Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Trolls spend a lot of time online

I am new at this part of the forum as part of Angry Bear. Please let me know if I have the basics correct. Knowing how much time posting takes, I am amazed at the quantity of time necessary to troll.

1. A classic troll is trying to make us believe that he is a genuine skeptic with no hidden agenda. He is divisive and argumentative with need-to-be-right attitude, “searching for the truth”, flaming discussion, and sometimes insulting people or provoking people to insult him. Troll is usually an expert in reusing the same words of its opponents and in turning it against them.

2. While sometimes, he may sound like a stupid, uninformed, ignorant poster, do not be deceived! Most trolls are highly intelligent people trying to hide behind a mask of stupidity and/or ignorance! They usually have an agenda.

3. Trolls are utterly impervious to criticism (constructive or otherwise). You cannot negotiate with them; you cannot cause them to feel shame or compassion; you cannot reason with them. They cannot be made to feel remorse. For some reason, trolls do not feel they are bound by the rules of courtesy or social responsibility.

4. When trolls are ignored they step up their attacks, desperately seeking the attention they crave. Their messages become obnoxious, and they post ever more of them. Alternatively, they may protest that their right to free speech is being curtailed.

5. When a troll attacks a message board, he generally posts a lot of messages. Even if his messages are not particularly inflammatory, they can be so numerous that they drown out the regular conversations (this is known as ‘flooding’). Needless to say, no one person’s opinions can be allowed to monopolize a channel.

6. Trolling is a form of harassment that can take over a discussion. Well meaning defenders can create chaos by responding to trolls. The best response is to ignore it.(?)The ultimate response to the ‘free speech’ argument is this: while we may have the right to say more or less whatever we want, we do not have the right to say it wherever we want.

Then the question becomes how to deal with a troll who is trolling under our bridge.

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Another viewpoint on the economy

The UK Telegraph has an interesting set of charts regarding issuance of bonds and such.

Glance at the more or less healthy stock markets in New York, London, and Frankfurt, and you might never know that this debate is raging. Hopes that Middle Eastern and Asian wealth funds will plug every hole lifts spirits.
Glance at the debt markets and you hear a different tale. Not a single junk bond has been issued in Europe since August. Every attempt failed.
Europe’s corporate bond issuance fell 66pc in the third quarter to $396bn (BIS data). Emerging market bonds plummeted 75pc.
“The kind of upheaval observed in the international money markets over the past few months has never been witnessed in history,” says Thomas Jordan, a Swiss central bank governor.
“The sub-prime mortgage crisis hit a vital nerve of the international financial system,” he says.
The market for asset-backed commercial paper – where Europe’s lenders from IKB to the German Doctors and Dentists borrowed through Irish-based “conduits” to play US housing debt – has shrunk for 18 weeks in a row. It has shed $404bn or 36pc. As lenders refuse to roll over credit, banks must take these wrecks back on their books. There lies the rub.
Professor Spencer says capital ratios have fallen far below the 8 per cent minimum under Basel rules. “If they can’t raise capital, they will have to shrink balance sheets,” he said.

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It Can’t Happen Here.

J Edgar Hoover, former FBI Director

Sinclair Lewis wrote a book with the ironic title It Can’t Happen Here. (hat tip to Bruce Webb from comments here).

There is a strain of thought in American politics that prefers to consider the Constitution as an impediment. Another example comes to mind from this new information about a man with a familiar name, and it is not Prescott Bush.

The NYT reports:

A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty.

Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans in military prisons.

Hoover wanted President Harry S. Truman to proclaim the mass arrests necessary to “protect the country against treason, espionage and sabotage.” The F.B.I would “apprehend all individuals potentially dangerous” to national security, Hoover’s proposal said. The arrests would be carried out under “a master warrant attached to a list of names” provided by the bureau.

The names were part of an index that Hoover had been compiling for years. “The index now contains approximately twelve thousand individuals, of which approximately ninety-seven per cent are citizens of the United States,” he wrote.

“In order to make effective these apprehensions, the proclamation suspends the Writ of Habeas Corpus,” it said.

Habeas corpus, the right to seek relief from illegal detention, has been a fundamental principle of law for seven centuries. The Bush administration’s decision to hold suspects for years at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has made habeas corpus a contentious issue for Congress and the Supreme Court today.

Some have argued that habeaus corpus can be suspended for a certain category of prisoner, with no effort to establish the accuracy of the charges, even if one can find out what the charge is. JAG has come under heavy pressure to relent on insistence for using military or civilian rules instead of a nebulous indefinite confinement.
Rule of law trumps convenience in my mind, and is the patriots duty to defend.

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Update about Antigua and WTO

The NYT reports on WTO and Antigua:

In an unusual ruling on Friday at the World Trade Organization, the Caribbean nation of Antigua won the right to violate copyright protections on goods like films and music from the United States — an award worth up to $21 million — as part of a dispute between the countries over online gambling.

The award follows a W.T.O. ruling that Washington had wrongly blocked online gambling operators on the island from the American market at the same time it allowed online wagering on horse racing.
Antigua and Barbuda had claimed damages of $3.44 billion a year. That makes the relatively small amount awarded Friday, $21 million, something of a setback for Antigua, which had been struggling to preserve its gambling industry.
The United States argued that its behavior had caused $500,000 damage.

Yet the ruling is significant in that it grants a rare form of compensation: the right of one country, in this case Antigua, to violate intellectual property laws of another — the United States — by allowing it to distribute copies of American music, movie and software products.
In May, the United States said it was rewriting its trade rules to remove gambling from the jurisdiction of the W.T.O.
Washington has agreed on deals with the European Union, Canada and Japan to change the treaty but not with several other nations, including Antigua.
On Friday, the United States trade representative issued a stern warning to Antigua to avoid acts of piracy, counterfeiting or violations of intellectual property rights while talks continue.
The trade office said such behavior would “undermine Antigua’s claimed intentions of becoming a leader in legitimate electronic commerce, and would severely discourage foreign investment” in the country.

There has been a lot of discussion on blogs about the ramifications of the rulings:
1. The potential impact (or not) on sovereignty over restrictions on trade for ‘moral’ concerns.
2. The impact on the status of local and state law as regards ‘national treatment’.
3. How sanctions could be implemented in a workable manner.

There are far bigger concerns in other trade areas, but the EU is watching closely as well.

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Political appointees to control promotions in the military?

The International Herald Tribune reports:

Six years ago, the first prisoners from the war against terrorism arrived at the U.S. military detention center at Guantánamo Bay. The Bush administration refused to grant prisoner-of-war status to inmates there and denied them the protections of the Geneva Conventions, and has brought criminal charges against only three of them. In this ignoble chapter in the history of U.S. justice, the American military’s own uniformed lawyers have stood out for their attempts to uphold the rule of law.
That may not be true for long. To clip the wings of the Judge Advocate General corps, the administration recently proposed to give politically appointed lawyers in the Defense Department a veto over JAG officers’ promotions. When military lawyers objected to this gambit, the administration backed off. But it is still looking for a way to expand its authority over military lawyers.
The administration’s gambit came after JAG officers testified last year against the administration’s proposal, enacted by Congress, for kangaroo-court tribunal procedures for Guantánamo inmates charged with crimes. JAG
lawyers called for trying the prisoners either under military rules or in federal courts.

We shall be having political appointees in every corner of the government. Even in the military?

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Barclay versus Bear Stearns: Suits begin work to apportion blame

Bloomberg reports:

Barclays PLC, the U.K.’s third- biggest bank, sued Bear Stearns Cos. over losses caused by the implosion earlier this year of a hedge fund that invested in subprime mortgages.
Barclays Bank PLC, a unit of London-based Barclays, claimed the New York-based securities firm hid negative financial information about the collapsed fund, according to a complaint filed today in Manhattan federal court. Barclays said it was the “sole participating shareholder” of the fund.

The collapse was “one of the most high-profile and shocking hedge fund failures in the last decade,” Barclays said in the complaint, which seeks unspecified damages.

The suit, which includes claims of fraud, conspiracy and breach of fiduciary duty, cites a February e-mail to Barclays in which Tannin allegedly said the fund is “having our best month ever” and that our “hedges are working beautifully.”

While this asset bubble is quite large and affects the world, there are deep pockets on the other side as well. There are individuals named as well as the ‘corporate person.’ Maybe a definition of responsibility (not blame) may result?

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Slavery by another name

The Independent

Fruit-pickers, who typically earn about $200 (£100) a week, are part of an unregulated system designed to keep food prices low and the plates of America’s overweight families piled high. The migrants, largely Hispanic and with many of them from Mexico, are the last wretched link in a long chain of exploitation and abuse. They are paid 45 cents (22p) for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes collected. A worker has to pick nearly two-and-a-half tons of tomatoes – a near impossibility – in order to reach minimum wage. So bad are their working and living conditions that the US Department of Labour, which is not known for its sympathy to the underdog, has called it “a labour force in considerable distress”.

Reports are that many are locked up at night.

Our tolerance for other people’s misfortunes is set pretty high.

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"…market discipline has in some cases broken down and the incentives to follow prudent lending procedures have, at times, eroded."

Ben Bernanke comments on the credit woes of the world. He is a master to calm the troubled waters of liquidity.

In recent years, mortgage markets have seen a remarkable wave of financial innovation. The advent of large secondary markets and the use of automated underwriting, for instance, have brought more capital into the system and, in most respects, have helped our mortgage markets function more efficiently while providing wider access to mortgage credit. But some of these innovations also have negative aspects. As the mortgage market has become more segmented and as risk has become more dispersed, market discipline has in some cases broken down and the incentives to follow prudent lending procedures have, at times, eroded. The consequences, as we are currently seeing, can include the proliferation of unfair and deceptive practices that can be devastating to consumers and to communities.

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OldVet rocks with another graphic on finance

Who’s gambling with our markets now?

In contrast to my own somewhat more gloomy views of our financial future, we have a different framing of the financial credit problem and the banking situation.

A new report by Stratfor’s George Friedman called ”China and the Arabian Peninsula as Market Stabilizers” takes a different slant on global finances and the US financial markets. In essence, he argues that the US has issued so many dollar debt instruments, and exporters have accepted so many of them over the years, that we are locked into our imbalances in trade.

He argues that with the dramatic rise in oil and commodity prices, and the implosion of the sub-prime mortgage market in the US, there should have been a collapse of financial markets before now. “The single most interesting thing about today’s global economy is what has not occurred.” Neither bond nor stock markets in the US have broken down, as would be expected under such stresses.

“This is not an act of charity. Dubai and the rest of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as China, are holding huge dollar reserves, and the last thing they want to do is sell those dollars in sufficient quantity to drive the dollar’s price even lower. Nor do they want to see a financial crisis in the U.S. markets. Both the Chinese and the Arabs have far too much to lose to want such an outcome. So, in an infinite number of open market transactions, as well as occasionally public investments, they are moving to support the U.S. markets, albeit for their own reasons.”

Mr. Friedman doesn’t see any other explanation for the relative stability of our financial markets till now, nor any likely moves being made to change that situation.

My thought is this: What if a worldwide credit freeze based on insolvency of individuals and institutions forces change anyway? What if the solution doesn’t involve the willing participation of the US, China, and the GCC?


This one by OldVet

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We are currently experiencing our first snow, possibly to 10 inches. Usually this is taken in stride, but because it started about 1:00 PM and was to include ice conditions and to peak during rush hour, schools let out early, which is very unusual. For some reason the ‘Storm Watch Emergency’ people suggested to businesses over the radio to let people out early.

Apparently they did. The roads are not yet bad (to me), but the traffic snarled on ALL major roads, Turnpike, and many of the side ‘escape’ routes one has to avoid congestion. People will be expected to take twice the time normally to get home.

Not a very good sign for escaping or evacuating a metropolitan area.


Worse than expected snarls, add triple time to get home, expect to make own dinner of cold meat loaf. Individual decision to apparently optimize behavior of cutting across intersection on a yellow light, and then stopping short when traffic stops to block the flow from the perpendicular, raises serious concerns how it adds any thing at all to optimizing the societal concern of better flow. No police in sight to enforce honesty. I believe maybe 5% cheating is all it takes to make cooperation less important. Boston area succumbing to lawless traffic jams.

Update 2:
Inability to pull off road to go shopping or eat a meal limits choices. No spots, no turns.

Update3: Normally I would be more sanguine about an unremarkable snowstorm over the course of the winter. Roads are clear in the burbs. Snow is fluffy. What caught my attention is the fact that it appeared businesses let people out at the same time per request and people left before the plows and sand trucks did their magic. The heavy equipment became part of the traffic jam. Hence not only Boston and towns close in but those further out over a very wide area experienced gridlock to the point of people simply parking and walking. Very different and unusual in that aspect, and quite the extended period of 6=7 hours.

People who waited to the end of the day were still stuck until 7 or later, eventhough others had left earlier. Yet today everything here looks normal except for parked cars filling parking lots.

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