22 July 2014

Detroit Retirees Vote to Cut Own Pensions, Bond Scum Plan to Fight it in Court

I understand how insurance works: You sell insurance, and when someone makes a claim, you do whatever you can to screw your policy holders.

In the case of Detroit pensioners, who have no access social security as municipal employees, made concessessions, but the bond insurers want it all:
Two major bond insurers that could lose billions on Detroit’s bankruptcy blasted the city’s plan to pay retirees more than financial creditors and vowed to fight retirees’ endorsement of the deal.

After pensioners voted by a wide margin to accept cuts and allow the Detroit Institute of Arts to spin off into an independent charitable trust, bond insurers Syncora and Financial Guaranty Insurance Co. (FGIC) pledged to continue their vigorous legal fight against the city.

Judge Steven Rhodes will now conduct a confirmation trial starting Aug. 14 to consider evidence and witness testimony before determining whether the plan is fair, feasible and legal and can be approved.

The bond insurers — which backed a $1.4-billion debt deal brokered in 2005 by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s administration to fund pensions — voted no on the city’s offer to them, which ranged from 0 to 10 cents on the dollar.
BTW, they want the Detroit Institute of Art, one of the finest art collections in the United States, to sell off all of its art, because they cheated Detroit with their (probably illegal) interest rate swaps, fair and square.

Not enough bullets.

Why Snowden Going Through Channels was Never a Real Options

NPR looks at what happened to other people who attempted to complain about agency misconduct, and it ain't pretty:  Harassment, bogus charges, and systematic vilification, specifically the cases of Bill Binney and Thomas Drake.

I think that the quote describes just how effective the inspectors general are about such things:
"Perhaps it's the case that we could've shown, we could've explained to Mr. Snowden his misperceptions, his lack of understanding of what we do," [NSA Inspector General George] Ellard said.

We he is refer"Perhaps it's the case that we could've shown, we could've explained to Mr. Snowden his misperceptions, his lack of understanding of what we do," Ellard said.
If you listen to the interview, you realize that he's not talking the Inspector General's office, he's talking about the NSA.

The IG, and the whole whistle blowing apparatus are completely captured, and have not the slightest interest in addressing any potential issues.

His goal is talking Edward Snowden and other potential whistle-blowers out of actually blowing the whistle.

Also, it as it is noted in in the report, the new "protections" for intelligence operatives does not apply to contractors, and almost all new hires of the intelligence agencies are contractors.

How convenient.

This Makes Me Chuckle

Hedge fund billionaire William Ackman promised to deliver a deathblow to Herbalife from a Manhattan stage, but his long presentation on Tuesday bombed with investors and left the diet shake seller unscathed.

Herbalife CEO “Michael Johnson is a predator,” Ackman said fighting back tears as he wrapped up the second hour of the presentation while referring to his family’s American story, which started when Ackman’s great-grandfather immigrated to the U.S. from Russia. “This is a criminal enterprise.” Ackman called Herbalife a $24 billion “scam.” “The fraud is affecting more and more people,” said Ackman. “It is time to shut the company down.”

Shares of Herbalife rose steadily in the morning after Ackman started giving his talk on Herbalife’s nutritional clubs, increasing by 8% to $58.40 in the first hour of the presentation. Two hours into the talk the stock had risen by 11% to $60. That’s a little higher than the shares were changing hands for on Monday before Ackman drove down the stock by 11%, saying he would be delivering “the most important presentation that I have made in my career.” Ackman had promised in a CNBC interview on Monday that “we won’t disappoint.” Ackman’s presentation was still going on at 1:07 p.m., with the stock up by 15% to $62.22. During the presentation, Ackman suggested that Herbalife had been repurchasing shares in a material way on Tuesday. Shares of Herbalife continued to rise after the three-hour presentation ended, closing at $67.77, up 25% for the day.


The company, which has vigorously denied Ackman’s accusations, said on Tuesday that Ackman was trying to drive down Herbalife’s shares over a relatively short period because a “substantial portion of the bet expires on January 17, 2015,” referring to put options Ackman purchased when he restructured his short position in the company’s shares. Circumstantial evidence suggests Ackman’s put options are currently not in the money.


During the presentation, Ackman invoked Enron, Bernard Madoff, totalitarian regimes and even the Nazis. “The big lie is used by totalitarian regimes, and by the Nazis and by lots of people and people generally believe big lies because they are so bold that how can they possibly be false,” Ackman said. He criticized former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for supporting Herbalife and claimed that Albright had successfully used her connections to make sure the company could continue to operate in the key China market after Ackman had attacked Herbalife’s China operations earlier this year.
Oh, yeah, and then there is those accusations of free babysitting:
“They are not selling weight loss in these clubs, they are selling business opportunities,” Ackman said at the presentation to investors in New York, adding the clubs provided free babysitting and had people working making nutrition drinks without pay.

“This is all free labor, totally illegal,” he said.
Herbalife jumped, and his short bet dropped in value as a result.

I joke about schadenfreude all the time, but this really does make me feel good.

Does that make me a bad person?

Shorter News From the House of Representatives

John Boehner does something f%$#ing stupid to prevent theteabaggers in his caucus from doing something stupider (impeachment, default, declaring war on Russia) while still keeping
his job as speaker.

Rinse Lather, Repeat

21 July 2014

In Which a Pundit Gets it Completely F%$#ing Wrong

Over at The Atlantic they are wringing their hands because gay rights groups are now balking at religious exemptions embedded in gay rights legislation because of the Hobby Lobby decision:
In the Hobby Lobby decision handed down last month, the Supreme Court was asked to strike a balance between women’s rights and religious freedom. But the major conflict that has erupted in the wake of that decision has been between religious freedom and gay rights. The resulting controversy has split gay-rights and faith groups on the left, with wide-ranging political fallout that some now fear could hurt both causes.

One chapter of the controversy is set to close on Monday, when President Obama plans to sign a long-awaited executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against gays and lesbians, according to a White House official. But the debate that began over that order’s provisions for religious nonprofits has spilled over into a broader conflict. Many prominent gay-rights groups have now withdrawn their support from a top legislative priority, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, over the religious exemption it contains.
It's not a bad thing, this response is essential to good governance.

As I have noted before, "My dear, religion is like a penis. It’s a perfectly fine thing for one to have and take pride in, but when one takes it out and waves it in my face we have a problem." 

Civil rights should not be conditioned to kowtowing to those who use religion for self-aggrandizement or as an excuse to show hostility.

Religion is a private matter, and not a matter of public morality, nor should it ever be.

On a more pragmatic level, these religious carve outs create an impetus for more carve outs, so now we have a nurse suing a birth control clinic because they would not hire her because she would refuse to prescribe to birth control.

This is insanity, and it needs to stop.

Least Surprising News of the Day

You know all those terrorism plots that the FBI uncovered?

A study has revealed that the FBI manufactured most of the terror plots that it broke up:
Nearly all of the highest-profile domestic terrorism plots in the United States since 9/11 featured the "direct involvement" of government agents or informants, a new report says.

Some of the controversial "sting" operations "were proposed or led by informants", bordering on entrapment by law enforcement. Yet the courtroom obstacles to proving entrapment are significant, one of the reasons the stings persist.

The lengthy report, released on Monday by Human Rights Watch, raises questions about the US criminal justice system's ability to respect civil rights and due process in post-9/11 terrorism cases. It portrays a system that features not just the sting operations but secret evidence, anonymous juries, extensive pretrial detentions and convictions significantly removed from actual plots.

"In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act," the report alleges.
Which ones weren't? Those ones:
The four high-profile domestic plots it found free of government involvement were the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing; Najibullah Zazi's 2009 plot to bomb the New York subway; the attempted Times Square carbombing of 2010; and the 2002 shooting at Los Angeles International Airport's El Al counter.
So, while the FBI has been finding random idiots (read the case files, they are really stupid, while missing all of of the plots that actually went through to fruition.

But they did catch one potential terrorist that they did not sponsor ……… They just missed the other ¾ of them.

It's an adequate batting average, for a pitcher, I guess.

You know, maybe the FBI should stop manufacturing terrorist plots, and start looking at real terror plots.

And while they are at it, how about going after the f%$#ing banksters?  They are still defrauding the rest of us.

And while we are at it, how about a pony.

I'm not gonna get that either.

Thoughts on the Passing of James Garner

The Americanization of Emily
I cannot imagine seeing this in a movie today
I've had to think about it for a while.

He paid a big part in my childhood, both as Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files, and as Brett Maverick in Maverick. (I'm not that old, it was rerun in Portland, Oregon during my High School years.)

Well, following his death, I read his Wiki, and discovered a number of interesting facts:
  • He got two purple hearts in the Korean war, one for wounds in his butt from friendly fire while diving into a fox hole.
  • While in Korea, he was the the scrounger for his unit, which kind of mirrors a lot of roles that he played, most notably The Americanization of Emiy.
I will note that of all the PI shows and police procedurals that I saw growing up, The Rockford Files was the only show that had a pro civil liberties/due process/privacy bent.

There was an episode about prosecutorial abuse of the grand jury process, "So Help Me God", another about private efforts to create massive server farms to invade people's privacy, "The House on Willis Avenue," and law enforcement misconduct was a frequent theme in the show.

My older (hairier) brother always noted that it was rather ironic that The Rockford Files was regularly scheduled for broadcast with Quincy, M.E., which routinely used civil rights and due process as a bogeyman for plot purposes.

In any case, he was always fun to watch.

I have to turn my kids onto Support Your Local Gunfighter, which is IMNSHO the classic Garner movie role.

20 July 2014

It's Been 45 Years Since We Walked on the Moon

And 42½ years since we last walked on the.

Depressed yet?

19 July 2014

We Went to Artscape this Today

One of the oldest open air arts festivals in the nation.

We had a lot of fun looking at various arts and crafts, most notably a glass artist who works I borosilicate (Pyrex™) which rather surprised me, as most glass artists I know work with much lower temperature glass.

There was also music and a wide range of carnival-type foods.!

Finally, there are a fair number of booths of for profit companies, including a Geico booth with a very cross gecko.,

You make a couple of jokes about eating insects, and they take it personally.

Go figure.

Posted via mobile.

Japan Rolls Out Stealth Demonstrator

It's called the ATD-X Shinshin:
Japan has rolled out its ATD-X Shinshin fighter technology demonstrator, is considering buying more Lockheed MartinF-35s and will decide within four years whether it will develop its next combat aircraft alone or with a foreign partner.

When the ATD-X was launched in 2007, Japan’s vision was to progress from its then-current fighter program, a heavily modified F-16, to independent development. Now, with a policy change allowing defense exports, the technology from the demonstrator may end up in aircraft that emerge from foreign production lines as well as from one in Japan.

The single ATD-X aircraft, about the size of a Saab Gripen, is undergoing ground tests, says the defense ministry’s Technical Research and Development Institute (TRDI), the sponsor of the program. TRDI is due to fly the ATD-X this year, beginning an evaluation program that will run until 2016. The aircraft has been built to demonstrate technologies—including stealth shaping, skin sensors and fly-by-light controls—that the ministry hopes to apply in its next fighter development program (AW&ST Aug. 6, 2007, p. 26).

Official photographs taken on May 8 show the ATD-X on the apron outside a factory building of airframe builder Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) at the Komaki South plant in Nagoya. The airframe underwent static testing last year. The ATD-X will be powered by two 11,000-lb.-thrust IHI XF5-1 -engines.

U.S. involvement in the program, probably peripheral, appears in TRDI’s budget statement for the fiscal year to March 31, 2014, which lists contracts signed with the U.S. Air Force in support of the program. One item, costing ¥114 million ($1.12 million), is for testing outside Japan. Another, for ¥760 million, is for unspecified training from the U.S. Air Force. Japanese authorities have not mentioned a plan to fly the ATD-X outside Japan. The U.S. clearly has refused to supply stealth technology for the ATD-X, since Japan sent a radar model of the intended design to France in 2005 for evaluation.
Not a surprise on the last bit.

The Pentagon is desperate to sell as many F-35s as possible, to drive down their price, but the basic mathematics of Stealth have been known for over 40 years, when the equations were published in a public Soviet academic journal, so the secret sauce ain't so secret.

Of interest is that the Japanese also intend to use the Shinshin as a radar target to develop counter-steath techniques.

One function of the ATD-X is to serve as a radar target, supporting development of counter-stealth technology, because, TRDI has said, stealth aircraft are hard to simulate. In 2008, it hoped to use the ATD-X to validate the abilities of the FPS-5 radar, E-767 AWACS and Airboss infra-red turret to detect stealth aircraft. Six years later, it would not be surprising if other sensors have been added to the list.

The aircraft is clearly too small for internal carriage, which could be amelorated with stealthy pylons and pods, bu I don't expect them to look into this at this stage, since they are doing this on the cheap:
The ATD-X appears to be costing ¥77.1 billion, including airframe and engine development and manufacturing, plus the flight-test program. Engine development cost ¥14.7 billion, basic design of the stealth configuration with thrust-vectoring control ¥13.4 billion and system integration ¥7 billion. TRDI spent ¥2.7 billion researching airframe structure suitable for the skin sensor. Manufacturing and flight testing is budgeted at ¥39.3 billion, but spending of ¥22.5 billion under that heading last year alone suggests that that figure will be exceeded.

Even so, Japan appears to be spending much less than half of the present-day value of what Britain and partners spent on airframe and engine technology demonstrator programs that preceded the Eurofighter Typhoon. Admittedly, those 1980s efforts resulted in full-scale equipment, whereas the ATD-X is probably half as big as the fighter for which it is laying groundwork.
Given that there are about 101 Yen to the dollar, the program looks to run less than $1 billion.

This is a lot more than the Have Blue ran in the 1970s, Wiki says $35 milion, but the ATD-X is far more capable than the Have Blue, and military procurement inflation is insane, in 1978, an F-16 sold for $3 million.

My guess is that tis is more than a hedge against F-35 costs.