Month: November 2010

In the Annals of the Unsurprising…

The 10 month long Pentagon study shows that the overwhelming majority of those serving in the military have no problem with repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:

“We are convinced the U.S. military can make this change, even during this time of war,” the Defense Department report concludes, noting that 70% of the tens of thousands of military personnel and family members surveyed predicted there would be “positive, mixed or no effect” from allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.

This won’t stop Republicans from blocking a repeal though, because pandering to a small, but vocal, minority of bigots is how they play.

I Am So Glad I Dropped out of OFA

What Bender Says, Barry!

I had a post a while ago titled, “I Am Glad that I Pulled My Email(s) from the OFA Mailing List, and the latest bit of lame ass political activism has me even more certain in my decision:

A decade of irresponsible spending led to a projected $1.3 trillion deficit that President Obama inherited upon taking office — putting America on an unsustainable fiscal course.

From Day One, this administration’s top focus has been growing the economy and putting Americans back to work — and that will never change.

The economy is growing again, yet all across America families and businesses have been tightening their belts. The President knows their government must do the same.

Yesterday, he announced a proposal to freeze pay for non-military federal employees for two years — a plan that will lead to $60 billion in savings over 10 years. It’s one of many tough choices the President has made to cut costs in the upcoming budget to begin to put our nation’s fiscal house in order. And it follows directly from this administration’s dedication to stretching federal dollars and reining in the long-term deficit.

Now, if you listen to some talk radio hosts or a few of the talking heads on cable news, you’ll hear a very different assessment of our fiscal policies. These voices ignore the irresponsibility of the past while pinning the blame for “reckless spending” solely on this administration. It would make a good fairy tale if it weren’t so dangerously untrue.

But these voices — as loud as they are — are spreading bunk. Cutting costs and spending responsibly has been a cornerstone of this administration’s record. And we need your help to get the truth out there.

Will you take a few minutes and write a letter to the editor today to set the record straight?

Yep, you got that right, OFA, the DNC run successor to the Obama campaign is asking its members to write letters to the editor supporting cutting the wages of janitors, teachers, law enforcement, and regulators, so that the Republicans can ask for tax cuts for people like the Koch brothers, they Who Must Not Be Named, and the rest of the undeserving rich.

I am so glad that I live in Maryland, because in 2012, if my state is in play, then the Republican has already won the race, so I am under no compunction to vote for him ever again.

F%$# the Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve, in response to repeated instances of wrongdoing and fraud by banks against mortgage owners, has decided to issue a new regulation gutting the right of rescission for fraudulent activities, citing “compliance costs”:

Hundreds of consumer, civil rights, legal services, community and labor groups and private and public interest attorneys representing homeowners, along with the coalition Americans for Financial Reform, urged the Federal Reserve Board to withdraw a proposed rule that would destroy a key legal tool to unwind illegal loans and avoid foreclosure.

“We are astonished that, with the nation facing its greatest foreclosure crisis since the Great Depression, the Board’s proposal would eliminate the single most powerful legal tool that homeowners currently have to stop wrongful foreclosures, the federal right to rescind an illegal loan,” said Margot Saunders, Counsel to the National Consumer Law Center.

Basically, what rescission says is that if the loan was fraudulent, then the contract is broken, the lender cannot foreclose, and all interest, penalties, and fees revert to the homeowner, though the lender is still due his principal………Eventually.

The Fed’s proposed new rule says that you can get rescission only after the principal has been repaid in full, essentially gutting that right, it allows for much larger misstatements by the bank as to the estimated monthly payments and in the total amount of the loan.

Additionally, they are proposing changed the rule on reverse mortgages that forbade issuers to require the purchase of another product as a condition for that loan, so now, so long as it is at least 10 days from the issuance of the reverse mortgage, it will be hunky dory, which has the AARP seriously pissed off.

This is egregious enough that the New York Times inveighed against this change in regulation.

I’m mad enough to agree with Ron Paul, and suggest that we shutter the Federal Reserve completely, or at least transform it from a quasi-private entity into one that is more responsive to politics.

Actually, my preferred position is to leave it in charge of monetary policy and money supply, and strip all regulatory powers from it, since it has shown itself to be completely unwilling and unable to create or enforce balanced regulations on the banks.

Bloody Typical

So, in the face of GOP gains, largely on the back of the weak tea offered by Barack Obama on healthcare, and jobs, and pretty much everything, Barack Obama has decided that more capitulation to Republicans is in order:

President Obama is often blamed for not reaching out to Republicans. In truth, as Monday morning’s announcement that Obama wants to cut the pay of all federal employees illustrates, he has the opposite problem. Obama frequently proposes essentially Republican policies, which makes it impossible for him to use those ideas to buy Republican votes for bipartisan legislation.

(emphasis mine)

Note here that this already has John Boehner doing the victory dance, and suggesting that there should be a freeze on hiring new federal workers, which, unsurprisingly, would gut increased SEC enforcement, staffing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, etc.

I am beginning to think that this guy is a Republican Plant.

If not, I really want to play some high stakes poker with him.

The Big Picture on the Wikileaks Releases

People are talking about potential damage from the recent release by Wikileaks of thousands of State Department Cables, and I think that they are missing the big picture here.

For all the chest pounding about how this is damaging, the reports this far are either not news (What, you mean Berlusconi parties and spends lots of money?), or more embarrassing than damaging (What, you mean that the Arabs hate the Iranians, as they hated the Persians for the past 3000 years).

The real issue here is that this is a natural consequence of over-classification.

Basically, since everything gets classified, and in the interests of communications between organizations, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people get access, and they that most, if not all, of the data that passes in front of them is stuff that is either already public knowledge, or absolutely innocuous.

It makes people casual about restricted data, so they are more likely to mishandle it, or, as in the case with Wikileaks, they feel compelled to share it with 3rd parties because they feel that it should be public data.

The solution to this problem, and it will be one that the US state security apparatus will almost certainly eschew, is to classify less data, because tightening down on data more just makes the problem worse.

It’s Bank Failure Friday!!!! (2 days late)

No bank failures this week, so the number of FDIC insured institutions remains at 149 (Full FDIC list here), and the number of closed credit unions remains at 15 (Full NCUA list here).

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, I don’t see the total number of closed banks getting anywhere near the 174 predicted by the line, though I do think that the final number will be north of 150.

I’m Beginning to Think That I am Too Reflexively Pessimistic On the Economy

Admittedly, it is only one week, but this week’s jobless claims numbers are very good, 407,000 initial claims, the lowest in almost 2½ years, the 4 week moving average fell to 436,000, continuing claims fell by 142K to 4.18 million, and emergency claims fell by 262,000 to 4.66 million.

This is getting close to the level where we can actually start seeing some real recovery in the job market.

I still think that we will see a double dip as what remains of the stimulus runs out, but I am less confident of that than I was, for example, a few months agol.

Our Man in Kandahar

So, we have been holding high level talks with a high ranking representative of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, and they plied him with many inducements, including no small amount of cash, only he turned out to be a con man scamming American negotiators:

For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.

But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.

“It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.”

American officials confirmed Monday that they had given up hope that the Afghan was Mr. Mansour, or even a member of the Taliban leadership.

We are not just non winning in Afghanistan, we are actively, and aggressively, losing there.

Things like this are a sign of a failed policy being pursued by desperate people.

H/t Atrios.

The Insider Trading Arrests Have Begun

We now have the first arrest as a result of the Department of Justice’s investigation of insider trading facilitated by “research firms”:

The government made the first arrest in a broad investigation of alleged insider trading on Wall Street, charging an employee of a California research firm used by hedge funds.

Don Ching Trang Chu was arrested at his home in Somerset, N.J., and charged in federal court in New York with two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud. He was released on a $1-million bond.

A complaint filed by prosecutors says Chu helped hedge funds get inside information on publicly traded companies by connecting the funds with employees of the firms. 

One interesting thing to note is that, like Tamil financier Raj Rajaratnam of Galleon, once again they have arrested someone who isn’t a member of the Wall Street white boy’s club.

The real question here is whether this will be pursued up the chain.

My guess is no, because both Obama and Eric “Place” Holder have sold their genitals to the finance industry have decided to look forward, and not backward.

In a related note, a judge has said that the wiretaps in the Galleon case are admissible, which implies that this will increasingly be used as a tool by prosecutors in financial corruption.

Posting From the Road

In preparation for a long Thanksgiving drive, I decided to set up my new phone, a Samsung Epic 4G, to tether to my laptop.

It turns out that it’s disabled by Sprint, unless you want to pay an additional $30.00/month for the privilege.

Luckily, the phone is an Android™, and not, for example, an iPhone™, so:

  • I turned on USB debugging mode.
  • Downloaded an application to root the phone.
  • Unzipped the file.
  • Ran a batch file.
  • Downloaded Google’s Android-Wifi-Tether to the phone, and installed it.
  • Set up the name and password.
  • Turned off USB debugging mode.

So, now I am posting this to you through my cell phone’s WiFi connection on my laptop while on I-295.*

In any case, this reveals how a more open architecture than the Apple/iPhone can let one take full advantage of the capabilities of the phone that you actually paid for.

Sweet, though I still think that Android’s Calendar is kind of weak.

In any case, I am posting this from my laptop in  moving car, and theoretically, we could have up to 4 devices attached.

My thoughts on the phone:

  • The display is positively stunning.
  • The touch screen, which does not require a stylus, is still not completely comfortable to me.
  • Having actual multi-tasking is useful, though one has to be careful to not allow something in the background that will kill the battery.
  • The keyboard is very nice.
  • The camera is nice.
  • Reception is much better than my Palm.
  • 4G coverage is kind of spotty, but it is still being built out by Sprint.
  • Posting to the blog from the phone is still a pain, which is one of the reasons that I am tethering the laptop to the phone.  The other reason is so that we could watch Youtubes and the Macy’s Parade.
  • Having real GPS on the phone, as opposed to cell tower triangulation, is wonderful.
  • Wifi mode chews the battery something fierce.  If you don’t have it plugged in when using it, you won’t get much time.

*No, I m not driving, my wife is.  I may be crazy, but I am not stupid.

That’s Guilty, Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!!

Tom Delay was convicted of one count of money laundering and one count of conspiracy to launder money.

Basically, he used the Republican national committee to funnel illegal corporate money to state races for the the Texas legislature.

While the charges typically carry a sentence of 5 to 99 years in prison, the judge can also sentence him to probation.

First, Delay his lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, is very good, so there promises to be years of appeals, and there is a very real chance that he will find a judge or judges who owe him some sort of favor.

This is Texas, after all.

Call me a cynic, but I would be very surprised if he spends more than 18 months in a minimum security prison.

When one considers the degree to which he made pay to play a part of the Washington, DC political scene, he deserves a lot more than that.

He is a truly contemptible human being, and the most evil contestant on Dancing With the Stars ever, which is saying a lot.

Tom Delay, Felon…You know, I REALLY like the sound of that, and for today, at least, that is the truth.

Of course, he could go the way of Kenneth Lay, and die while the appeal is going on, which would be very convenient for people who are concerned that he might cooperate with authorities.

This is Texas, after all.

About Damn Time

The FBI has raided at least 3 hedge funds on suspicion of insider trading:

The FBI has begun what is expected to be a far-reaching probe into insider trading with raids on hedge funds linked to some of Wall Street’s most high-profile and wealthiest players.

The sweep – which began with armed agents raiding the Connecticut offices of Level Global Investors and Diamondback Capital Management, both multibillion dollar hedge funds set up by former managers at Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital Advisors – is already affecting stocks: a collective $15bn was wiped off the valuations of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase.

According to reports published in the Wall Street Journal, investigators from several law enforcement and regulatory agencies are looking into multiple insider-trading rings that reaped millions in illegal profits. An FBI spokesman confirmed last night that the agency was executing “court-ordered search warrants”, but declined to elaborate.

One focus is whether proprietary information is being passed from companies to hedge funds by network of independent analysts and consultants.

Well, this is refreshing: It appears that someone is beginning to look at “business as usual” on Wall Street, and they have noticed that it’s corrupt.

I also have to note that the coverage on the Marketplace radio program was repulsive.

They had an apologist fow wall street on, and he wrung his hands about how fuzzy the lines were, and how no one was really hurt.

This is bovine scatology. Just because they are robbing millions of.investors a few bucks at a time does not diminish the crime.

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So, Pope Benedict XVI has now issued a tepid statement saying that gay male prostitutes might be able to use condoms, under certain special circumstances, because there is no possibility of procreation:

The Vatican today rushed out a “clarification” of the pope’s remarks on the use of condoms, reported in a book to be published this week, insisting he had “not reformed or changed the [Roman Catholic] church’s teaching”.

But the statement made clear that Pope Benedict XVI was prepared to consider the use of condoms in certain, limited circumstances.

And now we are seeing the walk-back from this, so I am uncertain if this is a real initiative, or one of those cases a game of academic what-if-ing is taken as something more.

So, it’s either significant, or it isn’t.