Tuesday | 11 March 2013

politics / finance / economics

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MUST READ ELIZABETH WARREN TESTIMONY
The Big Picture

WARREN:Now in December, HSBC admitted to money laundering. To laundering $881 million that we know of for Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. And also admitted to violating our sanctions for Iran, Libya, Cuba, Burma, the Sudan. And they didn’t do it just one time. It wasn’t like a mistake. They did it over and over and over again across a period of years. And they were caught doing it. Warned not to do it. And kept right on doing it. And evidently making profits doing it.

Now HSBC paid a fine, but no one individual went to trial. No individual was banned from banking. And there was no hearing to consider shutting down HSBC’s activities here in the United States. So what I’d like is, you’re the experts on money laundering. I’d like your opinion. What does it

take? How many billions of dollars do you have to launder for drug lords and how many economic sanctions do you have to violate before someone will consider shutting down a financial institution like this? Mr. Cohen, can we start with you?

I WILL FIX THIS SHIT MYSELF IF I HAVE TO



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UNLEASH PAUL RYAN!
James Pethokoukis | AEI-Ideas | The American Enterprise Institute

But since Ryan’s PTP also serves as the fiscal 2014 budget resolution for House Republicans, the blueprint is far from ideal:

1. If the GOP’s Medicare reform plan is such a good idea (and budget deficits are such a problem), it should be implemented before 2024. Ryan knows this, surely.

2. There’s no Social Security reform plan.

3. The plan repeals Obamacare, which is highly unlikely. Better to have shown how the ACA can be fixed.

4. The plan lowers the top tax rate to 25%, which, like an Obamacare repeal, ain’t going to happen. The reduction — the path to which remains unspecified — also will require fiscal gymnastics so as to a) not lose revenue and b) not raise taxes on the middle-class. Tax reform is an opportunity for the GOP to show it is the party of parents and kids, not just the party of heroic entrepreneurs and CEOs. Better to have a higher individual rate and dramatically reduce the current tax code’s bias against investment capital and human capital.

5. Does nondefense discretionary spending need to be cut further? Again, this is a result of having to make the numbers work while also delaying Medicare reform.

6. Why does the budget need to balance in ten years? Debt reduction doesn’t require balance, just that the economy is growing faster than the debt. While the plan does put the debt/GDP ratio on a downward trajectory — rather than merely stabilized as Obama and the Senate Democrats would do — it probably doesn’t need to be quite as steep.

PAUL RYAN WILL BALANCE THE BUDGET WITH CLASS WAR ON BEHALF OF THE RICH
Matthew Yglesias | Moneybox | Slate

Ryan’s plan starts, like all good GOP deficit reduction plans, with a giant tax cut. Specifically he wants to replace the current progressive rate structure with a two-rate structure—10 percent and 25 percent. If you’re currently an individual paying a 39.6 percent marginal tax rate on your income over $400,000 that’s an enormous tax cut. If you’re currently an individual paying a 25 percent marginal tax rate on your income of $70,000 a year you may wonder what’s in it for you here. The answer is, most likely, higher taxes.

Beyond lower taxes on the rich and higher taxes on the middle class you can expect cuts in programs for the poor. Medicaid expansion? Repealed. The Affordable Care Act will offer sliding-scale subsidies to anyone earning less than 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (that’s $45,960 for an individual, $78,120 for a family of three) to help you buy health insurance. That’s going to be repealed. For those currently enjoying Medicaid benefits, Ryan will “provide states flexibility on Medicaid”—which is to say flexibility to rescind your eligibility for Medicaid. If you’re on food stamps, Ryan will “allow states to customize SNAP to address the needs unique to their citizens”—which is to say allow them to cut benefits and eligibility. There’s also some Pell Grant cuts in there and, of course, overall cuts to the domestic discretionary budget.

biography / history

THE AMERICAN MIND: GARY WILLS
Sam Tannenhaus | Prospect

He is America’s best living explainer, exposing the nation’s most cherished myths, which he approaches in the manner of a holy blasphemer. He has become an invaluable guide to the modern United States, connecting the present, in all its strangeness, to the nation’s imprisoning history, the patterns of behaviour unchanged since the earliest days of the republic: the convergence of individualistic licence and submission to authority, of “free-market” avarice cloaked in the language of spiritual quest. More incisively than any other thinker he bracingly answers the questions that most puzzle outsiders: why is religion such an enduring force in American politics? Why is there such popular mistrust of government? Why can’t Americans give up their love affair with guns? And he has done all this as an outsider himself—a practising Catholic, a proud Midwesterner who avoids the literary scene, a cheerful iconoclast who has infuriated friends, and presidents, on both the right and left.

international / mexico

ADDING ABSURDITY TO TRAGEDY
Carlos Puig | Latitude | The New York Times

The new Mexican government declared last week that the administration of former President Felipe Calderón had put together a list reporting more than 26,000 disappearances over the last six years. In 2010 Ciudad Juárez, the Mexican city that borders El Paso, Texas, one of the most secure cities in the United States, had homicide rates that competed with those of the most violent region in Afghanistan. The most conservative count of homicides related to Mexico’s war on drugs puts the death toll at around 70,000 in six years.

During the last year of his six-year term, Calderón accepted a proposal put forth by a coalition of civil society organizations to build a memorial to the victims of the violence. The country’s biggest architects’ association organized a contest and convened a panel of judges that included family members of victims. The money earmarked for the memorial’s construction, $3 million, came from assets seized from organized crime.

history / religion

THE MYTHS BEHIND THE AGE OF MARTYRS
Candida Moss | The Chronicle of Higher Education

For the first three hundred years of its existence, tradition maintains, Christianity was a persecuted and suffering religion. Members were hunted down and executed, their property and books burned by crusading emperors intent on routing out the new religion. Women and children were thrown to the lions and boiled alive in caldrons, as maddened crowds bayed for blood. Jesus, Stephen, and the Apostles were only the beginning.

The history of early Christianity, as we have received it, is a history of victimization and pain. It underwrites the idea that Christians are at odds with their world, engaged in a continuing struggle between good and evil.

But that narrative has very little basis in the documentary record.

religion / philosophy

WEIRD ARGUMENTS ABOUT LOVE AND MARRIAGE
John Holbo | Crooked Timber

I haven’t watched the video of Sullivan debating same-sex marriage with Douglas Wilson (no, I never heard of him either). To judge from this First Things write-up, I can expect some familiar, bad arguments from the anti- side: first and foremost, a failure to appreciate the sense in which theological arguments ‘can’t be offered’ in this sort of debate (a failure of appreciation at least semi-shared by the author of the First Things piece, Peter Leithart.)

Sullivan demanded that Wilson defend his position with secular, civil arguments, not theocratic ones, and in this demand Sullivan has the support of liberal polity.

Sullivan’s is a rigid standard for public discourse that leaves biblically-grounded Christians with little to say.

The problem isn’t that they can’t be offered – it’s a free country! say what you like! think what you like! It’s that the person offering the argument can’t reasonably expect it to be accepted. It will be – should be – weighed in the balance as a private expression of preference. But someone else’s preference as to how I should behave doesn’t, automatically, carry much weight.

The moral of the story is this: there is some confusion about what ‘respect’ for religious liberty properly entails. Legally and morally, people are inclined to treat religious convictions as more than mere ‘private preference’. (If this weren’t the case, there wouldn’t be so many efforts to accommodate religious belief.) But obviously there is something problematic about obligatory ‘respect’ that treats everyone as having a duty to, sort of, half believe everything that anyone wholly believes, on religious grounds. (The Flying Spaghetti Monster is designed to embarrass this way of thinking, and rightly so.) Wilson (and Leithart, too, I think) seem to feel that failure to extend them this quite significant epistemic privilege amounts to exiling religion from the public sphere, from civic discourse. It feels disrespectful to religion to sleight religious conviction by brushing it off as ‘mere private preference’. But the alternative is forcing people to semi-share all serious religious beliefs. That’s not quite like having an established religion, more like semi-establishing all religions. Which some people may think sounds pretty good, actually. But it shouldn’t.

science / medicine / policy

THE DISEASE OLYMPICS
Virginia Hughes | Nature

The massive rise of patient advocacy in the US has led to an aggressive, if inadvertent, contest between disease-specific lobbyists. Advocacy groups say they’re just trying to get taxpayer-backed research dollars distributed equitably according to public health need and they deny any outright competition with one another. But with research budgets shrinking, advocacy becomes a zero-sum game. Some scientists worry that pitting one disease against another threatens the leadership of government funding bodies—not to mention the basic research enterprise.

art / design / film

TELL ME SOMETHING I DON’T KNOW 003: ERIC SKILLMAN, ART DIRECTOR OF THE CRITERION COLLECTION
Jim Frauenfelder | Boing Boing

In this episode Jim, Jasen, and Ed interview Eric Skillman, a Brooklyn-based graphic designer at the Criterion Collection. He also does freelance design (Comics Journal 301, The Playwright, Leaping Tall Buildings) and writes crime comics including the anthology Egg, the graphic novel Liar’s Kiss, and the webcomic, Suckers.


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art

PLAY – SPRAY PAINT ON CANVAS
Ray Ferrer | Emotion on Canvas

“Play” — This is a 2ft x 2ft piece that I have brought to many exhibitions from Virginia to Chicago and back to the NYC area. As I get ready to create a lot of new art for my upcoming exhibition in San Diego this May I wanted to post more work on here for everyone to see.

PLAY

“Play” — This is a 2ft x 2ft piece that I have brought to many exhibitions from Virginia to Chicago and back to the NYC area. As I get ready to create a lot of new art for my upcoming exhibition in San Diego this May I wanted to post more work on here for everyone to see.

gun report

THE GUN REPORT: MARCH 12, 2013
Joe Nocera | The New York Times

3 of 8 entries

An elderly man shot his wife and daughter before turning the gun on himself in Puryear, Tenn., Monday afternoon. The man shot his wife and 47-year-old daughter several times each before he died from his own self-inflicted injuries. Their exact conditions were unknown. The family’s identity was not released.
—WTVF

A man was changing his 6-month-old daughter’s diaper in a van parked on the street in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago when a gunman approached and opened fire Monday afternoon, seriously wounding him and killing his child. A bullet went through the baby’s right shoulder and lodged in her left thigh; Jonylah Watkins died after hours of surgery. Jonathan Watkins, 29, is in serious-to-critical condition. The suspect fled.

“It’s too much shooting over there,” the baby’s grandmother Maryann Young said at the hospital. “I’m trying to get my kids out of there.”
—Chicago Tribune

An early Sunday shooting wounded a 13-year-old boy in Merrillville, Ind. The boy said he was walking his dog when the person, who was on foot, fired a shot into his leg. The boy was treated and released. It’s unclear what prompted the shooting.
—The Times of Northwest Indiana

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