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    • The Attack In Ottawa will be used to justify losing more rights
      Prime Minister Harper pretty much confirmed it: ‘Our laws and police powers need to be strengthened’ Yup.  Never let a crisis go to waste. I’m very sad that MPs and their staff were scared, and I’m sadder that a soldier lost his life.  But one attack does not justify increasing the police state.  However, if [...]
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Thursday Morning Breakfast

A month from now, I will have lost the muffin top and will be lounging around somewhere in Maui drinking Bad Ass Coffee for breakfast.  I will toss my red hair in the trade winds and laugh, “ha-hahhhh!”  Until then, four more weeks in frickin’ New Jersey with an eighth grader who is making my life miserable because I decided to do an academic intervention and send her to an intense five weeks of algebra this summer.  (No, she didn’t fail anything.  She’s just an underachieving G&T kid who refuses to do her homework).  Seven more days of adolescent sturm and drang before she aces the final and killing her becomes a lot less attractive as a coping mechanism.  I can’t wait.

Bad Ass Coffee

Bad Ass Coffee

In the meantime, lean your surfboard against the wall, grab a cup of kona and read the news.

Corzine *still* trails Christie by 10+ points in the NJ Governor’s race.  {{smirk!}}  Karma’s a bitch, Jon.  Oh, by the way, Hillary hasn’t completely ruled out running for President but she says it’s really unlikely.

Obama has pulled out all of the stops and is asking the public to support his health care plan. First bloggers, now a direct appeal to the rest of us.  What’s the hurry?  It won’t take effect until 2013 anyway and as reform goes, it isn’t that great.  As long as we have four years to implement it, why not take it niiiiice and sloooow and work all of the bugs out of the system.  if you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?  Color me suspicious on the rush job.  For instance, take this “Oh, really?” bit of BS:

With Republicans and some moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill balking at both the specifics of the legislation and Mr. Obama’s timetable for House and Senate passage of the bills, the White House is now trying to rally legislative support and public opinion by linking health care to the nation’s economic health and offering the promise of tangible benefits to Americans.

“If we do not control these costs, we will not be able to control our deficit,” he said. “If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket.” He acknowledged that Americans were anxious, saying, “Folks are skeptical, and that is entirely legitimate.”

Folks are skeptical because for the vast majority of us, reform ain’t gonna happen.  We’ll be locked into our current plan and insurers can continue to maximize profits.  Costs and deficits are going to continue to rise for four more years until this baby takes effect and eve the Congressional Budget Office says the current plan will do nothing to curb costs.  The insurance industry seems to be getting a great deal out of this one.  Maybe that’s why they want to seal this deal before anyone finds out.  Call it Son of TARP.

And this is just silly:

At first, House Democrats were weighing a tax on Americans making more than $280,000 a year; now there is talk of imposing the tax on those households earning $1 million or more, an idea Mr. Obama said he favored because it would not put the burden of paying for the bill on the middle class.

“To me, that meets my principle, that it’s not being shouldered by families who are already having a tough time,” he said.

Mr. Obama also signaled that he might be open to another idea under consideration in the Senate : taxing employer-provided health benefits, as long as the tax did not fall on the middle class.

I don’t think the middle class who make less than a million a year would mind a small tax increase if the quality of the health care insurance that everyone received improved.  You can make a small tax very attractive if the results are significantly better than what we’ve got.  Think Social Security.  That’s not what this bill proposes.  But it doesn’t surprise me that Obama would throw out this not-very-well-thought-out, disjointed statement. He doesn’t lead from principle.  He doesn’t lead.  He follows.  And it’s becoming clear that he is worried about media driven public opinion but not terribly worried about doing the right thing.  So what else is new?

Meanwhile, back in Sudan, Iraq, Iran, China and Kyrgystan (Kyrgystan??)…  There are a heck of a lot of foreign news stories on the frontpage.  What’s up with that?  Are these all turning into hotspots or are they just bright shiny objects?

The Birthers are back. Birther prophylactic: we are not nor ever have been associated with the birther movement.  It’s a pointless distraction.  I figure that the Clinton Campaign would have been perfectly within its rights to have Obama disqualified if he were not a natural born citizen.  It wouldn’t have been character assassination.  It would have been a constittuional issue.  But Bill Clinton himself said that Obama met the minimum requirements for being president, which I interpret to mean that they looked into it and there’s no THERE there.  I don’t know why Obama needs to produce the exact original of his birth certificate to satisfy the birther crowd but I can think of a really good reason why he wouldn’t: it makes the birthers look like a bunch of complete loonies if he occasionally stirs up the issue.  Birthers, please don’t try to defend yourselves on this blog.  We’re really not interested.

For those of you who are getting blindsided by the shifting frames of the media on who’s who in the Democratic caucus and who’s screwing up health care reform, check out The Blue Dogs Flunk Obedience School. In summary, Obama, who doesn’t have a political philosophy but for some reason really, really likes bipartisanship for its own sake, has ignored his progressive base and has now become hostage to conservative blue dog Democrats.  These DINOs come from conservative districts where voters are vulnerable to media messaging about tax and spend liberals.  So far as I’ve seen, our current Congressional session skews heavily to the right.  There’s still a lot of taxing and spending going on but nary a liberal intiative in sight.  And as long as the blue dogs remain unprimaried, that’s the way it will stay.

H1N1 is laying low for now but could be a real problem in the fall.  Still no need to panic.  Get your flu shot if you’re offered one, have your doctor’s phone number available if you get sick, ask your employer about plans in case of a public health emergency and follow your public health official’s guidelines to prevent spread of infection.  Let’s hope our precautions make this the biggest non-story of the year.

Podcasts of the day: I have heard it said recently that the world is undergoing a shift in consciousness in a way that is similar to the shift from polytheism to monotheism.  It is a shift away from traditional monotheism to a more logical, holistic vision of the universe and its source of wonder.  It was difficult to see this shift while the country was in the grips of the fundamentalist evangelical base and their Christ for Rich People stuff.  It’s funny that so many religious people vote for politicians who do not believe in holding people accountable for bad behavior.  I might be wrong but it feels like it is time for the country to regain its sense of ethical behavior.  And as we know from bitter experience, it isn’t always to be found in the pews of your nearest megachurch.  Here are several podcasts that have common themes though they aren’t all obvious at first. There is a lot of material to chew on about reason, first principles, inclusiveness and the evolution of the human spirit:

Melvyn Bragg’s in Our Time discusses the Vienna Circle’s Logical Positivism

Bill Moyer’s interviewed Robert Wright on The Evolution of God

Anything from Krista Tippett’s Speaking of Faith.  I have really become addicted to her podcasts. There’s something here for everyone, atheists included.  Tippet is the Terry Gross of the divine but what passes for divine these days may surprise you.   Most of her interviews are not overtly about religion at all but are more about how different faith and ethical  experiences allow individuals to view life, the universe and everything from a more holistic point of view. The Ecstatic Faith  of Rumi won a Peabody and it’s easy to hear why.  It’s poetic and beautiful.  But Tippett also explores The Biology of Spirit with neurosurgeon Sherwin Nuland, freelance monotheism with Karen Armstrong and a more modern form of logical positivism with Echard Tolle.  Her interview with Rick Warren and his wife Kay was fascinating.  The Warrens initially sound like shallow, corporate religious types and don’t quite shake that image with the listener in spite of all of their recent philanthropic efforts. Quite revealing in completely unexpected ways.  All highly recommended.

Heartless employer of the day: Drugmaker Wyeth, in the process of merging with equally heartless Pfizer, sent an email offering a resume writing workshop to all employees. (no link.  I was informed by some former colleagues) I love the way they are promoting the fiction that there are any companies, not in India and China, where their employees have any hope of actually finding a job.  All of the companies I know are in the midst of their own layoffs and endless hiring freezes, leaving projects short staffed and scrambling for outside contractors.  The Pfizer-Wyeth merger will result in the loss of thousands of scientific jobs, burdening further the unemployment rolls of NJ, PA, CT and NY.  I’m sure the workshop is  going to lead to greater productivity between now and when the real layoffs begin.  Just write off real drug development from that new behemoth for the next several years.  The Wall Street guys and the mega shareholders just won’t be satisfied until these companies are reduced to cheap, overseas scientific staff and a bunch of stateside marketers and executives.  So much for American innovation.  Contracting your brain trust from overseas is incredibly short sighted.  It’s like eating your seed corn.  Pretty soon, all that will be left are MBAs.  And what have they innovated lately?

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Convergence on Goldman-Sachs

Slide1While the rest of the country strips Sarah Palin of her humanity for no good reason except that mobbing is so much fun, something very weird is going on with Goldman-Sachs.  There are a number of credible sources reporting now on the arrest of Sergey Alenyikov on July 4, 2009 at Newark Airport.  Mr. Alenyikov is accused of stealing G-S source code and uploading it to a computer somewhere in Europe.  Goldman sent the Feds to round up the rogue programmer because, as the US Attorney on the case says, the source can be used to manipulate the market.  Daytraders who monitor the market very closely say that they noticed some non-linear activity in the several weeks leading up to the arrest and that afterwards, the markets seemed to have returned to normal, whatever that means since last year’s crash.

But it gets more interesting.  As Bloomberg notes, how do we know that Goldman-Sachs hasn’t been using this code all along to manipulate the markets?  The theory goes something like this: Goldman-Sachs gets to put a unix server with the code on a network cable somewhere and uses a packet sniffer to watch the transactions that come across from traders at other companies.  With that knowledge, G-S is able to anticipate trades and shave a bit off for itself for every transaction.  If this is true, it means that G-S has a massively unfair advangtage in trading compared to, well, just about everyone else. Here’s a post at the Big Orange Cheeto for those of you who eat netstats for breakfast and think Perl poetry is romantic.  It goes into quite a bit of technical detail.

Check out this video from Bloomberg that lays it all out:

What’s really disturbing about this case is that the government seems to be extraordinarily receptive to calls for help from G-S.  Either the Goldman crew close to the White House is concerned with losing their bonuses or the potential for market failure is huge. Either way, it lessens confidence in the system.  It looks like “all traders are equal except some traders are more equal than others”.  What happens to the system when the people who have no choice but to operate in it no longer have any trust?  This leads me to my podcast du jour recommendation.  This one is from Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippet.  Her topic this past week was The Science of Trust with guest Chris Farrell, a neuroeconomist.  The secret to keeping everyone honest is the neurotrsnsmitter hormone oxytocin.  Oxytocin promotes empathy.  Approxomately 2% of the population has insufficient levels of oxytocin to experience empathy with other human beings(and you’re probably thinking they all work at Goldman-Sachs, right?)

Farrell says that the lax regulatory system is partially responsible for the financial disaster, although he takes a pretty long time before he gets around to saying it.  Farrell thinks that for *most* people, *most* of the time, the feelings of empathy lead to a sense of reponsibility and honesty.  That’s why you might have felt you could trust your banker with your money.  But in recent years, there have been advances in technology that lead to a depersonalization of the banker-client relationship.  It’s hard to see the person behind an account number on a monitor.

The podcast is part of a series by Tippett on Repossessing Virtue, all highly recommended.  You don’t have to be religious to have an ethical model.  But ethics, virtue and trust are all severely lacking in this dog eat dog world where nothing much makes sense.  Societies start to unravel when the sense of morality and consideration for others is replaced by, well, nothing at all.

If Tippett is concerned with repossessing virtue, I guess you could say that the fundamentalist group, The Family, is concerned with redefining it.  A second podcast recommendation is one that Terry Gross did last week on The Family, a religious community in DC that has been the spiritual guiding force for many enemies of The New Deal over the decades.  John Ensign was a recent alumni as was Governor Sanford of South Carolina.  The Family believes the end justifies the means and that chosen Family members are possessed of the virtue that requires no further regulation by the government.  They will lead us because it is their destiny and if they cheat on their wives on Family property, it must mean that God works in mysterious ways.  Caveat: Terry Gross is the best interviewer in the world but she has kool-ade psychosis and it is unfortunately seeping into her interviews.  “The propaganda is strong in this one.”  Proceed with caution.  Her bias shows.  Even so, if this group is only 1/10th as bad as the interview suggests, it’s pretty bad.

Update: It looks like Citadel is getting in on the act now.  The former head quant at Citadel started a new company called Teza Technologies and hired Aleynikov. Mikail Malyshev signed a 9 month noncompete clause when he left Citadel back in February.  That means he wasn’t supposed to open his door until November.  Maybe it’s all a preparation phase thing.  Teza is cooperating with the FBI. This stuff is starting to sound familiar.  Several of my former colleagues (all Russians BTW, tho’ I’m sure it’s all a coincidence) have gone to work for quant firms, though I can’t imagine they’ll be writing code.  Who knows?


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