Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Mad Science: All Finance, All the Time

This thing with Cypress only seems complicated.  In reality, I think it’s pretty straightforward.  
The Flag of Cyprus
Like Iceland, Cypress is an island-nation in the Eurozone that doubled down on investment in the banking sector until the banking sector made up most of its domestic economy.  This makes some sense in the current, post-modern world because banking is one of those sectors that relies very little on anything other than faith and confidence and a bit of well-trained staff, and little European island nations seem to be able to come by these things in great abundance.  Moreover, while larger nations may have things like natural resources, or a large, well-educated work force, or maybe a large, poorly-educated but extremely cheap workforce, island nations must pretty much either trade or starve.  In the modern world, “trade” has really meant “international finance”.  So, bottom line, Cypress was--and is--part of the Eurozone, and like a lot of smaller, more successful Eurozone economies, they went all in on an industry where they could compete and thrive.

This was not actually a problem, except that it lacked economic diversification.
The interesting thing about the Cypriot case, of course, was that much of the seed capital for their financial sector came from dodgy Russian sources--which is to say any Russian sources, considering the nature of the Cleptocracy currently in power there.  This may be getting off-topic a bit, but when the Soviet Union collapsed, the Russian government looked to privatize its State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in a hurry.  There were conceivably lots of ways to do this.  The Russian way was to hold a fire sale, available only to well-connected, domestic buyers.  So, bottom line, Russia’s SOEs were sold into private hands, but the hands they went into were basically vetted, pro-Kremlin hands.
Many billionaires were made very quickly.  And those billionaires sought in many cases to hide their assets from domestic taxation--in Cypress.
Anyway.  2008 came, and the housing bubble cracked worldwide.  Bad Things Happened in the global economy, leaving quite a few countries who’d been running large year-on-year budget deficits short on their debt service payments.  Very short.  The worst offenders were the Greeks, of course, and the tiny island nation of Cypress was holding a lot of Greek debt.  
So, bottom line, through no real fault of their own, the people of Cypress now find themselves hold a pretty good amount of worthless debt, and in the meantime, that debt was supposed to secure the value of their domestic (and foreign) deposits, but at this point, the money just ain’t there any more.  The Greeks aren’t paying people back, the Cypriots are therefore short, and the Germans are tired of bailing other folks out.  They particularly don’t want to bail out Russian robber-baron billionaires.
That only seems complicated, right?  But this is where it gets interesting.  
Like I said, German tax payers are quite tired of bailing out southern European banking systems, and if you ask me, I think they’d like to make an example.  They’d like to find a way to remind people:
“Hey!  We don’t have to bail you out.  We could fuck you over, and trust us, that would be way worse.  You think the terms of this loan suck?  Try total economic collapse.  And when it takes a wheelbarrow full of dracmas to buy a loaf of bread, then maybe your leaders will be ready to re-evaluate their position on budgetary austerity.”  
But to make an example like that, they would need an economy that’s small enough that its death rattles won’t cause major waves in the Eurozone.  It must be able to go with barely an economic ripple.  Greece, for all that I think Europeans are tired of dealing with the Greeks, is just too big for that.  
But Cypress?  Cypress is just right.
In summary, by letting Cypress go down, the Germans can let themselves off the hook for God-alone-know-knows how many Euros, they can screw over Russian depositors, and they can fire a shot across the bow of the other potential Eurozone dead-beats--Portugual, Italy, Greece, and Spanish.  And whoever else looks like they might possibly want a bailout in the intermediate future.  
And that, my friends, is a win-win-win.
I’ve been following the Republican Party’s attempts at re-branding itself pretty closely.  As I’ve said here many times, I’m a Republican (though perhaps In Name Only), but I’m one of the ones who’s been alienated by a goodly amount of the party’s recent platforms.  The root of my concern is that this is a party that led the nation into two wars but refused to pay for them--essentially, refused to ask for any kind of shared sacrifice from the civilian population--and then went into a kind of holier-than-thou hissy-fit when the idea of raising revenues to fund our budgetary shortfalls was raised.  Like, “how dare you peons ask us to pay for anything?!  We’re the Job Creators!”
Well, y’know, yeah.  You motherfuckers were the ones who got us into this mess, and while I personally think everyone should pay--via a total repeal of the Bush Era Tax Cuts--fact is, I’m a realist, and I’ll take what I can get.  And yes, it does suck to take folks’ money and reduce their purchasing power, and yeah, I am a little annoyed that I’ve had to do so much freelance writing lately because between the ending of the Social Security tax cut and the changes to my company’s health care coverage, I’m out almost $300 a month.  But.  I’m an American, this is still my society, and paying taxes is part of what it means to be here.  So yes, I’ve personally had to work a little harder to support my family, and it sucks, but it is what it is.  
Bottom line, you can tie as many ribbons around the old oak tree as you want, it doesn’t change the fact that talk is cheap.  Slapping a “Support Our Troops” sticker on your bumper doesn’t keep the North Koreans contained.  
But you know what you can do?
You can pay your fucking taxes!  And quit your goddamned whining.
Honestly, I think of what some of my friends have done for this country, what my own father did for the country, and God’s truth is that paying my taxes is the least I can do.
Anyway, the Republicans held CPAC recently, and their did some focus groups besides, and they finally came out with a 100-page report that basically says that folks like their platform but don’t like them personally.
Which is idiotic.  I mean, who doesn’t like lower taxes?  I certainly like them.  I’d love to never pay taxes again.  But that doesn’t get the country where it needs to go, doesn’t keep us safe, doesn’t keep Air Traffic Controllers and Transit Screeners on the job, doesn’t provide for the basic governmental services that separate America from a place like Haiti.
The rest of it to me is just noise.  I’m fine with States having their own abortion laws, I support gay rights but not enough to march for them, and I think this thing with immigration is a diminishing issue because Mexico has a better job market than America does, at least for low-end manufacturing.  And anyway, I haven’t seen a bunch of college kids lately who’re looking to pick fruit and wash dishes in their spare time to help pay for college.  I mean, I’m sure there must be at least one of them out there, but all I’m sayin’ is, I’ve never actually seen him or her.  
This budget thing, though, is a serious issue.  And I think the party of fiscal responsibility needs to get off the fucking dime and start being fiscally responsible.
Finally, there was shocking news this week.  Shocking!  
Heh.  What the study really says is that following the basic guidelines for a healthy lifestyle not only reduces your risk of heart disease, it also reduces your risk of cancer.  Which is good because I’ll be honest, cancer terrifies me.  My mother died as a result of complications related to her lung cancer, my father had prostate cancer (but lived), my grandmother died of pancreatic cancer, my other grandmother died of rectal cancer, and my grandfather died of lung cancer.  
So, in short, cancer has killed virtually everyone in my entire family.  Sally and my kids are all I have left...  Eh, that’s another story.
Anyway, I’m going to quote liberally from the CBS article I referenced above because they gave seven ways to be healthy, and if you do six of the seven, you reduce your cancer risk by 50%.  Four of seven is worth about 30%.
From the article:
  1. Being active: If adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day -- like brisk walking -- five times per week, they can lower risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes, says AHA.
  2. Keeping a healthy weight: Too much fat - especially around the waist, known as visceral fat - raises risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. About one-third of U.S. adults are obese.
  3. Eating a healthy diet: A diet low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars along with a diet high in whole grain fiber, lean proteins and colorful fruits and vegetables could dramatically boost health, AHA says.
  4. Maintaining cholesterol: When you have too much "bad" LDL cholesterol, plaque can form in veins and arteries that cause heart attacks, strokes.
  5. Keeping blood pressure down: The AHA says high blood pressure -- or hypertension -- is the "single most significant risk factor for heart disease." Hypertension also puts strain on the kidneys.
  6. Regulating blood sugar levels: Diabetes can cause blood sugar to rise to dangerous levels, damaging the heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves over time.
  7. Not smoking: Smoking damages the entire circulatory system, says AHA, increasing risk for coronary heart disease, hardened arteries, aneurysm and blood clots.

And that’s it for this week.  Practice tomorrow is a short run.  We're gonna tour the Y-Tri's run course, and then we’re gonna add on some additional work for those who want/need to go a little further.  

I made a concerted effort to stretch out my knee and my IT band today on the train before I got on my foldie for the ride into the office, and my knee is doing much better today, so here's hoping.  I’m still planning to wear my brace and pray.  Not sure what else I can do at this point.
Have a great weekend!


  1. Dude, you crushed it all week. Thanks for the great reading, and the link to the very cool live Metallica. XD

    Hope your knee feels better.