21 July 2017

Snark of the Day

Only Perfect Hedge Is In a Japanese Garden
John Jansen
That is a wonderful way to describe the peripatetic nature of modern high finance.

Buh Bye Sean

Sean Spicer has resigned as White House Press Secretary:
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, resigned on Friday after denouncing chaos in the West Wing and telling President Trump he vehemently disagreed with the appointment of the New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as communications director.

After offering Mr. Scaramucci the communications job Friday morning, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Spicer to stay on as press secretary. But Mr. Spicer told Mr. Trump that he believed the appointment of Mr. Scaramucci was a major mistake and said he was resigning, according to a person with direct knowledge of the exchange.

In one of his first official acts, Mr. Scaramucci, who founded the global investment firm SkyBridge Capital and is a Fox News contributor, joined Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Mr. Spicer’s chief deputy, in the White House briefing room and announced that she would succeed Mr. Spicer as press secretary.

………

Mr. Spicer has agreed to stay on for two weeks to a month, and Mr. Trump has told his advisers he is open to rotating new people into the briefing room, including one of the president’s personal favorites, Sebastian Gorka, a blustery foreign policy official who has been accused of having ties to far-right groups in Europe.
Sebastian Gorka? I'd call him a Neonazi son of a bitch, but he really is an old Nazi son of a bitch.

Amazing. Only in America could you fire Sean Spicer and have his replacements be worse.

Fail

While I oppose boycotts of Israel, and I think that many in the BDS movement are objectively antisemitic, the proposal in the Senate to criminalize boycotts against Israel is an assault on the very idea of civil rights:
Both of New York's Senators have signed on to a bill that would criminalize any attempt by Americans to boycott Israel, according to a new report.

According to The Intercept, Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are among 43 U.S. Senators who have co-sponsored the Anti-Israel Boycott Act, a bill that the ACLU wote is "antithetical to free speech protections enshrined in the First Amendment" in a letter to lawmakers urging them to oppose the bill.

The Senate bill appears to target the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement that seeks to pressure Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip through economic isolation. Under the terms of the bill, a pair of U.S. laws that prohibit U.S. citizens from supporting a boycott request from a foreign government against an ally of the United States would be updated to specifically prohibit Americans from supporting international boycott efforts against Israel.

Violators of the law "would be subject to a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison" according to the ACLU's letter.
Seriously, it's embarrassing to have to go all Schoolhouse Rock on members of the US Senate.

This full metal pander crap needs to end.

A letter from the ACLU clearly describes just how flagrantly unconstitutional this bill is.

The Swedes are the Greatest People on the Face of the Earth

Swedish passenger operator MTR Express opened up a new line between Stockholm and Gothenburg, and they held an online contest to name it, the obvious happened, but unlike the killjoys at the Natural Environment Research Council, they decided to name the line Trainy McTrainface:
A Swedish rail operator has vowed to name one of its trains Trainy McTrainface after a public vote, saying it would bring joy to people disappointed when Britain rejected the name Boaty McBoatface for a polar research ship following a similar poll.

Trainy McTrainface won 49% of the votes in the naming competition, conducted online by train operator MTR Express and Swedish newspaper Metro, beating choices such as Hakan, Miriam and Poseidon.

“[This is] news that will be received with joy by many, not just in Sweden,” MTR wrote in a statement.

The train will run between the Swedish capital Stockholm and Gothenburg, the country’s second-biggest city.

………

MTR said another train had been voted to be named “Glenn”, an apparent tribute to an IFK Gothenburg soccer team of the 1980s that featured four players of that name – uncommon in Sweden – including Glenn Hysen, who later captained Liverpool.
This is so cool.

20 July 2017

Epic Troll

Over at The Register, they discuss how the Royal Navy will maintain offensive capability now that they will have no antiship weapons between 2018 and 2020.

Their proposal is to put the biplane Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber on their aircraft carriers:
The solution to the Royal Navy’s post-2018 problem of having no anti-ship weapons is already in service and can even equip the UK’s new aircraft carriers.

The Fairey Swordfish (pictured above) is a versatile, rugged torpedo bomber first introduced into service in the 1930s. Having outlived everything introduced to replace it during the WWII, two flying examples remain in service with the RN Historic Flight.

These two aircraft could each be assigned to HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, the 70,000-ton aircraft carriers due to enter naval service in the near future.

Although neither carrier has catapults (or, indeed, aircraft until the year 2021), the Swordfish is capable of taking off within 540ft at full power* with the ship steaming into a 20kt wind – which compares very favourably with the QE-class’s 920ft flight deck.

The Swordfish has a noble and proud history of delivering the Navy’s ship-sinking capability, most notably over the Italian fleet at Taranto in 1940 and crippling the battleship Bismarck later in WWII. It is a proven war-winning platform with a straightforward wood-and-canvas construction that means spares and logistic trains will cost infinitely less than the heart-stoppingly expensive F-35B fighter jet (at around $130m per aircraft, according to some estimates) which will not be able to fly from the British carriers until 2021 at the earliest.
Snerk!

MSNBC Gets to Know C. Megalodon*

I have noted the self-immolation of the journalistic credibility by Rachel Maddow in the past, and while I do not generally watch Maddow, or MSNBC any more, I was bored and flipping channels, and came across Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell having a rather breathless discussion about how Donald Trump is asking for legal opinions about whether he can pardon family members and himself.

They are referring to a Washington Post story in which there is a more general discussion of legal tactics considered by the Trump administration.

Pardons came up, but is appears to be a part of discussion of a myriad of potential legal options to thwart MUller's investigation, so, not only did MSNBC bury the lede, but in so doing they missed the real story, which that the entire f%$#ing Trump administration is planning to subvert a federal investigation by constructing a  pretense for his dismissal:
Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.

This is not in the context of, ‘I can’t wait to pardon myself ,’ ” a close adviser said.

With the Russia investigation continuing to widen, Trump’s lawyers are working to corral the probe and question the propriety of the special counsel’s work. They are actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work, according to several of Trump’s legal advisers.

………

Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s private lawyers, said in an interview Thursday that the president and his legal team are intent on making sure Mueller stays within the boundaries of his assignment as special counsel. He said they will complain directly to Mueller if necessary.

“The fact is that the president is concerned about conflicts that exist within the special counsel’s office and any changes in the scope of the investigation,” Sekulow said. “The scope is going to have to stay within his mandate. If there’s drifting, we’re going to object.”

Sekulow cited Bloomberg News reports that Mueller is scrutinizing some of Trump’s business dealings, including with a Russian oligarch who purchased a Palm Beach mansion from Trump for $95 million in 2008.

“They’re talking about real estate transactions in Palm Beach several years ago,” Sekulow said. “In our view, this is far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation.”

………

The president’s legal representatives have also identified what they allege are several conflicts of interest facing Mueller, such as donations to Democrats by some of his prosecutors.

Another potential conflict claim is an allegation that Mueller and Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia had a dispute over membership fees when Mueller resigned as a member in 2011, two White House advisers said. A spokesman for Mueller said there was no dispute when Mueller, who was FBI director at the time, left the club.

………

Some Republicans in frequent touch with the White House said they viewed the president’s decision to publicly air his disappointment with Sessions as a warning sign that the attorney general’s days were numbered. Several senior aides were described as “stunned” when Sessions announced Thursday morning he would stay on at the Justice Department.

Another Republican in touch with the administration described the public steps as part of a broader effort aimed at “laying the groundwork to fire” Mueller.

“Who attacks their entire Justice Department?” this person said. “It’s insane.”
It's a big story, but MSNBC is so far into its, "A noun, a verb, and Vladimir Putin," that it's missing the actual story:  Obstruction of Justice, the thing that they got Nixon for.

Lame.

*The largest shark, and likely largest predator fish ever. It died out some 1.5 million years ago. The Genus is still in dispute, between either Carcharodon (Great White) or Carcharocles (broad toothed Mako). But in either case, you are jumping C. Megalodon, you have jumped the biggest shark ever.

Mindbogglingly Incompetent

We have a reveal of the Democratic Party motto for 2018:
This is monumentally incompetent.

My take:

Fail

Mitch McConnell and his merry band of psychopaths have failed even worse on their 2nd try to repeal Obamacare:
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, announced Tuesday morning on the Senate floor that the Republicans’ effort to repeal and replace Obamacare had failed.

This turn of events marks a stunning defeat for President Trump, who has made a “repeal and replace” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) one of his central policy goals. Although he has issued executive orders on immigration, deregulation, and taken other reactionary initiatives, no major legislation has been moved through Congress for him to sign.

McConnell was unable to bring the latest version of Senate Republicans’ Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) to a vote after two Republican senators, Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas, came out in opposition to the bill, leaving the Senate leadership at least two votes short of the number needed to begin debate on the measure.

Two other Republicans, Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine, had already signaled their opposition. With a slim 52-48 majority in the Senate, the measure could only lose the support of two Republicans, with Vice President Mike Pence brought in to break a tie.

Senate Republicans then pivoted to “Plan B,” described by McConnell as legislation that would include a “repeal of Obamacare combined with a stable two-year transition period.” This measure was scuttled almost as soon as it was advanced, as three Republican senators indicated that they would not vote to bring it to the Senate floor.
I  believe that the source of Republican problems is that, as Stephen Colbert noted, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

This interferes with Republican attempts to impoverish and inmiserate the American public.

This Is the Right Thing to Do, Though the Reasons Are Probably Wrong

Donald Trump has ended the CIA's effort to fund Jihadi/al Qaeda forces in Syria trying to overthrow the Assad regime.

Of course, since this story was revealed by the Washington Post, which has endorsed every fakakta regime change scheme forever, they try to spin it as some sort of collusion with Putin, but the fact that the CIA has literally been providing support to al Qaeda affiliates indicates the complete intellectual bankruptcy of this effort.

It also is a shot across the bow of other nations **cough** House of Saud **cough** that their support of Salafist fighters in Syria.

The sad thing about Syria is that for most of the country (Kurdistan* is the exception), Bashir Assad is the best option, which is thoroughly depressing.
President Trump has decided to end the CIA’s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad, a move long sought by Russia, according to U.S. officials.

The program was a central plank of a policy begun by the Obama administration in 2013 to put pressure on Assad to step aside, but even its backers have questioned its efficacy since Russia deployed forces in Syria two years later.

Officials said the phasing out of the secret program reflects Trump’s interest in finding ways to work with Russia, which saw the anti-Assad program as an assault on its interests. The shuttering of the program is also an acknowledgment of Washington’s limited leverage and desire to remove Assad from power.

………

After the Trump-Putin meeting, the United States and Russia announced an agreement to back a new cease-fire in southwest Syria, along the Jordanian border, where many of the CIA-backed rebels have long operated. Trump described the limited cease-fire deal as one of the benefits of a constructive working relationship with Moscow.

The move to end the secret program to arm the anti-Assad rebels was not a condition of the cease-fire negotiations, which were already well underway, said U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the secret program.

Trump’s dealings with Russia have been under heavy scrutiny because of the investigations into the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election. The decision on the CIA-backed rebels will be welcomed by Moscow, which focused its firepower on those fighters after it intervened in Syria in 2015.

Some current and former officials who support the program cast the move as a major concession.

“This is a momentous decision,” said a current official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a covert program. “Putin won in Syria.”
No, Putin didn't win, you are your merry band of regime change fetishists lost, and you deserved to.

Look at Libya and Iraq. Your world view sucks wet farts from dead pigeons.

The interventionist foreign policy consensus, as personified by the Council on Foreign Relations, has created instability, terrorism, suffering, and massive loss of life around the world, and it needs to be repudiated.


*Of course, at the end of all this, the Kurds are going to get completely f%$#ed, because that is what Ankara will demand, but the Kurds always get f%$#ed in the great power games in the Middle East.

Linkage

A good essay on swords, though katana lovers might object to some of the characterizations:

    19 July 2017

    Not a Good Prognosis


    This is a very aggressive cancer, and typical survival rate after diagnosis is around a year and a half:
    Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, his office said Wednesday, throwing into doubt when and if he will return to Washington to resume his duties in the Senate.

    The Mayo Clinic said doctors diagnosed a tumor called a glioblastoma after surgery to remove a blood clot above McCain’s left eye last week. The senator and his family are considering treatment options, including a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, according to the hospital.

    McCain, 80, has been away from the Senate this week, recovering from the surgery and undergoing tests. His office issued a statement describing him “in good spirits” and noting that his doctors say his underlying health is excellent — but not indicating when he will return to the Senate.

    Glioblastoma is an aggressive type of brain cancer, and the prognosis for this kind of cancer is generally poor. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) survived less than 15 months after his was found in 2008. McCain’s doctors said the “tissue of concern” was removed during the blood-clot procedure.
    In the best case, McCain is unlikely to be back in Washington for a while, which would make things even worse for Mitch McConnell in his attempts to corral votes.

    Damn

    Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee said on Tuesday that Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan stripped her amendment, which would have repealed authorization for the use of military force against ISIS, from a defense-spending bill.

    "Ryan stripped my 01 AUMF repeal amdt from DOD Approps in the dead of night. This is underhanded & undemocratic. The people deserve a debate!" she tweeted Tuesday night.

    Lee's amendment, which received bipartisan support, would have repealed the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force and made Congress pass another one to continue the campaign against ISIS.
    You knew that this was going to happen.

    If the Republicans weren't willing to repeal the AUMF under Obama, who they loathed,  they won't do it now.

    It is cowardice.

    Because of the 2001 AUMF, they don't have to vote to authorize the next war, and the members of Congress do not want to own that decision.

    Live in Obedient Fear, Citizen


    Roll Tape!
    A police officer in Baltimore was filmed planting evidence on his body cam.

    He was unaware that the camera constantly recorded video, and saved the 30 seconds before the camera was turned on, and a sharp eyed public defender spotted this:
    ………

    Now there's word of another such incident in Baltimore, related to video from a January drug arrest. The officer's trickery was revealed by the fact that his body cam retained footage for 30 seconds before it was activated to begin recording. During that time, according to the footage and the Baltimore public defender's office, officer Richard Pinheiro puts a bag of pills in a can in an alley and walks out of the alley.

    The Axon cam's initial 30 seconds of footage, by default, doesn't have sound. After 30 seconds, viewers of the video can both see and hear the officer looking for drugs in the alley. Lo and behold, he finds them in the same soup can that he placed them in, according to the footage, which was released Wednesday. Pinheiro can then be heard yelling "yo" to his fellow officers, telling them he found drugs in the alley.

    The Baltimore Police Department said Wednesday it was investigating the matter, and the three officers seen in the video. The Baltimore public defender's office discovered the incident when reviewing body cam footage while preparing to defend an upcoming drug prosecution.

    The footage paved the way for the authorities to drop charges against the drug suspect, who had remained jailed since January on $50,000 bail he could not post. The Baltimore public defender's office said the officer in question is a witness in as many as 53 other active cases, according to the Baltimore Sun.
    (emphasis mine)

    Why this officer, and the two other cops in the film, haven't been charged is completely beyond me.

    There is clearly probable cause sufficient for the state's attorney to get an arrest warrant by all three officers.

    Most likely the police commissioner and the state's attorney are busy trying to figure out what the absolute minimum to deal with this issue, because covering up for bad cops is what the authorities do.

    If they are forced to prosecute by public pressure, I expect the case to be mismanaged, because they will play to lose.

    Squee!!!!!

    There is a colony of feral cats in our neighborhood.

    Today, I saw momcat, a tortoiseshell, and one of her kittens, a ginger tabby, who was nursing at the time.

    I watched for a bit while momcat stared daggers at me.

    They were likely part of RP's progeny.

    Seriously cute.

    18 July 2017

    True

    The founder of the Russian punk bank Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, is saying that liberals are using Putin as a scapegoat to avoid looking at the problems of the Democratic party.

    Considering the fact that Putin had her thrown in jail for over a year for their protests of his regime, it is a remarkable statement:
    Sirota: Do you believe the American political class and media exaggerate the threat of Putin for its own ends?

    Tolokonnikova: Yeah. They're just looking for a scapegoat and, you know, for Trump it's Muslims and Mexican workers. And for liberal media in America it is Putin.
    I've been saying this for how long?

    I Have Heard This Story Before


    Saroff's Rule* Applies
    Because what is going on in student loans looks a lot like the dodgy documentation that have been a feature of mortgages over the past few years.

    This all very similar to the clusterf%$# that is MERS that I have been writing about for years:
    Tens of thousands of people who took out private loans to pay for college but have not been able to keep up payments may get their debts wiped away because critical paperwork is missing.

    The troubled loans, which total at least $5 billion, are at the center of a protracted legal dispute between the student borrowers and a group of creditors who have aggressively pursued them in court after they fell behind on payments.

    Judges have already dismissed dozens of lawsuits against former students, essentially wiping out their debt, because documents proving who owns the loans are missing. A review of court records by The New York Times shows that many other collection cases are deeply flawed, with incomplete ownership records and mass-produced documentation.

    Some of the problems playing out now in the $108 billion private student loan market are reminiscent of those that arose from the subprime mortgage crisis a decade ago, when billions of dollars in subprime mortgage loans were ruled uncollectible by courts because of missing or fake documentation. And like those troubled mortgages, private student loans — which come with higher interest rates and fewer consumer protections than federal loans — are often targeted at the most vulnerable borrowers, like those attending for-profit schools.

    At the center of the storm is one of the nation’s largest owners of private student loans, the National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts. It is struggling to prove in court that it has the legal paperwork showing ownership of its loans, which were originally made by banks and then sold to investors. National Collegiate’s lawyers warned in a recent legal filing, “As news of the servicing issues and the trusts’ inability to produce the documents needed to foreclose on loans spreads, the likelihood of more defaults rises.”

    National Collegiate is an umbrella name for 15 trusts that hold 800,000 private student loans, totaling $12 billion. More than $5 billion of that debt is in default, according to court filings. The trusts aggressively pursue borrowers who fall behind on their bills. Across the country, they have brought at least four new collection cases each day, on average — more than 800 so far this year — and tens of thousands of lawsuits in the past five years.

    ………

    In her defense, Ms. Watson’s lawyer seized upon what he saw as the flaws in National Collegiate’s paperwork. Judge Eddie McShan of New York City’s Civil Court in the Bronx agreed and dismissed four lawsuits against Ms. Watson. The trusts “failed to establish the chain of title” on Ms. Watson’s loans, he wrote in one ruling.

    ………

    Judges throughout the country, including recently in cases in New Hampshire, Ohio and Texas, have tossed out lawsuits by National Collegiate, ruling that it did not prove it owned the debt on which it was trying to collect.

    ………

    National Collegiate’s beneficial owner, Mr. Uderitz, hired a contractor in 2015 to audit the servicing company that bills National Collegiate’s borrowers each month and is supposed to maintain custody of many loan documents critical for collection cases.

    A random sample of nearly 400 National Collegiate loans found not a single one had assignment paperwork documenting the chain of ownership, according to a report they had prepared.
    (emphasis mine)

    People who say that our financial industry must be free to innovate need to look at sh%$ like this.

    To quote Paul Volker, "The only thing useful banks have invented in 20 years is the ATM."

    *Saroff's Rule: If a financial transaction is complex enough to require that a news organization use a cartoon to explain it, its purpose is to deceive.

    Too Much Heat Today

    I wasn't paying attention, and got a bit too much sun, so if my posts tonight seem a bit less coherent than usual, if that is even possible, you know why.

    Hydrating now.