Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Last Call

That tree you hear falling in the municipal bond forest is Vallejo, California...and yes, it did make a noise.

The city of Vallejo, California, proposed paying some creditors as little as 5 percent of what they are owed, making it the first general municipality that would fail to fully repay its debts in bankruptcy.
General unsecured creditors would collect 5 percent to 20 percent of their claims under the plan of adjustment filed late yesterday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Sacramento, the state capital.
No city or county has used federal bankruptcy laws to force creditors to take less than they are owed, according to Bruce Bennett, the lead lawyer for Orange County, California, when it filed the biggest municipal bankruptcy in the U.S. in 1994.
Vallejo’s plan assumes the city can’t provide essential services, like police and fire protection, while also paying its debts, he said. Should the city succeed, the case “may become an important precedent,” Bennett said in an interview.

Translation:  The city of Vallejo, California just told all the people it owed money to that the best they are ever going to see after bankruptcy is 20 cents on the dollar.  No city has ever said "We can't pay back 100 cents on the dollar" before in a federal bankruptcy.  Nobody. Some of the creditors will see as little as five cents on the dollar on this plan..  Vallejo isn't a small city, either, well over 100,000 people live there.  If this bankruptcy plan is accepted and Vallejo wins its bankruptcy case, you are going to see a slew of US cities do the same thing...and take the municipal bond market with it.

It's going to be brutal should that happen.  This one might open the floodgates, folks.  A municipal bond meltdown would follow, and our economy with it.

Between this and foreclosuregate, it's a race to see which time bomb will rip what's left of our economy to shreds first.

Privacy, Who Needs Privacy? Part II

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – In a cautionary tale for users of social-networking sites, a California man has admitted using personal information he gleaned from Facebook to hack into women's e-mail accounts, then send nude pictures of them to everyone in their address book.

Back in the day, when nobody knew what you could accomplish with a simple little password and some time, hackers did some pretty good damage.  Back then there wasn't much to be had, the world was still not moving en masse to digital records and the Internet wasn't much more than a bunch of vanity pages.  Nobody really learned about social engineering, because everything got technical and viruses became the new way to steal information or damage computers.

I think it's okay to say at this day and age that we are wise to the virus game. Everyone has antivirus and most run scans.  So why is this still such a problem?  Because we're stupid, that's why.  Our personal information can be used against us, to guess answers to security questions, or to fool someone into giving out another crumb of information to be used later.  I protect accounts at work and adhere to strict rules.  You have no idea how many times someone "forgets" something unrealistic like their mother's maiden name and then tells me they have their SSN, birthdate, etc.  With Facebook, you just have to get friended and then you can zoom over to mom's site and see if her maiden name is listed.

Three simple things can throw a major wrench in this problem.  It's not the super tech-locked that are giving away secrets, it's the mass public that either doesn't know how to be secure or is just too lazy to go through the motions.  All I'm saying is for a few minutes a year you can not only protect yourselves, but the people you may unknowingly expose.  You don't have to be interesting to be a target, and with networks like Facebook and email correspondence, you are dragging other people into your mess.

1. Change your password at least twice a year.  Yes, the one you use for everything.  Do not write it down. If you are ever tempted to write it down, don't.  Seriously.  Go to step 2.

2. Click here to read a short but perfect article on how to create a solid password that meets everyone's requirements and is easy to remember.  So you don't ever have to write it down.

3. Wash, rinse, repeat.  Get used to the idea of protecting your passwords, and get some street sense for protecting your private information.  The next wave of stolen data and personal invasion is coming from folks being careless, not a cackling 14-year-old in a basement.

Heroes In Your Own Mind

Mistermix at Balloon Juice has an excellent point on the Tuscon shootings:

As more details slowly leak out about the Tucson shooting, it’s becoming ever more clear that those who advocate more armed citizens as a countermeasure to that kind of violence have a childish, comic-book fantasy about what happens in surprise shootings. A review of the video shows that the shooter engaged everyone at a distance of about three feet with a semi-automatic weapon. He also wore earplugs to better concentrate on his task. The notion that some semi-trained weekend range shooter could whip out his pistol and do anything effective amidst this kind of close quarters shooting is worth a laugh, not endless hours of serious media coverage.

If you're 20-30 feet away, and you have a guy shooting people around him at point blank range, hitting the gunman without seriously harming or killing any of the other victims in the immediate area is extremely difficult, if not impossible.  Life does not have a "disable friendly fire" option, folks.  There's a reason cops don't shoot into crowds to try to hit a gunman in real life, despite movies and TV shows.

Anyone who would be trained well enough to make an accurate shot like that , one that could have disabled or dropped Loughner while he was firing, would also be trained well enough to know the consequences of missing him, and just how difficult it would be to hit him when he was surrounded by people like that.

Loughner planned his attack very well and if he had been able to reload successfully a lot more people would have been killed rather than hurt.  Remember, Loughner fired at point blank range and still only managed to kill 6 of 20.  What are the odds a passing cop would have been able to drop him in that situation, let alone a civilian with a handgun, without hurting anyone?

More people with guns in the crowd wouldn't have lowered the body count, and in all likelihood would have raised it.

The Rand Paul Fun Club

That's my junior Senator, makin' friends!

Sen. Rand Paul on Friday announced the launch of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, making good on an idea he floated during last year's campaign.

GOP Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Mike Lee (Utah) will join the Kentucky Republican as the first members of the caucus.

DeMint helped several tea party-backed candidates — including Paul and Lee — win primaries last year and he is viewed as a hero within the grass-roots movement.

The group's first meeting will be on Jan. 27. The Senate group mirrors the House Tea Party Caucus, which Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) announced she was forming last year.

According to a joint statement announcing the caucus issued Friday afternoon, "citizens will be invited to speak so we can hear from them and address their concerns about what's happening in Washington."

It's like the Superfriends, only without the really big computer in the Hall of Justice.   Or the superpowers.  Or the invisible jet.  Or...well okay, maybe more like the Legion of Doom,  Jim DeMint kinda looks like Solomon Grundy.  What will the Senate Tea Party Caucus actually do all day, anyhow?  Citizens will be invited to speak?  That should be fun.

Oh please, let's see some crazy-ass Tea Party faithful on C-SPAN speaking to Congress on how Obama's secret Kenyan Muslim volunteer army is putting gay mind-control fluoride in school lunches, too.

Seriously, what do these guys hope to accomplish besides accidental televised comedy hi-jinks?

Here Is Proof I Didn't Do It... Hey, Is That A Taser?

A 24-year-old woman was accused of robbing a CVS pharmacy.  When she tried to show the police her receipt, she was put in a choke hold and the police used a taser to "subdue" her.  The police do not deny that she was mistaken for the offender, she was a black female in dark clothing.  Based on that description, she was detained.  Police say she was argumentative.  I imagine I might have been as well.  Andrea Boarman says her hands were behind her back, police state they were not. Nobody argues that she was on the ground when the taser was used.

Poll Shows Good Trend

Washington (CNN) - A new national poll shows an improvement in how Americans see the direction of the country, and puts President Obama in better standing against potential 2012 rivals.

That's good news. It also shows that Americans are happier with the direction the country is moving.  I don't put a lot of stock in polls, but the overall tend towards citizens feeling more secure with the current leadership is a good sign.

Oman, Are We In Trouble Now

North Africa's problem is rapidly becoming the world's problem.

World food prices continued to rise sharply in December, bringing them close to the crisis levels that provoked shortages and riots in poor countries three years ago, according to newly released United Nations data. 

World food prices have jumped 32% in the last six months.  The food riots we're seeing in North Africa are beginning to spread to other locations.

A large number of young Omanis took to the streets in a peaceful protest march in the Al Khuwair district where most of the government offices are located.

The youth, protesting against the general conditions such as soaring price rise and growing unemployment, were allowed to walk in a procession although there was heavy police presence.

According to witnesses, the youth dispersed peacefully after an hour-long protest near the Ministry of Housing and Interior Ministry building.

Though the ministry area was deserted when the protest was held at government department as the staff work only up to 2.30pm. the main Sultan Qaboos Highway saw a huge traffic jam of office goers from the private sector heading home. The curious drivers slowed down the traffic, triggering congestion.

"I could see a huge crowd in the ministry area and the traffic was crawling," an expatriate, who wished not to be named, told Gulf News.

If food price problems are moving into the Middle East OPEC countries like Oman, things are about to get really bad, possibly really fast for the rest of the planet.  How long before food instability begins to affect oil prices?

My guess is not long at all.

It's A Victim-Moose Crime

Steve M. gives us today's Palinology 101 lesson.  That lesson is "It doesn't matter how many people think Sarah Palin would make a good President."  There's only one poll number that matters to Palin, and she's winning it in spades:

The number that matters to her is in here, from PPP's crosstabs (PDF):

The number that's important to her is 78% -- the percentage of conservatives who think the press treats her unfairly. That's her ace in the hole. As long as that number is extremely high, she believes (correctly, I think) that she has a shot at the GOP presidential nomination -- that number means that a large bloc of voters see her as a martyr crucified on a liberal cross (and think voting for her is the best way possible to piss liberals off).

More than 3 in 4 conservatives agree that Sarah Palin is treated unfairly, and that's something she has masterfully cultivated for more than two years now.  It's doubly effective:  she represents the constant victimization mentality of the Tea Party right, and all her personal foibles and failures she can lay at the feet of the unfair media.

Sarah Palin's performance in the last week was 100% aggrieved martyr, and while it may have turned off the left and much of the center, she doesn't care about them, nor does she need them until she wraps up the nomination.  She's playing Peoria to Peoria.

More than anyone else with 2012 aspirations, Sarah Palin understood the lesson of 2008:  there's no way a moderate Republican will ever make it past primary season.  The attacks from David Frum and Newt Gingrich and the like are coming from people who simply don't understand what the 2012 GOP Presidential primary is going to be like.

The only survivor in this crucible will be the person who can forge their own reality the best.  Far and away that person is Sarah Palin.  Logic doesn't matter.  Issues don't matter. Her positions don't matter.  All she has to do is keep playing the martyr and blame the media and she'll schlep her way right into the nomination and very possibly the White House.

The closer she gets, the more she'll be attacked from both the left and the right, and the more she'll wave the victim flag.  That's what she wants, and that's what makes her exceedingly dangerous.  More and more moderates and even some Democrats will defect towards her if she gets the nomination.

If the economy is as bad as I think it will be in 2012, she has an honest chance of winning the whole ball of wax.  The only reason we're not calling her Vice-President right now is McCain blew it with his infamous "the fundamentals of our economy are strong" speech in September 2008 when the Dow was dropping 350 points and lost the election.  Palin nearly won it for him.

Do not count out Sister Sarah of the Village Stigmata.  That martyr factor is her ticket in and she damn well knows it.

Blowing Up In Their Faces

America, we continue to have a domestic terrorism problem when people are leaving IEDs along MLK Day march routes.

The FBI said a suspicious backpack was found about 9:25 a.m. PST on Monday on a bench at the northeast corner of North Washington Street and West Main Avenue in downtown Spokane.

A bomb disposal unit was called in and neutralized the device. The FBI said in a statement on Tuesday that "the backpack contained a potentially deadly destructive device, likely capable of inflicting multiple casualties."

The FBI has refused to discuss how the bomb was constructed.

"Suffice it to say it was of grave concern," Frank Harrill, special agent in the charge of the Spokane FBI office, told NBC News.

"You could describe it as an improvised destructive device ... or improvised explosive device," Harrill said.

Area workers initially reported the suspicious package to Spokane police. The march was slightly re-routed and delayed because of the bomb scare.

"The three contract workers in the area who were there are unsung heroes," the FBI spokesman said.

The FBI has not established an official motive, but Harrill told NBC News "the timing and placement of the backpack (along the march route) is inescapable."

"At that point, it falls directly in the realm and sphere of domestic terrorism," Harrill told the Associated Press. "Clearly, there was some political or social agenda here."

Why this wasn't wall-to-wall national news Monday I have no clue.  This was clearly a domestic terror attack, set by somebody on MLK Day, at an MLK Day parade.   No clue on the suspect or their motives, but the intended target and timing says a hell of a lot.

Someone tried to kill people marching for peace on Monday.  This is horrendous.  I pray the FBI can nail the people responsible and fast.  Two things stand out:  the intended target and of the attack and the fact that it was stopped.  The system worked here, the backpack was found and disposed of and nobody was hurt.

DougJ makes a solid observation at Balloon Juice:

Expect more of this. And remember it’s all coincidence that it’s all aimed at black people, Democrats, and people who work in the federal government.

More on this as the FBI continues the investigation.


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