milwaukee Voter Fraud - Votes Certified, but not...

Greg Borowski continues chasing this story (well worth reading).
Posted by James Zellmer at 11:01 PM

March 23, 2005

70% of WI Municipal Clerks Support Photo ID at the Polls

Wispolitics:

In yet another sign of growing support for common sense election reform, the office of Senator Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan) today released a poll indicating 70% of Wisconsin municipal clerks surveyed support a photo ID requirement at the polls.

129 clerks responded to the survey, and 90 support photo ID at the polls. When coupled with a recent survey released in February by the Republican Party of Wisconsin (RPW) that shows 84.3% of likely voters support photo ID, the head of RPW said it is time for Governor James E. Doyle to stop ignoring the will of the people and take action in support of this common-sense election reform.

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:00 AM

March 18, 2005

Feingold 2008: Winer Announcements Perhaps First Endorsement

Dave Winer says he will support Russ Feingold for President in 2008, though he comments that "I'm sure he has almost no chance of winning, but every time I've wondered if anyone would stand up against the lunatics that run this country, Feingold has been there". The Democrats certainly need to think different.... Perhaps Janesville's Russ Feingold is the answer?

Russ has earned my respect over the years because: he's always been willing to talk, spends his time flying coach on commercial airlines, dining at places the rest of us choose and generally showing up to visit with the people.

A useful question for Russ: Can one be idealistic & effective in the current political arena?
Posted by James Zellmer at 12:27 PM

Milwaukee Voter Fraud

Greg Borowski:
At least 82 felons voted illegally in the presidential election Nov. 2 in Milwaukee, though the total is likely far higher, a new computer analysis by the Journal Sentinel has found.

Indeed, there are more than 600 potential matches between felons on probation and parole and names and middle initials of people who voted in the city. But a full analysis could not be completed by the newspaper because of a 2003 state law that bars access to birth dates of voters.

The newspaper, though, was able to do a partial analysis by combining several computer databases to capture birth dates for about 39% of those who voted in the November election.
Borowski also mentions a 2003 change in Wisconsin's public records law that hinders this investigation. What about Madison?
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:13 AM

February 18, 2005

Underheim/Burmaster Forum

Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Candidates participated in a forum yesterday, sponsored by wispolitics.com. Alan Borsuk has the details.
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:16 AM

February 15, 2005

February 15, 2005 Spring Primary: Dane County/Madison Results

Check out the results here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 8:17 PM

Wisconsin Votes: More Gaps Found (11/2004)

Madison's numbers: 138,204 ballots were cast and 133,598 people were recorded as having voted. I wonder who the other 4606 voters were? Greg Borowski and Tom Kertscher keeping digging....
Posted by James Zellmer at 3:17 PM

Information on Today's Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Primary

Check here for links and information on the four candidates. Vote!
Posted by James Zellmer at 9:44 AM

January 18, 2005

Paul Yvarra: Candidate for Wisconsin DPI Superintendent


I recently had an opportunity to visit with Dr. Paul Yvarra, candidate for Wisconsin DPI Superintendent. This interview is available in both Quicktime Video and mp3 audio 1 | mp3 audio 2. Check it out. Learn more about all four Wisconsin DPI Superintendent candidates here.
Posted by James Zellmer at 5:35 PM

January 16, 2005

Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Candidate: Todd Stelzel


I had an opportunity to visit recently with Black Earth resident, Wisconsin Heights teacher and Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Candidate Todd Stelzel. I've posted a 13 minute video clip and mp3 audio file where Stelzel discuss his background, candidacy and asks for our vote. Following are a number of fat links to information about Stelzel, who recently completed his Masters Degree at Edgewood College in Madison. Fat Links (click on the icons):

Look for an interview with another candidate, Dr. Paul Yvarra soon. I've not heard from incumbent Madison resident Elizabeth Burmaster or Gregg Underheim. If I do, I will post their interviews as well.

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:02 AM

April 18, 2004

FTC to evaluate "spyware"

Or - why Windows PC's can be unsafe at any speed. Yuki Noguchi writes

The Federal Trade Commission today is hosting a daylong workshop in Washington to discuss the effects of hidden software that may be used to control or spy on a computer without its user's knowledge.

So far most "spyware" and "adware" programs, often placed on Windows PCs by such downloaded programs as file-sharing programs, appear to have been used for the relatively benign purpose of tracking consumer preferences, said Howard Beales, director of the FTC's consumer protection division. The FTC is watching to see if criminals start making widespread use of this technology to steal credit-card and Social Security numbers of unwitting computer users, he said.

"So far [we] haven't thought that it warranted regulation," he said.

Some organizations, including the Madison schools, only support a computing monoculture - fertile ground for spyware.....

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:33 PM

February 20, 2004

The Politics of Tax Policy

David Cay Johnston writes today in the New York Times that a federal grand jury in Manhattan is investigating the sale of tax shelters by KPMG, the big accounting firm, to corporations and wealthy individuals who used them to escape at least $1.4 billion in federal taxes.

I sent this email to letters@nytimes.com today:

Good Morning:

I am writing in response to your periodic coverage of "abusive" tax shelters.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/20/business/20kpmg.html

I believe articles such as this would better serve your readers if they included references to the mess that is the US Tax Code (David Cay Johnston's book includes many useful references). The code is ripe for all sorts of strategies and tactics, many that I'm sure remain to be discovered and exploited.

One of the worst examples, I believe, is the deductibility of vehicles over 6000lbs - which has lead many independent and small business owners who formerly drove sedans to purchase very large, gas guzzling vehicles, simply for tax reasons. What has this policy cost the treasury?

This Edmunds article mentions $17billion over 10 years.

How about ethanol?

Yet another example:
Prior to a 1986 Tax Law change, real estate partnerships (among other examples) were created for the purpose of generating tax losses. Partnerships were created for the sole purpose of selling tax losses.

I find the political grandstanding on this issue absurd. Does Senator Levin disapprove of the massive SUV tax subsidies?

Why has this issue been attractive to some politicians, vs other tax matters? Is there another agenda? Who benefits if the accounting firms are largely taken out of the tax shelter game? Do law firms and investment banks continue to do their deals?

Best wishes -


Jim Zellmer

You can watch, and view transcripts of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs November, 2003 hearings on this matter here [Day 1 | Day 2]

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:36 AM

February 19, 2004

WI Primary - Repubs support Edwards

Steve Schultze reports that a number of traditionally Republican counties supported Edwards in Tuesday's primary.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:24 AM

February 6, 2004

Dean makes a Wisconsin Play

Howard Dean raised $600K online yesterday - for the Wisconsin Primary. However and unfortunately (for the internet), he's raising money on the net and blowing it on TV ads. He (and other politicians) would be far better off investing in the internet, educating voters and growing their base via email, web pages, chats, "social networks" and other emerging tools.

Internet use is growing while TV/newspaper users are declining.

Unfortunately, Dean's new campaign manager is a former telco lobbyist.

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:48 AM