31 December 2010

You Have Got to Love Live TV

A late night live TV ad from the 1970s.

I might actually buy the car, it certainly sounds like the guy is telling the truth.


It's Bank Failure Friday!!!!

As I expected, no bank closings New Year's eve, so the count remains at 157 with 17 credit union closing.

By way of comparison, there were 140 bank failures in 2009, and 25 in 2008.

Better than it looked mid-year, but still pretty horrible.

Oh My God

When did cooking become an exercise in meaningless artery plugging macho?

Not entirely SFW.

Yes, This is a Big Deal

Initial unemployment claims fell below 400,000 for the first time in over 2 years, hitting 388,000, down 34K, and the less volatile 4 week moving average fell by 12.5K to 414,000.

We are actually at a number that if sustained, might show a meager recovery in the unemployment rate.

The longer term numbers, continuing claims rose by 57K to 4.13 million, and extended benefits fell by 151.5K to 4.53 million.

I would expect the numbers to rise next week, the Christmas season is over, and this sort of move one week tends to have a rebound, but if somewhere around 375K is the new normal, then things are turning up a big.

30 December 2010

Light Posting Today

After I finish work today, I will be packing up my apartment, and turning in my key, because I gave notice a couple of weeks ago, because I found a job in my area.

I liked working at Niitek, and their work, designing ground penetrating radar to find mines and IEDs was about as worthwhile as one can find in defense related work, but I am glad to be going back to being a 7 day a week daddy and husband, as opposed to being a 3 day a week one.

29 December 2010

Justice Department seeks tougher CFTC and SEC swaps rules | Reuters

The DoJ is asking the SEC and CFTC to tighten their rules on ownership of clearing houses for derivatives.

The financial regulators are looking to limit individual members of the clearing houses to 20%, while Justice's anti-trust regulators want there to be a 40% limit applied to all, "banks and other major swaps players," in order to prevent 3 or 4 of the big players to create a monopoly situation, in addition to more strictly regulating the boards of these clearing houses.

I'm not sure if it is good news that the DoJ is asking for more, or bad news that the SEC and CFTC asked for so little to start with.

Pass the Popcorn…

Someone just hit 4chan hit by DDoS attack:
Controversial image board 4chan came under a denial of service attack on Tuesday.

A status message on 4chan's status boards (below) reported that the birthplace of anonymous and home of midget porn had joined the "ranks of MasterCard, Visa, PayPal" as victims of a denial of service attack.
Site is down due to DDoS. We now join the ranks of MasterCard, Visa, PayPal, et al.—an exclusive club!
The Anonymous contingent of 4chan was behind the attacks on Mastercard et al over the refusal of many elements of the banking industry to do business with Wikileaks. In response, patriot hacktivists have launched denial of service attacks on 4chan IRC channels.
This could get … interesting.

As to who I root for in this conflict, God bless them both, and keep them far away from me!

Well, It Looks Like the Banks Have Worked Their Way Through the Robosigner Problem

Because foreclosures jumped 31.2% in the 3rd quarter.

We are not going to see an economic recovery led by the housing market.


Seriously, you have a prosecution of an international prostitution ring, and the prosecution is prohibiting the defense from examining parts of the "little black book" that they seized, but not others:
Federal prosecutors are refusing to reveal customers from Oakland County and the 248 area code who hired hookers from a high-priced escort service but are willing to out clients from Detroit, according to federal court records.

The legal tactic was unveiled in records filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit involving the Miami Companions escort service.


Paul DeCailly, the attorney for Miami Companions co-owner Greg Carr, flew to Detroit last week to review the black book. He wanted to see the names of clients from Michigan and Ohio, but the U.S. Attorney's Office said he could see only the names from the 313 and 734 area codes, he said.

"There must be something there they don't want anybody to see," DeCailly said Tuesday. "In the 248 area code, a lot of influential people live there: musicians, Detroit's sports elite, politicians. ... It's the center of a lot of activity in the business community."
Yep, that's pretty much what is going on here.

Would that we lived in a less blatantly corrupt nation.

H/t Atrios.

I Think That This is Corruption, Not Stupidity

One of the more puzzling aspects of the financial meltdown is the complete lack of prosecutions of high level bankers, and Bill Black of New Deal 2.0 explains why:
What has gone so catastrophically wrong with DOJ, and why has it continued so long? The fundamental flaw is that DOJ’s senior leadership cannot conceive of elite bankers as criminals. On Huffington Post, David Heath writes:
Benjamin Wagner, a U.S. Attorney who is actively prosecuting mortgage fraud cases in Sacramento, Calif., points out that banks lose money when a loan turns out to be fraudulent. An investor in loans who documents fraud can force a bank to buy the loan back. But convincing a jury that executives intended to make fraudulent loans, and thus should be held criminally responsible, may be too difficult of a hurdle for prosecutors. ‘It doesn’t make any sense to me that they would be deliberately defrauding themselves,’ Wagner said.”
(emphasis original)

What is going on here is that the prosecutors are assuming that the agents of the financial institutions are perfect agents of those institutions, and that they would never act in their own personal benefit if it were detrimental to their employer in the long term.

This has a number of names, most commonly, it is called the principal agent problem, and the (now unconstitutional) theory of the theft of honest services prosecutions was based on this.

The facts here, though not necessarily the law, are clear:  Various high level agents at financial institutions engaged in activities that were likely to blow up in the long term, but were unlikely to do so before these agents profited from them.

The only question is whether this behavior was merely stupid or negligent, in which case, a life-time ban from the financial industry is warranted, or fraudulent, in which case, incarceration is warranted.

The calculus here is not rocket science, and the fact that prosecutors are sticking to such a transparently false theory is to my mind more of an indication of corruption than it is of stupidity or wrong headedness.

Without jail time, we will see the behavior repeated.

Hell, we are seeing it repeated right now, that's why the bonuses are so big this year.

Not a Witch, Is a Crook

Everyone's favorite witchcraft denying loony toon Senate candidate, Christine O'Donnell, is being investigated for diverting campaign funds for her personal use, specifically, though not limited to, having her campaign pay the rent on her town house.

The interesting thing here is that her misdeeds, which will likely result in nothing more than fines, were unnecessary, because federal campaigns are allowed to pay their candidates up to an amount equal to the wages of the office that they are running for.

That innovation was given us by Maryland's own nut job, Alan Keyes.

28 December 2010

About Damn Time!

We are finally starting to see public questioning of the extensive subsidies for the ultra-Orthodox Heredim in Israel:
Chaim Amsellem was certainly not the first Parliament member to suggest that most ultra-Orthodox men should work rather than receive welfare subsidies for full-time Torah study. But when he did so last month, the nation took notice: He is a rabbi, ultra-Orthodox himself, whose outspokenness ignited a fresh, and fierce, debate about the rapid growth of the ultra-religious in Israel.

“Torah is the most important thing in the world,” Rabbi Amsellem said in an interview. But now more than 60 percent of ultra-Orthodox men in Israel do not work, compared with 15 percent in the general population, and he argued that full-time, state-financed study should be reserved for great scholars destined to become rabbis or religious judges.

“Those who are not that way inclined,” he said, “should go out and earn a living.”

In reaction, he was ousted from his own ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, whose leaders vilified him with such venom that he was assigned a bodyguard. The party newspaper printed a special supplement describing Rabbi Amsellem as “Amalek,” the biblical embodiment of all evil.
Actually, "Amelek" means more than the embodiment of evil.

The Torah says that they are to be killed, the men, women, children, their animals, etc.  There is an affirmative requirement that they and their families be murdered, and that their works be destroyed.

This is what happens when you f%$# with somone's welfare check, I guess.

As an aside, one of the towering figures of Judaism in the past 500 years, the Baal Shem Tov, worked digging lime, as a kosher butcher, and later running an inn, and it is ludicrous to suggest, as the Heredim do, that there are tens of thousands of people whose scholarship is so valuable that they cannot be allowed to do productive work.

The New Labour, Now Without Labour!

The new head of the British Labour Party is moving to sever financial ties with unions and to diminish their influence in decision making:
Ed Miliband is to distance Labour from its trade union paymasters by diluting the party's financial dependence on them and reducing their role in electing the party leader.

Labour has proposed introducing a ceiling on donations to any political party which could be as low as £500, The Independent has learnt. The move could break the long-running deadlock between the parties on agreeing a new system of financing politics.
Seems reasonable, if he can get the Tories to forswear big money from the rich bankers who fund them, but there is also this:
He also wants to change Labour's culture by allowing the public a vote when the party chooses its leader. He plans to give 25 per cent of the votes to non-party members who register as Labour supporters. MPs, trade unionists and party members would also each have a quarter of the votes in Labour's electoral college. At present, MPs, union and party members each have a third of those votes.

Mr Miliband's moves are bound to cause tensions with the unions. They are all the more surprising because he depended on union support to defeat his brother, David, for the Labour leadership in September.
So, it appears that Milibrand's vision of the Labour Party is one in which actual labo(u)r has a significantly diminished role.

I suggest that he look south and east to Israel, where the Israeli Labor party most recently polled in 4th place in elections, as compared to a party, ad its predecessors, that controlled the government for the first 29 years of Israel's existence.

Basically, if you take labor out of a labor party, you have nothing left.

Obscurity is not Security

But this isn't stopping banks from trying to suppress security research showing that their cards are insecure, as opposed to manning up and fixing the problem:
Cambridge computer scientists have become embroiled in angry exchanges with Britain's banks and credit card lenders, accusing them of bullying and trying to "censor" a PhD student who was exposing flaws in chip-and-pin machines.

A leading Cambridge academic has now written to bankers' representatives demanding that they stop pressing for the removal of a student's doctorate work from the web.

Professor Ross Anderson, from Cambridge University's Computer Laboratory, has previously researched glitches in chip-and-pin banking that allow withdrawals to be made from accounts without needing to know the holder's PIN. As part of his thesis work, one of his students, Omar Choudary, exposed how easy it was to make such a withdrawal.

Then the UK Cards Association, a trade body representing leading banking organisations, approached the university asking it to remove the thesis from his website, which is accessible through a university site.
So, the knowledge is out there, and it is public, it has actually been discussed on the BBC, and the banks want to pretend that it never happened.

This is why you cannot rely on market mechanisms for this kind of stuff.

All You Need to Understand About Republicans

It should be noted that Paul Ryan, the soon to be head of the House Budget Committee, is requiring his staff to read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

While I've not read this book, I did her (mercifully shorter) treatise on her philosophy The Virtue of Selfishness in high school, and Kung Fu monkey has the final word on Rand and her Randroid followers:
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
Indeed, and he will be drafting our budgets. <Facepalm>

H/t Paul Krugman.

Economics Update

It was a mixed day, with the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence index falling in December on job worries, it was well below forecast, and the Case-Shiller home prices fell for the 4th straight month in October.

On the plus side, actual consumer spending actually rose.

So, I guess the consumer felt depressed, and went shopping to cheer themselves up.

OK, It Looks Like I Was Wrong …… Again

Click for full size

The trailing edge of the wing implies that stealth is not a high priority

The tail arrangement resembles MiG's Project 1.44
It appears that the Chinese stealthy aircraft is the real deal.

The insignia, which I noted earlier when I called hoax, appears to be correct at the higher resolutions.

As Bill Sweetman notes, the fact that the the planform appears to be a fairly conventional clipped delta, which, "Has some signature implications, with what looks like an almost unswept trailing edge, because edges scatter forward and backwards."

The size of the aircraft is still not yet clear, though it appears to be at least as large as the F-22.

At that size, it is likely to be intended either as a strike aircraft, or as an interceptor, or (more likely, it will be expensive, and expensive single taskers are bad) both, rather than the sort of "air dominance fighter" that the F-22, and (probably) the PAK-FA are.

The bottom picture of the abortive MiG 1.44 project shows that the arrangement at the back is very similar to that project, and it should be noted that this project did not have stealth as a priority.

Please note that anything that I say here come from a perspective of rather profound ignorance though.

27 December 2010

A Perspective on Obama Fanboi

This weeks internet meme appears to be the Xtranormal movie maker:

Watch the top video first.

Not entirely safe for work.

If Our Savior is Jon Stewart, We Are Screwed

The New York Times describes how Jon Stewart pretty much single handedly saved the Zagoda from a Republican filibuster:
Did the bill pledging federal funds for the health care of 9/11 responders become law in the waning hours of the 111th Congress only because a comedian took it up as a personal cause?

And does that make that comedian, Jon Stewart — despite all his protestations that what he does has nothing to do with journalism — the modern-day equivalent of Edward R. Murrow?
Simply put, the policy here, medical care for 911 first responders, and the politics here, blocking medical care for 911 first responders would be seen unequivocally evil by the bulk of the American electorate, but somehow or other, the Democrats could not be bothered to hammer the Republicans with this, because, I guess, little Barry Obama doesn't want Republicans to think that he's mean.

This is something that Bill Clinton would have hammered every single day.

I do understand that it's tough to get the attention of the press on this, what with, as Stewart observes, "it’s not every day that Beatles songs come to iTunes," but this is absolutely pathetic.

Unsurprising News

The UN has internal maps of Afghanistan that show us losing the war:
Internal United Nations maps show a marked deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan during this year's fighting season, countering the Obama administration's optimistic assessments of military progress since the surge of additional American forces began a year ago.

The Wall Street Journal was able to view two confidential "residual risk accessibility" maps, one compiled by the U.N. at the annual fighting season's start in March 2010 and another at its tail end in October. The maps, used by U.N. personnel to gauge the dangers of travel and running programs, divide the country's districts into four categories: very high risk, high risk, medium risk and low risk.

In the October map, just as in March's, nearly all of southern Afghanistan—the focus of the coalition's military offensives—remained painted the red of "very high risk," with no noted improvements. At the same time, the green belt of "low risk" districts in northern, central and western Afghanistan shriveled.
A shocker here, neh?

We are being lied to by the administration and Pentagon.

It's the Fuzzy Aircraft Photo Home Game

Click for full size

Note the Insignia

Note the lack of insignia

A ¾ rear view

A frac34; front view

PLAAF (Chinese) Insignia

Soviet Era Insignia

Current Russian Insignia
So, the late Ted Stevens' "Series of Tubes" is abuzz with what purports to be fuzzy photographs of a Chinese stealth aircraft.

I don't think that these are raw photos, and that some photo-shopping has been done, most notably the oversize tail insignia, which is most assuredly NOT a PLAAF symbol, as Stephen Trimble observes.

Some other oddities, to my (very) untrained eye:
  • The wing has anhedral, and the canard dihedral, which would be a no-no in stealth design, you would want the surfaces more or less parallel.
  • The same goes for the drooping wing tips, which are absent on the front view but present in the rear view.
  • Pictures 1 and 3 of the aircraft appear to be with the power and the hydraulics unpowered, but there is no gravity caused droop in what are supposed to be axisymmetric thrust vectoring nozzles.  (They pretty much have to be with the small tail size).
  • On the top picture, it appears that the observers in the rear are about 1½ feet taller than the ones around the front of the aircraft.
While I think that it is clear that the Chinese are looking at developing some sort of stealthy fighter or attack aircraft, I really don't think that it has gotten to the point where a 70 foot long demonstrator of some sort is flying.

It's possible that the pictures are real, though there appears to be at least a bit of  digital wizardry involved.

26 December 2010

Least Surprising News of the Year

After a few years of being treated like crap by their employers because we have been our worst recession since the great depression, now that there is a perception that things are looking up, employees are looking to ditch their current employers:
Employers watch out: Your workers can't wait to quit.

According to a recent survey by job-placement firm Manpower, 84% of employees plan to look for a new position in 2011. That's up from just 60% last year.

Most employees have sat tight through the recession, not even considering other jobs because so few firms were hiring. For the past few years, the Labor Department's quits rate, which serves as a barometer of workers' ability to change jobs, has hovered near an all-time low.

But after years of increased work and frozen compensation, "a lot of people will be looking because they're disappointed with their current jobs," said Paul Bernard, a veteran executive coach and career management advisor who runs his own firm.
As I've said before, people have never been too fond of their bosses, but after years of cheap labor economics and employers using loyalty as a resource to be strip mined, they hate their employers too.

If healthcare reform ever really works, one of the things that will happen is that there will no longer be the threat of losing one's insurance to keep employees from looking, and at that point, it's going to get ugly for employers.

F136 Alternate Engine Included in Stopgap Spending Measure

So the alternate engine for the JSF is funded through March.

Some people see this as meaningless pork, but I remember the issues with Pratt and Whitney as the soul source supplier for F-15s and F-16s in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and it was ugly, so I am inclined to support the engine as a 2nd best alternative, with the first best alternative to be cancellation of the JSF.

Bad Day at the Office

Thankfully, no injuries
A crop-duster modified as a close support aircraft, the AT-802U, caught its tail wheel on a berm at landing, and the rest is in the video.

Thankfully, no injuries, except, perhaps, to the manufacturer's, Air Tractor's, investors.

Another Day, Another VTOL Concept

Click for full size

Nice try
It's a fan in wing concept, with 4 fans and 2 thrusters, (Videos at link) better known as a bunch of complex moving equipment that can fail at an inopportune time.

Remember, you don't just have the fans,. you 6 fans, and their associated transmissions, plus shutters and vanes for control in VTOL mode, as well as thick low aspect ration wings which don't have space to carry things like fuel, because they have the fans.

Call me a cynic, but I do not see success here.

Well, The Next Time I Ask What the F%$# He is Smoking, I'll Know the Answer

Everyone's favorite hypocritical and corrupt televangelist cum politician, Pat Robertson has come out in favor of legalizing marijuana:
For a second it looked as if someone had mischievously switched teleprompter scripts on Pat Robertson, the tele-evangelist and founding member of the Christian Coalition. There he was on The 700 Club, a religious affairs TV talk show talking breezily about why America should legalise marijuana.

But this is the season for compassion and Mr Robertson – who usually makes waves nowadays only when he finds celestial or satanic cause for assorted disasters like the Haiti earthquake (a pact with the Devil to eject the French two centuries ago) or Hurricane Katrina (legalised abortion) – seemed to be serious. He said incarcerating people for taking "a couple of puffs" of pot might not be effective public or social policy.
Here's a surprise, he's significantly to the left of Barack Obama on this, probably because he's at a point in his life where good government policy trumps electoral success.

25 December 2010

Add Him to the List of People That I Do Not Want to Piss Off

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw, who is just a bit displeased at the fact that took 12 years for Duke Nukem forever to come out.

Theatrical Run Review

Well, it's Christmas, and we are Jewish, so that means Chinese food and a movie.

We got the (Kosher) Chinese food yesterday, in addition to the stir fry that I made (with hearts of palm instead of bamboo shoots), and we went to see a movie in the theater.

We was the latest Jack Black vehicle, Gulliver's Travels.

Jack Black ... Lemuel Gulliver
Jason Segel ... Horatio
Emily Blunt ... Princess Mary
Amanda Peet ... Darcy Silverman
Billy Connolly ... King Theodore
Chris O'Dowd ... General Edward
T.J. Miller ... Dan
James Corden ... Jinks
Catherine Tate ... Queen Isabelle

It's pretty much a piece of fluff, with Jack Black playing Jack Black, but Jack Black is amusing.

The plot bears a reasonable relationship first two parts of the book, though it lacks the social and political satire that John Swift put in, but considering that the original was written in 1726, this is unsurprising.

While a Jack Black vehicle, the best performance is actually by Chris O'Dowd, who is the heavy in the film.

Additionally, Amanda Peet gives a good performance, and is just plain hawt in this, though without showing any skin.

A special shout out to the send up of giant robots.

It's interesting to see the effect of CGI here, because one of the old school, and rather convincing, techniques used in such films, forced perspective, would have helped to make it more realistic.

It was a fun movie, but I would have preferred to see it on pay per view for about ⅕ the price.

Click on the pictures for full size.

Deep Thought

If you are doing Chinese stir fry, and you cannot find bamboo shoots at the store, hearts of palm is an almost perfect substitute.

This Has Fiasco Written All Over It

Well, it's not quite this bad

We have the Army Tilt-Rotor

and the USAF STOVL Hoover
So, the USAF wants a STOL cargo aircraft with greater capabilities than the C-130, while the Army wants a VTOL cargo aircraft with roughly the carrying capacity of the C-130.

Well, it appears that they are looking at a common airframe intended to do both.

So a jack of no trades and a master of none, because when you combine these disparate needs, and requirements, you end up with something that just does not work.

See the cancelled Naval F-111B, for instance.

I'm with Bill Sweetman on this, "The people promoting these abominations are secretly working for Airbus Military."

Your Moment of Christmas Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Seriously, even as a Jew, I find this just full of WTF.

I get the entire thing about complaining about commercialism, but why the name of the Flying Spaghetti Monster does every sort of complaint in Texas have to be solved with the excess applications of firearms?

Navy Demonstrates a 33 MJ Railgun

Some notes on the video below
The US Navy Surface Warfare division has set a new record for "muzzle" energy from an electromagnetic railgun. (see also here).

You really cannot determine the mass or size of the projectile accurately from the video, but given an energy of 33MJ, and its size appearing near to that of a 5" naval round, one could assume a mass of the round of somewhere between 10 and 32 kg. (The latter is the weight of the current 5" round)

This would give a velocity of somewhere around 1500 to 2500 m/s (5000 - 9000 km/h, 3000-5500 mph, or Mach 4-9.5).

By way of comparison, the 16 inch guns on the Iowa class have a muzzle energy of about 410 MJ, 1225 kg at 820 m/s, but velocity here can translate into a lot more range, something well in excess of 200 km, and this technology is in its early stages, so achieving an order of magnitude improvement in energy is certainly possible.

A note, based on comments with people who have used capacitors to use an arc to generate hypersonic shock waves for high speed simulations.

First, the power cables are almost certainly coaxial to minimize impedance, and the sheath on the outside is doubtless very heavy, because the high current generates forces that would otherwise blow the conducting jacket off. (in the wind tunnel case, the capacitor room looked "like a porcupine turned inside out", I wish that I had been there for that.)

Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) Tested

The US Navy has conducted its first successful test of the EMALS electric catapult at its Lakehurst, NJ air field.

The navy is doubtless heaving a sigh of relief, as the Ford class carriers were designed to mount these catapults, and retrofitting steam catapults would be very involved.

The British are probably even more relieved, as their carrier(s) have gas turbine propulsion, and so have no steam available, so without this, they would just be big floating anvils.

It's a similar technology the Navy's recently tested railgun, but the energy storage is mechanical (flywheels) on the catapult, and solid state (capacitors) on the railgun.

Given the state of the art in capacitors, it probably makes sense, since the rail gun is much higher power (a few orders of magnitude), and lower energy (by around a factor of 5) than the catapult.

24 December 2010

We Are Experiencing a Serious Capability Gap in Weird Music Videos with India

Seriously, I think that DARPA needs to work with MTV to fix this:

It's Bank Failure Friday!!!!

And here they are, ordered, and numbered for the year so far.

No big surprise here, no closings Christmas eve, and I don't expect any New Year's eve either, so 157 banks and 17 credit unions for the year

So, here is the graph pr0n with trendline (FDIC only):

I Really Hate Fanboi!

And BooMan is definitely a fanboi, or he does not understand that SDNWOTN* when he says, "At this point in his presidency I think it is fair to say that Obama is already in the conversation as best president since Abraham Lincoln."

Considering his prior record, I do not think that it is sarcasm.


*Sarcasm Does Not Work On The Net.

Here's a Shocker…

It turns out that all those studies showing Americans to be the most church going and religious people in the industrialized world, don't show this.

They just show that Americans are the most likely to lie to pollsters about their religiosity:
Two in five Americans say they regularly attend religious services. Upward of 90 percent of all Americans believe in God, pollsters report, and more than 70 percent have absolutely no doubt that God exists. The patron saint of Christmas, Americans insist, is the emaciated hero on the Cross, not the obese fellow in the overstuffed costume.

There is only one conclusion to draw from these numbers: Americans are significantly more religious than the citizens of other industrialized nations.

Except they are not.

Beyond the polls, social scientists have conducted more rigorous analyses of religious behavior. Rather than ask people how often they attend church, the better studies measure what people actually do. The results are surprising. Americans are hardly more religious than people living in other industrialized countries. Yet they consistently—and more or less uniquely—want others to believe they are more religious than they really are.
If this is true, then the only surprise is that I am apparently more religiously observant than the average America, which buggers the mind.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?!?!?!?

Yes, someone at the CIA has a sense of humor.

They have assigned a group to look at the fallout from Wikileaks cable releases, and they are calling it the Wikileaks Task Force, generally abbreviated as WTF:
The CIA has launched a taskforce to assess the impact of 250,000 leaked US diplomatic cables. Its name? WikiLeaks Task Force, or WTF for short.

The group will scour the released documents to survey damage caused by the disclosures. One of the most embarrassing revelations was that the US state department had drawn up a list of information it would like on key UN figures – it later emerged the CIA had asked for the information.

"Officially, the panel is called the WikiLeaks Task Force. But at CIA headquarters, it's mainly known by its all-too-apt acronym: WTF."

Busy Day Off

Troubleshooting my daughter's connectivity problems with her new (used) laptop.

It's a Dell, but for once, that was not the source of the problem.


Courtesy of Atrios, on why we are backing banksters rather than ordinary people:
This would never happen because it would grossly unfair to help some people so we'll do the fair thing and just give money to rich assholes.

23 December 2010

It's Jobless Thursday

We had 420,000 initial claims last week, a small drop, but the less volatile 4-week moving average rose for the first time in 6 weeks, from 423,500 to 426,000, though both continuing and extended claims fell.

Initial claims, and unemployment, is too damn high, but it continues to trend a bit better.

Waiting to Pee In a Cup

Well, I have managed to find a contract closer to home, so starting in January I will be working about 18 miles from home in Westminster, MD, where I will be working on autonomous robotic vehicles.

What it means at this moment is that over lunch, I am sitting in a waiting room in Reston, VA waiting to be called back for a drug screen.

Yes, fill this cup, we need to evaluate the worthiness of your bodily fluids. Now THERE is an experce that positively reeks of our society's tremendous respect for human dignity.

In any case, it means that I can be home with my family every night, so it is worth it.

It likely means less bloggy goodness from me, but my reader(s) will learn to deal.

Posted via mobile.

22 December 2010

Best Healthcare in the World, My Ass

Cancer survival rates in Sweden and Canada are better than those of the United States, because people do not get early screening here.

A Sign of Sanity from Senate Democrats

All of the returning Democratic Senators, and all of the retiring ones except for Christopher Dodd, have signed a letter asking for filibuster reform:
All Democratic senators returning next year have signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urging him to consider action to change long-sacrosanct filibuster rules.

The letter, delivered this week, expresses general frustration with what Democrats consider unprecedented obstruction and asks Reid to take steps to end those abuses. While it does not urge a specific solution, Democrats said it demonstrates increased backing in the majority for a proposal, championed by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and others, weaken the minority’s ability to tie the Senate calendar into parliamentary knots.
This change can only come about if a fairly obscure change is made to the Senate rules first: The Senate currently describes itself as a continuing body, meaning that any changes in the rules at the start of a new Congress require a ⅔ majority.

If the President of the Senate, Vice President Biden, were to rule that the Senate Wasn't a continuing body, then that could be approved by a simple majority vote, as could the filibuster rule changes.

I would not something else interesting about the various proposals, it looks like Reid will accept a proposal to have committee chairs elected by secret ballot, as opposed to the current regime, where there is only a vote if another Senator publicly objects.

Hopefully, the old guard in the Senate won't block these changes.

Economics Update

The final numbers for US GDP in the 3rd quarter came in, and they were slightly lower than estimates, with a 2.6%, as opposed to the 2.7% forecast, growth rate, while core inflation was at a 50 year low.

So I don't think that either inflation or a robust recovery are around the corner, particularly with oil rising above $90/bbl, a 2 year high, which has in turn driven gasoline prices near to $3.00/gallon.

Unfortunately, the dollar has continued to fatten up versus the Euro, because people see more pain and woe from Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy.

Brought to You by Leonard Pinth-Garnell

Adventures in bad corporate damage control.

Specifically, because Wikileaks has said that they have a document dump from a Bank of Bank of America, Bank of America has started to buy up hundreds of nasty domain names in the hope of preventing the airing of criticism:
Bank of America has snapped up hundreds of abusive domain names for its senior executives and board members in what is being perceived as a defensive strategy against the future publication of damaging insider info from whistleblowing Website WikiLeaks.

According to Domain Name Wire, the US bank has been aggressively registering domain names including its board of Directors' and senior executives' names followed by "sucks" and "blows".

For example, the company registered a number of domains for CEO Brian Moynihan: BrianMoynihanBlows.com, BrianMoynihanSucks.com, BrianTMoynihanBlows.com, and BrianTMoynihanSucks.com.
You know, I REALLY don't think that this is going to help when people realize that you were smoking cigars lit from the original notes of mortgages that you have foreclosed on, and that you used homeless orphans as ash trays.

More seriously, if Wikileaks has your documents, then people will go there, or to one of its legion of mirrors, to get that information.

Good News on the Legislative Front Today

The repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell was signed into law, the Senate passed the START arms control treaty, and a new food safety bill that gives the FDA the power to order recalls passed the house and is heading to the President's desk.

I still don't see any gazillion dimensional chess here, but it's a good day.

BTW, since the bill gives the military fairly broad discretion in how the ban is phased in, I would take even money that separations from the military will be continuing into 2012, because Obama won't push the military on this.

Just When You Thought that Mortgage Servicers Could Not Get Any More Evil…

Now we have reports of them sending in crews to break into houses and change locks when they have not foreclosed on the property, in one case stealing electronics, wine, and beer, and in another, throwing out the ashes of the homeowner's husband. (surprise, there is now a lawsuit)

It's clear that something needs to be done about the criminal (breaking and entering and theft) activities of the mortgage services, but it appears that if you are the Federal Reserve, what needs to be done is to fight the rest of the government to protect the people who are breaking the law:
Top policymakers at the Federal Reserve are fighting efforts to rein in widely reported bank abuses, sparking an inter-agency feud with the FDIC and the Treasury Department. The Fed, along with the more bank-friendly Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, is resisting moves to craft rules cracking down on banks that charge illegal fees and carry out improper foreclosures. The FDIC supports such rules, according to an FDIC official involved in the dispute.

The new regulations would rein in debt collection, loan modification and foreclosure proceedings at bank divisions called "mortgage servicers." Servicers have committed widespread fraud in the foreclosure process. While the recent robo-signing of fraudulent documents has received the most attention, consumer advocates have complained about improper fees and servicer mistakes that lead to foreclosure for years.
This is what happens when you put an organization that is chartered to protect and support banks in charge of regulating them.

Instead of reigning in excesses, they validate those excesses, so the Fed is attempting to throw away something like 300 years of established property law so that the banksters can take you house for no reason at all.

21 December 2010

First, You Dogwhistle Bigotry, then You Walk it Back for the General Public

That is what Haley Barbour is doing now.

First, he lauds the white supremacist Citizens Councils, and now he's saying that he was just commenting on the lack of violence in his home town.

He is dog whistling to racists in his putative white house run.

It might not pick up votes in New Hampshire, but it will in South Carolina.

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

Barack Obama and His Evil Minions are drawing up plans for the indefinite detention of alleged terrorists at Guantanamo Bay:
The White House is preparing an Executive Order on indefinite detention that will provide periodic reviews of evidence against dozens of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, according to several administration officials.

The draft order, a version of which was first considered nearly 18 months ago, is expected to be signed by President Obama early in the New Year. The order allows for the possibility that detainees from countries like Yemen might be released if circumstances there change.

But the order establishes indefinite detention as a long-term Obama administration policy and makes clear that the White House alone will manage a review process for those it chooses to hold without charge or trial.
The law here is clear.

If we are at war, and I understand the argument that the authorization for the use of force might constitute this, then you can detain people without access to the legal process, as prisoners of war, with all the rights pertaining to that status.

This is not about prisoners of war.  This is about the king throwing people in jail on nothing but his word, and it is antithetical to American founding principles, which should be obvious to everyone, except perhaps for the worst constitutional law professor ever.

David Brooks is the Victim of a Botched Brit Milah

 I don't mean that there is physical damage to his penis.  I mean that the Brit Milah, the first mitzvah that a Jewish boy experiences, is supposed to, you know, make you Jewish, and Brooks' biography states that he is a Jew did not work.  This guy is about as Jewish as Ann Murray.

Somehow or other he manages to express dumbfounded amazement at his experience at having a discussion with a Jewish theologian where she makes points that are so mainstream in Judaism that you can't hear a Rabbi's sermon without hearing at least one of them twice:
In her classes and groups, she tries to create arduous countercultural communities. “We live in a relativistic culture,” she told me. Many people have no firm categories to organize their thinking. They find it hard to give a straight yes or no answer to tough moral questions. When they go in search of answers, they generally find people who offer them comfort and ways to ease their anxiety.

[Dr. Erica] Brown tries to do the opposite. Jewish learning, she says, isn’t about achieving tranquility. It’s about the struggle. “I try to make people uncomfortable.”
Shocking, here is a Jew who asks a question in response to a question.  What do you think of that?
Brown seems to poke people with concepts that sit uncomfortably with the modern mind-set — submission and sin. She writes about disorienting situations: vengeance, scandal, group shame. During our coffee, she criticized the way some observers bury moral teaching under legal casuistry and the way some moderns try to explain away the unfashionable things the Torah clearly says.
Sorry, but I've heard this from Reform Rabbis through black hat Orthodox.

I don't mean to imply that she  is not a rigorous thinker, or that she might not be an engaging teacher.  What I am saying is that this is completely mainstream Jewish thought, and that any Jew who expresses surprise and wonderment at what is standard boiler plate for a B'nei Mitzvah speech given by a 13 year old.

I have seen such expressions of surprise from Christians that I've dealt with, I recall a Pentecostal woman in college who was stunned when I noted that the afterlife was simply not particularly important in Judaism, for example (It's orthogonal to Tikkun Olam), which blew her mind.

It's one of the reasons that I object to the term "Judeo Christian," because there are real and deep differences in ethics and philosophy.  I would argue that existentialism, with its focus on personal responsibility, is actually closer to Judaism than many of the strands of Christian theology.

As Ioz observes, "This is like a Catholic expressing surprise at the trinity."

I am not sure if he's really stupid, or if his hanging out with right wingers, who either are evangelicals, or who find evangelicals "useful idiots," but he really needs to spend some time listing to the rabbi's sermons, as opposed to playing on his Blackberry.

H/t Brad Delong.

The Census Numbers are In

And once again Congressional seats are moving south and west.

There are now 308 million people in the United States.

At a glance, and there is a nice interactive graphic here, it looks like about 8-10 Dem seats will be lost in the process.

Another Day, Another Obama Sellout

So, after some arm twisting, the FCC has passed something it's calling network neutrality regulations.

Surprise, surprise, it's another cave to corporate interests, allowing for tiered access in wired service, and what amounts to no protection at all for wireless.

The two most prominent consumer protection organizations, Public Knowledge and Free Press have both condemned the deal.

I would also note that the FCC decided not to define broadband back to a telecommunications service (Title II), and instead have elected to have it remain a data service (Title I) which the courts have already slapped down the FCC about, so not only are these rules toothless, they are almost certainly going to be overturned in court.

Once again, the Obama administration has decided to treat the miscreants, in this case the incumbents who have taken billions in subsidies to make the US last in the developed world on connectivity and cost, as partners to be parleyed with, and given them pretty much what they want.

Things Get Interesting in New Jersey

The chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court has set up a hearing on January 19 demanding that the mortgage servicers show cause as to why foreclosures should not be suspended state wide.

It appears that slack mortgage procedures and documentation have reached the notice of judicial authorities in the Garden State.

This is, as the Vice President is wont to say, a big f%$#ing deal.

Not only is there the prospect of an indeterminate foreclosure moratorium in a populous state with expensive real estate, but the judge has explicitly placed the burden of proof on the banksters.

As Harold Feld says, "Stay Tuned".

20 December 2010

I'm Beginning to Think that Rove was Involved in the Gunpowder Plot*

Seriously. We have his fingerprints all over the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, over the firing of US Attorneys who refused to engage in political witch hunts, and on the political prosecution of Don Siegelman.

Well, now it appears that Karl Rove is involved in the sexual assault charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange:
These days, Sweden and the United States are apparently undertaking a political prosecution as audacious and important as those by the notorious "loyal Bushies" earlier this decade against U.S. Democrats.

The U.S. prosecution of WikiLeaks, if successful, could criminalize many kinds of investigative news reporting about government affairs, not just the WikiLeaks disclosures that are embarrassing Sweden as well as the Bush and Obama administrations. Authorities in both countries are setting the stage with pre-indictment sex and spy smears against WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange, plus an Interpol manhunt.

"This all has Karl's signature," a reliable political source told me a week and a half ago in encouraging our Justice Integrity Project to investigate Rove's Swedish connection. "He must be very happy. He's right back in the middle of it. He's making himself valuable to his new friends, seeing the U.S. government doing just what he'd like ─ and screwing his opponents big-time."
The theory here is that Rove has something to cover up that Wikileaks has.

That's possible, but I am more concerned about the possibility that someone in the Obama may have affirmatively sought him out in order to set something up against Assange and Wikileaks.

If that is the case, then we are in a much bigger world of hurt than previously imagined.

*A plot by Catholics in 1605 to blow up parliament.

Some Good News (And a Hearty F%$# You to NPR)

The Congress has finally passed a bill allowing for low power community radio, the Local Community Radio Act, which will allow for expended low power, sub 100 watt, radio stations.

Until the late 1970s, legally licensed low power non commercial radio was a fairly common thing, but then NPR successfully lobbied the FCC to terminate those licenses to eliminate the competition and to open up airwaves for their expansion.

Hopefully, this will allow for a far greater diversity in radio.

Cuomo Files Suit Against Ernst and Young Over Lehman Collapse

Matt Taibbi is all over this, and while the suit is civil and not criminal, and so a loss would not put the accounting firm in the same position as Arthur Anderson, which was shut down as a result of a criminal conviction stemming from the collapse of Enron. (Since reversed, but they are still dead)

Basically, it comes down to a way that Lehman used an arcane financial instrument called a "Repo 105" to conceal its debt, and his example is spot on"
These Repo 105 transactions are just loans that Ernst and Young and Lehman Brothers conspired to book as revenue from sales. If I go to you and I ask you to lend me a hundred bucks to pay for Knicks tickets, that’s a loan, and you and I and the SEC and every investor on Wall Street all know I’m in debt to you, that I owe you a hundred bucks.

Here’s how Lehman Brothers paid for their Knicks tickets: a week before the game, they went to you and offered to you “sell” you their worthless puke-stained lava lamp for a hundred bucks, with the understanding that two days after the Knicks game, it would come back and “buy” the lamp back for the same $100 (plus a small commission for your trouble). And when Lehman pocketed that $100 from the initial transaction, they decided to call that not borrowing but a true sale, i.e. they booked that hundred bucks as revenue from an honest sale of a worthless piece-of-sh%$ lava lamp.

In 2007 and 2008 Lehman would do this before the end of every quarter. They would "sell" billions of dollars of assets, typically bonds, to various companies, and use that money to pay down debt before the quarter’s end, so that they didn’t look so flat-ass broke to investors. Then, a week or so after the end of the quarter, they would go out and borrow more money, and then "buy" the assets back. The reasons they did this were myriad, but in most cases the assets they were "selling" were depressed in value at the time and could not have been sold at anything like face value had they really gone out on the market and tried. So instead of really "selling" these items on their balance sheet, they worked together with other companies to jury-rig these “repurchase” agreements that looked like sales but were actually loans.
(%$ mine)

There are two possibilities here for Ernst & Young:  Either they were negligent, and hence they owe damages, or they complicit, in which case they are criminally liable, and could suffer the same fate as Anderson .

My hope is that the accounting firm will turn on former Lehman executives, most notably Dick Fuld, to get out from under, and we may see our first big banker criminal case as a result.

My fear is that this will be another 8 figure fine with no criminal prosecutions.

Howard Dean, Call Barack Obama and Tell Him

That you will run against him in the primaries unless he drops his idea to cut social security:
The tax deal negotiated by President Barack Obama and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is just the first part of a multistage drama that is likely to further divide and weaken Democrats.

The second part, now being teed up by the White House and key Senate Democrats, is a scheme for the president to embrace much of the Bowles-Simpson plan — including cuts in Social Security. This is to be unveiled, according to well-placed sources, in the president’s State of the Union address.
This is bad policy, it's bad politics.

You could call it political Seppuku, but I think that is more accurately the deliberate and premeditated murder of the New Deal, and the marginalization of the Democratic Party for at least a generation.

I can no longer attribute this to incompetence or cowardice.  This is deliberate malice:


Paul Krugman laments the fact that failed economic ideas are now the conventional wisdom:
When historians look back at 2008-10, what will puzzle them most, I believe, is the strange triumph of failed ideas. Free-market fundamentalists have been wrong about everything — yet they now dominate the political scene more thoroughly than ever.

How did that happen? How, after runaway banks brought the economy to its knees, did we end up with Ron Paul, who says “I don’t think we need regulators,” about to take over a key House panel overseeing the Fed? How, after the experiences of the Clinton and Bush administrations — the first raised taxes and presided over spectacular job growth; the second cut taxes and presided over anemic growth even before the crisis — did we end up with bipartisan agreement on even more tax cuts?


Yes, politics is the art of the possible. We all understand the need to deal with one’s political enemies. But it’s one thing to make deals to advance your goals; it’s another to open the door to zombie ideas. When you do that, the zombies end up eating your brain — and quite possibly your economy too.
Go read.

It is a good analysis, but I think rather incomplete.

He seems to think that Barack Obama, in his attempts to appease Republicans, has given them cover to promulgate these failed ideas.

I think that this is too Byzantine an explanation. The simpler explanation is that Barack Obama gives lip service to these failed ideas because he actually believes in these ideas.

It explains his unwillingness to prosecute the banksters, their fraud against consumers in the HAMP, their attempts to water down financial reform, etc.

This is not cowardice.  This is corporatist thinking to a degree that makes Bill Clinton looks like Karl Marx.

This is Not a Gaffe, This is a Campaign Strategy

There is a lot of hand wringing and out rage over Haley Barbour's comments supporting the activities of the white supremacist White Citizens’ Councils in the 1960s.

I think that this misses the point.

Not only does Barbour have a long tradition of appealing to bigots, but it is clear that he wants to run for president, and a not so veiled appeal to the tradition of white bigotry in the South goes a long way towards appealing to that demographic in the primaries.

19 December 2010

Phantom Ray Photo Pr0n

And some Video Pr0n Too

Boeing's Phantom Ray was flownb toi Edwards AFB on the back of  the 747 that was used to carry the Space Shuttle.

They did this, as opposed to breaking it down and shipping it via truck or inside an aircraft, because it was not designed with a wing break at the attachment, which makes disassembly and reassambly a rather non-trivial operation.

Do Not Piss Him Off

Ouch!  That will leave a mark!
Jon Stewart goes medieval on the Republicans who filibustered the 911 first responder healthcare bill.


18 December 2010

Another Day, Another BMD Fail

Another test of the US ground based interceptor has failed.

According to the press release, "all the elements functioned well," but fail it did.

Still a few bugs in the system, I guess.

Senate Passes DADT Repeal

This is very good news, but understand that this bill does not set the speed or manner by which the military will end this policy, which means that I expect to see them slow walking this, with separations continuing for some tome, and with the Obama administration doing nothing to ensure that discrimination does not remain the policy of the Pentagon.

It's Bank Failure Friday!!!! (on Saturday)

And here they are, ordered, and numbered for the year so far.
  1. The Bank of Miami,N.A., Coral Gables, FL
  2. Chestatee State Bank, Dawsonville, GA
  3. Appalachian Community Bank, FSB, McCaysville, GA
  4. United Americas Bank, N.A.,Atlanta, GA
  5. First Southern Bank, Batesville, AR
  6. Community National Bank, Lino Lakes, MN
Full FDIC list And here are the credit union closings:
  1. Beehive Credit Union, Salt Lake City, UT
Full NCUA list

So, 6 banks this Friday, and one credit union on the 14th.

That's a pretty busy week, though part of this might be that the regulators are closing banks this week because they do not want do do closings over the Christmas or New Years holidays.

So, here is the graph pr0n with trendline (FDIC only):

I would note that are now at the point where the utility of the least squares trendline is diminishing, but I'm keeping it here for historical purposes.

17 December 2010

William Shatner is a Great Actor

At least he is in the right roles:

Your Moment of Sacrilege

Sacreligious, but wicked funny:


The Euro Zone monetary authorities are crowing about the success of Latvia, because they held the hard peg to their currency.

It appears that their GDP may grow this quarter, after as Matthew Yglesias observes, their GDP feel by 4.2% in 2008, 18% in 2009, and will fall slightly this year.

This is not success. As Paul Krugman writes, "They have made a desert, and called it successful adjustment."

Compare their progress to those of the Icelanders, Dr. Krugman supplied the graph pr0n) who devalued, and eschewed austerity.

Note also that Iceland's meltdown was the most severe this far seen, but, because they eschewed the nattering nabobs of negativism that are the pain caucus, they had what amounts to the mildest and shortest downturn.

16 December 2010

OK, Credit Where Credit is Due*

The Federal Reserve is proposing to slash swipe fees for debit cards, taking them from somewhere around 1½2% to something less than 12¢.

Of course this is just a proposal, so I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The full FRB releases (PDF) are here.

*Pun not intended.

And the Dems Roll Over to Obama

His, "Make the Democrats a generational party for a generation" tax plan passes the house 277-148.


Economics Update

Click for full size

That may be a bottom, but it ain't a recovery
It's jobless Thursday, and initial claims fell by 3,000 to 420,000, and the 4-week moving average fell by 5,250 to 422,750, another 2+ year low, but continuing claims rose by 22,000 to 4.14 million, and emergency/extended claims rose by 324,537 to 4.83 million.

I would call that mixed. Fewer people losing their jobs, but people looking for work are not finding it.

In real estate news, home prices declined 1.9% in October, and by 3.93% year over year, so we are still not seeing any signs of recovery there.

EU Court Rules that Irish Abortion Law Violates Human Rights Standards

I would argue that this is a another example of how Ireland is a 3rd world nation masquerading as a modern one by virtue of geography, but that critique would apply to the US as well:
Ireland's constitutional ban on abortion violates the rights of pregnant women to receive proper medical care in life-threatening cases, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday in a judgment that harshly criticized Ireland's long inaction on the issue.

The judgment from the Strasbourg, France-based court will put Ireland under pressure to draft a law extending limited abortion rights to women whose pregnancies represent a potentially fatal threat to their own health.
A right to receive proper medical care?

Well, that doesn't exist here either.

Obama is Now Blocking DADT Repeal

So much for his promise to be a "Fierce advocate" for the LGBT:
Sources on the Hill are telling me a big reason DADT repeal isn't moving faster comes right from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Despite President Obama's public support for repeal, with DADT stacked up against the START nuclear arms reduction treaty that Obama carefully brokered with the Russians earlier this year, the White House is putting its legislative push behind START.

At this point, with more than the 60 votes secured to invoke cloture on a repeal bill in the Senate, obstacles to repealing DADT legislatively are a simple combination of time and priorities. Time is short in the lame duck session, and DADT repeal is just one of many items the Senate would like to address before it adjourns. Where repeal slots into the remaining legislative calendar, and how much time is left in that calendar when it does pop up, will make the difference between repealing the ban and keeping the status quo.
I strongly disagree with the next paragraph though:
No one questions that Obama wants to see DADT end, or that he wants to see it end this year. The concern is over the priorities: Obama, it seems, wants START to come first. And with the White House pushing START (in daily phone calls from top White House officials, according to one source on the Hill), Obama could end up standing in the way of DADT getting done.
Truth be told, Barack Obama's excuses for not supporting LGBT civil rights, whether it's his slow-walking DADT, or aggressively defending it in court, or ignoring judges orders to recognize gay marriages where they are legal, etc. rivals John McCain's flip flops on gay rights for their mendacity.

Assange Granted Bail

Basically, the terms of his bail amount to house arrest:
Britain's high court today granted bail to Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who is wanted in Sweden for questioning over allegations of rape.

Mr Justice Duncan Ouseley agreed with a decision by City of Westminister magistrates court earlier in the week to release Assange on strict conditions: £200,000 cash deposit, with a further £40,000 guaranteed in two sureties of £20,000, and strict conditions on his movement.
This is good news, but we are hearing more reports of the US looking for ways to indict him, this time by ginning up a conspiracy case:
Federal prosecutors, seeking to build a case against the WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange for his role in a huge dissemination of classified government documents, are looking for evidence of any collusion in his early contacts with an Army intelligence analyst suspected of leaking the information.

Justice Department officials are trying to find out whether Mr. Assange encouraged or even helped the analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning, to extract classified military and State Department files from a government computer system. If he did so, they believe they could charge him as a conspirator in the leak, not just as a passive recipient of the documents who then published them.

Among materials prosecutors are studying is an online chat log in which Private Manning is said to claim that he had been directly communicating with Mr. Assange using an encrypted Internet conferencing service as the soldier was downloading government files. Private Manning is also said to have claimed that Mr. Assange gave him access to a dedicated server for uploading some of them to WikiLeaks.
It should be noted that these activities, cultivating and providing a source a way to get his information to you, are staples in the diet of investigative journalism.

Any prosecution under these circumstances would be an full frontal assault on freedom of the press, which is profoundly disturbing to anyone who cares at all about the Constitution.

Unfortunately, I think that this sort of assault on the press, and by extension leaking, appears to be something that Barack Obama, who must have been the worst professor of Constitutional law ever, really would like to do.

His administration is more vociferously hostile toward leaks and leakers than Bush/Cheney ever was.

Of course, this is why this administration is allowing the leaker, PFC Bradley Manning to be tortured pre-trial, because they want to coerce an accusation against Assange.

15 December 2010

Just In Case You Wondered How Repugnant Obama's People Are

Peter Orzag, in his last column for the New York Times before accepting his bribe from starting his new job with Citigroup, calls for gutting disability insurance because the problem is that people are just lazy malingerers:
Finally, the disability insurance program itself must be reformed. Program administrators understand the need to encourage beneficiaries to return to work, and they have experimented with various incentives. Such initiatives have generally been ineffective, though, because they reach beneficiaries too late, after they have already become dependent on the program and lost their attachment to the work force.

A better approach has been suggested by David Autor of M.I.T. and Mark Duggan of the University of Maryland. In a paper released last week from the Center for American Progress and the Hamilton Project, these economists argue that employers should be required to offer their workers private disability insurance. Such coverage would provide people who have a work-limiting disability with vocational assistance, workplace accommodation and limited wage replacement. All of these benefits would kick in within 90 days of the onset of disability, to avoid the problems with delayed assistance that have plagued efforts to reform public disability insurance. Private employers would have an incentive to prevent their workers from having to file disability applications, because their insurance premiums would rise in response to higher disability rates.

Disabled workers could remain on this privately financed insurance for two years, and then be eligible for the existing public program. The goal would be to minimize long-term dependency, and re-orient the federal disability insurance program toward assisting those who are truly unable to work.
(emphasis mine)

If you do not believe that Barack Obama and His Evil Minions want to privatize Social Security, you are a fool, because one of his closest confidants is suggesting privatizing disability insurance.

Think about this, with unemployment at a generational high, and new entrants to the work force unable to find jobs, Orzag wants something akin to insurance recission teams, the people who kicked cancer patients out of health insurance programs, to hound people who are on disability.

Basically, every person who is on disability is someone who is not competing with a kid fresh out of high school or college looking for their first job.

That's what, having "incentive to prevent their workers from having to file disability applications," means. It means allowing employers to use coercion to intimidate sick people so that they do not file claims.

This is how Peter Orzag rolls, and this is how Timmy Geithner rolls, and this is how Lawrence Summers rolls.

This is not a mistake.  These are people who the President chose to execute his agenda, and the agenda is seriously right wing by any sane standard.  (Note here that "sane standard" and "Republican Party" had a messy divorce in the 1990s.)

Remember That Justice Department Crackdown of Financial Fraud?

Round up the usual suspects
It's all theater, with a bunch of run of the mill low level grifters being rounded up being sold as real law enforcement:
The "Broken Trust" target list resembles that of the President's "Interagency Financial Task Force," which has concentrated on minor criminals while studiously avoiding the big (and still deadly) fish (see "A Banker Can't Get Arrested In This Town"). Most of the Task Force's indictments involved a category of financial criminal we call "ABB" -- "anybody but bankers." There were software entrepreneurs, family investment firms, some Florida retirement advisors ... even a fraudulent psychic who claimed he could predict stock performance! (And no, it wasn't Jim Cramer.)

Holder's list of alleged "Broken Trust" victories is a similarly Faginesque assemblage of small-time grifters. It would make an ideal cast of characters for a Damon Runyon story or a Bertolt Brecht musical: There's a Miami-based Ponzi schemer who used his loot to buy basketball tickets and make yacht payments, a retired Ohio cop who scammed fellow police officers and some firefighters, and the New Jersey hustler who scammed people so he could buy three luxury cars and two country club memberships.
This is clearly top down policy.

You see it from Treasury, you see it from the Department of Justice, you see it from Obama's entire domestic policy team.

And Now the US Military is Torturing Its Own Soldiers

Specifically PFC Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking documents to Wikileaks:
Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old U.S. Army Private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, has never been convicted of that crime, nor of any other crime. Despite that, he has been detained at the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia for five months -- and for two months before that in a military jail in Kuwait -- under conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture. Interviews with several people directly familiar with the conditions of Manning's detention, ultimately including a Quantico brig official (Lt. Brian Villiard) who confirmed much of what they conveyed, establishes that the accused leaker is subjected to detention conditions likely to create long-term psychological injuries.

Since his arrest in May, Manning has been a model detainee, without any episodes of violence or disciplinary problems. He nonetheless was declared from the start to be a "Maximum Custody Detainee," the highest and most repressive level of military detention, which then became the basis for the series of inhumane measures imposed on him.

From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day -- for seven straight months and counting -- he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he's barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he's being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch). For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs. Lt. Villiard protested that the conditions are not "like jail movies where someone gets thrown into the hole," but confirmed that he is in solitary confinement, entirely alone in his cell except for the one hour per day he is taken out.
It should be noted that this sort of treatment produces profound long term damage to mind that is akin to traumatic brain injury.

This is deliberate punitive torture, and its purpose is two fold:
  • To serve as a warning to other whistle blowers.
  • To coerce false testimony that can be used to prosecute Julian Assange.
Welcome to Barack Obama's America, which is a lot like George W. Bush Dick Cheney's America, only less respect for due process and transparency.

You can donate to PFC Manning's defense fund here.

The Cossacks Work for the Czar

After spending trillions bailing out banks, and billions paying the banks to pretend not to foreclose on people under the HAMP program, it now turns out that the Treasury Department is refusing to cut loose any money for legal aid for people facing foreclosure:
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has authorized big payouts to banks in an effort to encourage mortgage modifications, but is preventing borrowers in danger of losing their homes from accessing legal assistance under the Obama administration's foreclosure relief plan -- even when banks are wrongfully or fraudulently attempting evictions.

As of August, the administration's foreclosure prevention program -- which had paid a total of $231.5 million to banks -- had paid nothing specifically for borrower's legal fees, despite the urging of congressional Democrats who say legal funding is critical to easing the crisis.

Democrats from foreclosure-battered states are pushing new legislation that would overrule Geithner's edict, but the legislation is doomed this session with apathy from leadership in both parties and a packed lame duck calendar.
It's easy to blame Timothy "Eddie Haskell" Geithner for all of this, but the reality is that he is Barack Obama's man, and he is where he is because Barack Obama wants him there, coddling bankers and defrauding homeowners.