October 2013 archive

Oct 31

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Oct 31

Justice?

Nobody Should Shed a Tear for JP Morgan Chase

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

POSTED: October 25, 1:05 PM ET

Look, there’s no denying that this is a lot of money. It’s the biggest settlement in the history of government settlements, and it’s just one company to boot. But this has been in the works for a long time, and it’s been in the works for a reason. This whole thing, lest anyone forget, has its genesis in a couple of state Attorneys General (including New York’s Eric Schneiderman and Delaware’s Beau Biden) not wanting to sign off on any deal with the banks that didn’t also address the root causes of the crisis, in particular the mass fraud surrounding the sale and production of subprime mortgage securities.

Those holdouts essentially forced the federal government’s hand, leading Barack Obama to create a federal working group on residential mortgage-backed securities (widely seen as the AGs’ price for okaying the $25 billion robosigning deal), headed up by Schneiderman, whose investigation of Chase and its affiliates led to the deal that’s about to be struck. Minus all of that, minus those state holdouts in those foreclosure negotiations, this settlement probably would never even take place: The federal government seemed more than willing previously to settle with the banks without even addressing the root-cause issues that are at the heart of this new Chase deal.



In fact, this deal is actually quite a gift to Chase. It sounds like a lot of money, but there are myriad deceptions behind the sensational headline.

First of all, the settlement, as the folks at Better Markets have pointed out, may wipe out between $100 billion and $200 billion in potential liability – meaning that the bank might just have settled “for ten cents or so on the dollar.” The Federal Housing Finance Agency alone was suing Chase and its affiliates for $33 billion. The trustee in the ongoing Bernie Madoff Ponzi scandal was suing Chase for upwards of $19 billion.



And remember, this sort of liability was basically the only risk Chase took in these deals. The government took on most of the rest, in order to make the acquisitions happen.

Chase got to buy Bear Stearns with $29 billion in Fed guarantees, with the state setting up a special bailout facility, Maiden Lane, to unwind all of the phony-baloney loans created through Bear’s Ponzi-mortgage-mechanism described above. So Chase got to acquire one of the world’s biggest investment banks for pennies on the dollar, and then got the Fed to buy up all the toxic parts of the bank’s portfolio, essentially making the public the involuntary customer of Bear’s criminal inventory.

Later on, Chase took $25 billion in TARP money, bought Washington Mutual and its $33 billion in assets for the fire-sale price of $1.9 billion, and then repeated the Bear scenario, getting another Maiden Lane facility to take on the deadliest parts of Washington Mutual’s portfolio (including, for instance, a pool of mortgages in which 94 percent of the loans had limited documentation).



Moreover, the settlement is only $9 billion in cash, with $4 billion earmarked for “mortgage relief.” Again, as Better Markets noted, we’ve seen settlements with orders of mortgage relief before, and banks seem to have many canny ways of getting out of the spirit of these requirements.

In the foreclosure settlement, most of the ordered “relief” eventually came in the form of short sales, with banks letting people sell their underwater houses and move out without paying for the loss in home value. That’s better than nothing, but it’s something very different than a bank working to help families stay in their homes.

There’s also the matter of the remaining $9 billion in fines being tax deductible (meaning we’re subsidizing the settlement), and the fact that Chase is reportedly trying to get the FDIC to assume some of Washington Mutual’s liability.



A few more notes on the deal. This latest settlement reportedly came about when CEO Jamie Dimon picked up the phone and called a high-ranking lieutenant of Attorney General Holder, who was about to hold a press conference announcing civil charges against the bank. The Justice Department meekly took the call, canceled the presser, and worked out this hideous deal, instead of doing the right thing and blowing off the self-important Wall Street hotshot long used to resolving meddlesome issues with the gift of his personal attention.

Only on Wall Street does the target of a massive federal investigation pick up the telephone and call up the prosecutor expecting to make the thing go away – and only in recent American history would such a tactic actually work.



These guys at Chase knew exactly what they were buying when they took on these companies. They just thought they were getting the deal of the century, by taking on the still-functioning businesses of two finance giants for a song, giving Chase a state-subsidized push into the pole position of American banking. And they figured, very nearly correctly, that they would never have to pay any serious freight for all the offenses committed by their new acquisitions.

Now they’ll have to write a big check, which sucks for them, but what about the victims? To those critics crying about a “shakedown”: Would you prefer that Chase merely be required to pay back every dollar to those investors wiped out by these schemes? Because that would be a hell of a lot more than $13 billion.

Oct 31

Cartnoon

Michael Jackson – Thriller

Oct 31

On This Day In History October 31

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

October 31 is the 304th day of the year (305th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 61 days remaining until the end of the year.

This day is internationally known as Halloween, also known as All Hallow’s Eve, Reformation Day, and Day of the Dead for the Philippines

On this day in 1926, Harry Houdini, the most celebrated magician and escape artist of the 20th century, dies of peritonitis in a Detroit hospital.

Houdini was born Erik Weisz in Budapest in 1874, the son of a rabbi. At a young age, he immigrated with his family to Appleton, Wisconsin, and soon demonstrated a natural acrobatic ability and an extraordinary skill at picking locks.

He went on his first international tour in 1900 and performed all over Europe to great acclaim. In executing his escapes, he relied on strength, dexterity, and concentration-not trickery-and was a great showman.

In 1908, Houdini began performing more dangerous and dramatic escapes. In a favorite act, he was bound and then locked in an ironbound chest that was dropped into a water tank or thrown off a boat. In another, he was heavily bound and then suspended upside down in a glass-walled water tank. Other acts featured Houdini being hung from a skyscraper in a straitjacket, or bound and buried-without a coffin-under six feet of dirt.

In his later years, Houdini campaigned against mediums, mind readers, fakirs, and others who claimed supernatural talents but depended on tricks. At the same time, he was deeply interested in spiritualism and made a pact with his wife and friends that the first to die was to try and communicate with the world of reality from the spirit world.

Eyewitnesses to an incident in Montreal gave rise to speculation that Houdini’s death was caused by a McGill University student, J. Gordon Whitehead, who delivered multiple blows to Houdini’s abdomen to test Houdini’s claim that he was able to take any blow to the body above the waist without injury.

The eyewitnesses, students named Jacques Price and Sam Smilovitz (sometimes called Jack Price and Sam Smiley), proferred accounts of the incident that generally corroborated one another. The following is Price’s description of events:

   Houdini was reclining on his couch after his performance, having an art student sketch him. When Whitehead came in and asked if it was true that Houdini could take any blow to the stomach, Houdini replied groggily in the affirmative. In this instance, he was hit three times before Houdini could tighten up his stomach muscles to avoid serious injury. Whitehead reportedly continued hitting Houdini several more times and Houdini acted as though he were in some pain.

Houdini reportedly stated that if he had time to prepare himself properly he would have been in a better position to take the blows. He had apparently been suffering from appendicitis for several days prior and yet refused medical treatment. His appendix would likely have burst on its own without the trauma. Although in serious pain, Houdini continued to travel without seeking medical attention.

When Houdini arrived at the Garrick Theater in Detroit, Michigan on October 24, 1926, for what would be his last performance, he had a fever of 104 F (40 C). Despite a diagnosis of acute appendicitis, Houdini took the stage. He was reported to have passed out during the show, but was revived and continued. Afterwards, he was hospitalized at Detroit’s Grace Hospital.

Houdini died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix at 1:26 p.m. in Room 401 on October 31, aged 52.

After taking statements from Price and Smilovitz, Houdini’s insurance company concluded that the death was due to the dressing-room incident and paid double indemnity.

Houdini’s funeral was held on November 4, 1926 in New York, with more than 2,000 mourners in attendance. He was interred in the Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, New York, with the crest of the Society of American Magicians inscribed on his gravesite. To this day the Society holds a broken wand ceremony at the grave site in November. Houdini’s widow, Bess, died on February 11, 1943, aged 67, in Needles, California. She had expressed a wish to be buried next to him but instead was interred at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester, New York, as her Catholic family refused to allow her to be buried in a Jewish cemetery out of concern for her soul.

Oct 31

‘Plausible’ Deniability?

HHS chief: President didn’t know of Obamacare website woes beforehand

By Greg Botelho, CNN

updated 10:29 PM EDT, Wed October 23, 2013

President Barack Obama didn’t know of problems with the Affordable Care Act’s website — despite insurance companies’ complaints and the site’s crashing during a test run — until after its now well-documented abysmal launch, the nation’s health chief told CNN on Tuesday.

In an exclusive interview with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta asked when the President first learned about the considerable issues with the Obamacare website. Sebelius responded that it was in “the first couple of days” after the site went live October 1.

“But not before that?” Gupta followed up.

To which Sebelius replied, “No, sir.”

Spying Known at Top Levels, Officials Say

By MARK LANDLER and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, The New York Times

Published: October 29, 2013

The nation’s top spymaster said on Tuesday that the White House had long been aware in general terms of the National Security Agency’s overseas eavesdropping, stoutly defending the agency’s intelligence-gathering methods and suggesting possible divisions within the Obama administration.

The official, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, testified before the House Intelligence Committee that the N.S.A. had kept senior officials in the National Security Council informed of surveillance it was conducting in foreign countries. He did not specifically say whether President Obama was told of these spying efforts, but he appeared to challenge assertions in recent days that the White House had been in the dark about some of the agency’s practices.



The White House has faced criticism for the N.S.A.’s surveillance practices since the first revelations by a former agency contractor, Edward J. Snowden, in June. But in recent weeks it has struggled to quell a new diplomatic storm over reports that the agency monitored the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany for more than a decade. White House officials said that the president did not know of that surveillance, but that he has told Ms. Merkel that the United States is not monitoring her phone now and would not in the future.

NSA infiltrates links to Yahoo, Google data centers worldwide, Snowden documents say

By Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani, Washinton Post

Wednesday, October 30, 12:19 PM

According to a top secret accounting dated Jan. 9, 2013, NSA’s acquisitions directorate sends millions of records every day from Yahoo and Google internal networks to data warehouses at the agency’s Fort Meade headquarters. In the preceding 30 days, the report said, field collectors had processed and sent back 181,280,466 new records – ranging from “metadata,” which would indicate who sent or received e-mails and when, to content such as text, audio and video.

The NSA’s principal tool to exploit the data links is a project called MUSCULAR, operated jointly with the agency’s British counterpart, GCHQ. From undisclosed interception points, the NSA and GCHQ are copying entire data flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information between the data centers of the Silicon Valley giants.



Outside U.S. territory, statutory restrictions on surveillance seldom apply and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has no jurisdiction. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein has acknowledged that Congress conducts little oversight of intelligence-gathering under the presidential authority of Executive Order 12333 , which defines the basic powers and responsibilities of the intelligence agencies.

John Schindler, a former NSA chief analyst and frequent defender who teaches at the Naval War College, said it was obvious why the agency would prefer to avoid restrictions where it can.

“Look, NSA has platoons of lawyers and their entire job is figuring out how to stay within the law and maximize collection by exploiting every loophole,” he said. “It’s fair to say the rules are less restrictive under Executive Order 12333 than they are under FISA.”



In 2011, when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court learned that the NSA was using similar methods to collect and analyze data streams – on a much smaller scale – from cables on U.S. territory, Judge John D. Bates ruled that the program was illegal under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and inconsistent with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.

Today, of course they deny everything, including that they said what they said yesterday or last week.

Even though it’s on video tape.

Who you going to believe?  Proven, admitted liars or your own lying eyes?

Oct 31

Muse in the Morning

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Muse in the Morning


Cell

Oct 31

Late Night Karaoke

Oct 31

2013 Major League Baseball Championship Game 6: Cardinals @ Red Sox

Well, the highlight could turn out to be American Celtic punk music group Dropkick Murphys singing the national anthem, especially if you’re a Cards fan.

In Monday’s game the Sox scored in the Top of the 1st off a 1 Out Double followed by another for an RBI.  In the 4th the Cards tied it up on a Solo Shot.  Then in the 7th the Sox put it away with a 1 Out Single, a Walk, an RBI Double, and an RBI Single.  Red Sox 3 – 1, lead Series 3 – 2.

Now the Cards have to win 2 straight at Fenway which will not be easy.

Facing elimination tonight’s lineup features Allen Craig at DH replaced at 1st by Matt Adams for the Cardinals with Daniel Descalso replacing the error prone Pete Kozma at Short and Jon Jay instead of Shane Robinson in Center.  The Sox will DH David Ortiz substituting Mike Napoli at 1st and replace Daniel Nava with Shane Victorino in Right.

Boston will start John Lackey (10 – 13, 3.52 ERA R).  He’s not much better than that in the post-season, he lost Game 2 last Thursday at Fenway in this same matchup and is 2 – 1 with 16 hits and 7 runs in 19 and a 3rd innings for an ERA of 3.36 (6.75 in the loss).  He’ll be countered by rookie phenom Michael Wacha (4 – 1, 2.78 ERA R) who is 4 – 0 in the playoffs with 11 hits and 3 runs in 27 innings for a still stunningly low (anything less than 1.0 is pretty gosh darn stunning) ERA of 0.98.

Now if it wasn’t for Thursday’s game I might be more pessimistic about the Cardinal’s prospects for extending the Series to 7.  They are facing elimination in one of the quirkiest Parks in all Baseball, but Lackey is no prize.  I would expect Sox Manager John Farrell to tap the Bullpen early if he gets into trouble, but the Sox Bullpen is no prize either.  I suspect instead he’s playing for a deciding Game 7 tomorrow when he’ll probably start Peavy against Kelly.

But, since I do naturally favor the Senior League over the Junior and the Cards are most in need of the help (and the video is so much more entertaining), tonight the Rally Squirrel will make what could be his last appearance this season.

Oct 30

Today on The Stars Hollow Gazette

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Our regular featured content-

These featured articles-

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Write more and often.  This is an Open Thread.

The Stars Hollow Gazette

Oct 30

Cartnoon

New! Amazing Halloween pumpkin carving ideas 2013. Ultimate Collection

Oct 30

On This Day In History October 30

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

October 30 is the 303rd day of the year (304th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 62 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1938, Orson Welles scares the nation.

The War of the Worlds was an episode of the American radio drama anthology series Mercury Theatre on the Air. It was performed as a Halloween episode of the series on October 30, 1938 and aired over the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network. Directed and narrated by Orson Welles, the episode was an adaptation of H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds.

The first two thirds of the 60-minute broadcast were presented as a series of simulated “news bulletins”, which suggested to many listeners that an actual alien invasion by Martians was currently in progress. Compounding the issue was the fact that the Mercury Theatre on the Air was a ‘sustaining show’ (it ran without commercial breaks), thus adding to the program’s quality of realism. Although there were sensationalist accounts in the press about a supposed panic in response to the broadcast, the precise extent of listener response has been debated. In the days following the adaptation, however, there was widespread outrage. The program’s news-bulletin format was decried as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast, but the episode secured Orson Welles’ fame.

Oct 30

Muse in the Morning

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Muse in the Morning


Inner Workings

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