Saturday, December 15, 2012

Why Has Number Of Mass-Shootings Gone Parabolic?

Why Has Number Of Mass-Shootings Gone Parabolic?
While this is an economics and politics blog, this is also a blog of intellectual discovery. The recent tragedy in Connecticut got me thinking: Why, over the past 20 or so years, has there been an increase in the number and size of mass-shootings in the United States during a period of time in which there has been an increase in the number and scope of gun control laws throughout the nation? Recent years have not only seen the implementation of a number of new gun laws on the state level, but have also seen on the federal level the implementation of the so-called "Brady Act" and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. And, with 5 gun-related massacres this year alone, why has the number of incidents gone parabolic over the last decade or so? It can't be gangsta rap; that went out of style around the turn of the millennium. So, is it economic pressures? Psychotropic drugs? The proliferation of violent, realistic video games? Bad parenting? A failure in law enforcement? A combination of each? Feel free to offer your thoughts.

From the New York Daily News, massacres by gunmen in the United States since 1990:
December 2012: Newtown, Conn.: A lone gunman shot to death 28 people, including 20 children, at an elementary school.
December 2012: Portland, Ore.: A masked gunman opens fire in a crowded mall on Tuesday, killing two and seriously injuring a third before turning the gun on himself. Cops say killer’s assault weapon jammed, preventing further carnage.

August 2012: Oak Creek, Wis.: A white supremacist shoots six people and a responding policeman at a Sikh temple before shooting himself in the head .

July 2012: Aurora, Colo.: Lone gunman kills 12 and injures 58 at a  screening of “The Dark Knight.”

April 2012: Oakland, Calif.: A former student at a Christian college fatally shoots seven people and injures three.

August 2011: Copley Township, Ohio: A man in a family dispute uses his handgun to shoot and kill his girlfriend and six others.

March 2009: Geneva, Ala.: Eleven victims, ages 18 months to 74 years old, are killed by a lone gunman in a violent family feud.

December 2007: Omaha, Neb.: A 19-year-old man shoots nine people at a department store before cops kill him.

April 2007: Blacksburg, Va.: A student at Virginia Tech kills 32 classmates and wounds 25 before committing suicide.

March 2005: Red Lake, Minn.: A 16-year-old boy kills 11 people, including his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend, in a shooting spree.

December 2004: Columbus, Ohio: A deranged fan shoots a Pantera guitarist at a concert as he performs onstage, then fires at fans, killing four people.

Oct. 2002: Wash., D.C.: Two deranged snipers go on a spree, killing 10 people around D.C. and Virginia.

April 1999: Columbine, Colo.: Two senior students invade their school, killing 12 students and one teacher and injuring 21, before committing suicide.

October 1999: Killeen, Texas: An unemployed man drives a truck through a packed cafeteria and fatally shoots 23 people and injures 20 before killing himself.

June 1990: Jacksonville, Fla.: A man angry over a repossessed car storms into the agency and over two days shoots 11 of its 86 employees before killing himself.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Homeland Security Pays For Microphones On Public Buses

Homeland Security Pays For Microphones On Public BusesFrom Wired:
Transit authorities in cities across the country are quietly installing microphone-enabled surveillance systems on public buses that would give them the ability to record and store private conversations, according to documents obtained by a news outlet.
The systems are being installed in San Francisco, Baltimore, and other cities with funding from the Department of Homeland Security in some cases, according to the Daily, which obtained copies of contracts, procurement requests, specs and other documents.

The systems use cables or WiFi to pair audio conversations with camera images in order to produce synchronous recordings. Audio and video can be monitored in real-time.    

In Eugene, Oregon, the Daily found, transit officials requested microphones that would be capable of “distilling clear conversations from the background noise of other voices, wind, traffic, windshields wipers and engines” and also wanted at least five audio channels spread across each bus that would be “paired with one or more camera images and recorded synchronously with the video for simultaneous playback.”

Pennsylvania 26th State To Reject Obamacare

Pennsylvania 26th State To Reject Obamacare
From a FreedomWorks press release:
Today FreedomWorks, a grassroots frontrunner in the fight to block health care exchanges around the country, applauded Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett for his hard-hitting decision to decline a state-run health care exchange in Pennsylvania.

“FreedomWorks congratulates Governor Tom Corbett on his historic step towards restoring constitutionally-limited government and reaffirming the boundaries of federal power,” commented Matt Kibbe, President of FreedomWorks. “FreedomWorks has been mobilizing and empowering activists across the country and the state of Pennsylvania to reject health care exchanges, which will drastically jeopardize state budgets within two short years. Without a strong grassroots community holding the states accountable to its decisions, it’s doubtful the health care exchanges would have been challenged in the first place.”

Since August 2009, FreedomWorks and its community of over 2 million fiscally conservative activists have fought passage of ObamaCare in town hall meetings across the country, launched a petition campaign to “Repeal ObamaCare Now” which garnered over 350,000 signatures and led grassroots efforts to enact Health Care Freedom Acts and stop PPACA “exchanges” in the states. FreedomWorks also orchestrated the Tea Party Budget, a crowd-sourced economic recovery plan that scored repealing “ObamaCare” as the number one legislative priority.

Currently the federal government is offering grants to states to create an exchange between now and the end of 2014. All exchanges must be self-funding starting in 2015. Each governor must notify the federal government by Friday, December 14, 2012, of his or her decision whether to create a state-based health insurance exchange or defer to the federal government.

“The significance of today’s decision by Governor Corbett is worthy of celebration, but our work is far from over,” commented Dean Clancy, vice president of health care policy for FreedomWorks. “With Pennsylvania becoming the 26th state to uphold the health care exchanges, now is the ideal time for conservatives to launch a renewed effort to stop the government takeover. First, because of the states’ actions, Congress should delay ObamaCare’s implementation date by at least one full year. Second, it should move aggressively to replace the exchanges with compassionate, patient-centered reforms. Only patient-centered care offers the hope of lower costs without rationing.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Aggressive, Unsupervised MIT Economists Run The World

Aggressive, Unsupervised MIT Economists Run The WorldIn a recent article, Jon Hilsenrath of the Wall Street Journal explained how a handful of aggressive, unsupervised MIT economists run the world. ZeroHedge nicely summarized Hilsenrath's piece:
Ever get the feeling that the entire global economy is one big experiment conducted by several former Keynesian economists from MIT with a bent for central planning, who sit down in conspiratorial dark rooms in tiny Swiss cities and bet it all on green until they double down so much nobody even pays attention to the game? No? You should. Jon Hilsenrath, of all people, explains why.
Aggressive, Unsupervised MIT Economists Run The World - MIT alumni
From the WSJ:
Every two months, more than a dozen bankers meet here on Sunday evenings to talk and dine on the 18th floor of a cylindrical building looking out on the Rhine.

The dinner discussions on money and economics are more than academic. At the table are the chiefs of the world's biggest central banks, representing countries that annually produce more than $51 trillion of gross domestic product, three-quarters of the world's economic output.

Of late, these secret talks have focused on global economic troubles and the aggressive measures by central banks to manage their national economies. Since 2007, central banks have flooded the world financial system with more than $11 trillion. Faced with weak recoveries and Europe's churning economic problems, the effort has accelerated. The biggest central banks plan to pump billions more into government bonds, mortgages and business loans.

Their monetary strategy isn't found in standard textbooks. The central bankers are, in effect, conducting a high-stakes experiment, drawing in part on academic work by some of the men who studied and taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1970s and 1980s.

"Will history decide they did too little or too much? We don't know because it is still a work in progress," said Kenneth Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard and co-author of a book, "This Time Is Different," examining financial crises over eight centuries. "They are taking risks because it is an experimental strategy."

Three of the world's most powerful central bankers launched their careers in a building known as "E52," home to the MIT economics department. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and ECB President Mario Draghi earned their Ph.D.s there in the late 1970s. Bank of England Governor Mervyn King taught briefly there in the 1980s, sharing an office with Mr. Bernanke.

Many economists emerged from MIT with a belief that government could help to smooth out economic downturns. Central banks play a particularly important role in this view, not only by setting interest rates but also by influencing public expectations through carefully worded statements.

While at MIT, the central bankers dreamed up mathematical models and discussed their ideas in seminar rooms and at cheap food joints in a rundown Boston-area neighborhood on the Charles River.

Over Sunday dinners in Basel, which often stretch to three hours, they now talk of pressing, real-world problems with authority. The meals are part of two-day meetings held six times a year at the BIS. Dinner guests include leaders of the Fed, ECB, Bank of England and Bank of Japan, as well as central bankers from India, China, Mexico, Brazil and a few other countries.
The same BIS, incidentally, which is an employer of "The People Bringing You Currency Manipulation On A Daily Basis" whom we described in April.
The role of the Bank for International Settlements has broadened since it was formed in 1930 to handle reparation payments imposed on Germany after World War I. In the 1970s, it became the center of discussions on bank capital rules. In the 1990s, it became the meeting place for central bankers to talk about the global economy.
It is also the place where the coordination of all the real trading these days: that conducted by central planners of course. Most importantly, it is responsible for perpetuating the status quo.
As for our unsung MIT heroes...
The 18-member group, formally known as the Economic Consultative Committee, has only once issued a public statement: a two-line missive in September, promising to look for solutions in interbank lending markets, responding to allegations that some private banks had conspired to manipulate the Libor interest rate.

On Mondays after the dinner, the bankers join a larger group of central bankers at a large round table on a lower floor of the BIS building, which is shaped like a rook chess piece. Staff members sit nearby at desks decorated in white leather.
The Bank of England's Mr. King leads the dinner discussions in a room decorated by the Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, which designed the "Bird's Nest" stadium for the Beijing Olympics. The men have designated seats at a round table in a dining area scented by white orchids and framed by white walls, a black ceiling and panoramic views.

"It is a way in which people can talk completely privately," Mr. King said in an interview. "It is a big advantage if you have some feel for how central banks think about questions, what they're likely to do in the future if certain events were to occur."

Serious matters follow appetizers, wine and small talk, according to people familiar with the dinners. Mr. King typically asks his colleagues to talk about the outlook in their respective countries. Others ask follow-up questions. The gatherings yield no transcripts or minutes. No staff is allowed.
The punchline: a handful of people from MIT, deeply steeped in economic theory (not practice), the same people whose actions incidentally were responsible for the first great financial crisis, and who yield more power than any potenate in the history of the world - people who, as the ECB showed in the case of Berlusconi, can take down presidents and PMs with the flick of a switch, meet in private. No transcripts or buttlers are allowed.
In other words, they are accountable to absolutely nobody.
Which is to be expected: after all they are conducting the greatest experiment in monetary, geopolitical and social history. If they fail... when they fail, everyone loses.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Congress Twice As Rich As It Was In 1984

Congress Twice As Rich As It Was In 1984
Recession? What recession? Economic Policy Journal's Robert Wenzel reports that, adjusted for inflation, Congress's net worth has doubled since 1984.

Congress Twice As Rich As It Was In 1984 - Congress net worth

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Key Architect Of Obamacare Hired By Johnson & Johnson

Key Architect Of Obamacare Hired By Johnson & Johnson
I'd like to introduce you to Elizabeth Fowler, a key architect of Obamacare. Ms. Fowler enjoys the revolving door between government and private sector companies that benefit from relationships with the government. Glenn Greenwald, who recently penned an excellent piece about the FBI's abuse of power during the Petraeus investigation, recently profiled Ms. Fowler and chronicled her recent move to Johnson & Johnson, which actively supported the passage of Obamacare. (Because the company would benefit financially from it?) Said Greenwald:
When the legislation that became known as "Obamacare" was first drafted, the key legislator was the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, whose committee took the lead in drafting the legislation. As Baucus himself repeatedly boasted, the architect of that legislation was Elizabeth Folwer, his chief health policy counsel; indeed, as Marcy Wheeler discovered, it was Fowler who actually drafted it. As Politico put it at the time: "If you drew an organizational chart of major players in the Senate health care negotiations, Fowler would be the chief operating officer."

What was most amazing about all of that was that, before joining Baucus' office as the point person for the health care bill, Fowler was the Vice President for Public Policy and External Affairs (i.e. informal lobbying) at WellPoint, the nation's largest health insurance provider (before going to WellPoint, as well as after, Fowler had worked as Baucus' top health care aide). And when that health care bill was drafted, the person whom Fowler replaced as chief health counsel in Baucus' office, Michelle Easton, was lobbying for WellPoint as a principal at Tarplin, Downs, and Young.

Whatever one's views on Obamacare were and are: the bill's mandate that everyone purchase the products of the private health insurance industry, unaccompanied by any public alternative, was a huge gift to that industry; as Wheeler wrote at the time: "to the extent that Liz Fowler is the author of this document, we might as well consider WellPoint its author as well." Watch the five-minute Bill Moyers report from 2009, embedded below, on the key role played in all of this by Liz Fowler and the "revolving door" between the health insurance/lobbying industry and government officials at the time this bill was written and passed.

More amazingly still, when the Obama White House needed someone to oversee implementation of Obamacare after the bill passed, it chose . . . Liz Fowler. That the White House would put a former health insurance industry executive in charge of implementation of its new massive health care law was roundly condemned by good government groups as at least a violation of the "spirit" of governing ethics rules and even "gross", but those objections were, of course, brushed aside by the White House. She then became Special Assistant to the President for Healthcare and Economic Policy at the National Economic Council.

Now, as Politico's "Influence" column briefly noted on Tuesday, Fowler is once again passing through the deeply corrupting revolving door as she leaves the Obama administration to return to the loving and lucrative arms of the private health care industry:

"Elizabeth Fowler is leaving the White House for a senior-level position leading 'global health policy' at Johnson & Johnson's government affairs and policy group."
The pharmaceutical giant that just hired Fowler actively supported the passage of Obamacare through its membership in the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) lobby. Indeed, PhRMA was one of the most aggressive supporters - and most lavish beneficiaries - of the health care bill drafted by Fowler. Mother Jones' James Ridgeway proclaimed "Big Pharma" the "big winner" in the health care bill. And now, Fowler will receive ample rewards from that same industry as she peddles her influence in government and exploits her experience with its inner workings to work on that industry's behalf, all of which has been made perfectly legal by the same insular, Versailles-like Washington culture that so lavishly benefits from all of this.

It's difficult to find someone who embodies the sleazy, anti-democratic, corporatist revolving door that greases Washington as shamelessly and purely as Liz Fowler. One of the few competitors I can think of is Adm. Michael McConnell, who parlayed his military and intelligence career into a lucrative gig at Booz Allen, one of the nation's largest private intelligence contractors; then became George W Bush's Director of National Intelligence (where he spearheaded a huge gift to the telecom industry - retroactive immunity shielding it from all accountability for its participation in the illegal Bush NSA eavesdropping program - as well as continued his Booz Allen work of privatizing intelligence and surveillance functions); then returned to the loving arms of Booz Allen, where he now exploits his national security credentials on behalf of industry interests (by, for instance, spearheading the fear-mongering campaign about cyber-warfare in order to advocate for security programs that would amply enrich Booz Allen's clients).

This is precisely the behavior which, quite rationally, makes the citizenry so jaded about Washington. It's what ensures that the interests of the same permanent power factions are served regardless of election outcomes. It's what makes a complete mockery out of claims of democracy. And it's what demonstrates that corporatism and oligarchy are the dominant forms of government in the US: