Month: January 2013

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

In Brooklyn, Mafiaesque “Modesty Patrols” are terrorizing the Ultra Orthodox community:

The Brooklyn shopkeeper was already home for the night when her phone rang: a man who said he was from a neighborhood “modesty committee” was concerned that the mannequins in her store’s window, used to display women’s clothing, might inadvertently arouse passing men and boys.

“The man said, ‘Do the neighborhood a favor and take it out of the window,’ ” the store’s manager recalled. “ ‘We’re trying to safeguard our community.’ ”

In many neighborhoods, a store owner might shrug off such a call. But on Lee Avenue, the commercial spine of Hasidic Williamsburg, the warning carried an implied threat — comply with community standards or be shunned. It is a potent threat in a neighborhood where shadowy, sometimes self-appointed modesty squads use social and economic leverage to enforce conformity.

The owner wrestled with the request for a day or two, but decided to follow it. “We can sell it without mannequins, so we might as well do what the public wants,” the owner told the manager, who asked not to be identified because of fear of reprisals for talking.


The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, who prosecuted the Weberman case, has now received allegations that members of a modesty committee forced their way into a home in the borough, confiscating an iPad and computer equipment deemed inappropriate for Orthodox children, officials say. Allegations have also surfaced that a modesty committee threatened to publicly shame a married man who was having an affair unless he paid the members money for what they described as therapy.

“They operate like the Mafia,” said Rabbi Allan Nadler, director of the Jewish studies program at Drew University in Madison, N.J.

Rabbi Nadler, who testified at Mr. Weberman’s trial, said that modesty committees did not have addresses, stationery or business cards, and that few people seemed to know where their authority originated, though it was doubtful, he said, that they could continue operating without the tacit blessings of rabbinical leaders.


Another  Shanda before the Goyim,.

There Will Be a Primary in the Democratic Senate Race in Massachusetts

We already knew that Ed Markey was in the race, but now Stephen Lynch has announced that he will run as well.

Lynch is a right wing ratf%$# who voted to intervene in the Terri Sciavo affair, where the Republicans in Congress decided to intervene in the medical affairs of a brain dead woman, one of only 30 Democrats who did this, and the only Dem from New England to do so.

He’s an opponent of abortion rights, and was a big booster of the war as well.

Here’s hoping that Lynch gets destroyed in the primary, and that it leads to him being unseated in the 2014 9th district elections as a result.

As to how the primary will effect the special election, where Scott Brown is almost certain to be the  Republican candidate, I generally favor primaries.

The Opposite of Noblesse Oblige

In the Guardian, George Monboit talks about his experience as a student in a British public (private) school, and notes that this sort of background creates people who are completely disassociated from the wants and needs of the rest of society.  I can’t really do justice through excerpts, but here are two paragraphs to give you a sense of this:

Last year the former Republican staffer Mike Lofgren wrote something very similar about the dominant classes of the US: “the rich elites of this country have far more in common with their counterparts in London, Paris, and Tokyo than with their fellow American citizens … the rich disconnect themselves from the civic life of the nation and from any concern about its well being except as a place to extract loot. Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it.”


So if you have wondered how the current government can blithely engage in the wholesale transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, how its frontbench can rock with laughter as it truncates the livelihoods of the poorest people of this country, why it commits troops to ever more pointless post-colonial wars, here, I think, is part of the answer. Many of those who govern us do not in their hearts belong here. They belong to a different culture, a different world, which knows as little of its own acts as it knows of those who suffer them.

He draws his net a bit narrower than I would, he ascribes these characteristics pretty much exclusively to conservatives, while I would apply it more generally to our ruling class.

It explains why we see so many cases of, to quote Pete Townshend, “Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss.”

As you ascend the political pyramid, your world increasingly becomes that of the rich elites, and increasingly, their needs become your needs.

Go read this.

Oh Snap!

4th quarter GDP fell by an 0.1% rate:

The federal government helped bring the economic recovery to a virtual halt late last year as cuts in military spending and other factors overwhelmed the Federal Reserve’s expanded campaign to stimulate growth.

Disappointing data released Wednesday underscore how tighter fiscal policy may continue to weigh on growth in the future as government spending, which increased steadily in recent decades and expanded hugely during the recession, plays a diminished role in the United States economy.

Significant federal spending cuts are scheduled to take effect March 1, and most Americans are also now paying higher payroll taxes with the expiration of a temporary cut in early January.

The economy contracted at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the last three months of 2012, the worst quarter since the economy crawled out of the last recession, hampered by the lower military spending, fewer exports and smaller business stockpiles, preliminary government figures indicated on Wednesday. The Fed, in a separate appraisal, said economic activity “paused in recent months.”

The private sector is recovering, but cuts in federal spending more than offset this.

This is not as bad as what the Germans are doing with the Euro Zone.  We are experiencing a sort of “austerity lite”, and it is doing real damage to our economy.

Some Good News

It looks like Europe will be implementing a financial transaction song with teeth:

The details of Europe’s new financial transactions tax won’t be made public for a few weeks, but the FT’s Alex Barker has seen a draft, and it looks impressively robust. The tax is being implemented by 11 countries, including most importantly Germany and France, and it’s going to be levied at two levels: 0.1% on securities trades, and 0.01% on derivatives trades. It’s also going to be very difficult to dodge: any trader whose institutional headquarters is in one of the 11 countries will have to pay the tax, as will all transactions taking place in those countries, and all transactions involving securities issued in those countries.

The tax will have two main purposes. The first is to raise substantial tax revenues on the order of $45 billion per year; the second is to discourage financial speculation. I’m hopeful on the former, but less so on the latter.

As Robert Peston and Avinash Persaud pointed out back in 2011, financial transactions taxes work pretty well: even the UK, which is implacably opposed to the European tax and which won’t ever join such a scheme, levies a surprisingly large 0.5% tax whenever anybody — anywhere in the world — trades a UK stock. And yet, somehow, London remains the first choice for international companies looking for a place to list their shares.

I aggee with Felix Salmon’s closing:

So let’s hope that this tax gets introduced; that it works; and that the rest of the world, seeing the costs and the benefits, starts to follow suit and sign on too. The area covered by the initial 11 countries is big enough that the tax will work well at inception, but as more and more countries join the scheme, the tax will become increasingly efficient and effective. Maybe, eventually, it could even incorporate the U.S.

Personally, I would like to see the tax on securities should be a bit hither (about 0.3%) derivatives should be much higher (at least .1%, and better yet something north of ½%), but I really want to see this camel’s nose to get under the tent.

Two, Cats, Both Wrong

We’ve been trying to use a “have a heart” trap to catch Hummus (shown).

Today, we caught two cats at the same time, but they were just some feral cats from the neighborhood.

One looked a bit like Hummus, but  wasn’t her.

Unfortunately, in the process of checking it out, I got a bit scratched up.

Hind claws, so it smarts a lot.

Least Surprising News of the Day

Timothy Geithner’s Treasury Department ignored guidelines and allowed bailed out banksters to write their own paychecks:

The Treasury Department ignored its own guidelines on executive pay at firms that received taxpayer bailouts and last year approved compensation packages of more than $3 million for the senior ranks at General Motors, Ally Financial and American International Group, according to a watchdog report released Monday.

The report from the special inspector general for the Troubled Assets Relief Program said the government’s pay czar signed off on $6.2 million in raises for 18 employees at the three companies. The chief executive of a division of AIG received a $1 million raise, while an executive at GM’s troubled European unit was given a $100,000 raise. In one instance, an employee of Ally’s Residential Capital was awarded a $200,000 pay increase weeks before the subsidiary filed for bankruptcy.


Monday’s report evaluates Treasury’s actions since then, with stinging allegations of lax oversight and supervision. Romero said Geoghegan deferred to the pay proposals provided by the companies, approving raises above pay limits and failing to link compensation to performance.

“Treasury made no meaningful reform to its processes,” the special inspector said in the latest report. “Lacking criteria and an effective decision-making process, Treasury risks continuing to award executives of bailed-out companies excessive cash compensation without good cause.”

This is so not shocking.

Words Cannot Express My Disgust

Israel has been administering the Depo-Provera contraceptive to Ethiopian Women without their knowledge:

It isn’t an apology or an acceptance of responsibility. But for the first time, an Israeli government official has admitted what thousands of Ethiopian Jewish women have allegedly known for years – doctors in Israel have been injecting Ethiopian women with long-acting birth control medication known as Depo-Provera without the informed consent of the women. The effect of the shots lasts for months and the practice effectively sterilizes women for that period of time. Many Ethiopian women have reportedly received these shots for years with little or no say in the decision to receive them.

This is bigoted, and this is contemptible.

Whoever was behind this needs to be drummed out of the medical profession.

At least they have put an end to the practice:

Health Ministry Director General Prof. Ron Gamzu has instructed the four health maintenance organizations to stop the practice as a matter of course.

The ministry and other state agencies had previously denied knowledge or responsibility for the practice, which was first reported five years ago.

Gamzu’s letter instructs all gynecologists in the HMOs “not to renew prescriptions for Depo-Provera for women of Ethiopian origin if for any reason there is concern that they might not understand the ramifications of the treatment.

This is quite literally the least they could once this came to light.

In addition to being racist, it’s bad medicine. Depo-Provera has a lot of nasty side effects.

Patent Troll Loses Big

Newegg has prevailed against a patent troll claiming patents on an online shopping court:

Anyone who visited Soverain Software’s website could be forgiven for believing it’s a real company. There are separate pages for “products,” “services,” and “solutions.” There’s the “About Us” page. There are phone numbers and e-mail addresses for sales and tech support. There’s even a login page for customers.

It’s all a sham. Court records show Soverain hasn’t made a sale—ever. The various voice mailboxes were all set up by Katherine Wolanyk, the former Latham & Watkins attorney who is a co-founder and partial owner of Soverain. And the impressive list of big corporate customers on its webpage? Those are deals struck with another company, more than a decade ago. That was OpenMarket, a software company that created these patents before going out of business in 2001. It sold its assets to a venture capital fund called divine interVentures, which in turn sold the OpenMarket patents to Soverain Software in 2003.


Soverain isn’t in the e-commerce business; it’s in the higher-margin business of filing patent lawsuits against e-commerce companies. And it has been quite successful until now. The company’s plan to extract a patent tax of about one percent of revenue from a huge swath of online retailers was snuffed out last week by Newegg and its lawyers, who won an appeal ruling [PDF] that invalidates the three patents Soverain used to spark a vast patent war.


For Newegg’s Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng, it’s a huge validation of the strategy the company decided to pursue back in 2007: not to settle with patent trolls. Ever.

“We basically took a look at this situation and said, ‘This is bullsh%$,'” (%$ mine) said Cheng in an interview with Ars. “We saw that if we paid off this patent holder, we’d have to pay off every patent holder this same amount. This is the first case we took all the way to trial. And now, nobody has to pay Soverain jack squat for these patents.”


Soverain’s plans were always bigger than Amazon and Newegg. It wanted nothing less than to extract a patent tax from the entire retail sector, using three patents it claimed covered pretty much any use of “shopping cart” technology.

Just saying “do it on the Internet” isn’t a novel invention, the appeals court ruled [PDF]. The three-judge panel found that all of the “shopping cart” patent claims were rendered obvious in light of the CompuServe Mall.

I think that in the future, I’ll Newegg will be at the top of my list for shopping.

Hurrray for the ……………… Swiss?

Switzerland citizens have petitioned binding shareholder votes on executive compensation to referendum:

In February 2008, Thomas Minder, a Swiss businessman whose family-owned company is best known for its old-fashioned herbal toothpaste, attacked his banker, UBS Chairman Marcel Ospel, as if he were a form of stubborn plaque. At a shareholders’ meeting in Basel, he stormed the podium as Ospel addressed the crowd. Ospel’s bodyguards grappled with Minder and wrestled him away before he could land his symbolic blow — he was trying to hand the embattled head of Switzerland’s largest bank a bound copy of Swiss company law, which codifies corporate temperance.

“Gentlemen, you are responsible for the biggest write-downs in Swiss corporate history,” Minder had railed just a few minutes before, referring to UBS’s loss of $50 billion during the subprime meltdown that prompted it to seek a government bailout. “Put an end to the Americanization of UBS corporate philosophy!”

The bodyguards marched Minder out of the hall amid a chorus of boos and jeers. Two months later, Ospel was gone, taking the fall for UBS’s recklessness, but Minder’s campaign against big bonuses had only just begun; shortly after Ospel was ousted, Minder filed the 100,000 signatures needed to launch a referendum to impose some of the tightest controls on executive compensation in the world.

Of the top 100 Swiss companies, 49 give shareholders a consulting vote on the pay of executives. A few other countries, including the United States and Germany, have introduced advisory “say on pay” votes in response to the anger over inequality and corporate excess that drove the Occupy Wall Street movement. Britain is also planning to implement rules in late 2013 that will give shareholders a binding vote on pay and “exit payments” at least every three years. Minder’s initiative goes further, forcing all listed companies to have binding votes on compensation for company managers and directors, and ban golden handshakes and parachutes. It would also ban bonus payments to managers if their companies are taken over, and impose severe penalties — including possible jail sentences and fines — for breaches of these new rules.

Honestly, I was hoping that someone would do this, but in my wildest dream, I would have not have thought that it was the Swiss who would be at the forefront of this movement.

It appears that I have some stereotypical views about the Swiss, basically as conventional banker types, which does not reflect the actual reality.  I’ve got to be more enlightened.


Biotech firms are aggressively lobbying to ban the use of generic alternatives to their ruinously expensive drugs:

In statehouses around the country, some of the nation’s biggest biotechnology companies are lobbying intensively to limit generic competition to their blockbuster drugs, potentially cutting into the billions of dollars in savings on drug costs contemplated in the federal health care overhaul law.

The complex drugs, made in living cells instead of chemical factories, account for roughly one-quarter of the nation’s $320 billion in spending on drugs, according to IMS Health. And that percentage is growing. They include some of the world’s best-selling drugs, like the rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis drugs Humira and Enbrel and the cancer treatments Herceptin, Avastin and Rituxan. The drugs now cost patients — or their insurers — tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Two companies, Amgen and Genentech, are proposing bills that would restrict the ability of pharmacists to substitute generic versions of biological drugs for brand name products.

Bills have been introduced in at least eight states since the new legislative sessions began this month. Others are pending.

Seriously. We need to move away from proprietary IP licensed drug development leveraging government research to another model.

The current one is not working.

They use monopoly rents to further expand their monopoly rents by capturing the political process, and we all pay, over, and over, and over, and over again.


The WTO has just granted Antigua and Barbuda the right to ignore U.S. Copyrights because of our clamp-down on gambling:

A long-simmering trade conflict between the United States and Antigua and Barbuda appears to be boiling over.

Antigua and Barbuda, which has a $1 billion economy, is planning on getting legal retribution from the United States’ $15 trillion economy over its refusal to let Americans gamble at online sites based in the Caribbean nation — perhaps by offering downloads of American intellectual property, like Hollywood films, network television shows or hit pop songs. On Monday, the World Trade Organization gave its go-ahead for Antigua and Barbuda’s tentative plan.

“The economy of Antigua and Barbuda has been devastated by the United States government’s long campaign to prevent American consumers from gambling,” Harold Lovell, Antigua’s finance minister, said in a statement. “These aggressive efforts to shut down the remote gaming industry in Antigua have resulted in the loss of thousands of good-paying jobs and seizure by the Americans of billions of dollars belonging to gaming operators and their customers.”

The conflict’s roots are a decade old. The World Trade Organization said that the United States had violated its trade agreements by preventing Americans from betting at sites based in Antigua and Barbuda. Because Washington is unwilling to make the betting legal, the countries have been locked in a dispute over what constitutes fair trade practices and fair compensation.

The online gambling industry was at one point the second-largest employer in the Caribbean country, its government has said, and economists estimated its worth at $3.4 billion. Gambling employment has dropped to fewer than 500 people from more than 4,000 as a result of the United States’ trade policy, it said.

On Monday, a dispute settlement body in Geneva gave Antigua and Barbuda the nod to, in essence, violate American intellectual property rights to make up its losses, calculated at $21 million a year.

It remains murky just how the Antigua and Barbuda government might go about it. But trade watchers suggested it might set up a site where viewers could pay a pittance to watch a film or television show with an American copyright. The United States might not be able to shut the site down under international law.

BTW, it was the US that insisted on having cross-retaliation, where misbehavior in one industry could result in penalties at another industry.

In a best case scenario, I hope that this doesn’t get resolved, and the “content owners”  (actually the holders of exclusive licenses) find their stuff on the internet for next to nothing.

Hollywood and Silicon Valley will doubtless freak out, but if this continues down this path, and Antigua does distribute IP protected content, the US is forbidden from retaliating, so we see what happens if a bit of IP sanity breaks out.

My guess is that it won’t be the apocalypse that the MPAA and the RIAA predicts, and maybe they will be viewed like the proverbial “Boy Who Cried Wolf.”

My previous posts about this are here, and it appears to me that this is moving very slowly, my earliest post is from 2007(!), and the complaint, and the remedy, remain the same as my original post, but we now finally have a ruling.

Quote of the Day

As I’ve written previously, we are past the point in this country now where one’s views on homosexuality can be called a “matter of conscience.” No. Being against equality here isn’t a matter of conscience anymore than having been against racial equality in 1955 was. It is just bigotry plain and simple. Enough. Piss off. Go form your own Boy Scouts. Go form your own stupid country. You aren’t America anymore.

Michael Tomasky

We Love Those Little Fuzzy Murderous Psychopaths

Awww!!! It’s so cute!!!

A new study has revealed that cats are merciless killing machines cutting a wide swath through indigenous wildlife:

For all the adorable images of cats that play the piano, flush the toilet, mew melodiously and find their way back home over hundreds of miles, scientists have identified a shocking new truth: cats are far deadlier than anyone realized.

In a report that scaled up local surveys and pilot studies to national dimensions, scientists from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that domestic cats in the United States — both the pet Fluffies that spend part of the day outdoors and the unnamed strays and ferals that never leave it — kill a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year, most of them native mammals like shrews, chipmunks and voles rather than introduced pests like the Norway rat.

The estimated kill rates are two to four times higher than mortality figures previously bandied about, and position the domestic cat as one of the single greatest human-linked threats to wildlife in the nation. More birds and mammals die at the mouths of cats, the report said, than from automobile strikes, pesticides and poisons, collisions with skyscrapers and windmills and other so-called anthropogenic causes.

Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and an author of the report, said the mortality figures that emerge from the new model “are shockingly high.”

I loves my cute little black hearted merciless killing machines.

They are so cute.  Squeeee!!!!

Iceland Wins in Court Over Icesave Deposite Guarantees

I’m not particularly surprised:

A European court has cleared the Icelandic government of failing to guarantee minimum levels of compensation for UK and Dutch savers in the collapsed Icesave bank.

Icesave, run by the Icelandic Landsbanki, collapsed in 2008 along with all of Iceland’s banking system.

The UK and Dutch savers were bailed out completely by their governments.

The ruling may halt the UK’s attempt to get all of its money back from the Icelandic government.


The Icelandic government said it took “considerable satisfaction” from the ruling from the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) Court.

“Iceland has from the start maintained that there is legal uncertainty as to whether a state is responsible for ensuring payments of minimum guarantees to depositors using its own funds and has stressed the importance of having this issue clarified in court,” it said.


The EFTA judgement stated: “The Court holds that the Directive does not envisage that the defendant itself must ensure payments to depositors in the Icesave branches in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, in accordance with Articles 7 and 10 of the Directive, in a systemic crisis of the magnitude experienced in Iceland.”

What’s the core issue here is that Iceland guaranteed these accounts up to £16,300, but the British and Dutch cover the whole account, and demanded that Iceland pay the whole amount.

This is separate from the attempts to make the bondholders whole, for which there is no legal obligation whatsoever.

Things to do in Boise When You’re Dead*

OK,there is no actual dying involved, but I will be in Boise, Idaho for about 30 hours on business (Sunday night through about Noon on Tuesday) next week.

It’s a work thing, but I figure that I’ll have Monday evening off.

Any suggestions of things to do?  I’ve been told that there are some good Basque restaurants in the area, though I haven’t got any specific names.

*Truth be told, I’ve never seen the movie Things to do in Denver When You’re Dead, but the title has stuck in my head.

This is Called Circling the Drain

The Army has decided to delay its Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) program:

Army acquisition leaders moved Jan. 16 to delay its top modernization program, the Ground Combat Vehicle, in hopes of making it more viable in the face of expected defense budget cuts.

The Army issued a memorandum Jan. 16 announcing the addition of a six-month extension of the Technology Development phase of the GCV Infantry Fighting Vehicle program. Defense companies will have more time to “refine vehicle designs,” according to an Army statement.

They have been playing around with all sorts of whiz bang technology, the weight has ballooned to that of an M-1 tank, and there have been repeated delays and cancellations. (Background here)

This is a clusterf%$#, and it will continue to be a clusterf%$#, and the best case will be an over priced, under performing, Byzantinely complex and hard to support system.

Read Charlie Pierce

He says it all on the recent DC Court of Appeals ruling:

David Sentelle Is A Hack

By Charles P. Pierce

The next time I hear some lefty mooing about the president’s having let down the side on something or another, it better be about something of substance, like the Keystone XL pipeline, or I’m going to boot said lefty’s hindquarters in the general direction of the federal appeals court of the District Of Columbia, which today laid down the most singular piece of partisan hackery to come out of a court since Antonin Scalia picked the previous president. For precise legal analysis, I’ll leave it to Scott at LG&M to explain. This, children, is what you get when you operate politically under the theory that They’re All The Same. You get 20 or 30 years of primarily Republican judges acting primarily as Republicans, drawn from the legal chop-shops in the conservative movement bubble, and doing their partisan duty like performing seals.


Read the rest.

Geithner As Sociopath: The Interview

In an interview with Liaquat Ahamed at The New Republic Timothy Geithner reveals his good German.

In response to the idea of justice, his response was that it, “wasn’t his thing.”

LA: One of the ways that people have figured out in the past to reconcile the politics was to go populist. That was what Roosevelt did. You, on the other hand, had been resolutely against that. You refer to it as Old Testament justice, implying that while it may be emotionally satisfying, it doesn’t serve any purpose.

TG: I never used that phrase as a pejorative description. I just used it as a simple shorthand to refer to the understandable need people had for justice. But the President didn’t ask me to come do this to be the architect of a political strategy. I never felt that was my thing. I had some views on the issue, but I didn’t give them much weight. I thought my job was to figure out the financial parts.

(emphasis mine)

Justice doesn’t matter, and notwithstanding his protestations, he ridiculed it as, “Old Testament justice”.

He knows that his job is to be the lick-spittle watchdog for the banksters.

Note however that the Cossacks work for the Czar