Thursday, July 24, 2014

What's The News Across The Nation(s), July 24, 2014


Did you know that the best targets for scams are persons who have been scammed in the past. It sure surprised me upon reading Susan Antilla's article in the New York Times today. She talks about 'Sucker Lists' in their various forms. Probably the most nefarious of these lists are compilations of previous 'suckers' who suffer from 'illnesses like Alzheimer's'.


Then there's this. Someone is leaking or is hacking the profiles of immigrant children being held in detention to con artist. The con artist uses this information to contact relatives living in the U.S. and posing as immigration specialists elicits fees to speed up processing for release of the children to the relative.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What The News Across The Nation(s), July 22, 2014


Stop me if you heard this story before.

Guy goes to a used car dealer to buy a car. He hasn't worked since 1991 and he has filed bankruptcy in the past. No problem says the salesman, "I can put you in that baby right over there for $$$$. Now sign right here."

Several months later, the guy's car is repoed by the bank partner of the used car dealer. The bank, you see, has an arrangement whereby they assume the loan (Interest on the loan is maybe 23/24%). These high risk loans have been bundled into tranches sold to investors like your pension fund or your mutual fund or insurance companies, heck maybe even the city you live in bought some. The problem is this is the same game played with sub-prime mortages and lead to the 2008 financial crises and the 'too big to fail' bail out.

New York Times reporters, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery note that big investors buy these tranches which contain some toxic sub-prime loans because of the high returns on their investment. The higher the risk, the higher the payoff. But not to worry as the movers and shakers assure us, "... that the risks are not great, saying that they have indeed heeded the lessons from the mortgage crisis. Losses on securities made up of auto loans, they add, have historically been lo
w, even during the crisis."

Finally, remember when people were losing their homes and sleeping in their car? Well, "In the case 
of Marcelina Mojica and her husband, Jonathan", they are keeping their car and sleeping in a homeless shelter.

Again, stop me if you have heard this story before.

Owning People

There is a company out in California called Fantex that sells stock in professional athletes. It's just getting off the ground and so far has sold stock in two professional football players. I don't know much about this, but it's kind of a bet on future earnings of the athlete. These future earnings include salary, memoirs, movies, etc.


So two things are going on that the general public is not aware of and if they were aware, would have a difficult time in connecting what happens on Wall Street with the price of their can of corn.

Currently there is a coerced trend among firms to force employees into mandatory arbitration.  A recent and well covered case concerns the extensive and long history of sexual harassment by Dov Charney, CEO of American Apparel. Arthur Bryant reports on the case on the ACS blog article American Apparel Hides Sexual Harassment and More through Mandatory Arbitration. Mr. Bryant quotes Stephen Davidoff Soloman of the New York Times, "Corporate America has been ably aided by the Supreme Court, which has repeatedly upheld the right of companies to enforce arbitration agreements…".  It appears that while the Supreme Court may be leaning towards mandatory arbitration decisions to trump a person's day in court I can't tell if it is a settled question by the Court. The article by Mr. Soloman goes into much more detail than does Mr. Bryant's article regarding the sexual harassment history of Dov Charney.

The other new thing is a push by Wall Street firms to inhibit or stop whistle blowers from blowing the whistle.  The Dodd-Frank Bill encourages whistle blowing with monetary rewards should whistle blowers information prove corporate wrongdoing . Countermeasures being initiated by Wall Street firms include mandatory confidentiality agreements. So far as I know none of these mandatory confidentiality agreements that pertain to whistleblowing are being honored by the SEC. And I know of no specific court cases. However, the proliferation of such confidentiality agreements seems to indicate some emiment legal action.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

That Public Education Thing


Frontline on PBS last night had an interesting program called Separate and Unequal. It concerns a disturbing trend in public education. This particular program focuses on the East Baton Rouge Parish public school district. Briefly parents whose children go the these public schools want to create a new city called St. George and also create their own school district. The program only last about 28 minutes so I won't recap it. Suffice to say an overwhelming majority of potential citizens of the City of St. George are white and described as affluent.


Here is another disturbing educational topic. It's from The New Yorker magazine written by Rachel Aviv, entitled Wrong Answer [I can't guarantee the link]. The reporting concerns the well covered cheating conspiracy of a superintendent, sub-superintendents, principals and teachers in Atlanta. The disturbing part of this article is Rachel Aviv's interpretation of the conspiracy as a kind of the 'devil made me do it". The devil in this case being the No Child Left Behind initiative. I don't know much about these various tests that hold superintendents, principals and teachers accountable for the progress of their students. Yet many of these school officials accepted bonuses and awards. They gave up on students and rationalized an easy way out. Rather than looking at methods to assist high risk students they cheated them.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

This And That, July 15, 2014


Rick Potts, Director of the Smithsonian's Human Origins Program and two of his colleagues postulate that human evolution was not linear. Remember this graphic:

In fact several genus Homo species roamed around at the same time and indeed their remains have been found in common locales. How our guy made it over the other guys was via adaption. That in itself is nothing new as adaption seems to be a ubiquitous feature of all living things. The thing is that adaption, according to Potts et al. was to climate change especially among the genus Homo. This begs the question what will our species look like in the far, far future? 


Quentin Fottrell for Market Watch's, Lunch Break reports that 80% of divorce cases have involved the use of social media and a one-third of these cases contain the word 'FACEBOOK'. Fottrell goes on to say, "As global positioning technology improves, so too are the apps that track our movements, and those of our loved ones."
There are 5 apps that you can use legally to spy on your spouse. If you want to know more about them find out yourself.


Three times Goldman Sacks has picked Brazil to win the World Cup and each time (2006, 2010 and 2014) they haven't. This time Goldman's model had an all-time high probably of 48.5%. 


To avoid tariffs, German car maker Damiler disassembles brand new assembled Mercedes and Freightliners, packs up the parts, and sends them on their way to the United States where they are re-assembled again and then shipped off to dealers for sale. Jack Ewing reports in the New York Times, that this practice is a remmant of a United States revenge move from the 1960's when the German and French governments created trade restrictions on the importation of American chickens.

Beam me up Scotty!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

This and That, July,12, 2014

Surviving Hopelessness Together, Surviving Fame Apart

Remember the 33 Chileans that were trapped in a mine for 69 days back in 2010? Well, Hector Tobar has written a very interesting account of their survival. It's not  necessary one of heroics as much as it is of human interactions under extreme stress. Also the surprising reactions to knowledge that their ordeal would soon be over along with their 15 minutes of fame accompanied by material and monetary rewards.

A Spy's Guide To The "Elements Of Style'

At first it seems somewhat comical, but it makes sense that the CIA should not be any different than other large bureaucracies. I remember when I was tasked to answer all congressional letters for the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York. A certain condescending style was required with as little information as possible. Quite tricky, but quite important. Woe to me if it elicited a negative response from a Congressman.

So, the CIA also has very strict guidelines. Some seem trivial, but I would imagine over the years these seemingly minor rules have evolved from experience. Here are some taken from Quartz writer Michael Silverberg:

  • Keep the language crisp and pungent; prefer the forthright to the pompous and ornate.
  • Do not stray from the subject; omit the extraneous, no matter how brilliant it may seem or even be.
  • Favor the active voice and shun streams of polysyllables and prepositional phrases.
  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short, and vary the structure of both.
  • Be frugal in the use of adjectives and adverbs; let nouns and verbs show their own power.
regime: has a disparaging connotation and should not be used when referring to democratically elected governments or, generally, to governments friendly to the United States.

tortuous (adj, twisting, devious, highly complex)
torturous (adj, causing torture, cruelly painful)
while: as a conjunction, usually has reference to time. While the President was out of the country, the Army staged a coup. It can, with discretion, also be used in the sense of although or butWhile he hated force, he recognized the need for order. Avoid using while in the sense of and.

number of: a phrase that is too imprecise in some contexts. A number of troops were killed. (If you do not know how many, say an unknown number.)

casualties: include persons injured, captured, or missing in action as well as those killed in battle. In formulating casualty statistics, be sure to write “killedor wounded,” not “killed and wounded.” (See injuries, casualties.)

nonconventional, unconventional: Nonconventional refers to high-tech weaponry short of nuclear explosives. Fuel-air bombs are effective nonconventional weapons. Unconventional means not bound by convention.Shirley Chisholm was an unconventional woman.

war crimes (n)
war-crimes (adj)

lay, lieLay means to put, place, or prepare. It always takes a direct object. Both the past tense and the past participle are laid. (The President ordered his aide to lay a wreath at the unknown soldier’s tomb. The aide laid the wreath two hours later. Yesterday a wreath was laid by the defense minister.)

affect, effectAffect as a verb means to influence, to produce an effect upon. (The blow on the head affected John’s vision.Effect, as a verb, means to bring about. (The assailant effected a change in John’s vision by striking him on the head.Effect, as a noun, means result. (The effect of the blow on John’s head was blurred vision.)

disinformation, misinformationDisinformation refers to the deliberate planting of false reports. Misinformation equates in meaning but does not carry the same devious connotation.

celebrity copycatting: can lead one up the garden path because those emulated are not always pure of speech. A venerable newscaster persists in mispronouncing February (without the first r sound) and has misled a whole generation. Another Pied Piper of TV is given to saying “one of those who is”—joining many others who are deceived by the one and forget that the plural whois the subject of the verb (see one). The classic copycat phrase, at this point in time, grew out of the Watergate hearings and now is so firmly entrenched that we may never again get people to say at this timeat present, or simply now (see presently).
Capitalize the W in October War or Six-Day War because either term as a whole is a distinguishing coined name, but 1973 Middle East war or 1967 Arab-Israeli war is distinguishing enough without the capital W. Avoid Yom Kippur war, which is slangy. Do not uppercase the w in Korean war, which was “undeclared”; the same logic applies to Vietnam war and Falklands war, and a similar convention (if not logic) to Iran-Iraq war.
die: is something we all do, even writers who relegate world leaders to a sort of Immortality Club with phrasing like the President has taken steps to ensure a peaceful transition if he should die. Reality can be recognized by inserting in office or before the end of his term, or even by saying simply when he dies.

Free World: is at best an imprecise designation. Use only in quoted matter.

Use parentheses to set off a word, phrase, clause, or sentence that is inserted by way of comment or explanation within or after a sentence but that is structurally independent of it. This style guide (unclassified) will be widely disseminated.

Smoking Is Dangerous, But Not As Dangerous As World War II

In 1939,  a German researcher published the first study that linked tobacco to cancer.
In 1943, two German scientist not only confirmed the previous study but established a direct connection between tobacco and lung cancer.
Further research linked passive or second hand smoke to non-smokers and tobacco. Hitler and his propaganda machine created an anti-smoking campaign. There were no penalties for smoking but it was not condoned by the Nazi Party.
As Tracy Brown Hamilton points out in the Atlantic article, "The Nazis' Forgotten Anti-Smoking Campaign" these efforts were made for the 'chosen folk' and not the Jews or any other 'sub-humans'. Nonetheless the harmful effects were well documented years before and many deaths after these studies.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What's The News Across The Nation(s), July 10, 2014

The Hunger Games aka The World Cup

From the beginning of Brazil's preparation for hosting the World Cup to the thankfully approaching end of this fiasco it has reminded me at times of a Mexican novella and more lethally the Hunger Games.

Now we learn that Argentina fans have taken to the streets to protest an American hedge fund's refusal to take a 70% loss on a loan to the Argentine government. Which by the bye, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Argentine President, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, threatens to default on the $95 Billion loan. Wanting the government to pay what it owes was characterized by the Argentine Supreme Court as "extortion".

In any event, the wingnuts of Argentina have taken to the streets in national support of defaulting on financial obligations. We note that negotiations are still ongoing, but given the name calling and threats to default by the Argentine President, (negotiations tentatively end July 30, 2014), we can only say "pay up or shut up' and don't ever come calling again for money.

If you care to get into the weeds on the history of the loan consider the Economist article A Victory By Default, March 3, 2005. My focus here is really on the absurdness of the World Cup.

                                            Does he look like macroeconomics kinda guy?


Wait, What? … Permanent!

"Five years past the end of the Great Recession, the share of adults with jobs has barely recovered, inflation remains below the level the Fed regards as healthy, and economic output remains weak. Officials are increasingly convinced that some of this damage is permanent — or at least, that it cannot be fixed by holding down borrowing costs — but they differ on the depth of the damage."

June Meeting, Federal Open Market Meeting (The above quote was gleaned from minutes of this meeting recently released.)

"I May Have To Move In With You"

This was said by a Detroit retired municipal employee to her grandson.

I discussed the Argentine debt and now onto the municipal debt of the City of Detroit. Causes are abundant, but like many municipalities, including Houston, pension costs are dragging down cities to possible bankruptcy. It's not the unions fault here. The pensions were secured through negotiations with local governments. It was a 'I'll worry about it tomorrow' attitude on part of elected officials. Well tomorrow is here in Detroit and I am certain other cities and municipal unions are watching the proceedings closely.

To sum it up pledges by private and public entities have been conditionally made to save Detroit.  Among the pledges include J. P. Morgan's pledge of $100 million and the State of Michigan pledge of $200 million. In return employees are being asked to vote "YES" to reduce pension payments by 4.5% and withdraw lawsuits against the city. So far it appears that the "YES" vote is prevailing. If it doesn't succeed the pledges will be withdrawn and everything is up for sale in Detroit including the art collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Tomorrow, July 11, 2014 is the deadline for voting.

Counting The Wages Of Sin

Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank wants more integration and uniform reporting on the health of the economies of member nations. In the spirit of implementation of President Draghi's wishes the statistical arm of the European Union, Eurostat, will require by September, 2014, all member nations to include in their Gross National Product (GNP) "an accounting of trade in sex, drugs and other underground businesses as part of an overhaul of economic measurements …".

The reasoning behind this requirement is that the lower debt to GNP ratio, the healthier the national economy of the country. This being the case, I suppose, the easier to get loans from the European Central Bank? Using GNP as an indicator of economic health is a much debated topic among economists, but you go with what you got.

Some member nations have demurred either in whole or part. For instance France is not going to include drugs and prostitution in their national GNP. These are often enhance by sexual slavery and give a "veneer of economic legitimacy". Italy has wisely decided to forego asking the Mafia for economic data.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Don't Worry, Be Happy … Well Maybe Worry A Little Bit

There was a movie made about them and there was a madman who tried to exterminate them. They were called: Swing Kids

Swing Kids were primarily composed of upper class teenagers who liked anything English and/or American, especially swing and jazz music. That was about it except they lived in Nazi Germany and made fun of the Hitler Youth and the Nazi regime. Also, much of the music they liked was Negro music. During the early years the Swing Kids seemed to be tolerated, but as the war began the government started to see these kids as a counterculture to the Nazi way of life. This culminated in a letter dated January 26, 1942 from Heinrich Himmler to his chief henchman Reinhard Heydrick:

My judgment is that the whole evil must be radically exterminated now. I cannot but see that we have taken only half measures. All ringleaders (...) are into a concentration camp to be re-educated (...) detention in concentration camp for these youths must be longer, 2-3 years (...) it is only through the utmost brutality that we will be able to avert the dangerous spread of anglophile tendencies, in these times where Germany fights for its survival.

And so it was that they were rounded up and shipped off to the camps.

In 2007, about 230 Iranian upper class youth and young adults were arrested for attending a 'satanic' concert. 

In 2014 Iranian authorities arrested Iranian youth for making a Happy Dance video.

Music and the Holocaust: Swing Kids Behind Barbed Wire

Iranian morals police arrest 230 in raid on 'satanist' rave

Arrests over the happy dance video in Iran reflect hardliners' frustration