Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Last Call

Your call cannot be completed as dialed, AT&T.  Please try again.

The decision by US authorities to challenge AT&T's $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile is a bitter blow for the US telecoms giant, but it could benefit consumers, analysts said.

As it filed a lawsuit to block the takeover on Wednesday, the US Department of Justice said the takeover bid -- which would give AT&T a daunting 39-percent share of the US wireless market -- was anti-competitive.

Shares of AT&T plunged 4.6 percent on Wall Street after the DoJ's move was announced, even as the company vowed to contest it in court.

"There are really no good options for AT&T at this point," said Harold Feld, legal director of Public Knowledge, a digital-rights advocacy group in Washington.

I'd have to agree.  It's either a lengthy court battle that could take years, or abandon the deal altogether.  Either way, Sprint and Verizon have to be licking their chops knowing that they can continue to expand at AT&T's expense.

Here's the question:  can anybody buy T-Mobile and not exceed that 39% market share mark and still remain competitive?

Eye Of The Hurri-Cantor

Me, last week on Eric Cantor's trial balloon to hold Hurricane Irene relief money hostage to federal spending cuts:

Boy, if I lived in Cantor's district, I'd be thrilled to know that if Irene went through my hometown and wrecked power, traffic, water and city streets, that Eric Cantor's office was more interested in scoring political talking points than helping people in need And if I were one of Cantor's Virginia delegation colleagues, I'd be ringing up his office and saying "Look, pal, my constituents are going to need this money.  Don't be pulling this nonsense."

And lo and behold, now Cantor has quite the revolt on his hands from Virginia Republicans, including Gov. Bob McDonnell:

Virginia GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell, breaking with Cantor, on Tuesday suggested that deficit-spending concerns should not be a factor as Congress and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) respond to the hurricane.
“My concern is that we help people in need,” McDonnell said during his monthly radio show. “For the FEMA money that’s going to flow, it’s up to them on how they get it. I don’t think it’s the time to get into that [deficit] debate.”

Yeah, and here's the kicker:

But Cantor hasn’t always believed that disaster aid should be contingent on budget cuts. In fact, in 2004, he requested federal aid following Tropical Storm Gaston, saying that “the magnitude of the damage suffered by the Richmond area is beyond what the Commonwealth can handle,” without a word about offsetting cuts being necessary.

So when Cantor's district needed disaster relief, he was all for it.  You know, when Bush was President.  When a Republican is President, deficits don't matter, you see.

Giving The People A Choice

It's no coincidence that today the White House announced that President Obama will be addressing a joint session of Congress the same night as a scheduled GOP candidate presidential debate on September 7, a week from today.  In fact, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that if the Republicans had a problem with it, they should reschedule.  Hey, it's good being the President.

"There were a lot of considerations," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters today. "And, obviously, one debate of many that's on one channel of many was not enough reason not to have the speech at the time that we decided to have it."

Politico and NBC News are sponsoring the debate, one of three among the GOP presidential candidates scheduled for September. The organizers have not yet announced what they intend to do about the President's request for airtime during their debate.

Carney suggested the organizers could move it.

"The network could make a decision to alter of timing of the debate by an hour if it so decided," Carney said. "There is no perfect time."

"There has not been a time in my short period of time of this job where I called the networks and said, 'How about now for, does this time work for the president to speak?'" Carney added. "There is always, 'well, it works for two of us but not the other three.'"

It'll be interesting to see what kind of pushback the White House gets on this.  It'll be even more interesting to see what the Republicans have to say, and if the Village goes along with it.   But we'll see what happens.

Oh, and I like this new White House going after the GOP.  Like I said, this was absolutely not a coincidence.  Meanwhile, Orange Julius says the President needs to move his address to preempt next Thursday's NFL season opener, because the Republicans you know, hate the President enough to publicly disrespect him like this.  When's the last time a Speaker of the House told the President "hey, just reschedule, we're too busy trying to ruin you to deal with you speaking to us."

Nice guy.

Steven Seagal Stars In Lawsuit - Maximum Overkill

Seagal, along with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, has been served with an official notice of claim from Jesus Sanchez Llovera -- who contends Seagal and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department performed an "unfounded" raid on his home because they believed Jesus was operating an illegal cockfighting farm. Jesus denies the allegation -- insisting he only raises the roosters "for show."

Jesus claims Seagal arrived to his home on March 9 with a TANK -- and rammed into a gate on his property. Seagal was backed up by an MCSO Tactical Operations Unit -- armed in full riot gear -- which stormed the house. The entire incident was captured by a camera crew taping for Seagal's reality show, "Steven Seagal Lawman."

Jesus claims his 11-month old puppy was shot and killed during the raid -- and his home sustained "substantial damage." He also claims the cops killed more than 100 roosters that belonged to him.

The notice of claim is the first step towards a lawsuit -- and Jesus' lawyer tells us his client is demanding $100,000 for the damage and he wants Seagal to issue a "formal written apology" to his children "for the death of their 11-month old puppy, a beloved family pet.

Technically, these allegations have not been proven.  Let us hope this guy is blowing it out of proportion and angling for a settlement.  Because if somebody comes on my property and threatens my pet, I would shoot them with a smile (if you don't believe me, ask Zandar, who has witnessed my love for my pets and my shotgun).  Destroying property, killing an innocent animal and terrorizing citizens for reality TV is way beyond the line.  And how does killing the roosters actually help them?  Can anyone explain that?

I hope more comes out about this, in the meantime I can't help but feel a little sickened.  I know I am way softer about animals than most, but life is life and suffering is suffering, whether it is ours or another's.  Taking life should never be easy, and certainly never done for something as ridiculous as ratings on a show for a has-been trying to stay tough.  Making a statement about cockfighting should not come at the death of the roosters and an innocent animal that was just home with his family.

Taking Plug And Play To Exciting New Levels

We can't help but project our humanity onto devices.  Our phones were a failure when they just made calls.  Computers were lame when all you could do was data entry and peck out letters.  Even television was ho-hum when it was programmed by someone else.  When the Internet revolution came and porn flooded the web, it became obvious that adding a sexual side to devices cemented them with the population.  Now we have webcam shows, sexting and on-demand adult programming that has added spice to technology.

That means the following article shouldn't be much of a surprise, but boy was it (at least to me!).

There is now a USB vibrator (yes, you read that right).  It comes with 8 or 16 GB of storage, like anyone cares. It now "discreetly" gives users a way to keep their fun... ahem... portable.  I thought it was a joke at first, but CNET assures me it is not.  Adult or not, I had to get an initial giggle attack out of the way, then I began to write this.

Christmas gift? I think not.  Gift for the geek who has everything (except a boyfriend)?  I suppose so.  At any rate, this was one of the most amusing tech articles I've written in a while.  Enjoy!

Turn On The Lights, Watch The Roaches Scatter Part 77

So, turns out Bank of America had plenty of notification that AIG was going to sue them.  Like seven months worth of warning.  And no, they didn't tell shareholders.

Top Bank of America Corp lawyers knew as early as January that American International Group Inc was prepared to sue the bank for more than $10 billion, seven months before the lawsuit was filed, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Bank of America shares fell more than 20 percent on August 8, the day the lawsuit was filed, adding to worries about the stability of the largest U.S. bank. It wasn't until Warren Buffett stepped up with a $5 billion investment that those fears were eased, though hardly eliminated.

The bank made no mention of the lawsuit threat in a quarterly regulatory filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission just four days earlier. Nor did management discuss it on conference calls about quarterly results and other pending legal claims.

The SEC's rules for litigation disclosure are murky, and some lawyers said Bank of America may have been justified in not revealing AIG's lawsuit before it was filed. The bank's litigation disclosures are in line with those of many rivals.

But other lawyers said banks have an obligation to disclose legal threats that could have major consequences.

"Publicly owned companies are supposed to disclose material threatened litigation under generally accepted accounting principles," said Richard Rowe, a former director of the SEC's Division of Corporation Finance, who was commenting generally and not specifically about Bank of America.

The odds of this little tidbit becoming an even larger headache for Bank of America this week is pretty high, especially since shareholders are already suing the bank to block the settlement deal with New York State.  Something tells me this injunction will be carried out in all due haste.

The wolves are circling the tree, and Bank of America is running out of branches to hold on to.  Because it gets even worse for the company.

The attorney general of Nevada is accusing Bank of America of repeatedly violating a broad loan modification agreement it struck with state officials in October 2008 and is seeking to rip up the deal so that the state can sue the bank over allegations of deceptive lending, marketing and loan servicing practices.

In a complaint filed Tuesday in United States District Court in Reno, Catherine Cortez Masto, the Nevada attorney general, asked a judge for permission to end Nevada’s participation in the settlement agreement. This would allow her to sue the bank over what the complaint says were dubious practices uncovered by her office in an investigation that began in 2009.

In her filing, Ms. Masto contends that Bank of America raised interest rates on troubled borrowers when modifying their loans even though the bank had promised in the settlement to lower them. The bank also failed to provide loan modifications to qualified homeowners as required under the deal, improperly proceeded with foreclosures even as borrowers’ modification requests were pending and failed to meet the settlement’s 60-day requirement on granting new loan terms, instead allowing months and in some cases more than a year to go by with no resolution, the filing says. 

And if this is granted, I just don't see how the bank survives.  The Nevada complaint accuses Bank of America ,among other things, of actually punishing their loan modification staff if they spent more than ten minutes trying to help a single customer.  Their job was to get them off the phone in such a way that they wouldn't call back and would basically give up on getting a loan modification.  These guys are pretty much toast.

And B of A is the largest bank in the country.  You do the math as to what that will do to the markets when the hammer drops on them.

I fear we'll find out pretty soon.

Still Furious, Not Particularly Fast However

Republicans looking for their Pentagon Papers to use on President Obama have managed to claim another administration scalp as ATF chief Ken Melson got a "lateral" promotion.

US authorities Tuesday named a new chief for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) after a scandal in which the agency lost track of weapons that ended up in the hands of drug cartels in Mexico.

B. Todd Jones, a federal prosecutor in Minnesota, was appointed acting director of ATF, while the current acting director Kenneth Melson was named a senior adviser to the agency on forensic science.

So what's this "Fast And Furious" mess all about, anyway?

The shakeup comes weeks after a congressional report showed an estimated 2,000 weapons smuggled into Mexico as part of a US sting operation -- and then lost -- have been linked to numerous killings, including that of an American federal agent.

The report found that ATF lost track of the weapons after allowing them to be smuggled into Mexico under an operation called "Fast and Furious," which drew harsh criticism in Congress after the revelations.

At least 122 of the weapons were used in crimes in Mexico, according to the report.

Two of the weapons were found at the scene of the killing of Brian Terry, a border patrol agent who was shot and killed in Arizona December 14 while trying to apprehend armed men preying on illegal immigrants.

The ATF program, which angered Mexico when it came to light, allowed hundreds of weapons to be smuggled into Mexico between 2009 and 2010 as part of a plan to capture major arms traffickers.

Good idea, terrible execution.  You tag weapons for a sting and then they get smuggled into Mexico, you lose them, they end up being used to kill a Border Patrol agent.  That's reaching a Bush-era incompetence level right there and frankly I'm not sad to see Melson get shuffled off to Buffalo.  Even worse, we kinda didn't tell the Mexican government, and those weapons ended up being used in dozens of criminal acts.

Yeah, somebody's head had to roll here, no question.

Still A War Or Three Going On, Folks

Remember Afghanistan, people?  You know, that whole war for nearly a decade thing?  Just hit a new monthly record for US troop deaths in August.

Sixty-six American troops have died this month, topping July 2010 when 65 troops died, according to a CNN tally.

Almost half the August troop deaths took place on August 6 when insurgents shot down their helicopter in the eastern central province of Wardak. The Taliban claimed militants downed the helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Thirty U.S. service members - including 17 Navy SEALs - were killed in that attack, the single largest loss of life for U.S. troops since the Afghan war began in late 2001.

In contrast, 36 U.S. service members were killed in all of July. Prior to the August attack, the most U.S. troops killed in a single month this year was 47 in June.

A "surge" of 33,000 additional troops in 2009 - in response to increased insurgent attacks - led to an uptick in U.S. deaths over previous years, with 499 killed in 2010. Prior to the surge, the most U.S. troops killed in a single year was 155 in 2008, according to CNN figures.

More troops in the combat theater equals more casualties.  Whocoodanode?  You know what I'd like to see observed on September 11th this year as we approach ten years since 9/11?  Bringing our friggin troops home.  All of them.


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