New Season, Old Stories

If we learned one thing this week in Minnesota, it’s that if you wait long enough something’s gotta give. Spring arrived this week and the air nearly sizzles with wet and warmth and life. As it always is, something had to happen eventually.

Everywhere except Congress, of course.

But aside from the entertainment we get from “leaders”, there are other sources of news. Here are three stories Barataria has been all over which had interesting developments in the last week.

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Grandstanding, not Governing

Unpatriotic! Unconstitutional! Treasonous! Illegal! The reaction to the letter signed by 47 Senators telling Iran that any treaty signed will be un-done in two years was swift and brutal. Some of the harshest condemnation came from those who oppose any agreement with Iran, too, so it wasn’t just Democrats this time. But was it really all those things that have been alleged?

The short answer is that today’s popular media always hyperventilates, so something this unprecedented had to test the limits of hyperbole. Sorry, this blasted through the stratosphere of outrage! But the real problem isn’t this one action, which we can be sure our foreign policy and our democratic-republic will survive. What is more troubling is the new standard set for obstruction and grandstanding that tells us nothing, absolutely nothing, is going to be accomplished in the next two years.

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The Original Source

The internet is a wide, rolling river of information. It can be treacherous and dangerous to wade into if you’re not careful. If you’re looking for a cool drink of truth, the muddy brown of this mighty Mississippi of data often has a harsh stench of bias bubbling along with the waves. What can a reader thirsty for knowledge do?

The answer is to seek the source – the cool, clear stream that feeds into the torment at the headwaters. I call it the “Urquelle”, a German word meaning “original source” favored in the mountains and rolling hills that are the source of so many great rivers in Bavaria and Bohemia. This process of seeking out primary sources is valuable not just for writers, for whom primary sources have long been a staple of good, useful prose. As surely as reading is writing, today’s discerning reader should also seek the Urquelle.
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Iranian Ambition, the Great Chessgame

Netanyahu’s tone was measured and direct, fitting the prestige of the chamber he was addressing. “That deal would not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons — it would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them,” he told Congress last Tuesday. It was classic Netanyahu in many ways – bold, dire, and ultimately a load of cowpuckey.

Netanyahu can’t claim to know what is happening in the “P5+1” talks to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment program, and if he does know he can’t prove it publicly. These talks have been going on for nine years now and have always hinged on one sticking point – Iran cannot obtain nuclear weapons. Any other result would have made the talks much easier and they would have been over by now. But these are important talks for reasons even larger than weapons of mass destruction.

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Payday Can’t Come Fast Enough

The woman ahead of us in line at the convenience store had a bit more than the impatient, bored look we all shared. She held her head high and spoke to the cashier in a friendly tone, paying for the gasoline she was going to pump. Like many people at this store, in this part of St Paul, she paid with cash – but hers came in crisp twenties slid neatly out of a bank envelope. After we paid our own way out of the line I asked my daughter if she noticed. “My guess is she just cashed her paycheck because she doesn’t have a bank account,” I told her. It was a good guess, because it turns out that more than 17% of that particular neighborhood’s households have no bank account – and many rely on the UnBank check cashing up the street.

There are many reasons people don’t have bank accounts, up to and including the fact that check cashing stores can actually be cheaper than fees on everything. But some people wind up using these places for a “Payday Loan”, or a one-month advance on the next paycheck. A recent study shows that people who do this have to take out another loan the next month to pay off the first, and so on – with 62% eventually hitting 7 or more months in a row, the point where the interest payment exceeds the loan amount.

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Fed Raising Rates …. When?

It’s been nearly a year since Janet Yellen, in her first testimony press conference after a Fed Open Market Committee (FOMC)  meeting, told the world just what she was looking for before raising the Fed Funds Rate (and everything that rises along with it). The openness was remarkable for a Fed Chair and a sign of a new era as a woman took control of what is arguably the most power job in the world.

Since that time, we have followed “Yellen’s Dashboard” with periodic updates to just just how we’re doin’. Nearly everyone agrees that interest rates will rise sometime this year, probably around June, as she has told us.  But how does that stack up against her very public criteria? It’s worth checking in with some math to see where we are with rates and what we can expect.

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