Month: December 2010

Yes, This is a Big Deal

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

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

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

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

Light Posting Today

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

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

Justice Department seeks tougher CFTC and SEC swaps rules | Reuters

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

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

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

Pass the Popcorn…

Someone just hit 4chan hit by DDoS attack:

Controversial image board 4chan came under a denial of service attack on Tuesday.

A status message on 4chan’s status boards (below) reported that the birthplace of anonymous and home of midget porn had joined the “ranks of MasterCard, Visa, PayPal” as victims of a denial of service attack.

Site is down due to DDoS. We now join the ranks of MasterCard, Visa, PayPal, et al.—an exclusive club!

The Anonymous contingent of 4chan was behind the attacks on Mastercard et al over the refusal of many elements of the banking industry to do business with Wikileaks. In response, patriot hacktivists have launched denial of service attacks on 4chan IRC channels.

This could get … interesting.

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


Seriously, you have a prosecution of an international prostitution ring, and the prosecution is prohibiting the defense from examining parts of the “little black book” that they seized, but not others:

Federal prosecutors are refusing to reveal customers from Oakland County and the 248 area code who hired hookers from a high-priced escort service but are willing to out clients from Detroit, according to federal court records.

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


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

“There must be something there they don’t want anybody to see,” DeCailly said Tuesday. “In the 248 area code, a lot of influential people live there: musicians, Detroit’s sports elite, politicians. … It’s the center of a lot of activity in the business community.”

Yep, that’s pretty much what is going on here.

Would that we lived in a less blatantly corrupt nation.

H/t Atrios.

I Think That This is Corruption, Not Stupidity

One of the more puzzling aspects of the financial meltdown is the complete lack of prosecutions of high level bankers, and Bill Black of New Deal 2.0 explains why:

What has gone so catastrophically wrong with DOJ, and why has it continued so long? The fundamental flaw is that DOJ’s senior leadership cannot conceive of elite bankers as criminals. On Huffington Post, David Heath writes:

Benjamin Wagner, a U.S. Attorney who is actively prosecuting mortgage fraud cases in Sacramento, Calif., points out that banks lose money when a loan turns out to be fraudulent. An investor in loans who documents fraud can force a bank to buy the loan back. But convincing a jury that executives intended to make fraudulent loans, and thus should be held criminally responsible, may be too difficult of a hurdle for prosecutors. ‘It doesn’t make any sense to me that they would be deliberately defrauding themselves,’ Wagner said.”

(emphasis original)

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

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

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

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

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

Without jail time, we will see the behavior repeated.

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

Not a Witch, Is a Crook

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

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

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

About Damn Time!

We are finally starting to see public questioning of the extensive subsidies for the ultra-Orthodox Heredim in Israel:

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

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

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

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

Actually, “Amelek” means more than the embodiment of evil.

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

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

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

The New Labour, Now Without Labour!

The new head of the British Labour Party is moving to sever financial ties with unions and to diminish their influence in decision making:

Ed Miliband is to distance Labour from its trade union paymasters by diluting the party’s financial dependence on them and reducing their role in electing the party leader.

Labour has proposed introducing a ceiling on donations to any political party which could be as low as £500, The Independent has learnt. The move could break the long-running deadlock between the parties on agreeing a new system of financing politics.

Seems reasonable, if he can get the Tories to forswear big money from the rich bankers who fund them, but there is also this:

He also wants to change Labour’s culture by allowing the public a vote when the party chooses its leader. He plans to give 25 per cent of the votes to non-party members who register as Labour supporters. MPs, trade unionists and party members would also each have a quarter of the votes in Labour’s electoral college. At present, MPs, union and party members each have a third of those votes.

Mr Miliband’s moves are bound to cause tensions with the unions. They are all the more surprising because he depended on union support to defeat his brother, David, for the Labour leadership in September.

So, it appears that Milibrand’s vision of the Labour Party is one in which actual labo(u)r has a significantly diminished role.

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

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

Obscurity is not Security

But this isn’t stopping banks from trying to suppress security research showing that their cards are insecure, as opposed to manning up and fixing the problem:

Cambridge computer scientists have become embroiled in angry exchanges with Britain’s banks and credit card lenders, accusing them of bullying and trying to “censor” a PhD student who was exposing flaws in chip-and-pin machines.

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

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

Then the UK Cards Association, a trade body representing leading banking organisations, approached the university asking it to remove the thesis from his website, which is accessible through a university site.

So, the knowledge is out there, and it is public, it has actually been discussed on the BBC, and the banks want to pretend that it never happened.

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

All You Need to Understand About Republicans

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

While I’ve not read this book, I did her (mercifully shorter) treatise on her philosophy The Virtue of Selfishness in high school, and Kung Fu monkey has the final word on Rand and her Randroid followers:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Indeed, and he will be drafting our budgets. <Facepalm>

H/t Paul Krugman.

OK, It Looks Like I Was Wrong …… Again

Click for full size

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

The tail arrangement resembles MiG’s Project 1.44

It appears that the Chinese stealthy aircraft is the real deal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

If Our Savior is Jon Stewart, We Are Screwed

The New York Times describes how Jon Stewart pretty much single handedly saved the Zagoda from a Republican filibuster:

Did the bill pledging federal funds for the health care of 9/11 responders become law in the waning hours of the 111th Congress only because a comedian took it up as a personal cause?

And does that make that comedian, Jon Stewart — despite all his protestations that what he does has nothing to do with journalism — the modern-day equivalent of Edward R. Murrow?

Simply put, the policy here, medical care for 911 first responders, and the politics here, blocking medical care for 911 first responders would be seen unequivocally evil by the bulk of the American electorate, but somehow or other, the Democrats could not be bothered to hammer the Republicans with this, because, I guess, little Barry Obama doesn’t want Republicans to think that he’s mean.

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

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

Unsurprising News

The UN has internal maps of Afghanistan that show us losing the war:

Internal United Nations maps show a marked deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan during this year’s fighting season, countering the Obama administration’s optimistic assessments of military progress since the surge of additional American forces began a year ago.

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

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

A shocker here, neh?

We are being lied to by the administration and Pentagon.