The Ticker Quick Views on Politics, Economics and Finance
The U.K.'s Conservative Party-led government is losing its head in a rush to appease the anti-European right.
Home Secretary Theresa May told Parliament today that she had signed a legal-assistance agreement with Jordan, in hopes of clearing the way for the deportation of the radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada.READ MORE
Will Bangladesh's latest industrial accident renew efforts to improve the country's safety record? It should.
An eight-story building housing several garment factories collapsed today outside of Dhaka, killing at least 70 people and injuring about 800. This disaster comes just five months after a fire at the Tazreen garment factory killed more than 100. Since 2005, more than 700 garment workers have died in Bangladesh, according to the International Labor Rights Forum.READ MORE
This week's visit by 168 Japanese lawmakers to a politically charged Tokyo shrine wasn't just dreadful diplomacy; it was dismal economics, too.
Media reports pooh-pooh the event because many of the pilgrimaging officials were low-ranking conservatives. That might be a plausible argument if Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso hadn't made his own visit over the weekend to Yasukuni Shrine.READ MORE
France has become the 14th country to approve same-sex marriage. It wasn't easy. The 331-to-225 vote in the National Assembly today culminated weeks of sometimes violent protests against the law, an increase in gay-bashing incidents and a general venting of discontent that opponents dubbed the "French Spring," a questionable reference to the pro-democracy movements that overthrew despots across the Middle East in 2010 and 2011.
Some of the feeling of malaise is easy to attribute. After 11 months of office, President Francois Hollande's Socialist government looks increasingly hapless in its efforts to revive the foundering economy. He has promised to restore growth, jobs and competitiveness and to pare back the state and entitlements by means of a vague formula of tax increases and spending cuts that he defines as "rigor" and whose most distinguishing characteristic is that it is somehow the opposite of German-style austerity.READ MORE
Tom Prendergast, who previously ran New York’s subway and bus operations, is the new chairman and chief executive officer of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. But how long will he stay?
Prendergast is the MTA’s fifth head since 2006. In 2009, the chairman and CEO position was established with a fixed six-year term, in the hopes that a long set tenure would allow the MTA’s head to do long-range planning while resisting political influence.READ MORE
Not a banner day for the Associated Press. The news service's Twitter account sent out this tweet at 1:00 p.m.: "Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured." Within seconds, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 150 points; a few minutes later, realizing the account had been hacked, AP deleted the tweet and suspended its activity on the social platform.
A few takeaways: AP is apparently susceptible to hacking just like anyone else who plugs into the internet to share information. That is really not a surprise. Also unsurprising, the agency was exceptionally forthright in mitigating the damage and explaining the mistake. What is surprising, though, is that Twitter Inc. allows itself to remains subject to these sorts of attacks.READ MORE
“Just push it back a month or two.”
"Given the events of this week, it is important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system."READ MORE
The Senate is currently debating the Marketplace Fairness Act, a law that would make it easier for states to collect online sales tax. Right now, if an Internet seller has no physical presence in the buyer’s state, he doesn’t have to collect tax on the sale. The buyer is legally obligated to report the sale himself and pay “use tax,” usually by disclosing the sale on his state income tax form.
Most people don’t do this. (Be honest: Do you?) So taxes go uncollected.READ MORE
(Corrects name of company where Louis Freeh was a board member.)
Louis Freeh has established himself as a highly regarded corporate sleuth since leaving the top post at the Federal Bureau of Investigation more than a decade ago. It's too bad the public couldn't get someone of similar stature to investigate Fannie Mae, where Freeh once served on the board.
Max Baucus of Montana may be giving some good news to Senate Democratic leaders and the White House.
According to reports, the Senate Finance Committee chairman has decided not to seek a seventh term in 2014. Baucus hasn't always been a reliable vote for Democratic leaders as he sought re-election in his Republican-leaning state. Most recently, Baucus was one of four Democrats to vote against background checks for gun purchases, helping Republicans kill the measure.READ MORE
The FBI isn't the first intelligence agency to come under scrutiny for ignoring leads on young men who later proved to be terrorists. The U.K.'s MI5 faced similar questions after Islamist suicide bombers struck London's subway system on July 7, 2005.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is under fire for not keeping Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who is accused bombing of Boston Marathon, under surveillance, despite a tip from Russia that he was interested in extremist Islamic groups.READ MORE
The high tide for Keynesian fiscal stimulus came in 2008 and 2009. Panicked governments spent, spent and spent to stem the financial crisis and avoid a depression. But as economies stabilized in 2010 and 2011, governments began to worry about public debt. Enter the austerians. They pressed for fiscal consolidation -- and got their way. One has to look back to the 1940s and 1950s, as nations demobilized from World War II and the Korean War, to see a comparably rapid tightening.
Now, though, the intellectual case for austerity is on its way out -- at least in its vulgar form of immediate cuts to public spending and sharp increases in taxes. Part of the change comes from the implosion of a central claim in an academic paper by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff. They found that nations stop growing when their ratio of public debt to gross domestic product passes a threshold of 90 percent. Their findings were exhibit A for advocates of austerity.READ MORE
The Boy Scouts of America has been all over the map on the issue of gay members and leaders. First, it said it would preserve its policy of excluding homosexuals, which enraged liberals. Then it said it was considering abolishing the policy, which infuriated conservatives.
Now, the organization wants to split the difference and admit gay boys while barring gay leaders. Predictably, that's angered just about everyone. More important, such a policy, if ratified at the Scouts' National Council meeting in mid-May, sends a disturbing message to the gay children now putatively welcome to become Scouts: Come on in, we accept you as you are, just as long as you don't grow up.READ MORE
Did we overreact to the Boston bombings and underreact to the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion? That's what Richard Kim argues, characterizing the national reaction to terrorism as "total social warfare" and to industrial accidents as "callous indifference."
I agree with Kim on Boston. Terrorism remains a rare cause of death for Americans: a risk of just 1 in 20 million. Shutting down the whole city of Boston on Friday was a costly overreaction. It entailed large human costs, including lost wages and lost jobs, which probably totaled more than $100 million, and wouldn't have been worth it even if the shutdown produced a marginal increase in safety. And you only have to look at the invasion of Iraq to see our overreactions to terrorism can be far, far worse.READ MORE
Senator Charles Grassley last week linked the Boston bombing suspects to the fate of immigration legislation -- and now immigration-reform supporters are lashing out.
We should slow down reform, the Iowa Republican said, to make sure we are properly screening for terrorists. “Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system,” Grassley said. “While we don’t yet know the immigration status of people who have terrorized the communities in Massachusetts, when we find out, it will help shed light on the weaknesses of our system.”READ MORE
Senator Marco Rubio last week sent out a long fundraising letter laying out the issues he was fighting for. There was one major omission: The big immigration bill that he and seven other senators of both parties have crafted and that may pass the Senate this year.
In the almost 2,000-word solicitation from the "Rubio Victory Committee," the freshman Florida Republican presents an ambitious agenda: "To stop the growth of government, encourage job creators to do what they do best, keep tax rates low, repeal government programs such as Obamacare, and protect the freedom and liberty of all Americans."READ MORE
We don't know exactly what Tamerlan Tsarnaev did during his visit to Russia in 2012. We do know that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has told us very little about its inquiry at that time into the man now accused of bombing the Boston Marathon.
No, I'm not expecting the FBI to divulge specifics that would in any way compromise its investigation -- some things will have to wait until charges are filed and the national security threat has passed. But the FBI initially bungled its disclosure of the inquiry, first telling the news media on Friday that it had no record on either Tamerlan or his brother, Dzhokar, then quickly retracting and explaining that a foreign intelligence agency had asked it to investigate the older Tsarnaev. As we saw in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, botched communications from the government quickly become fodder for political grandstanding and conspiracy theories.READ MORE
It's not every day that a central banker admits that his medicine for curing the last crisis may be laying the groundwork for the next. But that's exactly what Narayana Kocherlakota, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, said last week at the annual Hyman P. Minsky Conference at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College.
Kocherlakota said low real interest rates are necessary to achieve the Fed's dual mandate of maximum employment and stable prices. He also said that low real rates lead to inflated asset prices, volatile returns and increased merger activity, all of which are signs of financial market instability. Listen to what he calls his "key conclusion" -- and what I'd call a true conundrum:READ MORE
(Corrects date of Chechen president's election to 1997 in eighth paragraph.)
The identification of Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev as suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings focuses attention on the troubled history of Chechnya and the legacy of its recent wars with Russia. As the investigation continues and we learn more about the circumstances and motivations of the bombers it is important that we also hear the voices of ordinary Chechens who struggle to overcome the trauma of violence and exile and lead normal lives in the U.S.
The Tsarnaev brothers were born in Kyrgyzstan, a country in Central Asia that, like Chechnya, had been part of the Soviet Union. In 1944, Joseph Stalin ordered the deportation of the entire Chechen nation -- almost 1 million people -- from the North Caucasus to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The Chechens had been falsely accused of collaborating with the Nazis, and were branded an enemy nation. About one third of the deportees died of cold, hunger and disease in Central Asia, where they lived in detainment camps similar to those of the Soviet gulag.READ MORE
We don't yet know why the Boston bombers set off explosives killing three and injuring more than 170 at the Boston Marathon. That hasn't prevented social-media speculation, rampant misinformation, and some pundits and politicians from drawing a straight line from the attack to their issues du jour. Here are some of the most predetermined conclusions of the week:
Political AppointmentsREAD MORE