Mutual Funds tied to FBI/SEC Probe

I’m feeling a bit like the messenger-in-line-to-be-shot given the hit every one’s savings and retirement plans took during the financial crisis, but, some Mutual Funds are likely to take a hit from the FBI/SEC probe.  I figured that a lot of your probably have some Mutual Funds since it’s a typical vehicle for most middle class savers. You should probably watch this and your fund.  I’m just assuming that you don’t want to incur any more unnecessary asset losses in this environment.

You may recall that the news from the investigation broke a week ago. It is possible that some of the funds are losing value now just based on the information floating around the financial circuits.  Investors and fund managers listen to information, weigh it and consider the impact it will have on future value of the funds.  No need for complete hysteria right now, just some cautious information gathering and staying on top of things.

There’s some information today on Bloomberg and if you have any funds managed by the investigated funds, you may want to look at them with a jaundiced eye right now. The worry is that with so many funds having lost investors that a continuation may bring down some of the major companies that are fund managers.  That would be the worst case scenario and would, of course, lead to another possible tax payer bailout of another industry as these things tend to spread contagion to even healthy, well-managed funds.  As the article mentions, damage to reputation is something that really impacts the value of a company and its ability to attract investors.

Janus Capital Group Inc. and Wellington Management Co. were among firms that received requests for information last week as part of an insider trading investigation involving hedge funds as well as mutual funds. None of the companies have been accused of wrongdoing. All this uncertainty is actually looking good for investing in silver 2016, read on, more details about this below.

The probe hits firms as they try to reverse $90 billion in withdrawals from U.S. stock funds since the beginning of 2009. Damage from the industry’s last run-in with regulators, a series of trading scandals in 2003 and 2004, took years to repair and led to more than $3 billion in fines against more than two dozen firms, including Bank of America Corp., Putnam Investments, Janus and MFS.

The insider information brokerage companies are now under active investigation and they are undoubtedly looking for folks to turn state’s evidence and pouring through client lists.  You should follow this carefully if you have any mutual funds and make sure that your management company does not show up in any articles linking them to the scandal.  This could very likely impact–at least in the short run–fund stability.  Remember, mutual funds are not insured with an agency like the FDIC.  You lose what you have invested should the fund run into trouble.

The focus on mutual funds is fairly recent so the market may still be catching up to the news.  Many pension funds use these mutual funds and it takes a while to remove them from the plan or adjust contributions but institutional investors are usually bound by safety standards and they buy huge amounts of funds.  If one or two of them bail, it can drive the fund price to a lower than NAV or Net Asset Value level if the fund is market-traded. The institutional investor may have to dump the fund based on its safety rating given its fund management rules.

Mutual funds were unscathed by the probes until last week, when Janus and Wellington were among a number of asset managers to receive information requests. Hedge funds Level Global Investors LP, Diamondback Capital Management LLC and Loch Capital Management had their offices raided by U.S. officials. Balyasny Asset Management LP, the Chicago-based hedge fund, said in a Nov. 24 letter to investors that they received a faxed subpoena from the government “requesting a broad set of general information for the last few years.” None of the firms have been accused of wrongdoing.

The mutual-fund companies that were contacted by federal prosecutors declined to comment when called by Bloomberg News on whether they use expert networks and what information they were asked to provide.

Janus, based in Denver, said on Nov. 23 that it received a request for “general information and intends to cooperate fully with that inquiry.” The firm, in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing, said it would not provide further updates unless required by law. Janus manages $160.8 billion in assets.

It’s a little early to tell exactly what impact all of this may have, but if your money is heavily invested in mutual funds, I would be watching this carefully.  Anyway, just a heads up!   Morningstar is a good source of fund information.  I rely on their database when I have to do investment research.  This link will provide you with a list of  funds that are undergoing some changes at the moment also.   They also have a blogger dedicated full time to funds.  M*_RusselK has more thoughts and analysis here.  These are my main go-to places for current fund analysis.


Monday Reads

Good Morning!! The long holiday weekend is officially over. Of course the big story is still the latest Wikileaks release.

This McClatchy story at the Miami Herald points out that despite hysterical warnings from U.S. officials there is “no evidence that WikiLeaks releases have hurt anyone”

American officials in recent days have warned repeatedly that the release of documents by WikiLeaks could put people’s lives in danger.

But despite similar warnings before the previous two releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death.

Before Sunday’s release, news organizations given access to the documents and WikiLeaks took the greatest care to date to ensure no one would be put in danger. In statements accompanying stories about the documents, several newspapers said they voluntarily withheld information and that they cooperated with the State Department and the Obama administration to ensure nothing released could endanger lives or national security.

The newspapers “established lists in common of people to protect, notably in countries ruled by dictators, controlled by criminals or at war,” according to an account by Le Monde, a French newspaper that was among the five news organizations that were given access to the documents. “All the identities of people the journalists believed would be threatened were redacted,” the newspaper said in what would be an unusual act of self censorship by journalists toward government documents.

I see no reason to believe this release will be any different. Yes, there will be embarrassment for various world leaders–so what? We have a right to know what our government is doing. I say more power to whistleblowers the world over.

The New York Times posted an exchange of letters between Julian Assange and the U.S. government. The letter show that Wikileaks was very open to withholding information if it would really cause harm to anyone.

In other news, Claire McCaskill is attempting to distance herself from Obama, now that he’s no longer seen as the messiah. Will wonders never cease? You’d think McCaskill would go down with the ship, but I guess she’d rather hang onto her job in the Senate than continue her worshipful attitude toward the President.

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” McCaskill said that she’d voted against the president on cap-and-trade, the second round of cash-for-clunkers, comprehensive immigration reform and every omnibus bill.

McCaskill said she’d also sometimes disagreed with Obama when he was a senator.

“My record of independence, frankly, stretches back for a long period of time,” she said.

When asked to name an issue where Obama had fallen short, the senator said his move into healthcare legislation at a time when he should have been focusing on job creation was “very difficult,” and therefore economic issues “didn’t get the attention they needed.”

The Obots continue to drop like flies. It would be nice if Nancy Pelosi would get the message and start standing up for Democratic principles for a change.

I’m not sure what to think about this next story. The DHS and ICE have summarily shut down more than 70 websites. Supposedly these sites were involved in counterfeiting products or encouraging theft of intellectual property, but what is the recourse for a site that is wrongly shut down?

From the Wall Street Journal: Website Closures Escalate U.S. War on Piracy

A federal crackdown that shut more than 70 websites last week is the latest sign of an escalating war against counterfeit and pirated products, using legal tactics that may be closely scrutinized by civil-liberties groups.

Domain names of the affected sites—which offered such diverse goods as scarves, golf gear and rap music—were seized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the Department of Homeland Security, under court-approved warrants.

This is controversial because civil actions are generally used in piracy cases.

ICE’s latest crackdown is based on procedures used in criminal cases, including seizing domains and assets of suspect websites without prior notification of their owners, lawyers tracking the case said.

“It’s time to stop playing games,” said Chris Castle, a Los Angeles attorney who has represented copyright holders as well as technology companies involved in digital music.

Here a two different reactions to the government shutting down websites.

From Stephen J. Vaughn-Nichols at ZDnet: The Rise of Web Censorship

Back in 1964, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart of famously wrote on what was, and wasn’t “hard-core pornography” that, “I know it when I see it.” Today, free speech on the Web is impeded by far more restrictions than just what is, or isn’t, pornographic. On the Web in 2010, even the appearance of enabling file-sharing of copyright materials seems to be enough for the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to shut down Web-sites without notice.

But here’s the problem, according to Vaughn-Nichols:

I have no use for sites that traffic in counterfeit goods such as fake autographed sports jerseys or designer purses. I do, on the other hand, worry when a site like Torrent-Finder is shut down.

You see, Torrent-Finder, which is back up under a new domain name, Torrent-Finder.info doesn’t host Torrent file or even BitTorrent file trackers. It’s just a search engine dedicated to file torrents such as movies, TV shows, or software programs. You can find the same file torrents with Google if you know what you’re doing. Torrent-Finder, and sites like it, just makes specific kinds of file searches easier.

I think its fine for the government to try to block the sales of fake LeBron James Miami Heat jerseys and the like. It’s when we start moving into the murkier land of intellectual property and the “right” to block searches, that I start getting worried.

From Elliot’s blog, which is devoted to “domain name investing news and tips”: Why I Am Not Worried About Domain Name Seizures

I will preface this by saying that I don’t like the idea of the government acting as judge and juror, while not seeming to give the website and/or domain name owners the opportunity to defend their actions. It’s scary that the government can simply take over some websites at it’s whim without the owner’s chance to defend his or her actions.

However, if the companies that own the websites are or were doing something illegal while violating the rights of people in the US (whom ICE is responsible to protect), this seizure is not such a huge deal as some might make it out to be….

Eventually, these website operates should have their day in court, but taking away their platform is a way to temporarily stop them from doing what the government believes is an illegal act (although it seems pretty simple to move to another domain name). I don’t know where to draw the line when it comes to seizures such as this, but if a company happens to be brazenly flouting the law, I am not opposed to government intervention. If these website operators are in the right, then they will certainly have their day in court.

I don’t know, this whole thing makes me uneasy, especially with the TSA being permitted to violate the 4th amendment rights of airline passengers. To me this feels like an attempt to begin censoring the internet.

Here’s an interesting story on possible effects on the health care law if Congress makes serious attempts to cut the deficit: Deficit battle threatens job-based health care

Budget proposals from leaders in both parties have urged shrinking or eliminating tax breaks that help make employer health insurance the leading source of coverage in the nation and a middle-class mainstay.

The idea isn’t to just raise revenue, economists say, but finally to turn Americans into frugal health care consumers by having them face the full costs of their medical decisions.

Such a re-engineering was rejected by Democrats only a few months ago, at the height of the health care overhaul debate. But Washington has changed, with Republicans back in power and widespread fears that the burden of government debt may drag down the economy.

Death panels, anyone?

Hypocrisy watch? Senator Lindsey Graham says DADT won’t be repealed.

The South Carolina Republican, a proponent of the law banning openly gay service in the armed forces, said definitively that there was no support for repeal on the Republican side of the aisle. He called for an additional study to determine whether the military itself favored overturning the 17-year-old legislation.

“This is a political promise made by Senator Obama when he was running for president,” said Graham, during an appearance on Fox News Sunday. “There is no groundswell of opposition to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell coming from our military. This is all politics. I don’t believe there is anywhere near the votes to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. On the Republican side, I think we will be united in the lame duck [session] and the study I would be looking for is asking military members: Should it be repealed, not how to implement it once you as a politician decide to repeal it. So I think in a lame duck setting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not going anywhere.”

Please, someone, snap some pics of Lindsey Graham next time he hits a gay bar. I wonder what his pals McCain and Lieberman would say then?

According to interviews with the Daily Beast, the Taliban is laughing at the U.S., Britain, and NATO, because they negotiated with a fake Taliban leader for months.

Taliban commanders in Afghanistan reacted with amusement this weekend to news of an impostor who, by claiming he was a senior Taliban leader, managed to fool NATO officials and get invited to high-level peace talks.

The man pretending to be insurgent leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour was in fact a shopkeeper from Quetta in Western Pakistan, they said.

“Imagine,” Mohammad Hafiz, a senior Taliban commander, told The Daily Beast, “if a shopkeeper from Quetta can make a fool of them and keep them engaged in talks for months, how do they believe they can defeat the Taliban?”

Hafiz, himself a close aide to the insurgent leader Mansour, said Taliban commanders were laughing at the fact that American and British officials could be so easily deceived. But he and other insurgent leaders denied the shopkeeper was a plant; in fact, they said, they wouldn’t mind finding him and having a chat.

That is pretty pathetic. It’s time to get out of Afghanistan. Iraq too.

What stories are you following today?


The Economic Troika Seems Confused

There are three economists that I read almost every day because I share a lot in common with their value system and their approach to the subject area.  That would be Brad DeLong, Paul Krugman, and Mark Thoma.  The three are probably the most visible group of liberal economists on the web with the exception of Joseph Stiglitz. All three of them just don’t seem to get why President Obama does what he does given that he said what he said during the election.

Now I admit to being a relative newcomer to academia compared to these three. I’m old and will never garner the prestige they’ve achieved.   I spent most of my career in financial institutions and the FED so maybe  that’s where the difference comes.  I don’t know.  But all three of them were on the same track today and the centralized blog theme began on Thoma’s Economist’s View where the topic germinated.

Is giving some one an overly generous portion of the benefit of the doubt something that liberals academics do? I’m beginning to wonder.   All this year, the troika appeared  to be baffled by the continuing not democratic, not progressive/liberal, and not wise economic policy coming out of the District.  Did they listen to the same presidential primary debates that I listened to?  Did they watch the appointments of folks like Austin Goolsbee and just miss something?  Is it just me?

From the keyboard and fingers of Mark Thoma comes a series of not so rhetorical questions and a thought.  The title of the thread is The Administration’s “Communication Problem”.

I find it incredible and disturbing that on the eve of the recent election in which Democrats got trounced, the administration was still trying to figure out if the unemployment problem is structural or cyclical.

Chiming in with a  reply–even quoted by Thoma–is Delong. (They all obviously read each other too.)  He titled his thread  ‘Mark Thoma Watches Barack Obama and His Political Advisors Go Off Message Yet Again…Can we please get the White House back on message?’

Okay, so now we come full circle as Paul Krugman also responds to Thoma with his NYT blog and this title: Lacking All Conviction.

“Now”, I thought as I braced for the read, “we might be getting a little closer to the true source of this ‘communication’ or ‘message’ problem.”  But, Krugman’s take on the meeting was concern that POTUS is just getting bad advice.  I’m going to bold Krugman’s relevant assertion.

What I want to know is, who was arguing for structural? I find it hard to think of anyone I know in the administration’s economic team who would make that case, who would deny that the bulk of the rise in unemployment since 2007 is cyclical. And as I and others have been trying to point out, none of the signatures of structural unemployment are visible: there are no large groups of workers with rising wages, there are no large parts of the labor force at full employment, there are no full-employment states aside from Nebraska and the Dakotas, inflation is falling, not rising.

More generally, I can’t think of any Democratic-leaning economists who think the problem is largely structural.

Yet someone who has Obama’s ear must think otherwise.

No wonder we’re in such trouble. Obama must gravitate instinctively to people who give him bad economic advice, and who almost surely don’t share the values he was elected to promote. That’s what I’d call a structural problem.

Okay, there are two prominent Noble Prize winners that I’ve mentioned in this thread.  Krugman is one and Stiglitz the other. Any truly Democratic President seeking a Roosevelt/Kennedy Style economic program would call on Stiglitz in a minute’s notice.  Krugman’s the obvious choice for trade and international economics under similar policy goals.  There is a rich legacy of  Paul Samuelson acolytes out there.  Heck, Samuelson only died a year ago, so he was even available for some time; especially during the historic ‘transition’ presidency when we even got that new fangled seal.  Samuelson even went to the University of Chicago and Harvard.  Samuelson was the consummate neoKeynesian. He was the yang to the Milton Friedman yin.  He was friggin’ brilliant.

Now, I’m feeling a bit like Inigo Montoya here except that it’s not the word inconceivable that’s confusing me. What’s confusing me is that I keep reading these guys.  These guys work with models and data.  They also–of course–make assumptions.  I think the models are okay, but they keep using the wrong assumptions.  After two years, you have to question the assumptions when the data results keep confusing you, guys!!

Let’s start with some fresh assumptions that don’t start with he said this, yet he’s doing this, it must be the message, the adviser, or the communication style.  Let’s try, he said what it took to get elected.   Now, he’s doing what he believes in.  If he was all that interested in being the next FDR, at least one of you and Joseph Stiglitz would be on the CEA right now.   He’s just not that into you, Keynes, or unemployment unless he thinks it’s going to help in 2012.

M’kay?

Susie at Suburban Guerilla had a slightly different take but with a somewhat similar line of thought.

Obama would rather preside over a graduate seminar than make hardnosed political decisions, and that continues to be a major flaw.

I think it runs even deeper than that.  I think the ‘graduate seminar’ was a public relations exercise.

Digby at Hullabaloo has a little stronger sentiment than that.

If anyone’s wondering why the administration hasn’t been able to get on message about jobs and unemployment, it might be because they just don’t know what the hell they are doing.

Well, that too.


Wikileaks Drops the Big One (continued)

The Wikileaks U.S. diplomatic documents dropped today.  The world’s major newspapers have the details as does the Wikileaks site itself.  It is becoming more apparent that this is a huge amount of data.

From Der Spiegel:

The US State Department gave its diplomats instructions to spy on other countries’ representatives at the United Nations, according to a directive signed by Hillary Clinton. Diplomats were told to collect information about e-mail accounts, credit cards and passwords, among other things.

US diplomats are alleged to have been requested by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to spy on the diplomats of other countries at the United Nations. That was the purpose of the “National Humint Collection Directive,” which has been seen by SPIEGEL. The document was signed by Clinton and came into force on July 31, 2009.

The information to be collected included personal credit card information, frequent flyer customer numbers, as well as e-mail and telephone accounts. In many cases the State Department also required “biometric information,” “passwords” and “personal encryption keys.” In the US, the term biometric information generally refers to fingerprints, passport photos and iris scans, among other things.

The US State Department also wanted to obtain information on the plans and intentions of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his secretariat relating to issues like Iran, according to the detailed wish list in the directive. The instructions were sent to 30 US embassies around the world, including Berlin.

The detailed document also reveals which UN issues most interested the US government. These included: “Darfur/Sudan,” “Afghanistan/Pakistan,” Somalia, Iran and North Korea. Other top issues included Paraguay and the Palestinian Territories, eight West African states including Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Senegal, as well as various states in Eastern Europe.

As justification for the espionage orders, Clinton emphasized that a large share of the information that the US intelligence agencies works with, comes from the reports put together by State Department staff around the world.

From The Guardian:

“SPARE US YOUR EVIL”: The King expressed hope the U.S. would review its Iran policy and “come to the right conclusion.” Brennan responded that President Obama was personally reviewing U.S. Iran policy and wanted to hear the King’s thoughts. Abdullah asserted that Iran is trying to set up Hizballah-like organizations in African countries, observing that the Iranians don’t think they are doing anything wrong and don’t recognize their mistakes. “I said (to Mottaki) that’s your problem,” recounted the King. Abdullah said he would favor Rafsanjani in an Iranian election, were he to run. He described Iran not as “a neighbor one wants to see,” but as “a neighbor one wants to avoid.” He said the Iranians “launch missiles with the hope of putting fear in people and the world.” A solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict would be a great achievement, the King said, but Iran would find other ways to cause trouble. “Iran’s goal is to cause problems,” he continued, “There is no doubt something unstable about them.” He described Iran as “adventurous in the negative sense,” and declared “May God prevent us from falling victim to their evil.” Mottaki had tendered an invitation to visit Iran, but Abdullah said he replied “All I want is for you to spare us your evil.” Summarizing his history with Iran, Abdullah concluded: “We have had correct relations over the years, but the bottom line is that they cannot be trusted.”

The Hill reports the Wikileaks claim that there was a cyber attack on the site prior to release of the data.

Just hours ahead of an expected release of three million classified U.S. documents, the website WikiLeaks said it has been the target of a computer attack.

“We are currently under a mass distributed denial of service attack,” WikiLeaks tweeted midday Sunday.

Fifteen minutes later, WikiLeaks vowed that it would go ahead with the document dump, which is expected to include State Department cables that Washington fears will wound foreign relations, through its media partners, who received advance access to the documents, if they couldn’t get the site back up in time.

“El Pais, Le Monde, Speigel, Guardian & NYT will publish many US embassy cables tonight, even if WikiLeaks goes down,” WikiLeaks tweeted.

The Guardian site was also briefly down Sunday morning with a 404 error.

Notable Tweets from Notable Tweeters:

benpolitico Ben Smith

RT @tomgara: @arabist nails it: this Wikileaks dump is more significant for the Arab world than it is for the US http://bit.ly/e2tVLM


Wikileaks Drops the Big One

Newspapers around the world are dropping the latest Wikileaks documents.  The site itself is inaccessible but its tweets say that it is not under attack of any kind.

We’ll be adding to this post as links become available.

This overview was just put up by Huffpo.

The New York Times and The Guardian have published classified State Department documents provided to them by the online website WikiLeaks. The WikiLeaks website appeared to be inaccessible, and WikiLeaks said in its Twitter feed that it was experiencing a denial of service attack. WikiLeaks also provided the documents to Spain’s El Pais, France’s Le Monde, and Germany’s Der Spiegel.

According to The New York Times, the cables reveal how foreign leaders, including Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, urged the U.S. to confront Iran over its nuclear program.

“The cables also contain a fresh American intelligence assessment of Iran’s missile program,” The Times reports. “They reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles.”

The White House has made a statement and you can read that on the HuffPo piece too.

From Der Spiegel on line:  A Super Power’s View of the World

The tone of trans-Atlantic relations may have improved, former US Ambassador to Germany William Timken wrote in a cable to the State Department at the end of 2006, but the chancellor “has not taken bold steps yet to improve the substantive content of the relationship.” That is not exactly high praise.

And the verdict on German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle? His thoughts “were short on substance,” wrote the current US ambassador in Berlin, Philip Murphy, in a cable. The reason, Murphy suggested, was that “Westerwelle’s command of complex foreign and security policy issues still requires deepening.”

Such comments are hardly friendly. But in the eyes of the American diplomatic corps, every actor is quickly categorized as a friend or foe. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia? A friend: Abdullah can’t stand his neighbors in Iran and, expressing his disdain for the mullah regime, said, “there is no doubt something unstable about them.” And his ally, Sheikh bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi? Also a friend. He believes “a near term conventional war with Iran is clearly preferable to the long term consequences of a nuclear armed Iran.”

[MABlue here]
I can’t wait to find out more in the hard copy of Der Spiegel tomorrow. As a subscriber, I normally get the new edition Saturdays in my mail. This week however, that did dot happen. So far, nobody has seen tomorrow’s edition where there’s more.

There are additional interesting links on the website of Der Spiegel:

Orders from Clinton: US Diplomats Told to Spy on Other Countries at United Nations

Foreign Policy Meltdown: Leaked Cables Reveal True US Worldview

Diplomatic Cables Reveal US Doubts about Turkey’s Government

The Germany Dispatches: Internal Source Kept US Informed of Merkel Coalition Negotiations

WikiLeaks FAQ: What Do the Diplomatic Cables Really Tell Us?

Behind Closed Doors

BBC News has a fine overview of some of the major issues addressed in the cables.

Wikileaks cables: key issues

The NYT: Cables Shine Light Into Secret Diplomatic Channels

Some of the cables, made available to The New York Times and several other news organizations, were written as recently as late February, revealing the Obama administration’s exchanges over crises and conflicts. The material was originally obtained by WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to revealing secret documents. WikiLeaks intends to make the archive public on its Web site in batches, beginning Sunday.

The anticipated disclosure of the cables is already sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could conceivably strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict.

The Guardian:   US embassy cables leak sparks global diplomacy crisis

• More than 250,000 dispatches reveal US foreign strategies
• Diplomats ordered to spy on allies as well as enemies
• Hillary Clinton leads frantic ‘damage limitation’

At the start of a series of daily extracts from the US embassy cables – many of which are designated “secret” – the Guardian can disclose that Arab leaders are privately urging an air strike on Iran and that US officials have been instructed to spy on the UN’s leadership.

These two revelations alone would be likely to reverberate around the world. But the secret dispatches which were obtained by WikiLeaks, the whistlebowers’ website, also reveal Washington’s evaluation of many other highly sensitive international issues.

These include a major shift in relations between China and North Korea, Pakistan’s growing instability and details of clandestine US efforts to combat al-Qaida in Yemen.

Among scores of other disclosures that are likely to cause uproar, the cables detail:

• Grave fears in Washington and London over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme

• Alleged links between the Russian government and organised crime.

• Devastating criticism of the UK’s military operations in Afghanistan.

• Claims of inappropriate behaviour by a member of the British royal family.

The US has particularly intimate dealings with Britain, and some of the dispatches from the London embassy in Grosvenor Square will make uncomfortable reading in Whitehall and Westminster. They range from serious political criticisms of David Cameron to requests for specific intelligence about individual MPs.

Is WikiLeaks being sabotaged? They alleged the site has been hacked.
WikiLeaks claims attack before expected document release

Just hours ahead of an expected release of three million classified U.S. documents, the website WikiLeaks said it has been the target of a computer attack.

“We are currently under a mass distributed denial of service attack,” WikiLeaks tweeted midday Sunday.

Some of the latest updates

From the Guardian update:

Haaretz focuses on the June 2009 memo. This quotes Israel’s defence minister, Ehud Barak, telling visiting American officials that a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities was viable until the end of 2010, but after that “any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage.”

Reuters found this nugget: Saudi king urged U.S. to attack Iran: WikiLeaks

Saudi King Abdullah repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran‘s nuclear program and China directed cyberattacks on the United States, according to a vast cache of U.S. diplomatic cables released on Sunday in an embarrassing leak that undermines U.S. diplomacy.

The NYTimes has published the letter exchange between the US Government and Julian Assange:

Letters between Wikileaks and the U.S. Government

Notable Tweets from Notable Tweeters:

benpolitico Ben Smith

RT @TimOBrienNYT: “@evgenymorozov: Saudi King Abdullah proposed implanting Bluetooth chips in Gitmo detainees http://goo.gl/uGln1

ggreenwald Glenn Greenwald

Must-read is right RT @mmhastings “must read: Simon Jenkins on why journalists should defend Wikileaks http://tinyurl.com/37yal4l

washingtonpost The Washington Post

Leaked cables suggest diplomats ordered to engage in spying, news orgs report http://wapo.st/ecD3Ak#p2#tcot#wikileaks

ggreenwald Glenn Greenwald

To follow WikiLeaks disclosures, @GregMitch is live-blogging documents: http://bit.ly/hl4Vze

Greg Mitchell is at The Nation. I just read this one and it was a wonderful surprising story.  Quick, some one get this man to write a book and get a screenwriter!!!

3:40Amazing story of how a 75-year-old American rode a horse over a mountain range to Turkey to finally get home from Iran.

BreakingNews Breaking News

China’s Politburo ordered hacking campaign against Google, per WikiLeaks documents – AFP http://yhoo.it/ihF2rE

GregMitch Greg Mitchell

WikiLeaks site, now up, reveal docs will actually be released for “months” to “do them justice.” http://cablegate.wikileaks.org/

Dkat here:  I just got into the Wikilinks cable viewer (about 4 pm cst).  It contains all the data and a stunning  introduction complete with summary statistics.

Wikileaks began on Sunday November 28th publishing 251,287 leaked United States embassy cables, the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain. The documents will give people around the world an unprecedented insight into US Government foreign activities.

The cables, which date from 1966 up until the end of February this year, contain confidential communications between 274 embassies in countries throughout the world and the State Department in Washington DC. 15,652 of the cables are classified Secret.

The embassy cables will be released in stages over the next few months. The subject matter of these cables is of such importance, and the geographical spread so broad, that to do otherwise would not do this material justice.

The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in “client states”; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.

This document release reveals the contradictions between the US’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors – and shows that if citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what’s going on behind the scenes.

Every American schoolchild is taught that George Washington – the country’s first President – could not tell a lie. If the administrations of his successors lived up to the same principle, today’s document flood would be a mere embarrassment. Instead, the US Government has been warning governments — even the most corrupt — around the world about the coming leaks and is bracing itself for the exposures.

The full set consists of 251,287 documents, comprising 261,276,536 words (seven times the size of “The Iraq War Logs”, the world’s previously largest classified information release).

The cables cover from 28th December 1966 to 28th February 2010 and originate from 274 embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions.


Sunday Reads

good morning!!!

Here’s an interesting piece in the Christian Science Monitor about an attempt to knock Rahm Emanuel off the ballot for the Chicago Mayoral election.  Emanuel’s eligibility is in question because of his residency in the District as Obama’s Chief of Staff.  Does that duty deserve similar treatment to active duty soldiers?

Chicago area election lawyer Burt Odelson filed his challenge to the Chicago Board of Elections, saying that Emanuel does not meet a state law that requires all candidates to be residents of the municipality in which they seek office for at least one year. He filed on behalf of two Chicago residents; on Wednesday, five other challenges were filed separately. Tuesday is the last day objections can be filed to the election board.

Central to Mr. Odelson’s argument is that Emanuel was removed from voter rolls twice during his two-year tenure in Washington, when he served as White House chief of staff to President Obama. During that time, Emanuel rented out his home. His campaign says he maintained ties to the city by paying property taxes, maintaining a driver’s license, and voting in the February primary.

Economists Olivier Jeanne and Anton Korinek  at VOX are suggesting Pigou taxes  (i.e. sin taxes) on financial corporations that would vary with credit booms and busts.    Rules would change depending on the state of the economy.  Suggestions include requiring higher capital levels or placing some kind of penalty on an organization when they take on large amounts of credit during an asset price boom.  The purpose is to impose the social cost of bailing the organization out on them to prevent from doing so and causing havoc in the financial markets. The idea is that they’d be less able to profit from the leverage so they’d be less likely to  go for the risk.  Suggestions specifically target mortgages with balloons or “teaser rates” since they are more risky and more likely to blow up in the face of market troubles.  The tax would then be used to fund any required bailout.

The optimal tax should also be adapted to the maturity of debt. Long-term debt makes the economy less vulnerable to busts than short-term debt, because lenders cannot immediately recall their loans when the value of collateral assets declines. For example, 30-year mortgages make the economy less prone to busts than mortgages with teaser rates that are meant to be refinanced after a short period of time.

An important benefit of ex-ante prudential taxation during booms is that it avoids the moral hazard problems associated with bailouts. When borrowers expect to receive bailouts in the event of systemic crises, they have additional incentives to take on debt. If the financial regulators accumulate a bailout fund, borrowers may increase their indebtedness in equal measure, leading to a form of “bailout neutrality”

Real Time Economics over at the WSJ has some interesting numbers up on Mortgage defaults.  The ever increasing backlog of defaults is worrisome.

492: The number of days since the average borrower in foreclosure last made a mortgage payment.

Banks can’t foreclose fast enough to keep up with all the people defaulting on their mortgage loans. That’s a problem, because it could make stiffing the bank even more attractive to struggling borrowers.

In recent months, the number of borrowers entering severe delinquency — meaning they missed their third monthly mortgage payment — has been on the decline, falling to about 700,000 in October, according to mortgage-data provider LPS Applied Analytics. But it’s still more than double the number of foreclosure processes started.

I personally enjoyed reading this Michelle Goldberg take-down on the Daily Beast of certain right wing women politicians who are trying to campaign as the ‘real’ feminists while throwing out their rewrites of herstory.  The Right Wing always rewrites history with the worst revisions.  I’m calling what they adhere to feminotexactlyism.  Here’s a few tidbits.

The historical revisionism here recalls that of Christian conservatives who try to paint our deistic Founding Fathers as devout evangelicals. At one point, Palin refers to Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s “Declaration of Sentiments,” which came out of the historic 1848 women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York. Stanton deliberately echoed the language of the Declaration of Independence, referring to the rights that women are entitled to “by the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” To Palin, this mention of God proves that Stanton shared her faith: “Can you imagine a contemporary feminist invoking ‘the laws of nature and of nature’s God?’ These courageous women spoke of our God-given rights because they believed they were given equally, by God, to men and women.”

Not really. Stanton was a famous freethinker, eventually shunned by more conservative elements of the women’s movement for her attacks on religion. In one 1885 speech, she declared, “You may go over the world and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded women.” Ten years later, she published the first volume of The Woman’s Bible, her mammoth dissection of biblical misogyny. Stanton was particularly scathing on the notion of the virgin birth: “Out of this doctrine, and that which is akin to it, have sprung all the monasteries and nunneries of the world, which have disgraced and distorted and demoralized manhood and womanhood for a thousand years.”

For more debunking, including that silly one about Susan B Anthony being some how against abortion, go read the article.  Facts are  such tractable things to Republicans that I wonder why any sane person would quote one without fact checking them first.  I just can’t take any more presidential candidates needing basic re-education; let alone presidents that require it.

Speaking of another one in that category, the national spotlight isn’t doing much good for my governor either.  I’ve got two sources I’ll quote here.  The first one is The American Thinker which you may recall is conservative.  They’ve even got his number.  It seems that just writing books about yourself is not going to be the path to Presidency any more.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is busy promoting his new tome Leadership and Crisis with book tour stops all over the country. This latest tour comes on top of his previous speaking tours to raise campaign cash for himself and various Republican candidates around the country. The only place Governor Jindal has trouble visiting is his home state of Louisiana. The joke in Louisiana is that Bobby is known as a governor in 49 states.


Louisiana blogger Lamar White, Jr. takes it even farther.  Yup, Jindal’s our ROAD Scholar. We can’t keep professors on university payrolls but we can sure pay for him to promote his self-serving book.

The oil spill was a huge scare, but instead of being honest about it, Jindal used it as an opportunity to advance his own political celebrity and perpetuate ridiculously disconcerting and almost masochistic myths about the effects of a deepwater drilling moratorium, none of which turned out to be true. He spent more time posing for the cameras and tagging along with CNN than practically anyone else, yet, in his “memoir,” it’s the Obama Administration who cared about media perception, not him. As an example, he cites a letter he delivered requesting an increase for federally-subsidized food stamps, suggesting that the Obama Administration delayed on their response. According to White House officials, Jindal’s formal request was delivered on the same day that Jindal called a press conference decrying the delays. Pure political theater.

But most importantly, when Jindal says Congressmen should spend more time at home, he should probably listen to his own advice. During the last couple of years, Jindal’s become more known for the things he has done outside of Louisiana than for anything he has done here in Louisiana. Before the November elections, he spent weeks touring the country to support fellow Republican candidates, and only two weeks after the election, he embarked on yet another nationwide tour, this time promoting his memoir.

I have to admit that this next Republican presidential primary is going to have me chewing my finger nails off.  If this is the best they have to offer, we are SO sunk.

Both the Koreas are upping the stakes in the Yellow Sea.  North Korea is sending veiled threats to the U.S about sending its air carrier–USS George Washington–into the area for joint ‘war games’.  SOS Clinton is in talks with the Chinese.  This is from The Guardian.

The world’s diplomatic corps is working feverishly to contain the crisis and make sure there is no further conflict. China, which is widely seen as having influence over the North, has held talks with the US between its foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, and the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. “The pressing task now is to put the situation under control,” the Chinese foreign ministry quoted Yang as telling Clinton.

Meanwhile the US stressed that its military operation with the South – which includes deployment of a nuclear-armed aircraft carrier – was not intended to provoke the North. Yet the North’s news agency addressed that issue: “If the US brings its carrier to the West Sea of Korea [Yellow Sea] at last, no one can predict the ensuing consequences.”

The the joint US-South Korea exercises started late last night.  Here’s the report on them from English Al Jazeera.

South Korea’s military later said that explosions – possibly the sound of artillery fire – were heard on Yeonpyeong Island.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that what is believed to have been a round of artillery was heard on Sunday from a North Korean military base north of the sea border dividing the two Koreas. It was not immediately clear where the round landed.

Residents of the island were ordered to take shelter in underground bunkers, but that order was later withdrawn, according to Yonhap.

Dozens of reporters, along with soldiers and police and a few residents, headed for the bunkers, where they remained for 40 minutes.

I’ve been watching the euro crisis again as the problems with Ireland seem to be creating problems with Spain now.  My print copy of The Economist didn’t come this morning so I’ve been having to read the cyber ink here.  My Saturday night soak in a hot bath was just not the same without it.  So,here’s my idea of a chiller thriller.

Europe’s rescue plan is based on the idea that Ireland and the rest just need to borrow a bit of cash to tide them over while they sort out their difficulties. But investors increasingly worry that such places cannot, in fact, afford to service their debts—each in a slightly different way. In Ireland the problem is dodgy banks and the government’s hasty decision in September 2008 to guarantee all their liabilities. Some investors think this may end up costing even more than the promised EU/IMF loans of some €85 billion ($115 billion)—especially if bank deposits continue to flee the country (see Buttonwood). Ireland’s failing government adds to the doubt, because it could find it hard to push through an austerity budget before a new election (see article). In Greece the fear is that the government cannot raise enough in taxes or grow fast enough to finance its vast borrowing. Likewise in Portugal, which though less severely troubled than Greece nevertheless seems likely to follow Ireland to the bail-out window.

If the panic were confined to these three, the euro zone could cope. But Europe’s bail-out fund is not big enough to handle the country next in line: Spain, the euro’s fourth-biggest economy, with a GDP bigger than Greece, Ireland and Portugal combined.

One has to ask how much the Germans are going to pony up the cross country fiscal policy this will take.   I’m still not ready to call the eminent demise of the EURO since every study that I’ve read–and I’ve read lots over the last three years–points to how much trade and foreign direct investment has come from integration.  This will test a lot of wills; good an otherwise. Meanwhile, the Irish are rebelling over their deal. They don’t want austerity measures any more than the Greeks do or we do for that matter.

The Economist also weighed in on  the “Republican Backlash” to the QE2 calling it perplexing which I believe is equal to me being baffled by the whole thing.  It’s still either they don’t know a damn thing (e.g. Republican presidential wannabe candidate number 1 on the link up top) or they just want the power so they don’t really care (e.g Republican presidential wannabe candidate number 2 on the link up top there).  Has to be.  What is still the weirdest thing to me is how many of them seem to hate Bernanke who is–afterall–a fellow Republican and a Dubya appointee.  What a strange, strange world this has turn out to be.  I mean Ron Paul is going to be in charge of the House subcommittee on Monetary Policy next year.  That’s like putting a representative of Astronauts for a flat earth society in charge of NASA.

Yet the fight is not ultimately over numbers, but ideology. To be sure, the Fed’s reputation has suffered among Americans of all political stripes over its failure to prevent the crisis and its bail-outs of banks. But the tea-party movement holds it in particularly low regard, seeing it as the monetary bedfellow of the hated stimulus and bail-outs. Some 60% of tea-party activists want the Fed abolished or overhauled, according to a Bloomberg poll. One of the movement’s heroes is Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas who wants to scrap the Fed outright and bring back the gold standard. His son Rand, newly elected as a senator from Kentucky, has also been stridently critical. QE can be made to seem sinister: an animated video on YouTube that portrays it as a conspiracy between Goldman Sachs and the Fed to fleece the taxpayer has been viewed over 2m times.

The ideological content of the backlash should not be overestimated. In 1892 William Jennings Bryan, later the Democratic presidential candidate, declared: “The people of Nebraska are for free silver and I am for free silver. I will look up the arguments later.” Liberals accuse the Republican leadership of likewise concocting an excuse to rally their base against Barack Obama. Indeed, the letter to Mr Bernanke criticises QE2 in much the same language used to oppose fiscal stimulus: as a dampener of business confidence and stability.

Well, I’ve just about had it with the print news today.  Do you suppose the Sunday News Programs will have anything on more meaningful?

Ah, probably not.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Saturday Night Turkey “Surprise” Treats

Still got leftover bird?  It's a TSA thanksiving weekend!!!  Pat Down that Turkey!!!

*

Try some of these Cajun recipes then bring them on because we know you have them!!!

Emeril’s Turkey Gumbo Recipe

Turkey Jambalaya from Epicurious

Cajun Turkey Pot Pie

Here’s some of my things to do with leftover sweet potatoes, if you got ’em!

Sweet Potato Biscuits

1 cup flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potatoes

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons butter (soft)

1/3 cup milk

Sift the flour salt and baking powder in one bowl.  Mix the sugar and sweet potatoes in a second bowl.   Add the butter and beat the mixture until it’s smooth.  Add the dry ingredients to the sweet potato mixture and add the milk.  Blend well.

Roll out the dough on a floured board.  Cut with a biscuit cutter.  Place in a buttered baking pan.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  I serve this with some whipped honey butter.

Du Pain Patate (Sweet Potato Bread)

2  cups grated raw sweet potatoes

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup butter melted

1 tsp cloves.

1 tsp salt.

2 unbeaten eggs

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup cane sugar syrup (yes, CANE SUGAR syrup … it’s a  Cajun thing and we make it down here)

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cinnamon

1 Tbsp. orange zest.

Put the grated raw potatoes in a bowl.  Ad one egg at a time and beat it real well until it’s mixed and kind of fluffy. Add the orange rind.  Mix it some more.  Add the sugar and beat it.  Add the syrup and the melted butter.  Mix.  Then Mix the spices, salt and flour together then add that to the rest of the mixture.  And, right, mix it again.

Okay, this is the fun part.  You’re going to transfer that to a well-greased iron skillet.  Bake it at 300 to 325 for an hour.  You can tell it’s done when the bread pulls away from the sides.  Cool it about 10 minutes before you get it out of the skillet.  This is going to make a really sticky type potato bread and if you put fresh cream on top, you’ll think you just about tasted the best thing ever.  Remove it in wedges with a spatula while it’s still hot.

This one is a really old recipe from a friend’s family and I had to beg for it … enjoy!!!

* (It’s a thanksgiving turkey that’s been through a TSA scan, that’s all!!!)