August 10, 2010

Foreign Golfers May Not Play in Ryder Cup Due to UK Taxes

http://i739.photobucket.com/albums/xx40/mmatters/ukmoneyThose who don’t believe that high taxes on the rich don’t influence economic activity or economic behavior, which of course includes many in the establishment press, are going to have a tough time explaining away this brief item that’s being reported in the Associated Press:

Tour officials hampered by UK tax rules

European Tour officials are in talks with the British government over tax rules which they say could deter leading golfers from playing in the Ryder Cup in October.

Players competing in the match between Europe and the United States at Celtic Manor, Wales, could be seriously affected by new rules issued by the customs and revenue agency, which can now tax foreign sportsmen and women not just on prize money earned but on sponsorship and endorsements.

Mitchell Platts, the European Tour’s director of public relations corporate affairs, said Tuesday the tax rule was “seriously hampering our efforts.”

This is pretty obviously double taxation of the same income in both the home country and the UK.

If they don’t fix this by the London 2012 Olympics, there may be an unplanned return to what used to be known as the amateur ideal, as many of the world’s Olympic-level athletes, particularly in sports like basketball and tennis, may decide to take a pass.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

As Freddie Begs for More Cash, AP’s Zibel Perpetuates Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac Myths

FredAndFanLogos1209There are quite a few shaky assertions in Alan Zibel’s Associated Press report yesterday about Freddie Mac’s latest quarterly loss ($6 billion), its latest bailout installment request to the U.S. Treasury ($1.8 billion), and the cumulative taxpayer bailout amounts that have been paid out to Freddie Mac and big sister Fannie Mae thus far ($148.2 billion) — too many to cover in a blog post.

So I’ll concentrate on the howlers present in just a single paragraph near the end, wherein the AP reporter attempts to explain why the two formerly government-sponsored mortgage giants that are now government-bailout enterprises ran into the ditch. TThe verbiage pretty much states the meme that the establishment press seems to want the public to swallow about what went down, and who’s to blame:

During the housing boom, Fannie and Freddie faced political pressure to expand homeownership and competitive pressure from Wall Street to back ever-riskier loans. When the market went bust, defaults and foreclosures piled up, and the government had to take them over.

Zibel treats the two giants as if they were innocent bystanders in a boom that “just so happened” to coincide with the political pressures it faced. Nonsense. It’s more accurate to say that Fan and Fred fed the boom to the point of being its major cause. Many already know that in 1999, Fannie Mae announced looser lending standards (Fred soon followed; go here to see what this specifically meant). Even the New York Times was a bit concerned at the time:

In moving, even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980′s.

”From the perspective of many people, including me, this is another thrift industry growing up around us,” said Peter Wallison a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. ”If they fail, the government will have to step up and bail them out the way it stepped up and bailed out the thrift industry.”

Probably much more important is something that is about the best-kept secret outside of the Wall Street Journal in the establishment press. In a December 29, 2009 article, the aforementioned Wallison conveyed an assertion by Edward Pinto, who is certainly in a position to know, that, as far back as 1993, Fan and Fred “routinely misrepresented the mortgages they were acquiring, reporting them as prime when they had characteristics that made them clearly subprime or Alt-A.” In other words, they deceived the financial markets and the ratings agencies on a massive scale about the underlying quality ofhundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars of securitized mortgages. If Zibel isn’t aware of this, he should be. If this has anything to do with “competitive pressure,” I’d like him to explain how that’s the case.

It’s also not written in stone that “the government had to take them over.” Perhaps it felt obligated because of the implicit guarantees against default (they were not explicit, despite Zibel’s claim that they were), but the legal requirement for Uncle Sam to take over Fan and Fred in troubled circumstances was not there.

Zibel wants readers to believe that Fan and Fred were really just victims of a “market (that) went bust” during the final year of the Bush administration. No sir, it has become painfully apparent that they sowed the seeds of that bust by committing fraud on what may be an unprecedented scale all the way back to the early Clinton years. Taxpayers are now reaping the whirlwind.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

RIP …

Filed under: General — Tom @ 1:11 pm

Ted Stevens.

Copenhagen Dashed: AP Reports Lament That Bonn Climate Talks ‘Slip Backward’ and ‘Stumble’

BonnWeather0810The past week has brought forth a couple of items from the Associated Press’s — and for the most part the establishment press’s — special corner of journalistic unreality. It is an area where human-caused global warming is still a given, and where that the nastiness known as ClimateGate that exposed the entire global warming enterprise as entirely unsupported by verifiable scientific data doesn’t exist. Maybe we should refer to that special corner as “The Climate Zone.”

The reports each arrived via AP Writer Arthur Max. Mr. Max and conference attendees at climate negotiations in Bonn shouldn’t be mad about having the opportunity to spend time in West Germany’s former capital city. After all, the temperatures there, based on the current report for Tuesday and plus the three forecasted days in the graphic at the top right (seen currently at Google), are on track to be virtually identical to the city’s pleasant historical August average highs and lows of 73 and 54 degrees, respectively, for August.

But despite the reasonably pleasant atmosphere (yeah, I know temps and climate aren’t the same, so back off already), Mr. Max’s August 6 and August 8 reports tell us that discussions between “rich” and “poor” countries have been quite frosty. Meanwhile, reactions from the the supporters of international statist expansion in the environmental movement who are on hand for the festivities have been quite heated. Overall, everyone, including the clumsy Mr. Max, is making mince meat of President Barack Obama’s claim, occasionally echoed in establishment press outlets at the time, to have accomplished anything meaningful at last December’s Copenhagen conference.

First, here are the opening paragraphs from Max’s Friday missive:

Climate talks appear to slip backward

Global climate talks appeared to have slipped backward after five days of negotiations in Bonn, with rich and poor countries exchanging charges of reneging on agreements they made last year to contain greenhouse gases.

Delegates complained that reversals in the talks put negotiations back by a year, even before minimal gains were scored at the Copenhagen summit last December.

“It’s a little bit like a broken record,” said European Union negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger. “It’s like a flashback,” agreed Raman Mehta, of the Action Aid environment group. “The discourse is the same level” as before Copenhagen.

The sharp divide between rich and poor nations over how best to fight climate change – a clash that crippled the Copenhagen summit – remains, and bodes ill for any deal at the next climate convention in Cancun, Mexico, which begins in November.

“At this point, I am very concerned,” said chief U.S. delegate Jonathan Pershing. “Unfortunately, what we have seen over and over this week is that some countries are walking back from progress made in Copenhagen, and what was agreed there.”

Fortunately or unfortunately (I’m going with the former), there really wasn’t much that “was agreed there,” despite Pershing’s posing, as Max revealed in his Sunday submission (bold is mine):

Analysis: Climate talks stumble from Page 1

The new climate change treaty under negotiation for the past 2 1/2 years begins with a brief document called “A Shared Vision.” The problem is, there isn’t one.

The latest round of talks that concluded Friday showed that the 194 negotiating countries have failed to even define a common target or method for curbing greenhouse gases – just one example of the ongoing divide among rich and poor nations.

Talks began in 2007, with the aim of wrapping up a deal in Copenhagen last December. But that didn’t happen, despite the presence of 120 heads of state or government. It ended instead with a three-page statement of intentions brokered by President Barack Obama.

Though less than expected, the Copenhagen Accord scored some breakthroughs. It boiled down the core elements of a deal to 12 carefully worded paragraphs, and it inscribed hard-fought compromises by the main protagonists, the U.S. and China.

Details were to be filled in by the next major conference in Cancun, Mexico, starting in November.

But the accord was never formally adopted. … The paper was merely “noted” by the conference, stripping it of any legal force.

Now, much of the Copenhagen deal has been thrown open again.

As readers can see, Mr. Max couldn’t stay consistent in his musings even in the space of five paragraphs. In the third paragraph above, he notes that a deal “didn’t happen.” But in the seventh, he says that “the Copenhagen deal has been thrown open again,” as if a deal really was done.

What transpired in Copenhagen was not a “deal.” If “the paper” had no “legal force” and could only be “‘noted” by the conference,” it really didn’t rise even to the level of what most of us would consider a “memorandum of understanding.” In other words, there really never was a “deal.”

Read more: http://newsbusters.org/blogs/tom-blumer/2010/08/10/copenhagen-dashed-ap-reports-lament-bonn-talks-slip-backward-and-stumble#ixzz0wEAyrVrz

Then again, for journalists in “The Climate Zone” who have had years of practice presumptively insisting that human-caused global warming is settled science, when it’s not — not even the “warming” part, as one leading advocate admitted in one of the ClimateGate e-mails – making the leap from “no deal” to a pretend “deal” hardly causes them to break a sweat.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Lickety-Split Links (081010, Morning)

Filed under: Lucid Links — Tom @ 8:43 am

Hmm“KKR Cancels Plans for $500 million stock offering,” citing “unfavorable market conditions.” There are unique circumstances (there always are). But in its planned IPO, Government/General Motors wants to raise $15 billion (for about 30% of the company) or $30 billion (for about 60%). Will the market be receptive to either? Or does the Obama administration have special forms of pressure it can apply against underwriters and market makers to force its acceptance?

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Howler of the Day“(Michigan Democratic Congressman Sander) Levin: Democratic jobs bill push not union payback.” Nah, don’t let the fact that most of the money will go to union public employees sway you.

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AP headline in another story related to the previous item — “Obama to make another plea for relief funding.” You’d think from the headline that the story has to do with Haiti or some other natural disaster. Nope — it has to with the “jobs bill,” aka the aforementioned union payback.

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This earmark could make us forget the “Bridge to Nowhere,” which after was “only” $230 milllion — “Obama’s billion-dollar earmark for shady Illinois energy boondoggle.”

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On and on it goes — “Mortgage finance giant Freddie Mac (FMCC.OB) on Monday said it would need another $1.8 billion in aid from taxpayers, bringing its total request since it was taken over by the government two years ago to more than $64 billion.” With Fannie Mae, the total is almost $150 billion.

Even with the 15 years of systematic fraud by design, Fan’s and Fred’s losses and Uncle Sam’s cash bailout amounts might have been significantly lower had the Obama administration engineered a decent recovery with tax cuts instead of the clearly failed stimulus plan and its train wreck mortgage relief effort. Now it looks like we’re stuck with losses that seem virtually without end.

Latest Pajamas Media Column (‘The Two-Tiered Economy’) Is Up

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:30 am

BigBizVsSmallBiz0810It’s here.

The sub-headline says:

Big and crony-connected businesses are doing okay. The small and non-connected? Not so much.

It will go up here at BizzyBlog on Thursday morning (link won’t work until then) after the blackout expires.

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Related: Here is what the National Federation of Independent Business had to say in mid-July about small business confidence (HT ZeroHedge):

The National Federation of Independent Business Index of Small Business Optimism lost 3.2 points in June falling to 89.0 after posting modest gains for several months. The Index has been below 93 every month since January 2008 (30 months), and below 90 for 23 of those months, all readings typical of a weak or recession-mired economy. Seventy percent of the decline this month resulted from deterioration in the outlook for business conditions and expected real sales gains. Owners have no confidence that economic policies will fix the economy.

“The U.S. economy faces hurricane force headwinds and the government is at the center of the storm, making an economic recovery very difficult,” said William Dunkelberg, NFIB’s chief economist.

… In June, 9 percent (seasonally adjusted) reported unfilled job openings, unchanged from May and historically very weak.

… The frequency of reported capital outlays over the past six months was unchanged at 46 percent of all firms, two points above the 35-year record low (reached most recently in December 2009).

… The percent of owners planning to make capital expenditures over the next few months fell one point to 19 percent, 3 points above the 35 year record low.

… “Owners do not trust the economic policies in place or proposed, and they are distressed by global and national developments that make the future more uncertain,” said Dunkelberg.

Also, there’s this from the survey’s archive page, which has an introductory tease for each month:

The Index of Small Business Optimism lost 3.2 points in June after posting modest gains for several months. The persistence of Index readings below 90 is unprecedented in survey history. The performance of the economy is mediocre at best, given the extent of the decline over the past two years.

I’ll try to be on the lookout for the July survey results, which should come out in a few days. I’m hoping that the on the ground (i.e., not seasonally adjusted) job gains that nobody cares about which occurred in July occurred at smaller enterprises and perhaps boosted confidence a bit.

Positivity: Cells Morphed to Muscle May Lead to Therapy for Heart Failure, Study Says

Filed under: Life-Based News,Positivity — Tom @ 5:57 am

From San Francisco:

Aug 5, 2010 12:00 PM ET

Tissue from the hearts of mice morphed into muscle cells with the ability to beat and form electrical connections, in an experiment that may lead to new therapy for more than 5 million Americans with heart failure.

Connective-tissue cells called fibroblasts make up about half the cells in the heart. Researchers led by Deepak Srivastava, director of the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco, said they used a trial- and-error process to identify three genes able to turn fibroblasts into heart muscle.

The technique may enter clinical trials in as little as five years to test whether damaged areas of patients’ hearts can regenerate, Srivastava said. Heart failure has no cure and will cost the U.S. health-care system $39 billion this year, according to the American Heart Association, based in Dallas.

“It points to a whole new way of potentially doing therapy,” said Chad Cowan, an assistant professor in the department of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “This gives you the idea that you can take those fibroblasts, re-educate them to become heart muscle and thereby repair someone’s heart.”

The research, published today in the journal Cell, follows work by Shinya Yamanaka, of Kyoto University in Japan, who in 2007 identified genes that transformed skin cells into the equivalent of embryonic stem cells.

Dying Cells

After a heart attack, the blood supply to the organ is cut off, leaving sections without the oxygen they need. Cells in the oxygen-starved areas die, form scar tissue and no longer contract properly, impairing the heart’s pumping. Patients with this kind of damage, known as heart failure, can become exhausted by walking or climbing stairs.

Damaged parts of the heart can’t regenerate because they have no ability to make new muscle cells, Srivastava said in a telephone interview on Aug. 3. Researchers have hoped that stem cells might regrow heart muscle.

Efforts to transplant adult stem cells into patients’ hearts have led to modest improvements at best because the stem cells failed to form new heart muscle, Srivastava said. His technique may provide an alternative to stem-cell transplants by tapping into and converting a supply of cells already in the heart.

“The ability to take cells that are already in the organ and harness them to generate new muscle has the potential for regeneration from within,” he said. “People living with heart failure would have a chance to lead better lives. People who can’t walk up a flight of stairs might be able to do that with ease.”

Most Advanced

Srivastava’s research is the most advanced example so far of a new approach to altering the function and destiny of cells, a process known as directed differentiation. Instead of getting cells to revert back to an immature stem-cell state, then converting them to a particular cell type, scientists try to turn one kind of mature cell directly into another.

Transplanting heart cells made from embryonic stem cells carries the risk that immature cells able to form tumors also may be transferred, said Kenneth Chien, director of the Cardiovascular Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. An advantage of Srivastava’s technique is that it eliminates the risk from the immature cells, Chien said. …

Go here for the rest of the story.

AP’s Fall-out-of-Chair Headline: ‘Adult stem cell research far ahead of embryonic’

MuscleStemCells.jpgA week ago, AP Science Writer Malcolm Ritter committed a serious act of journalism by telling readers what is really going on in stem cell science. It ought to be required reading for the Obama administration, which seems to be making a crusade out of human embryonic stem cell research (hESCR) while acting to stifle what appears to be significant progress in adult stem cell research (ASCR).

The amazing title of the AP reporter’s article is “Adult stem cell research far ahead of embryonic.” Given the establishment press’s years-long favoritism towards hESCR going back at least to George W. Bush’s 2001 announcement limiting federal government involvement in that area, it’s enough to make you wonder if Ritter knew that his editors were on vacation or away on other business on August 2.

Here are just some of the exemplary paragraphs from Ritter’s long report:

… For all the emotional debate that began about a decade ago on allowing the use of embryonic stem cells, it’s adult stem cells that are in human testing today. An extensive review of stem cell projects and interviews with two dozen experts reveal a wide range of potential treatments.

… Adult stem cells are being studied in people who suffer from multiple sclerosis, heart attacks and diabetes. Some early results suggest stem cells can help some patients avoid leg amputation. Recently, researchers reported that they restored vision to patients whose eyes were damaged by chemicals.

Apart from these efforts, transplants of adult stem cells have become a standard lifesaving therapy for perhaps hundreds of thousands of people with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood diseases.

… Embryonic cells may indeed be used someday to grow replacement tissue or therapeutic material for diseases like Parkinson’s or diabetes. Just on Friday, a biotech company said it was going ahead with an initial safety study in spinal cord injury patients. Another is planning an initial study in eye disease patients later this year.

But in the near term, embryonic stem cells are more likely to pay off as lab tools, for learning about the roots of disease and screening potential drugs.

Some of the new approaches, like the long-proven treatments, are based on the idea that stem cells can turn into other cells. Einhorn said the ankle-repair technique, for example, apparently works because of cells that turn into bone and blood vessels. But for other uses, scientists say they’re harnessing the apparent abilities of adult stem cells to stimulate tissue repair, or to suppress the immune system.

“That gives adult stem cells really a very interesting and potent quality that embryonic stem cells don’t have,” says Rocky Tuan of the University of Pittsburgh.

Though he alludes to the concept in the bolded sentence above, one word missing from Ritter’s report is “potency,” which in stem cell science refers to a cell’s ability to create unrelated types of cells. The Mayo Clinic describes the status of adult stem cells thusly:

… it was thought that stem cells residing in the bone marrow could give rise only to blood cells. However, emerging evidence suggests that adult stem cells may be more versatile than previously thought and able to create unrelated types of cells after all. For instance, bone marrow stem cells may be able to create muscle cells. This research has led to early-stage clinical trials to test usefulness and safety in people.

Mayo also notes that “Researchers have reported being able to transform regular adult cells into stem cells in laboratory studies. By altering the genes in the adult cells, researchers were able to reprogram the cells to act similarly to embryonic stem cells.”

There was a time when “pluripotency,” the ability of a stem cell to give rise to any kind of human cell, was thought to be the sole province of hESCR. That may still conceivably be true, but if enough adult cells of different types can be coaxed into creating other types of cells, they may be able to cover the gamut of human tissue even if none are ever induced into true pluripotency. Besides, some scientists are saying that true pluripotency from adult stem cells is not that far away.

So remind me, if hESCR has such limited use, why did President Obama make such a big deal of reversing President Bush’s Executive Order, thereby allowing federal funds to go into ESCR, while proclaiming that “ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda, and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology”? Perhaps he can explain to Malcolm Ritter how he knows that adult stem cells are Republican, and embryonic ones are Democratic.

Graphic found at the Stem Cell Blog.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.