Blogs

Video: Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Zero"

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 4:50 PM EDT


Commenters raked me over the coals last week for daring to give a lukewarm review to the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album, the electro-inflected It's Blitz, so I figured I'd make it up to them by posting the just-released video for lead single "Zero." The driving, new wave-y track is a highlight of the album, for sure, and the video is worth watching just to see Karen O get all spiffied up in her spiked gloves, plastic dress and leather jacket and then go all Chrissie Hynde on top of a car. By the way, apparently due to the wide availability of the album's early internet leak, the official digital release of It's Blitz has been moved up from April 13 to tomorrow. Other reviews, by the way, have been slightly more positive than mine: while I was kind of in the 6/10 zone, Paste gives the album 72/100, and The Observer hopes it will catapult the band into "the big leagues." I'm totally down with that.

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Andrew Cuomo is Still Mad at Bank of America for Taking Your Money

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 3:44 PM EDT

The tireless Andrew Cuomo, current attorney general (and perhaps future governor) of New York, is still very upset with Bank of America. Last month, Cuomo sent a sternly-worded letter to the troubled banking giant, asking why Merrill Lynch, which it bought last year with the help of $20 billion in taxpayer money, doled out $3.6 billion in bonuses before revealing that it lost $15.31 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008. (Bank of America later received a further $25 billion in TARP funds.) Since his last letter didn't get the results he wanted, Cuomo and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) have written a new one (PDF) demanding the names of the 700 employees that Merrill made into millionaires just weeks before announcing some of the worst corporate results in history. They write:

Detroit, Home of a New American Dream

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 3:37 PM EDT

A while back, I placed my tongue squarely in cheek and suggested that people buy second homes in Detroit, where the average price of a house is now just $7,500.

Well, it's actually happening. In fact, opportunistic couples are buying up entire blocks and turning them into little urban oases. From the New York Times, via Ryan Avent:

A local couple, Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert, started the ball rolling. An artist and an architect, they recently became the proud owners of a one-bedroom house in East Detroit for just $1,900. Buying it wasn’t the craziest idea. The neighborhood is almost, sort of, half-decent. Yes, the occasional crack addict still commutes in from the suburbs but a large, stable Bangladeshi community has also been moving in.

So what did $1,900 buy? The run-down bungalow had already been stripped of its appliances and wiring by the city’s voracious scrappers. But for Mitch that only added to its appeal, because he now had the opportunity to renovate it with solar heating, solar electricity and low-cost, high-efficiency appliances.

Buying that first house had a snowball effect. Almost immediately, Mitch and Gina bought two adjacent lots for even less and, with the help of friends and local youngsters, dug in a garden. Then they bought the house next door for $500, reselling it to a pair of local artists for a $50 profit. When they heard about the $100 place down the street, they called their friends Jon and Sarah.

"Detroit right now is just this vast, enormous canvas where anything imaginable can be accomplished," says the Times author, Toby Barlow. "In a way, a strange, new American dream can be found here, amid the crumbling, semi-majestic ruins of a half-century’s industrial decline." I find this fascinating. Politicians talk all the time about the ingenuity and resilience of the American people. We all know that rhetoric can feel empty at times. But as this country begins its climb out of this recession, real life examples of that fighting spirit will abound. And the places that were hit the hardest will and already are seeing them first.

Climate Change Skeptics Meet [Insert Hot-Air Joke Here]

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 3:30 PM EDT
The skeptics are coming to town! As the NY Times reports today, 600 climate-change deniers are currently holed up in a hotel in New York City for the International Conference on Climate Change. The conference's organizers? None other than the conservative Chicago-based think tank The Heartland Institute, of Exxon-Mobil funding fame (as Mother Jones reported in 2005.)

Heartland Institute president Joseph L. Bast has posted his opening remarks on the institute's website. The basic message? We ARE NOT a fringe movement:
These scientists and economists have been published thousands of times in the world’s leading scientific journals and have written hundreds of books. If you call this the fringe, where’s the center?
Hey Jim Martin, does this look like a phone booth to you?
Hey RealClimate, can you hear us now?
The skeptic doth protest too much, methinks.

The Chimps are Weaponizing

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 2:31 PM EDT

Seriously, folks, get your shotguns. Chimpanzees, which are like humans but way more willing to rip out your throat, reportedly have the ability to create and stockpile weapons. It's only a matter of time until Dr. Zaius rules us all.

Chimps have long been known to stockpile food, but a 30-year-old chimp named Santino is making news because he does far more: he finds stones in his Swedish zoo home, smashes them into throwable size, and then stores them in caches that face the viewing area on the edge of his enclosure. When tourists show up, he lets fly, throwing up to 20 rocks in rapid succession and sometimes hitting visitors standing 30 feet away across a water-filled moat. When no rocks are available for his villainy, Santino hacks chunks of concrete off the artificial boulders in his pen and assaults humans using those.

We have a super-ape on our hands, people. And frankly, I don't think this is going to help:

In order to decrease his agitation, which was fueled in part by high testosterone levels characteristic of dominant males, the animal was castrated last fall.

No video of Santino's (premeditated) war on mankind appears to be available, despite the fact that it would be the most successful YouTube video of all time.

Military Health, Face Transplant Edition

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 2:09 PM EDT
Army Times, always a fascinating read, has a beguiling little item today on face transplants, a medical procedure well on its way to becoming military sci-fact. This quote's from Col. Robert Vandre, project director at the Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine:
"You wouldn’t want like a black person to have a white person's hands, that would look weird. You wouldn’t want really hairy hands on a non-hairy person or vice versa. I guess you could wear long sleeves. The face, if you just get the skin and muscles you won’t look like the person who donated, but if you get the bones and the muscles and the skin, essentially you’re going to look like the donor," Vandre said.

Kudos for candor, but how many face and hand donors are they expecting to choose from, exactly?

Read the article, then read this one, then go here for a creepy robot video chaser.

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The Fine Print

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 1:21 PM EDT
Is AHIP, a health insurance trade group, really in favor of universal healthcare?  They say they've had a change of heart and now support the idea, but Michael Hiltzik is skeptical:

As a connoisseur of health insurance lobbying practices, however, I withheld judgment until I could scan the fine print. What I found by reading AHIP’s 16-page policy brochure was that its position hadn't changed at all. Its version of "reform" comprises the same wish list that the industry has been pushing for decades.

Briefly, the industry wants the government to assume the cost of treating the sickest, and therefore most expensive, Americans. It wants the government to clamp down hard on doctors' and hospitals' fees. And it wants permission to offer stripped-down, low-benefit policies freed from pesky state regulations limiting their premiums.

As for universal coverage, which is the goal of many reformers (if not yet the Obama administration), the industry will accept a government mandate to take on all customers, as long as all Americans are required by law to buy coverage.

Who wouldn't love a deal like that?  Just like Coca-Cola would be delighted with a government mandate that it sell cans of Coke to all comers in return for a government law requiring everyone to buy cans of Coke.  Ka-ching!

But Ron Brownstein says that AHIP's members might be willing to compromise here, promising not only to insure all comers, but to do it at a fair price.  Not the exact same price for everyone, but close:

[AHIP's Karen Ignani] suggested an arrangement in which insurers and the government in effect would divide the cost of insuring the biggest risks through a combination of rating reform and public subsidies. "You have to think about the ratings and the subsidy in tandem," she argued. For instance, she noted, a pure form of community rating — in which everyone is charged the same premium regardless of their age or health status — would substantially increase rates on young healthy families (while reducing them on older or sicker people). In that instance, "you might decide well then we could subsidize those [young] individuals to cushion that," she said. Alternately, she said, you might allow insurers to vary rates somewhat based on age, but use subsidies to ensure that say, "nobody over 55 would have to pay more than 10 per cent of income" for premiums — as California did in its reform. More details on the issue are coming: "You will hear a great deal from us soon about rating," she said.

This all comes via Ezra Klein, who thinks it's quite possible that insurers are serious about this.  Unfortunately, he also argues that this is the easy part of a healthcare deal: the hard part is dealing with pharma, doctors, and hospitals.  Details here.

Atheists Rising?

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 1:21 PM EDT

An interesting paragraph from a USA Today article on the declining number of self-identifying Christians in America:

So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, "the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion," the [American Religious Identification Survey] report concludes.

Time for the atheists lobby to issue a press release. Thing is, no matter how numerous atheists get in this country, they will never match the Religious Right. The members of the evangelical community believe passionately in their faith, and want to see it flourish in America. Some atheists are equally passionate about their non-belief, but I think it's the nature of atheism that many of its adherents simply say "meh" when it comes to religion. Not the attitude you need if you want to be a political power.

The Great Recession

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 12:31 PM EDT
From the World Bank:

The global economy is likely to shrink this year for the first time since World War Two, with growth at least 5 percentage points below potential. World Bank forecasts show that global industrial production by the middle of 2009 could be as much as 15 percent lower than levels in 2008. World trade is on track in 2009 to record its largest decline in 80 years, with the sharpest losses in East Asia.

The Republican response to this, apparently, is that the U.S. government should "go on a diet."  Words fail.

The Contagion Effect

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 11:49 AM EDT
One of Ezra Klein's readers argues that there are some practical problems to nationalization that its supporters haven't addressed.  One of them is the contagion effect:

Take JPMorgan Chase, for example....It continues to operate from a position of relative strength, meeting capital requirements, and it still has a significant market capitalization. Yet it has also taken TARP money. Should JPMorgan Chase be nationalized in this scenario? If you say yes, why?....And what do you do when you seize JPMorgan Chase? Do you keep management, which did better than just about anybody else? Or get rid of them? Do you really think you’re going to find a better CEO than Jamie Dimon?

....And if you say no, let them stay private, consider the fate of this bank if other large banks are nationalized. Investors would flee the stock, fearing it was next. Short sellers would pummel the stock. The company would face a difficult time raising capital. Business customers would flee to government-owned banks. It would be, as Blinder argues, just a matter of time.

This is a real issue, but there's also a fairly straightforward answer: do all the nationalizations at once.  The Treasury Department is already moving ahead with its "stress tests" of large banks, and if they chose to, these tests could be used to decide which banks need to be nationalized and which ones don't.  Then, once the tests are done, the findings are announced at a stroke.  Banks A, B, and C are being taken over.  Everyone else gets a clean bill of health.

If anything, this would help banks like JPMorgan (assuming they passed the stress test, of course).  After all, investors are fleeing bank stocks already, and a firm statement of who's healthy and who's not would give investors some basis for thinking that the healthy banks really are healthy and aren't going to be taken over.  Business customers would also be reassured, and the Fed has made money so cheap, and set up so many term lending facilities in the past year, that non-nationalized banks would almost certainly compete on an equal footing with the banks that are government owned.  That's how it worked in Sweden, where two banks were nationalized during their banking crisis without bringing down the others.

There are plenty of technical and operational issues with nationalizing gigantic banks, but the contagion argument strikes me as one that can be addressed fairly effectively.  If the tests are seen as fair, and the results are announced all at once, the system will not only survive, it's likely to be strengthened.