December 7, 2006

Lending Reform: From Reasonable to Wacky in a Week

Filed under: Bankruptcy & Reform,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 7:27 pm

Last week, I pegged off of Jeff’s post at Credit/Debt Recovery about lending reform ideas, particularly relating to credit cards, that might have a reasonable chance of passing because of the change in Congressional control. Of the five major ideas, I applauded three (banning retroactive rate increases, banning universal default, and banning abusive fees, particularly most over-the-limit fees), and was neutral on two. I noted that reform is overdue, and really should have occurred when Bankruptcy “Reform” passed in April 2005.

Leave it to the “progressive” community to take some good ideas and go off the deep end beyond what will be acceptable (link requires subscription; para breaks added for readability):

(Michigan Senator Carl) Levin was the keynote speaker at a nonpartisan program aimed at creating an incentive-based system of disclosures for the credit card industry. The Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, organized the program.

Derek Douglas, the center’s associate director, called on Congress to give the Federal Trade Commission the authority to rate credit cards on their “risk” to consumers, and for issuers to display the rating on the card’s face. The center proposes, for example, that the FTC consider whether a card program applies universal default provisions when changing the cardholder’s APR.

The FTC would award the card a red, yellow, or green rating that would be stamped on the card. Issuers would not be required to submit their cards for review but it might be advantageous to earn a top rating, Douglas tells CardLine. “The incentive to produce safer cards is entirely self-imposed, as companies reasonably might expect that consumers will be more inclined to sign up for a green-rated card rather than a red-rated card.”

Douglas says he hasn’t begun lobbying members of Congress on his idea, but notes the shift from Republican to Democratic leadership opens a world of possibilities.

Mr. Douglas ought to acknowledge two things, the first which I believe he knows and won’t admit, and the second which I believe he doesn’t seem to understand:

  • The red-yellow-green idea, never minds its merits, will soon face heavy pressure to go from optional to mandatory once it is “voluntarily” put into place (never mind the insufferable haggling that will ensue over what color code a given card deserves).
  • The more over-the-top ideas get tacked on to the reasonable ones, the greater the chance that either a bill won’t come out of Congress at all, or that the president will veto it, and come out of the veto looking good.

Earth to those controlling the 110th Congress: Not that you want advice from me, but the less loony you seem, the more likely you are to stay where you are.

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UPDATE: It doesn’t take too much imagination to see Leno, Letterman, Stewart or Colbert having fun with the red-yellow-green credit-card ratings.

UPDATE 2, Dec. 8: Jeff — “…. this is what government thinks of you; they think you’re a stone imbecile who needs a simple color-coded scheme to tell you how to borrow money. One day they’ll make Garanimals mandatory.”

Weblog Awards Daily Post (120706): Voting Begins Tonight Has Begun!

Filed under: General,News from Other Sites — Tom @ 7:21 pm

2006 Weblog Awards voting has begun, and ends December 15 at 11:59 PM ET.

Here is the link to the “Best Business Blog” ballot; the graphic on the left also links to the ballot. Links to ballots in the categories of my other recommendations are below.

Here’s the deal (for more detail, here’s WLA’s FAQ): You get to vote once every strictly-timed 24 clock hours. So, in theory, you have a chance to vote nine times for your faves (every evening from the 7th to the 15th). Your vote(s) for BizzyBlog would, of course, be greatly appreciated.

I have recommendations in some of the categories (most categories have so many good blogs that it wouldn’t be fair to single out any one of them):
- Best Media Blog (ballot) — Pundit Review; even though I am a Contributing Editor at another nominee (NewsBusters, which I believe belongs in a different category), Pundit Review is a true independent blog that works in two media (i.e., plural) without an umbrella sponsorship organization. Kevin and Gregg never fail to get incredible guests, including the best of the milbloggers, on their Sunday night radio show.
- Best Video Blog (ballot) — Hot Air
- Best European Blog (Non UK; ballot) — Brussels Journal
- Best of Top 1001-1750 Blogs (ballot) — Willisms
- Best of Top 2501-3500 Blogs (ballot) — SOB Alliance Member Viking Spirit
- Best of Top 5001-6750 Blogs (ballot) — Sean Gleeson (anyone who calls out you-know-who on sock-puppetry and helped defeat somebody’s frivolous complaint against Jean Schmidt is great by me; he should be an honorary SOB Alliance member for those things)
- Best of Top 6751-8750 Blogs (ballot) — SOB Alliance Member Right Angle Blog

Belated major congrats to SOB Alliance members Viking Spirit and Right Angle on their nominations.

The ‘No WMD’ Lie: Yet More Icing on an Already-Baked Cake

BizzyBlog readers know the argument over whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction ended long ago (see Previous Posts list below).

Yet, from time to time, even more evidence to add to the stack appears, or, as the post title states, more icing arrives to be piled onto an already-baked cake. This is one of those times.

The latest nugget comes from KXMB (video at link), in an interview of General Georges Sada, who is a former close adviser to Saddam Hussein:

(Cronin, KX News): Before you even have the chance to finish the question, General Sada is very quick to say that he supports American troops in his country.

(Sada): “I believe that the Americans… it was the right step to be there for many other things, and the most important thing was Saddam himself. Saddam was building a regime, and that regime was dangerous to the are… to the region… dangerous to the Iraqi people and to the region and dangerous to the world. Because that man was having all the revenues of the oil in his hands and he was not accountable and he was spending 10 percent of the oil revenues on the people and 90 percent to different weapons of mass destruction.”

(Cronin, KX News): The General’s book, completed just a year ago, addresses Saddam’s intentions before being captured, the attacks he made against his own people, the role he’s playing with our country’s Defense Intelligence Agency, and where Saddam hides weapons of mass destruction.

(General Sada): “When the Americans came over, they didn’t find them. And of course that’s true they didn’t find them because they were transported all the way to Syria by air and by ground because Saddam knew that this time the Americans were coming.”

Plus this, from the “Imagine That!” Department over at the Counterterrorism Blog:

Syrian nuclear program quite advanced
By Olivier Guitta

Recently, Kuwaiti daily newspaper Al Seyassah quoted European intelligence sources as saying that “Syria has an advanced nuclear program” in a secret site located in the province of Al Hassaka, close to the Turkish and Iraqi borders. British sources quoted by “Al Seyassah” believe that “it is President Assad’s brother, colonel Maher Assad, and his cousin Rami Makhlouf, who supervise the program”. This program is based on the Iraqi material that Saddam Hussein’s two sons shipped to Syria before and during the war against Iraq. This explains, according to the daily newspaper, why international investigative teams found no proof of the program.

“We now know that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq” — the exact sentence cited eight times at this previous post — will itself go down in history as one of the great lies ever passed off by a lazy press corps onto an unsuspecting public.

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UPDATE, Dec. 29: jveritas at Free Republic has more supplemental support than I can hope to chronicle (go to Roman numeral II). Wow.

UPDATE, Dec. 30: This Sept. 1 report from Pajamas Media referred to in its year-end round-up of major news notes — “For those keeping score, this most recent discovery raises the total number of chemical weapons found in Iraq since 2003 to more than 700.” Uh, that’s more than “No WMD.”

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Previous Posts:

  • Nov. 4 — The ‘No WMD’ Lie: NY Times Adds More Icing to Already-Baked Cake
  • Aug. 14 — The “No WMD” Lie (with Linked Proof): The Sequel
  • July 31 — The Iraq “No WMD” Lie: Game, Set, Match
  • June 22 — MORE WMD Findings Revealed (Adding to Richard Miniter’s October 2005 List)
  • June 13 — The “No WMD” Lie: An Addendum
  • March 18 — Weekend Question 1: When Will We Hear the “Never Mind” on the “No WMD” Claim?
  • March 3 — Why Isn’t There a Groundswell of Media and Other Protest about This “Coverup”?
  • Feb. 15 — The Saddam Tapes, If They Prove WMDs, Will Be Icing on an Already-Baked Cake
  • Feb. 8, 2006 — The “No WMD” Lie (Yet Again) at Coretta Scott King’s Funeral — And a Challenge
  • Nov. 2, 2005 — The “No WMD” Lie (with LINKED Proof)
  • Oct. 27 — The “No WMD” Lie

Excerpt of the Day: Holman Jenkins in Wednesday’s WSJ on SarBox

From Jenkins’ subscription-only op-ed piece:

It would have been a remarkable defiance of the law of averages if anything as unread, unconsidered and slopped-together as 2002′s Sarbanes-Oxley Act achieved benefits greater than its costs. Alas, a miracle was not vouchsafed by Congress.

After WorldCom, to be seen “doing something” was the new imperative, and the resulting legislative paroxysm was delivered to the floor and approved 30 days later by the U.S. Senate. Not a single senator voted against it, and not a single senator likely could have given a coherent account of what the bill contained or even claim to have read it.

The interval between bad policy decisions and the manifestation of their consequences grows ever shorter. Last week’s report of the private (but officially encouraged) Committee on Capital Markets Regulation dwelled on circumstantial evidence of the dimming appeal, thanks to regulatory overkill, of a Wall Street listing for foreign companies. The committee’s conclusion: The extra costs imposed by regulation increasingly outweigh the once-sizeable benefits associated with a U.S. listing.

Our conclusion: Focusing on the IPO business was politically astute, given all the senior Democrats from New York whose whole-grain muffins are buttered by keeping the financial industry happy.

What should really be worrisome, however, is not the visible impact on foreign listers, but the implicit drag on domestic companies. The U.S. economy has grown steadily in the four years since 2002, but the stock market, until recently, was nearly flat. Companies are reporting record profits; cash is overflowing on corporate balance sheets. Yet the P/E ratio of the S&P 500 has declined steadily since Sarbanes-Oxley was enacted, hitting a 10-year low.

The year now ending was a busy one for mergers and acquisitions — always a barometer of managerial confidence and “animal spirits.” But the biggest deals have been mostly private equity buyouts, turning public companies into private ones, removing the yoke of Sarbox.

….. Lord knows, our economy can withstand a lot of bad regulation: Today’s private equity boom is a demonstration of its power to work around obstacles. Still, something unhealthy is afoot when businesses worry that the costs are higher than the benefits of participating in the world’s greatest (by a long shot) information market.

Yes, the SarBox problem goes way beyond the IPO market. The effects there were covered here earlier this week.

Couldn’t Help But Notice (120706)

Filed under: Economy,Immigration,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:24 am

Out, of, control:

One in seven Mexican workers have left their country and are working in the United States, an immigration study said on Tuesday.

There were more than 7 million workers from Mexico in the U.S. labor force this year, 2 million more than six years ago, said the report’s author, Jeanne Batalova of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank.

….. More than 11 million illegal immigrants, most of them from Mexico, live in the United States, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, another think tank in Washington that follows immigration trends.

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Extreme Mortman has a good point (HT Instapundit) about the potential mischief of a Congress that will apparently be in session more days in 2007 than it has been in recent years.

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Yesterday’s ADP National Employment Report showed what it called “a modest acceleration of employment” — an increase of 158,000 jobs in the US economy during November. The official word from the Bureau of Labor Statistics comes down Friday morning at 8:30 AM ET.

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Obvious, but unfortunately necessary to note:

Asbestos: Fraud That Makes Enron Look Like Petty Theft

Filed under: Corporate Outrage,Scams,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:19 am

The money involved: Tens of billions.

The fraud: Filing claims against multiple asbestos trusts on behalf of the same claimant, making up different stories about how the claimant was harmed by asbestos.

A judge has caught on to the scam, but it is not at all clear that lawyers and other involved in the double (and more) dipping will ever get the punishment they deserve.

Read it and weep.

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UPDATE: Also covering — Blue Crab Boulevard, Joust the Facts, Maggie’s Farm.

Ho-Hum Hiring Headline (120706)

Filed under: Business Moves — Tom @ 6:14 am

From the Indy Star:

WellPoint Inc. in the past two years gobbled up big insurers in California and New York to rapidly become the nation’s largest health-benefits company.

Now it is locating one of its fastest-growing businesses in its hometown of Indianapolis in one of the company’s largest job expansions since its founding in the mid-1940s.
WellPoint’s announcement Monday that it would add 1,200 jobs here during the next five years strengthens the city’s ties to parts of the insurance giant that are seeing strong organic growth.

There’s a Reason Why People Are Tired of Paying So Much More For Schools

Filed under: Education,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:09 am

From Terence Jeffrey’s November 29 column at Townhall.com (HT NTU’s Government Bytes blog; bold is mine), they ARE paying a lot more, and getting almost no improvement for it:

According to its National Center for Education Statistics, Americans in recent decades paid for a massive increase in spending on government schools. Between the 1970 and 2002 school years, average per-pupil spending in public elementary and secondary schools rose 111 percent, from $4,170 (in constant 2001-2002 dollars) to $8,802.

From just 1990 to 2003, average per-pupil spending increased 25 percent, from $7,692 (in constant 2003-2004 dollars) to 9,644.

This big run-up in spending did not cause a big run-up in student performance.

….. Increasing per pupil spending by another 111 percent — whether it is done by compassionate conservatives in Washington, D.C., or plain old liberals in your home state — will not fix public schools.

Please tell this to 50 state governors, 50 state legislators, and everyone in Congress.

Factoid from the National Association of Manufacturers

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:04 am

American manufacturers are at a 31.7% cost disadvantage compared to their foreign competitors.

A press conference video from back in June and a full-blown PDF of the study is at the link.

Pearl Harbor Day Positivity Post: A Few Good Medals

Filed under: Positivity,US & Allied Military — Tom @ 5:59 am

First, read NixGuy’s excerpt.

Then, during lunch (long read), go to men.style.com, where GQ magazine apparently puts its content, and dig in.

What did we do to deserve people such as these? Thank God we have them.