• Chinese Investors Are Discovering the Joys of Structured Products

    The good old days are back. In China, anyway:

    Structured deposits offer higher returns than regular savings accounts and are tied to bets on assets from currencies to gold. They have been around for years, but the sums outstanding have soared recently. In July they stood at a record 9.71 trillion yuan ($1.42 trillion), up 52% in a year, according to data provider Wind.

    ….The investments are a form of structured product. In the U.S., this broader asset class enjoyed solid growth until the global financial crisis, when products issued by Lehman Brothers suffered steep losses. In 2013, the Securities and Exchange Commission introduced stricter disclosure requirements for structured notes, bonds that contain a derivative component.

    ….However, many of these structured deposits in China have structures where the terms are “set so far off that investors can almost always get the advertised maximum return,” says Ms. Wan at Moody’s. In a 91-day product recently marketed by Weihai Blue Ocean Bank, the small lender from eastern Shandong province offered the equivalent of 5.28% a year if gold prices in London, now around $1,183 per ounce, stay between $300 and $2,200. If not, customers will receive 1.65%.

    What could go wrong?

  • New Yorker: Trump Wanted to End Obama’s Intel Briefings

    Ting Shen/Xinhua via ZUMA

    Um, wtf?

    A turning point for Brennan was a tweet from the President on March 4, 2017, in which Trump falsely claimed, “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

    At the time, some of Trump’s most fervent supporters in the White House saw former Obama Administration officials as powerful enemies who threatened the new President’s rule, and they agitated for punishing them by revoking their security clearances. The idea was rebuffed by the national-security adviser at the time, H. R. McMaster, who signed a memo extending the clearances of his predecessors at the N.S.C., Republicans and Democrats alike. As Trump stepped up his public and private attacks on Obama, some of the new President’s advisers thought that he should take the extraordinary step of denying Obama himself access to intelligence briefings that were made available to all of his living predecessors. Trump was told about the importance of keeping former Presidents, who frequently met with foreign leaders, informed. In the end, Trump decided not to exclude Obama, at the urging of McMaster.

    How is it that no matter how much a lowlife I think Trump is, somehow he always manages to find a way to surprise me anyway?

    I know this will never happen, but man, what I wouldn’t give for Obama to decide the hell with it and just start whaling away on Trump every day. You want rallies? Obama will have bigger ones. You want insults? Obama will have sharper ones. You want golf? Maybe Obama should buy his own chain of golf courses.

    I guess this won’t happen. But a guy can dream.

  • Enough With the Straws, OK?

    Image Source/ZUMAPRESS

    What’s the deal, Kevin? One stupid Yeezy post in the morning and then a crappy astronomy picture for lunch? Are you feeling well?

    As it happens, no, I’m not. This whole evil dex thing is turning into a real pain in the ass. Really, I ought to be fine by today, but instead I wrote one stupid Yeezy post and then…fell asleep. I woke up around lunchtime. What’s up with that? Probably nothing: just like last time, the effects of the chemo get steadily more pronounced every month, and that goes for the dex too. I’m in my 13th week of dex, which is nearly the entire length of my first round of chemo (16 weeks), so it’s not surprising that it’s now hitting harder than it did back in June. And there’s 16 more weeks to go! Exciting!

    On the bright side, sleepiness is the only really serious side effect so far, and that’s pretty far from the biggest deal in the world. What’s more, my M-protein level almost set a new record low last week, and I expect to plummet past my all-time record of 0.30 this week. So at least this regimen is having a vigorous effect on the cancer.

    But that’s not all. Is it just me, or has the news been unusually tedious lately? The Catholic Church is corrupt. Donald Trump is corrupt. Trump’s lawyers are idiots. We still haven’t won the war in Afghanistan. Etc etc. Meh.

    What to do? For the moment, I’ll highlight a trivial story that will nonetheless probably piss off a whole bunch of you:

    The California Senate on Monday approved legislation barring dine-in restaurants from offering plastic straws to customers unless they are requested….The measure exempts fast-food restaurants and other businesses.

    “This bill is the last straw,” Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) said. “This is a first step to the total banning of plastic straws. To me it almost looks silly. I think the negative consequences [of straws] are a bit overstated.”…But Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) said the proposal will help educate the public about the environmental hazard of plastics that are not biodegradable. “Let the consumer request it if they want it,” he said.

    Here’s what’s going to piss you off: I agree with the Republicans about this. California is too full of performative legislation that’s designed to make some point or other but is almost certain to have no actual effect. I’d prefer that folks pick a career and stick to it. If you want to be a performer, go to Hollywood. If you want to be a politician, propose legislation that actually accomplishes something. How about a plastic packaging tax, similar to what France is doing? If that’s not enough, go bigger. But whatever you do, make it something that delivers real results, not just a pat-on-the-back for getting on board with the fad of the week.

    FOR THE RECORD: In case you’re curious, I don’t care one way or the other about straws. I’m perfectly content to drink my sugary swill with or without straws, so this legislation has no personal effect on me at all.

  • Lunchtime Photo

    This picture is a lousy example of night-sky photography. There’s a ton of haze still in the skies around here from the fires, and it was enough to ruin even a 10-second exposure. I never bothered mounting the equatorial drive for a longer exposure, since it would have been pointless.

    But! This picture does have something that none of my others have: a cat keeping careful watch over the Milky Way. As it should. And that’s why this is today’s lunchtime photo.

  • Kanye West Wore Slippers This Weekend

    Over the weekend, rapper 2 Chainz staged a $300,000 wedding:

    But it was quickly upstaged by Kanye West, who arrived in a pair of slip-on sandals that were oddly undersized for his feet. The gray slides, described by some Twitter users as resembling orthopedic shoes, were so small that his heels dangled over the edge. West paired them with a mint green Louis Vuitton suit that he wore without a shirt and, in true Miami retiree style, light-colored socks.

    Like many things that West does, the sandals quickly became a source of debate.

    Behold Western civilization, once a shimmering blue and green lagoon for the likes of Ovid and Euclid and Shakespeare, now a fetid cesspool for Kanye West and Donald Trump. I feel so proud.

  • Most Republicans Have Electoral Amnesia About Their Tax Bill—But Not the Rich Ones

    The Republican tax cut may not be very popular with all the working schmoes who were conned into supporting it, but it sure is popular with zillionaires. And they’re planning to say “Thanks!” this election season:

    Billionaires and corporations that reaped millions of dollars in tax cuts are pumping some of that windfall into the Congressional Leadership Fund, a “super PAC” closely aligned with Speaker Paul D. Ryan….The fund’s donors include the casino magnate, Sheldon Adelson, who has given $30 million, and whose company, Las Vegas Sands, reported a nearly $700 million windfall from the tax law earlier this year; Timothy Mellon, chairman and majority owner of Pan Am Systems, a privately held collection of companies that includes rail, aviation and marketing services, who has contributed $24 million; Valero Services, a Texas oil refining company that reported a $1.9 billion benefit from tax cuts in the first quarter, and which has given $1.5 million; and a collection of other corporations, executives and financial fund managers.

    Needless to say, the Congressional Leadership Fund is not using this money to talk about tax cuts for millionaires. They’re using it to scare the rubes yet again with hordes of illegal immigrants; Nancy Pelosi turning American into a socialist hellhole; crime waves overtaking peaceful towns; Nancy Pelosi; profane black rappers; outsourcing jobs to China; and Nancy Pelosi.

    And why not just tout the tax bill that they’re so proud of instead? This is why:

  • Codetermination? Why Not Just Powerful Unions Instead?

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren thinks big corporations have too much power, so next week she’ll be introducing new legislation to address that:

    That’s where my bill comes in. The Accountable Capitalism Act restores the idea that giant American corporations should look out for American interests. Corporations with more than $1 billion in annual revenue would be required to get a federal corporate charter. The new charter requires corporate directors to consider the interests of all major corporate stakeholders—not only shareholders—in company decisions. Shareholders could sue if they believed directors weren’t fulfilling those obligations.

    This approach follows the “benefit corporation” model, which gives businesses fiduciary responsibilities beyond their shareholders….My bill also would give workers a stronger voice in corporate decision-making at large companies. Employees would elect at least 40% of directors.

    Warren’s basic idea is that workers have lost power over the past few decades and therefore have seen sluggish wage growth. At the same time, this has allowed management and shareholders to pocket the rising profits of corporations since they don’t have to fight workers for a bigger share. She’s certainly right about that. Labor and management shares of income vary a bit during booms and recesssions, but the overall trend since the Reagan era is crystal clear:

    But here’s the thing I don’t get. Warren’s theory is that this has happened largely because workers have lost negotiating power over the past four decades. Even conservatives, I think, wouldn’t argue too strongly against this notion. It’s pretty plain that the demise of unions has stripped workers of wage bargaining power and this has reduced their ability to claim the same share of overall corporate income that they used to.

    But if that’s the case, why introduce a bill that primarily changes the composition of corporate boards? My objection isn’t that it won’t work. It might. But we know that making it easier for workers to unionize would work, and Republicans will fight just as hard against one as the other. So why choose an oddball proposal that sounds European and vaguely socialist even to the American working class?

    Why not instead propose a truly simple and powerful proposal to boost unionization throughout the American economy? If your goal is to increase the power of the working class, this is the way to do it. It’s been done in America before, notably during the “Golden Age” of the 40s and 50s when America was supposedly greater than it is now. It produced a strong economy. It didn’t pauperize the rich. It’s easy for workers to understand. And you’re going to need a Democratic president and 60 Democratic senators to pass it, just like Warren’s bill. If the Democratic Party is ready for Warren’s new idea, it’s ready for my old idea. What’s not to like?

  • Friday Cat Blogging – 17 August 2018

    Here is Hopper staring intently at some feathers on the end of a stick. They will soon attack her and she will have her revenge.

    Next week: Friday dachshund blogging!

  • Heckuva Job, Stevie

    Ryan Zinke, man of science.Lou Maheda/Planet Pix via ZUMA

    The Guardian reports that all climate science at the Department of the Interior is now being reviewed by an old pal of Secretary Ryan Zinke:

    Prominent US climate scientists have told the Guardian that the Trump administration is holding up research funding as their projects undergo an unprecedented political review by the high-school football teammate of the US interior secretary.

    Oh, come on. Just because the guy used to play high-school ball with Zinke doesn’t make his PhD in geophysics worth less than anyone else’s. We should probably cut him some—

    Steve Howke, one of Zinke’s high-school football teammates, oversees this review. Howke’s highest degree is a bachelor’s in business administration. Until Zinke appointed him as an interior department senior adviser to the acting assistant secretary of policy, management and budget, Howke had spent his entire career working in credit unions.


  • Trump Planning Revenge on Bruce Ohr Just Because He Can

    From the Washington Post:

    BREAKING NEWS: Trump says he plans to revoke security clearance for Justice Department official Bruce Ohr “very quickly”

    Bruce Ohr used to be an associate deputy attorney general and presumably still has a job at that level—although DOJ refuses to say exactly what he does. It’s likely that he can’t operate without security clearance, which means that Trump is basically firing him from his current job. Maybe demoting him too, since I’m not sure anyone at that level can operate without security clearance.

    Trump clearly has no excuse for this except for his threadbare theories about the involvement of Ohr and his “beautiful wife” in the FBI’s Russia investigation. Ohr was in occasional contact with Christopher Steele of “Steele dossier” fame during 2016 and 2017, thanks to the fact that he already knew Steele because they had both worked on organized crime issues. Beyond that, it’s not clear that he did much of anything since the FBI was aware of the Steele dossier well before Steele ever mentioned it to Ohr.

    But it doesn’t matter. Trump is obsessed with him and considers him an enemy to be retaliated against. Will any Republican complain about this?¹ Or will they just shrug as usual? I guess my money is on shrug as usual.

    That is, any Republican actually running for office in November.