30 June 2013

An Old Idea Whose Time Has Come Again

The idea that, in addition to having the US Post Office serve our letter carrier needs, that we have them supply basic retail banking services again:
On July 27, 2012, the National Association of Letter Carriers adopted a resolution at their National Convention in Minneapolis to investigate establishing a postal banking system. The resolution noted that expanding postal services and developing new sources of revenue are important to the effort to save the public Post Office and preserve living-wage jobs; that many countries have a successful history of postal banking, including the U.S. itself; and that postal banks could serve the 9 million people who don’t have bank accounts and the 21 million who use usurious check cashers.

The USPS has been self-funded throughout its history, but it has been recently driven to insolvency because in 2006, Congress required it to prefund postal retiree health benefits [3] for 75 years into the future, an onerous burden no other public or private company is required to carry. The USPS has evidently been targeted by a plutocratic Congress bent on destroying the most powerful unions and privatizing all public services, including education. Britain’s 150-year-old postal service is also on the privatization chopping block, and its postal workers have also vowed to fight. Adding banking services is an internationally proven way to maintain post office profitability.
Not only has it been done before, it was done in the United States in my lifetime:
The now-defunct U.S. Postal Savings System was also quite successful in its day. It was set up in 1911 to get money out of hiding, attract the savings of immigrants, provide safe depositories for people who had lost confidence in private banks, and furnish depositories with convenient hours. Deposits ranged from $1 to $2,500, and the postal system paid 2% interest on them. It issued U.S. Postal Savings Bonds that paid annual interest, as well as Postal Savings Certificates and domestic money orders. Postal savings peaked in 1947 at almost $3.4 billion.

The U.S. Postal Savings System was shut down in 1967, not because it was inefficient but because it became unnecessary after its profitability became apparent. Private banks then captured the market, raising their interest rates and offering the same governmental guarantees that the postal savings system had.
This is a good idea for a number of reasons
  • It would allow for an alternative to hit the ground running when (not if) the next time that the big banksters crash and burn.
  • It would allow for small depositors, who routinely take it up the ass from commercial banks, to have an alternative that is also national in scope.
  • It would help the Post Office out of its current Congressionaly generated financial crisis.
In order to take down the banksters, you have to do more than just regulate them: You need to create an effective state owned and operated alternative.

Tweet of the Day



H/t Patrick Durusau.

29 June 2013

Oops!


D'oh!
I was looking up some data on Loctite thread locking compounds and was perusing an online brochure (PDF).

And then I saw this.
Since the 1950s, Henkel has served the defense market. While taking a leadership role in supporting the U.S. Military's efforts with dedicated resources, Henkel has developed products and specifications for high performance adhesives, sealants, coatings and surface treatments. Today, thousands of assemblies in military vehicle, ordnance and other device applications use Loctite®, Alodine®, Multan®, Bonderite® and Turco® products.
In isolation, the quote sounds pretty innocuous, until you examine the accompanying picture.

Isn't that a Russian MiG-29?  Why yes, it is!

How does this have anything to do with, "taking a leadership role in supporting the U.S. Military's efforts?"

Oh ……… Right ……… It doesn't.

28 June 2013

Live in Obedient Fear Citizen

Remember that you are the bankster's property, and the Bill of Rights never applies:
Jeff Olson, 40, is facing a potential 13-year jail sentence for perhaps the world’s most costly sidewalk art. A former aide to the U.S. Senator from Washington, Olson used water-soluble statements like “Stop big banks,” and “Stop Bank Blight.com” outside Bank of America branches last year to protest the company’s practices. He eventually gave up his protest but prosecutors later brought 13 charges against him. Now a judge has reportedly banned his attorney from “mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct, or political speech during the trial.” It appears someone associated with Bank of American could finally go to jail, but it will not by the bank officials in the financial scandal. It is the guy writing slogans in chalk in the sidewalk.

I have long been critical of the degree to which American judges are now barring parties from making defenses and arguments before juries. These rulings often have an outcome determinative impact on trials. In this case, free speech was the motivation of Olson, but he will reportedly have to defend himself as just a guy who walked up and started drawing in front of this bank.

Olson and his partner had been campaigning to get people to take their money out of the bank. This campaign led to a confrontation with Darell Freeman, vice president of Bank of America’s Global Corporate Security, who reportedly demanded action from local prosecutors. Olson stopped when contacted by the San Diego Gang Unit in 2012.

Yet, the bank insisted the chalk caused $6,000 to clean up, a rather suspicious claim. These were slogans written on the sidewalk. Prosecutors hit him with 13 counts of misdemeanor vandalism charges and $13,000 in restitution to the City and to Bank of America.
(emphasis mine)

This has gone viral, and the response of the judge was swift, to put a gag order on all the participants for a f%$#ing misdemeanor:
As reported in a Thursday evening, June 27, BuzzFlash at Truthout update to the chilling San Diego (SD) city attorney prosecution of Jeff Olson, an SD Judge placed an unprecedented gag order on a misdemeanor trial -- in particular muzzling Olson. But it also apparently included witnesses, the jury and others.

Judge Howard Shore also chastised the Mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner. Filner apparently in the judge's eyes had the temerity to call the trial of Olson a waste of time and taxpayer money. According to the San Diego Reader, Filner sent out a memorandum on June 20 that read in part:
This young man is being persecuted for thirteen counts of vandalism stemming from an expression of political protest that involved washable children's chalk on a City sidewalk. It is alleged that he has no previous criminal record. If these assertions are correct, I believe this is a misuse and waste of taxpayer money. It could also be characterized as an abuse of power that infringes on First Amendment particularly when it is arbitrarily applied to some, but not all, similar speech.
Judge Shore, in essence, warned the mayor of San Diego, who happens to be a Democrat in a traditionally conservative city, to keep his comments to himself, and would likely have issued a gag order on the mayor if Judge Shore were able.
(Again emphasis mine)

Silly rabbit, free speech is for Banksters.

Heh

H/t Jill on Facebook .

Cover Story: Bert and Ernie Celebrate Gay Marriage : The New Yorker

The New Yorker gives us another classic cover.

27 June 2013

Deep Thought

I was texting my wife today, talking about how to handle our cats flea issue, and I felt the need to add the following:
Attention NSA: I mean a FLEA bomb.
What bothers me the most is that I was not sure if I was joking, or if I was serious.

Adding Chris Hayes to the List

The list of People I Do Not Want to Piss Off, of course.

Here is an essay worthy of Keith Olbermann's best special comments.

He notes that by any rational standard, the officially sanctioned leaks over the last few days are almost certainly more damaging to national security than anything that Edward Snowden has released to date.

He demonstrates how leaks, even potentially damaging ones, are acceptable, so long as they serve to glorify our state security apparatus:



H/t Digby.

The Daily Show is the Best Financial Journalism Operation on TV

Case in point, their examination of the corruption amongst the ratings agencies:



Time to add John Oliver to my list of People I Do Not Want to Piss Off.

H/t Matt Taibbi.

I've Never Been a Fan of Tammy Duckworth………

Ever since she made Rahm Emanuel's carpetbagger favorite for the race to succeed Henry Hyde, and he dropped $1 million on her losing campaign in a Democratic Party wave year.

That being said, this is a righteous take down of a federal contractor who used a high school football injury to get contracting preference as a "disabled vet" is a thing of beauty.



H/t Charlie Pierce

26 June 2013

If She is Not Running for Statewide Office Soon, The Texas Democratic Party is Stupid and Worthless

I am referring, of course to Wendy Davis, whose epic filibuster against the radical anti-abortion legislation proposed by the Texas Taliban Republicans was crucial to running out the clock on the special legislative session:
She was a state senator Tuesday morning. By Wednesday, she was a political celebrity known across the nation. But also hoarse, hungry and thirsty.

The leg-numbing filibuster by Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat — in which she stood and talked for more than 11 hours at the Capitol here, never sitting, eating, drinking or even using the bathroom to help block passage of an anti-abortion bill supported by the state’s top Republicans — was not the longest such marathon, by Texas standards.

But it didn’t matter.

Her feat of stamina and conviction gained thousands of Twitter followers in a matter of hours. Pictures of the sneakers she wore beneath her dress zoomed across computer and television screens. The press corps demanded to know her shoe brand. (Mizuno, it turned out.) Hundreds of men, women and children waited for hours at the Capitol to sit in an upstairs gallery and watch her in action, standing in lines that snaked around the rotunda. Even President Obama noticed, posting a Twitter message on Tuesday that read, “Something special is happening in Austin tonight.”

Ms. Davis, 50, has known long odds and, for Democrats, was the perfect symbol in a fight over what a woman can do. She was a teenager when her first child was born, but managed as a single mother to pull herself from a trailer park to Harvard Law School to a hard-fought seat in the Texas Senate, a rare liberal representing conservative Tarrant County. According to Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston, she had the second-most liberal voting record in the Senate in 2011.
They used some bogus rules of order to shut her down down two hours early, but parliamentary points of order made by Democrats, along with a remarkably raucous gallery, pushed the vote past the midnight deadline for the special section.

Of course, playing by the rules is not how the Republicans play, so they tried to reset the clock, in order to make it appear as if they had made the deadline:
That is evidence that someone changed the official record to backdate the vote, which took place beginning at 12:02 AM on June 26th to before 11:59 PM on June 25th.

That's stealing the vote. Or cheating. Or being a Republican.

Social media is cruel to cheaters, though. There was a YouTube live stream, there was a paper record with a timestamp of 12:02 AM for the vote, there was this image of the date discrepancy, and there were plenty of reporters who put it together and deduced that hijinks were afoot.
Hundreds of thousands of people watched this online, and knew the time as well, so in the wee hours of the morning, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst fessed up.

Rick Perry, who appears to still think that he can become President, is calling another special session in order to get another bite at the apple.

I think that the Democratic State Senators should leave the state to prevent quorum.

I also think that Wendy Davis should be the Democratic nominee for either Governor or US Senate in the next election, but I rather expect that the Democratic Party insiders will find a way to dismiss her, because, after all, she has the, "the second-most liberal voting record in the Senate in 2011," and heaven forbid that you nominate someone from the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.

Talk About Irony

Glenn Greenwald lives in Brazil because DOMA does not recognize his partner for the purposes of immigration, and Brazil does.

With DOMA being overturned, it means that if he were to move back to the United States, his partner would get a spouse visa:
Glenn Greenwald has been living in Brazil (where he has a permanent visa*) for the past eight years with his partner, David Michael Miranda. Now that the Defense of Marriage Act has been struck down, Greenwald says they're considering moving back to the United States.

Here's how he described his reason for moving in an interview with Out Magazine in 2011:
Brazil recognizes our relationship for immigration purposes, while the government of my supposedly "free," liberty-loving country enacted a law explicitly barring such recognition.
Does Wednesday's ruling mean Greenwald will move back? Here's what he said in an email to Slate senior editor Emily Bazelon today:
 It's certainly something we'll consider. It's a huge choice with many complicated factors, and it's not the kind of thing you seriously evaluate when the option isn't available to you. We haven't made up our minds in the 90 minutes or so since the decision was announced!

 We've lived here together for 8 years and built a life. My partner is finishing school. All of his family is here. So it's something that will take time to resolve. But it's definitely something that we both have a desire at some point to do, and will now spend the time figuring out how and when we can do it.
What is also clear is that, at least until Barack Obama leaves office, is that he, and his partner, would be mercilessly targeted by the authorities if they would set foot back in the United States because of their roles in exposing the NSA spying on US citizens.






So now, because he has effectively been declared an enemy of the state, he cannot safely exercise he new rights his partner got today.

Welcome to the United States of Kafka.

I Hope That This is Sincere

It might also just be a realization that it's political poison to piss off minorities even more.

But in either case, the fact that Eric Cantor is calling for speedy legislation to fix the Supreme Court's ruling against the Voting Rights Act is a positive development:
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) reacted late Tuesday afternoon to the Supreme Court's landmark ruling that overturned a centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act.

"My experience with John Lewis in Selma earlier this year was a profound experience that demonstrated the fortitude it took to advance civil rights and ensure equal protection for all," Cantor said in a statement provided to TPM. "I'm hopeful Congress will put politics aside, as we did on that trip, and find a responsible path forward that ensures that the sacred obligation of voting in this country remains protected."
It should be noted that the proverbial devil is in the details here. 

If the teabagger caucus is allowed to get its teeth into this, whatever come out of the house will be deeply ugly.

Fabulous!

The Supreme Court ruled much of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, and also ruled that the bigoted ratf%$#s challenging a lower court had no standing to sue in support of the anti-gay Proposition 8 after the state of California threw in the towel.

Both of these rulings are less broad than I would like, there was no ruling on the constitutional right to gay marriage per se, just that the Federal government could not choose which marriages to determine which marriages are real, that this was up to the states, and the ruling on the H8 amendment (Proposition 8) was limited to the issue of standing.

I expect to see a Loving v. Virginia type ruling in the next decade, either legalizing gay marriage, or requiring all states to recognize gay marriages from other states.

25 June 2013

Congratulations Senator Markey

Looks to be a 10 point margin over the Republican for Ed Markey over Gabriel Gomez .

Barack Milhaus* Obama

Yes, Barack Obama has stepped it up a notch in his war against transparency in government by requiring federal employees to snitch on each other, and declaring both leaking and investigative journalism as tantamount to treason:
Even before a former U.S. intelligence contractor exposed the secret collection of Americans’ phone records, the Obama administration was pressing a government-wide crackdown on security threats that requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their suspicions.

President Barack Obama’s unprecedented initiative, known as the Insider Threat Program, is sweeping in its reach. It has received scant public attention even though it extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal departments and agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Education and Agriculture departments. It emphasizes leaks of classified material, but catchall definitions of “insider threat” give agencies latitude to pursue and penalize a range of other conduct.

Government documents reviewed by McClatchy illustrate how some agencies are using that latitude to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material. They also show how millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for “high-risk persons or behaviors” among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with espionage.

“Hammer this fact home . . . leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States,” says a June 1, 2012, Defense Department strategy for the program that was obtained by McClatchy.

The Obama administration is expected to hasten the program’s implementation as the government grapples with the fallout from the leaks of top secret documents by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who revealed the agency’s secret telephone data collection program. The case is only the latest in a series of what the government condemns as betrayals by “trusted insiders” who have harmed national security.
(emphasis mine)

This really is chilling and truly evil.

Mr. Obama is truly the worst constitutional law professor ever.

Who Knew that Sarah Palin was the Smart Republican in 2008?


Facepalm!
Because, in support of spending billions on border security, John McCain just compared the border fence to the Berlin Wall:
"I think that, first of all, the legislation concerning beefed up border security removes any validity to the argument that border security is not sufficient," McCain said during an appearance on CNN. "I mean, this is not only sufficient, it is well over sufficient. We'll be the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall so that's why I think this amendment was very important."
Seriously, you are comparing border security measures to the Berlin f%$#ing Wall, and you are supporting this measure, you are too stupid, or too senile, to cut your own meat.

Props to Gary Gensler………

He's been canned by the Obama administration for being too hard on the banksters, but on the way out, is implementing the meaningful derivatives reforms for which he was fired:
US regulators are likely to close a crucial loophole in Dodd-Frank rules in the next few weeks, in a move that will cost US banks many millions of dollars of revenues in the US$640trn derivatives market.

Several sources familiar with the internal discussions at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission say that the current exemption – which allows US banks executing derivative trades outside the country to bypass tougher capital holding and reporting requirements – will be allowed to expire on July 12.

CFTC chairman Gary Gensler, the only person with the authority to call a vote on extending the exemption, is said to oppose any extension and a spokesman confirmed that no vote had been scheduled.

“He’s determined not to extend,” said a lawyer familiar with discussions between lobbyists and the chairman. “And if it’s true that Gensler is leaving, maybe he wants this to be his final act before leaving.”
This is clearly a very large f%$# you to Barack Obama, Jack Lew, and (particularly) Timothy Geithner, and it is a well deserved f%$# you.

Obama and his and His Evil Minions have been determined to subvert meaningful banking regulations, and it's nice that someone is standing up to him.

It will cost the banks some money, but I do not care:
If the exemption expires, all swaps deals involving US banks would be subject to the Dodd-Frank rules. Banks would have to set aside significantly more capital against each trade, which would eat into profits and potentially even drive clients to other banks.

Such deals would also become subject to much more onerous reporting requirements and would have to be cleared through an exchange – which could also reduce profitability and push away custom.

Figures from the US Treasury show that US financial institutions reported derivatives trading revenues of US$4.4bn in the fourth quarter of 2012, a 73% increase on the previous year.
There is an old saying about people who are inconvenient, "It's better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in."

I thank Gary Gensler for pissing in.  On the matter of financial regulation, it is a very well deserved smack down.

H/T Naked Capitalism.

By a 5-4 Vote, the Supreme Court Says, "Silly N*gg*rs, Votes Are For Whites!"

The Supreme Court just castrated the Voting Rights Act:
Handing Congress an assignment with profound political risks, a divided Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a key part of the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act and left it to Congress to try to salvage the law as the effective ban on racial bias at the polls that it has been for nearly five decades. It appears that the future of the Act’s core depends on members of Congress being willing to impose heavy new legal burdens on their own states.

Before the Court in Shelby County v. Holder (docket 12-96) were constitutional challenges to two of the main sections of the 1965 law; the Court nullified one and left the other formally intact but perhaps in deep peril, too. The dissenters complained that, without the invalidated part, the other will be “immobilized.”

If the full potential impact of the ruling does occur, what would mainly be left to authorize challenges to racial discrimination in voting would be other parts of the law not under review Tuesday, but those parts require a potentially time-consuming process of one lawsuit at a time, persuading a court to give a remedy that applies to one state or local government per case.
See also here.

BTW, less than 2 hours later, the Texas AG unleashed their minority voter suppression plan:
Just two hours after the Supreme Court reasoned that discrimination is not rampant enough in Southern states to warrant restrictions under the Voting Rights Act, Texas is already advancing a voter ID law and a redistricting map blocked last year for discriminating against black and Latino residents. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued a statement declaring that both measures may go into effect immediately, now that there is no law stopping them from discriminating against minorities.

………

In the case of the new electoral map, a panel of federal judges found that “substantial surgery” was done to predominantly black districts, cutting off representatives’ offices from their strongest fundraising bases. Meanwhile, white Congress members’ districts were either preserved or “redrawn to include particular country clubs and, in one case, the school belonging to the incumbent’s grandchildren.” The new map was also drawn in secret by white Republican representatives, without notifying their black and Latino peers. After the court blocked the map, the legislature approved small changes to appease Democratic lawmakers last week. Now that they are free to use the old maps, however, Gov. Rick Perry (R) could simply veto the new plan and use the more discriminatory maps.

The strict photo ID requirement blocked by the DOJ and a federal court would require Texans to show one of a very narrow list of acceptable photo IDs. Expired gun licenses from other states are considered valid, but Social Security cards and student IDs are not. If voters do not have an ID — as many minorities, seniors, and poor people do not — they must travel at their own expense, produce their birth certificate, and in many cases pay a fee to get an ID.

Thanks to the Supreme Court, the DOJ no longer has any power to block these laws, even with the backing of federal judges who found blatant discrimination. Under the remaining sections of the Voting Rights Act, individuals may sue to kill these measures, but only after they have gone into effect and disenfranchised countless Texans of color.
BTW, if you think that this sucks, I think that David Kaiser is right when he predicts a return to a property requirement for voting rights:
………

It occurred to me this morning that the solution to Republican electoral problems is, when you think about it, obvious, and a friend of mine from a red state pointed out that a Tea Party leader has already mused about it, back in the heady days of 2010. The solution, which has a rich tradition in western and US history, is a property qualification for voting. And what is rather shocking is that there does not seem to be anything in the Constitution to prevent it.
We are going to be seeing the teabaggers lobbying for this, the only question is which is the first state where this actually is formally submitted by a state legislator.  (My money is on it being Texasissippi)

Bush Obama Nominee for Commerce Secretary Approved

Sorry about the headline, but Penny Pritzker who was just approved by the Senate as Secretary of Commerce, with only Bernie Sanders voting no:
Senators pick their battles, and by Tuesday, members in both parties had decided not to have one with President Obama over his nomination of Penny Pritzker, the billionaire hotel heiress, to be commerce secretary. In a 97-to-1 vote, they confirmed her to join the cabinet.

The lone dissenter was Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the socialist independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats.

When Mr. Obama announced in May his choice of Ms. Pritzker, 54, to join his second-term economic team as head of the eclectic Commerce Department — its responsibilities vary widely and include federal business programs and weather forecasting — rumblings from the right and left suggested trouble.
Yes, virulently anti union, a bought/looted a bank, dove into subprime mortgages, and left the taxpayers holding the bag, and keeps her fortune in overseas tax havens. (Background here.)

But the is a friend of Obama, and was his his first big buck donor, so she gets to be commerce secretary.

I guess that it's the new motto of the Obama administration cabinet, "Not quite as lame as Alberto Gonzalez."

24 June 2013

The Supreme Court Makes the Same Ruling It Always Does on Affirmative Action

It allows for continuing affirmative action, but they have ruled against the specific remedy.

That is the nickel tour of
Fisher v. UT Austin:
Today a broad majority of the Court reinforced that affirmative action must be strictly reviewed, but it did not outlaw those programs. In an opinion that required only thirteen pages, the Court explained that a university’s use of race must meet a test known as “strict scrutiny.” Under this test, a university’s use of affirmative action will be constitutional only if it is “narrowly tailored.” The Court in Fisher took pains to make clear exactly what this means: courts can no longer simply rubber-stamp a university’s determination that it needs to use affirmative action to have a diverse student body. Instead, courts themselves will need to confirm that the use of race is “necessary” – that is, that there is no other realistic alternative that does not use race that would also create a diverse student body. Because the lower court had not done so, the Court sent the case back for it to determine whether the university could make this showing.
They have been making this same decision since Bakke.

I expect this to continue, until affirmative action is effectively a dead issue.

They Pretend to Pay Us, and We Pretend to Work

It's an old joke from the Soviet Union, and in a very real way, it explains much of what brought down the USSR.

Well, the good folks at The New York Times have found a study showing that, after decades of MBA driven management by intimidation, a majority of American workers actually loathe their employers:
I thought of this black mark on my résumé while reading an exhaustive and depressing new study of the American workplace done by the Gallup organization. Among the 100 million people in this country who hold full-time jobs, about 70 percent of them either hate going to work or have mentally checked out to the point of costing their companies money — “roaming the halls spreading discontent,” as Gallup reported. Only 30 percent of workers are “engaged and inspired” at work.

At first glance, this sad survey is further proof of two truisms. One, the timeless line from Thoreau that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” The other, less known, came from Homer Simpson by way of fatherly advice, after being asked about a labor dispute by his daughter Lisa. “If you don’t like your job,” he said, “you don’t strike, you just go in there every day and do it really half-assed. That’s the American way.”
Or, as Gin and Tacos notes, "When a job devalues employee, literally and figuratively, their response is often to work just hard enough to avoid getting fired."

In the G&T case, he's talking about (underpaid and never getting a raise) teachers at a Catholic school basically checking out for the month of May (multiple showings of Toy Story), but it applies throughout our economy.

In a very real way, we are eating our seed corn, and I fear that it will not become apparent until it is too late.

What happens when we run out or rubes who think that good work and honesty will get you ahead?

H/T Balloon Juice.

23 June 2013

Charlie Completely Freaks Out (In a Good Way)

I was in the bedroom, and Charlie started screaming like an Banshee.

It went on and on and on.

Finally, he made it to the bedroom, and told me that he had successfully done his first blindfolded Rubik's cube solve.

While blind cube solving would not be my choice of where to apply efforts, it's certainly better than something like, "evil overlord bent on world domination."

Snowden Has Flown to Russia, Is Expected to Ask for Asylum in Ecuador

I am not surprised.  Hong Kong is not a safe haven in the long term, and if he returns to the United States, he will be tortured through extended solitary confinement in an attempt to break him, as was done with Wen Ho Lee.

So he is in Moscow negotiating asylum with Ecuador:
Fugitive former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden is due to fly out of Russia in the next few hours in a bid to seek asylum in Ecuador.

Reports suggest he will be on an early afternoon flight out of Moscow, heading first to the Cuban capital Havana.

Washington says it is urging countries in the "Western Hemisphere" not to let Mr Snowden enter their territory.

The US has charged him with espionage over leaked secret documents revealing US internet and phone surveillance.

In a series of rapidly moving developments on Sunday, Mr Snowden flew to Moscow from Hong Kong where he had been holed up since fleeing the US.

Once at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport it is thought he was met by Ecuador's ambassador to Moscow whose car was seen arriving by reporters.

On Sunday night it was unclear exactly where Mr Snowden was, but he was believed to be still at the airport.

BBC Moscow correspondent Daniel Sandford says it is being reported that he will fly first to Cuba and then to Venezuela before heading to Ecuador. The first plane scheduled to fly to Havana was due to leave Sheremetyevo at 14:05 Moscow time (10:05 GMT).

He will be trying to avoid any country that might arrest him on behalf of the US, our correspondent adds.
At this point, I expect that Obama is looking into ways of having Snowden whacked, and Glenn Greenwald might be on his latest kill list as well.

22 June 2013

Like Rendering for Torture, Only With Data

In another scoop, the Guardian has revealed that GCHQ, the British Equivalent of the NSA, engaged in the same sort of massive data drift net as the NSA:
Britain's spy agency GCHQ has secretly gained access to the network of cables which carry the world's phone calls and internet traffic and has started to process vast streams of sensitive personal information which it is sharing with its American partner, the National Security Agency (NSA).

The sheer scale of the agency's ambition is reflected in the titles of its two principal components: Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation, aimed at scooping up as much online and telephone traffic as possible. This is all being carried out without any form of public acknowledgement or debate.

One key innovation has been GCHQ's ability to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fibre-optic cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted and analysed. That operation, codenamed Tempora, has been running for some 18 months.

………

By May last year 300 analysts from GCHQ, and 250 from the NSA, had been assigned to sift through the flood of data.

The Americans were given guidelines for its use, but were told in legal briefings by GCHQ lawyers: "We have a light oversight regime compared with the US".

When it came to judging the necessity and proportionality of what they were allowed to look for, would-be American users were told it was "your call".

The Guardian understands that a total of 850,000 NSA employees and US private contractors with top secret clearance had access to GCHQ databases.
(Emphasis mine)

What we are seeing here is the moral equivalent of the rendition for torture that the CIA engaged in with despotic governments.

In this case, the NSA is not allowed to spy on Americans, so they have the British do it for them and then they review the data under the British "Light oversight regime."

Note that this in addition to the exceptions and shadings on the NSA's own surveillance discussed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Taken together, it's a blue print for a lawless surveillance state.

(updated title)

Once Again, Obama Invokes the 96 Year Old Espionage Act Yet Again

Yes, this time Worst Constitutional Law Professor Ever is using the act, originally drafted to prohibit expressing anti-war sentiments, to pursue a leaker, in this case, go after Edward Snowden:
Federal prosecutors have filed a criminal complaint against Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked a trove of documents about top-secret surveillance programs, and the United States has asked Hong Kong to detain him on a provisional arrest warrant, according to U.S. officials.

Snowden was charged with theft, “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person,” according to the complaint. The last two charges were brought under the 1917 Espionage Act.
Rolling Glenn Greenwald:
Prior to Barack Obama's inauguration, there were a grand total of three prosecutions of leakers under the Espionage Act (including the prosecution of Dan Ellsberg by the Nixon DOJ). That's because the statute is so broad that even the US government has largely refrained from using it. But during the Obama presidency, there are now seven such prosecutions: more than double the number under all prior US presidents combined. How can anyone justify that?

For a politician who tried to convince Americans to elect him based on repeated pledges of unprecedented transparency and specific vows to protect "noble" and "patriotic" whistleblowers, is this unparalleled assault on those who enable investigative journalism remotely defensible? Recall that the New Yorker's Jane Mayer said recently that this oppressive climate created by the Obama presidency has brought investigative journalism to a "standstill", while James Goodale, the General Counsel for the New York Times during its battles with the Nixon administration, wrote last month in that paper that "President Obama will surely pass President Richard Nixon as the worst president ever on issues of national security and press freedom." Read what Mayer and Goodale wrote and ask yourself: is the Obama administration's threat to the news-gathering process not a serious crisis at this point?

………

They haven't learned anything from these disclosures that they didn't already well know. The people who have learned things they didn't already know are American citizens who have no connection to terrorism or foreign intelligence, as well as hundreds of millions of citizens around the world about whom the same is true. What they have learned is that the vast bulk of this surveillance apparatus is directed not at the Chinese or Russian governments or the Terrorists, but at them.

And that is precisely why the US government is so furious and will bring its full weight to bear against these disclosures. What has been "harmed" is not the national security of the US but the ability of its political leaders to work against their own citizens and citizens around the world in the dark, with zero transparency or real accountability. If anything is a crime, it's that secret, unaccountable and deceitful behavior: not the shining of light on it.
(Emphasis Original)

He is correct.  The only potential "injury to the United States" (from the text of this law) is to subject the actions of the NSA, and the rest of the US state security apparatus to public discussions.

The terrorists already knew this, as it is clear from the approved leaks from the Obama administration made this clear to anyone with 2 working brain cells.

I wish that we had a less paranoid president with a greater devotion to openness and transparency.

Of course, Richard Nixon qualifies as less paranoid President with a greater devotion to openness and transparency, which just goes to show how far we have fallen as a society.

21 June 2013

20 June 2013

Worst ……… Speaker ……… Ever

It appears that John Boehner is too drunk to do the most basic job of Speaker of the House, which is count the f%$#ing votes:
The surprise defeat of the farm bill in the House on Thursday underscored the ideological divide between the more conservative, antispending Republican lawmakers and their leadership, who failed to garner sufficient votes from their caucus as well as from Democrats.

The vote against the bill, 234 to 195, comes a year after House leaders pulled the measure off the calendar because conservative lawmakers demanded deeper cuts in the food stamp program and Democrats objected. This year’s measure called for more significant cuts than the Senate bill, but it still did not go far enough to get a majority in the House to support an overhaul of the nation’s food and farm programs. Sixty-two Republicans, or more than a quarter of the caucus, voted with Democrats to defeat the bill.

The failure was a stinging defeat for Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, who continues to have trouble marshaling the Republican support he needs to pass major legislation. Without the solid backing of his party, Mr. Boehner has to rely on some Democratic support, which deserted him Thursday.

Mr. Boehner was unable to secure the votes of a number of recently elected and strongly conservative lawmakers who were averse to cutting deals on legislation like the farm bill. Traditionally, the farm bill has passed easily with support from urban lawmakers concerned with nutrition spending and rural members focused on farm programs. But conservatives said they were more driven by a desire to shrink the size of government through spending cuts, not expand it though crop insurance subsides to rich farmers.
The conventional wisdom was that 40 Dem votes would allow it to pass (there were only 24), but they would needed have to get 44 Dem votes for it to pass.

Boehner caved to the Teabaggers add gutted food stamps, and then hew did not get the Teabagger votes, and THEN he failed to count the votes.

Even if you like his politics, it is clear that John Boehner is completely incompetent.

I agree with Nancy Pelosi's characterization of this cluster f%$# as, "Major Amateur Hour."

Obama Is Lying About the Prevented Terror Attacks, and Other NSA Scandal Stuff

A review of the claims shows that either ordinary law enforcement actions uncovered the planned attacks, or that there never was a planned attack, there never was an attack:
This suspect, in turn, was in contact with an individual in the United States named Khalid Ouazzani. Thus warned, the FBI investigated Mr. Ouazzani through traditional law enforcement methods, and discovered a burgeoning plot to bomb the NYSE.

“Ouazzani had been providing information and support to this plot,” FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce told lawmakers.
However, Mr. Ouazzani pleaded guilty to providing material support – in his case, money – to Al Qaeda, not to terror planning. His May 2010 plea agreement makes no mention of anything related to the New York Stock Exchange, or any bomb plot, notes David Kravets in Wired magazine.

Plus, Ouazzani’s defense attorney said Tuesday the stock market allegation was news to him.

“Khalid Ouazzani was not involved in any plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange,” attorney Robin Fowler told Wired.

As to the New York subway plot, it was discovered not by analysis of vast amounts of Internet data of foreign users, but rather by old-fashioned police work, according to The Guardian, the British newspaper that first published a secret NSA document showing the agency collected phone metadata from Verizon Business Services.
A British intelligence investigation into a suspected terrorist cell in England’s northwest first turned up a crucial e-mail address of a Pakistani extremist, write The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington and Nicholas Watt. They passed this address to the US.

Surveillance of this one address led the US to Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan-American living in Colorado who had asked the Pakistani extremist for explosives recipes. FBI agents followed Mr. Zazi as he traveled to New York. Search warrants turned up bomb components, and in 2010 Zazi confessed to a plot to bomb the city’s subway system with backpacks.

The NSA’s sweeping data interception capability “played a relatively minor role” in breaking this case, write Mr. Pilkington and Mr. Watt.
And the Guardian now hsa published the secret standards used by the NSA, and it appears we have another lie, because the standards do allow for emails to be read and phone calls to be listened to:(see here and here for the docs)
The Guardian is publishing in full two documents submitted to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (known as the Fisa court), signed by Attorney General Eric Holder and stamped 29 July 2009. They detail the procedures the NSA is required to follow to target "non-US persons" under its foreign intelligence powers and what the agency does to minimize data collected on US citizens and residents in the course of that surveillance.

The documents show that even under authorities governing the collection of foreign intelligence from foreign targets, US communications can still be collected, retained and used.

………
The top secret documents published today detail the circumstances in which data collected on US persons under the foreign intelligence authority must be destroyed, extensive steps analysts must take to try to check targets are outside the US, and reveals how US call records are used to help remove US citizens and residents from data collection.

However, alongside those provisions, the Fisa court-approved policies allow the NSA to:
  • Keep data that could potentially contain details of US persons for up to five years;
  • Retain and make use of "inadvertently acquired" domestic communications if they contain usable intelligence, information on criminal activity, threat of harm to people or property, are encrypted, or are believed to contain any information relevant to cybersecurity;
  • Preserve "foreign intelligence information" contained within attorney-client communications;
  • Access the content of communications gathered from "U.S. based machine[s]" or phone numbers in order to establish if targets are located in the US, for the purposes of ceasing further surveillance.
………

The documents also show that discretion as to who is actually targeted under the NSA's foreign surveillance powers lies directly with its own analysts, without recourse to courts or superiors – though a percentage of targeting decisions are reviewed by internal audit teams on a regular basis.

………

Those procedures state that the "NSA determines whether a person is a non-United States person reasonably believed to be outside the United States in light of the totality of the circumstances based on the information available with respect to that person, including information concerning the communications facility or facilities used by that person".

It includes information that the NSA analyst uses to make this determination - including IP addresses, statements made by the potential target, and other information in the NSA databases, which can include public information and data collected by other agencies.

Where the NSA has no specific information on a person's location, analysts are free to presume they are overseas, the document continues.

"In the absence of specific information regarding whether a target is a United States person," it states "a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States or whose location is not known will be presumed to be a non-United States person unless such person can be positively identified as a United States person."

If it later appears that a target is in fact located in the US, analysts are permitted to look at the content of messages, or listen to phone calls, to establish if this is indeed the case.

Referring to steps taken to prevent intentional collection of telephone content of those inside the US, the document states: "NSA analysts may analyze content for indications that a foreign target has entered or intends to enter the United States. Such content analysis will be conducted according to analytic and intelligence requirements and priorities."
(emphasis mine)

Translated from the bureaucratese, this is unlimited ability to record phone calls and emails, until it is proven that they are not in the United States, and even then, the data is retained.

All that the analyst has to do is to claim that you are "not sure" if the target is a "US Person", and it's no harm no foul for intercepting the contents of their communications.

As Glenn Greenwald notes, this is yet more evidence that FISA court oversight is a complete joke.

H/t to Washington's blog for the links on the NSA false claims.

Pissed Off Cats













No expressions of murderous intent ……… Yet
As a part on our wars against our cats flea infestation, we gave our cats a bath.

They were clearly unamused, but remarkably cooperative.

I needed neither band-aids nor styptic pencils.

19 June 2013

Turkish Authorities Use Fake Protestors to Justify Crackdown

I'm not particularly surprised by this.

Between his bankster friendly policies and his social and religious conservatism, it was inevitable that he would resort to infiltration and false flag operations:
And so it proved, with police encircling the square at 6am on Tuesday, firing rubber bullets and teargas, and ripping down banners calling for Erdoğan's resignation. By happy coincidence, Turkey's state media, which for days had blithely ignored the country's huge anti-government demonstrations, were on hand to record the event.

Turkish TV viewers witnessed this: a small group of four or five "demonstrators" throwing molotov cocktails at police. At one point they advanced on police lines in a comic Roman-style phalanx while holding the flag of a fringe Marxist party. The "protesters" were in fact middle-aged undercover police officers, staging a not very plausible "attack" on their own for the benefit of the cameras.

But the violence meted out against the genuine protesters camped out under the plane trees of nearby Gezi Park was real enough. Dozens were left choking or injured as teargas billowed across central Istanbul. Meanwhile, some 50 lawyers acting for detained activists were themselves dragged away by police and roughed up at Istanbul's Çağlayan court.
(Emphasis mine)

The Austin Texas police did much the same thing with an Occupy Houston protest.

Of course, it's not going to be a problem with the US, because Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is Wall Street's man, so he's going to be supported by our foreign policy establishment.

H/t Jonathan Turley.

6 Democrats to Punish

They voted for the Republican bill outlawing abortion after 20 weeks:
Six Democrats and six Republicans broke with their respective parties late Tuesday on House GOP legislation to ban nearly all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, written by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), creates narrow exemptions to protect the life of the mother, and in cases of rape and incest as long as the crimes have been reported. It passed 228-196 but won’t become law because Democrats control the Senate and White House.

The six Democrats who voted for the act were Reps. Nick Rahall (WV), Collin Peterson (MN), Jim Matheson (UT), Mike McIntyre (NC), Dan Lipinski (IL) and Henry Cuellar (TX).
I would particularly note that Lipinski's vote is particularly egregious, because he is in a solidly Democratic district.

6 Republicans also voted against the bill, but some of them did because they thought that the exceptions for rape and incest meant that the bill did not go far enough, and in any case, I'm not going to endorse a 'Phant.

MicroFlaccid Folds Like a Bunch of Overcooked Broccoli


Still not a gamer, but I love this animated GIF
They have reversed themselves on their restrictive XBox One content policies:
YET ANOTHER UPDATE (5:24 Eastern): Microsoft has confirmed to Kotaku that the "family sharing" and digital cloud library access features that were planned to be in the Xbox One are indeed gone thanks to today's policy reversal. Xbox one users will also apparently have to download a "Day One" patch to enable the offline mode.

FURTHER UPDATE:

"You can play, share, lend, and resell your games exactly as you do today on Xbox 360." That is now the official word from Microsoft.

Microsoft says it "imagined a new set of benefits such as easier roaming, family sharing, and new ways to try and buy games," but that it also realized that "the ability to lend, share, and resell these games at your discretion is of incredible importance to you."

No Internet connection will be required to play offline Xbox One games; the Internet will only be required for a one-time initial system setup. There will be no limitations on sharing or selling game discs. Downloaded games will be playable offline, and there will be no regional restrictions on those games.

On the downside, there will be no digital "family" sharing as was previously announced, and disc-based games will require the disc to be in the tray to be played.
Not surprising that they are killing "Family Sharing". It was only in there as an excuse to kill the resale market.

I am a bit surprised that Microsoft came to its senses before it experiences months of disappointing sales.

The Fed Speaks

They won't be stopping the stimulus, but the short version is that they will continue to keep their foot on accelerator, but maybe not quite so much:
The Federal Reserve, increasingly confident in the durability of economic growth, expects to start pulling back later this year from its efforts to stimulate the economy, the Fed chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, said on Wednesday.

Mr. Bernanke, offering new details, said the central bank intends to scale down gradually its monthly purchases of Treasury securities and mortgage-backed bonds beginning later this year and ending when the unemployment rate hits 7 percent, which the Fed expects to happen by the middle of next year.

The central bank would then take several more years to unwind the rest of its extraordinary stimulus campaign, slowly raising short-term interest rates from essentially zero to more normal levels after the jobless rate has fallen to 6.5 percent or lower.

He emphasized, however, that the timing of the retreat depends on the health of the economy; if growth falters, the central bank would slow, or even reverse, the process. The expectations of Fed officials for the next several years, published Wednesday, are more optimistic than the consensus of private forecasters.

Pulling back “would basically say that we’ve had a relatively decent economic outcome in terms of sustained improvement in growth and unemployment,” Mr. Bernanke said. “If things are worse, we will do more. If things are better, we will do less.”
I would prefer that they target a higher inflation rate until unemployment falls before 6%, but who listens to me.

18 June 2013

My Opinion of Ed Snowden Just Rose

In his online chat for the Guardian, he said that, "Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American."
Asked during a live chat on The Guardian's website to respond to U.S. officials who have called him a traitor, Edward Snowden, the self-proclaimed source of recently leaked top secret National Security Agency documents, said he considers it an honor to be called a traitor by the likes of former Vice President Dick Cheney.

"[I]t's important to bear in mind I'm being called a traitor by men like former Vice President Dick Cheney," Snowden wrote. "This is a man who gave us the warrantless wiretapping scheme as a kind of atrocity warm-up on the way to deceitfully engineering a conflict that has killed over 4,400 and maimed nearly 32,000 Americans, as well as leaving over 100,000 Iraqis dead. Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him, Feinstein, and King, the better off we all are. If they had taught a class on how to be the kind of citizen Dick Cheney worries about, I would have finished high school."
I've already called him a hero.

He also appears to be a bit of a wit in what must be an anxiety laden situation.

"Grace under pressure," is how Hemingway described courage.

The NSA is Channeling Joe McCarthy


There are 205 … 57 … 52 … 81 … Communists …ψ
So, the NSA is claiming that their anti-privacy drift net, "helped foil more than 50 attacks."

A few days ago, they were claiming around 20.

And, of course, "Helped foil" isn't defined, because … Secret.
Recently disclosed National Security Agency surveillance programs have helped disrupt more than 50 “potential terrorist events” around the world over the last 12 years, according to U.S. intelligence officials, who described the spying operations as tightly regulated and extremely useful.

The officials, testifying Tuesday before the House Intelligence Committee, identified two new cases — an alleged plot to blow up the New York Stock Exchange, and a U.S. resident who helped finance a terrorist group in Somalia — that they said proved the value of collecting domestic telephone calling records and monitoring foreign Internet traffic.

Most of the plots were foiled by surveillance of foreigners overseas, the kind of spying the NSA has done since it was created in 1952 to monitor communications and other so-called signals intelligence.

The surveillance programs “are critical to ... our nation and our allies' security,” said Gen. Keith Alexander, who heads the NSA and the Pentagon’s U.S. Cyber Command. “They assist the intelligence community efforts to connect the dots.”
It's possible that General Alexander was telling the truth, but considering the fact that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper deliberately perjured himself before Congress without any consequence, I would be inclined to believe that best, this is an example of "truthiness", and they chose a number and cherry picked cases to hit that number.

It's possible that the General is telling the truth, and not engaging in spin.

It's also possible that I greeted my Sharon* in in bed this evening, wearing nothing but a towel with a chrysanthemum between my teeth.

The US state security apparatus has used secrecy and deception to justify their program secrecy and deception. Absent a massive and complete declassification of data, Alexander, or Clapper, or Brennan, or for that matter, Barack Obama, are simply not credible sources.

Secrecy and hoovering up everything are an end in and of itself for the NSA and its ilk, and it is up to the political leaders to reign them in.

*Love of my life, light of the cosmos, she who must be obeyed, my wife.
Actually, not possible. She is violently allergic to the insecticide pyrethrin, which is a naturally occurring substance extracted from chrysanthemums. I have no comment on whether I did so with a rose between my teeth.
Let me state for the record that a moment of stunned silence, followed by a nervous chuckle, might be the world's most effective form of birth control.
ψJoe McCarthy made claims that there were numerous Communists employed by the State Department. His numbers kept changing.

17 June 2013

On the Other Hand, This Decision is a Good One

The Supreme Court upheld the right of the FTC to sue to prevent brand name drug manufacturers to bribe generic drug manufactures to keep them out of the market:
This case is an antitrust challenge to an increasingly common practice in the pharmaceutical industry. Brand-name companies faced with generic competition pay the would-be competitor an amount of money to stay out of the market. The payment comes in the form of settling a dispute over the validity or infringement of the brand-name company’s patent. Because generic entry reduces drug prices, these “pay for delay” or “reverse payment” agreements are alleged to reduce competition and increase drug costs. The Federal Trade Commission sued drug companies over one such deal. The court of appeals rejected that claim, explaining that the brand name’s patent includes the right to exclude competitors.

Today, by a vote of five to three, the Supreme Court reversed and held that the claim can go forward. Justice Breyer wrote the Court’s opinion, joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Chief Justice Roberts dissented, joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas. Justice Alito was recused from the case.
While they did not rule that the payments were presumptively illegal, it does make such payments far more unlikely, since the right of review has been affirmed.

A Horriffic 5-4 Supreme Court Decision

They just Eviscerated the 5th Amendment. They say that you cannot be forced to testify, but if you don't, a prosecutor can use your silence against you:
Because merely keeping quiet when police ask damaging questions is not claiming a right to silence, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, prosecutors may use that silence against the suspect at the trial. If an individual is voluntarily talking to the police, he or she must claim the Fifth Amendment right of silence, or lose it; simply saying nothing won’t do, according to the ruling.

The Court had taken on the case of Salinas v. Texas to decide whether it violates the Fifth Amendment for prosecutors to use pre-arrest silence as evidence of guilt. But the Court did not reach that issue, since it said that one must say something that invokes the Amendment’s protection, or else it does not apply. Prosecutors’ use of the silence is then permitted, it ruled.

“A witness’s constitutional right to refuse to answer questions depends on his reasons for doing so, and courts need to know those reasons to evaluate the merits of a Fifth Amendment claim,” Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr., wrote. The Court rejected the argument that, because suspects do not know the law, their silence should be understood as a Fifth Amendment plea.
Basically, if you are rich enough to have a lawyer, you can invoke that, but if you are too poor for one, then invoking the 5th Amendment in any way other than a specific and precise legalistic manner, it will be used against you.

My Little Girl is Growing Up

My daughter, Natalie turned 16 today.

16 is the age of consent in Maryland.

Gaah!!!

Father's Day Movie Review: Iron Man 3

As I've noted before, I would pay to listen to Robert Downey, Jr. read the phone book, so we went to see Iron Man 3, in 3-D.

Robert Downey Jr. ... Tony Stark
Gwyneth Paltrow ... Pepper Potts
Don Cheadle ... Colonel James Rhodes
Guy Pearce ... Aldrich Killian
Rebecca Hall ... Maya Hansen
Jon Favreau ... Happy Hogan
Ben Kingsley ... The Mandarin
James Badge Dale ... Savin
Stephanie Szostak ... Brandt
Paul Bettany ... Jarvis (voice)
William Sadler ... President Ellis
Dale Dickey ... Mrs. Davis
Ty Simpkins ... Harley Keener
Miguel Ferrer ... Vice President Rodriguez
Xueqi Wang ... Doctor Wu

This movie will not be a surprise. It's a part of the franchise, and largely true to the conventions of that franchise.

The downside of the movie is the plot, which is overly complex, and it has problems with coherence and consistency.

This was the same problem with Iron Man 2, which I also enjoyed.

Downey is a joy to watch, but the best performance of the movie is by Sir Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin, which I cannot even begin to describe without spoiling the plot.

The dialogue is punchy, and frequently amusing, much like the two previous sequels, though the best single line comes from neither Downey nor Kingsley, but from an unnamed minion of The Mandarin, who behaves in a way in which minions would in reality.

What I can say is that the film was set around Christmas, which is rather odd for a Summer blockbuster, and a child has a rather prominent role, Ty Simpkins as Harley Keener, and he does not suck.

I also found that Gwynneth Paltrow was a lot less annoying that in the last movie.  She had less hand wringing, and did things, as opposed to being an object to be acted upon.

As to the 3-D, except for explosions and action sequences (admittedly half the movie) it was relatively understated.

I would give it a 7 out of 10.

16 June 2013

Saw Iron Man 3 Tonight

I'll have a review later, but the theater concession stand food gets a thumbs down.

Feeling very queasy.

15 June 2013

OK, I'm Impressed With this Vid of the PAK-FA

Here is a video of the Russian PAK-FA in flight test.

It appears to be in a flat spin that it recovers from fairly easily.



It looks like the "stinger" between the engines has been slightly modified, probably to accommodate an anti-spin chute.

I think that this video highlights a difference between Russian and US philosophies on stealthy airframes.

Specifically, the US focuses a lot more on the stealth aspects, while the Russians are more focused on outright aerodynamic performance.

An example of this is the cooling arrangements.

The US F-22 and F-35 are constructed much like thermos bottles, with the cooling being accomplished by dumping heat the fuel before it is burnt.

It makes for an airframe free of radar reflectors that might be created by cooling scoops, but it also means that about 10% of the fuel on an aircraft is unusable, because it needs to stay on the aircraft as a heat sink.

By the comparison, the PAK-FA prototypes (This may change with the final model) seem to have a fair numbers of inlets and exhausts.

I am not sure how this will all play out, though I think that the Russian aircraft will be easier for a low tech military to maintain, though that has been the case since WWII.

H/t The DEW Line

Here is No Surprise

In a lawsuit, Bank of America* has been accused of giving bonuses to staff for foreclosing on people:
Bank of America Corp. (BAC), the second-biggest U.S. lender, rewarded staff with cash bonuses and gift cards for meeting quotas tied to sending distressed homeowners into foreclosure, former employees said in court documents.

Mortgage workers falsified records and were told to delay U.S. loan-assistance applications by requesting paperwork that the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank had already received, according to statements from ex-employees filed last week in federal court in Boston. The lender improperly disqualified applicants to the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, according to a May 23 statement from Simone Gordon, a loss-mitigation specialist who left the company in 2012.

“We were regularly drilled that it was our job to maximize fees for the bank by fostering and extending delay of the HAMP modification process by any means we could,” Gordon said. Managers instructed staff to “delay modifications by telling homeowners who called in that their documents were ‘under review,’ when in fact, there had been no review,” she said.

Bank of America, which has spent more than $45 billion to settle claims tied to its 2008 takeover of Countrywide Financial Corp., is being sued by homeowners who didn’t receive permanent loan modifications after making payments under trial programs, according to court papers. Statements from seven former loan employees were included in a filing last week as part of plaintiffs’ attempt to gain class-action status. The lender has denied the allegations.
(Emphasis mine)

Seriously, why we haven't put banksters in jail, particularly, the former CEO of Countrywide, Angelo Mozilo, who created the mess that BoA is trying to sweep under the carpet?

Also, why did the Obama administration set up HAMP as a Petri dish for mortgage servicer abuses?

*Full disclosure, it is my bank.
Actually, we know why. Geithner wanted to let the banksters to cheat homeowners so as to protect the bank.
Laying it all at Geithner's feet is not completely fair, because as I often say, the Cossacks work for the Czar.

Limited Disclosure of FISA Warrants to Internet Firms Approved

Facebook and Microsoft have gotten permission to release total numbers of government requests for data, which both Facebook and Twitter have lambasted as inadequate.

It's clear to me that this permission is intended more to conceal than reveal:
Facebook and Microsoft announced Friday that the U.S. government is allowing them to disclose U.S. national security-related requests they received, but lumped together with other law enforcement requests. Google pushed back against those conditions.

“Since this story was first reported, we’ve been in discussions with U.S. national security authorities urging them to allow more transparency and flexibility around national security-related orders we are required to comply with,” Ted Ullyot, Facebook’s general counsel, wrote in a blog post.

“We’re pleased that as a result of our discussions, we can now include in a transparency report all U.S. national security-related requests (including FISA as well as National Security Letters) — which until now no company has been permitted to do.”

The social-networking company reported that for the six months ending December 31, it had received between 9,000 and 10,000 user data requests from U.S. local, state and federal governments, including national security-related requests, Ullyot said. Between 18,000 and 19,000 Facebook user accounts were affected by the requests, he said.
This is quite literally the least the state security apparatus could approve, something which Google notes:
We have always believed that it’s important to differentiate between different types of government requests,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “We already publish criminal requests separately from National Security Letters. Lumping the two categories together would be a step back for users. Our request to the government is clear: to be able to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, separately.
It's clear that this is an attempt to forestall transparency, and instead create the appearance of transparency, by the intelligence agencies and the Department of Justice.

It's good news, because it's clear that they, and the Obama administration, is in damage control mode, which would indicate that Google and Twitter will eventually be allowed greater disclosure.

At least, that is what I hope.

This Comes as No Surprise

Utilities are discovering that nuclear power plants are not economically viable:
The nuclear industry is wrestling with that question as it tries to determine whether problems at reactors, all designed in the 1960s and 1970s, are middle-aged aches and pains or end-of-life crises.

This year, utilities have announced the retirement of four reactors, bringing the number remaining in the United States to 100. Three had expensive mechanical problems but one, Kewaunee in Wisconsin, was running well, and its owner, Dominion, had secured permission to run it an additional 20 years. But it was losing money, because of the low wholesale price of electricity.

“That’s the one that’s probably most ominous,” said Peter A. Bradford, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a former head of the Public Service Commission in New York. “It’s as much a function of the cost of the alternatives as it is the reactor itself.”

While the other three, San Onofre 2 and 3 near San Diego and Crystal River 3 in Florida, faced expensive repair bills because of botched maintenance projects, “Kewaunee not only didn’t have a major screw-up in repair work, it didn’t even seem to be confronting a major capital investment,” he said.

This is a turnaround because until recently, the life expectancy of reactors was growing. When the Nuclear Regulatory Commission began routinely authorizing reactors to run 20 years beyond their initial 40-year licenses, people in the electricity business began thinking that 60 was the new 40. But after the last few weeks, 40 is looking old again, at least in reactor years, with implications for the power plants still running, and for several new ones being built.

………

Even if the economics do not result in retirements, they do mean setbacks. Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear operator, set out a few years ago to invest $2.3 billion in its existing reactors and raise their generating capacity by 1,300 megawatts, a little more than one new reactor would generate. But after completing about a quarter of the plan, it dropped the rest, and said it would pay its suppliers $100 million in penalties for the cancellation, because the economics were no longer favorable.
The economics of nuclear power were never favorable.

When you look at the subsidies involved in mining, fuel processing, shipping, and in the disposal of the waste, nuclear power is arguably the only industry in the United States more heavily subsidized than agriculture, and it's still not viable.

I Have Got to Read the Works Of Iain Banks

If this line from one of his last interviews is any indication of his mastery of the English language:
He learned of Thatcher's death – which would have kept his own news off the front pages had it been the same day, he mused – on his honeymoon after inviting his partner, Adele Hartley, "to do me the honour of becoming my widow".

"Then I realised I was celebrating the death of a human being, no matter how vile she was. And there was nothing symbolic about her death, because her baleful influence on British politics remains undiminished. Squeeze practically any Tory, any Blairite, and any Lib Dem of the Orange Book persuasion, and it's the same poisonous Thatcherite pus that comes oozing out of all of them."
(Emphasis mine)

I have to check out his work.

When the Spys Have Lost John le Carré………

He actually makes a point that has been missed in the whole NSA revelations controversy,

Carré gets to the heart of the matter when he notes that much of the problem is that our government is increasingly serving the state security apparatus when it should be the other way around:
In my recent novel A Delicate Truth, a retired and patently decent British foreign servant accuses his old employers of being party to a Whitehall coverup, and for his pains is promptly threatened with the secret courts. Yet amid all the comment that my novel briefly provoked, this particular episode attracted no attention.

What are secret courts? Why do we need them? To protect Britain's special relationship with the United States, we are officially told; to protect the credibility and integrity of our intelligence services. Never mind that for decades we have handled security-sensitive cases by clearing the court whenever necessary, and allowing our secret servants to withhold their names and testify from behind screens, real or virtual: now, all of a sudden, the credibility and integrity of our intelligence services are at stake, and need urgent and draconian protection.

Never mind the credibility and integrity of parliament and centuries of British justice: our spies come first. And remember, these aren't criminal courts. These are civil courts where anyone attempting to obtain redress for a real or perceived injustice perpetrated against him by British or American secret agencies must have his claims heard and dealt with in secret.
This is the core of the problem.

Our intelligence agencies are driving national policy on the basis of their own self interests, and the interests of the rest of society suffer as a result.