Monthly Archives: December 2009

Should The Last Post Of 2009 Be On Unemployment Numbers? What Subject Would Be More Appropriate?


The CNBC tells me there are 432K new lucky duckies. Getting closer to ‘normal’ territory.

Mark Perry at Seeking Alpha:

1. The number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits in the U.S. unexpectedly fell in the latest week to its lowest level in 18 months, a sign the labor market may be turning a corner. Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell by 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 432,000 in the week ended Dec. 26, the lowest level since July 19, 2008. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast claims would rise by 3,000.

2. Meantime, the Labor Department said in its weekly report Thursday that the number of people collecting jobless benefits for more than a week also continued to decline.The tally of continuing claims, or those drawn by workers collecting benefits for more than one week, fell by 57,000 to 4,981,000 in the week ended Dec. 19.

3. The four-week average of new claims, which aims to smooth volatility in the data, dropped by 5,500 to 460,250 — marking its 17th consecutive drop. That was the lowest level since Sep. 20, 2008 (see chart above).

Courtney Schlisserman at Business Week:

“What we’ve seen is definite stability and just a hint toward things trying to get better,” Jeffrey Joerres, chief executive officer of Manpower Inc., said in a Bloomberg Television interview today. The world’s second-largest provider of temporary workers, is experiencing “slow but steady increases in people who are out on assignment,” he said. “It’s a little in every office, which is a good sign because it’s broad-based.”

A Labor Department spokesman said last week’s figures were “consistent” with recent trends and were not influenced by any unusual factors. Even so, the week of the Christmas holiday is difficult to adjust for seasonal variations, he said.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, a less volatile measure, dropped to 460,250 last week from 465,750 the prior one. Claims are down from a 26-year high of 674,000 in the week ended March 27.

Continuing claims decreased by 57,000 in the week ended Dec. 19, reaching the lowest level since February. The continuing claims figure does not include the number of Americans receiving extended benefits under federal programs.

Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge:

The fabulous news of the day undoubtedly will be the latest release from the Dept of Labor: Initial Claims for the week ended December 26 came in at 432,000, a 22,000 decline from the prior week, and below consensus. The number was sufficient to prompt Bloomberg’s Courtney Schlisserman to come up with the following observation, “Fewer Americans than anticipated filed claims for unemployment benefits last week, pointing to an improvement in the labor market that will help sustain economic growth next year.” Perhaps Courtney and Steve Liesman should sit down in a corner and finally figure out what this whole EUC (Emergency Unemployment Compensation) business is – trust us, it is not that difficult. And for the week ended Dec. 12 it surged by 191,669 to almost 4.5 million, another all time record. Three weeks ago we were shocked when this number hit the all time high of 4.2 million: in a mere 21 days it has added a whopping 7% to the total. Unfortunately, at this point we have gotten a little desensitized to new EUC records. We ask Ms. Schlisserman what happens to the “sustainable economic growth” when there are 0 Initial Claims (hurray!!) and a million EUC claims weekly (d’oh)? Again, a simple question. Luckily for Bloomberg, the DOL and the BLS there is no consensus number for EUC, as the downside surprises there would have been staggering, if anyone actually cared to report those on the front pages of the even impartial mainstream media.

Joe Weisenthal at The Business Insider

Leave a comment

Filed under Economics, The Crisis

A Bad Day For The CIA

Joby Warrick at WaPo:

A suicide bomber infiltrated a CIA base in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least eight Americans in what is believed to be the deadliest single attack on U.S. intelligence personnel in the eight-year-long war and one of the deadliest in the agency’s history, U.S. officials said.

The attack represented an audacious blow to intelligence operatives at the vanguard of U.S. counterterrorism operations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, killing officials whose job involves plotting strikes against the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other extremist groups that are active on the frontier between the two nations. The facility that was targeted — Forward Operating Base Chapman — is in the eastern Afghan province of Khost, which borders North Waziristan, the Pakistani tribal area that is believed to be al-Qaeda’s home base.

U.S. sources confirmed that all the dead and injured were civilians and said they believed that most, if not all, were CIA employees or contractors. At least one Afghan civilian also was killed, the sources said.

Marc Ambinder:

The death of eight CIA officers would be the agency’s worst toll since the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, when at least six officers were killed. Robert Baer, the now ubiquitous former CIA officer who spend years hunting down the Beirut bombers, has written that the agency never recovered from the loss of life that day. In an environment where the CIA is under extreme pressure from all corners, the Afghanistan massacre begins history as a tragedy that even under ordinary conditions the agency would find it hard to bear.  Leon Panetta, the CIA director, must now add, to the mountain of pressing concerns, the grief counseling for thousands of employees.
The CIA’s semi-covert Predator drone strike program, targeting Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives who cross back and forth from Pakistan, has killed hundreds  — a  number of which were most likely innocent civilians by any definition.
This is not to suggest an equivalence — just to say that the agency’s American operatives are most definitely combatants in this war, which is also to say that the rules of war and the legal understandings that the CIA is using to fight terrorism in Pakistan are not clear and not easily explicable to the American people. With the CIA’s massive footprint in Afghanistan, some sort of tragedy was probably inevitable.  (In 2001, officer Johnny Spann, a member of the CIA’s Special Activities Division, was killed in action in Afghanistan.)

Bobby Ghosh at Time:

It’s unclear how the bomber gained access to the base, but reports say the CIA has used it to recruit Afghans. “It is important to remember that the mission of the CIA in Afghanistan is to work closely with Afghans,” says Robert Grenier, a former CIA stationchief in Pakistan. “That mission necessarily carries a high degree of risk, especially given the prevalence of suicide bombers.”

Supposedly secure Western fortifications have been attacked before in Afghanistan. In October, five British soldiers were killed when an Afghan policeman fired on a U.K. training team inside a checkpoint in Helmand Province. But Grenier says that given the breadth and depth of the CIA’s operations in Afghanistan, the death toll among employees has been “almost miraculously light.” He adds: “Fate may have caught up with us today.” The Khost death toll matched the previous record of the number of CIA staffers killed in a single day. On April 18 1983, eight members of the Agency were killed when the US Embassy in Beirut was blown up by a Hizballah suicide bomb. A retired officer who was then in active service says the Agency “was in shock for about one day… and then we got mad.”

Khost is just across the border from North Waziristan, the lawless Pakistani tribal area from where al-Qaeda and the Taliban routinely launch attacks on U.S. and NATO positions in Afghanistan. The Taliban has already claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack, but U.S. authorities have released few details. “We mourn the loss of life in this attack,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said. Hank Crumpton, who headed the CIA’s counterterror ops in Afghanistan after 9/11: “This horrible attack underscores the risk that CIA officers, men and women, undertake every day in Afghanistan and around the world. They are America’s most important resource in this war, and this is a tragic blow.”

Siun at Firedoglake:

While everyone’s focus has been on Yemen – with reports that targets are being examined for possible retaliation attacks by the US – the US war in Afghanistan continues to go bad.

Yesterday, 10 Afghans were killed by US forces. The UN Observer writes:

Afghan investigators today accused US-led troops of dragging ten civilians from their beds and shooting them dead during a night raid.
Officials said that eight children and teenagers were among the dead and all but one of the victims were from the same family.

With demonstrations in at least two major cities calling for an end to such civilian killings, President Karzai pointed out that eight of the victims were “school students in grades six, nine and 10.”

Today, a suicide bomber entered FOB Chapman in Khost, a base “used by the CIA.” At least 8 (and later reports say 9) CIA operatives were killed as was an Afghan civilian:

The bomber managed to slip past security at Forward Operating Base Chapman in the eastern province of Khost before detonating an explosive belt in what one U.S. official described as a room used as a fitness center. The blast also wounded eight people, several of them seriously, U.S. government officials said.

It was not immediately clear how the assailant was able to infiltrate the U.S.-run post, which serves as an operations and surveillance center for the CIA near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. U.S. sources confirmed that all the dead and injured were civilians, adding that most of them were probably CIA employees or contractors. At least one Afghan civilian was also killed, the sources said.

Also today, an IED also killed 4 Canadian soldiers and a journalist from the Calgary Herald while an Afghan soldier opened fire and killed on US soldier and 2 Italians.

UPDATE: Benjamin Carlson at The Atlantic with the round-up

1 Comment

Filed under Af/Pak, GWOT

Hau`oli Makahiki Hou, Misters Limbaugh And Obama


Rush Limbaugh has been hospitalized in Hawaii after suffering chest pains — this according to KITV Hawaii.

According to KITV, paramedics responded to a call at the Kahala Hotel in Honolulu at 2:41 PM and transported Rush to Queens Medical Center.

According to the report, Rush was in “serious condition” when he arrived to the hospital.

Attempts to reach a rep for Limbaugh were unsuccessful.

UPDATE #1: TMZ has confirmed paramedics did respond to the Kahala Hotel at 2:41 to attend to someone with “chest discomfort.”

Carol Lee at Politico

Vision at Free Republic:

At 7:41pm est Rush Limbaugh was “was rushed to a Honolulu hospital on Wednesday afternoon with chest pains.”

We have no idea how serious this is. I’m asking for an immediate prayer, rosery, whatever to help this man.

Jesus Christ protect and heal this man.

Adrian Chen at Gawker:

Our buddies over at the Free Republic know how to save Rush Limbaugh: Internet prayer vigil! There are like 150 prayers already! Do you realize what this means? Tonight could be the night we find out if God exists.

Andrea Nill at Think Progress:

While unfortunate, Limbaugh’s hospital visit is rife with irony. The ailing radio show host was sent to the same medical center that a United Press International reporter misidentified in an article published in 2008 as the facility in which President Obama was born. Though the error was corrected to accurately indicate that Obama was born in the Kapi’olani Medical Center, the mistake fueled “birther” conspiracy theories that Limbaugh then dedicated significant airtime to promoting. Since then, Limbaugh has gone as far to state that Hawaii “morphed into Kenya one day in 1961 [the year Obama was born] and reverted back to Hawaii the next day.”

Meanwhile, some of Limbaugh’s right-wing colleagues have spent the past week slamming Obama for vacationing in Hawaii over the holidays, which “to many Americans seems like a foreign place.” Last month, Limbaugh was voted the nation’s “most influential conservative voice.”

Tom Maguire:

Rush embarks on a deep undercover penetration of Ground Zero of the Birther theory.  I hope he is otherwise fine.

David Weigel at Washington Independent

Ann Althouse:

I’m impressed that it took 12 comments before anyone at Politico said that (or anything like that) after a report that Rush Limbaugh has been hospitalized with chest pains and is in “serious” condition.

ADDED: Much re-tweeted at Twitter: “The people calling for Rush Limbaugh to die are the same people who ask to control your healthcare.”

AND: Rush Limbaugh has said on his show many times that once the government runs health care, there is a threat that life-or-death decisions will be made based on politics, and people will worry that if they  criticize the government or espouse the wrong opinions decisions will go against them

Leave a comment

Filed under Mainstream, Political Figures

What We’ve Built Today


This Hole Is Either Par Four Or Par Eight

But Don’t Look Back In Anger, I Heard You Say

Bring Out Your Deadbeats!

Worst. Decade. Ever. Or, Whatever.

Leave a comment

Filed under Smatterings Of Nothing

Vic Chesnutt: November 12, 1964-December 25, 2009

We are late on this story, but we wanted to give it some more attention.

Huffington Post:

Singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt has died, according to tweets from his friends and an announcement posted on the Constellation Records website.

From the announcement:

In the few short years that we knew him personally, Vic transformed our sense of what true character, grace and determination are all about. Our grief is inexpressible and Vic’s absence unfathomable.Chesnutt slipped into a coma after taking a large dose of prescription muscle relaxants. He died in Athens, Georgia, on Christmas Day. Since being in a car accident as a teenager in 1983, Chesnutt was only mobile in a wheelchair.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Chesnutt faced $70,000 in hospital bills, a subject he brought up in a Pop & Hiss interview earlier this month.

The Back Row Manifesto:

I first saw Vic Chesnutt in the early 1990’s, opening for Bob Mould at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, MI. I loved his his dark, twisted and deeply self-depricating sense of humor and the poetry he used to embody it in song. I still have the vinyl copy of his debut album Little which I bought from him at that show, and the subsequent records have been very important to me down the years. Seeing him live was always a treat, and the desire of other artists to work with him—from Kristin Hersh to M. Ward (who I saw for the first time opening for Vic at Southpaw in Brooklyn) to Grandaddy to Elf Power and countless others who contributed to the Sweet Relief II compilation of his songs—proves nothing more than the fact that behind his disarming, gruff and tender exterior was the beating heart of a great artist.

About 10 years ago, when our lives were in the orbit of mutual friends, I attended a small birthday dinner for Vic’s at a friend’s apartment in New York, and talked to Vic and Tina Chesnutt a little bit, got to know them ever so briefly and chuckled to myself at his reaction when he opened his big gift; a first iPod (Vic: “An iPod? Fuck! Thanks!”). After that, I never felt afraid to give a small hello when I saw him in a club or with friends, always greeted with a little bit of time and generous conversation. All this did was endear him more and more to me as an artist, and the obvious disappointment and pain that lurks in his music was not broached in such casual conversation. The fact that it was always there, though, made the news of his death yesterday less of a shock than a huge disappointment, not at Vic himself, but at life. Those you wish would live forever seem to always discover something unendurable about their own suffering in the world; I refuse to feel anything but compassion for Vic in the wake of this news and while I know the world will miss his howls growls and hushed tenderness, I also think his own relief is important to consider. And while that is small consolation to me, I will never know what it means to him. Which is all that matters.

Kristin Hersh, another of the great singer-songwriters of our time and one of Vic’s close friends, has set up a place where donations can be made to help Tina and Vic’s family pay for the expenses of this loss. I hope you will join me in making a contribution. May he rest in peace and may his records find ears forever.

John Hood at Flavorwire:

Sure, many of his tunes came soaked in melancholy, but Chesnutt wasn’t pouring on the tears and feeling sorry for himself. He was merely stating the facts as he came across them, and as they crushed him beyond hope.

The accolades have already begun accumulating; or, should we say, they continue to. Michael Stipe insists, “We have lost one of our great ones.” Patti Smith notes, “He possessed an unearthly energy, and yet was humanistic with the common man in mind.” Jeff Mangum reveals, “Hearing his music completely transformed the way I thought about writing songs, and I will forever be in his debt.”

But it was in life where the accolades really counted: Stipe “discovered” Chesnutt at Athens’s 40 Watt Club back in the late ’80s and would produce his first two LPs. Widespread Panic, who would also record two LPs with Chesnutt, as would the band that included Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto and members of Montreal’s Silver Mt. Zion and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, all of whom backed up Chesnutt on both 2007’s North Star Deserter and 2009’s At the Cut, arguably his best LP. Lambchop, too, got in on the praising, backing up Chesnutt for 1998’s The Salesman and Bernadette.

Then there were the bold-faced names that assembled for 1996’s Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation, among them Garbage, Smashing Pumpkins, and Kristin Hersh, another long-time friend of Chesnutt’s. It was that LP that brought Chesnutt to light, and it was the proceeds of that LP that helped that light continue to shine for another 13 years.

Camille Dodero at The Village Voice:

Chesnutt’s recent conversation with Terry Gross has been quoted a lot in the last few days because of its cruelly prescient honesty regarding Chesnutt’s recent “Flirted with You All My Life”–“a breakup song with death.” But also worth reading is Rob Trucks’s interview with Vic last year for this blog, if only to remember that the man not only grappled with depression, but hope. “Getting older’s not a shame, it’s a miracle,” he told Trucks. “It’s a miracle, you know. I’m still on a quest. I mean, I still am on a quest. I think my best work is ahead of me. And I really do think my best days are ahead of me.”

“Vic was a miserable bastard with a heart that was connected to the center of the world,” Chesnutt’s former tourmate Mark Eitzel wrote over the weekend on his blog. (“I’m a very complex person,” Vic was the first to admit. “My personality is a complex thing.”) Michael Stipe, Jeff Mangum, and others remember him here on the Constellation Records site; friend and songwriter Kristen Hersh is hosting a donation page for Chesnutt’s widow here. Lastly, you should really revisit William Bowers’s piece from 2007 about Vic Chesnutt’s work. It might be the nicest thing ever written about a “booger.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Music

But Was He Seen On A Boat With JFK, Partying With Naked Women?

Radio Netherlands:

Reports from Iran indicate that the Supreme National Security Council has ordered a complete check-up of the jet which is on standby to fly Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei and his family to Russia should the situation in Iran spiral out of control. The order, to the Pasdaran Revolutionary Guard Corps, was dated on Sunday, 27 December. A fax containing the order was sent to Dutch-based Shahrzad News.

Huffington Post:

Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei could flee to Russia should the situation in his country continue to spiral out of control, according to Radio Netherlands.

The media organization reports that the Supreme National Security Council ordered a check-up Sunday of the jet on standby to evacuate Khamenei and his family should the need arise.

If Khamenei does depart the country, it would be reminiscent of an historic event in Iranian history: Jan. 16, 1979, when the Iranian Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi fled Iran following an increase in violent protests. The anniversary of that event is coming up soon.

The plane check is already being viewed by some as an indication that Khamenei will in fact leave Iran, as protests continue.

UPDATE: Iranian journalist and media researcher Omid Habibinia tells HuffPost he has doubts about the authenticity of the document that this report evolves around. He says it is fast circulating Facebook but for many reasons he believes the document is forgery, including the fact there are no words below the logo of the Islamic Republic of Iran and no mail is confidential in the Persian month Mehr.

Enduring America:

And then there are the uncertainties that go beyond today’s events. Consider, for example, how a rumour without any clear evidence is now “news”. The Twitter chatter on Sunday was that a jet, with an escort of military fighters, was ready at Mehrabad Airport for the Supreme Leader to fly to Russia. Yesterday, that chatter, backed up by a mysterious fax, turned into “news” on Radio Netherlands, and today it is worthy of publication in The Huffington Post.

Allah Pundit:

HuffPo notes that January 16 is the anniversary of the shah’s abdication, a date that’ll no doubt be targeted by organizers for a surge in direct action. But still: If Khamenei was going to show weakness this provocative — essentially an admission that he’s no longer sure he can hold the country together — wouldn’t he have tasked the plane check-up to only his most devoutly loyal underlings? The last thing he’d want is to risk a leak that might spook the security forces, who would suddenly fear that the balance of power was about to turn and would side with the protesters so that they didn’t end up hanging from lampposts. Seems much more likely that this is pro-protester propaganda than a genuine scoop, alas.

Leave a comment

Filed under Middle East

Do The Nominees Get To Hear Muzak When Senators Place Them On Hold?

Brad Johnson at Think Progress:

In the aftermath of the attempted Christmas airplane bombing, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is unrepentant about his hold on President Obama’s nomination for the head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the division of the Department of Homeland Security that handles airport security. Obama nominated Erroll Southers — a former FBI special agent, the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department assistant chief for homeland security and intelligence, and the associate director of the University of Southern California’s Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events — to run TSA in September. Southers’ nomination was approved by two Senate committees, but DeMint has placed a hold on Southers “in an effort to prevent TSA workers from joining a labor union”

Adam Serwer at Attackerman’s joint:

The Obama administration doesn’t care more about unionizing workers than terrorism. Jim DeMint cares more about unionizing workers than terrorism.

Doug J.:

It would be nice if a few Villagers here and there could take a break from bashing Harry Reid for not being Mike Mansfield and focus on crap like this.

David Weigel at Washington Independent:

One of the reasons that Republicans were able to beat Democrats over the head with votes against creating the DHS in 2002 — Democrats having proposed the new department in the first place — is that Republicans successfully prohibited collective bargaining. The inability of Democrats to flip this back on Republicans, who are currently attacking the president for fumbling transportation security — especially because it would demand a floor fight that would end with Republicans voting against a new TSA head — is pretty hard to understand.

Paul Krugman:

A number of people — though not, strange to say, any leading figures in the Democratic party — have pointed out that the TSA doesn’t have an administrator at the moment, because Sen. Jim DeMint is holding up Obama’s nominee. Why? Because DeMint is worried that TSA employees might unionize.

So much for making the fight against terror a priority. But then, it has been this way from the start. Whenever I hear someone talk about how we were unified as a nation after 9/11, I gag — partly because I remember how senior Republicans tried to keep airport security in private hands. Just weeks after the attack, preventing any expansion of government was more important to them than protecting passengers.

Nothing has changed.

Leave a comment

Filed under GWOT, Homeland Security, Political Figures

I’m Looking Through You

John Schwartz at NYT:

The technology exists to reveal objects hidden under clothes at airport checkpoints, and many experts say it would have detected the explosive packet carried aboard the Detroit-bound flight last week. But it has been fought by privacy advocates who say it is too intrusive, leading to a newly intensified debate over the limits of security.

Screening technologies with names like millimeter-wave and backscatter X-ray can show the contours of the body and reveal foreign objects. Such machines, properly used, are a leap ahead of the metal detectors used in most airports, and supporters say they are necessary to keep up with the plans of potential terrorists.

“If they’d been deployed, this would pick up this kind of device,” Michael Chertoff, the former homeland security secretary, said in an interview, referring to the packet of chemicals hidden in the underwear of the Nigerian man who federal officials say tried to blow up the Northwest Airlines flight.

But others say that the technology is no security panacea, and that its use should be carefully controlled because of the risks to privacy, including the potential for its ghostly naked images to show up on the Internet.

“The big question to our country is how to balance the need for personal privacy with the safety and security needs of our country,” said Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who sponsored a successful measure in the House this year to require that the devices be used only as a secondary screening method and to set punishments for government employees who copy or share images. (The bill has not passed in the Senate.)

“I’m on an airplane every three or four days; I want that plane to be as safe and secure as possible,” Mr. Chaffetz said. However, he added, “I don’t think anybody needs to see my 8-year-old naked in order to secure that airplane.”

Ronald Bailey at Reason:

This provoked a breakfast discussion with my wife over the following question: Which is less invasive of privacy: government agents peeking at your body with millimeter wave scanners at airports or allowing the government to amass and access instantly dossiers of background information before you are allowed to board a flight? Below is an example of a millimeter wave scan.

So which would you pick? For the record, my wife and I decided scanning was the less invasive option.

Stewart Baker at The Corner:

What I find interesting is the effort of privacy groups to run for cover now that the cost of their campaigns is clear.  Schwartz interviews the head of a particularly aggressive privacy group, Marc Rotenberg of EPIC, asking him about his group’s position on whole-body imaging:

Marc Rotenberg, head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said his group had not objected to the use of the devices, as long as they were designed not to store and record images.

That sounded very moderate, very nuanced.

What it didn’t sound was, well, true….


Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport will begin using body scanners on all passengers taking flights to the United States following the attempted terrorist attack on a U.S.-bound flight on Christmas Day, the Dutch interior minister said Wednesday.

The millimeter-wave body scanners will be in place in about three weeks, Dutch Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst told a news conference at The Hague.

“We’ve escaped a very serious attack with serious consequences, but unfortunately in this world there are individuals who do not shy away from attacks on innocent people,” she said.

Tom Kavanagh at Politics Daily:

The move comes in the wake of an attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet headed for Detroit on Christmas Day. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, is accused of trying to ignite explosives he had concealed in his underwear. The measures in place at Schiphol when Abdulmutallab boarded Flight 253 included metal detectors and X-ray machines, which cannot detect the explosive material he was allegedly carrying.

Dutch Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst said at a news conference that the scanners will be permanent at Schiphol, and any passengers who do not go through them will be body-searched. As for privacy concerns — namely that the scanners could pick up private features of a person’s body — ter Horst said the scan results will first go through a computer, which would alert security personnel of anything suspicious.

James Joyner:

If and when the kinks are worked out of this system, it actually makes perfect sense.  It appears that they have gotten around the most serious privacy concerns and a scan actually provides much more real security than the nonsensical procedures they’re using now.  My strong guess, however, is that they will continue those as well.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum

UPDATE #2: Mark Tran at The Guardian

UPDATE #3: Declan McCullagh at Cnet

Adam Frucci at Gizmodo


Filed under GWOT, Homeland Security

With Your Mind On Moving Your Money And Moving Your Money On Your Mind

Arianna Huffington and Rob Johnson at HuffPo:

Last week, over a pre-Christmas dinner, the two of us, along with political strategist Alexis McGill, filmmaker/author Eugene Jarecki, and Nick Penniman of the HuffPost Investigative Fund, began talking about the huge, growing chasm between the fortunes of Wall Street banks and Main Street banks, and started discussing what concrete steps individuals could take to help create a better financial system. Before long, the conversation turned practical, and with some help from friends in the world of bank analysis, a video and website were produced devoted to a simple idea: Move Your Money.

The big banks on Wall Street, propped up by taxpayer money and government guarantees, have had a record year, making record profits while returning to the highly leveraged activities that brought our economy to the brink of disaster. In a slap in the face to taxpayers, they have also cut back on the money they are lending, even though the need to get credit flowing again was one of the main points used in selling the public the bank bailout. But since April, the Big Four banks — JP Morgan/Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo — all of which took billions in taxpayer money, have cut lending to businesses by $100 billion.

Meanwhile, America’s Main Street community banks — the vast majority of which avoided the banquet of greed and corruption that created the toxic economic swamp we are still fighting to get ourselves out of — are struggling. Many of them have closed down (or been taken over by the FDIC) over the last 12 months. The government policy of protecting the Too Big and Politically Connected to Fail is badly hurting the small banks, which are having a much harder time competing in the financial marketplace. As a result, a system which was already dangerously concentrated at the top has only become more so.

We talked about the outrage of big, bailed-out banks turning around and spending millions of dollars on lobbying to gut or kill financial reform — including “too big to fail” legislation and regulation of the derivatives that played such a huge part in the meltdown. And as we contrasted that with the efforts of local banks to show that you can both be profitable and have a positive impact on the community, an idea took hold: why don’t we take our money out of these big banks and put them into community banks? And what, we asked ourselves, would happen if lots of people around America decided to do the same thing? Our money has been used to make the system worse — what if we used it to make the system better?

Everyone around the table quickly got excited (granted we are an excitable group), and began tossing out suggestions for how to get this idea circulating.

Eugene, the filmmaker among us, remarked that the contrast between the big banks and the community banks we were talking about was very much like the story in the classic Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life, where community banker George Bailey helps the people of Bedford Falls escape the grip of the rapacious and predatory banker Mr. Potter.

It was a lightbulb moment. And, unlike the vast majority of dinner conversations, the excitement over this idea didn’t end with dessert. It actually led to something — thanks in great part to Eugene and his remarkable team, who got to work and, in record time, created a brilliant, powerful, and inspiring video playing off the It’s a Wonderful Life concept. Watch it below.

Within a few days, the rest of the pieces fell into place, including an agreement with top financial analysts Chris Whalen and Dennis Santiago, who gave us access to their IRA (Institutional Risk Analytics) database. Using this tool, everyone will be able to plug in their zip code and quickly get a list of the small, solvent Main Street banks operating in their community.

The idea is simple: If enough people who have money in one of the big four banks move it into smaller, more local, more traditional community banks, then collectively we, the people, will have taken a big step toward re-rigging the financial system so it becomes again the productive, stable engine for growth it’s meant to be. It’s neither Left nor Right — it’s populism at its best. Consider it a withdrawal tax on the big banks for the negative service they provide by consistently ignoring the public interest. It’s time for Americans to move their money out of these reckless behemoths. And you don’t have to worry, there is zero risk: deposit insurance is just as good at small banks — and unlike the big banks they don’t provide the toxic dividend of derivatives trading in a heads-they-win, tails-we-lose fashion.

Think of the message it will send to Wall Street — and to the White House. That we have had enough of the high-flying, no-limits-casino banking culture that continues to dominate Wall Street and Capitol Hill. That we won’t wait on Washington to act, because we know that Washington has, in fact, been a part of the problem from the start. We simply can’t count on Congress to fix things. We have to do it ourselves — and the big banks are the core of the problem. We need to return to the stable, reliable, people-oriented approach of America’s community banks.

Lynn Parramore at New Deal 2.0:

Just before Christmas, a group of friends were discussing what people could do to stop big banks from running roughshod over America. Among them was Robert Johnson, Director of Financial Reform at the Roosevelt Institute — you know him from his “FinanceSeer” column on New Deal 2.0. The question was raised: could ordinary folks actually help cure a sick financial system?

Rob had an idea. Why not ask people to move their money from a Too Big to Fail institution to a community bank? Why not trust the banks that have been responsible in managing money and supporting the businesses and people around them? Eugene Jarecki, a filmmaker in the group, recalled the beloved holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life, and within days he put together the video you see here. The editor at the gathering was none other than Arianna Huffington, and she wrote an editorial asking readers to consider leaving the big banks to gamble with their own money–not yours and mine. “Think of the message it will send to Wall Street — and to the White House,” she writes. “That we have had enough of the high-flying, no-limits-casino banking culture that continues to dominate Wall Street and Capitol Hill.”

A new year, a new movement…and there’s even a new website that let’s you search for a responsible bank near you.

Click here to get started and join the movement.

And please pass the word…it’s time to send a message to Wall Street: We the people have had enough.

Adrian Chen at Valley Wag:

The much-vaunted website looks like “My First WordPress Blog” and consists of: The MOVE YOUR MONEY “viral video”; some words about how corporate banks are bad; and a search tool to help find trustworthy local banks in your area to which you may MOVE YOUR MONEY.

The search tool is courtesy of Institutional Risk Analytics, which sells reports on bank reliability. According to Huffington and Johnson’s article, HuffPo “reached an agreement with top financial analysts Chris Whalen and Dennis Santiago, who gave us access to their IRA (Institutional Risk Analytics) database.” (Whalen is quoted frequently in HuffPo pages.) As first noted by Shawn Wasson of The News Junkie, the Institutional Risk Analytics link is plugged into an affiliate program. Subscriptions to IRA’s service start at $50 and go up to $500 and if you send them a new customer, they’re “paying 20% net of PayPal fees and COGS content license costs, where applicable, in 2009 on affiliate sales credited to your code.”

So, is this some new revenue stream for Huffington’s site? Whalen tells us HuffPo is will not receive any commission from sales generated by the campaign. “The Huffington investigative fund runs the site. We do not pay them any commissions for any sales that may occur,” Whalen wrote in an email.

So: HuffPo launches this MOVE YOUR MONEY campaign, which is basically a glorified link to Institutional Risk Analytics’ bank reports. Corporate America may or may not come crashing to its knees, but we imagine Institutional Risk Analytics’ website will be getting way more than its average of 476 hits tomorrow.

Felix Salmon:

Should people move their money from the big four commercial banks to smaller community banks? Arianna Huffington is making a big push, but I’ll believe it when I see it: moving banks is hard, and people are lazy.

The one thing I would urge though is that if you are moving your money out of BofA/Chase/Citi/Wells, that you strongly consider not only smaller banks but also local credit unions as a place to move your money to. The website is happy to give me a list of local banks including Mitsubishi UFJ (no one’s idea of a small community bank), but doesn’t list any credit unions at all. Here’s a tool to help you find one. If you’re going to go to the hassle of switching away from the big banks, then at least make sure you’ve explored all the options.

James Joyner:

Now, it happens that none of my family’s money is in the Big Four banks (JP Morgan/Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo) that Arianna and her pals hate. We use a regional bank, and international virtual bank, and three different credit unions. But I don’t see what this plan accomplishes.

First off, despite the publicity that the Big Four bailouts received, they’re hardly alone. Indeed, Arianna’s article notes that “America’s Main Street community banks — the vast majority of which avoided the banquet of greed and corruption that created the toxic economic swamp we are still fighting to get ourselves out of — are struggling. Many of them have closed down (or been taken over by the FDIC) over the last 12 months.” Uh, that’s a bailout. And, surely, we haven’t forgotten the Savings and Loan Crisis of the late 1980s, in which hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars went to bail out S&Ls from bad loans?

Second, we don’t live in Frank Capra’s world. Going to the handy-dandy local bank finder Arianna and her friends created, I see that my choices are one of several branches of two different institutions. But if I wanted to take out a big loan — say, to hire a bunch of struggling journalists to create a right-of-center version of what Josh Marshall has at TPM — I’d have no better luck at Burke and Herbert than at Bank of America. George Bailey doesn’t work at either place and they don’t know me and I don’t know them.

There may well be towns in America small enough that the local banker does indeed know just about everyone. But people in those towns are probably already banking with him, because they’re not big enough for one of the Big Four to bother opening a branch.

So, I’d suggest that you bank where it makes best sense for your needs. How do their fees stack up against the way you bank? Is there a branch located near your home and/or office? What interest rates do they pay on money left in your account? Do you like to make frequent ATM withdrawals? If so, you should look for one with either a ton of branches (i.e., a Big Four) or else one that waves out-of-network fees (e.g., USAA). Do you want to bank electronically? Then the community bank may not be able to accommodate you.

James Kwak at Baseline Scenario:

I think another issue is that while outrage at Wall Street remains high, most people don’t connect the bank in their town with Wall Street, even if it is a branch of Bank of America. When you walk into a Bank of America branch, it doesn’t feel like Wall Street. It doesn’t even really feel evil; it just feels ugly and corporate and inefficient. I suspect it’s still a mystery to many people how mortgages issued by the bank on the corner are connected to CDOs, the housing bubble, and vast trading profits on Wall Street. My hatred of Bank of America is mainly due to the experience I had with them last summer trying to get old bank statements for a client. (I also recently noticed that while there used to be three Bank of America branches in my town–probably because Fleet, which B of A bought in 2004 or so, was itself the merger of three banks–now there is only one.)

That said, I’m all in favor. I recently canceled my Citibank credit card that I had for twelve years (my remaining cards are American Express and U.S. Bank, which isn’t particularly virtuous but at least avoids the big four), and I only have one step left to close my Bank of America account (need to verify that my last direct deposit has switched). I use Greenfield Savings Bank (0.75% on checking, without the hassle of a “reward” checking account) and Peoples Bank (1.5% on savings, and other banks’ ATM fees refunded for checking accounts). (For those in Western Massachusetts, I hear Florence Savings Bank is good too).

Switching banks can also be good for your wallet, since the biggest banks almost always pay the lowest deposit rates (and charge relatively high mortgage rates). I look at Bank Deals when I’m looking for a new account.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan

1 Comment

Filed under Economics, The Crisis

What We’ve Built Today

You put your updates in, you put your updates out, you put your updates in and you shake them all about:

This Hole Is Either Par Four Or Par Eight

Mr. Yglesias Goes To Washington Or The Filibuster Follies

Why Don’t Any Of These Sixties Revivals Include A Beatles Reunion? Oh. Yeah.

Take A Load Off Fannie, Take A Load For Free

Talkin’ European Revolution Reflection Blues

I Have A Blue House With A Blue Window

You Can Only Ignore The Philandering Golfer In The Room For So Long

Hearing War Drums From The NYT Op-Ed Page

Leave a comment

Filed under Smatterings Of Nothing