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Israel stations nuclear missile subs off Iran

By: Bilbo Tuesday June 1, 2010 9:15 am

I don’t have an awful lot to add to this, save for the fact that I find it absolutely terrifying.

Three German-built Israeli submarines equipped with nuclear cruise missiles are to be deployed in the Gulf near the Iranian coastline.

From: The Sunday Times Online: Israel stations nuclear missile subs off Iran


A little good news at least:

Egypt opens Gaza border following IDF raid on aid flotilla


Yves Smith: Schama: Are the Guillotines Being Sharpened

By: Bilbo Saturday May 22, 2010 9:38 am

Yves Smith, author of Econned, has published Schama: Are the Guillotines Being Sharpened? today (Saturday, May 22, 2010) on her economics blog. The article offers a summary of a Simon Schama piece that appeared in the Financial Times along with her comments thereon. Schama, a British historian and creator of the famed BBC series A History of Britain, warns that popular tempers are flaring in the western democracies as a result of the recent and ongoing financial crisis. I strongly recommend that anyone with even a passing interest read Yves’ full article.

Also, Yves points to a PDF file containing a series of absolutely fascinating slides used by Kate Pickett, Senior lecturer at the University of York during the April INET conference. Yves reproduces one of these (a scatter chart) entitled Health and Social Problems are Worse in More Unequal Countries. This is well worth examining, as are many of the other charts in the original PDF.

Balancing the California Budget

By: Bilbo Friday July 3, 2009 6:40 am

The Los Angeles Times has a javascript tool that lets you try your hand at balancing the California budget. It’s called: You balance the budget.

You can choose to implement a variety of tax increases and/or a selection of budget cuts. The budget cuts are divided into categories: Education, Human Services, Health, Law Enforcement, One-Time Fixes, State Workers, General Government, and Tax Increases. The tool gives you a general idea of what the impact of each of your choices is likely to be.

It’s an interesting exercise and worth a few minutes of playing around with. My first inclination was to implement all the relatively non-regressive and green tax increases. That got me better than half-way home, but it was pretty rough sledding after that. The trouble is that cuts of significant social consequence tend to garner only relatively meager savings.

Try your hand at it.

Update: Maybe a solution to the California crisis is at hand. I’m now seeing on Craig’s List an offer to buy an California state IOU at up to twice face value.

Update: California Controller John Chiang has said that the state with pay 3.75% interest on its IOUs (actually registered warrants). That’s

McCain Sanctimony on Iran

By: Bilbo Wednesday June 24, 2009 8:27 am

This morning Juan Cole makes a very good point concerning John McCain’s hand wringing over Obama’s position on the Iran situation. Emphasis added.

Moreover, very unfortunately, US politicians are no longer in a position to lecture other countries about their human rights. The kind of unlicensed, city-wide demonstrations being held in Tehran last week would not be allowed to be held in the United States. Senator John McCain led the charge against Obama for not having sufficiently intervened in Iran. At the Republican National Committee convention in St. Paul, 250 protesters were arrested shortly before John McCain took the podium. Most were innocent activists and even journalists. Amy Goodman and her staff were assaulted. In New York in 2004, ‘protest zones’ were assigned, and 1800 protesters were arrested, who have now been awarded civil damages by the courts. Spontaneous, city-wide demonstrations outside designated ‘protest zones’ would be illegal in New York City, apparently. In fact, the Republican National Committee has undertaken to pay for the cost of any lawsuits by wronged protesters, which many observers fear will make the police more aggressive, since they will know that their municipal authorities will not have to pay for civil damages.

The Future of Medical Care in the U.S.

By: Bilbo Thursday May 28, 2009 5:30 am

In his June 2009 New Yorker article, The Cost Conundrum: What a Texas town can teach us about health care, Atul Gawande (a surgeon himself) explores the reasons underlying the U.S.’s costly and dismal showing in the provision of health care. After talking with McAllen health providers he discovered,

The primary cause of McAllen’s extreme costs was, very simply, the across-the-board overuse of medicine.

But, why is this the case in McAllen and not in Rochester, MN? Gawande’s surprising conclusion may require the rethinking of everything we think we know about U.S. health care.

This is a must read for anyone concerned about the state of U.S. health care and its future.

Swine Flu: New York vs Texas

By: Bilbo Friday May 1, 2009 4:17 am

I was looking at the NYT Swine Flu tracking map this morning.

Multiple choice question: Which state is closer to Mexico?

a. New York
b. Texas

I thought it was Texas, but after examining the map I’m less sure. In New York the map reveals 50 confirmed cases, with 24 suspected. In Texas, it’s 26 and 0. This seems odd, to say the least.

Mrs. Bilbo and I can think of two possible reasons.Perhaps the New York people likely to have been infected are middle class students who have recently returned from vacations to Mexico. They have decent access to health care and readily seek out treatment when the are ill. Those more likely to be infected in Texas may be from the lower classes which do not have good access to medical treatment.

The other possibility if that public health service in New York is far better than that in Texas. We do know that New York has one of the premier public health services in the country, but we don’t know where Texas ranks.

It may well be a combination of these factors.

Pension Pain Begins

By: Bilbo Monday March 16, 2009 2:19 pm

Financial Armageddon quotes a Wall Street Journal piece on the pension timebomb. Municipal Pension Time Bomb Set to Go Off

The pain is about to start in Wisconsin. The state has an unusual policy of adjusting the amount of benefits paid based on the pension fund’s performance. Now, for the first time in 25 years, the majority of retirees will receive a benefit reduction. This month, Wisconsin officials said that beginning in May nearly 150,000 retirees will face at least a 2.1% decrease in benefits, after the pension fund had a 26% negative return in 2008.

About 35,000 of retirees who held a portion of their retirement savings in an optional fund that invests entirely in stocks will be hit harder. Depending on how much of their savings they earmarked for the all-stock fund, their overall retirement income could be cut by up to 40%, according to a spokeswoman for the State of Wisconsin Investment Board.

Emphasis added. As much as a 40% reduction for existing Wisconsin pensioners? Wow.

Pension Funds

By: Bilbo Tuesday March 3, 2009 11:17 am

Bloomberg’s David Evans has authored a disturbing piece on the state of public pension funds and their future prospects: Hidden Pension Fiasco May Foment Another $1 Trillion Bailout.

The article deals in some depth with questionable practices such as issuing pension bonds to cover up fund shortfalls. All too often, the assumptions that underly these bond issues are ludicrously optimistic.

The nation’s largest public pension fund, California Public Employees’ Retirement System, has been reporting an expected rate of return of 7.75 percent for the past eight years, and 8 percent before that [...]

Its annual return during the decade from Dec. 31, 1998, to Dec. 31, 2008, has been 3.32 percent, and last year, when markets tanked, it lost 27 percent.

The Chicago Transit Authority…

concluded it could borrow $1.9 billion, paying an interest rate of 6 percent to bondholders, and invest the proceeds to receive its expected rate of return of 8.75 percent. Such an annual return would add $52 million a year to bolster the fund. [...] Since the bond sale, the authority has held the money as cash, earning 2 percent.

In New Jersey…

While the state pays pension bondholders a fixed 7.64 percent interest rate, the fund has earned 4.8 percent annualized since