Thursday, July 30, 2009

Squeeze play in progress? Sen. Carl Levin subpoenas Goldman Sachs

Photo of a mortgage fraud victim's home by °Florian via Flickr.

Methinks I see a squeeze play in the making, that President Obama's
"stern talking to" could have been a warning shot from a different direction while Congress works from another.

DailyKos diarist Badabing
posted this morning that Sen. Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations, has subpoenaed Goldman Sachs, Washington Mutual and more financial industry firms with regards to the financial meltdown. Note this key graf from WSJ excerpted in the DKos diary:


According to people familiar with the matter, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations also has issued a subpoena to Washington Mutual Inc., a Seattle thrift that was seized by regulators in last year's financial crisis and is now largely owned by J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. It appears likely that several other financial institutions also have received subpoenas. Subcommittee investigators declined to comment. A Goldman Sachs spokesman declined to comment on the subpoena. Deutsche Bank didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.


Huh. Isn't that interesting?

Especially when one considers that then Sen. Obama was a co-sponsor of legislation along with Sen. Levin on corporate transparency, also cited in the same DKos post.

Perhaps Levin is going to finally make some traction with the hope of getting a DOJ referral after other attempts to reveal the criminality of subprime lenders and their aides and abettors further upstream in the financial industry. He's got better political headwinds this time, and a former fellow senator in the White House.

Goodness knows CBS' 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft and Scott Pelley tried to explain the problems in clear terms over the last year, but nobody in Congress or law enforcement picked up on it. (See below the list of 60 Minutes' programs which featured all related stories on mortgage fraud and the financial instruments up the food chain which were based on the fraud.)

And Elliot Spitzer also tried his hand after
Read more »


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Something or nothing? You decide: Kuwaiti broker dies only days after SEC files suit

(Burned and wet dollar by gothick_matt via Flickr.com)

Maybe this is something, maybe it’s nothing; maybe it's only a movie script waiting to happen.

There’s a rash of stories today about the “apparent” suicide of Kuwaiti broker Hazem Khalid al-Braikan, found shot to death in his home Sunday morning Kuwait time.

Seems al-Braikan had been involved in running up the price of stock(s) in fake takeover attempts; he bought up enough stock that it appeared someone was going to take controlling interest of a firm, then dumped the stock after the price had run up because other firms bought into the uptick.

The SEC had filed a lawsuit against al-Braikan’s firm and several others on Thursday this week, for alleged trading “around hoax bids for US companies.”

Textron, a firm which has historically had government contracts, was one of the firms in which al-Braikan had been trading earlier this year.

The most recent stock in which al-Braikan took an initial position on June 1 and sold out on July 20?

Harman International.

You may recognize the name Harman, of course; the firm was founded in 1978 by Rep. Jane Harman's (D-CA) spouse, Sidney Harman. Sidney stepped down as CEO of the firm in 2007, replaced as part of a turn-around plan in advance of a planned buyout by KKR and Goldman Sachs. KKR and Goldman backed out, however. The CEO stepped up to the chairmanship the following year, with Sidney retaining only an honorific position with the firm.

Rep. Harman's 2007 financial report reflected holdings including as much as $200 million in Harman International stock along with a half-million in the same firm's retirement plan.

Is this something or is it nothing, purely coincidental that a now-dead Kuwaiti broker picked on Harman International? Who knows...but SEC sure can hustle and take action when it wants to, can’t it? it was only 3 days between the time the accumulated positions were dumped and the SEC filed suit…

[Cross-posted at FDL's The Seminal]


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Kitchen Garden: so far, so good

The garden got off to a very slow start this year, between two and three weeks late due to cool and crappy weather.

As you can see, the plants look a little small and lost in my raised beds at the end of June.

The peppers in the middle bed were struggling, looking as if they might not even make it to July.

But what a difference a little time makes.




The peppers in the middle bed were still struggling through the first week of July, but they looked like they turned the corner.

The peppers in the bed closest to the deck (and closest to me in this photo) are going gang busters. There are peppers large enough to pick already, but I'm going to let them go and mature a while longer since they have not yet developed thicker walls and deeper color.

There are flowers on the cucumbers in the far bed and the middle bed as well as on the zucchini plants in the closest bed. Looks like they are now getting over the chill they experienced in June.



Everything has now come up, including the pole beans planted at the trellises. This was the second planting of beans; the first ones died, all three varieties, likely because they didn't care for the warmth of the "starter unit" I'd devised from recycled plastic containers. Oh well; as close as these are planted to the house, we'll be able to pick them well past first frost.

And we'll need to since beans will take 65-70 days to harvest.

There are Kentucky Blue, Roma and Scarlet Runner beans planted at foot of each of the trellises.

I've also planted pole beans in pots which I'll put on the deck and encourage them to grow up to form a screen to block the view of the neighbors' porch.


This week the cucumbers, zucchinis and tomatoes have really put out the blossoms; the zucchinis were ridiculously prolific, putting out six new tiny zukes inside 24 hours.

The lavender plants at the end of the bed are now at peak; I'll harvest some once the rain has dried off the bed and prepare it for refilling several potpourri items in the house. The chives have also started seeding, so I'll harvest the seed heads and put the seeds in envelopes to give to friends.



One unexpected bonus this year: "volunteer" snapdragons and petunias. The petunia plants which popped up unplanted, self-seeded by last year's plants, are in pots next to the deck. The snapdragons ended up next to the garden bed, curiously enough. When I pointed this mystery out to my daughter, she laughed guiltily.

Apparently my daughter and her brother had a "food fight" in the garden last year, throwing the last of the tomatoes at each other along with other debris from flower pots -- right over the vegetable beds.

Explains the dozens of small mystery tomato seedlings I found and gave away, along with these lovely white snapdragons which appeared at the foot of the raised beds. (I did keep a few of the "volunteer" tomato plants, which look suspiciously like a cross between Brandywines and Early Girl tomatoes...we'll see within the month what we get.)

What's in your garden? Do tell.


Monday, July 13, 2009

An offended mother on the topic of blowjobs

Those of you who know me also know I have a couple of kids -- a teenager in high school, and a tweenager about to enter middle school.

Both of my kids have met the infamous blogger who used, you know, THAT word on MSNBC this afternoon. In fact, they were watching the video of the infamous blogger.

Neither batted an eye about the use of THAT word.

And I am so proud of them.

Because even my kids know the real obscenity isn't a euphemism for oral sex, or even that it happened on a cable show in the middle of the afternoon. My kids know that the real obscenities are these:

* Our country went to war based on lies told by elected and appointed officials;

* Their brother and the sons/daughters/brothers/sisters of many other families like ours served for this war, came back damaged or dead, for nothing but lies;

* Their president and vice president lied repeatedly about all manner of things while refusing to accept responsibility for any failures which happened on their watch;

* Their government was either obstructed during investigations into these lies or simply failed to make any effort to investigate these lies;

* Their government spent billions of dollars to make these lies, to support these lies, to pass these lies on, while killing hundreds of thousands of people in other countries, while making plans to kill more on a targeted basis in the form of assassinations;

* Their government tortured people, innocents among them, including children, to further their lies;

* Their fellow citizens are not better off for all of this, but are far worse off in terms of security, health and finances than before all the lies started;

* The corporate-owned media in their country makes money off ghoulishly beating a tattoo every day about dead entertainers and missing white girls while avoiding the work required of investigative journalism important to real democracy.

Even kids understand when adults are being stupid and unethical, and they know the truth when they see it.

As a mother I'm absolutely offended, but not about the word "blowjob."

I'm deeply offended that the corporate-owned mainstream media can turn a blind eye to the really offensive obscenities, thereby becoming complicit in the criminality -- and they've done this in front of my kids for more than eight years.

What am I supposed to tell these children?


[Cross-posted at The Seminal.]


Thursday, July 09, 2009

OS Wars: what the tech pundits missed about Google Chrome OS

It's hard to tell which generated more bullshit over the last 24-48 hours: Karl Rove's deposition before the House Judiciary Committee, or the tech industry media reaction to Google's Chrome OS announcement. Rove can pile it on high and deep, but tech media sure is doing its best to create more hot air than Michael Jackson's postmortem circus.

For those of you who aren't geeks, Google announced Wednesday that it was working on an operating system. It's going to be built upon open source software and target "people who spend most of their time on the web," with the intent to allow these users rapid access to the internet and be minimally invasive.

Since Google's announcement, nearly all analyses produced by tech media pundits have concentrated on whether the new OS is the beginning of a cage match to the death between Google and Microsoft, or a skirmish for smart phone dominance between Google and Apple, or whether Google is simply bent on taking over the world.

Bollocks. While indulging their obsessive need for competitive conflict, the pundits neglected three important issues which may drive the development of Google Chrome OS.

Africa and other third world markets

Cell phone use on the African continent has exploded over the last handful of years, from 62 million in 2004, to 152 million in 2006, to 250 million in late 2008. This kind of growth -- the world's highest rate of growth in cell phone use -- offers enormous opportunity for Google to deploy new search products, and for Africans to leapfrog past PC-based technology. Google recently announced programs on the continent of Africa including one which allows cell phone users to use SMS text messages to search for information without having to browse the internet. A smart phone is not required, meaning substantially lower costs to the user. This kind of service establishes a relationship with a market not familiar with the Google we know via the internet and our PCs; these users may adopt other Google products more readily as more services and connectivity become available to them.

Globally, the installed base of cell phones to PCs exceeded 1.5-to-1 three years ago, with more people accessing the internet by phone at that time than by PC; Africa's ratio is much higher, at 6-to-1. Given these facts and the size of the third world market, combined with the lack of infrastructure necessary for PC and broadband dispersion, it makes perfect sense for Google to target the market for both cell phones and small, low-cost wireless devices. Granted, the Googlers say the Chrome OS is currently targeted at web users on netbooks and PCs while Google's Android focuses on cell phones; at some point there will be a convergence between these products because users will expect comparable applications and performance on any communication device.

Google Wave

Speaking of communication, a sea change in communications technology is possible with the anticipated release later this year of Google Wave to a full production environment. For non-techie readers: it's difficult to explain how much of a change Google Wave may pose without resorting to a bunch of tech-speak. I highly recommend investing the time to watch Google's recent preview video to see what I mean, keeping in mind you'll be watching some very excited geeks who are passionate about the Google Wave product. If you don't have the time to invest, let me say that the platform will make communication a more fluid, participatory series of inter-connected events rather than static bundles of information we transfer back and forth to each other. A series of waves, as compared to collections of particles as it were, resorting to a still-geeky physics analogy.

My blogging confrère Dave Pollard says Google Wave is the wikification of communication; I can see his point, that communication will be bundled into related topics like a wiki while the chronological path to obtain information from communication can be readily followed. But for many of us who aren't geeks, we will see Google Wave as interactive and social; the sorting and locating of information contained in our communication will be a bonus rather than key to our use of this technology.

So what does this mean? More of us will be moving away from desktop applications like email clients, choosing to communicate from within a browser. Many of us are already doing it with Facebook and MySpace and other social media; we use them as portals to browse our friends' blogs and share our photos, videos and music, using the native chat and message features rather than separate email services or instant messaging applications. Google Wave will wrap all of that into a bundle along with real time sharing of content, having opened the application to developers who will likely build extensions for our favorite social media applications so they are seamlessly woven into our overall communications.

No, Google Chrome OS is not forgotten -- because this lightweight OS may let us access our waves of communication faster. What if getting to your email/chat/social media was as fast as it is to turn on your phone? How will that change your internet usage, your searches, your purchasing decisions?

Emerging technology

Here's another opportunity to confound the non-techie with geek speak; I'm going to spare you and ask that you watch yet another video, this one shorter and perhaps even more mindblowing than the Google Wave video. The video provides an overview of what I personally believe will be the next most disruptive technology after Google Wave -- a personal wireless device with the equivalent of a heads-up display. If you saw the movie Minority Report and remember Tom Cruise's character "surfing" through information on a transparent display with no surface hovering in air, you'll be close. Except this technology is not limited to an office environment; this technology follows you because it is your cell phone, your PDA, your network appliance.

Seriously, watch the video; it features MIT's Pattie Maes presenting the work researcher/developer Pranav Mistry led to develop this concept. You'll see at one point this so-called "Sixth Sense" technology allows the user to scan products on shelves for information in order to make purchasing decisions.

And Google is already there. Or rather, the technology which Google released for the purposes of scanning collections of books and finding a particular bit of information in or related to those books neatly fits at the point where the "Sixth Sense" leaves off. The same technology would need little to become a warehouse of information about any product, which may explain why Amazon.com's CEO Jeff Bezos is in a dither he won't discuss in detail. As uncomfortable as some of us feel about Walmart's business practices and their approach to radio-frequency identification (RFID), Walmart may have unwittingly aided and abetted the next steps to pervasive product information by demanding their suppliers move towards RFID tied to uniform product descriptions. Google's indexing and search might make short work of the product information in a new online store of content, perhaps integrating stores already established by others like Amazon.com.

Now imagine shopping in any store while wearing this new communications device, connected to home at the same time, accessing both people and information fluidly.

The concept is still nebulous, but it's right there if you connect the dots: a light OS which allows a rapid link to the internet, with a communications tool which is seamless and social, one that offers up all information we want on the fly without the encumbrance of anything larger than a cell phone-like device.

Perhaps a Chrome device, one which might be only 24 months away. Wonder what kind of hot air the pundits will generate then?


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