IMF still very critical of US banking and financial system

When I was reading CNN this morning, I came across a story regarding a strongly worded report from the International Monetary Fund, the Bretton-Woods financial organization that exists to foster international trade and monetary cooperation around the world that, while it noted some positives, noted a lot of negatives in the financial system of the United States.

Most troubling was the fact that the “Big Banks” noted in the 2010 report issued by the IMF have since “gotten bigger,” by absorbing or otherwise acquiring smaller banks. Indeed, it noted two prime examples in JPMorganChase and Wells Fargo, two powerhouse banks which got even larger as it acquired smaller banks during and after the Great Recession that weren’t able to do as well, further increasing their already behemoth sizes. Said the IMF: “Large and interconnected banks dominate the system even more than before.”

Further troubling was the Student Loan market, which has exploded since the Great Recession, tripling in size since 2005 to $1.2 Trillion, per CNNMoney. When one considers students who are drowning in student loan debt may not have a healthy enough debt-to-income ratio to acquire forms of credit, such as unsecured credit, automobiles or even mortgages, the threat to the economy in the future that could be developing becomes quite clear.

Further concern was that of the “shadow banking industry,” per CNNMoney as well, which is the more investment-based banking that includes hedge funds and big-money insurance companies, now account for more than 70% of assets, per the IMF. One major danger to this is that these organizations are not banks, and therefore, are not subject to the same laws and regulation that more “Main Street Banks” or even “Wall Street Banks” are subject to; which open the gates on possible threats to Main Street consumers.

Even moreover, was the detail that even though the Dodd-Frank Act is approaching its fifth anniversary, it’s largely not implemented. Dodd-Frank, often cited as the greatest overhaul in the American financial system since the Great Depression, included many consumer protections, particularly in the mortgage and credit industries.

While not necessarily stated in the IMF report, it does bear mentioning that the Volcker Rule, named for Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, was not included in the verbiage for Dodd-Frank, which would prohibit the trading of depositor monies with the [Main Street] Bank off of the Bank’s own accounts — like those on Wall Street Banks; one of the catalysts of the 2007 Great Recession, per his own words.

Further risks cited by the IMF were that of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the common names for the Federal National Mortgage Association and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, government-sponsored entities in the housing industry. The IMF has noted that because the government still has direct control of these entities, which creates fiscal risk, it noted.

So… have we made progress overall? Or do some of the new minuses subtract against the positives we’ve made, leaving us largely where we were several years ago?

Good question. I honestly don’t know. [weighs hands] Consumers have a lot of new protections compared to a decade ago, thanks largely to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and even in the mortgage industry’s new “Closing Disclosure,” which streamlines three closing documents into one document that makes things a little easier to understand — eliminating some paperwork, and eliminating three separate pieces of paperwork in favor of one.

Further Reading:

http://money.cnn.com/2015/07/07/investing/imf-warns-us-financial-risks/index.html

– http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/gfsr/

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Is Tenure important? Yes. Here’s why…

Tenure is one of the more controversial benefits offered to educators in the United States, in particular. Teachers who are “tenured” often are difficult to discipline constructively if they commit violations — even some severe violations.

But when examining the benefits, it becomes clear that Tenure is necessary for a classroom that is as little motivated by external politics as possible.

Consider the fact that Governors often appoint Regents to the University’s management board. This function allows the Governor to effectively control policy at a State school of learning, by and through his appointees to the Board of Regents. While this in and of itself doesn’t sound overly daunting, consider the following:

Consider an instructor teaching a course in a college the Governor appoints Regents to, and this instructor teaches philosophy contrary to the opinions of the Governor. The Governor finds this out, and wishes to see that this employee is somehow sanctioned; which he could theoretically do through his Regent appointees, because the Chief Executive of the State often has the power to “unappoint” individuals, as these individuals often serve at the pleasure of the Governor. The Regent could feel pressured to sanction the employee in some way, including not approving a new contract of which the employee is a part. Regardless of the issue, it gives one individual a LOT of power — that power being the Governor’s.

Without Tenure protections, teachers who teach “politically inconvenient” subjects or topics could find themselves in very serious trouble — and even fighting for their job. With this type of pressure in mind, is a teacher able to remain unbiased from external forces when building a lesson plan? Maybe so, maybe no.

Tenure helps deflect issues such as these — and allows the individual teacher to teach and conduct pedagogical methods or even politically or internally unpopular ideals, methods or philosophies, with a far diminished fear of retribution.  This allows the instructor to be influenced as little as possible by external forces, including shifting political views with the times, changes in administrative or executive leadership — both internal and external to the school, and other forces that drive education.

With these things in mind, what do you think?  Should teachers be as isolated as possible from forces outside the University or School System, or should they be directly held accountable — not the school?

I’ve always believed in holding the school accountable, so schools can error-correct themselves, particularly when it comes to more simple issues such as methodology, research or general practice.   [I’m not taking into account things such as gross dereliction, or showing up to work drunk, or other massive concerns where Tenure shouldn’t count as much, I’m assuming your average, every-day teacher].  Placing individual educators under the microscope of the public, or to forces outside the institution politicizes them — and that simple act causes a change in how the teacher will function, pure and simple.

Further Reading:

NYT: Tenure Firmly in Place, but Colleges Grow Wary of Lasting Commitments

Americans with Ebola Released From Hospital… But…

The fact that the Americans who contracted Ebola and returned to the United States for treatment — and have now been released from the hospital after apparently recovering should be a cause for celebration. We now have a potential cure for such a devastating disease.

However, there are those who have said that it took Americans to get sick to come up with a cure for the disease. To a point, that’s kinda true — however…

The Scientific Method

The Scientific Method

As a scientist myself [admittedly in my own crack-pot, not-yet-a-REAL-doctor, amateur, Emmett-Brown kinda way], there’s one thing drilled into the psyche of every scientist: be it a surgeon, a researcher, a social scientist or a biologist: the Scientific Method. “Real” research takes time, indeed, often a lifetime’s worth of testing, re-testing, hypothesizing, re-hypothesizing, failures, and successes, before the fruit can be borne. Indeed, Albert Einstein’s own “Great work” which he died writing, is still being written even now by his successors! [That being a revision of general relativity, essentially.]

It takes a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of effort to come up with true scientific data, particularly when it comes to that of real scientific progress, as opposed to an undergraduate paper being written the night before its due.

It *did* take Americans getting sick to get approval for the drug, “ZMapp” to be released, it would seem — but… it’s still untested. Its side effects, if any, are unknown. Could Ebola be completely wiped out of the body by the drug? Or, could the treatment be similar to how HIV is treated: where it can be functionally eliminated, but still “hide” in the body somewhere, and when treatment stops, the virus gains a foothold on you again. We simply don’t know.

The FDA’s “Compassionate Use” protocol allowed those who knew full-well the risks involved, indeed, scholars in the area themselves, to take part in treatment, knowing that further down the road could bring more problems. What if there is some side-effect that the medication has that winds up causing problems down the road? Could it be an unknown carcinogen? Could it degenerate the brain? That’s what painstaking research and the scientific method is all about — and that’s exactly why it takes years for drugs to be made available for everyone.

Is the system perfect? Of course not. Do “bad drugs” still slip through the system? Of course. But its BECAUSE of the system of test, re-test, test again, test repeating and re-testing the test results that people don’t die from new drugs every day. I herald the day that these people were allowed to go home and continue their recovery, indeed, I celebrate it — Ebola DIDN’T lose two of its most prominent soldiers fighting against it, and indeed, I’m willing to bet that these individuals may find a renewed determination in fighting this terrible disease because of their experience. But, it doesn’t mean that Americans get “preferential” treatment just-because. The rest of the world isn’t a petri dish for the American way of life. We care too — which is exactly why untested drugs don’t go to just “anyone.”

The Average American Taxpayer pays… WHAT?

If you’re a taxpayer in the United States, you may find it interesting how much you actually pay to businesses and other interests you already pay money to…

Thanks to some compiling by Moyers & Company, and a couple of other sources; I’ve put together a list:

– A policy analysis from the Cato Institute from 2012 shows that the United States Federal Government loses about $100 Billion a year to corporate subsidy, on everything from energy, to the food and housing industries.  With the methodology of 115 million families, that’s over $800 a year.

– The State and Local Governments themselves are different picture.  The New York Times ran an investigation that determined that State and Local (i.e., the County and City/Town level) gave on average $80 Billion.   That adds up to be almost $700 per year.

– Retirement Banking Fees are another hefty loss for taxpayers — on average costing over $350 per year; which assumes a 1% management fee per year of one’s retirement fund, and a middle-range percentile retirement fund amount as cited by the Economic Policy Institute was assumed to be about $35,000.

– A report by the International Monetary Fund reports that over $83 Billion winds up in interest payments on loans and banking.  That accounts to $722 per year.  A further sobering fact: the five wealthiest banks in the world, JPMorganChase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs account for THREE QUARTERS of these subsidies!

– Overpriced Medications were a surprise to me on this list — while the notion itself was not, the amount certainly was.  A study conducted by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that US drug patent monopolies raises the price of prescription medications in the US by over $270 Billion per year!  That translates to over $2000 per year.

– $870 per year goes to corporate tax subsidies, which total about $100 Billion per year, as mentioned by The Tax Foundation.  This includes everything from depreciation, and even experimental tax credits.

– Corporate Tax havens are a very serious problem.  Indeed, the US Public Interest Research Group found that the average taxpayer family paid $1231 per year to offset the losses by those [such as large banks and wealthy individuals] who offshore their monies to avoid taxation.

According to my calculations, that’s $4873 PER YEAR.  Almost five thousand dollars; assuming an average income of about $50,000.

Consider these numbers, when one looks at what they pay out for social programs:

The Examiner released some information in 2012 about what Americans pay in social programs, such things as Education, etc.  A complete list can be found at that link, but leaving out the costs of Defense [as the Military Contract Industry is another racket in and of itself…], the costs turned out to be LESS than $500 PER YEAR.  This accounts for everything including Veterans Benefits spending, Housing, SSI, and even things like our contributions to the Railroad Retirement Fund!

…who should you *really* be mad at when it comes to who can’t afford what?  Where *IS* the “Big Government,” really?  I’ll let you decide.

I freely admit, I’ve abridged *some* information — mostly, related to Defense in Social Spending, but that, to me, doesn’t count…  and even then, admittedly, is only another $250 per year.  I also admit, I rounded *UP* on those figures — so the *actual* costs for Social Programs, are ACTUALLY a little lower.   But I’m a fair guy.

All of a sudden, the political cartoon above isn’t so ridiculous, is it?

I want to especially thank Moyers & Co., and Paul Buchheit for their work on compiling some of this data.

For Behold: The power of political incumbency?

Cynthia Brim, a Cook County, Illinois judge was suspended in 2012, after a series of bizarre incidents wound up having her declared “legally insane.”

cynthia-brim

Judge Cynthia Brim

While the board investigating this incident (a panel made of two judges and two civilians) continue to investigate and determine her plausibility to stay on the bench, not only is she continuing to collect her nearly $200,000 a year salary while on suspension — she’s since won RE-election to the bench.

Reportedly having been hospitalized for mental-related illnesses nine times since 1994, including after having gone catatonic during an official proceeding, the major problem came after she assaulted two Deputy Sheriffs; one was struck by her, and another was thrown a set of keys in an allegedly dangerous manner.

While her case continues to be evaluated, she continues to serve as a suspended judge — meaning she takes no cases, but receives all the pay and honors of a member of the bench; and indeed, has since been RE-elected.

Does this say something about the power of political incumbency?   I encourage you to do your own research and find out.

China shields North Korea from reports, citing them “divorced from reality.”

Having not posted recently, I figured this was as good a topic as any to cover…

The People’s Republic of China, through its representative in China’s Mission in Geneva, said of a UN Report on Human Rights abuses in North Korea; that the reports of Human Rights abuses in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are “divorced from reality,” placing themselves in the way as a shield to the atrocities reported of North Korea, particularly their prison camps.

The report itself, made by a panel of jurists commissioned by the United Nations, specifically pointed to reports from political prison camps; and indeed, by those fortunate few who have escaped and are able to give eyewitness [and, further, often physical evidence] accounts to the regimes tactics of political imprisonment.

The government of the DPRK has stated that the reports are “a fabrication by hostile forces,” the standard-issue rhetoric when North Korea speaks in relation to critical statements made of it.

By Beijing’s willful “shielding” of North Korea’s human rights abuses, it makes one wonder if they may not take further action to shield their ally — and how far they may go to do so.

Further Reading:
UN Report on North Korean Human Rights

Russian Military lands in Ukraine… What now?

The Ukrainian President has been removed from office.

Former Prime Minister [and oligarch?] Yulia Tymoshenko has been released from prison.

…and Russia has begun an armed invasion.

Those are the images seen from the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula today — Russian Spetsnaz gunships landing in civilian airports, Russian soldiers crossing the border on foot, and reports of telecommunications sabotage.

These events happening in just a matter of hours all begs the question: what’s next for the former Soviet republic?

Eurasian Union compared to the European Union

Eurasian Union compared to the European Union

With the so-called Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, as well as Russian Chairman President Vladimir Putin’s brainchild of the Eurasian Union, which is billed as an European Union-answer to post-Soviet states; to which its own stated policy seems to be more a 21st century answer to the USSR than another EU — this apparent military takeover of a pro-West/pro-European Union nation seems to be more a politically self-serving move for Putin than an allied military entering to assist a nation to restore order.

General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Commander of NATO

General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Commander of NATO

Former NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark states this is “an armed invasion.”  Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UN has said that his nation is prepared to defend itself, and urged the UN to support it.  This isn’t a nation who’s “friend” is entering to “assist” the government in Kiev.

So… what now?

Former Ukraine PM released from prison, a new beginning?

The embattled former Ukrainian Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, was released from prison in the middle of what appears to be a monumental shift in government in the former Soviet republic.

A stark contrast from her usual publicity photos pre-prison, the wheelchair-bound former head of government broke down in tears when she announced that her countrymen were “heroes, [and are] the best of Ukraine.”

No stranger to political revolution, the then-recently defended Ph.D. student was instrumental in bringing about the Orange Revolution, a political shift that brought her and her political coalition, “Bloc Yulia,” to power in Ukraine, becoming Prime Minister, and Forbes-rated third most powerful woman in the world, behind then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Communist China’s Vice Premier Wu Yi.

With the release of Tymoshenko, the sitting President’s effective political enemy, does this signal a true shift of power within the former Soviet state; or just a simple placation move while the President figures out his next move from a Russia-bordering stronghold?

An upcoming Constitutional Crisis… Same-sex Marriage.

I had an exam in a State and Local Government class where we were asked about the “Full Faith and Credit Clause” of the United States Constitution.  I see a very big crisis coming in the future with Article IV here, very soon…  What do you think? Continue reading

Fukushima First Responders beginning to get sick…

Sea Hawk prepares to depart USS Ronald Reagan ...

Sea Hawk prepares to depart USS Ronald Reagan to deliver supplies to Japan. (Photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery)

First responders to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown have begun exhibiting symptoms, illnesses and sicknesses that are tied to severe radiation exposure very recently — and not just Japanese and likely others, but US Naval first responders, as well.

More than 100 US military service members joined a lawsuit against the owner of the nuclear plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, also known as TEPCO, stating that the exposure they received, which was deemed as safe by both TEPCO and the Japanese government was indeed, NOT safe.

Indeed, one female enlisted sailor aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, that spent roughly a month assisting efforts off the coast of Japan, stated that recently, her menstrual cycle has gone awry, causing excessive bleeding and has also received a recent diagnosis of asthma.  Further, another sailor complains of lumps in his skin and in his jaw, along with stomach ulcers and unusual weight and hair loss.  Frighteningly, when he was tested for radiation exposure after being on the deck of the vessel, the Geiger counter “went crazy” when it scanned his hands — as he was the sailor who lowered the American flag that was given to the Japanese people as a gesture of friendship.  Having been flying during the disaster, it was likely the flag and rope were highly contaminated with radiation.

This having been said, I’m interested to know why the mainstream media isn’t covering this heavily, in America.  I find it very interesting, actually.