Take a look at these bond yields. What jumps out at you. Portugal, obviously, is effed. Spain and Italy, not in great shape, but not in terrible shape. The weird one here—that no one, as far as I can tell is worrying about—is Australia. And I hunt around their official statistics, I see their unemployment’s a little high, their deficit is manageable, inflation is perhaps a mite high but manageable…so I look at those yields, and I’m like, huh? Weird. Anyway, as you know, there’s a eurocrisis. The WSJ speculates about European banks having liquidity troubles. The Guardian speculates that the ECB pulling a Helicopter Ben Bernanke would be welcome to: “…the European Commission, Spain, Portugal, Italy and France, but is certain to run into German opposition.” Ah, well then. Meanwhile, Michael Pettis has a very informative essay re: “the United States of Germany.” On a similar subject, Ryan Appel talks about whether Europe has benefited from the euro.
Why incompetent terrorists are harder to catch.
How the iPad is killing the netbook.
Marcus Baram of The Huffington Post has a helpful rundown about the weak regulatory environment that allowed all these crises re: coal mining and oil drilling. I have a question: is it merely coincidence that it was energy regulators that went bad here? Or is it something general?
T.A. Frank unleashes several hilarious lines (and several cogent points) about Republican obsession with building nuclear power plants, but my favorite is this graf:
Some Republicans sidestep these questions by asserting that it will take an energy smorgasbord—including coal, natural gas, wind, nuclear, and more—to meet our future needs. According to this model, which proponents like John McCain refer to as "all of the above," nuclear power is just one essential part of the mix. But think about it for a minute. If you wanted to secure your house against intruders, and among your choices were a $500 alarm system, a $200 shotgun, and a $3 million hologram that could be projected onto your house to make it look like it was the Eiffel Tower, would you pick "all of the above"? If you answered yes, you might consider working for John McCain.
Facebook: declared dead while it’s still breathing.
A Russian town tries to design a monument to Woody Allen.
Now that Newsweek is being sold, what would the best cover for it to spike newsstand sales in anticipation of a bigger sale to new management? I vote for "What Would Jesus Eat? The New Science of Biblical Diets Could Be The Secret to Weight Loss."
Speaking of possible new Newsweek management, Connie Bruck of The New Yorker writes this profile of Haim Saban, whom people my age might know best as the man who brought us the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. As with all childhood dreams, the man pulling the strings of Zordon happens to be a jerk. Let’s set the stage. Saban wants to sell his portion of Fox Family Channel to Disney. Fair enough; he gets a price that’s a little high, and sells it. There are regulatory hurdles, though: the deal must be cleared by every country the channel is broadcast to, and one of these countries is Brazil, which has a slow process for clearing such a sale. The deal depends on time. So Saban calls his buddy Bill Clinton, who calls the Brazilian government and…well, you can guess. So after receiving his windfall, what does Saban do? This:
But the biggest bill by far that Saban didn’t want to pay was the government’s. In late December, 2000, after Saban had exercised his right to sell his share of Fox Family, Matt Krane said that he received a call from him. “He said, ‘Let me ask a question. What are we doing on taxes on the sale?’So this guy gets all of the upsides from a cushy relationship with government and decides, oh hell, I’m not going to pay for anything? And he thinks of himself, apparently, as a Democrat. This behavior is probably not all that unusual, and I think it’s shameful that people can be so graceless and so entitled as to think they deserve all the benefits but none of the responsibilities about government. I suppose he’s only the American public writ large, but it’s still pretty incredible to read.
“I said, ‘We’re going to pay the capital-gains tax, like we always discussed.’
“ ‘What is it?’
“ ‘Like, twenty-seven per cent state and federal, combined.’
“ ‘Are you fucking kidding me? Are you fucking crazy?’ He was shouting, ‘I’m not paying that!’ ”
Saban denies Krane’s account of their conversation. “This is a man where we went through seven audits, and all came in ‘No change.’ So I looked at him as a genius of the century. And he always took the lead in setting up structures that were absolutely legal and tax-efficient. And all I asked him to do was this time, too, please do the same.”
Krane said that he had previously solved every problem Saban had presented, carrying out “very aggressive” tax planning, but he had always tried to design transactions ahead of time to avoid taxes. Here the only recourse was a tax shelter.
As Krane began to explore the tax-shelter world, he learned that major accounting and investment-banking firms—including K.P.M.G., Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and many others—were involved in creating tax-shelter products. He selected one that was developed by the Quellos Group, a financial boutique based in Seattle; he integrated this shelter with a tax plan of his own, and, with the combination, made it possible for Saban to pay no taxes on his $1.5-billion gain.
On the PED-using military.
Al Franken gives an interview about his rating agencies amendment. Very good.
A dispatch from Tehran:
My driver at the airport, an eager man in his forties who jumped out of his car with a smile, rather than the more normal scowl, to stow my suitcase, was likely from the professional class of cabbies -- for the airport trade is strictly controlled -- and it didn't take him long to explain his latest theory. "Business is bad, huh?" I first asked him, as he took off at an unsafe speed, barely missing a family struggling to load their private car with a mountain of luggage, presumably containing Western consumer goods from Dubai. "Yeah," he said, "there are no flights from Europe." I mentioned something about the travel ban potentially contributing to Iran's economic stagnation. "I hear Europe could be cut off for days, even weeks!" he excitedly replied. "But you know, Allah always finds a way to punish the wicked, doesn't He? England is the worst country in the world and what happens? Their airports are shut down by God."
I laughed. "England is evil," he continued. "What if their airports don't reopen for a month, or forever! What if Allah decides the volcano will continue to erupt forever? England will finally go down the drain, and we'll be standing!" My driver's dislike of the U.K., and his suspicion that Britain is behind all of Iran's (and the world's) woes, is actually shared by many Iranians, even middle and upper-middle class Iranians, although perhaps not to his extent. But Britain, particularly since the Iranian presidential election of 2009 and in the age of a likeable Barack Obama, has to some degree replaced the U.S. as the Great Satan (it was always labeled the "Little Satan," along with Israel) for Iranian supporters of the Islamic system. As if reading my thoughts, though, the driver then said, "Of course, I'm not saying we don't have problems here in Iran; not at all."
The NYT and the Breakthrough Institute agree: China became more carbon-intensive during the first quarter of 2010.