Thursday, March 3, 2011

Good News and Bad News on the Economy and Other Things

Let's see how broadly I can stretch the definition of "Good News" today. The weekly report of Initial Unemployment Claims was the lowest it has been since May of 2008:

There were 368,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week ended Feb. 26, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was down 20,000 from the week before, and the lowest since May 2008.

Economists surveyed by had expected initial claims to rise to 400,000 in the latest report.

The 4-week moving average of initial claims, which aims to smooth out volatility, also improved, falling to 388,500 from the previous week's revised average of 401,250. That's the lowest since July 2008.
Of course, this is before any of the threatened lay-offs due to federal and state budget cuts and the overall official unemployment rate is still stuck at 9% or higher so there are still roughly 15 million unemployed and 25 to 30 million un and underemployed.

Another bit of information in today's news that can be considered "good" news is from today's (Thursday March 3) NY Times is how the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Justice Department, Postal Inspectors, and 11 state Attorneys General had investigated, fined, and seized assets of firms preying on the unemployed:
The investigation focused on businesses that lured financially unsophisticated retirees and the unemployed with opportunities to start businesses or gain access to job listings, often with little personal effort but hefty upfront fees, the authorities said.


The commission announced more than 90 civil actions, including three lawsuits against companies the agency said defrauded consumers of more than $49.5 million. The F.T.C. said it had obtained judgments and levied fines totaling $14.6 million in six other cases.

The Justice Department said it had taken 48 criminal actions, most in conjunction with the Postal Inspection Service. In 36 criminal cases presented Wednesday, officials said there were 16 guilty pleas, three convictions and seven cease-and-desist orders. Nineteen sentences handed down to defendants total more than 56 years.
Now for the bad news. Apparently the 50 state attorneys general and the various banking regulators in Washington can't decide on what the level of slap-on-the-wrist punishment will least offend the banksters for all of their various financial frauds that helped destroy the global economy. Also from today's NY Times:
Even as state attorneys general and regulators in Washington approach the end of their investigation into abuses by the nation’s biggest mortgage companies, deep disputes are emerging over how much to punish the banks as well as exactly who should benefit from a settlement.

The newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is pushing for $20 billion or more in penalties, backed up by the attorneys general and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

But other regulators, including the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which oversees national banks, and the Federal Reserve, do not favor such a large fine, contending a small number of people were the victims of flawed foreclosure procedures.

As the negotiations grind on, there are signs that the banks still have not come to grips with the problems plaguing the foreclosure process. These problems burst into view last fall with accounts of so-called robo-signers processing thousands of foreclosures at a time without the required legal safeguards. The resulting furor prompted the attorneys general and other government officials to step in. Some banks suspended foreclosures to review their processes before resuming.
Trillions of dollars lost to the fraud of the banks, no criminal prosecutions or jail time (as was pointed out by Mr Charles Ferguson at the Oscars Sunday evening) and the banks and financial industry are still whining about a fine of $20 billion dollars. To cover trillions of dollars in frauds and losses. How many billions did Goldman Sachs alone cost the economy yet all the Too Big To Fail banks are complaining about $20 billion total? I think the amount any one bank would have to pay (costs funded of course by the shareholders rather than the bank executives themselves) would be less than one quarters profits and more likely the profits of one month. Why it might even mean some individual bankster bonuses might fall to $10 million or maybe even $5 million and we just can't have that now can we?

Of course, with all the economic problems all across the nation, all the various legislators all over the land are concentrating on pocket book issues right? That's what Politico implies with this article on how the social conservatives in the Republican Party are having a "truce":
For the first time in three decades, a wide-open Republican presidential primary is unfolding in the shadow of an economic recession. That means even in the heavily socially conservative GOP, voters are more focused on the pocketbook than the Good Book.

A host of leaders on the cultural right told POLITICO they don’t intend to fight it. Instead, they hope to protect their role in the campaign by ensuring that social issues are part of a larger conservative message.
Yep, that's why the Ohio Senate is having a fetus "testify" in an anti-abortion hearing. Ohio, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Indiana are all trying to bust the public sector unions. Republicans (and some Democrats) in the US House of Representatives tried to re-define rape. A Georgia state representative wants to make women prove miscarriages or face murder charges, abolish driver's licenses, and declare rape victims as "accusers." A couple of legislators in Tennessee want to ban the following of Sharia Laws by Muslims:
Tennessee State Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and state Rep. Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma) introduced a bill last week outlawing the practice of Sharia, a complex set of religious laws that guide behavior for Muslims.

The bill, embedded below, attempts to define Sharia law and to make following it a felony punishable by 15 years in jail.


So while the bill's sponsors say that the legislation only seeks to stop Sharia practices that conflict with the Constitution, the legislation implies that Islam requires Muslims to subvert the Constitution through violent or criminal means. Tennessee Muslim leaders have rejected that interpretation of their faith.
Yep. Politico is absolutely correct that the social conservatives have called a time out so that everyone can concentrate on the economy. Or not. This is just a small sample of the bat shit crazy that has been in the news in the last couple of weeks - add your own faves in the comments if you wish.

And because I can:

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