Friday, May 29, 2015

Hastert cannot be that stupid

I am the FINCEN reporter at the pawnshop where I work part-time, which does not involve much work, since we don't see a lot of $10,000-plus cash transactions. But even a peripheral agent in the great anti-money-laundering campaign like me knows you cannot get away with "structuring" transactions under $10,000 to avoid FINCEN reporting.

In fact, at a workshop on reporting, a real expert informed us that commercial banks routinely report even non-suspicious small cash transactions, as a way of covering their own asses. (The reporting is entirely automated for banks and other big actors; and even for small reporters like me, it is electronic. No human screens each report -- there must be billions if not trillions of them -- so data mining is how the Treasury selects deals to examine.)

So former Speaker of the House (and third in line for the presidency) Dennis Hastert could not possibly have been so stupid as he appears superficially to have been in his evident blackmail payoffs.

That suggests a man so terrified and desperate that he wasn't thinking, just reacting. Wonkette speculates on what could have been that bad. Beats me; I thought if David Vitter could stay in the Senate after what we learned about him, there was nothing so bad a rightwinger couldn't rationalize it away.

RtO overestimates rightwingers again.

Well, whatever it is, it's going to come out. And then we'll find out what Hastert's made of.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Tour of Homes: whited sepulchres edition

So, shades of Jim Bakker, it turns out that not all the sanctimonious naysayers are on the up and up.

It turns out that the Duggar parents were not protecting their young daughters from a deviant predator (who was their brother), and when their pastor found out about it: nothing.

RtO has a question: How did the church punish the girls for their lasciviousness, since by the actions it is clear the parents and pastor did not think the boy had sinned?

 Then there was the family of phoney cancer charities run by a Mormon, who raked off $180,000,000. Did the Reynoldses tithe to their church?

RtO has a question: If they did, did the church keep on accepting its $18,000,000 when questions were first raised about the legitimacy of the "charities" years ago, and is it going to disgorge? But if the Reynoldses were not tithing, was the church disciplining them?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Free advice for Alibaba

The funniest  business story of the week is one you won't likely see except here at RtO. It's from Fidelity's news service, and it says Alibaba objects to being sued for flogging fakes. Instead, says its head of securuty, cooperation would get better results.

"I strongly believe that spending money on lawsuits could result in a completely different outcome than cooperating with us," Ni said in an interview during a rare visit by the media to Alibaba' internet security headquarters.
Setting aside the unconscious Monty Python associations, I have a suggestion for Mr. Ni: Stop advertising FAKEs on your website. I am thinking of the fake collectible coins that are flooding and destroying the numismatists' bailiwick thanks to Alibaba.

For mealy-mouthed duplicity and contempt, Ni beats even the standard set just yesterday by the Twin Peaks management after the Waco shootings.

.Of course, not naming your business for history's most famous robber would have helped with your image.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A very, very polite society

Babes, bikes, beer -- entrepreneurialism at its best
Of all the idiotic things you hear rightwingers say, the most idiotic concern guns:

-- An armed society is a polite society

-- Mass killers choose gun-free zones

-- Criminals will not make trouble if they know armed citizens are in the vicinity

-- I need to go armed in order to protect myself and those around me

Exhibit A

This episode ought to shut up the gun nuts forever but of course it won't.

I love everything about this story, from the Times' prissy description of the Twin Peaks Girls:

Twin Peaks is a national restaurant chain with several Texas locations that, like the Hooters chain, emphasizes the physical attributes of its waitresses more than its food to attract a predominantly male clientele. The company’s Twin Peaks Girls are waitresses who are scantily clad in plaid tops and are advertised as having “signature ‘Girl Next Door’ charisma and playful personalities.”
 to the ringing endorsement of the First Amendment by the local Keystone Kops:

“Apparently, the management wanted them here,” he said, “so we didn’t have any say-so on whether they could be here or not.”

to the mealy-mouthed statement from the local capitalists (who apparently consider a customer a non-person once he's paid his bill):

spokesman, Rick Van Warner, said. “We are thankful no employees, guests or police were injured in this senseless violence outside the restaurant, and our sympathies are with the families of those killed.”
But what I love the mostest of all is this:
 The police detained numerous people involved in the fight, Sergeant Swanton said, and arrested three bikers who were carrying weapons and who were caught trying to reach the scene after the fighting had quieted down.
UPDATE Wednesday May 20

The gunfight at the Waco corral is the story that just keeps on giving. Shorty before it happened, a FB friend and gun nut had posted -- apropos of I don't know what -- that we skeptics should really believe that CCW (concealed carry weapons) permitees are too protecting us and have demonstrated that they are trained to pull out the roscoe and blast the dirty rat in 2 (count 'em, two) seconds.

He assured us (though I was not reassured) that he could do this himself.

Do I have to point that a 2-sec reaction time is the definition of shoot-first-ask-questions-later, which in turn is exactly what we gun skeptics are skeptical about?

However, in Waco, where seconds counted but police were not minutes away but on the spot, primed and nervous, they took (according to the police themselves) 30 to 40 seconds to respond. By which time it was just about over, probably. Gun battles are momentary, usually.

So another gun nut meme bites the dust.

Meanwhile, over a Wonkette there is a useful roundup of antiracists like Charles Blow and Ta-Nehisi Coates satirizing the racist gun nut commentaries we were treated to after the Baltimore riots, etc. RtO was sticking to the general gun nuttery, but it's well to remember that a high proportion of gun nuts are flaming bigots. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Don't think in Oklahoma, it disturbs the CEOs


Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Governor Fallin, didn't respond when asked whether Hamm had asked the governor to remove the geological survey from the university, but said the arrangement is set by statute.
So it's true.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Book Review 348: The Lost German Slave Girl

THE LOST GERMAN SLAVE GIRL: The Extraordinary True Story of Sally Miller and Her Fight for Freedom in Old New Orleans, by John Bailey. 268 pages. Grove paperback, $14

Although it is barely 250 pages, octavo, “The Lost German Slave Girl” manages to be many books in one: a mystery; a courtroom drama; a social history of the displaced peasants of Europe and the conflict between the old settlers of New Orleans and the new American political class; and, above all, a mordant examination of the tricks sophisticated legists were forced into by their decision to defend slavery.

The legal position was simple: By the 1840s, American slavery had determined that a white person could not be a slave. The complicated question was: Was Sally Miller white?

Specifically, was she Salome Muller, the daughter of Bavarian peasants who had emigrated to New Orleans in 1818?

In 1818, Salome was either three years old, or about 10 — a difference that became crucial in her lawsuit. Twenty-five years later, a woman identified as Salome by her godmother was discovered living as a slave in a cheap dive.

John Bailey, an elegant writer, weaves all the threads into a shocking tapestry, starting with something that barely gets a sentence in American history books: the exodus of impoverished rural Europeans in the early 19th century.

Practically the whole village of the Mullers pulled up stakes, and after robbery and suffering that was nearly the equal of what Africans endured on their Middle Passage, sold themselves — those who still lived — into bondage to pay their passage.

Bailey then describes life in the National Period, skillfully referencing decisions of the Southern courts in cases involving slave property. This makes clear that slavery was not, as Ruffin and other apologists claimed, a peculiar institution with deep roots in conservative relations. Jurists, some as sophisticated as any in the western tradition, and legislators were actively remaking slavery in the ’20s, ‘30s and ‘40s. They fully mastered, but rejected, the liberal arguments for liberty.

But, and here is where the example of Sally — or Bridget, or Mary or whoever she was — advances the story beyond the legal wrangles, which other historians have rehearsed. Bailey, an advocate who lives (surprisingly) in Australia, details how the unwritten slave code bore on the maneuvers of the lawyers, the plaintiff and the defendants.

It was not merely a question of fact. It was also an affair of honor. Everyone understood even if no one said anything about it.

Not until the last page does Bailey render his verdict on the facts; I will not spoil his surprise here.

By then, though, the verdict on the big picture is already in, and it is devastating.

Not a total sweep for UK rightwing

My FB friend Mansoor Ali Choudhury tips me to the defeat of English rightwing MP George Galloway in the Tory landslide.

To be clear, while the Tories are a rightist party, and Galloway is a far rightist, Galloway was not a Tory. In fact, he got his start as a Labour MP. Labour expelled him.

He has had to shop for constituencies (easy to do in England), but seems to have run out his string. The Independent calls his loss "stunning," but in the Tory sweep he lost to a Labour candidate 2-1.

Blood Red

The Washington Post has a not very well done piece about how the Russians won the European war.  The point of the article is correct.

The explication could use some improvements. Especially as the comments are a carnival of rightwing misinformation and fantasies.

So on the 70th anniversary of the end, let's go back to the beginnings.

In the 1930s, fascist armies were on the march in Manchuria and China, Spain, Abyssinia, Austria and Czechoslovakia. Communist armies were not. The systems were about equally inhuman, but one was actually destroying states and killing foreigners and one was not.

This insight explains why Churchill, a rabid antiBolshevik for decades, was eager to ally with the USSR against Germany and Italy. (He was also opposed to the expansion of fascist Japan, but judged it inexpedient to try fighting that war if he could avoid it, which he couldn't.) 

Stalin was deathly afraid of Germany and tried to make a defensive alliance with Britain and France. He said he was ready to march to the aid of Czechoslovakia in 1938. The Czechs and Poles were suspicious, and we cannot know how that would have worked out for them. It probably would have finished Hitler, though, which would likely have been a net gain for people in general.

Stalin's desperation to keep the peace in central Europe was proved by his attempt to buy Karelia from Finland in order to strengthen the defenses around Leningrad. The Finns, like the Czechs and Poles, were not cooperative.

It was only when all his attempts to manufacture collective security systems were rejected that the USSR started taking military steps of its own, by invading Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania, and later Finland. It is noteworthy that no Red Army soldier ever stepped beyond the borders of tsarist Russia, with the exception of the "volunteers" in Spain.

Russia was committed to the integrity of the international state system, as proven by its scrupulous withdrawal to original borders after it repelled the invasion of the Japanese at Nomonhan,  The fact is, Bolshevism was on the run by 1938-39. Communists by the hundreds of thousands had been murdered by fascists, notably in China and Spain, and there were only two Bolshevist states, the USSR and Mongolia.

In contrast, few fascists had been murdered by Bolsheviks and fascism was ascendant in most of Europe, much of Asia and parts of Africa.

The German-Soviet non-aggression treaty of August 1939 was Stalin's admission that his years of efforts to preserve peace had failed. Like the Czechs, he had run out of desirable choices in the face of endless fascist aggression.

 Like the Poles, who had reacted to German aggression against Czechoslovakia by also invading Czechoslovakia, it was a bad move, fatal for Poland, nearly so for Russia.

Two things saved Russia. First, Britain refused to agree to Hitler's proposal for a new settlement of Europe following the collapse of France and kept the war going.  Second, in April 1941, Serbian royalists overthrew the fascist government of Yugoslavia, forcing Hitler to invade the Balkans.

Like the policies of Czechoslovakia and Poland, the effort of the Serbs was suicidal, yet it made it possible for the USSR to survive. Hitler's invasion of Russia was delayed for weeks, and his army somewhat reduced by the diversions to the Balkans and Crete.

The Germans (and world opinion generally) expected the USSR to collapse without much of a fight when Germany invaded. It seems likely that many of the Russian Bolsheviks agreed.

One well-informed man warned that if Russia resisted, Germany could not win. This was General Georg Thomas, director of the economic warfare section of the German high command. He calculated that if the Russians inflicted a million casualties, the Germans would run out of men.

He was right. In September 1941, the millionth German casualty occurred. After that, the strength of the German army declined. If the Russians held steady, they would eventually prevail.

This is where the sacrifice of the Serbs becomes crucial. Although the German army was weakening, it still had enough power to (probably) take Moscow. Whether this would have finished the war is doubtful, but it is possible.

The Russians resisted without regard to their own losses, but they were being pushed back as long as the dry weather held. The autumn rains stopped the Germans in the suburbs of Moscow; the delay imposed by the Serbian rebels had bought just enough time.

There was immense destruction to come but it was meaningless; the outcome was decided.

The United States had nothing to do with it. Not a bullet or a bean had reached the Red Army. At the point when the outcome was decided, the only contribution of the Americans was to the naval war in the Atlantic.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Blue dreams

There's a little guy who wanders up and down North Market Street -- although I haven't seen him lately -- who dresses cop-like. Not very cop-like, because he doesn't seem to have much money or cop fashion sense.

A typical get-up includes a white motorcycle cop helment, SECURITY shirt, blue trousers, wide black belt, but he usually spoils the effect by adding some odddball bits.

I spoke to him for  a while once. We had an Army helmet for sale in the shop at 42 N. Market, and he was really interested in it, but the price ($150) was way out of his range.

He seemed a pleasant enough fellow though somewhat -- hmmm -- vacant.

I bring him up because of a strange story out of Los Angeles about fake cops. LA is the big city, so the fake cops are flossier and more numerous than our poor Maui schmoo, but my guess is that they are just about the same underneath.

I could be wrong. A commenter (who snarkily suggests that the LA Times reporters should have got there first) links to Grandmaster Henry's Google+ page, where in addition to Beyonce and Obama links there's a weird photo suggestng a 40,000-person Masonic army from Mexico, and hopes of a bigger army soon. No suggestion, at least from what I saw, of what this army's job would be.

So perhaps the Masonic Fraternal Police Force is not merely the sort of fancy-dress fantasy that bubbles up among the underclass in all societies but is on a continuum toward the really dangerous Teahadi, Cliven Bundy-protectin' self-appointed police.  The ones with guns.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A word in praise of Dick Cheney

A short, small one.

Until this week, I would not have thought that any politician could be less sensitive than Cheney, but that's what I get for not underestimating the Teahadis. I mean, Cheney actually showed some slight sensitivity, on one issue, when his daughter decided to be a lesbian. Up to that point, not so  much, but better late than never.

You might suppose that Rand Paul would give some thought to his own record as a father (putrid) before lecturing the people of Baltimore, but no.

But then you might have thought he would have given some thought to the fact that black kids in college might have learned something about their own history, too, before insulting their intelligence, but you'd have been wrong then, too.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Book Review 347: America's Master Dam Builder

AMERICA’S MASTER DAM BUILDER: The Engineering Genius of Frank T. Crowe, by Al M. Rocca. 398 pages, illustrated. Renown

I debated whether to describe “America’s Master Dam Builder” as illiterate or subliterate but eventually decided it is both. 

It does no credit to Simpson University, a Bible school, or the Cal State system that Al Rocca is allowed to teach. That he taught (or perhaps still teaches) “education” is a stupid joke. That he won an award as an outstanding editor of a social studies review by some group of yahoos called the “National Council for the Social Studies” (sic, at Rocca’s Amazon page) makes the joke that much stupider.

A pity, because Frank Crowe was an important engineer in the West. As he said, there was only a short time during which all the biggest dams would be built — about two decades — and he intended to build them.

He managed Hoover and Shasta and a number of smaller dams. You would think from “America’s Master Dam Builder” that he virtually licked the challenge of building high dams by himself.

Crowe had three distinguishing characteristics —he used gigantic cableways to allow continuous concrete  pouring on a big scale, he worked through the winter in the northern Rockies when most jobs shut down, and he was a devotee of the “speed-up,” a favorite of bosses in the years of Coolidge “prosperity.”

If workers got killed — more than a hundred did at Hoover — so much the worse for them. Crowe got rich and respected.

His karma was not good. His wife died from the complications of childbirth, and later his son. Conditions were primitive in the West in the early 20th century, especially in the areas where dams were possible. Later another child of his second wife also died. I frame no hypothesis about that, just sayin’.

Rocca, a local historian of northern California, was diligent in the files and had access to Crowe family records. He also interviewed some of the men who worked on Crowe’s projects, nearly 50 years after Crowe had died.

Too bad this rich material did not come into better hands. It is clear that Rocca does not understand engineering, any more than he knows how to write in English.

I think my favorite example — of dozens — was “the water flowed sheepishly,” although “Nervously, the unperturbed engineer . . .” is also good.

A little goes a long way in Iowa

Apparently, and despite Citizens United, it does not take big money to corrupt politics big-time. You can buy an important Iowa politician for peanuts.

When this particular scandal broke two years ago, it seemed comical: Earth to Iowa Republicans, the race was not going to either Michele Bachmann or Ron Paul.

This may not be a story about rightwing doofuses, however, or not only. My former Des Moines Register colleague Dan Piller suspects that the delay in sentencing Sorenson, plus the puzzling silence of Iowa Democrats about it, means that Sorenson has ratted out both parties and that this scandal may have broader consequences.

Maybe a big fish on the line?

I recall the excitement in Iowa when it decided to make itself heard politically by creating its first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. The caucuses probably had some good effects early on, but they have degenerated (or been corrupted and I don't mean only by illegal contributions, there are other ways to sabotage an institution) to farce (on the GOP side) and uselessness (on the Democratic side).

It is time for Iowa to back off. It won't happen, in part because the caucuses have become an economic center. Market forces trump good policy, again.