Monthly Archives: February 2009

IRL is on Twitter

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has a Twitter account.

I still think that I have enough distractions in my life.

Posted in Politics: FL-18 | Leave a comment

UM Student Running Florida Bar’s LSD

No, not what you're thinking. Actually 2L Madeleine Mannello just got elected as the first President of the Florida Bar's new Law Student Division. Here's the official announcement:

Last week, second-year UM Law student Madeleine “Mady” Mannello was elected president of the Florida Bar's newly-established Law Student Division (LSD). Mannello was elected by representatives from 10 Florida law schools.

A South Florida native of Ft. Lauderdale, Mannello came to the Law School after earning her Bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Florida. She is fluent in Italian, and volunteers with several student organizations at UM Law including the Environmental Law Society, where she is vice-president of events and programming; and the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center, where she co-founded a domestic violence initiative and works with Books & Buddies. Mannello is also a notary public and a soon-to-be-certified fitness instructor. With interests in political activism and human rights issues, Mannello plans to go into human and civil rights work.

We have great students!

Posted in Law School | Leave a comment

The Speeches

It's difficult to resist using the difference between President Obama's oration and Gov. Jindal's baby-talk sing-song of a presentation as metaphors for the state of the debate between the two parties.

No, I can't resist.

The President's speech was a return to the virtues that served him so well on the campaign trail. It was meaty. It inspired. It contained the outlines – vague outlines, but outlines nonetheless discernible – of a complex program whose goals and motives were explained to an attentive public in sentences with a reading level well in excess of junior high school. There was much to quibble with – the assertion that the US invented the car, the equally dubious claim that Social Security has problems in any way comparable to the other crises addressed to name but two – but there was even more to look forward to.

Contrast the GOP's spokesperson, so-called rising star Gov. Bobby Jindal. He spoke in sentences that clocked in at a grade-school level, the speed of delivery was lugubrious, or perhaps aimed at the part of the audience that processes the occasional polysyllable rather slowly. And the ideas, to the extent there were any (spend less money, government is bad) were rather simplistic too. He insulted our intelligence, or rather, assumed we didn't have any to insult. The contrast to Obama was stark, and unflattering.

After the initial shock wore off – the first returns for Jindal were bad even on Fox – the GOP noise machine swung into action, and revved up the line that Obama's policies were a 'spending fiesta' full of 'pork' that will pass uncountable debt on to our grandchildren (Jindal's soundbite was something like 'things we do not need and cannot afford'). I can understand a party and its propaganda arm betting that voters have never heard of Keynes, or are instinctive believers in the long discredited 'Treasury View' of macroeconomics. But can it also count on voters forgetting where much of current deficit came from (Bush and the GOP)? Or where it went (rich taxpayers' pockets, Haliburton)?

At present there are genuine reasons why an intelligent person might disagree with the President's ambitious, expensive, and (at present) somewhat formless plans for a revolution in energy, health care, and education. But are there any reasons — other than naked self-interest on the part of taxpayers making over $250,000 who might genuinely reason that the GOP will save them money (at least in the short term, before the dollar crashes were their policies to actually be implemented) — why an intelligent person would agree with the party of Jindal, McConnell, and Cantor?

One of the truest political maxims is that you can't beat something with nothing. Until it regroups and finds something to be for, the party of Jindal will learn the power of that maxim.

Posted in Politics: US | 8 Comments

Wow! MDPLS Does Wowbrary

The good folks at the Miami-Dade Public Library System not only have a great online web-based catalog, but they are participants in the Wowbrary project to provide RSS feeds of new acquisitions by topic.

Check out the RSS Feeds for the Miami-Dade Public Library. They also have similar feeds for many other libraries around the US.

Miami is indeed erratic about providing quality public services — but the public library system is one of our hidden treasures.

Posted in Miami | 1 Comment

Ed Hasbrouck Takes on Amex Over its New Robocall Policy

Ed Hasbrouck, aka The Practical Nomad, blogs an Urgent warning to American Express cardholders:

If you have an American Express card, you need to take action now: Unless you cancel your card and close your account, or unless AmEx is persuaded to withdraw changes it has announced (effective 2 April 2009) to the terms of its agreement with cardholders, you will be deemed to have given your consent to receive calls including robocalls, and SMS text messages, from AmEx, in perpetuity, at any number you ever use to contact AmEx, including cell phones. That could be costly, damaging to your relationships with friends, family, and business associates whose phones you might need to use to call AmEx in an emergency, and put you in severe danger of having your information broadcast to strangers (if, for example, a robocall plays a recorded message to the receptionist at a hotel where you've already checked out, or another guest at the direct-dial number for the the room that you had once stayed in).

Before ATM's were so widespread, I used to recommend carrying an American Express card as a check-cashing card when travelling abroad. More recently, although their practices have prompted me to threaten to cancel my card, I've kept it as an emergency backup. This latest proposal, however, will definitely be the last straw for me if AmEx doesn't back down.

He also includes the full text of a great letter he sent Amex. I especially like this part:

I have an American Express card to use while travelling, primarily while travelling internationally. Of necessity, I use a variety of telephones and numbers to contact American Express while travelling, including telephones at the homes of friends and in the offices of business associates, friends’ mobile phones, hotel phones, and public phones. When I use my own mobile phone abroad, it is typically at an extremely high “international roaming” tariff.

Even if I were willing to agree to terms like these for myself, I have no authority to consent to have the friends, business associates, and others whose phones I use to contact you receive calls (including robocalls) and text messages – in perpetuity! — from you. Consent for such calls and text messages could come only from them. Were I to purport to consent on their behalf, as you have proposed, I would subject myself to potentially severe liability to them.

Because the phones I use while travelling typically are not my own, but are shared with and primarily used by other people, automated calls or text messages from you to those numbers are likely to be received by someone other than myself. As a result, such calls or messages are likely to result in the broadcasting of my personal information to third parties, and thus to facilitate invasion of privacy and identity theft. I cannot afford to take such a risk.

Return calls or text messages from you to the phone numbers I use while travelling could be prohibitively expensive to me (or to the third parties whose phones I have used). International roaming on a mobile phone often costs US$5/minute, sometimes more.

As we know from the DNS wars, Ed is tenacious.

Posted in Shopping | Leave a comment

Anatomy of a Panic

Scare talk from [ The Financial Ninja ]: Citigroup, Bank of America: Prisoner's Dilemma, Electronic Bank Runs and Nationalization.

Citigroup © declined 61% from a peak of $4.10 to an intraday low of $1.61 over just 10 trading days. Bluntly put: Citigroup is dead.

Bank of America (BAC) declined 64% from a peak of $7.05 to an intraday low of $2.53 over just 10 trading days. Bluntly put: Bank of America is dead.

Dead actually means dead. It is unlikely they can survive the weekend… and if they do, they most definitely cannot survive the week.

To some extent, talk like this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy…and sometimes market manipulation by short-sellers.

In any case, depositors are as safe as the FDIC. It's the shareholders, and the bondholders, who are at risk, perhaps deservedly so. Which is where the race to the bottom comes in:

The single largest investor in Citigroup is Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal. in November 2008 the Saudi prince increased his stake from 4% to 5%, investing an additional $350 million. In January of 2007, Citigroup had a market capitalization of more than $250 billion. As of Friday's close, the ENTIRE bank is worth about $10 billion. The Saudi prince is down 96% on his 4% stake. Put another way, his original stake was worth about $10 billion in January 2007. Today, he could buy the whole damn mess for the same amount. The prince must be absolutely livid over these developments.

The prince is very exposed to Citigroup. Not only is he an investor, he also does extensive business with the bank. The assets and debts of his financial empire flow through Citigroup in the course of normal business operations. Although his financial dealings are very secretive and opaque, it stands to reason that his advisors would insist he manage this risk. Being long the bank via his ownership stake AND conducting business with the bank is now just too risky. It is the equivalent of doubling up or more in terms of risk on the very same trade. If the bank fails, everything fails. His investment and his business exposures both get severely impaired SIMULTANEOUSLY.

Therefore, the only rational action the prince can take is to shift his business AWAY from Citigroup and towards more stable banks. First the most liquid assets, such as cash deposits would be electronically routed to safer banks. Less liquid assets held in trust from stocks to bonds would be next… all the way down to the least liquid or least transferable assets. Second the credit provided by Citigroup would be swapped out. The prince can't be certain that Citigroup will have the ability to honor the requirements as they come due. This would in fact be an electronic run on the bank.

The prince is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. The very action of reducing his exposure to Citigroup actually accelerates the death of the bank.

What interests me most about this is that it adds a foreign-relations dimension to the pressure on the Treasury to not just nationalize, but to do so in a way that benefits shareholders at the expense of taxpayers. But of course they could never say that.

Posted in Econ & Money: Mortgage Mess | Leave a comment