3e Jonathan V. Last

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April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Dec. 16, 2008 / 19 Kislev 5769

To fix economy Obama needs someone fluent in banks

By Jonathan V. Last


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | "You can take Hollywood for granted like I did, or you can dismiss it with the contempt we reserve for what we don't understand. It can be understood, too, but only dimly and in flashes. Not half a dozen men have ever been able to keep the whole equation of pictures in their heads." - F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Last Tycoon"

On Jan. 20, the day of President Obama's inauguration, the Dow Jones industrial average stood at 7,949. Since then it has dropped roughly 9 percent. If you look back to Nov. 4, when the market first began reacting to Obama's election, the Dow has dropped almost 25 percent. Correlation is not necessarily causation. But it would be difficult to deny that Obama's failure to address successfully the banking crisis has been a large factor in the collapse of the stock market.

At the heart of the current turbulence is the mortgage meltdown, which created a number of problems for the economy: a weakened housing sector, declining consumer confidence, enormous destruction of personal wealth for many homeowners. But the biggest problem is that the bad debt from the subprime mess had been leveraged - that is, separated into tranches, regraded, and then sold and resold - so that it contaminated a large portion of the banking system, upon which credit and the rest of the financial markets are entirely - not partly or mostly - dependent.

So why has Obama babbled away about health care and energy reform instead of fixing the banking industry? There are only two possible explanations, neither of which is reassuring.

The first - and unlikely - possibility, is that Obama does not actually understand the centrality of the bank problem. He has no experience in finance or economics and his few stray attempts to grapple with the subjects - "the stock market is sort of like a tracking poll in politics" - suggest a deep unseriousness.

Again, this seems unlikely because whatever Obama's intellectual blind spots might be, he is (I hope) listening to the wisdom of people outside his administration. And every economic observer in America, from David Smick to Andrew Grove to Warren Buffett, has been shouting from the rooftops about the need to put the banks in order.

So the alternative is that the administration is paralyzed because it is confronted with what Donald Rumsfeld would call a "known unknown": The global financial system is so big, and complex, and opaque that no one - literally, not one single person on the planet - knows for certain how it works.

Which means that fixing the banks isn't a question of simply finding the political will to push Button A. Rather, no one knows if pushing Button A - or flipping Switch B or pulling Lever C - will remove bad debt from troubled banks. Or cause a cascade of credit default swaps. Or trigger a run on the FDIC. Because the entire system has essentially become a black box.

It sounds slightly preposterous from a systems-engineering point of view. How could a thing built by human hands be beyond human understanding? Well, it turns out that institutional knowledge can be fleeting.

Consider the programming language COBOL. Developed in 1959, COBOL was used in mainframes and large institutional computers. Over the years it was replaced by other languages. The thing is, COBOL is still out there, running billions of lines of background code, like one of those archaeological sublayers underneath a modern city block. It supports things going on above it, but no one is quite certain exactly how. Some specialized programmers still study it, but it's something of a lost language.

Then there's the Trident missile. Built in the 1980s, the Tridents are submarine-based nuclear missiles. Recently the Navy tried to refurbish the missiles, but ran into a slight problem: The Trident contains an essential component code-named "Fogbank" (the New Scientist speculates that Fogbank is a type of foam) which nobody knew how to manufacture anymore. The refurbishment plans were put on hold; teams of experts are trying to reverse-engineer the stuff. Imagine that: a key piece of strategic weaponry and nobody really understands how to make it work.

The NSA charmingly refers to the Fogbank dilemma as "lost knowledge." But knowledge gets misplaced more often than you'd think. How long, for instance, would it take NASA to put another man on the moon, something we did as a matter of routine 35 years ago? When President George W. Bush called for a new moon shot five years ago, the space agency wasn't even sure it could make a Saturn V rocket anymore.

In the end, we may be lucky if the banking system is only as complicated as Fitzgerald's Hollywood, because that would mean that somewhere out there are a half-dozen men who can grasp the workings of this contraption. Let's hope they exist and that Obama finds them.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Jonathan V. Last is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Comment by clicking here.


Previously:

12/16/08 This is bigger than Barbie
12/11/08 Creative destruction: Some businesses deserve to die and we're better for it
11/20/08 Time for perspective on election's numbers
11/13/08 Climbing back from calamity
11/03/08 Put aside candidates' faults and ponder their qualities
10/09/08 Regrettably, neither of the presidential hopefuls has a grasp on economic theory
09/22/08 Anti-abortion Democrats and global-warming Republicans are becoming increasingly important
09/09/08 On both sides, this year's political gatherings marked the start of changed strategies that have transformed the race
07/23/08 With policy shifts, Obama now seen as an ordinary pol
06/26/08 Bush failed to hold others responsible for their mistakes, and he let his admirable vice president do too much
02/18/08 GOP will unify as Obama and Clinton continue to vie
12/13/07 Fun begins as races tighten and shift
12/05/07 Iran's future: Would lower fertility rates lead to stability?
11/01/07 Nobel Prize in Economics — where Team USA still dominates the game
10/25/07 Handicapping the GOP's presidential horse race
10/11/07 Germany's Turks provide a lesson on immigration
09/13/07 British battle can offer us a perspective on casualties
09/12/07 Alas, GOP seems set to take hit in Senate
08/30/07 Europeans have supplanted backbones with capitulation
08/24/07 Politics holds the key to ensuring a healthy growth in population
08/17/07 Finessing the Democratic center
08/10/07 Woohoo! Satire seeing a revival
07/31/07 Historical model: For Obama, it's Carter
07/26/07 Baseball, apple pie, a 2nd chance
07/24/07 Harry Potter and the alchemy theory
07/06/07 Life is hard — and often short. The perils of professional wrestling
06/21/07 After Bush: Gingrich and others worry that his shortcomings could have a far-reaching effect on the GOP
03/09/07 Why the British outclass us in acting
01/23/07 Romney: Seriously great, but with baggage
12/23/06 When truth is transpicuous
12/05/06 A realistic plan: Split the country in two
11/08/06 We could easily pull out of Korea and let China have regional hegemony. But would it be the right thing?
10/24/06 The decline of revolution
10/18/06 Why the free market is king
08/07/06 Democracy, of itself, not solution to all problems
08/01/06 We get the movies we deserve
07/27/06 How long will U.S. empire last?


© 2006, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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