Saturday, May 24, 2008


Myth of the Day

There is a widespread belief that teens engage in nonvaginal forms of sex, especially oral sex, as a way to be sexually active while still claiming that, technically, they are virgins. However, our research shows that this supposed substitution of oral sex for vaginal sex is largely a myth. There is no good evidence that teens who have not had intercourse engage in oral sex with a series of partners. —Laura Lindberg of the Guttmacher Institute, as quoted in "Teen sex study doubts 'technical virginity'"

Other interesting tidbits—

Class and teenage sex

Teens of white ethnicity and higher socioeconomic status were more likely than their peers to have ever had oral or anal sex.

Disease and teenage sex

Statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March showed that more than one in four U.S. teen girls was infected with at least one sexually transmitted disease.

Bush and teenage sex

... the new findings illustrate that the Bush administration's emphasis on school programs teaching sexual abstinence until marriage "does not give teens the skills and information they need to be safe."

The consequences of Bush and teenage sex

The CDC said in December the birth rate for U.S. teens rose in 2006 for the first time since 1991.


Thursday, May 22, 2008


Snatches from the Pink Snapper — 6

The last time I was in the Snapper Peanut had just come back from New Orleans. He doesn't get out of the county much and a trip to New Orleans is about as exotic as a safari to an African game reserve.

He was eager to tell everybody about it. He talked about the all-night bars. (At the Snapper the law—but mainly the bouncer—forces everyone to leave well before sunrise.) He talked about the strippers. And then he added, "But what I really loved were the putains."

I wasn't surprised that Peanut had loved the putains, though I would have been surprised if they had loved him. What did surprise me was how well he pronounced the word. It sounded authentically Cajun, and he clearly enjoyed saying it—"The best thing about New Orleans was the putains," I heard him say to Verl; "There's nothing like New Orleans putains," he told Marcia. No one took the slightest interest. Everyone was returning that wan smile they wear just before excusing themselves to conduct some business with the bartender.

Now I don't know Peanut's last name. For all I know it could be Beauchamp or LaSalle. I couldn't stand it any longer. "Peanut," I asked, "Do you know any Cajun French?"

"Nope," he replied, "but I sure do love their sausage."

Previous post
Snatches from the Pink Snapper — 5 (5/5/08)


Wednesday, May 21, 2008


An interesting ruling on employment discrimination

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act serves as the basis for most claims of discrimination in employment. Title VII asserts that—

It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer -

(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;

In April a case was decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York (2nd Circuit) in which Craig Holcomb, a white basketball coach, alleged that he had been fired from Iona College because he had married a black woman.

In other appellate jurisdictions (but not all), similar cases claiming discrimination based on the plaintiff's association with people of other races have been rejected. Some courts have ruled that the language of Title VII doesn't provide the basis for such a claim—that is, Title VII prohibits discrimination based on your race but says nothing about protecting your associations.

The 2nd Circuit disagreed with these rulings and declared—

Holcomb alleges that he was discriminated against, not solely because of his own race, but as a result of his marriage to a black woman. This Court has never ruled on the question of whether Title VII applies in these circumstances. We resolve that question today, and hold that an employer may violate Title VII if it takes action against an employee because of the employee’s association with a person of another race.

After considering contrary rulings in other jurisdictions, the court explained its reasoning—

We reject this restrictive reading of Title VII. The reason is simple: where an employee is subjected to adverse action because an employer disapproves of interracial association, the employee suffers discrimination because of the employee’s own race.

Makes sense to me. In other words, if a black coach married to a black woman would not have been fired, but a white coach married to a black woman would be fired, the man is suffering discrimination because of his race.

While this is the first such ruling by the 2nd Circuit, it's in agreement with rulings in certain other appellate jurisdictions. Clashes among the decisions of the various appellate courts typically set the stage for a hearing by the Supreme Court to resolve the matter.

An extension of the logic

Now here's where it gets interesting. In an analysis of these cases involving issues of association, Carla J. Rozycki and Darren M. Mungerson write

The reasoning of the Holcomb decision may provide authority to support the notion that discrimination based on sexual orientation or the same sex of one's partner is actionable under Title VII as sex discrimination. The language of Title VII does not prohibit employers from discriminating based on an employee's sexual orientation or same-sex relationships, just as the language of Title VII does not prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on their interracial associations. The court in Holcomb reasoned that discrimination against a white employee because of his relationship with a black woman was discrimination on the basis of his race (white) — had he been black, his marriage would not have been interracial. Applying that reasoning to a claim by a male or female employee in a same-sex relationship, but for the employee's sex, the employee would not have been in a same-sex relationship, so discrimination against the employee for being in a same-sex relationship is based on the employee's sex.

That would be a remarkable evolution of Title VII employment protections. Unless the Supreme Court eventually rules that claims of discrimination based on association are not covered by the law or the Congress explicitly amends the law to forbid such claims (ain't gonna happen), protection of same-sex relationships seems inevitable.

Rozyski and Mungerson have reached the same conclusion—

... in light of the developing law, employers are well advised to base adverse employment decisions on legitimate business factors other than employee interracial or same-sex relationships.

As I write this I hear something howling off in the distance. A religious ceremony perhaps.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Welfare queens, homeowner queens and bailout queens

Those of you too young to remember Ronald Reagan may be unfamiliar with the concept of the "welfare queen," so let me explain. "Welfare" referred to government programs of the Sixties and Seventies that attempted to offset the inequities of capitalism and racism. Contrary to popular belief, they were reasonably successful—certainly by comparison with what came before and since. And "queen" at that historical moment was not thought of as a man in stockings but as someone, well, more like the Queen—abusing the system to maintain an exalted lifestyle.

Ronald Reagan didn't invent the concept. The Right was touting examples of fraud and abuse in the welfare system as soon as the programs began. But Reagan popularized the phrase in his failed run for the Presidency in '76, and Republicans have run their campaigns against the poor ever since. The media loved it, and the phrase remained a staple until Bill Clinton eliminated the word "welfare"—and thus the phrase—entirely from our vocabulary.

The homeowner queen

Now comes an effort in Congress to save at least some of the homeowners whose adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are on the verge of adjusting them right out of their houses. Earlier this month the House approved a plan to help, and on Monday the Senate passed a similiar but more modest plan. If the House and Senate can reconcile the two versions, Bush has promised to veto it, since he hates to "burden the taxpayers."

I don't know if anything resembling either of these plans will eventually become law, but the Fox News guys and gals were all over the Senate plan this morning, fearful of the ways the system might be abused. Homeowners might deliberately miss payments to become eligibile for the program, one of them worried. Let's dub these greedy people "homeowner queens," because, as you know, if there's anything rightwingers hate, it's waste, fraud and abuse.

But before going further, we should consider the Congress' motives. Liberals may like to think the Congress has suddenly taken a renewed interest in "the people." But let me disabuse them of the notion. This is a program to protect the wealthy.

Those mortgage packages that were passed around in the financial community like Altoids derive their ultimate value from the soundness of the mortgages contained in the package. Currently, American banks that bought or traded in them are keeping their doors open only because the Federal Reserve is accepting those packages as collateral to loan the banks more money. So if these assets continue to turn rancid, the Federal Reserve—and hence the federal government—and hence the taxpayer—will be left with a stinking pile of trash. By saving the homeowner, Congress is trying to protect the mortgages that have not yet gone bad.

The banks go on welfare

To put it plainly, the banks along with some other financial institutions have suddenly found themselves quite poor and have been put on government welfare. If George Bush has any concern about the taxpayer in this matter, he forgot to mention it.

It's not just U.S. banks on welfare. The UK got the ball rolling when it nationalized the failing Northern Rock bank—a deal in which the British Treasury at least acquired buildings and land and generally demanded better terms than the Federal Reserve has demanded. The European Central Bank (ECB) is bailing out European banks in much the same fashion as the Federal Reserve.

I've never opposed letting the banks go on welfare. However repugnant the notion of bank bailouts are, governments and central banks had two options when the banks began to teeter on the brink of failure: attempt a bailout or face the horrors certain to follow. For governments it was an easy choice, though it's by no means certain that their efforts have been successful.

Bailout queens

But can you have welfare without fraud? Can you have any system without abuse? Not that I've discovered. So we shouldn't be surprised if banks, whose officers spend their days figuring out how to sucker somebody out of some money, started thinking of ways to beat the system—no matter how sincerely the poor politicians and central bankers were only trying to help them through hard times.

The first mention that I've read of this came Monday. The Financial Times ran a story with the enigmatic title "ECB concern over liquidity scheme." Since the European Central Bank has been scheming to provide liquidity, why should they be worried about a "liquidity scheme," I wondered.

The story, it turns out, is much more interesting than the title—

The European Central Bank on Thursday voiced its “high concern” at growing evidence that banks are exploiting its efforts to unblock the frozen funding markets by using its liquidity scheme to offload more risky assets than it envisaged.

Translation: European banks are filling the coffers of the ECB with more trash than the ECB had expected.

Yves Mersch, a governing council member, said the ECB was now “looking very hard at whether there is not a specific deterioration of collateral” which the central bank is accepting in return for funds.

He was speaking amid signs of some banks creating low-rated assets specifically so they can be traded for treasuries at the European Central Bank.

Deliberately creating low-rated assets? Why, that would be like homeowners missing their mortgage payments in order to get into the distressed homeowner program!

The Bank of England recently created a facility for UK banks to access funding for mortgages and the Financial Times has learnt that almost £90bn ($175bn) worth of bonds are being created to be placed there – almost twice the £50bn initially expected when the scheme was launched only three weeks ago.

We might be talking here about massive fraud and abuse! And in only three weeks! But far be it from me to cast suspicion upon British banks. Let's be fair. Maybe they've just been lying all along about just how putrid their assets really are.

The importance of central bank involvement in supporting securitisation markets has been shown again in the UK, where the Bank of England’s Special Liquidity Scheme has already attracted almost twice the level of demand originally anticipated.

According to debt market sources, the banks planning to use the scheme are the UK’s eight largest lenders.

Well, it's always good to help the poor. But let's see how things are working in Europe—

... the ECB, which is proud of having always had in place the same system to support bank liquidity, accepts a far broader range of collateral than other central banks. It now appears to have some worries about what is being used by banks.

On Thursday, ... speaking at the International Capital Market Association in Vienna, Mr Mersch said the type of collateral now being accepted was: “A matter of high concern.”

His comments come as banks, whose main centres of operations are not within the eurozone, are structuring new bonds based on assets other than mortgages in order to gain access to ECB funding.

Translation: Non-eurozone banks (such as banks in the Axis of English) are trying to lay their hands on some of the ECB's euros. Since there aren't enough bad mortgages to go around, they're creating other "products" that the ECB will accept as collateral.

Here are some details—

... this week Glitnir, the Icelandic bank, is in the process of clearing the use of a €890m ($1.37bn) collateralised loan obligation (CLO) for funding at the ECB. Similarly, Lehman Brothers recently structured a €1.1bn CLO, which it is expected to use for ECB funding.

Meanwhile, Macquarie Leasing, a unit of the Australian bank, has done a securitisation of Australian motor loans, which will have a euro-denominated slice so that the investors who buy the deal can use it at the ECB.

Now I know that sounds complicated, and it's supposed to. Why else would the public let them get away with it? But always remember the Simply Appalling Rule of Finance: If a banker can understand it, so can you.

Let's take out our Sherlock Holmes magnifier and examine the Macquarie deal. The scheme might go something like this: Macquarie collects all those auto loans it has made (some of which may go bad any day now) and puts them into a package for sale to investors—other investment banks, let's say. Now the actual loans, being Australian, are presumably being repaid in Australian dollars. But Macquarie announces that it will be happy to accept euros from anyone wanting to buy a portion of the package. A eurozone bank then takes Macquarie up on the offer. Macquarie happily accepts one of the world's strongest currencies and gets rid of the worry over those loans and the Australian dollar.

But why would the eurozone bank make such a purchase, you wonder? Elementary, my dear Watson. The bank can go to the ECB and trade in its "asset" for more cash. If the package of loans holds its value, it still belong to the bank. And if it doesn't—oh, well. That will be the ECB's problem.

“There is moral hazard . . . and we are not in the business of taking over the market,” Mr Mersch [of the ECB] said. “That means there must be an exit strategy.

That also means there isn't.

Back in the U.S.A.

Are American banks attempting similar shenanigans with the Federal Reserve? Who knows? The Fed has made it quite clear that what goes on between it and the banks is none of our business. But I would be surprised to learn that our homegrown bankers are less crafty than their European fellows.


Sunday, May 18, 2008


Tales of a horse's ass

The Hill's gossip columnist Betsy Rothstein reported this month that the National Horse Protection League is accusing Senator Larry Craig—yes, he of the Minneapolis Airport restroom—of stalling. Stalling the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, that is. "Why won’t Sen. Craig get out of the stalls? When will he learn his lesson?" asked the League's director Soraya Gheissari in an email to the members. Can't Ms. Gheissari understand that Senator Craig just likes horsing around?

Which reminds me of a Persian friend back in the days before the Islamic Revolution. He'd grown up in a small village and loved to reminisce. I'm not sure how the topic came up, but the conversation turned to horses. He told me about a mare in the town who belonged to no one yet was loved by everyone. Everyday this horse would go from house to house for food and treats. In return the horse permitted the amorous advances of the men of the village. I don't know if Iranians eat horsemeat, but in any event I'd bet that horse never ended up as steak. There's nothing quite like small-town living, is there?


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