30 September 2014

F%$# You for that Mental Image

Talking with a Gentile cow-orker about Rosh Hashanah, and the blowing of the Shofar.

We talked about how some are short (ram's horns) some are longer. (some sort of gazelle, and rather more melodic)

I noted that while the Shofar is played much like any brass instrument, i.e. with buzzing lips, but it differ in that the Shofar blower traditionally blow from the corner of the mouth, not the middle.

He said, "Kenny G. style".

GAH!!!!

M of A - The (NED Financed) Hong Kong Riots

Guess what? It looks like the CIA front known as the National Endowment for Democracy is dumping money into yet another so called color revolution:

Some organized "student groups" in Hong Kong tried to occupy government buildings and blocked some streets. The police did what it does everywhere when such things happen. It used anti-riot squads, pepper spray and tear gas to prevent occupations and to clear the streets.

………………
Peter Lee aka Chinahand has an excellent piece on the issue at Asia Times Online. But Lee is making one mistake in that he does not consider outside influence:
Occupy Hong Kong decided to light it, starting with a class boycott and demonstrations organized by the Hong Kong Federation of Students. And, since I’m never afraid to mix a metaphor, the Hong Kong government poured fuel on the fire by pepper-spraying and teargassing it.
Who really "decided to light this"? To me the protests, and the "western" reporting about it, have the distinct smell not of tear gas but of some expensive Color Revolution perfume of "western" origin.

So lets look up the usual source of such exquisite fragrance. The 2012 annual report of the U.S. government financed National Endowment of Democracy, aka the CCA - Central Color-Revolution Agency, includes three grants for Hong Kong one of which is new for 2012 and not mentioned in earlier annual reports:
National Democratic Institute for International Affairs - $460,000

To foster awareness regarding Hong Kong's political institutions and constitutional reform process and to develop the capacity of citizens - particularly university students - to more effectively participate in the public debate on political reform, NDI will work with civil society organizations on parliamentary monitoring, a survey, and development of an Internet portal, allowing students and citizens to explore possible reforms leading to universal suffrage.
So the U.S. government in 2012 (2013 numbers are not yet available) hands over nearly half a million to "develop the capacity" of "university students" related to the issue of "universal suffrage" in the election of Hong Kong's chief executive.
Why do we keep doing this sh%$?

Not only does it reduce the credibility of protesters in country, but the results (the Ukraine, Georgia, etc.) have been spotty, to put it mildly.

If the definition of insanity is, "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results," the US state security and foreign policy apparatus are insane.

Silly Rabbit, Religious Freedom is Just for Christians

In their 41-14 drubbing of the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah intercepted Tom Brady and ran it back for a touchdown, and then gave thanks to God.

Unfortunately, this was a Muslim prayers, so he was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

I don't ever recall that ever happening to Tim Tebow.

Today, the NFL actually called out the Zebras, and apologized:
The N.F.L. said Tuesday that Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah was mistakenly penalized by a game official when he knelt to pray after scoring a touchdown Monday night.

In the fourth quarter of the Chiefs’ 41-14 victory over the New England Patriots, Abdullah, who is Muslim, intercepted a pass by Tom Brady and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown. After he entered the end zone, he slid on his knees and bowed forward in prayer, with his head touching the turf.

He was given a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

An N.F.L. spokesman said Tuesday that Abdullah should not have been penalized. “Officiating mechanic is not to flag player who goes to ground for religious reasons,” Michael Signora, the spokesman, said on Twitter.

Players routinely gesticulate and thank God after scoring touchdowns. Most prominently, Tim Tebow, the former Denver Broncos quarterback, knelt on one knee after scoring. Tebowing became an Internet meme.
If Abdullah had Tebowed, he would not have gotten a penalty.

You know it, I know it, and even the generally clueless National Football League knows this.

I Will Write No More of Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum, Forever

At some point, you realize that all you need to hear about Ayn Rand has been told by someone else.

In this case, it's John Oliver, or more accurately, it's his show, Last Week Tonight:



I'm not sure how I can top this.

The Eu Gets Real, Beotches

The EU has routinely insisted that in accordance with EU rules, countries in crisis have to impoverish their ordinary citizens, cutting wages and the social safety net.

Well it looks like the EU will start going after money for the big guys now with Eurocrats going after Ireland's tax deal with Apple, and Luxemburg's and the Netherland's deals with FIAT and Starbucks:
In a warning shot to companies shopping for tax deals around the globe, the European Commission publicly accused Ireland on Tuesday of giving illegal subsidies to Apple and cautioned that the country might need to collect back taxes from the company, which outside analysts said could reach into the billions of dollars.

These findings, which constitute a preliminary indictment of Apple’s past arrangements with Ireland, come as policy makers in the United States and Europe try to block some of the inventive maneuvers multinationals use to limit taxes in their home countries and reduce their worldwide payments as much as possible.

“The light bulb has gone off that trade wars by another name and conducted through the tax system are just as ruinous,” said Edward D. Kleinbard, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law and a former chief of staff to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.
And from the European lowlands:
The European Union is to accuse US tech giant Apple of taking illegal aid from the Irish state through sweetheart tax deals over two decades, the Financial Times reported Monday.

A European Commission investigation into Apple's tax affairs in Ireland, where it has enjoyed a rate of less than 2.0 percent, found that the company benefitted from illegal state aid, the FT reported citing sources close to the matter.

Ireland's Department of Finance confirmed that the EU would be publishing a document on Monday but stressed that "the Commission has not formally decided that there is state aid" at play.

"Ireland is confident that there is no breach of state aid rules in this case and has already issued a formal response to the Commission earlier this month, addressing in detail the concerns and some misunderstandings contained in the opening decision," the department added.

The European Union launched a probe in June into sweetheart tax deals negotiated by Apple, Starbucks and Fiat with three member states.

The investigation seeks to determine whether such arrangements offered by Ireland, Netherlands and Luxembourg give the companies an unfair competitive advantage and thus amount to illegal state aid.
Here's a phrase that I did not expect to say, "Good job, European Union Bureaucrats."

Follow this to its logical conclusion, please, and ban this sh%$.

Everyone but the corporations lose in this beggar thy neighbor strategy, and besides, Ireland really needs the money.

The Wisest Thing Said so Far this Year

If regular Americans acted like corporations and the moneyed class, our country would collapse in a week from systemic theft, corruption and greed.

Donald Trump is going bankrupt for the 5th time, Richard Fuld is still a rich man, Goldman Sachs is still a going concern, airlines and other businesses routinely declare bankruptcy to cheat their workers.

It's no surprise that recent studies have found the wealthy to be less ethical than the general populace.

And when a deal goes bad? They just walk away.

Basically, the much of the obscene levels of wealth that have been accumulated, particularly by the MBA class, come from their monetizing our ethics and their lack thereof.

29 September 2014

John Oliver Certainly has a Way With Words

John Oliver's monologue about the US drone policy notes that US drone policies are like, "Harvey Keitel's balls," because, "From a distance you think, 'Well, I understand the contours of those.' But if you were to really examine them, you'd discover that they're actually lost in a haze of fuzziness and gray areas. Much like the rules for our drone strikes."

Barack Obama is giving Henry Kissinger some serious competition for "Worst American recipient of the Nobel Prize ever."


Nope, No Partisan Politics Here

In another 5-4 decision split along ideological lines, the Supreme Court has blocked early voting in Ohio, at least until an appeals court rules:
With just sixteen hours before polling stations were to open in Ohio, the Supreme Court on Monday afternoon blocked voters from beginning tomorrow to cast their ballots in this year’s general election. By a vote of five to four, the Justices put on hold a federal judge’s order providing new opportunities for voting before election day, beyond what state leaders wanted.

The order will remain in effect until the Court acts on an appeal by state officials. If that is denied, then the order lapses. It is unclear when that scenario will unfold. The state’s petition has not yet been filed formally.

The practical effect of the order will mean that, at the least, early voting will not be allowed this week — a period that supporters of early balloting have called “Golden Week.” That permits voters to register and cast their ballots on the same day.

Depending upon the timing of the state’s filing of a petition for review and the Court’s action on it, Monday’s order may also mean that early voting will not be permitted on most Sundays between now and election day, November 4, and will not be permitted during evening hours — that is, after 5 p.m.
I will make a note here any suggestion that Justice Kennedy is anything but a partisan hack has been thoroughly debunked.

Then again, we knew that after his vote in Bush v. Gore in 2000.

For the Past two Decades or so, not Having a Substantive Conflict of Interest Policy has been Goldman’s Business Model

In looking at the recent ProPublica and This American Life coverage of the capture of the Federal Reserve regulators by the Vampire Squid (Goldman Sachs) it's important to note that they miss a basic point, which is that, as
Justin Fox so ably points out in the Harvard Business Review, Goldman Sachs has been using conflicts of interest as a mechanism to generate much, if not most of their profits.

I recommend that you read the ProPublica story, and then listen to the This American Life podcast, but Mr. Fox does make a legitimate complaint about the coverage.

Specifically one of the big reveals is that a Goldman executive said that consumer protection laws do not apply to rich clients.

This is in fact true under US law:
In the first, Carmen Segarra, the former Fed bank examiner who made the tapes, tells of a Goldman Sachs executive saying in a meeting that “once clients were wealthy enough, certain consumer laws didn’t apply to them.”  Far from being a shocking admission, this is actually a pretty fair summary of American securities law. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s “accredited investor” guidelines, an individual with a net worth of more than $1 million or an income of more than $200,000 is exempt from many of the investor-protection rules that apply to people with less money. That’s why rich people can invest in hedge funds while, for the most part, regular folks can’t. Maybe there were some incriminating details behind the Goldman executive’s statement that alarmed Segarra and were left out of the story, but on the face of it there’s nothing to see here.
The theory here is that the very rich, by virtue of having a lot of money, are assumed to be knowledgeable investors, and so are more able to protect themselves.

Simply put, they are saying that they are not the general public, because they either have, or can hire, financial knowledge.

In highlighting this, they underplay the 2nd reveal of the story, and what is clearly the reason for Ms. Segarra's unjustified termination, the fact that Goldman Sachs never had a meaningful conflict of interest policy:
The other smoking gun is that Segarra pushed for a tough Fed line on Goldman’s lack of a substantive conflict of interest policy, and was rebuffed by her boss. This is a big deal, and for much more than the legal/compliance reasons discussed in the piece. That’s because, for the past two decades or so, not having a substantive conflict of interest policy has been Goldman’s business model. Representing both sides in mergers, betting alongside and against clients, and exploiting its informational edge wherever possible is simply how the firm makes its money. Forcing it to sharply reduce these conflicts would be potentially devastating.
(emphasis mine)

Mr. Fox makes another interesting point, that any organization that is responsible for the stability and the viability of the banks, such as the Federal Reserve, have an inherent interest in ensuring that those organizations are profitable, because profitable banks are more stable than unprofitable.

Carmen Segarra, in pushing for Goldman having a conflict of interest policy, was attacking the attacking the viability of a bank.

This raises a larger question, whether we really want to have an organization for which has unethical behavior at the core of both its culture and profits to remain viable.

This was the question that no one has asked about Wall Street in general, and Goldman Sachs in particular.

It needs to be asked.

Linkage


How wolves literally changed the geography of Yellowstone Park:

28 September 2014

Good News Everyone!

Good news everyone!


I invented a device that makes you read this in your head using my voice!
The language of negotiations differs in different societies.

In Japan, it is rare for someone to simply say no.

Instead, the culture is to obliquely mention difficulties, so the fact that the Japanese trade minister has stated that there has been no progress in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) constitutes a major rebuke:
Japan's Trade Minister Akira Amari said he and his U.S. counterpart made no progress in bilateral talks that are key to an ambitious multilateral trade deal.

"Japan made a flexible proposal, but we weren't able to make further progress," Amari told reporters on Wednesday evening in Washington. "Further negotiations are undecided."
This is unalloyed good news.

The TPP is not about free trade.  In most areas (except perhaps for Japanese agricultural products), tariffs are pretty minimal these days.

This is about allowing rent seekers in insurance, finance, and IP protected industries (pharma, software patents, music, etc.) to further increase their profits by manipulating the government rules, i that are integral to their business models.

It's a good thing that labor, environmental, consumer, and safety regulations aren't going to be crucified on a cross of "free trade". ……… For a while, at least.

I Guess that the word "Khorasan" is Arabic for "Gulf of Tonkin"

Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain make a rather compelling case for The Khorasan Group being a construct of the Obama Administration to provide a legal fig leaf for dropping bombs on Syria:
As the Obama administration prepared to bomb Syria without Congressional or U.N. authorization, it faced two problems. The first was the difficulty of sustaining public support for a new years-long war against ISIS, a group that clearly posed no imminent threat to the “homeland.” A second was the lack of legal justification for launching a new bombing campaign with no viable claim of self-defense or U.N. approval.

The solution to both problems was found in the wholesale concoction of a brand new terror threat that was branded “The Khorasan Group.” After spending weeks depicting ISIS as an unprecedented threat – too radical even for Al Qaeda! – administration officials suddenly began spoon-feeding their favorite media organizations and national security journalists tales of a secret group that was even scarier and more threatening than ISIS, one that posed a direct and immediate threat to the American Homeland. Seemingly out of nowhere, a new terror group was created in media lore.

………

AP warned Americans that “the fear is that the Khorasan militants will provide these sophisticated explosives to their Western recruits who could sneak them onto U.S.-bound flights.” It explained that although ISIS has received most of the attention, the Khorasan Group “is considered the more immediate threat.”
………

The genesis of the name was itself scary: “Khorasan refers to a province under the Islamic caliphate, or religious empire, of old that included parts of Afghanistan.” AP depicted the U.S. officials who were feeding them the narrative as engaging in some sort of act of brave, unauthorized truth-telling: “many U.S. officials interviewed for this story would not be quoted by name talking about what they said was highly classified intelligence.”

………

Orr then announced that while ISIS is “dominating headlines and terrorist propaganda,” Orr’s “sources” warn of “a more immediate threat to the U.S. Homeland.” As Orr spoke, CBS flashed alternating video showing scary Muslims in Syria and innocent westerners waiting in line at airports, as he intoned that U.S. officials have ordered “enhanced screening” for “hidden explosives.” This is all coming, Orr explained, from ”an emerging threat in Syria” where “hardened terrorists” are building “hard to detect bombs.”
………

On September 25, the New York Times – just days after hyping the Khorasan threat to the homeland – wrote that “the group’s evolution from obscurity to infamy has been sudden.” And the Paper of Record began, for the first time, to note how little evidence actually existed for all those claims about the imminent threats posed to the homeland:
American officials have given differing accounts about just how close the group was to mounting an attack, and about what chance any plot had of success. One senior American official on Wednesday described the Khorasan plotting as “aspirational” and said that there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works.
Literally within a matter of days, we went from “perhaps in its final stages of planning its attack” (CNN) to “plotting as ‘aspirational’” and “there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works” (NYT).
(emphasis mine)

What's more, the folks at The Intercept also noted that no one ever heard of the group before it was a justification for the airstrikes:
Even more remarkable, it turns out the very existence of an actual “Khorasan Group” was to some degree an invention of the American government. NBC’s Engel, the day after he reported on the U.S. Government’s claims about the group for Nightly News, seemed to have serious second thoughts about the group’s existence, tweeting:
Indeed, a NEXIS search for the group found almost no mentions of its name prior to the September 13 AP article based on anonymous officials. There was one oblique reference to it in a July 31 CNN op-ed by Peter Bergen. The other mention was an article in the LA Times from two weeks earlier about Pakistan which mentioned the group’s name as something quite different than how it’s being used now: as “the intelligence wing of the powerful Pakistani Taliban faction led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur.” Tim Shorrock noted that the name appears in a 2011 hacked Stratfor email published by WikiLeaks, referencing a Dawn article that depicts them as a Pakistan-based group which was fighting against and “expelled by” (not “led by”) Bahadur.

There are serious questions about whether the Khorasan Group even exists in any meaningful or identifiable manner. Aki Peritz, a CIA counterterrorism official until 2009, told Time: “I’d certainly never heard of this group while working at the agency,” while Obama’s former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said: ”We used the term [Khorasan] inside the government, we don’t know where it came from….All I know is that they don’t call themselves that.” As the Intercept was finalizing this article, former terrorism federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wrote in National Review that the group was a scam: “You haven’t heard of the Khorosan Group because there isn’t one. It is a name the administration came up with, calculating that Khorosan … had sufficient connection to jihadist lore that no one would call the president on it.”

What happened here is all-too-familiar. The Obama administration needed propagandistic and legal rationale for bombing yet another predominantly Muslim country. While emotions over the ISIS beheading videos were high, they were not enough to sustain a lengthy new war.

So after spending weeks promoting ISIS as Worse Than Al Qaeda™, they unveiled a new, never-before-heard-of group that was Worse Than ISIS™. Overnight, as the first bombs on Syria fell, the endlessly helpful U.S. media mindlessly circulated the script they were given: this new group was composed of “hardened terrorists,” posed an “imminent” threat to the U.S. homeland, was in the “final stages” of plots to take down U.S. civilian aircraft, and could “launch more-coordinated and larger attacks on the West in the style of the 9/11 attacks from 2001.”"

As usual, anonymity was granted to U.S. officials to make these claims. As usual, there was almost no evidence for any of this. Nonetheless, American media outlets – eager, as always, to justify American wars - spewed all of this with very little skepticism. Worse, they did it by pretending that the U.S. Government was trying not to talk about all of this – too secret! – but they, as intrepid, digging journalists, managed to unearth it from their courageous “sources.” Once the damage was done, the evidence quickly emerged about what a sham this all was. But, as always with these government/media propaganda campaigns, the truth emerged only when it’s impotent.
This sounds an awful lot like George W. Bush saying, "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

This is the product of the imperial consensus that emerged following the fall of the USSR, with a dash of venality and mendacity from the House of Saud.

I cannot help but think that we are close to seeing the end of the American imperium, and that it's fall will be not be pretty.

27 September 2014

Obamacare Follies

It turns out that large employers, particularly ones with large numbers of low paid employees, can issue complying plans that do not cover hospitalization>:
Lance Shnider is confident Obamacare regulators knew exactly what they were doing when they created an online calculator that gives a green light to new employer coverage without hospital benefits.

“There’s not a glitch in this system,” said Shnider, president of Voluntary Benefits Agency, an Ohio firm working with some 100 employers to implement such plans. “This is the way the calculator was designed.”

Timothy Jost is pretty sure the whole thing was a mistake.

“There’s got to be a problem with the calculator,” said Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University and health-benefits authority. Letting employers avoid health-law penalties by offering plans without hospital benefits “is certainly not what Congress intended,” he said.

As companies prepare to offer medical coverage for 2015, debate has grown over government software that critics say can trap workers in inadequate plans while barring them from subsidies to buy fuller coverage on their own.

………

Companies considering such plans include a restaurant chain with 1,000 workers, a trucking firm with 500 employees and dependents, a delicatessen, a fur farm and firms working the oil boom in upper Midwest, Flunker said.

Employer interest in the plans “is definitely picking up pretty quickly,” said Kevin Schlotman, director of benefits at Benovation, an Ohio firm that designs and administers health coverage. “These are organizations that are facing a significant increase in expenses. They’re trying to do their best.”
I rather imagine that WalMart is working to set up something like this.

Evil is as evil does.

This is what happens when you decide that the source of the problem must be "partners" in a solution.

The free market aspects of  American healthcare are what cause the high prices and opacity and poor outcomes. 

Expecting that stapling a few regulations on this system would fix it was delusional.

Corrupting My Kids


Be seeing you!
Some years ago, I received a complete DVD set of what is arguably the best show ever put on Television, The Prisoner.

It is certainly the most innovative drama yet to grace the small screen.  (I'm not sure whether the works of Ernie Kovacs are more innovative, hence the "drama" modifier)

I have decided that it's time for me to introduce my children to the work.

They've already seen the first episode, and in re-watching it, it appears to be even more timely than when I saw it first in the late 1970s.

Somehow the concerns about privacy and surveillance seem particularly apropos now.

26 September 2014

Please, Someone ……… Anyone Make it Stop


At about 1:30
I understand that the right wing in general, and Caribou Barbie in particular, find the Obama administration to be a veritable font of mendacity.

That is the nature of politics these days.

However, when Sarah Palin says that "Truth is an endangered species at 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue, I just want to bang my head until I lose consciousness.

Seriously.  This woman has me aching for the quiet competence of J. Danforth "Dan" Quayle.

But she still is a force in right wing politics, so I still have to pay attention.

25 September 2014

L'Shana Tova, Y'all

Rosh Hashana, so we're blowing the Shofar.

Please no jokes about just giving the Chauffeur a tip, instead.

24 September 2014

Deep Thought



Yes, you can buy this.

H/t DC at the Stellar Parthenon BBS.

This is Unbelievably F%$#ed Up

Two nights ago, we bombed ISIS.

We didn't just bomb ISIS though, we also bombed a separate group, the Khorasan Group, which might, or not be affiliated with abhat al-Nusra.

The kicker is that Khorasan Group and ISIS are enemies, which means that we are bombing two opposing sides of the Syrian civil war:
On Monday night, the United States struck targets in Syria for the first time as part of its expanded air campaign against ISIS—a campaign that had previously been limited to the Iraqi side of the terrorist group's border-spanning domain. But the anti-ISIS mission Barack Obama outlined in an address on September 10—"We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL"—had expanded in another way, too, as the U.S. launched strikes on a separate group in Syria that many Americans hadn't heard of until recently. The Khorasan Group, which the president introduced briefly on Tuesday morning as "seasoned al-Qaeda operatives in Syria," appears to be part of a faction that is actively fighting ISIS, meaning America has now bombed two opposing sides of Syria's many-sided civil war. Has the military operation announced by the president only weeks ago already outgrown its original mission?

The Khorasan Group made no appearance in Obama's speech warning Americans that U.S. airstrikes in Syria were likely. And it's unclear what the group's exact relationship is to al-Qaeda's better-known affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, or even whether it's a distinct entity. Regardless, al-Qaeda's international leadership has disowned ISIS, and at the local level, forces associated with al-Qaeda have fought the group for territory. ISIS, for its part, has been blamed for assassinating senior al-Qaeda figures in Syria.
On the night that "kinetic action" began, we bombed two sides in a conflict.  (To be fair, there are 3¼ sides in the Syrian civil war, ISIS on one side, Sunni Jihadis on the other side, the Damascus regime on yet another side, and then the "Free Syrian Army", whom I count as ¼ of a side)

And need I mention, the Sunni Jihadis, one of the sides that we just bombed, will be trained by the American military in Saudi Arabia, but we're going to be really careful not to train the really bad ones.

This is so transparently a complete cluster f%$# that it positively buggers the mind, and we are not even a week into this.

23 September 2014

Damn. No Jail Time

Conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza avoided prison on Tuesday when a U.S. judge sentenced him to serve eight months in a community confinement center after he pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance law.

D'Souza, 53, was ordered by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan to live in a center, which would allow him to leave during non-residential hours for employment, for the first eight months of a five-year probationary period.

Berman also ordered D'Souza to perform one day of community service a week during probation, undergo weekly therapy and pay a $30,000 fine.
This is a guy whose wife wrote a letter to the judge that condemned him for forging her signature and being abusive:
During the sentencing hearing, Berman read from a blistering letter submitted to the court by D’Souza’s estranged wife. In the missive, Dixie D’Souza alleged that her ex-spouse forged her signature on one campaign contribution form, and that he had an “abusive nature.”

D’Souza, who was married to the defendant for 20 years, wrote, “In one instance, it was my husband who physically abused me in April 2012 when he, using his purple belt karate skills, kicked me in the head and shoulder, knocking me to the ground and creating injuries that pain me to this day.” Click here to download a PDF of Dixie D’Souza’s five-page letter to Berman.
Seriously.  What does a Republican have do to get thrown in jail these days?

Another Day, Another Shooting

This one was at a UPS complex in Birmingham, Alabama:
A recently-fired UPS employee on Tuesday shot dead two supervisors at the company facility where he had worked in Birmingham, Alabama before turning the gun on himself, police said.

The gunman, who was wearing a brown UPS uniform, had been terminated earlier this month and had learned a day earlier that he had lost his appeal to get his job back, police said, adding that his motive was not immediately clear. Police had earlier said that the man was fired yesterday.

The shooting occurred shortly before 9:30 a.m. at a large, brick UPS service center atop a hill in the Inglenook section of Birmingham, close to the airport, police said.
Yep, the American gun fetish is such a good thing.

I get that, barring a nigh apocalyptic change in American body politic, we will not see any meaningful change in our gun control regimes.

The gun nuts own our country, the rest of us just live in it.

To quote Tom Tomorrow, "The occasional horrific civilian massacre is just the price the rest of us have to pay ……… Over and over again, apparently.

Finally!

The FTC is suing brand name drug makers over their payments to generic drug manufacturers to delay their production:
For the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that so-called pay-to-delay deals may be subject to greater antitrust scrutiny, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has filed a lawsuit charging drug makers with violating anti-trust laws and hurting consumers in their collective pocketbooks.

Specifically, the agency charged several drug makers – including AbbVie ; Abbott Laboratories , which spun off AbbVie, and Teva Pharmaceuticals – for striking deals that delayed the availability of the widely promoted AndroGel testosterone replacement therapy, a $1 billion seller.

“We believe the defendants’ anticompetitive conduct has forced consumers to overpay hundreds of millions of dollars for this medication,” FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez told the media in a briefing, in which she noted the agency hopes to force the drug makers to disgorge “their ill-gotten gains.”

In these deals, a brand-name drug maker settles with a generic rival in exchange for ending patent litigation and launching a copycat medicine at a future date. The pharmaceutical industry contends the deals are not only legal, but actually allow drugs to reach consumers faster than if litigation continued.

Also known as reverse payment settlements, the deals emerged as an unintended consequence of the Hatch-Waxman Act that was designed to accelerate access to lower-cost generics. An FTC report in 2012 found there 40 potential pay-to-deals, up from 28 the year before.

The Supreme Court ruling, which reviewed a lawsuit brought by the FTC against Actavis, was a boost to the agency, because it supported the contention that pay-to-delay deals may violate antitrust laws and, effectively, allowed the FTC to pursue lawsuits against drug makers.

………

In its lawsuit, the FTC charges that AbbVie, Abbott and Bevins Healthcare filed “sham” patent litigation against potential generic rivals, including Teva, and then entered into an allegedly illegal patent settlement in order to thwart competition.
I've said it before (like the post just before this one):  Our current model of capitalism is a harmful and corrupt system that resembles nothing more than the book Lord of the Flies.

Welcome to Amazon, Washington Post Employees

Now that he has the Washington Post, he is getting ready to treat them like his Amazon employees:
The Washington Post announced large cuts in retirement benefits on Tuesday, declaring that it would eliminate future retirement medical benefits and freeze defined-benefit pensions for nonunion employees.

The company also said that in negotiations that started Tuesday, it will seek to impose the same conditions on employees covered by the union — one of the first indications of how The Post’s new owner, Amazon.com founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, will manage relations with the staff of the news organization.

The changes will hit hardest at employees hired before 2009 who could plan on receiving pension payments based on their income and years of service. Each of those employees could see scores — or hundreds — of thousands of dollars less over the course of a retirement. More recent hires do not have traditional pension plans.
Here is the kicker:
The Post’s existing pension plan was about $50 million, or approximately 20 percent overfunded, last Oct. 1 when Bezos bought The Post.
No money problems, he just wants to loot the WaPo pension fund, because that's what capitalists do.

Anglo-Saxon hypercapitalism is a truly nasty piece of work.

Nope. Not at All Like a Brush War in Indochina.

The inimitable Charlie Pierce pulls some quotes from the early 1960s:
My Esky colleague John H. Richardson whiles away the slow days by immersing himself in recently declassified CIA documents. (Buy his book to find out why, dammit.) This is a very valuable habit he has, at least to those of John's friends who write political blogs for a living. So, the other day, he hipped me to some recently declassified CIA material, specifically National Intelligence Estimates dated April 17, 1963 and titled "Prospects In South Vietnam." These concerned, among other things, the CIA's assessment of the relative strength of the Viet Cong in our adopted Indochinese client state. There's some material that seems almost unbearably sad in retrospect:
We believe that Communist progress has been blunted and that the situation is improving. Strengthened South Vietnamese capabilities and effectiveness, and particularly US involvement, are causing the Viet Cong great difficulty, although there are as yet no persuasive indications that the Communists have been grievously hurt.

………

For weapons, ammunition, and related supplies, the Viet Cong rely primarily upon capture from government forces.

………

Nevertheless, the heavy US involvement and close working relationships between US and Vietnamese personnel have fundamentally altered the outlook...Developments in the past year or two have gone some distance in establishing a basis for winning over the peasantry and in improving the efficiency and the civilian bureaucracy...

………

Developments during the last year or two also show some promise of resolving the political weaknesses, particularly that of insecurity in the countryside, upon which the insurgency has fed. However, the government's capacity to embark on the broader measures required to translate military success into lasting political stability is questionable.
History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes.

We are so f%$#ed.

22 September 2014

Nope, no Racism Here

A Wisconsin militia group is planning send armed representatives to target black voters on election day:
A visit to the group’s Facebook page features makes it clear exactly who they are targeting. All of the pictures on the page feature African-Americans. The group is trying to get African-Americans who may have outstanding warrants arrested in order to keep them from voting. The group wants people to report those they suspect of having warrants out on them to the police on election day, “Do the community a favor and keep an eye out for people wanted on warrants and report them to the police on election day.”

The “poll watchers” also plan on harassing and following people who they suspect of being wanted on warrants to their homes. The plan seems to be to use the police to intimidate African-Americans into not voting in November’s election.

The group admits that they are targeting Democrats. They aren’t exactly subtle in making it clear that they are targeting African-American voters. The scheme is an attempt to intimidate African-American voters while getting around the Voting Rights Act. The point of this campaign isn’t to get felons off the streets. The “poll watchers” are trying to keep African-Americans away from the polls.
The party of Abraham Lincoln is now the party of Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

My first thought was that there ought to be a law against this.

My second thought was Google it and see if there is a law against this.

It turns out that there is, 18 U.S. Code § 594:
Whoever intimidates, threatens, coerces, or attempts to intimidate, threaten, or coerce, any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote or to vote as he may choose, or of causing such other person to vote for, or not to vote for, any candidate for the office of President, Vice President, Presidential elector, Member of the Senate, Member of the House of Representatives, Delegate from the District of Columbia, or Resident Commissioner, at any election held solely or in part for the purpose of electing such candidate, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.
 I might suggest that these guys might need some scrutiny from Federal authorities.

I'm just saying.

(BTW, I did Google this story, and the word "Hoax" and got nothing but right wingers kvetching)

Oh Crap, the Balloon has Gone Up

We are now bombing ISIS targets in Syria:
The United States stepped up its war against the Islamic State militant group, launching air strikes on targets in Syria for the first time.

The Pentagon press secretary, rear admiral John Kirby, confirmed that the US and allied nations sent fighter jets, bomber aircraft and Tomahawk missiles in an operation against Isis that he described as “ongoing”.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated that Raqqa, a Syrian stronghold of Isis, was among the targets of the operation, which began in the early hours of Tuesday morning local time.

The first wave of strikes finished about 90 minutes later at around 10pm EDT (2am GMT), but the operation was expected to continue for several more hours,

Airstrikes against Isis targets in Iraq, which began on 7 August, now occur daily. Of Syria, the official said: “If we need to go daily, we will.”

The US was joined in the Syria operation by Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, an official said.
This will be going on for months before we see any meaningful impact in Iraq.

(Update)

It appears that F-22s were used in a combat role for the first time, which means one or two things:
  • The USAF is itching to show off their latest bling.
  • The Syrian Foreign Ministry's claims that they were notified about the strikes (no link, I heard it on Maddow) is not true, and the F-22s were used because of their radar evading capabilities.
I'm pretty certain about the first point, and less so about the second.  Basic physics would have the F-22 more vulnerable to longer wave (VHF) radars than the B-2, which does not appear to have flown sortees, and the Syrians do have VHF radars.

Also, despite the USAF trying to kill the aircraft for the past 30+ years,  A-10s Warthog close support aircraft are being deployed to the Middle East. (So not a surprise)

Not Enough Bullets………


Disgraceful
Various regulators tell us that there is no t need to send the banksters to jail, because the fines are deterrence enough.

Guess what? Those same regulators end up never collecting those fines:
On a plane earlier this week, I watched The Wolf of Wall Street. The film’s outsized antics—public masturbation, the tossing of little people, lots and lots of Quaaludes—seemed too big for a seatback screen, or, for that matter, reality. As despicable as some of Jordan Belfort’s behavior was, I was able to occasionally laugh at Leonardo DiCaprio's version of him knowing that, by now, more than 10 years after his real-life sentencing, Belfort has been sufficiently punished.

But in fact, that’s hardly the case: After pleading guilty to fraud and money laundering, Belfort was ordered in 2003 to pay out about $110 million to those he wronged. Since then, he’s only paid $11.8 million. He was also sentenced to four years in federal prison, but he only ended up serving just shy of two years.

………

Belfort’s relatively consequence-free story is only one of the more prominent ones in a parade of aggravating numbers reported on earlier this week by The Wall Street Journal. There’s still $97 billion out there in penalties that the Justice Department has failed to recover, and between September 2012 and September 2013, the department collected only 22 percent of penalties doled out. One particularly demoralizing figure was that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission had collected about a tenth of a percent of the $3.7 billion owed to wronged investors.

So how do convicted felons go about avoiding their payments? Take the case of Paul Bilzerian, who owed the Securities and Exchange Commission $62 million and paid only $3.7 million over the course of 25 years. (The Journal reported a few days ago that the SEC was officially giving up on getting any more money from him, after having spent $8.6 million to get the meager amount that they did obtain.)

Bilzerian has systematically thwarted federal prosecutors by building a web of trusts, partnerships, and corporations established in sketchy tropical locales. He has passed on cash and assets to his sons. He delayed prosecutors for years with a bankruptcy filing. And he has transferred ownership of his 28,000 square-foot home to trusts that were owned by, at various times, his in-laws and his neighbor’s mom. “Do you think I’d be stupid enough to have a bank account?” Bilzerian told a Journal reporter.
So, someone gets caught selling a dime bag, they take everything through asset forfeiture, but this guy is living in the lap of luxury.

You know, these guys are economic terrorists.

Why can't we drone them?

21 September 2014

My Mom Once Threatened This

Only it was the threat to hand out a Marxist tract on Atheism, not Church of Satan children's activity book:
The Satanic Temple has responded to an Orange County, Florida decision to disseminate religious materials in public school by creating complementary materials that espouse the philosophy and practice of Satanism.

Last month, a Florida judge ruled that if the Orange County school district allowed Christian groups to disseminate Bibles and Christian-oriented religious materials in its schools, it would also have to allow atheist groups to do the same.

David Williamson of the Central Florida Free Thought Community — who recently fought against Brevard County’s attempt to ban atheists from offering invocations at public meetings — sued the district over its initial unwillingness to allow atheist literature with titles like “Jesus Is Dead” and “Why I Am Not a Muslim” in the schools.

A judge dismissed that case after the school board decided to allow the materials.

The Satanic Temple took advantage of this decision, deciding to flood Orange County schools with a pamphlet entitled The Satanic Children’s Big Book of Activities [as an aside, it is far less interesting than I had hoped] that contains kid-friendly Satanic lessons.
My mom had a similar experience dealing with the Charlottesville school system, when my little big brother refused to take a bible, he was called a "Heathen," my mom complained, and was told that recent court decisions allowed this.

My mom replied that this would require similar access to hand out the aforementioned Marxist tracts, and superintendent decided that, in the future, no one should hand out religious literature at school.

Concept of the Day

Edifice Complex:
Term coined by the lawyer and historian Professor Cyril Northcote Parkinson in Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress, London (John Murray 1958, Houghton Mifflin, 1962) referring to the tendency of successful organizations to build new headquarters just before they begin to decline. See New Headquarters/Office Syndrome, Shiny; Business Week, Curse of.
I'm beginning to think that this has the germ of an investment strategy.

More Feet of Clay from the American "Educational Reform" Establishment

What a surprise, the favorite project of corporate schooling advocate, and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is an abject failure:
The Obama administration’s signature $4 billion Race to the Top initiative, designed to spur far-reaching education reforms across the country and raise student achievement, is largely a failure, an analysis released Thursday concludes.

Most winning states made what the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education labeled “unrealistic and impossible” promises to boost student achievement in exchange for prizes that were ultimately paltry in comparison with their pledges.

But three years in, Race to the Top hasn’t spurred states to address what really is behind students’ poor academic performance: poverty and the associated lack of opportunities that accompany it, said Elaine Weiss, national coordinator of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education. Her group advocates for a more targeted focus on poverty over the current slate of education reforms involving testing and accountability.

The Department of Education rejected the report’s conclusions, saying it’s seeing promising signs of improvement in student achievement in Race to the Top states and warning that it’s too early to draw sweeping conclusions. Some state officials also said they are finding the competition useful.
Of course, this assumes that the real goal of the corporate driven education reform is actually to improve education, and not simply an excuse to allow Wall Street to asset strip yet another segment of our society.

I do not share the optimism of  Broader, Bolder Approach to Education.  I have concluded that it is about private profits, and not an honest desire to improve American education.

20 September 2014

I Finally Know Where it Comes From!


The first chopping motion is at 1:18
I've always wondered where the chopping motion on his arm that David Byrne uses in the video for Once in a Lifetime.

I just came across an interview where the Talking Heads front-man explains the meaning:
Pitchfork: I just had one last question. A friend of mine played a show in Providence and went to a hot dog stand. They're in a band, so the hot dog stand guy says, "Oh, David Byrne used to work here. We've been here 30 years and he worked at this hot dog stand." And at this place, when they do the hot dogs, they line them up on their arm and they take the condiments and they go like this [I make a chopping gesture along my arm, as seen in the video for "Once in a Lifetime"]. "That's where he got that!"

DB: I did work at a hot dog stand, a place called New York System, where you put the hot dogs on your arm like that. But I got that thing from, I saw these Japanese kids dancing in the park in Tokyo, these kind of rockabilly dancers, and then there were these kind of space cadet kids that had a completely different set of movements. I videotaped a bunch of them, and that's where I got that.
So, now you know too.

19 September 2014

Scotland Votes No on Independence

About a 10 point margin, and there was a generational divide, with older voters being far more in favor of the union.

Part of this is probably driven by pension concerns, which is likely not generational, but part of  of this is generational, which indicates that we might be doing this all over again in 20 years.

It's Talk Like a Pirate Day Day

And so, I am going to be camping in New Jersey my family.

We are driving to the Lakewood, NJ Renfaire.

Hey, don't judge me!  We are each allowed to celebrate this holiday in our own special way.

Needless to say, it will be light posting until sometime Sunday.

Normally, I do not Give a Rats Ass About Miss America, but ………

The fact that the right wing Christofascists are freaking out because the new Miss America worked for Planned Parenthood is positively delicious:
If you thought her less than mind-blowing performance of “Happy” had Miss America fans in a snit, wait till they find out where Kira Kazantsev used to work.

The newly crowned beauty queen has opponents of reproductive choice up in arms this week over revelations that her résumé includes a stint with Planned Parenthood. LifeNews’ Steven Ertelt fumed Monday, “The woman representing the nation as the new Miss America interned for the very organization that has killed millions of Americans in abortions.” Other conservative sites have also quickly found themselves up in arms over Kazantsev’s past – Truth Revolt gasps that “Our new Miss America once interned for Planned Parenthood and she displays it proudly for all the world to see,” while Live Action News notes that “The new Miss America is an abortion supporter who worked for Planned Parenthood” and lists “her job duties at the company that snuffs out of the lives of young baby girls.” Right on cue, the outrage has now spilled over onto social media, with various patriotic Americans declaring sentiments like, “She should’ve been disqualified for Miss America.” Because the only choice for Miss America is an anti-choice Miss America.

In her LinkedIn profile, Kazantsev mentions a three-month internship with a Hempstead branch of the organization last year. She says she “Assisted delivery of programs in local public schools, teaching children about mutual respect & self-esteem” and “Conducted research on Planned Parenthood Education.” Sounds like baby killing to me! More damningly still, she’s also interned for Kirsten Gillibrand, who notoriously holds the public position that “a woman’s medical decisions should always be made between her, her family, and her doctor – not by politicians.” And as an intern for Solidarity Strategies, Kazantsev worked on political campaigns including that of pro-choice congresswoman Annie Kuster.
Awww ……… The poor little Talibaptist's feelings are hurt.

You like a hot cup of f%$# you with that?

Ah Hell!

Despite the International Whaling Commission ruling to the contrary, the Japanese are going back to hunting whales:
Japan announced Thursday that it will restart its scientific whaling program next year in response to a new resolution adopted by the International Whaling Commission placing stricter regulations on scientific whaling.

This new nonbinding resolution—proposed by New Zealand—adopts the criteria used by the UN's International Court of Justice earlier this year when it ruled that Japan's current whaling program was not scientific. (See "Japan Halts Whaling Program in Response to International Court Ruling.")

The new guidelines establish criteria for the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) scientific committee to consider when it reviews whaling plans submitted by member countries. The criteria include consideration of whether a program needs to lethally sample whales to obtain data, how many whales a scientific program will take, and whether the number to be taken is justified.

At this week's IWC meeting, Japan's representatives stated the country's intention to revamp its scientific program based on "international law and scientific evidence." They planned to submit their proposed program to the IWC's scientific committee this fall, with the aim of conducting scientific whaling next year.
The Japanese have years worth of whale meat stockpiled, because Japanese tastes have changed, but they insist on whaling, because ……… Well, just because.

And people wonder why the hell that everyone else in Asia has never forgiven them for their war crimes in WWII.

I'm thinking that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society should start mounting guns and torpedo tubes on their ships.

18 September 2014

Air Force TaliBaptist Leadership Caves Over Oath

After spending nearly a month threatening people who refused to swear to God to reinlist, the USAF has reversed itself:
The Air Force has withdrawn a requirement that all airmen who take the oath of enlistment and officer appointment conclude with “so help me God,” the service announced Wednesday.

The Air Force previously allowed airmen to omit those words, but removed that option in October based on its interpretation of 10 U.S.C. 502, 5 U.S.C. 3331 and Title 32, which contain the oaths of office. The Navy, Army and Marine Corps allow their service members to omit “so help me God,” spokesmen for all three services told Air Force Times last week.

The Air Force sought a legal review of the rule by the Defense Department’s General Counsel on Sept. 9, five days after the American Humanist Association announced it was representing an unnamed atheist airman, stationed at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, who was denied reenlistment for refusing to say, or sign a form, stating “so help me God.”

Monica Miller, an attorney with the AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center said the association would give the Air Force until Sept. 19 to reverse course.

On Tuesday, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the service was “making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our Airmen’s rights are protected.”

“We take any instance in which Airmen report concerns regarding religious freedom seriously,” James said in the release announcing the change, which is effective immediately.
Translation: We never thought that anyone would notice our attempt to go all Taliban on the Air Force, and we are very sorry that we got caught.

Whichever General Officer signed off on this abomination should be fired, as in no pension.

Kansas Supreme Court Slaps Down Kris Korbach's Election Shenanigans

The court ruled unanimously that Democrat Chad Taylor's name has to be dropped from the ballot as he requested:
The Kansas Supreme Court on Thursday sided with the Democratic candidate for Senate in his attempt to drop off the November ballot, creating a tougher contest for the Republican incumbent, Pat Roberts, in a race with a strong independent candidate.

But the Kansas secretary of state, Kris Kobach, a Republican who had fought the withdrawal, said afterward that Democrats would have to pick another candidate, adding to the uncertainty about whose names would appear on the ballot.
Noticed the last bit?

Where Korbach is now insisting that the Democrats will have to nominate a replacement, something he never brought up during arguments?

I understand the electoral dynamics. 

The current polls show that Pat Roberts wins in a 3-way race,  and gets demolished in a 2-way race, but this is not an excuse for the secretary of state to be so blatantly corrupt.

Here is hoping that Kris Korbach ends up like disgraced former Kansas AG Phill Kline, who was disbarred.

What Barack Obama Says About Isis is Nothing Like What LBJ Said About Vietnam

With both the House and Senate approving funds to train "moderates" in Syria:
President Obama’s plan to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels exposed a deep rift Thursday among Democrats over waging war, with a large bloc of liberals staunchly opposed to the modest mission, fearing another long-term engagement in Iraq.

While the Senate sent the measure Thursday to the White House for Obama’s signature, votes this week demonstrated the tenuous support he has from his own party in carrying out the mission to “degrade and destroy” Islamic State forces. Several of the party’s rising stars, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, rejected the proposal, while in the House, Obama’s proposal won approval only because a vast majority of Republicans backed him.

Many rank-and-file Democrats who did support Obama said they expect a broad debate in November and December, after the midterm elections, so that legislation can be approved to place broad constraints on the U.S. military’s ability to carry out the operation and set a specific deadline for the mission’s end.

After the votes, Obama thanked Congress “for the speed and seriousness with which they approached this issue” and noted that “a majority of Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate” had voted to train and equip the rebels.
Note that 10 Democrats, and 12 Republicans voted against, and most of them did because they do not think that arming the rebels will work.

The history of the Syrian civil wars that you can characterize the participants as follows:
  • The murderous Assad Regime
  • Radical Islamic Jihadis bent of a sectarian war. (Jabhat al-Nusra, Jaysh al-Islam, etc.)
  • People who scare the crap out of Radical Islamic Jihadis bent of a sectarian war. (ISIS/ISIL/IS/Dawlah l-ʾIslāmiyyah/Whatever the f%$# they want to be called)
  • The completely ineffective Free Syrian Army.
  • Exiles, who, as Machiavelli predicted, have no clue as to what is going on in country, and will saying to get support.
The union of "moderate" and "functional military force" is a null set.

The New York Times editorial board feels the same way, calling this strategy a "risky bet".

But we will train them, because Obama has strenuously insisted that there will be no boots on the ground.

Of course, LBJ said something very similar on October 21, 1964, "We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves."

The historical echos are not reassuring.

I would bet dollars to Navy beans that we will have troops on the ground and in combat in Iraq by the end of the Obama administration.

Bullsh%$

Eric holder is now saying that the DoJ will finally start prosecuting bankers:
The Justice Department has launched criminal fraud investigations of individuals at Wall Street firms, with the hopes of filing formal charges in the coming months, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Wednesday.

“We are making good progress in these cases, which involve conduct that has undermined the integrity of our markets,” Holder said at New York University Law School.

The nation’s top prosecutor did not go into detail about the inquiries, but people familiar with the cases say the probes involve the possible manipulation of the $5.3 trillion global foreign-exchange markets.

At least seven banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Barclays, disclosed in regulatory filings last year that “various government authorities” had requested information about their trading activities. Bank employees have turned over information to U.S. authorities about the trading scheme, according to people who were not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigations.
If any person is criminally prosecuted, it will be the little fish, and any settlement will be small enough to be dismissed as a cost of doing business, and any admission will be minor enough that no bank will lose their dollar clearing privileges.

This is theater.

Lucy will pull away the football, again.

If Eric "Place" Holder or Barack Obama were interested in prosecuting law breakers on Wall Street, they would already have done it.

There is no interest in this administration in prosecuting the general criminality that is the US financial industry.

H/t CT at the Stellar Parthenon BBS.

The Prosecutor for the Ferguson Shooting is Throwing the Grand Jury Investigation

It has become patently transparent that even inside the beltway know-nothing Dana Milbank feels compelled to call this out:
What happened in Ferguson, Mo., last month was a tragedy. What’s on course to happen there next month will be a farce.

October is when a grand jury is expected to decide whether to indict the white police officer, Darren Wilson, who killed an unarmed black teenager by firing at least six bullets into him. It’s a good bet the grand jurors won’t charge him, because all signs indicate that the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, doesn’t want them to.

The latest evidence that the fix is in came this week from The Post’s Kimberly Kindy and Carol Leonnig, who discovered that McCulloch’s office has declined so far to recommend any charges to the grand jury. Instead, McCulloch’s prosecutors handling the case are taking the highly unusual course of dumping all evidence on the jurors and leaving them to make sense of it.

McCulloch’s office claims that this is a way to give more authority to the grand jurors, but it looks more like a way to avoid charging Wilson at all — and to use the grand jury as cover for the outrage that will ensue. It is often said that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich if a prosecutor asks it to. But the opposite is also true. A grand jury is less likely to deliver an indictment — even a much deserved one — if a prosecutor doesn’t ask for it.
McCulloch has done this before:
……… During his tenure, there have been at least a dozen fatal shootings by police in his jurisdiction (the roughly 90 municipalities in the county other than St. Louis itself), and probably many more than that, but McCulloch’s office has not prosecuted a single police shooting in all those years. At least four times he presented evidence to a grand jury but — wouldn’t you know it? — didn’t get an indictment.
This is rather unsurprising.

DA's don't want to prosecute cops in the first place, they have to work with them, and McCulloch has a particularly bad record in terms of prosecuting police misconduct .

The fix is in.

Kraptacular Kris Korbach Kaves Kravenly

I don't know who got pictures having sex with a billie goat, but the Kansas secretary of state has capitulated on the withdrawal of the Democratic candidate for Senate, and will send out absentee ballots without a Dem in that race:
In an apparent reversal, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's office is instructing election officials in the state to send out overseas military ballots without Democratic Senate nominee Chad Taylor or any other Democratic Senate candidate listed.

Kobach spokeswoman Samantha Poetter confirmed to TPM that the ballots would be sent out by Saturday, the deadline under state and federal law.

"Our ballots are going out without Chad Taylor (or any Democratic candidate) for U.S. Senate," Poetter said. "They've been ordered to send them out as soon as possible."

TPM obtained a copy of the official order sent to local election officials.

"The list does NOT contain the name of a Democratic nominee for United States Senate," the order said. "There are three candidates, Randall Batson, Libertarian, Greg Orman, independent, Pat Roberts, Republican."
They will be going out with some sort of disclaimer about the courts possibly ordering a new ballot, but this I really don't see this particularly likely.

Here is hoping that this entire mishugas will serve to turn off the voters, Korbach is up for reelection, and the race is close.

My Prediction for the Scottish Referendum

Understand that I come from a long line of failed prognosticators.

I don't know who is going to win.  I don't have a clue.

However, I believe that it will not be as close as the recent polls. 

I expect at least a 5% margin for the winning side.

17 September 2014

I Think that Some Stalwart Republicans are Realizing that They Have Been Taken for Fools

It appears that for this election cycle a lot of Republican are keeping their wallets closed.

My guess is that the euphoria following the Citizens United decision has dissipated, and they have realized that, following the very expensive debacle of 2012, many of the Republican operatives are more about separating wealthy donors from their money than they are about getting Republicans elected:
Two things may be keeping Republican strategists up at night: money and the Democratic ground game. Perhaps the biggest untold story of this election is how so many Republican and conservative donors, at least those whose last name isn't Koch, have kept their checkbooks relatively closed. In many cases, GOP candidates are not enjoying nearly the same financial largesse that existed in 2012, and in some races, they are well behind Democrats. While Republican candidates, national party committees, and super PACs are hardly starving, their Senate and House campaign committees have not been able to keep pace in fundraising with their Democratic counterparts. Their super PACs do not have nearly the funding that they had in 2012 (even allowing for the absence of a presidential race this year). And, in a number of key races, Democratic candidates, party committees, and their allied groups have been on the air significantly more than Republicans. GOP strategists have privately said that if it were not for spending by organizations affiliated with the Koch brothers, they might well be in really bad shape.

Many Republican and conservative donors appear to be somewhat demoralized after 2012. They feel that they were misled about the GOP's chances in both the presidential and senatorial races that year, and/or their money was not well spent. In short, they are giving less if at all, and it has put Republican candidates in a bind in a number of places.
Republican donors realize that they are having smoke blown up on their ass, and they have yet to determine a way to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Who knows, maybe Karl Rove will need to find honest work.

It Ain't the Salt in the Pasta Water, and it Ain't the Bread Sticks, It's the Looting

Have you read the story about the hedge fund that criticized the Olive Garden restaurants for how they boiled their pasta and complained that they served too many bread sticks?

Read further, past the cute suggestions about food prep, and it becomes clear that the Starboard Value hedge fund was interested in srtip mining the real casual dining chain and leaving nothing behind but its bleached bones:
Last week, you may have noticed a kooky story about a hedge fund named Starboard Value chastising Olive Garden for handing out too many unlimited breadsticks at a time, and failing to salt its pasta water. The snarky 294-page presentation highlighted everything wrong with Olive Garden, along with recommendations to fix it. And there was much laughter.

………

Except Starboard Value does not spend its time crusading for better mid-market Italian meals for no reason. It owns a bunch of shares in Olive Garden’s parent company, Darden Restaurants, and wants to take control of the company’s board. The scheme it’s concocted to increase its share price has little to do with breadsticks and pasta water. It really wants to steal Olive Garden’s real estate, and make a billion dollars in the process.

Starboard Value doesn’t try to hide this. Right in the executive summary, it talks up Darden’s real estate holdings the way a starving man sizes up a steak. Darden, owner of LongHorn Steakhouse, Capital Grille and other chains, “has the largest real estate portfolio in the casual dining industry, owning both the land and buildings on nearly 600 stores and the buildings on another 670,” Starboard Value writes. “We believe that a real estate separation could create approximately $1 billion in shareholder value.” Here’s the actual slide:



This is a more common technique than you might realize. Private equity firms often buy businesses with lots of real estate assets, like nursing homes, restaurants or retail outlets. They then split the company in two: one owns all the real estate, and one manages the rest of the business. The operating company now has to lease back the real estate from the property company, paying rent on what it used to own. The private equity firm, meanwhile, can take profits from the lease payments or by selling the entire real estate portfolio, making back its initial investment. The more expensive the leases, the more the private equity firm makes.

………

A sale-leaseback arrangement may make sense for a company with lots of real estate holdings, if it needs quick cash to make investments and cannot access a loan. Think of it like a company making a reverse mortgage. But Eileen Appelbaum of the Center for Economics and Policy Research, co-author of a recent book called “Private Equity at Work: When Wall Street Manages Main Street,” explains the key difference. “If the company does this themselves, they get to keep the money from the sale,” Appelbaum told Salon. “And they get to spend it to make improvements. In this case and the private equity case, the shareholders see the value.” Basically, Starboard Value wants to strip Darden’s assets, the Wall Street equivalent of pocketing the silverware.

Starboard Value has a history of asset-stripping. Earlier this year, it forced Wausau Paper to change CEOs and consolidate mills, moving out of the century-old headquarters that gave the company its name. Starboard Value demanded the company use some of those savings from laying off workers to pay Starboard a dividend.

In May, Starboard Value forced Darden to sell another of its chains, Red Lobster, to private equity fund Golden Gate Capital for $2.1 billion. The same day, Golden Gate sold the real estate of 500 Red Lobster locations to a real estate investment trust (REIT) for $1.5 billion. Darden used proceeds of the sale to give dividend payments to shareholders like Starboard Value. And Golden Gate made back most of the investment in a blink with the real estate sale. But Red Lobster now has to pay exorbitant rents on its restaurants. “The sale-leaseback will cut their net earnings roughly in half,” Eileen Appelbaum estimated.

If Olive Garden has to cut its earnings in half to pay rent on properties it previously owned, you can forget about upgrading the menu or making any of the other improvements Starboard Value suggests. The restaurants will barely be able to keep afloat. But Olive Garden’s continued existence is of minimal importance to Starboard Value. “These are shareholders, they don’t really care what happens once they make their money,” said Eileen Appelbaum.
Note here that the ratf%$S who want to dismantle the chain, and sell it for parts, much like an chop shop for stolen cars.

This is what tools like Timothy Geithner call financial innovations. It's not. It's a pernicious form of parasitism.

As the old saying goes, "The best way to rob a bank is to own one."

While a modern economy need a way to get capital from people who have it to people who need it, this has nothing to do with that.

I'm not sure what the whole solution is, but a Tobin Tax on financial transactions would be a good start.

Locking up some of these crooks would be nice too.

My Feelings on Scottish Secession

After thinking about it, and analyzing my feelings on this matter, I support the secession referendum.

Basically, I think that the current political situation in the UK, where the Neoliberal consensus and the banksters in the City of London rule will continue to control the political discussion in England, and hence in the UK as a whole.

What this means is that, when in power, the Tories will continue to engage their efforts to do things like gradually privatize the social contract in Britain, and when the "new" (Blairite) Labour is will simply accept the new status quo, and so the policies will ratchet to a Dickensian society, particularly with the cross-party support of things like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which largely makes privatization irreversible.

The path England has taken is pretty clearly toward continued deindustrialization and further finanacialization, at least until the Vampire Squid finishes sucking what remains out their society, and moves on.

The Tories are pushing inexorably in that direction, and Labor never moves the needle back, they just slow the deterioration for a few years.

In the process, it is clear that the National Health Service (NHS) will move to something very much like the American model for healthcare.

I would consider inflicting our system of healthcare on anyone else to be tantamount to a crime against humanity, and crimes against humanity are a justification for secession.