Bank of America rips off customers

Just to be clear, this is a horrendous bank rip-off, and every Bank of America customer should slose their accounts and move their money elsewhere:

Get ready for a new wave of bank fees. Bank of America will begin charging a $5 monthly fee at the beginning of next year for customers who make debit card purchases.Whether you use your card for one purchase a month or 20, you will pay $5 per month starting in 2012. It doesn’t matter if you select “debit” or “credit” at the point of sale.

There is absolutely no reason a bank should charge you for spending your own money. They already are ripping off customers at a time when the interest rate on U.S. government debt is near zero and they’re putting credit card interest rates at 21%. And debit cards are simply electronic transfers. They cost the bank next to nothing.

Terrorist watch

Mahmoud Amadinejad, the president of Iran, went to the U.N. recently and spouted out his usual nonsense that the U.S. was secretly behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Here’s how ridiculous that conspiracy theory is. Al-Qaeda, the terrorist group behind the 9/11 plot, says he’s an idiot:

The latest issue of the terrorist group’s English-language magazine Inspire, quoted in the Iranian media (via The Guardian), says:

“The Iranian government has professed on the tongue of its president Ahmadinejad that it does not believe that al-Qaeda was behind 9/11 but rather, the US government,” the article said, according to Iranian media. “So we may ask the question: why would Iran ascribe to such a ridiculous belief that stands in the face of all logic and evidence?”

So wrapping this up: Mahmoud Amadinejad is being called an idiot by al-Qaeda, and al-Qaeda has a magazine.

A pie chart on gay marriage

Gay marriage has been around for a while in several states, which allows for a statistical summary of its effect on civilization so far. And when you have statistics, that means it’s time for a pie chart (from Balloon Juice and Facebook):

Next up in the near future, the consequences of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Expect the outcome to be a swap of the first item with “Gays serve openly in the military.” The other categories will remain.

Speaking of sociopaths

There have been demonstrations against Wall Street for more than a week now. Some people have been arrested. But this cop was really out of line.

Oh, you didn’t catch what happened? Let’s slow things down for you.

The women are penned off. They are not providing any resistance. They present absolutely no threat or danger. They’re just yelling. And the cop in the white shirt (a white shirt signifies a supervising officer) pepper sprays them.

What does the NYPD say about this? Here’s the New York Times:

The Police Department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said the police had used the pepper spray “appropriately.”

Pepper spray was used once,” he added, “after individuals confronted officers and tried to prevent them from deploying a mesh barrier — something that was edited out or otherwise not captured in the video.

Well, there’s the video. What the spokesman is saying about them trying to prevent the police from deploying a mesh barrier just isn’t true. As is the case in many news stories these days, you have to go to another source to check out if any relevant details are missing. Here’s the Guardian of London.

A senior New York police officer accused of pepper-spraying young women on the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations is the subject of a pending legal action over his conduct at another protest in the city.

The Guardian has learned that the officer, named by activists as deputy inspector Anthony Bologna, stands accused of false arrest and civil rights violations in a claim brought by a protester involved in the 2004 demonstrations at the Republican national convention.

Police departments across the country are arresting people who videotape them in action. That’s unconstitutional (at least until the U.S. Supreme Court says it isn’t). Using pepper spray on the defenseless is the reason videotaping should remain legal. But the arrests continue.

Arrested for filming

You can disagree. Maybe you think the demonstrators got what they deserved. This will probably be the audience cheering moment at the next GOP debate. But you’ll sing a different tune when you get stopped and this happens to you.

Stock market psychopaths and other supposed realities

Cover of "The Big Short: Inside the Dooms...

Cover via Amazon

There are plenty of bad things you can say about Wall Street (I know, I’ve said them), but sometimes, the anti-stockbroker armies go to far.

For example, this story ran in the German magazine Der Spiegel recently in an analysis of rogue traders who lose billions at banks:

According to a new study at the University of St. Gallen seen by SPIEGEL, one contributing factor may be that stockbrokers’ behavior is more reckless and manipulative than that of psychopaths. Researchers at the Swiss research university measured the readiness to cooperate and the egotism of 28 professional traders who took part in computer simulations and intelligence tests. The results, compared with the behavior of psychopaths, exceeded the expectations of the study’s co-authors, forensic expert Pascal Scherrer, and Thomas Noll, a lead administrator at the Pöschwies prison north of Zürich.

“Naturally one can’t characterize the traders as deranged,” Noll told SPIEGEL. “But for example, they behaved more egotistically and were more willing to take risks than a group of psychopaths who took the same test.”

Now, the study sounds interesting, and it would be nice to actually see the document and find out if the findings are being taken out of context since the guys being quoted don’t appear to be with the university, but with a prison in Zurich. But Der Spiegel doesn’t bother to link to the study, so we’re expected to take their word for it.

I can’t do that. Sociopathic behavior, maybe. Psychopath? I need more proof. Maybe this study does exist, and maybe it clearly documents the testing and the results. But if there’s no link to see this for ourselves, why should we believe it? Even if we really want to?

But it doesn’t end there. The BBC this week ran an interview with a “day trader” named Alessio Rastani, who had some candid comments on why stock brokers are looking forward to the collapse of global stock markets:

Now this, too, borders on the edge of psychopath, but stands firmly in the sociopath world. This guy seems to have his act together. Or does he? He’s not shown to be affiliated with any major brokerage house. In stockbroker land, these are the kinds of statements that are more likely to be said in the comfort of a trading floor with like minded sociopaths, but never on live television with millions of listeners. At the least, if this guy’s with a real financial institution, saying this would be a firing offense. So anyone watching this should, after the initial revulsion and self-satisfied feeling of being right about Wall Street all along should think, “Wait a minute. Is this guy real?”

The Daily Telegraph in London followed up and is reporting this:

In the interview Mr Rastani described himself as an independent trader. Elsewhere he claims he’s an “investment speaker”. Instead of operating from a plush office in Canary Wharf Mr Rastani works and lives with his partner Anita Eader in a £200,000 semi in Bexleyheath, south London. The house, complete with a mortgage from Royal Bank of Scotland, belongs to her not him.

He is a business owner, a 99pc shareholder in public speaking venture Santoro Projects. Its most recent accounts show cash in the bank of £985. After four years trading net assets are £10,048 – in the red.

Canary Wharf and “The City” are London’s two financial districts of London. Rastani doesn’t appear to work in either of them. Two hundred thousand pounds, which in the real world is seen as a lot of money, doesn’t get you anything more than a modest flat in London. And “broker” living in South London, is probably like a Charles Schwab specialist living in Hoboken, N.J. Not saying that’s poverty stricken, but it definitely isn’t where the movers and shakers live. So the guy really has no basis for speaking as a “Wall Street” or “City” or “Canary Wharf” insider. He doesn’t make money trading. He doesn’t move markets. As the Telegraph story says:

How a man who has never been authorised by the Financial Services Authority and has no discernible history working for a City institution ended up being interviewed by the BBC remains a mystery.

So far, we’re just getting examples of shoddy reporting based on lame background checks.

We already have enough reasons to condemn Wall Street practices and to demand action against banking institutions for getting us in the financial mess we’re already in. But even if we want to believe in the stories about psychopaths and guys who get off on market collapses because it means more money for them (and just to emphasize, people do get extremely rich when financial products collapse. Read Michael Lewis’s “The Big Short” on the meltdown in the subprime mortgage market), we need bulletproof documentation on these “accepted truths.”

Otherwise, it’s just another group of people making up crap. And we already have enough of that.

A disheartened base

Just another reminder that while the GOP presidential candidates are bending over backwards to satisfy the extremes of their base, the Democratic presidential candidate has managed to alienate his base in the unreasonable desire for bipartisan cooperation. (From Crooks and Liars and the Washington Post):

New cracks have begun to show in President Obama’s support amongst African Americans, who have been his strongest supporters. Five months ago, 83 percent of African Americans held “strongly favorable” views of Obama, but in a new Washington Post-ABC news poll that number has dropped to 58 percent. That drop is similar to slipping support for Obama among all groups.

Cornell West and Tavis Smiley have been on Obama’s case over this for months. But their complaints aren’t really the focus here. They just enjoy providing good soundbites. What’s relevant is that the country’s economic problems have hit the black population harder than any other American demographic. When a black president garners less than a 60 percent favorable view from African Americans, the only thing you can say is that he’s completely screwed it up.

Obama will win the black vote in 2012. But with Republican state legislatures passing laws specifically geared to cutting into black turnout and with a devastating economy that’s going to damp any enthusiasm, he’s got to do more to make the base want to fight for him.

Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren is running for the Democratic nomination for senator in Massachusetts. When the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created in 2010, President Obama named her as a special adviser, and there was some talk that she would eventually head the bureau. But Republican opposition to her was so strong, Obama went with another candidate for the post.

If she wins the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race, the GOP will regret opposing her as head of the CFPB, because they will have no control over her as a senator. They would have been able to shut her up in the federal post, because all they’d have to do was cut off the bureau’s funding.

That’s the last straw

I can’t even begin to figure out what this means:

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain came out on top in the Florida straw poll on Saturday.

The former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza won the test of conservative strength with roughly 37 percent of the vote. Texas Governor Rick Perry came in second place, followed by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who did not actively compete in the event. Here’s a full breakdown of the results:

Herman Cain: 37.11%
Rick Perry: 15.43%
Mitt Romney: 14.00%
Rick Santorum: 10.88%
Ron Paul: 10.39%
Newt Gingrich: 8.43%
Jon Huntsman: 2.26%
Michele Bachmann: 1.51%

The GOP has had debates in Florida, and the spokesman for the state’s Republican party said whoever won the Florida Straw Poll would eventually win the GOP presidential nomination.

Herman Cain isn’t going to be the Republican nominee. But even with that in mind, if Rick Perry and Mitt Romney can’t beat the pizza guy, it seems the GOP nominating process has just spun into oblivion. And look who showed up in last place: the winner of the Ames, Iowa, straw poll.

All this science I don’t understand

A couple of science developments to ponder.

In Italy, they’ve potentially changed the laws of physics:

From 2009 through 2011, the massive OPERA detector buried in a mountain in Gran Sasso, Italy, recorded subatomic particles called neutrinos generated at CERN arriving a smidgen early, faster than light can move in a vacuum. If confirmed, the finding would throw more than a century of physics into chaos.

“If it’s correct, it’s phenomenal,” said Rob Plunkett, a scientist at Fermilab, the Department of Energy physics laboratory in Illinois. “We’d be looking at a whole new set of rules” for how the universe works.

Those rules would bend, or possibly break, Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity, published in 1905. Radical at the time, the theory tied together space and time, matter and energy, and set a hard limit for the speed of light, later measured to be about 186,000 miles per second.

So if anything that travels faster than light goes back in time (based on the every episode of “Star Trek” we’ve ever watched), did the neutrinos arrive before they left?

Meanwhile, someone or something somewhere was in for a shock when this happened late last night:

A 12,500-pound decommissioned satellite that was lazily falling toward the Earth over the past two days finally came down around midnight Friday, NASA said early Saturday.

The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) fell back to Earth between 11:23 p.m. Friday and 1:09 a.m. Saturday, NASA said in an update on its website. The Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California said the satellite penetrated the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean, the agency said. It is not yet known when exactly the satellite hit Earth, and whether it ended up in water or on land, NASA said.

So something the size of a bus dropped out of space to somewhere on the planet, but no one knows where or on whom it fell. The AP says the chances of being hit by the space junk are infinitesimal.

Before UARS fell, no one had ever been hit by falling space junk and NASA expected that not to change. NASA put the chances that somebody somewhere on Earth would get hurt at 1-in-3,200. But any one person’s odds of being struck were estimated at 1-in-22 trillion, given there are seven billion people on the planet.

Still, I can only think of the show “Dead Like Me,” when George is killed by the toilet seat that reentered the atmosphere from the Mir Space Station: