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The Morning Grumpy – 7/11/12

11 Jul

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

1. Have you been following the LIBOR scandal? No, it’s not a magical and powerful hybrid jungle creature…let’s have the New York Times explain what it is with a simple graphic and flowchart.

The Libor is a benchmark interest rate that affects how consumers and companies borrow money across the world. The rate is set by the British Bankers’ Association (B.B.A.), an industry group in London.

From 2005 to 2007, swaps traders often asked the Barclays employees who submit the rates to provide figures that would benefit the traders, instead of submitting the rates the bank would actually pay to borrow money.

Now, let Ezra Klein of The Washington Post explain why this is a really big fucking deal.

So why does everyone care about a handful of numbers that a couple guys in an office crunch every day before lunch? The simple answer is that $360 trillion in assets worldwide are indexed to LIBOR, and much of those assets are consumer debt instruments like mortgages, car loans and credit card loans.

In the United States, the two biggest indices for adjustable rate mortgages and other consumer debt are the prime rate (that is, the rate banks charge favored or “prime” consumers) and LIBOR, with the latter particularly popular for subprime loans. A study from Mark Schweitzer and Guhan Venkatu at the Cleveland Fed looked at survey data in Ohio and found that by 2008, almost 60 percent of prime adjustable rate mortgages, and nearly 100 percent of subprime ones, were indexed to LIBOR

Now, let Katrina vanden Heuvel from The Nation explain why it’s important that we respond to the cartel-like behavior of international banks with criminal charges.

The Economist writes that what has been revealed here is “the rotten heart of finance,” a “culture of casual dishonesty.” Once more the big banks are revealed to have allowed greed to trample any concern about trust, respect or legality.

We are five years since Wall Street’s excesses blew up the global economy, and the scandals just keep coming. Each scandal reinforces the need for tough regulation and tough enforcement. Each scandal proves over again the importance of breaking up the big banks. Each scandal raises the question of personal responsibility. How come borrowers are prosecuted for defrauding their banks, but bankers seem never to be prosecuted for defrauding their customers? George Osborne, the conservative British chancellor of the Exchequer, put it succinctly: “Fraud is a crime in ordinary business — why shouldn’t it be so in banking?” He is demanding action: “Punish wrongdoing. Right the wrong of the age of irresponsibility.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if either Obama or Romney or our Congress were interested in truly investigating the matter?

2. The longtime military reporter for the New York Times, Tom Ricks, has a revolutionary idea. Let’s bring back the draft. No, seriously, hear it out.

Rick’s proposal has three options for young men and women:

  • Join the military for 18 months, get the usual cruddy pay, and get free college at the end. But don’t worry about getting shipped off to the war zone: “These conscripts would not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don’t have to.” Professional soldiers, hell. Plenty of that junk is done by contractors nowadays—I should know!—so this plan could actually bring taxpayers some significant cost savings.
  • Not keen on uniforms? Object to war? No worries: Do two years of equally low-paying public-service in the civilian sector “teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly.” You’d get the same college deal at the end.
  • Would you rather read Cleon Skousen and rail about the socialist federal government? Here’s the beauty of Ricks’ plan—he’s got you covered, too: “[L]ibertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him—no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.”

Forcing everyone to have some skin in the game might force Americans to think of the costs of long term war and not see it as some shock and awe video game. With proper rules for conscientious objection and the above three categories of service, it’s an idea worth considering. Supporting our troops is more than putting a Chinese-made yellow ribbon on the back of your Expedition, lets ask those people to make a sacrifice if they want a 10 year war in the Middle East.

3. ProPublica rounds up the best coverage on the state of American prisons.

The U.S. has the highest reported incarceration rate in the world. We’ve rounded up some of the best investigative journalism on U.S. prisons and the problems that plague them. These stories cover juvenile justice, private prisons, immigration detention and other aspects of America’s vast incarceration system.

Some fascinating and revealing work.

4. Pew Internet takes a look at Twitter demographics and finds some very interesting data points.

  • African-Americans — Black internet users continue to use Twitter at high rates. More than one quarter of online African-Americans (28%) use Twitter, with 13% doing so on a typical day.
  • Young adults — One quarter (26%) of internet users ages 18-29 use Twitter, nearly double the rate for those ages 30-49. Among the youngest internet users (those ages 18-24), fully 31% are Twitter users.
  • Urban and suburban residents — Residents of urban and suburban areas are significantly more likely to use Twitter than their rural counterparts.

A very young user base, significant use in minority communities (most likely due to the mobile nature of the platform), with women taking the lead in number of overall users. Twitter continues to grow steadily while it appears we may have finally reached “Peak Facebook“.

5. Yesterday was Nikola Tesla’s birthday. Since I didn’t publish anything yesterday, The Grumpy will celebrate the most important innovator in the history of the world today.

Like so many other extraordinary minds, Tesla did not receive due respect in his time. While he was offered many scientific awards, the fact that he died penniless and in debt shows how little care we take of our most intelligent and productive scientists and inventors if their work doesn’t yield immediate financial reward.

The Oatmeal lays out Tesla’s legacy (while outlining why Thomas Edison is the “debbil”) in this awesome comic.

Fact Of The Day: In 1973 a scientist sent healthy volunteers to mental institutions, telling them to fake one innocuous symptom and then act normally. All were diagnosed with psychiatric disorders and held for an average of 19 days.

Quote Of The Day: “Systems thinking is a conceptual framework, a body of knowledge and tools that has been developed over the past fifty years, to make the full patterns clearer, and to help us see how to change them effectively.” – Peter Senge

Video Of The Day: The “I Love The ‘D’ Golf Invitational” with the best local TV reporter in America, Charlie LeDuff, who is also a Pulitzer Prize winning author and print reporter. This could be the best news segment, ever.

Song Of The Day: “Stoned Soul Picnic” – Lauren Nyro

Follow me on Twitter for the “incremental grumpy” @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chris@artvoice.com