National / International News

What you need to know about the AIG trial

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 08:39

There's a star witness in a big trial today.

You've heard of him: Timothy Geithner. The case: AIG shareholders, including former CEO Maurice R. Greenberg, are suing the Feds, saying they feel cheated by the terms of the bailout in 2008.

Didn't Henry Paulson testify yesterday?
Yup. Then-Treasury Secretary Paulson testified. He said the AIG bailout deal was "punitive." AIG made risky bets, he said, and its shareholders deserved to be punished for them. The key was to send a message to Wall Street: "Just so you know, we are not the Santa Claus of easy bailouts. If you come and ask for one, the terms will be harsh." Okay, that's a made-up quote.

So why does this testimony matter?
Because Paulson was not the key player in regards to details of the AIG bailout. Geithner, then-head of the NY Fed, was. He's the big witness this morning, says Columbia law professor John Coffee, and the guy Greenberg's lawyer (one David Boies) really wants to grill.

Oh yeah, the bailout.
Recall: in the fog of the banking crisis, the Feds realized AIG was in big money trouble. Why? AIG was the insurance company for banks that bought risky subprime loans. If those loans defaulted, AIG was on the hook. (five-dollar word: credit default swaps).

What's the AIG shareholder beef?
The Feds were overly mean, they say, and they punished us too harshly. Or, in legal-speak, they took control of AIG without "just compensation" - a Constitutional no-no.
The details:

  •  In return for $192 billion in loans, we got hit with a 14 percent interest rate. Beltway loan sharks.
  •  The feds took an 80% stock share in the company.
  •  We got these harsh terms, but the banks got paid back 100 cents on the dollar for their risky investments. How come only we sat in the barber chair for the haircut?

What do AIG shareholder want?

Led by former CEO Greenberg, they are suing for $40 billion in compensation.

What's the counter-argument against AIG?
We needed to punish you, because you took bad risks. But we needed to save the banks because the financial system was on life support. That's the job of the Federal Reserve.

What role did Geithner play?
He ran the NY Fed, which engineered the details of the whole bailout.

Geithner argues – in his recent book, "Stress Test" – that the government had no choice. If they hadn't bailed out AIG, it would be ruined the economy. His NY Fed has also been accused of hiding the terms of the 100% payments to the banks that bought AIG default insurance.

How could Geithner's testimony impact?

“If the evidence that comes out in the case shows that there was a big misfire at the fed, then congress may react and change the way that the Fed does business,” says Georgetown finance professor Jim Angel.

Public reaction to the government's bailouts of large financial institution during the financial crisis was so negative says Angel, that when congress passed Dodd-Frank it reduced the fed’s ability act. New restrictions, he says, could be key in a future crisis.

Why do we care, again?

In litigation, there's this thing called discovery where each side has to "open its kimono" to the other.  Lawsuits are all about getting to the bottom of things. And observers are hoping that this lawsuit could get to the bottom of the financial crisis. Angel says “There’ve been a lot of studies of the financial crisis, but do we really know what happened?”

His answer: not really. He hopes this lawsuit could reveal facts that we don’t know, we don’t know about how the crisis and the bailout of AIG occurred, as well as a potential answer to the “Watergate question” -  what the Fed knew and when it knew it.

That sounds pretty exciting, but John Coffee, director of Columbia Law School’s Center on Corporate Governance, isn’t so sure he agrees with Angel.

“I don’t think you’re going to learn dramatically new information," he says. "You may hear snippets, emails anecdotes that support both sides." 

There are two opposing points of view on how the government handled AIG’s bailout, notes Coffee.

“One side said it was done to prevent financial contagion and panic. The other side says it was done to achieve a backdoor bailout of large banks you wouldn’t dare to fund directly and publicly,” he says. 

Coffee’s opinion: the court won’t decide to oversee or restrain financial regulators. Those new regulations, he says, already exist – thanks to Dodd-Frank. But Georgetown’s Angel takes a different view.

Neknominate man ate live lizard

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-07 08:32
A man who swallowed a frog and a lizard for the Neknominate online drinking game, is ordered to carry out community service.

The numbers for October 7, 2014

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 08:13

The International Monetary fund is dialing back its predictions of global economic growth for 2015, revising its projection to 3.8 percent, down from 4 percent a few months ago. In its World Economic Outlook report, released Tuesday, the IMF blamed sluggish growth in part on the Eurozone, which it warns has a much higher probability of re-entering recession than it did earlier this year.

Tempering expectations further, the Wall Street Journal notes that the IMF's predictions are often "overly optimistic."

Here are some other numbers we're watching Tuesday:

300 lumens per watt

LEDs are able to give off far more light for the amount of energy they use — compare that figure to 70 lm/W for fluorescents and 16 lm/W for incandescent bulbs. That efficiency won the blue LEDs inventors the Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday, CNET reported. It's a break from past years, which awarded much larger and abstract discoveries like universal expansion and the Higgs boson.

77

The number of travelers stopped by stepped-up exit screenings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in countries most affected by Ebola. President Barack Obama said Monday the U.S. will reexamine its practices here and abroad, the Washington Post reported, as several Republican lawmakers push for travel bans.

1984

The IBM Model M keyboard has been around 30 years, and for many tech writers, IT professionals, programmers and even the guy who created "Minecraft," it's still the standard to which all other keyboards are measured. The Verge has an extensive piece exploring the Model M's history and enduring popularity.

VIDEO: Ash dieback: How to inject a tree

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-07 08:00
The BBC's Claire Marshall takes a closer look at how you go about injecting a tree with a prototype fungicide, derived from garlic, as part of the fight against ash dieback.

University inspections face overhaul

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-07 07:43
How the quality of university courses in the UK is checked could be overhauled in the next few years.

VIDEO: High speed spin for 100-year-old

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-07 07:05
A 100-year-old woman takes a high speed spin at Snetterton Circuit as part of her adrenalin fuelled centenary birthday celebrations.

Inflation to a twenty-something

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 07:00

As Marketplace celebrates its 25th birthday this year, we are looking at the surprising, sometimes delightful and sometimes destructive ways that prices have changed during that quarter century.

And like many of the twenty-something variety, we decided to mark the occasion by taking a selfie...of our spending. Enter the Consumer Expenditure Survey.

Rather than looking at costs and pricing, the CE looks at how much consumers spent, on average, on any given item or service that year. It's compiled from two sources: the Interview Survey, and the Diary Survey. The former checks in with consumers on quarterly basis, monitoring larger expenditures (like rent and costs related to vehicles), while the latter asks people to keep a spending diary over a shorter period of time to catch smaller, day-to-day purchases.

Together, they create a picture of the spending habits of consumers during a given year. Among other things, the CE is used to revise the Consumer Price Index by looking at goods and their "relative importance." And as we've explored elsewhere, putting together that "basket of goods" that determines inflation is a tricky process that some feel hasn't been handled well in the past.

Regardless, looking at CEs from two years provides interesting comparisons of how much and where we spend our money.

So now that Marketplace is in its twenties, how does our spending compare to a twenty-something from 1989?

Adjusted for inflation (think 2013 dollars), here's how much income consumers 25 to 34 years of age made versus how much they spent on rent, food, alcohol, clothing, and shoes in 1989 and 2013.

It's worth noting that the CE gets incredibly specific. For example, this same age group spent $174 on "cereals and cereal products" in 2013, whereas their 1989 counterparts spent $233 in the same category. Amounts spent on health insurance are also available ($601 in 1989, $1,334 in 2013), which will be an especially interesting comparison to revisit when the CE for 2014 is released, as the Affordable Care Act will have been in effect for this demographic.

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VIDEO: Staying safe while reporting Ebola

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-07 06:33
The BBC's Tulip Mazumdar, who has been reporting from Ebola-stricken Sierra Leone, explains how the BBC is covering the crisis safely.

Why do people love Ordnance Survey maps?

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-07 06:26
US-born neuroscientist John O'Keefe loves Ordnance Survey maps. Why?

Syria jihadist rebels seize priest

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-07 05:53
A Franciscan friar and about 20 parishioners have been abducted by jihadist rebels in north-western Syria, the Custody of the Holy Land says.

Your questions to Paul Wood

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-07 05:18
What's at stake in battle for Syria and Iraq

VIDEO: Pearce: I encountered some unpleasantries

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-07 05:14
The so-called Heroine of Hackney who joined the Lib Dems after the 2011 London Riots is bidding to be an MP.

Day in pictures: 7 October

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-07 04:16
24 hours of news images: 7 October

Johnson forgets candidate's name

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-07 04:10
London mayor Boris Johnson admits "you got me there" after failing to put a name to the Conservative candidate in the Clacton by-election.

Carlos the Jackal faces new trial

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-07 04:00
Notorious convicted killer Carlos the Jackal, who carried out attacks in the 1970s and 1980s, is to go on trial again in France for two murders.

VIDEO: Turkey and the Kurds - in 70 seconds

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-07 03:59
Why do the Turkish authorities have a complicated relationship with the region's Kurdish population?

VIDEO: Moazzam Begg: Full interview

BBC - Tue, 2014-10-07 03:00
Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg says he offered to help secure the release of British hostage Alan Henning from Islamic State.

PODCAST: LinkedIn goes to college

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 03:00

First up, we could hear a lot more about manipulation in the foreign currency markets as the year wears on. The U.S. Justice Department is reportedly preparing a new pile of charges against some of the biggest Wall Street firms and, significantly, individuals who work at the firms. One focus: possible collusion in the buying and selling of dollars, euros, pounds sterling, and beyond. We talk with Ben Protess who co-wrote the scoop for for the New York Times Deal Book section. And Linkedin is the social media network targeted at our professional lives. Now, Linkedin is entering the already-crowded "college rankings" field with an interesting algorithm: LinkedIn ran the numbers on its over 310 million members to see where they went to college and what they're doing now. Plus, in the U.S., it's fair to say that there's a long tradition of corporations embracing what originally was a religious observance: Christmas. In India, the calendar is packed with a kaleidoscope of religious festivals, many involving elaborate processions and decorations, which business are often pleased to underwrite. But some in India say corporate sponsorship of these events may be going too far.

In a robust labor market, more people say 'I Quit.'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 02:00

Update: The JOLTS numbers are in. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

"There were 4.8 million job openings on the last business day of August, up from 4.6 million in July... The hires rate (3.3 percent) was down and the separations rate (3.2 percent) was essentially unchanged in August. Within separations, the quits rate (1.8 percent) was unchanged and the layoffs and discharges rate (1.1 percent) was little changed.

See you again next month, quits rate.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics issues its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey—also known as JOLTS—for August on Tuesday. Back in July, the report showed 4.67 million job openings, and economists expect a healthy increase to 4.71 million job openings in August. That would be consistent with labor-market improvements reported in September’s employment report, with 248,000 jobs added to the economy, and the unemployment rate falling to 5.9 percent.

However, one data point in the JOLTS report has been consistently underperforming the rest of the labor market: the quits rate. This indicates how many people are leaving their jobs voluntarily—because they got a better offer, or think they can look around for a while without becoming long-term unemployed (People can also be classified as ‘voluntary quits’ if they leave a job to go back to school, to care for a family member, or to leave the workforce; retirement and disability are not counted as 'voluntary quits'). A higher quits rate is seen as a sign of job-market churn and flexibility for both employers and employees.

Since the recession, the quits rate has remained stubbornly low. In July, there were 2.5 million quits; the level of quits consistently topped 3 million in the years before the recession.

The quits and layoffs and discharges numbers starting from January, 2004.

Bureau of Labor Statistics

John Challenger, at outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas, thinks the quits rate will eventually catch up to other improvements in the labor market. But right now, he thinks many workers are still recession-scarred. “Even if I might get paid more money,” he said, characterizing the mindset of a typical worker, “safety is still of high value. Better to hold onto the job I have than to take something new.”

Elise Gould, a labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute, said workers don’t think they have much bargaining power with employers. So many are reluctant to risk quitting and looking for a new job. “The fact that we’ve seen sluggish wage growth, workers see that," she said. "They know they can’t bid up their wages because there are so many people waiting on line—on the unemployment rolls or out of the labor force.”

Gould said even as jobs become slowly more plentiful, workers fear that they’ll face stiff competition if they jump ship and go job-hunting right now.

Inside the work of Ebola 'Disease Detectives'

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-10-07 02:00

Public health officials continue to track the well being of about 50 patients in Dallas who may have been exposed to the Ebola virus. As of Tuesday morning, there was no sign any of them was infected.

The labor-intensive surveillance operation is being run by local health officials and a pair of epidemiologists for the CDC. The two are officers in the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service.

With the Ebola outbreak growing, these so-called "disease detectives" are taking on an increasingly important role.

Let’s be honest, there’s something a little nuts about being in the Epidemic Intelligence Service—a job where you could get plopped into a communicable disease hotspot with little warning.

“What’s the type of person who wants to walk into an Ebola outbreak instead of walk away from it,” says Jennifer Hunter.

Hunter is one of the two EIS officers in Dallas who is keeping tabs on the several dozen people who came into contact with the Ebola patient, Thomas Duncan.

“I think there is nothing more you can do to help be part of something as large as this is and as important,” she says.

EIS alum Tracy Creek describes most EIS folks as “passionate, geeky, problem solvers” dedicated to public service. Every year, the CDC hires 70 to 80 people to spend two years tackling everything from smoking cessation to H1N1 outbreaks.

Creek says the EIS logo sums up their work: “It’s a sole of a shoe with a hole worn in it; you’re supposed to be the feet on the ground of our public health infrastructure,” she says.

Yep, a logo that could of been dreamed up by Dashiell Hammett.

Certainly EIS officers in Dallas earned their disease detective badge this past week as they tracked down doctors and nurses; lab techs and custodial staff; anyone who may have handled the patient’s fluids. But that’s just one part of the job.

EIS officers must solve problems and be a kind of fixer; a challenge in some corners of West Africa.  

“We are not fully meeting demand and it’s a very challenging situation,” says Peter Kilmarx, who for nearly the past month has been running CDC’s operations in Sierra Leone.

One problem Kilmarx’s got is lining up enough burial teams to pick up the highly infectious bodies. Handle them wrong and the disease spreads.

“There’ve been deaths among burial team drivers and staff. At times when there is a call about a cadaver in the community, we’re not able to have a quick response,” he says.

In some sense, the solution is straight forward. Kilmarx needs more money—for protective gear, staff, ambulances. But with the number of people dying nearly doubling every month, Kilmarx says resources are stretched. 

“We’re barely keeping up with what we’ve got, and thinking ahead to twice as many 30 days from now is daunting,” he says.

In the past, when Kilmarx needed three laptops, or three motorcycles, he just tapped the non-profit CDC Foundation—which cuts checks quicker than the agency.

The speed of this epidemic means there’s more going out the Foundation’s door than is coming in. And now, Kilmarx has another problem to solve.

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