Sunday, October 28, 2012

Various: Hurricanes, polls, Obama-vs-Taibbi, crooked voting machines, conspiracies and more...

Batten down the hatches! That's what I'll be doing today in preparation for Hurricane Sandy. The idea of living on canned food for a week doesn't have much appeal, but the authorities tell us to stock up, so stock I shall.

If the grocery stores lose power, what will they do with the meat? They really ought to give it away...

At any rate, if this blog takes a hiatus, you'll know why.

Lest we forget... Arnold Scwarzenegger's governorship may not have been the disaster that many California liberals feared, but that fact should not blind us to the slimeball circumstances that allowed him to attain office. Jim DiEugenio, of Consortium News, has written a superb account of what really happened, as a corrective to Der Arnold's new book Total Recall (which might better be titled Selective Amnesia)...
The main culprit behind the phony crisis was Enron, the high-flying Houston-based energy-trading company which had been lobbying for a deregulated electricity market in California for years. In fact, in advance, Enron — which specialized in marketing natural gas – had purchased an electricity company on the West Coast, Portland Gas and Electric.

But the deregulation bill was not passed under Davis. It was passed under his predecessor, Republican Pete Wilson, a close friend and colleague of Schwarzenegger.

Very few people understood how a deregulated electricity market worked. But since Enron had helped engineer it, the company assigned an employee to find out how it could be rigged to make huge profits for out-of-state companies...
What happened in 2000-2001 was perhaps one of the most shocking and nauseating examples of private enterprise raping the common good in modern American history. The blackouts started in early 2000, that is the winter months, which should have been an indicator of how phony the blackouts were because in California much more electricity is consumed in the summer due to overuse of air conditioning.

And as many experts in the field have stated, the blackouts were never about a lack of power. As measured in megawatt-hours, California always generated more electricity than it consumed. The shortages were later revealed to be manmade.
At the time, if you dared to suggest in public that the shortages were man-made, respectable people made snickering references to tin-foil chapeaus. The Great Enron Energy Screw is the prime example of a conspiracy theory that turned out to be 100% true.

Speaking of conspiracy theories... You can write whatever you like about the JFK assassination and receive lots of publicity -- as long as you do not point to American intelligence as the culprit. You can blame the hit on Daffy Duck or Dobie Gillis or the Detroit Tigers, and no-one will insult you -- but if you point the finger at the CIA, there will be hell to pay.

Case in point: This new book, which offers yet another version of the KGB-diddit thesis, previously much beloved of Edward Epstein. (Epstein was a protegee of CIA counterespionage master James Jesus Angleton, whom I consider the actual mastermind of the assassination).

There's no evidence for this KGB nonsense, of course. Lee Harvey Oswald never had any left-wing friends or associates of any kind -- which is just one of many (many) indications that his "defection" was an intelligence ploy. (He wasn't alone. The CIA had set up a "fake defector" program in the 1950s.)

Obama vs Matt Taibbi. Here's an interesting exchange: President Obama engages Matt Taibbi in a "sort of" debate, via proxy. The topic: The Dodd/Frank regulations, which were designed to reign in the Wall Street abuses that created the 2008 mess.

Taibbi has argued that those regs are ridiculously insufficient. (Sure, they're better than anything Mitt Romney would ever sign, but that's not saying much.) In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Obama took pains to "correct" Taibbi's reportage.

I've looked at some of Rolling Stone's articles that say, "This didn't go far enough, we didn't institute Glass-Steagall" and so forth, and I pushed my economic team very hard on some of those questions. But there is not evidence that having Glass-Steagall in place would somehow change the dynamic. Lehman Brothers wasn't a commercial bank, it was an investment bank. AIG wasn't an FDIC-insured bank, it was an insurance institution. So the problem in today's financial sector can't be solved simply by re-imposing models that were created in the 1930s.
Now, it is true that Lehman Brothers was just an investment bank, and not one of those supermarket firms. But Lehman Brothers didn't cause the financial crisis all by itself (more on that in a moment). Moreover, many of the giant mega-merged companies that were spawned by Glass-Steagall did in fact play huge roles in the financial crisis.

For instance, President Obama failed to mention that the company whose merger was only made legal post-factum by Bill Clinton's repeal of Glass-Steagall – Citigroup – ultimately became the single largest recipient of federal bailout funds, taking in nearly half a trillion dollars in cash and guarantees, according to the Congressional Oversight Panel. Citigroup would almost certainly have gone under in 2008 without that massive $476 billion federal lifeline, and had Citi gone under, the impact would likely have dwarfed that of the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
Big problem here: Bill Clinton did not repeal Glass Steagall. Taibbi, brilliant as he is, keeps making this error, and it's really starting to bug me. How many times must I say it? Blame Phil Graham. Gramm created a bill which passed by a veto-proof majority.

Other than that, Taibbi makes sense.
But it's still odd that he would focus so intently on that one point, given that the president himself proposed and supported a sort of new version of Glass-Steagall, called the Volcker Rule. Almost all the pro-reform voices I know on Wall Street and in Washington liked the original version of the Volcker rule, and many would have been content to forget about Glass-Steagall forever had the original version of the Volcker Rule that President Obama himself supported actually made it through to become law.

But it didn't. Instead, the Volcker rule was gutted from within by members of both parties during the Dodd-Frank negotiations, and as we reported on several occasions, it was Geithner and the Obama administration that were particularly aggressive in scaling it back behind closed doors. That was what we criticized the president for – not so much for failing to reinstate Glass-Steagall, but for allowing his own policy proposal to be punched so full of holes that it would never be an effective law.
And that, friends, is the real history of the Obama administration. This presidency foundered because it repeatedly caved under pressure from Wall Street. Yet a ludicrous myth holds that the president is some sort of socialist.

The goddamned polls: Against my will, against my better judgment, against every instinct that yearns for psychological serenity, I'm going to spend much of this day watching the polls (including the scary electoral vote maps like this one and the less-scary maps like this one). You're going to do exactly the same thing, and don't try to convince me otherwise. We're all addicts right now -- pathetic, weak, helpless data-smack junkies -- and only the election (or a hurricane-induced power outage) can yank the needles out of our arms.

Right after this post, I'm hitting Gimme some stuff, man.

The best news for Obama supporters is that the president has regained a lead in Virginia. I've been watching that state closely because, unlike everyone else, I take the "crooked Secretaries of State factor" into my calculations.

Most of the elections in swing states are run by scoundrels. They have proven their Republican bias by championing various attempts to keep blacks and Latinos from voting, and you can be damned certain that these rascals will do nothing to impede those who hope to rig the vote electronically. Of course, that kind of rigging must stay within certain limits, or the results will have no credibility. Obama must win Ohio by two points or more if he's going to win Ohio.

I am cautiously optimistic about Virginia's Janet Polarek. Yes, she's a Republican; nevertheless, I think she may have a conscience. Even though she owes her political career to Governor Bob McDonnell, whom I do not trust, I have hope that the voice of Jiminy Cricket will whisper in Janet's ear: "Do the right thing, Janet! Don't let anyone put his thumb on the scale, Janet! Always let your conscience be your guide, Janet!"

More on the Virginia vote: This story bodes ill. Even if Ms. Polarek is honest, she may not be able to stop the scoundrels from doing their dirty work.
The wireless technology is part of the AVS WinVote system, a touch screen voting machine used at 32 of Virginia’s polling localities, where more than a third of the swing state will cast ballots in November. To date, there have been no verified instances of hackers using wireless capabilities to influence the outcome of an election, but advocates – and many lawmakers – believe the potential for such malfeasance combined with the difficulty of verifying vote totals could undermine public confidence in elections.
Epstein, the computer scientist who helped draft the law and co-founded the advocacy group Virginia Verified Voting, testified that wireless technology would make it easier for hackers do more damage and go undetected.

“If you are attacking machines by physically going into a polling place, you have to do them one at a time, and there are opportunities to get caught,” Epstein said. ”Wirelessly you could affect all the machines in a polling place or in a precinct by driving from one location to the next.”
Here's the really freaky part...
The 2007 Virginia law entirely barred voting machines from communicating wirelessly. But with the presidential vote coming in 2008, election officials said the AVS WinVote machines were not able to function if the capability was shut off. Calls to reach Howard Van Pelt, CEO of Advanced Voting Solutions – the Frisco, Texas-based firm that sold the system, found the company’s listed number disconnected. Officials say the company has been non-operational for around four years.
Where did Howie go? And to whom do we complain if things go wrong? Who has the inside dope on how these machines work? Is the software code freely available? Do hackers have it?

According to this 2005 DU page, Howie and his partner at AVS (also called Shoup) were old Diebold hands. One reader's report is worth noting:
Their sales rep, Kimberlee Shoup-Yeahl, was at a Voting System Expo in Wilkes-Barre PA last summer and told me that as a Pollworker I would really like their system because, for example, I could take the machine out to a disabled voter's car (no matter that curbside voting is not legal in PA) and it can "beam the votes" back into the poll.

My own thought was, and still is, if I as a pollworker can beam votes into the poll, who else can???

Not to mention eavesdropping, radio interference, and radio jamming possibilties.

Oh yes, while Ms. Shoup-Yeahl was showing it to me, the WINvote crashed and she had to reboot it. Just for a second, I saw "Welcome to Windows" (I think XP) flash on the screen, so I asked, "oh... so this runs on Windows?" And she looked sort of sheepish and said, "Um yes...." And quickly added, "but we're porting it to Linux -- soon."

Yikes, this is one scary machine.
See also Brad Friedman's reportage here. And yet this thing continues to be used in Virginia.

Sandy isn't the only disaster poised to hit that state.

Speaking of Sandy: Did you know about the Great Hurricane Sandy Conspiracy Theory? The theory isn't fully-fledged yet, but if you want to see a paranoid meme in its gestative state, visit here and here and here.
About 2 weeks ago my mom called me to see if I had a bug out plan, which is interesting because we have never talked about anything like this. We have discussed politics, religion and various other issues, but nothing along the lines of "What do we do if the shit hits the fan?"

Her reasoning behind this is that her best friend of 37 years called her and said that her daughter and son-in-law were called into a private meeting on base regarding a probable evacuation scenario of the East Coast. (Son-in-law is in the Special Forces, apparently high up. I think the base was Ft. McPhearson in Georgia).

From what she said, the daughter and SIL where brought in and made to sign a non-disclosure agreement saying they would tell no one, under the penalty of treason, what they were told during the meeting. They were told that in 4-6 weeks (this was around 9/20) the East Coast would experience some type of disaster that would cause it to be under water. They were also told to make a go bag and be prepared to leave at a moments notice. 
So we're supposed to believe that people with no security clearances would be called into a high-level meeting at Conspiracy Central. Riiiiiiight. Personally, I think we'd get a more honest vote if Sandy knocked out the power grid and forced everyone to use paper ballots. And I see no reason why Barack Obama would want to depress the vote on the Eastern seaboard, which is his stronghold.
Did Tabbi make a mistake accusing Clinton of repealing Glass-Steagal, or was it his CDS?

It's "Nobody in the Democratic party likes the Clintons, except the voters".
It's Phil Gramm, not Phil Graham. And, his wife, Wendy, headed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 1988 to 1993. After a lobbying campaign from Enron, the CFTC exempted it from regulation in trading of energy derivatives. Subsequently, Wendy Gramm resigned from the CFTC and took a seat on the Enron Board of Directors and served on its Audit Committee.

How do you like that connection?

Excellent connection indeed, stickler. And thanks for the spelling correction; I've rectified the error (which I've made more than once -- something about that name seems to trip me up every time).
Gramm and the 'Enron Loophole'

"The commodity futures act, in addition to allowing unregulated trading of financial derivatives, included language advocated by Enron that largely exempted the company from regulation of its energy trading on electronic commodity markets, like its once-popular Enron Online. The provision came to be known as the Enron Loophole."
Water is more important than food, Joseph.
Oh man, the hurricane Sandy conspiracy theory is really making the rounds. I just heard it while talking to a relative in Texas. It includes the alleged existence of patents for building and directing hurricanes. I'm sure there are patents like that out there, and I'm also sure that they're complete fantasies like all of the crackpot invention patents that I've had the pleasure of reading over the years.
Propertius, please. Ice is more important than water. When you run out of red wine, the rest of one's drinks require ice!

But the very most important of all are roofs. :/

I hope everyone's under a sound one. Mine is not...I hope enough of the home is still standing come closing day end this week...
If this is Obama's comment then he is more of a fool or a shill than I thought. Or perhaps he merely takes us for fools.

So the problem isnt Glass Steagal repeal. We know this because neither Bear Sterns nor Lehmans were commercial banks. So as you note that implies the commercial banks were fine. So why were they bailed out? What is the problem and why hasnt it been fixed?

How about SEC failure to enforce existing rules?

How about criminal bad corporate actors being allowed to repeat offend?

How about attempts to circumvent established law being considered "part of the game" for 40 years now?

How about senior officers looting their companies via control fraud?

How about cronyism between the contributors to politicians and the politicians? Has the political process been corrupted?

If it aint broke then sure, dont fix it.

But it sure as hell looks broke to me. Otherwise the public wouldnt have to bail them out and interest rates wouldnt be zero.

If you cant see that then regardless of high office you are either a fool or corrupt.


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