30 April 2011

India Shortlists Rafale and Typhoon for MMRCA Shortlist

Well, I was wrong in my guess that MiG would win this.

But India has narrowed the bid to the French and the British:
The United States lost a hard-fought competition to supply a new generation of fighter jets to India, which has listed two European manufacturers as the finalists for an order estimated to be worth $10 billion.

The decision was a blow for President Obama, who had pushed hard for this and other defense deals during his visit to India in November as part of his agenda to deepen and broaden the United States’ relationship with India. The American ambassador to India, Timothy J. Roemer, who separately announced on Thursday that he would resign from his post for personal reasons, said the United States was “deeply disappointed by this news.”

While political and economic relations between India and the United States have been warming for years, American arms makers have struggled to win big contracts here. After decades of frosty relations during the cold war, which pushed India to rely extensively on the Soviet Union for military hardware, many in the Indian defense establishment are still wary of American intentions and United States military aid to Pakistan, India’s main adversary.

The American bid to build the fighters came from Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Boeing had offered its F/A -18 jets, and Lockheed Martin pitched its F-16 planes. But India instead narrowed the list to the Rafale fighter from Dassault and the Eurofighter Typhoon jet made by a consortium of European companies. Russian and Swedish bids were also turned down.
I'm not sure what the calculus here.

These aircraft are clearly more capable in terms of payload and range than the Rafale (which is the light weight of the bunch) and the F-16, and faster than the F-18 (so is just about everything flying with an afterburner), and likely more reliable than the MiG.

My handicapping of the race? I think that Dassault is desperate for an export sale, and so will be willing to take a hit up front, and when this is juxtaposed with the fact that the IAF already has experience operating the Mirage 2000, I would give it a slight edge.

29 April 2011

The Best Comment on Donald Trump's Attack on Obama's Academic Record

You should read the whole thing, but here are the last few paragraphs:
Oh, wait.

My bad.

I made a mistake.

Please replace the reference to "high school" with "Andover."

Please replace "Columbia" with "Yale."

Please replace "Barack Obama" with "George W. Bush."

Good snark.

Go read.

Darth Sartre


H/t Tom Cunniff.

It's Bank Failure Friday!!!!

It's odd, we've had alternating weeks of feast and famon.

And here they are, ordered, and numbered for the year so far.
  1. First National Bank of Central Florida, Winter Park, FL
  2. Cortez Community Bank, Cortez, FL
  3. First Choice Community Bank, Dallas, GA
  4. The Park Avenue Bank, Valdosta, GA
  5. Community Central Bank, Mount Clemens, MI
Full FDIC list

And here are the credit union closings:
  1. Utah Central Credit Union, Salt Lake City, UT
Full NCUA list

So, here is the graph pr0n with last years numbers for comparison (FDIC only):

The Royals Earn Their Keep

This is my first, and last, post about the damn wedding, and while I understand that some folks begrudge the not-insignificant stipend awarded by the British government to members of the royal family, I do not, because:

You Could Not Pay Me Enough to Wear Those Damn Hats!

28 April 2011

The Roberts Court Whores for Corporate America Again

They just ruled that companies can use arbitration clauses to require that each claim be settled individually, making it impossible for companies to be meaningfully punished for cheating large numbers of customers a few bucks at a time.

Unsurprisingly, it was AT&T that was cheating its customers, to the tune of $30 a pop, that was the defendant in this case.

I'm with Breyer on this:
But the dissenters said a practical ban on class action would be unfair to cheated consumers. Justice Stephen G. Breyer said the California courts had insisted on permitting class-action claims, despite arbitration clauses that forbade them. Otherwise, he said, it would allow a company to "insulate" itself "from liability for its own frauds by deliberately cheating large numbers of consumers out of individually small sums of money."
But I would have been more frank. I would have said that the Scalia, et al, were creating a license to steal.

Economics Update

It's Jobless Thursday, and initial claim hit a 3 month high, 429 K, with the 4-week moving average rising, though continuing and extended claims fell.

The numbers have been disappointing, which is not surprising, since the economy grew at an anemic 1.8% annual rate in the 1st quarter.

The problem is that too many people in power (see Geithner, Timothy, for one) think that the economy is recovering fine because the banksters are making lots of money, so they are concerned about the deficit and inflation, as evidenced by this story with its hand wringing about inflation rising, but even though it's still well under the 2% (I would argue for 6% right now) that the Fed says that we need.

BTW, if you want to read it, here is the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee statement for you to read.

Why Not Gus Frerotte?

The most wanktastic representative in the Democratic caucus, Heath Shuler, had got himself a primary challenger, Cecil Bothwell:
North Carolina Blue Dog Democrat Heath Shuler is getting a primary challenge.

Councilman Cecil Bothwell, who originally said he would run as an independent, has changed his mind on the advice of friends and supporters, according to The Asheville Citizen-Times.

"I originally believed that the best way to address issues too long ignored and to challenge the corporate power over the national parties was to run as an independent," he said. "But I've heard from hundreds of people, from WNC to Washington, DC, who believe the most likely path to success is up the middle instead of trying for an end-run.”
He's not on Act Blue yet, but when he is, I will add him to my Act Blue page.

He's actually an interesting guy, the only openly Atheist politician I know of, according to his Wiki Page.

27 April 2011

Obama Releases "Long Form" Birth Certificate

I guess this will make the birthers shut up………Not!!!

My thoughts on this are perhaps best expressed by Cthulhu*:
He f%$#ing caved to the GOP thugs, AGAIN. His BC is sufficient for him to get a license, a passport, and for every god-damned govt function we can think of.

I wanted to see Obama do the same as inn the movie "The American President", where he calls the phonies out, and declares he is the president, and he's off to take care of business, f%$# you microbrained idiots.
Of course, that was just a movie, reality is a lot more depressing.

*No, not the unspeakably malevolent super-being, the contributor to the Stellar Parthenon BBS.
OK, I've never seen the two of them together, so Cthulhu might actually be the Cthulhu, but the mere fact that he is on a BBS, interacting with humans would seem to mitigate against this.
Yes, I know, this is the internet, where no one knows if you are a dog.

Who Lent Harry Reid a Pair of Testicles?

Because he has just announced that he will be forcing a vote on the Senate floor on the Paul Ryan budget, which dismantles Medicare:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said it’s definite: He will scheduled a vote on House Republicans’ fiscal 2012 budget plan, which passed the House on a party-line vote earlier this month and includes the proposal to make Medicare a voucher-style health-care program for seniors.

The move could create an awkward situation for some Senate Republicans, who would anger conservative constituents by voting no, but could alienate independents by voting yes. Sen. Susan Collins, a centrist Republican from Maine, said last week she’ll oppose the budget.

Senate Republicans “seem to be in love with the [Rep. Paul] Ryan budget, they’re going to get an opportunity to vote on the Ryan budget,” Mr. Reid said. Asked if he thought the Senate would defeat the House GOP budgetary plan, Mr. Reid said “I hope so.”
An "awkward situation", yes, I guess it is.

BTW, the Senate rules does not allow a filibuster of the budget.

26 April 2011

Vermont Senate Passes Single Payer Healthcare

The Vermont state Senate has now passed the single payer healthcare bill, and, assuming no problems in conference committee, will shortly head to the governor's desk, where he has promised to sign it.

Of course, the whole thing is dependent on getting a waiver from HHS, and I'm dubious of that bit, because Obama has shown himself to be the FIRE (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate) sector's bitch, and you can be sure that the insurance companies will be trying to do whatever they can to drive a stake through the bill's heart.

Pass the Popcorn, Wikileaks Again

Wikileaks has now released about 700 documents on what is going on in the Guantánamo Bay gulag, and the picture is one of a completely incompetent and immoral process.

Cases in point:
Given the totality it's not the documentation, it's not surprising that the New York Times strongly condemned the whole process:
The internal documents from the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, published in The Times on Monday were a chilling reminder of the legal and moral disaster that President George W. Bush created there. They describe the chaos, lawlessness and incompetence in his administration’s system for deciding detainees’ guilt or innocence and assessing whether they would be a threat if released.
(emphasis mine)

It is refreshing to see the editorial page of the "paper of record" excoriate our gulag in the Caribbean, but unfortunately, they don't go further, and ask why there have been no prosecutions of the lawless incompetent torturers.

25 April 2011

Well, Now We Know Why He Quit

It turns out that John Ensign made his resignation effective the day before he was to testify under oath before the Ethics Committee:
Senator John Ensign's resignation letter allows him to leave office just one day before he was to have to answer questions under oath about whether a $96,000 payment to the family of his former lover was illegal and designed to keep the affair from becoming public, according to people familiar with an investigation of Mr. Ensign's activities.

That formal testimony, scheduled for May 4, was the final step as Senate investigators prepared for what were almost certain to be Senate ethics charges against Mr. Ensign, Republican of Nevada. Mr. Ensign's resignation is effective May 3.
To paraphrase King Kong, it was cowardice and hypocrisy that killed the beast.

24 April 2011

And In the World of the Surreal…

The CIA is touting its green credentials by revealing that they generate heat by burning shredded documents:
A press release from the CIA explains that their "burn after reading" practice conserves energy because the exhaust from their incinerator generates steam to heat water at CIA headquarters. Says the CIA:
In addition to saving fuel, that process reduces the amount of waste--which would otherwise be destined for landfills--by nearly 1,000 tons per year. The CIA increases its recycling efforts each year, annually collecting over three tons of plastic, glass, cardboard, aluminum, construction debris, and other waste.
I dunno, I find this kind of …… odd.

22 April 2011

About Bloody Time.

A US Federal Appeals Court has overturned the dismissal of manslaughter charges against the Blackwater (now Xe) mercenaries who massacred 14 Iraqis in 2007:
The U.S. won a bid to revive its manslaughter and weapons case against four former Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused in the 2007 deaths of 14 Iraqi civilians at a Baghdad intersection.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington today reversed the decision of a lower-court judge, who dismissed the charges because statements the men made to State Department investigators may have influenced the grand jury.

“In sifting the record as to taint of the evidence before the indicting grand jury, the district court made a number of systemic errors based on an erroneous legal analysis,” said the appeals court.
Basically, the State Department promised immunity to each of the guards for their statements, and this is what led the dismissal, and the appellate court said that the immunity of each mercenary's statements applied only to prevented their use against that specific person, and not all of them, so the lower court had to refer to each indictment, and see whether the their own statements were used against them.

The lower court judge basically issued a blanked ruling saying that if Merc A said something that implicated Merc B, it was tainted, and the appellate court said no.

Hopefully this leads some of these guys to rat out on their associates.

You can read a good analysis here.

Because Running the Government By, and For, the Banksters is Depressing

It's why Americans are more pessimistic about the economy and their future than they have been in years:
Americans are more pessimistic about the nation’s economic outlook and overall direction than they have been at any time since President Obama’s first two months in office, when the country was still officially ensnared in the Great Recession, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Amid rising gas prices, stubborn unemployment and a cacophonous debate in Washington over the federal government’s ability to meet its future obligations, the poll presents stark evidence that the slow, if unsteady, gains in public confidence earlier this year that a recovery was under way are now all but gone.

Capturing what appears to be an abrupt change in attitude, the survey shows that the number of Americans who think the economy is getting worse has jumped 13 percentage points in just one month. Though there have been encouraging signs of renewed growth since last fall, many economists are having second thoughts, warning that the pace of expansion might not be fast enough to create significant numbers of new jobs.

The dour public mood is dragging down ratings for both parties in Congress and for President Obama, the poll found.
The Republicans must be high fiving each other in private about this, a bad economy presages a Republican takeover of the Senate, and possibly the White House.

Truth be told, when the good least bad guys Washington, DC think that everything is fine because banksters are doing better, even though unemployment is almost 9% (over 15% for the more accurate U-6), the American public is in the right frame of mind, we are unbelievably screwed.

21 April 2011

Koch Whores

Koch Industries is now explicitly coercing its workers about who they vote for:
On the eve of the November midterm elections, Koch Industries sent an urgent letter to most of its 50,000 employees advising them on whom to vote for and warning them about the dire consequences to their families, their jobs and their country should they choose to vote otherwise.

The Nation obtained the Koch Industries election packet for Washington State [1]—which included a cover letter from its president and COO, David Robertson; a list of Koch-endorsed state and federal candidates; and an issue of the company newsletter, Discovery, full of alarmist right-wing propaganda.

Legal experts interviewed for this story called the blatant corporate politicking highly unusual, although no longer skirting the edge of legality, thanks to last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which granted free speech rights to corporations.

“Before Citizens United, federal election law allowed a company like Koch Industries to talk to officers and shareholders about whom to vote for, but not to talk with employees about whom to vote for,” explains Paul M. Secunda, associate professor of law at Marquette University. But according to Secunda, who recently wrote in The Yale Law Journal Online about the effects of Citizens United on political coercion in the workplace, the decision knocked down those regulations. “Now, companies like Koch Industries are free to send out newsletters persuading their employees how to vote. They can even intimidate their employees into voting for their candidates.” Secunda adds, “It’s a very troubling situation.”
This is what happens when people who earned their fortune through the genetic lottery think that they own the people who work for them.

Truly repugnant.


Do you want to guess?

Is it in Missippi, or Alabama, or maybe Arkansas?

Nope, it's in New York State, just an hour from Times Square. It's Kiryas Joel, which has a mind boggling 70% poverty rate: (number 2 only has a 56% rate)
The poorest place in the United States is not a dusty Texas border town, a hollow in Appalachia, a remote Indian reservation or a blighted urban neighborhood. It has no slums or homeless people. No one who lives there is shabbily dressed or has to go hungry. Crime is virtually nonexistent.

And, yet, officially, at least, none of the nation’s 3,700 villages, towns or cities with more than 10,000 people has a higher proportion of its population living in poverty than Kiryas Joel, N.Y., a community of mostly garden apartments and town houses 50 miles northwest of New York City in suburban Orange County.

About 70 percent of the village’s 21,000 residents live in households whose income falls below the federal poverty threshold, according to the Census Bureau. Median family income ($17,929) and per capita income ($4,494) rank lower than any other comparable place in the country. Nearly half of the village’s households reported less than $15,000 in annual income.

About half of the residents receive food stamps, and one-third receive Medicaid benefits and rely on federal vouchers to help pay their housing costs.

Kiryas Joel’s unlikely ranking results largely from religious and cultural factors. Ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic Jews predominate in the village; many of them moved there from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, beginning in the 1970s to accommodate a population that was growing geometrically.
Normally, I am not inclined to tell people that they need to get off their asses, and get a real job, but in this case, I'm going to say get off your asses and get a job.

Kiryas Joel is a hole in the map created by cynical New York politicians in order to pander, and since then it has been used to suck up various welfare payments, so that able bodied residents could game local government for handouts.

Judaism is very clear about this:  Studying is good, but there is also an obligation to work and support a family.

Wanker of the Day

Politifact.com, who is insisting that replacing Medicare with vouchers for private insurance that will not cover the costs is "not ending Medicare."

Clueless bastards and false balance.

John Ensign Resigning Senate Seat

John Ensign has announced that he will be resigning from the US Senate in May:
Embattled Sen. John Ensign announced this afternoon he will resign from office, effective May 3. The move opens the door for Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval to appoint Rep. Dean Heller to finish out the term.

"It is with tremendous sadness that I officially hand over the Senate seat that I have held for eleven years," Ensign said in a statement. "The turbulence of these last few years is greatly surpassed by the incredible privilege that I feel to have been entrusted to serve the people of Nevada. I can honestly say that being a United States Senator has been the honor of my life."

Sun columnist Jon Ralston first reported earlier in the afternoon that Ensign would step down.
Ralston was on Maddow just now and said that the Ethics Committee had just held a secret vote to open a public investigation of his activities, basically f%$#ing his best friend's wife (both staffers) and paying them off, and this is what precipitated his exit.

I'm going to call my Senators, and ask them to continue the investigation even though he is leaving, he shouldn't skate, and given that the DoJ under Eric "Place" Holder has dropped their investigation of him.

Buck Foeing

The National Labor Relations Board has Boeing locating the 2nd assembly line for the 787 in South Carolina was part of illegal union busting activity:
Boeing illegally put its second 787 Dreamliner assembly line in South Carolina in retaliation for strikes in Washington and should be required to build the line in Washington, according to a potentially groundbreaking National Labor Relations Board complaint (pdf) filed Wednesday.

NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon filed the complaint after investigating a charge that the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union District 751, bargaining unit, backed by the national union, filed on March 29, 2010. A board administrative law judge is scheduled to hear the case on June 14.
Seriously, since Boeing bought McDonnell Douglas, and the failed McDonnell Douglas management team ended up running the company, they have consistently failed in ways that stun me.

First, they were big enough assholes that they got engineers to go out on strike and stay on strike, then they f%$#ed up the bidding on the next gen tanker twice (the first time was when they bribed an official to cut them an unconscionable lease deal), and now they have been so arrogant to get the normally hapless NLRB to unload a can of whup ass on then.

If I were a Boeing shareholder, I would be agitating to make sure that no one who ever worked at M-D from holding a senior management position at the Everett Chicago based airframe manufacturer.

It's Jobless Thursday

And initial claim felll less than expected, to 403,000, with the 4-week moving average rising to 399K, and continuing and extended claims also fall slightly.

When juxtaposed with the Philadelphia Fed's manufacturing survey falling, I think that reports of the incipient recovery might be premature.

20 April 2011

Wisconsin Election(s) Update

In the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, JoAnne Kloppenburg filed a petition with the Government Accountability Board for a recount, which is automatic, and at state expense, because the margin was less than the ½% margin.

She also called for an investigation of the actions of Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus, who has been using odd methods, and generating odd results, for years.

I don't know how this will turn out, but given that Wisconsin uses paper ballots, my guess is that Ms. Nickolaus will not look good at the end of this, because even if she isn't shown to have engaged in ballot fraud, her history of incompetence is well documented.

Additionally, it looks like Wisconsin will be more than doubling its recall elections in its history, there have been 4 total in history, but now 5 recall petitions have already been filed against state senators, which means that there should be at least 5 recall elections.

I would expect a lot of money from the Koch brothers to flow in for both the recount and the elections.

And the Escalation into an Attempt at Regime Change Continues

Both the French and the British intend to send troops in to, "Protect aid deliveries," despite the fact that Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, has said that this is not necessary, and may risk conflating the aid program with military action.

The problem here is that there have been explicit calls for regime change since the UN resolution had passed, and because the Qaddafi regime has refused to collapse like a bunch of wet broccoli, the French and the British have felt the need to escalate in order to save face.

Not like Vietnam at all.

Sarkosy is trying to save his ass in the next elections, and Cameron is trying to distract the British public from the failure of his full throated embrace of Hoovernomics, and they thought that a "Private Little War" would be good for politics, and it allowed them to get their colonialist rocks off as a bonus.

Unfortunately, wars are never a certainty.

Bradley Manning Has Been Transfered from Quantico to Leavenworth

And it appears that the conditions of his confinement will improve significantly:
The family of Bradley Manning has welcomed news that he has been moved from a top security military prison in Quantico, Virginia, to a "more open" military facility in Kansas.

Manning, the US soldier accused of downloading and leaking classified cables to WikiLeaks, was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, early on Wednesday, his aunt, Sharon Staples, confirmed.

His transfer follows sustained protests from human rights campaigners and others over his conditions at Quantico, where he was held in solitary confinement and on suicide watch, which has required him to be stripped naked at night apart from a smock and checked on repeatedly.

The commander of the Kansas facility said Manning would now receive three hours of recreation a day, and would "have the capability to interact with other pre-trial inmates on a routine basis". Psychiatrists would assess his mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health on arrival, Lt Col Dawn Hilton said.
This did not happen because either the Pentagon or the Obama administration wanted this.

Between members of the British Parliament demanding an accounting of his treatment, Manning holds dual UK-US citizenship, and the UN Special Investigator demanding access, I think that the attempt by the Obama administration to extort a false accusation from Bradley Manning against Julian Assange has finally become politically untenable.

Props to those people who made this politically untenable.

19 April 2011

Deep Thought

Not my deep thought, actually.

The family was in a restaurant on Sunday, why eat in when you are removing food from the house for Passover, and besides, the storm had knocked out our power.

In any case, the restaurant had Fox News up on a monitor.

It was "pimp Atlas Shrugged day", so they were interviewing the actors, the director, etc., along with examples of how capitalist "supermen" are essential.

Thankfully, the sound was off, and I had my back to it, but my son Charlie was watching the scroll beneath.

Suddenly, he looked at me confused, "Dad, Fox News says that venture capitalists invented video game systems. Can you explain that to me dad? I don't speak lunatic."

I guess that I am raising my kids right.

18 April 2011

Biblical Plagues, We Haz Them!

So, Passover starts tonight, and so there is a lot of preparation.

Our house is supposed to be Chometz* free, so think of Spring cleaning run by a Jewish woman on the edge of madness.

Well, we get back from an SCA event on Saturday night, ready to start cleaning, and the power was out, and remained out for the next 18 hours.

But, as the saying goes, wait, there's more.

Marilyn, my mother-in-law, was coming to visit us, and took the bus down the New York City area, only the ticketing agent pointed her to the bus that was headed to Boston.

So, instead of arriving at 5pm on Sunday, she arrived at 6am today.

You know, I'm not a superstitious person, but I am expecting problems with blood, frogs, and cattle disease at our Seder tonight.

Light posting the next few days, because of the holidays.

*Leavened bread, and related products, which include things like beans if you are a Jew of Eastern European extraction.
Major props to my brother Daniel, who lives about 40 minutes outside of Boston, who picked up Marilyn and took her to dinner before taking her back to the bus station.
Which I guess is a mealy mouthed way of saying that I am a superstitious person under these circumstances.

17 April 2011

Deep Thought

Cleaning for Passover sucks wet farts from dead pigeons.

16 April 2011

Blogging by Candle Light

With the severe storms in the area, our power is out, so I am posting this via my mobile phone.

It's an interesting juxtaposition of the modern and the historical.

15 April 2011

Whew! My Number Did Not Come Up!

For the 2nd time in just over 3 years, I got a summons to appear on jury duty.

My call in number was 223, they called in numbers 1 to 218.

A word of note to any potential criminals out there: The idea that someone like might adjudicate your guilt or innocence should scare the crap out of you.

It's Bank Failure Friday!!!!

Remember when I said last week that things seemed to be slowing down?

Well, not so much:
  1. Bartow County Bank, Cartersville, GA
  2. New Horizons Bank, East Ellijay, GA
  3. Nexity Bank, Birmingham, AL
  4. Superior Bank, Birmingham, AL
  5. Rosemount National Bank, Rosemont, MN
  6. Heritage Banking Group, Carthage, MS
Full FDIC list

So, here is the graph pr0n with last years numbers for comparison (FDIC only):

It's still better than last year at this time, but this was a very busy week.

I Still Don't Buy the Idea that Obama is Playng "Eleventy Dimensional Chess," but …

That rumble here is stark raving terror!
But John Boehner has gotten himself completely pwn36 (OWNED) this week.

First, the CBO scored the budget cuts, and it turns out that that the $38 billion in budget cuts are actually only $352 million in budget cuts, and then Boehner loses ¼ of his caucus on the budget deal and has to rely on Democrats to put it over the top, and finally, the Democrats abstain on an amendment proposed by the even-more-right-wing-than-Paul-Ryan Republican Study Committee, which had the amendment passing until Boehner whipped Republicans to change their votes at the last minute:
Normally something like that would fail by a large bipartisan margin in either the House or the Senate. Conservative Republicans would vote for it, but it would be defeated by a coalition of Democrats and more moderate Republicans. But today that formula didn't hold. In an attempt to highlight deep divides in the Republican caucus. Dems switched their votes -- from "no" to "present."

Panic ensued. In the House, legislation passes by a simple majority of members voting. The Dems took themselves out of the equation, leaving Republicans to decide whether the House should adopt the more-conservative RSC budget instead of the one authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. As Dems flipped to present, Republicans realized that a majority of their members had indeed gone on the record in support of the RSC plan -- and if the vote closed, it would pass. That would be a slap in the face to Ryan, and a politically toxic outcome for the Republican party.
I do believe that Boehner is a rum and nicotine soaked incompetent, but I see this as more of a residue of luck than any sudden outbreak of competence by the Obama administration.

Nature is Beautiful

I give you Cymothoa exigua:

Cymothoa exigua, or the tongue-eating louse, is a parasitic crustacean of the family Cymothoidae. It tends to be 3 to 4 centimetres (1.2 to 1.6 in) long. This parasite enters through the gills, and then attaches itself at the base of the spotted rose snapper's (Lutjanus guttatus) tongue. It extracts blood through the claws on its front, causing the tongue to atrophy from lack of blood. The parasite then replaces the fish's tongue by attaching its own body to the muscles of the tongue stub. The fish is able to use the parasite just like a normal tongue. It appears that the parasite does not cause any other damage to the host fish. Once C. exigua replaces the tongue, some feed on the host's blood and many others feed on fish mucus. This is the only known case of a parasite functionally replacing a host organ.  It is currently believed that C. exigua are not harmful to humans unless picked up alive, in which case they can bite

H/t Atrios.

14 April 2011

Surprise, The Vampire Squid* is F%$#ing Its Customers Too

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has issued its report on the financial meltdown, and among other things, they say that Goldman Sachs deliberately misinformed its customers so that it could bet against them and lied to Congress.

Of course, there won't be any prosecutions, even though the behavior is so egregious that the New York Times has has started to wonder why there have been no prosecutions. (This is a serious article, about 4000 words long, not a throw away comment in an OP/Ed)

Of course, Matt Taibbi, and the rest of us have been asking this question for months.

The answer is that it's because they own us, or at the very least, they own Barack "The Worst Constitutional Law Professor Ever" Obama, Timothy "Eddie Haskell" Geithner, and Eric "Place" Holder, which comes to the same damn thing.

When this sort of fraud goes investigated and unpunished, it becomes the social norm, and metastasizes.

*Alas, I cannot claim credit for the bon mot describing Goldman Sachs as a, "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money." This was coined by the great Matt Taibbi, in his article on the massive criminal conspiracy investment firm, The Great American Bubble Machine.

What a Pathetic Excuse for an Advocacy Group

I was watching Maddow, and she had Terry O'Neill, the President of NOW on to discuss the spate of anti-abortion laws coming out of the wingnut legislatures, and O'Neill basically said that she would not challenge these laws, despite their being illegal under existing precedent, because they are afraid that the currents supreme court will simply overrule Roe V. Wade.

So, because victory is not certain, she, and her organization, will win a court challenge, they have decided not to fight for abortion rights at all.

Conceding defeat is not an alternative to losing.  If you never contest the issue, you lose.

In conceding the battle in this way, not only do you allow states to criminalize abortions, but you prevent any meaningful political dialogue from anyone but the women hating nut jobs.

They are conceding defeat in the face of a possible defeat, and anyone who sends them money is an idiot.

It's Jobless Thursday

Ind initial claims unexpectedly rose by 27,000 to 412,000, though continuing and emergency claims fell.

We also saw a 0.7% increase in producer prices, though this appears to have been driven primarily by a spike in energy prices.

I'm inclined to believe that this sort of commodity inflation generally crimps consumers and business spending, so perhaps these two things are tied together.

13 April 2011

This is the Basic Model of Brokerages and Retail Investing

The LA Times has a story on retail currency trading, and how it's basically an excuse for financial firms to fleece retail investors:
An estimated 615,000 Americans are dabbling in foreign currency trading, encouraged by advertising from the two biggest U.S. brokers, FXCM Inc. and Gain Capital Holdings Inc., both based in New York.

Combined, FXCM and Gain have about 260,000 accounts, a third of them in the U.S.

These customers are losing money in spectacular fashion.

At FXCM, 75% to 77% of customers lost money each quarter last year, according to newly required disclosures to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. At Gain, which operates through http://www.forex.com, the number of unprofitable customers hovered between 72% and 79% every quarter last year, according to its filing.


More commonly, however, it's the customers who lose out on these transactions, despite required disclosure statements that warn investors: "Your dealer is your trading partner, which is a direct conflict of interest."

Gain ended up making an average of $2,913 from every active trader it had last year, even though the average customer account contained only $3,000, according to the company's financial data.

FXCM made $2,641 for every active trader, while the average customer had $3,658.
(emphasis mine)

So, not only is your broker not acting in your best interest, he is actually actively attempting to f%$# you.

So the game is rigged against the small retail investor, right?


It's rigged against everyone, big or small.

The recent suit against JP Morgan Chase makes that clear:
New documents unsealed recently in a class-action lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase — some of which name Mr. Dimon, the chief executive — paint yet another picture of a bank profiting while its clients suffer. At issue is a precrash investment vehicle, named Sigma, in which the bank had invested $500 million in assets from pension funds and other clients, nearly all of which the clients say was lost when the investment tanked in 2008.

The clients were blindsided because they believed that Sigma was a safe way to invest. JPMorgan was not taken by surprise. As Louise Story reported in The Times on Monday, court documents show that warnings by top bank officials about Sigma and similar investments went all the way up to Mr. Dimon’s office.

The gist of the warnings was not how to protect clients, but how the ailing Sigma presented the bank with what one e-mail described as “very big moneymaking opportunities as the market deteriorates.”

When Sigma did indeed collapse, JPMorgan collected nearly $1.9 billion, according to the suit, a figure the bank disputes, without providing any alternative figure.
Let's be clear here: Even if this behavior was legal, and in the regulatory environment pre (and possibly post) Dodd-Frank, there is a non-zero chance that it was, this is clearly something that rates a criminal investigation, and if any violations are found, even if they are only tangential to the transaction, they should be pursued aggressively.

Fundamentally, when fraud goes unpunished, it creates an environment where fraud becomes the norm, and Wall Street is crooked to its core.

It Ain't Just Krugman Who Gets It at the Times

Dave Leonhardt, one of their more prominent economics reporters, as well as being one of the more prominent contributors to their Economix blog, notices that most of the deficit gets fixed if you just do nothing and let the Bush tax cuts expire:
A trick question: If Congress takes no action in coming years, what will happen to the budget deficit?

It will shrink — and shrink a lot. This simple fact may offer the best hope for deficit reduction.

As federal law currently stands, some significant tax increases are set to take effect in coming years. The most important is the scheduled expiration of the Bush tax cuts at the end of 2012.

Of course, both parties favor the permanent extension of most of those tax cuts — the ones applying to income below $250,000. Both parties also oppose big cuts to the military, Social Security and Medicare, at least in the short term. Unfortunately, the deficit is likely to remain frighteningly large over the next decade without either cuts to those programs or tax increases.
Say what you will about Krugman, and he is a brilliant man who has won the Nobel Prize in Economics, but he does not reflect the conventional thinking at the "Paper of Record."  He is an outsider.

Mr. Leonhardt, on the other hand, does. He's been working as a journalist at the Times for about a dozen years, and the fact that he is mentioning this means, at the very least, that the idea that doing nothing will fix the problem is something that is discussed amongst their staff.

Well, At Least It's Not Jesus or the Virgin Mary

So Sharon* went shopping, and picked up a parsnip.

Or maybe it's two, I'm not sure.

It's weird, and I think it looks like a contortionist with wide child bearing hips.

In any case, consider this a vegetable Rorschach, and leave your comments below.

Click the image for the full size.

*Love of my life, light of the cosmos, she who must be obeyed, my wife.

Economics Update

So, the BLS is reporting that job openings rose rapidly in February.

Looking at the ratio of jobs to the unemployed (see graph pr0n), there has definitely been some improvement, but first, it's still a pretty crappy number, and second, workforce participation is down, so this number is partially an artifact of that.

We also saw retail sales rise and a moderately good beige book from the Fed, though the former has partially been driven by increased gasoline prices.

What worries me, particularly with the deficit cutting fever out there, is the fact that Gallup Economic Confidence Index hit a low for the year.

So Obama's Speech Was This Afternoon

I've read it, and it was much better than I expected.

It is not what I would want in a perfect world, it's pretty much a 3rd way center right prescription, though it was rather stronger that I expected.

He did not sell out Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security, and he did not hippie punch, and he framed the Republican plan as a transfer from poor to rich.

The fact that he actually presented a moral argument here stuns me.

My only problem here, and I agree with Paul Krugman:
I should probably say, I could live with this as an end result. If this becomes the left pole, and the center is halfway between this and Ryan, then no — better to pursue the zero option of just doing nothing and letting the Bush tax cuts as a whole expire.
This is clearly a first shot in the 2012 campaign, though I hope that is more than that.

His statements about needing reforms in the social safety net toward the end of the speech worry me though.

I'll take what I can from him.

12 April 2011

And 50 Years Ago Today………

Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, as the Google notes.

On the 150th Anniversary of the Start of the Civil War……

Here is a good survey of the lies that southerners tell about the war.

In addition to the normal lies, like it not being about slavery, it also reveals that the in almost all the states in question, a majority of the population did not want secession.

Instead, the process was manipulated by the slave holders to get the desired results.

The closer you look at it, the more the myth of the noble lost cause looks like a slimy con game played by the richest people in the south on the average person in the south.

There Are Worse Things Than Discovering That The Person You Just Went Down On Is a Conservative Republican

Remember The Guy's Face Melting in Raiders?
This will do the same thing as the Ark of the Covenant
And no, I don't mean that video from Rebecca Black, which, as awful as it is, has spawned some decent parodies.

Rather, I am talking about this parody of the video Friday.

Damn you PZ Myers!  I want to claw my own eyes out.

Stephen Colbert Loses It

It was a valiant effort
You know, when a comedian loses it in front of the audience, it's not a proud moment for him, so I felt the need to share it with all of you.

He starts to lose it at about 4:30.

I blame the Republicans.

11 April 2011

When Your Old Constitutional Law Professor Calls You Out…

And you are President of the United States of America, you have really f%$#ed up:
More than 250 of America's most eminent legal scholars have signed a letter protesting against the treatment in military prison of the alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning, contesting that his "degrading and inhumane conditions" are illegal, unconstitutional and could even amount to torture.

The list of signatories includes Laurence Tribe, a Harvard professor who is considered to be America's foremost liberal authority on constitutional law. He taught constitutional law to Barack Obama and was a key backer of his 2008 presidential campaign.

Tribe joined the Obama administration last year as a legal adviser in the justice department, a post he held until three months ago.

He told the Guardian he signed the letter because Manning appeared to have been treated in a way that "is not only shameful but unconstitutional" as he awaits court martial in Quantico marine base in Virginia.
I don't think that Barack Obama understands just how profoundly repulsive his staunchest supporters find his support for torture to be.

I don't think that Obama wants to be a torturer, but he is constitutionally* unable to challenge his subordinates who are, which does not bode well in budget negotiations with the Republicans.

*Pun not intended.

Oh Crap!

The Japanese have just raised the nuclear alert level of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant to 7, the highest possible level, and only reached once before, at Chernobyl:
Japan is to raise the nuclear alert level at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant to a maximum seven, putting the emergency on a par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Nuclear safety officials had insisted they had no plans to raise the severity of the crisis from five – the same level as the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 – according to the international nuclear and radiological event scale.

But the government came under pressure to raise the level at the plant after Japan's nuclear safety commission estimated the amount of radioactive material released from its stricken reactors reached 10,000 terabecquerels per hour for several hours following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country's northeast coast on 11 March. That level of radiation constitutes a major accident, according to the INES scale.
This ain't an attempt to corner the market on glow in the dark watches, this is serious.

OK, so Maybe This is the "Quote of the Day"

Courtesy of Paul Krugman, aka the Shrill one:
But if you ask me, I.d say that the nation wants - and more important, the nation needs - a president who believes in something, and is willing to take a stand. And that's not what we're seeing.

Not as funny as the other one, but far more profound.

Quote of the Day

From a discussion thread on Matthew Yglesias post:
Jasper_in_Boston 1 day ago

Matt: the president's rhetoric about the economy has been off key since, er, February 2009. This is nothing new. Instead of conservatives worrying that he's a secret Kenyan Shariast, I think liberals should be worrrying he's a Grover Norquist deep implant.
DonxWilliams 1 day ago in reply to Jasper_in_Boston

Not really -- there are strong differences between Obama and Norquist.

For example, Grover Norquist thinks we have too many black people locked up in prison:

And Now the New York Times Condemns the Sellout

Notwithstanding their coverage of the foreclosure crisis, and the malfeasance of the mortgage services, which has largely focused on the hardships of the well to do (unsurprising given the nature of the New York City real estate market), the editorial board understands that there has been fraud and bad behavior all around and they understand that proposed settlements are sellouts to the big banks that service mortgages:
Americans know that banks have mistreated borrowers in many ways in foreclosure cases. Among other things, they habitually filed false court documents. There were investigations. We’ve been waiting for federal and state regulators to crack down.

Prepare for a disappointment. As early as this week, federal bank regulators and the nation’s big banks are expected to close a deal that is supposed to address and correct the scandalous abuses. If these agreements are anything like the draft agreement recently published by the American Banker — and we believe they will be — they will be a wrist slap, at best. At worst, they are an attempt to preclude other efforts to hold banks accountable. They are unlikely to ease the foreclosure crisis.


But the gist of the terms is that from now on, banks — without admitting or denying wrongdoing — must abide by existing laws and current contracts. To clear up past violations, they are required to hire independent consultants to check a sample of recent foreclosures for evidence of improper evictions and impermissible fees.

The consultants will be chosen and paid by the banks, which will decide how the reviews are conducted. Regulators will only approve the banks’ self-imposed practices. It is hard to imagine rigorous reviews, but if the consultants turn up problems, the banks are required to reimburse affected borrowers and investors as “appropriate.” It is apparently up to the banks to decide what is appropriate.
While it appears that the OCC, which has a history of acting on behalf of the finance industry rather than the public,has been at the core of the most egregious giveaways, it is also clear that the most of the machinery of the federal government, at least those portions directed by Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner, are doing their level best to ensure that there are no real consequences to what in a sane regulatory environment would be felonies involving people being sentenced to extended stays in "Club Fed".

Instead, it increasingly appears that the Feds will be negotiating a sweetheart deal that will include provisions to make actions by the state attorneys general, and possible private torts difficult, if not impossible.

It's nice that the "paper of record" has finally noticed this.  People like Yves Smith have been screaming about this for months.

10 April 2011

Jon Stewart Says It All…

There Should be a Nobel Prize for This!
I really wish that I had half his wit.

I guess that this bit of genius is all about the fact that they are dealing with a very real sadness:  Glen Beck could make their writing a lot easier. 

When Beck was on a roll, they could finish writing the script by lunch, and adjourn to a coke infused orgy with transsexual prostitutes in the afternoon.

Or maybe they just played games on their iPhones in the afternoon.

Sharon and I Had Some Us Time Today

Both kids went to the Kings Dominion amusement park on a USY junket.

We had a date to get some coffee at the now re-opened Java Mamas coffee house, went to Barnes and Nobel to pick up some books for the kids, and then she went shoe shopping with a friend.

Gawd, we are dull.

We Are Officially a 3rd World Nation

We have now become a place where 1st world nations send their manufacturing to in order to avoid regulation.

Case in point, Ikea's factory in Virginia pays ⅓ as much and engages in policies at its US plant that are scandalous in Sweden:
When home furnishing giant Ikea selected this fraying blue-collar city to build its first U.S. factory, residents couldn't believe their good fortune.

Beloved by consumers worldwide for its stylish and affordable furniture, the Swedish firm had also constructed a reputation as a good employer and solid corporate citizen. State and local officials offered $12 million in incentives. Residents thrilled at the prospect of a respected foreign company bringing jobs to this former textile region after watching so many flee overseas.

But three years after the massive facility opened here, excitement has waned. Ikea is the target of racial discrimination complaints, a heated union-organizing battle and turnover from disgruntled employees.

Workers complain of eliminated raises, a frenzied pace and mandatory overtime. Several said it's common to find out on Friday evening that they'll have to pull a weekend shift, with disciplinary action for those who can't or don't show up.


Some of the Virginia plant's 335 workers are trying to form a union. The International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said a majority of eligible employees had signed cards expressing interest.

In response, the factory — part of Ikea's manufacturing subsidiary, Swedwood — hired the law firm Jackson Lewis, which has made its reputation keeping unions out of companies. Workers said Swedwood officials required employees to attend meetings at which management discouraged union membership.


The dust-up has garnered little attention in the U.S. But it's front-page news in Sweden, where much of the labor force is unionized and Ikea is a cherished institution. Per-Olaf Sjoo, the head of the Swedish union in Swedwood factories, said he was baffled by the friction in Danville. Ikea's code of conduct, known as IWAY, guarantees workers the right to organize and stipulates that all overtime be voluntary.

"Ikea is a very strong brand and they lean on some kind of good Swedishness in their business profile. That becomes a complication when they act like they do in the United States," said Sjoo. "For us, it's a huge problem."

Laborers in Swedwood plants in Sweden produce bookcases and tables similar to those manufactured in Danville. The big difference is that the Europeans enjoy a minimum wage of about $19 an hour and a government-mandated five weeks of paid vacation. Full-time employees in Danville start at $8 an hour with 12 vacation days — eight of them on dates determined by the company.
Additionally, there are allegations of racism at the plant, claims, "That black workers at Swedwood's U.S. factory are assigned to the lowest-paying departments and to the least desirable third shift."

This sounds an awful lot like the textile plants in Bangladesh where the exits are chained shut, and workers die when a fire breaks out, doesn't it.

You set up a factory, and you bring in local managers, with the local attitudes, and then you push them to meet difficult numbers, and surprise, they revert to the standard labor behavior that you see in south central Virginia, only worse, because they know that their bosses will not feel any blow-back, because they are thousands of miles away.

09 April 2011

Sorry, But These Numbers for a Launcher are Too Good to Believe

I smell snake oil, not LOX/RP-1
Elon Musk, is claiming some mind boggling figures for SpaceX's new heavy lifter:
Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, plans to build a commercial heavy-lift rocket that will carry more than twice the payload of existing large rockets at one-third the cost. That would lower the price of delivering cargo to low-Earth orbit to the long-sought, and so far mythical, $1,000-per-pound range, the company's founder and chief designer announced today.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the Falcon Heavy--made up of three Falcon 9 core stages powered by 27 upgraded Merlin engines and generating a combined 3.8 million pounds of thrust--will be ready for its initial test flight from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., late next year or early 2013.
So he is claiming that his launcher will have a cost per pound to LEO ⅙ that of existing systems, and that he can have it ready for launch next year.

If you look at the prices quoted, they simply do not make sense internally either.

A quick perusal of the Wiki reveals that the Falcon 9, which is basically the Falcon Heavy core less the strap on boosters, puts 9,900 kilos into LEO for 44 to 49.5 million dollars, while the Heavy will put 53,000 kilos in LEO for 55 and 95 million dollars.

How do you manage to put 5½ times as much payload up for only 10-90% more?  My guess is that you don't.

The answer is you don't, not unless you come up with a way to bend the laws of physics or of manufacturing.

The Falcon Heavy will have 30 engines, 9 on each strap-on, 9 on the 1st stage, and 1 on the 2nd stage, so even if ¾ of the cost of a launch (the number is typically well under half) would be those 30 engines (it's probably less), the cost per engine would be on the order of 1¾ to 2½ million dollars each, which is very cheap.

I don't see how these cost targets can be met.

Sikorsky X2 Wins Collier Trophy

Click for full size


Commercial variant

Assault and utility

Search and rescue

The award of what is arguably the most prestigious award in aerospace is well deserved.

They have validated that their advancing blade concept helicopter can work, and work without the workload or vibration issues that bedeviled its predecessor in the 1980s, and they have done so on a relative shoestring.

It appears to have most of the advantages, and none of the disadvantages of tilt-rotor technology.

Gripens Make Combat Debut Over Libya

In the grander scheme of things, this may not count for much, but start seeing the phrase "combat proven" in future PR for the diminutive fighter.

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

And here they are, ordered, and numbered for the year so far.
  1. Western Springs National Bank and Trust, Western Springs, IL
  2. Nevada Commerce Bank, Las Vegas, NV
Full FDIC list

And here are the credit union closings:
  1. Mission San Francisco Federal Credit Union, San Francisco, CA
Full NCUA list

Well, things seem to be slowing down, which is a good sign.

So, here is the graph pr0n with last years numbers for comparison (FDIC only):

Yes, He Caved.

So they managed to cut a "deal", where he made bigger cuts than Boehner originally wanted, forbade abortion funding in Washington, DC, among other idiocies, including high speed rail. (You can see a more complete list and an impassioned critique here)

Seriously, how can someone be such an incompetent negotiator (Reid and Obama together, but Obama is where the buck stops) that you give more than he initially asked for?

08 April 2011

This is Trippy

Like wow, man. Psychadelic
Ian McKlellan, backed up by the Fleshtones, reciting Shakespeare's Sonnet 20.

This is trippy.

Dumbledore Gandalf doing sonnets.

H/t Susan D.

F%$# No!!!!!

Well, the good folks at Google™ Adsense™ have done it again.

The put up an ad from right wing lunatic asylum Newsmax, redirecting to a poll asking what the reader thinks about the concept Donald Trump as president.

Somehow or other, I do not think that my blog is fertile ground for the brain damaged hackery that is Newsmax, but to the degree that I get paid (a fraction of a penny) for someone seeing the ad, better my pocket than Joseph Farah's.

Of course, if they did something better suited to my rantings, I might get a few more click throughs, and hence a bit more filthy capitalist lucre.

In any case, my apology to my reader(s) for your having to see "The Donald" and his hair.

My standard Google™ Adsense™ disclaimers below:

Please note: once again, that I do not vet, nor do I endorse any ad that appears on my site, and I reserve the right to mock both the ads that appear on my site, as well as the advertisers.

Also, please note, this should be in no way construed as an inducement or a request for my reader(s) to click on any ad that they would not otherwise be inclined to investigate further. This would be a violation of the terms of service for Google Adsense.

Mortgage Settlement Talks Bifurcate

The Feds and the state Attorneys General have separated their settlement talks with mortgage servicers and banks:
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said the reported side settlement between mortgage servicers and federal regulators will in no way affect the ongoing investigation he is leading along with 49 other state attorneys general.

Several media outlets are reporting that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Federal Reserve are engaging in talks with mortgage servicers and that agreements could be signed as early as next week.

"A separate settlement by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency will not affect our investigation," Miller said in a statement. "The settlement neither preempts, nor impacts our efforts. State attorneys general will continue to work together unabated with a broad coalition of federal partners."
My guess here is that, notwithstanding AG Miller's attempt to come up with a weak deal, see Yves Smith's coverage for more information, is that the OCC's proposed deal is too weak for even him to follow up on.

Additionally, they may be attempting to distance themselves from the manufactured sh%$ storm about Elizabeth Warren advising them.

Of course, if you are an optimist about this, and I am not, it could be that the AGs realized that the two efforts were incompatible, since a federal settlement is primarily about looking at future behavior, while the Attorneys General are charged with investigating and pursuing prior and ongoing wrongdoing.

My guess is that there is some political heat being generated, both from the teabaggers who are crying, "leave Britney the big banks alone," and people interested in property rights and the rule of law, who want criminal prosecutions of what is fraud and theft an an almost unimaginable scale.

H/t Yves Smith.

Hoo Boy!

One of the things that gets turned off if there is a government shutdown is FHA loans:
I was hoping not to have to write this particular piece, but it seems I may have no choice, so here we go with housing.

What happens to today's housing market without FHA loans?

Right now FHA loans are about 20 percent of the overall mortgage market (purchases and refis) and 40 percent of purchase applications.

Compare that to around 11 percent of the overall market during the last shutdown in 1995. For the nation's big public home builders, it's far more of an impact, according to analysts. 
This basically means that the housing market shuts down for the duration, because if 40% of home buyers can't buy, the remainder will be able to extract even more in the way of lower house prices.

House prices have fallen 7 straight months, but prices are sticky in the short term, so you will have the housing market freeze.

If Obama Had Either the Brains or Guts……

He would use what now appears to be the inevitable government shut down to show people just what they would be missing if the federal government went away.

My guess is that he will instead choose to make sure that the brunt of any shutdown falls on the poor and minorities, because that's how he rolls.

People With Too Much Free Time…

I understand how this can be done cheaply with modern video editing software, but I don't get why.

H/t Neo at the Stellar Parthenon BBS.

07 April 2011

Barack Obama Just Came Out Against the Separation of Church and State

In Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, the Supreme Court ruled that a taxpayer had no standing to sue when a state provided tax credits that were directed towards supporting religious schools.

I was appalled, but viewed this as a result of decades of 'Phant vote court stacking.

What I missed was the fact that the Obama administration, despite the fact that there was no need to because there was no equivalent federal law, filed a brief in support of tearing down the wall between church and state:
The Obama administration’s brief supporting an Arizona law which creates a tax credit system which substantially benefits religious schools is inexplicable and deeply disappointing. Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn (Nos. 09-857 and 09-991), to be argued on Wednesday, November 3, does not involve a federal law and did not require any participation by the Obama administration. Yet, the Solicitor General’s office filed a brief for the United States which argues that taxpayers lack standing to challenge a state tax program which subsidizes religious schools and that this does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It is exactly the brief that would have been expected from the Bush administration, but disturbing to have come from the Obama Justice Department.

A state statute allows Arizona taxpayers to receive a tax credit of up to $500 on a dollar-for-dollar basis for donating to a student tuition organization (“STO”). Arizona’s largest STOs (as measured by the amount of contributions) each limit scholarships to certain religious schools. The largest restricted scholarships are to students attending Catholic schools in the Phoenix diocese; the second largest restricts scholarships to students who attend evangelical Christian schools. Although the statute required that STOs not discriminate on the basis of race, color, handicap, familial status or national origin,” it did not specify eligibility requirements. Thus, individuals would receive a tax credit if they made a contribution to an STO and they could designate their money for an STO that supported only schools of a particular faith.


Since the Reagan administration, conservatives have sought to eliminate the notion of a wall separating church and state. It is sad and very troubling to see the Obama administration lending its support for this effort.
One of the things that you hear in liberal circles frequently is that Ronald Reagan would be too much of a flaming liberal for today's Republican party.

Looking at Barack Obama, I'm beginning to think that my assessment of him as a Reagan Democrat is too charitable: He is a Reagan Republican.

The irony here is that Ronald Reagan was easily the least religious president of the past 50 years, of course.

Economics Update

It's Jobless Thursday, and initial unemployment claims fell by 10,000 to 382,000, with the 4-week moving average of initial claims, continuing claims, and emergency claims falling as well.

When juxtaposed with stronger than expected retail sales figures for March, the economic news is generally pertty good, though the fact that home prices continue to crater, falling for the 7th straight month, indicates that real estate is not done with its correction.

The Ongoing Libyan Clusterf%$#

First, it appears that since the US has dropped its lead position, NATO does not have enough attack aircraft, and now the British are talking about sending in trainers and advisers to help the rebels:
Britain is to urge Arab countries to train the disorganised Libyan rebels, and so strengthen their position on the battlefield before negotiations on a ceasefire, senior British defence sources have indicated.

The sources said they were also looking at hiring private security companies, some of which draw on former SAS members, to aid the rebels. These private soldiers could be paid by Arab countries to train the unstructured rebel army.
So, we are talking about a major escalation of involvement, one, by the way, which is not called for in the UN Security Council resolution, including the use of mercenaries.

This is not going to end well.

Someone Needs to Open Up a Can of Whup Ass on the Krauts

The periphery in Europe is experience contracting GDP and a debt crisis. The most recent case is that of Portugal, which is now asking for an EU bailout.

Unfortunately the conditions of the bailout are always the same Teutonic prescription:
  • Austerity budgets, which hike taxes and cut spending.
  • Paying off the banks that lent the money to the governments at 100¢ on the dollar.
The problem that this creates is:
  • Social instability.
  • Further GDP contraction, which increases debt load relative to the GDP.
  • Declining tax revenues.
The prescription for these problems is:
  • Austerity budgets, which hike taxes and cut spending.
  • Paying off the banks that lent the money to the governments at 100 ¢ on the dollar.
Rinse, lather, repeat.

The problem here is two-fold, and they are both of German origin:
  • The Germans have never gotten over their bout with hyperinflation in the 1920s, and so feel that inflation is the only battle to fight.
    • This also, at German insistence, got baked into both the Euro and the European Central Bank (ECB), which has no mandate to do anything by keep inflation low.  Unlike the Fed it has no mission to minimize unemployment as well.
  • There is a complete unwillingness by the EU and the ECB to allow for hearcuts on the bondholders, which (surprise) appear to largely be the German banks.
This  is why, on the basis of spiking commodity prices, driven largely by the Libya conflict, the ECB has just raised its benchmark rate.

The thing here is that there is an awful lot of pain being inflicted to support German philosophy*, as well as supporting the bad debts of their banks, which would be insolvent by any realistic evaluation of this debt.

When someone big enough finally tells the German banks to go pound sand, things should get interesting.

*Which, according to my physicist brother, is also why quantum mechanics such a pain, the the formative texts were written by Germans, who felt an obligation to be obscure and confusing.
And I don't mean Spain big. If the new government in Ireland gives a 50¢ haircut to the bond holders, the Germans will have a banking experience to rival our S&L crisis of the 1980s.

06 April 2011

Fox Fires Glen Beck

His TV show contract will not be renewed in December, and the definitive word on this comes from the Grauniad,* "Glenn Beck will be missed after he leaves Fox News – by satirists."

I guess cratering ratings, and fleeing sponsors mean something, even to Roger Ailes' Fox News.

*According to the Wiki, The Guardian, formerly the Manchester Guardian in the UK. It's nicknamed the Grauniad because of its penchant for typographical errors, "The nickname The Grauniad for the paper originated with the satirical magazine Private Eye. It came about because of its reputation for frequent and sometimes unintentionally amusing typographical errors, hence the popular myth that the paper once misspelled its own name on the page one masthead as The Gaurdian, though many recall the more inventive The Grauniad."

Woo Hoo!!!!!

Natalie just got into the Lansdowne High School magnet program!

She was #3 on the waiting list, and now she's in. 

She's going into Lansdowne's "Academy of Arts & Communication," which is a concentration in theater, vocal, and instrumental music.

Great, Another Recount………

In the JoAnne Kloppenburg - David Prosser race for Wisconsin state Supreme Court Justice, Kloppenburg is ahead by around 300 votes out of the 1.5 million cast.

Prosser is clearly a horrorshow.  He's cursed at and threatened the chief justice, he's explicitly stated that he will enable Scott Walker's political agenda, and he was part of an all-Republican ruling on recusals and campaign contributors that flew in the face of a US Supreme Court ruling, so I really hope that Kloppenburg wins in the end.

That being said, absentee ballots, Wisconsin has fairly liberal absentee voting laws but no early voting, could swing it.  Republicans tend to push absentee ballots hard.

The politically savvy thing to do right now would be to start calling for Prosser to give it up, the uncertainty is bad for the state, as is the cost of the recount, but I cannot bring myself to do this:  I remember these same arguments in 2000 and Bush v. Gore, and I cannot say them.

In any case, what's good for the state, and what's good for the taxpayer never gets in the way of any Republican's quest for power, so why bother asking.

05 April 2011

Alan Greenspan, STFU!

Ayn Rand's most successful apostle* is back at it again saying that regulations are causing all of our financial problems, and gives us this bon mot:
The problem is that regulators, and for that matter everyone else, can never get more than a glimpse at the internal workings of the simplest of modern financial systems. Today’s competitive markets, whether we seek to recognise it or not, are driven by an international version of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” that is unredeemably opaque. With notably rare exceptions (2008, for example), the global “invisible hand” has created relatively stable exchange rates, interest rates, prices, and wage rates.
With notably rare exceptions, Abraham Lincoln enjoyed the play Our American Cousin.

As Paul Krugman observes, the level out outright cluelessness shown here is mind boggling, though the best response comes from Henry Farrell, who holds a "With notably rare exceptions," contest that is hysterically funny.

*No, really, he actually hung out with her and was a part of regular meetings in her apartment.

Neil Barofsky Opening Up a Jar of Whup Ass on Timmy "Eddie Haskell" Geithner

Yes, it's from a week ago, but it's a must read:
TWO and a half years ago, Congress passed the legislation that bailed out the country’s banks. The government has declared its mission accomplished, calling the program remarkably effective “by any objective measure.” On my last day as the special inspector general of the bailout program, I regret to say that I strongly disagree. The bank bailout, more formally called the Troubled Asset Relief Program, failed to meet some of its most important goals.

From the perspective of the largest financial institutions, the glowing assessment is warranted: billions of dollars in taxpayer money allowed institutions that were on the brink of collapse not only to survive but even to flourish. These banks now enjoy record profits and the seemingly permanent competitive advantage that accompanies being deemed “too big to fail.”

Though there is no question that the country benefited by avoiding a meltdown of the financial system, this cannot be the only yardstick by which TARP’s legacy is measured. The legislation that created TARP, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, had far broader goals, including protecting home values and preserving homeownership.

These Main Street-oriented goals were not, as the Treasury Department is now suggesting, mere window dressing that needed only to be taken “into account.” Rather, they were a central part of the compromise with reluctant members of Congress to cast a vote that in many cases proved to be political suicide.
Just go read the it.

Kaine to Run For Virginia US Senate Seat

With Senator Jim Webb retiring after one term, former governor Tim Kaine has announced that he will be running for his seat.

His most likely opponent is former governor, former senator (Jim Webb beat him), and blithering idiot George Allen, Jr.

Kaine will lose for a number of reasons:
  • George Allen will not engage in the self immolation, like his "Macaca moment" and the unseemly scramble at damage control.
  • He is not following on the coat tails of very his very popular predecessor when he ran for governor, Mark Warner.
  • The base is simply not excited or motivated as it was in 2006.
  • As head of the DNC, he was very much a water carrier for Barack Obama, who has continuously blasted, and demoralized,  the base.
Notwithstanding the fact that the announcement of his candidacy pretends that Barack Obama does not exist, he cannot run away from the fact that he was Barack Obama's man at the DNC, brought in to expunge the successes of Howard Dean (2010 worked out so well).

I'm not saying that Obama per se  is an albatross around his neck, I am saying the reality is that he is a FoB (Friend of Barack), and any attempt at distancing himself will just hurt him in the campaign.

Your Government Reigning In Meaningless Speculative Arbitrage

And surprise, surprise, it's Sheila Bair's FDIC that has put a stop to this bit of cheating.

All things considered, I think that as a rule of thumb, if Timothy "Eddie Haskell" hates a policy, like protecting consumers, or hates a person, like Sheila Bair or Elizabeth Warren,* you can be pretty sure that it's a good policy or person, or at least that the policies/people are better than Geithner and his policies.

Case in point,the FDIC levying a fee on a form of bank arbitrage that had banks profiting at taxpayer expense:
The introduction of a new insurance charge on overnight borrowing by banks in the US has led to the collapse of a profitable arbitrage opportunity that financial groups have used to rebuild their balance sheets after the financial crisis, traders say.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which guarantees deposits at US banks, on Friday began levying the charge on funds borrowed by banks in the overnight money markets.

The move is part of a plan to rebuild the FDIC’s deposit insurance fund after the failure of more than 350 banks since 2007. The charge is based on the risk rating of the borrower, but is believed to be about 15 basis points for larger banks.

In response, banks are abandoning trades in which they borrowed in the overnight Fed funds market – often from government-controlled mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – at about 10bp-15bp, then deposited the money at the Federal Reserve at an overnight rate of 25bp.

Some dealers estimated these trades could have allowed banks to lock in profits of about $200m since late 2008, when the Fed began paying overnight interest of 25bp on so-called excess reserves.

“What some banks now face is that the FDIC has just ‘taxed’ the arbitrage that they have been playing,” said William O’Donnell, strategist at RBS Securities.
Understand this: the taxpayers own Fannie and Freddie, and the Federal Reserve, so this was basically free money for the banks to be the banks.

I'm sure that Geithner is mad as hell about this, because it's shut down another way for banks to extract money from taxpayer money to firm up their balance sheets, but our esteemed Treasury Secretary can talk to Bender.

It's nice to know that someone in the Obama White House, even if it is someone that they would rather not have there, is actually doing things that prevent this sort of looting by the financial industry.

*Have you ever wondered why all of Timmy's sworn enemies always seem to be women? I wonder some times.