SocraticGadfly: 9/23/12 - 9/30/12

September 28, 2012

Britain to crack down on Libor manipulation

Yes, this move may be full of loopholes, but, it’s a real step forward, and, like a Tobin tax, something that neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama would ever propose in the US.

In short, Britain’s Financial Services Authority is tightening the rules on the London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor, which is a tool used by large banks to calculate interbank lending.

As part of the financial chicanery that led to the Great Recession, banks on both sides of the Anglo-American Atlantic allegedly manipulated Libor rates, and allegedly, current US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner knew about it while head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and did nothing. (See poll at right and search old articles.)

So, the British stripped Libor oversight from the British Bankers’ Authority and instead moved it to the government regulatory agency, the equivalent of the new financial services agency here in the US taking some power away from the American Bankers’ Association.

Britain’s FSA plans to increase auditing of Libor-related trading to make sure that chicanery isn’t still happening. It also wants to make it a criminal offense to do so! That’s the part Mitt and Barry will never, ever do.
“There’s always a possibility for collusion,” (FSA Managing Director Martin) Wheatley told an audience at Mansion House, the 260-year-old home to the lord mayor of London that is adorned with gilded statues and chandeliers. “But under the new regulatory structure, people would be taking a high risk.”
Indeed, Wheatley is being honest about how much this may or may not help. But, he’s also determined to try.

September 26, 2012

Toyota ready to kick butt with new hybrids

A visitor looks at Toyota Motor Corp's Prius hybrid car
at the Toyota Motor Corp showroom in Tokyo in this
August 2010 file photo. (Reuters/Christian Science Monitor)

Even as GM is dropping more hybrids, except for the very-costly-to-build Chevy Volt, to which it's chained its future like a lead anchor, Toyota is ready to kick some fuel economy butt.

It has announced it's rolling out 21 new hybrids. No, that's not a typo. Even the base-level Scion division of the company looks like it's going to get at least one hybrid. And, not some long distance away, but in 2015.

And, since Toyota, on moderate volumes, is now profitable on the Prius, the story is right on that aspect. Profit margins may be smaller, in general, but with enough volume, these new hybrids will be profitable soon enough.

The New York Times, on its Wheels blog, notes that Honda is also going to expand its hybrid offerings.

Now, as Ford has moderate hybrid offerings, GM has pledged to basically have none, and Chrysler has none now, with no real word of future developments, will the formerly Big Three do what Ford did with its hybrid Escape and buy hybrid technology from Toyota (or Honda) for licensing? And, with EPA fuel economy requirements set to hit 54.5 mpg by 2025 (ignoring the various loopholes in there, such as for flex-fuel vehicles), will Toyota or Honda be willing sellers?

September 25, 2012

Team Obama continues crackdown on Cal pot

Please don't tell me that ongoing actions like this are nothing more than rogue U.S. District Attorneys' offices in California, because they're not.

This is part of Obama’s ongoing anti-civil liberties stance and actions. Arguably, it goes all the way back not to U.S. Sen. Obama, but to Illinois State Sen. Obama, when shortly before his U.S. Senate run, his mentor started setting him up to sponsor a bunch of police-friendly bills.

And, no, he’s not likely to change after he gets re-elected, if he does.

Rick Perry calls to keep Texas schools underfunded

That’s Truth No. 1 behind lies and misstatements in this press release cosigned with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and State Sen. Dan Patrick:
HOUSTON – Gov. Rick Perry today renewed his call for a stricter Constitutional spending limit for Texas’ state budget ahead of the upcoming legislative session. The governor was joined by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Sen. Dan Patrick to reiterate their commitment to the sound conservative policies that have made our state prosperous.

“Government growth, if any, should be kept to the bare minimum and should be limited by constitutional amendment to the rate of our population growth combined with the rate of inflation,” Gov. Perry said. “An amendment to the Texas Constitution would cast a spending limit in clear terms, ensuring we never get in a situation where state spending spirals out of control the way it has in Washington, D.C.”

“Texas is the national model when it comes to keeping state spending to a minimum,” Lt. Gov. Dewhurst said. “We take pride in the fact that Texas ranks 47th out of 50th per capita in state spending. A constitutional spending limit based on population and inflation growth will provide Texas greater stability when it comes to budgeting, ensure that the Lone Star State is prosperous for future generations and provide an example for Washington and the rest of the nation on how to govern responsibly.

“I have long believed that state government must live within its means, just like all Texans do every day,” Sen. Patrick said. “Fiscal conservatism will continue to be a top priority for me this coming session.”

In order to protect against excessive government growth and over-taxation in the future, the Texas Budget Compact proposes replacing the current Constitutional spending limit, which is based on personal income, with a firmer cap based on the combined rate of inflation and Texas population growth.

Gov. Perry has called on lawmakers to commit to the five key principles of the Texas Budget Compact to ensure Texas remains strong and competitive in the future. He also urged the ongoing need for careful stewardship of Texas taxpayer dollars, especially as Medicaid puts increasing pressure on our state budget. The principles of the compact are:

•Practice Truth in Budgeting
•Support a Constitutional limit of spending to the growth of population and inflation
•Oppose any new taxes or tax increases, and make the small business tax exemption permanent
•Preserve a strong Rainy Day Fund
•Cut unnecessary and duplicative government programs and agencies.
In reality, this means that the out-of-whack business/franchise tax, which was and is a key component to school funding, will remain out of whack unless the various school districts suing the state win. That said, remember that the business/franchise tax in its current form was created in response to the last such suit. The Three Stooges and other wingnuts could make things even worse if the state loses another suit.

Also unmentioned is the state’s continuing hikes in various fees, including courtesy fees to pay such fees online. The GOP will never call these things taxes, but they are, whether at the state level, or the county level for such things like driver’s license and car registration renewals.

The only reason Texas has four new U.S. Representatives, and half the reason or more that Tricky Ricky can boast about “Rick Perry’s economic miracle,” is Hispanic growth in the state.

The Three Stooges want to shoot Texas in the foot for the future by insuring underfunded schools, which are likely to hurt bilingual Hispanic children a lot, and by rejecting Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, which could leave them and their parents hurt a lot, literally.

Beyond that, look at the other bullet points.

A Constitutional limit on spending? Why is it that it’s always Republicans who clamor for this horseshit, after accusing Democrats of “spend, spend, spend”? The GOP, again, wants to be rescued from its own rhetoric.

The small business exemption? Touched above under business/franchise tax.

Rainy Day fund? There’s a difference between prudence and hoarding.

Cut “unnecessary” government programs? The same type of GOP horseshit as in the first bullet point. The Three Stooges have controlled the governor’s mansion and both houses of the Legislature for approaching a decade now. And they still claim there’s “unnecessary” programs and agencies to be cut? This also ignores that most such agencies face mandatory sunset review on a regular basis.

Digital newspaper inserts — good or bad?

Short-term good, long-term bad? Or, the other way around? A growing consortium of newspapers is backing Wanderful Media, a company that creates digital versions of newspaper circular inserts. It is a way of looking to the future, to have a digital version of the grocery store and hardware store flyers online, yes. OTOH, in at least a certain percentage of digital readers, are they already going to or whatever anyway? And, as newspapers' complains over Valassis' deal with the USPS show, print circulars are still an important part of newspaper revenues, so ... if this leads retailers to abandon print circulars sooner rather than later, it could be a big issue.

I doubt this will come to non-daily papers any time soon, so no hurt there. And, bigger seven-days will still attract plenty of print-version circulars. Smaller dailies, though? At some point, retailers participating with Wanderful may make a take-it-or-leave-it digital-only offer to some of these papers, perhaps playing them against Valassis/Red Plum on mail-out versions of print circulars.

Especially if smartphone/tablet apps are next, this is another gift horse that may not pony up well for the longer term.

And, of course, there are other issues involved. One I can think of is, will these digital circulars get past ad-block extensions or not?