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Here is a thing that happened (dashes.com)
148 points by zdw on Feb 22, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 106 comments

In case you're wondering: "Blue Sky" appears to be an alias used by LIMMT, a Chinese company that did business in the US while supplying the Iranian military with weapons material.

OFAC publishes the contents of the SDN and updates to it.

(This comment is descriptive, not normative).


[0]: http://www.iranwatch.org/library/government/united-states/st...

Can we be sure that all the other evil, evil aliases - namely 'patric' and 'k. lee' - get the same treatement if mentioned in payments, since it's obviously neccessary for national security?

that is a crazy amount of aliases!

SDN = Specially Designated Nationals, OFAC = Office of Foreign Assets Control

I believe that right now every American citizen should write "Blue Sky" in every possible field on their bank forms when setting a transfer. This is lunacy and incompetence at the highest level.

Everyone flying should write SSSS on their boarding passes on a predetermined day, too.

While you're at it, retransmit bitcoin transactions that have been slightly altered but that still have valid signatures.

"Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine."

in Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau, 1849

I'm not trying to be inflammatory:

Would you expect anything else from the US gov't?

Are you trying to be hyperbolic to the point of obliterating all nuance then?

If you accept the article as accurate, then it seems odd to consider my statement hyperbole.

Given the text of the article, which entails only a single incident of a legitimate transaction being stopped based on automatic keyword filtering, we should conclude that it is entirely reasonable to state that the whole US government -- every single branch and agency -- is incapable of carrying out any action competently, at every level all the way to the very top?

Yes, that's a hyperbolic statement.

Ah, so this is the first time you've read about something like this...

>Given the text of the article, which entails only a single incident of a legitimate transaction being stopped

If you're gonna have a say on the issue, then at least not base it just on the singular information of the article. This is a common occurence. Here's another example, posted just a few weeks before:


And there are many, many more.

>we should conclude that it is entirely reasonable to state that the whole US government -- every single branch and agency -- is incapable of carrying out any action competently, at every level all the way to the very top?

No, who is retorting to hyberbole? Did he say anything about them being incapable to carry out any action competently? IIRC, he wrote: "did you expect anything else" from them, which could be read as related to this particular handling of the situation. Which, as we saw, is not uncommon at all. See also TSA, et al.

> No, who is retorting to hyberbole? Did he say anything about them being incapable to carry out any action competently?


> Would you expect anything else from the US gov't?

You're being obtuse to continue this line of pseudo-intellectual reasoning. His statement is quite obviously implying that the government can't do anything right (aww shucks!), and he's using this article as his "evidence."

Must be easy to always argue against the least charitable interpretation of your opponents positions.

You mean every American citizen... except yourself.

I am not one so I can't really do that :P

That's my point. It's easy to advocate something when you have no intention of participating.

That's called American syndrome. "Yea! Let's all stand up to the gov!"... * waits for someone else to do it first

So does it mean that I shouldn't say anything about that issue? Does it mean that you should not support the protesters in Ukraine if you are not Ukrainian, because you have no intention of participating?

Also - this is Hacker News, not Hacker News USA, so if something is important enough that it's brought to the attention of the worldwide population, then that population should be able to voice their opinion on the matter.

The comment about Time Warner Cable was the best part of this article:

"I'm going to write "Blue Sky" on checks sent to Time Warner Cable so they can never take online payments from anybody."

You mean to Comcast?

Do you mean AmeriCommunicationsMonoploy Co?

Thanks, I was worried we’d have no Reddit-style threads mucking up an actual discussion. Then you swooped in! Thanks!

Average American Conglomerate, LTD.

The Umbrella Corporation

"Hey, let's give wide, blunt political power to a bunch of un-elected functionaries, then we can start automating whatever their desires are! What could go wrong?"

And so we're going to end up with a government like Google, where people come to HN to beg for attention just so they can be treated like a human being.

I think it's time we just all acknowledge that the U.S. has the most onerous and insane financial laws in the world. The only reason other countries put up with them is because the U.S. is the sole remaining superpower.

There really needs to be some kind of correction here, but I don't see it happening anytime soon.

EDIT: Just to be clear, I am specifically referring to the Treasury Department handling of overseas payments and expats living abroad, not internal tax or financial regulations. There's a lot out there Google if you want to go look for it, including how various countries have protested being forced to comply with U.S. law, expats giving up citizenship at record rates (though still small in the grand scheme of things), and so on.

"I think it's time we just all acknowledge that the U.S. has the most onerous and insane financial laws in the world. The only reason other countries put up with them is because the U.S. is the sole remaining superpower."

I'm gonna guess you don't have a whole lot of stamps on your passport.

I'm an expat with a relatively large number of stamps on my passport, and I have loads of trouble anytime I try to open a new bank account or do anything remotely 'weird' with international banking.

"I think it's time we just all acknowledge that the U.S. has the most onerous and insane financial laws in the world."

You should really repeat this to an italian (italian born in Italy, speaking italian as his first language, not italian born in New York) entrepreneur.

But please record a video then share it. I'd really like to see their face :D

This is of course anecdotal:

I just so happen to have spoken with a practicing Italian banker (in English), practicing financial professionals from several other Anglophone nations, and from Germany as well. (these conversations were friendly and not professional in nature - I was not seeking their services, should any future Treasury/IRS folks be reading this!)

Never have I once - ever - heard a single one of them suggest even for a second that there is any financial/economic system as heavily regulated, asinine, filled through with bizarre rules, and just overall insane as that found in the US.

Italy (and other EU) payment regulations are actually quite reasonable compared to USA.

Now, Russia - that's a different ballpark; companies transferring significant money to/from abroad there involves not only tricky bureaucracy, but a bunch of hidden-gotcha-landmines as well; no wonder their companies tend to open a subsidiary in Switzerland or Crete or even Italy just to handle their money flow.

Every single medium-sized company is fleeing from Italy towards East Europe because of:

- taxes

- mafia

- masonry (the italian one, Grande Oriente d'Italia, is not as good as others)

- taxes

- less-than-robust legal system

- taxes

And, of course, also for the taxes.

Exactly. "Please, visit our country..."

On the bright side, it's hard to think of a faster way to get an insane law fixed than to have it prevent a law firm from getting paid (except perhaps to have it prevent Congress from getting paid). Perhaps they might want to take this one pro bono?

A bunch of small blue sky political donations.

"Blue Sky" is the name of an underground drug marketplace. It is one of the new[1] sites looking to replace Silk Road and is apparently popular.

Onion link:


edit: screenshot of the market homepage:


[1] turns out it was launched in the first week of December, which makes it nearly 3 months old - enough time to get it noticed and flagged by the us.gov.

So if this payment needed to be stopped in the eyes of the bank then why did they suggest a measure for circumventing their own rules by sending a paper check.

This is kind of funny I recently purchased a bunch of second hard server parts from the excess department of a mid-sized bank and they insisted on checking my name against the OFAC list before completing the transaction. Insane.

What you're missing is that different players in this particular mess have different motivations.

The goal of the OFAC regulators is to stop money from going to terrorists and other bad people. So they prohibit the banks from transferring money to "blue sky" and anyone else on the list. There is no leeway here -- if a bank does not comply the banking regulators have the authority to immediately close the bank an seize its assets and give them to a different bank.

The goal of the IT and operations departments in the bank are to implement the requirements. The IT guys put a simple string match against the text of the online payments. There is no way to add a clause that checks whether it's "really" a payment to the prohibited individual or just someone who stuck a note in the memo field, because computers can't go out and interview the recipient to find out who they are. They also stuck in code to block that recipient from receiving payments in the future because otherwise anyone could circumvent the block completely by simply changing the name on the payment.

The goal of the bank representative that Mr. Dash spoke with was to help her customer. So she suggested sending the paper check. For what it's worth, the OFAC office isn't too worried about the person collecting payment on the check because banks are also prohibited from giving bank accounts to people (or organizations) on the OFAC list.

> So if this payment needed to be stopped in the eyes of the bank then why did they suggest a measure for circumventing their own rules by sending a paper check.

Making everyone accept a system which doesn't make sense is just another step on the path to a dystopia. You'd be surprised at the number of such rules that existed in communist dictatorships.

Why even title a post on a blog if it conveys zero information?

I had just wanted to document the moment and thought it was kind of funny to do sort of the anti-Upworthy headline.

Because it's their blog, not yours, and because a blog isn't a newspaper article?

It seems like HN has a ton of uselessly vague titles. I don't know if I should ignore them or click on all of them to find out what they are.

It's because the powers-that-be decided, in their infinite wisdom, that any modification of a link's title is "editorializing". Thus we get ridiculous stuff like this, instead of something more illuminating.

Official post: "Why we revert to original titles" https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6572466 (414 points, by pg, 127 days ago, 220 comments)

I agree that too much editorializing is bad, but textual titles are also bad. In the last weeks I feel that the rules had been relaxed a little, but I haven't done any systematic measurement.

The post was on a blog, not a news article and nonsensical titles are commonplace. And the submitter followed the HN guidelines of using the same title of the post.

Titles are required for nearly all blogging software.

> In conclusion, I love my country and like our lawyers and hate our bank

Why do you hate your bank? Chase is probably the best large bank I've ever dealt with and their online/mobile tools are excellent. It's very likely they're just complying with their legal obligations.

If you're just using their standard online bill pay, I'd be curious to see what would happen if you simply added a new payee and slightly changed their name and attempted to pay them.

As a counter opinion, I hate Chase. Ignoring their deep involvement in illegal activity during the mortgage crisis and manipulations of our economy through revolving door lobbying, and merely speaking from a customer perspective:

1. High fees for international bank wires.

2. Befuddled telephone support when money isn't where it's supposed to be (for whatever reason) with frequent transfers to other departments.

3. Bankers on-site often don't know anything about the more complicated aspects of business accounts.

4. International travel with a Chase card is...an adventure. It took me three or four phone calls to Chase after I was already deep in the rain forest in Chiapas, Mexico in order to free up money to simply buy gas and other stuff. I never got the Chase card working for directly buying gas (while other cards did work, most of my funds were in Chase). I would have to go to an ATM, pay exorbitant fees, and use cash for everything. This was incredibly stressful...being 1000 miles inside Mexico on a visitor visa in a motorhome that gets 10 MPG (so, I needed a pretty big chunk of change to get back home, just on the fuel front, not to mention all the other living expenses).

The online experience has finally gotten better in the past few years, but it used to be pretty awful. One still had to call for almost everything interesting; I used to have to pay them for old statements, to boot!

I didn't choose Chase. My first bank was Texas Commerce. Chase acquired them. I stuck with them for a while after, despite my discontent (it's a lot of trouble to move banks, especially for a business that has incoming credit card payments, and outgoing payroll, among other things). When I moved to California, and formed a new corporation for my company, I opened an account at Washington Mutual. A year later, Chase acquired WaMu as part of the mortgage bailouts. So, Chase has been following me around all my damned adult life. I've given up on getting away from them, though I do have a credit union account for my personal money.

Also, they don't treat their employees very well (an ex-girlfriend worked there for a while in college, before going on to work at Google, and she hated it, especially after uniforms became required).

In short, if I were starting anew, Chase would not be on the list of banks I would consider.

I'm keeping my Chase account on the theory that eventually it will be sold to somebody else anyway, probably Deutsche Bank because the rule seems to be that when my bank is bought, it's from somewhere even further away. Eventually it will be First Bank of Mars, then JP Morgan Proxima Centauri.

Seconding the highway-robbery international bank wire fees - in addition to charging far too much for wires, they also use a bad exchange rate to plunder even more from you, while not telling their employees that this is what's going on.

It blocked several simple variations as being duplicates, likely because the address is necessarily the same.

Did you add a department (ex. "Billing Department") and move the real address to line 2?

Thanks for clarifying

> It's very likely they're just complying with their legal obligations.

Legal != !stupid

The bank didn't make the laws and doesn't run OFAC. The government does.

Doesn't that imply a certain equivalence between the two terms or is this a notation I am not aware of?

And if it is the former, am I contributing to your security for not posting the simplified version? :)

I'd like to concur. I've been banking with Chase in some form or another since their Bank One merger, and they are easily the best large bank I've been a customer of. They even beat most regional banks I've used.

Their online and mobile tools are a big part of that. Their military support is also pretty good (my daughter is USCG) with true cost free banking and low activity military accounts. In fact, they beat USAA on almost every gauge (the exception being USAA makes pay and allowances available a few days early).

As a side note, I find the hyperbole of "killing trees" as a description for "writing checks" a little annoying and uneducated. Does one believe that the energy that makes the Internet possible is free?

Not free, but I would suspect that paying electronically is at least a magnitude less impactful on the environment. That checkbook had to be produced, shipped to the bank, mailed to you, and then the individual check has to get moved around as well.

That wasn't my claim but I don't think the online payments are as low energy as you may believe. In order to allow the Internet to exist such that online payments are so efficient, we must necessarily have all the servers, cables, routers, all the infrastructure, on all the time or otherwise not even a single online payment would go through. That's a lot of air conditioning, alone. So, fine but let's not think online payments use magnitudes less energy by using simplistic calculations.

The energy spent by the humans who have to touch/move/look/process this obsolete, unneeded artifact is more than the energy needed to process a thousand normal deals on the Internet.

It was supposed to be silly, not a literal consideration of the ecological impact.

"In conclusion, I love my country and like our lawyers and hate our bank, like all good Americans." Oh my sides.

I get the dim sense, knowing nothing about this stuff, that the job of that office is one of the more headache-inducing ones in administrative government. Preventing people to sending money to (or receiving money from) a list of bad actors is a horridly difficult thing to begin with, but then when they screw up (either like this or in the more common case of money getting through), placing the blame is easy.

On another note, I haven't the faintest idea what the meaning of "blue sky" is, and I can't find anything by searching. Anybody know?

The part that gets me about this story isn't the mistaken flagging -- any screening system is going to have its false positives. It's the "our lawyers were essentially flagged as an entity which we can never pay through online bill payment again" part. I could understand a temporary lock on electronic transactions between these two parties while the case is being investigated, but once it's determined that the case is a false positive, what's the logic of not lifting the ban and letting the two parties do business electronically again?

I fear that the answer is something stupid like "we put you on a list, and now that you're on the list you can never get off." Which seems like a policy designed to make life easier for Treasury (or whomever maintains The List) rather than for the wrongly identified parties who now have to suffer for the rest of their lives due to somebody else's mistake. At a minimum there ought to be a process for people who end up on The List by mistake to appeal their inclusion.

In their minds there may be more downside to taking someone off the list than leaving them on.

"You already had this terrorist-funding org on the list and you took them OFF?!?!?"


Some blogger complaining that the gummint is stoopid. (Something everyone already knows).

Yeah, to be clear, I wrote this up because it's unfortunate and weird, not to vilify folks at the Treasury Department who have an unenviably difficult job. I don't think this one false positive for me is a huge burden (and most of the inconvenience is due to my bank, not the Treasury Dept).

On the other hand, I know that the next time I'm coming back gone to the U.S. from abroad, especially being a brown dude with a beard who has family in Sourh Asia, I'm gonna have to deal with this. That was part of my reason for publishing it now.

Why NOT vilify the folks at the treasury? Why so polite?

Because every effort like this will have false positives and I don't think it's meaningless overall. If my goal were to change policy, I'd have addressed this to my congressperson, and reached out to Treasury, not talking about it on HN.

Did you not read his second paragraph? It's right there.

..and you think being polite is going to stop the powers that be from messing with him when he re-enters the country? Interesting...

It's between the lines.

apparently not that difficult of a job, since i could literarily replace them with as shell script, as the joke goes.

Apart from other meanings mentioned here, in US legal history the "blue sky" laws came in to stop people selling securities for bogus or unlikely business ventures. I don't think OFAC is necessarily directly concerned with this, in this case, but the company they sued may have inadvertently mocked the business law by using the term. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_sky_law

> I haven't the faintest idea what the meaning of "blue sky" is, and I can't find anything by searching.

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/blue-sky+thinking and http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/blue-sky_thinking

"Blue sky" is a weather condition in which there are no clouds in the sky.


Apparently it's a form of methamphetamine

More like a fictional form from "Breaking Bad."

Amex has a credit card called Blue Sky. Now I kind of want one.

How do headlines like this get noticed? It boggles the mind.

It's not the headline but the blogger. Anil Dash was in Six Apart back when the only real blogging platform around was their Movable Type, about 2001.

That last line:

> Customs when returning home to the United States. See? It was all just a harmless mixup.

I suppose it was meant as a joke, but I find it chilling.

Bitcoin suffers from no such idiotic and arbitrary denial-of-service attacks by intermediaries.

There's really no need to shoe-horn bitcoin into _every_ hackernews thread.

On the contrary, it's simply a property of being a consumer financial service provider in USA - if a company would offer the exact same bill settlement in bitcoins instead of dollars, all the same restrictions would apply.

No, it just suffers from having all your cash, hard-mined by skimming off the drug economy, regularly stolen by people breaking into poorly secured exchanges ;)

Is it just me or does everyone has to do this: when you need to file more taxes (you need to pay more to the treasury), do you have to put your SSN in the memo field? My accountant said I have to which I dont't feel happy about it...

IRS asks for it:


You can probably arrange to make the payment electronically.

Yep. The enrollment process is laborious, but it's worthwhile for those of us that deal with quarterly estimated tax payments. https://www.eftps.gov/

... and thats why americans have troubles to open bank account abroad.

Man what a great title

The last paragraph is perhaps more crucial than it may seem.

It seems the paranoia is getting institutionalized.

I feel bad for him, but his second most recent blog post is odious: why he only retweets females.


Maybe karma works in mysterious ways

Do yourself a favor and read the rationale and see if you can get past your defensiveness. I bet you won't find it odious. https://medium.com/the-web-we-make/79403a7eade1

That's not relevant to this article at all.

It's funny how you can always pick out a sexist by how they refer to women as "females".

What? I use "females". I thought it was a clever way to get around having to choose between "girl" and "woman", as I would assume different females prefer different terms based on their self-image. I'm not quite comfortable with being called a man (it makes me think of my father), but "boy" is certainly incorrect. Male is a perfectly fine thing to say.

Basically the girl/woman boundary involves sex, mental maturity, age and other things I don't really want to touch.

Calling human beings "male" and "female" comes across as incredibly creepy to me. In certain technical contexts, the creepiness is normalised, but in everyday conversation, it makes me wonder if you're a psychopath.

"Ladies" and "guys" always seems to go down pretty well for me.

But it sounds like you're labeling a member of some other species or something.

In professional and unknown context, you can't really go wrong with woman for anyone above drinking age. (It's the most polite and neutral possible, I'd say.)

> woman … is the most polite and neutral possible

Probably true!

> can’t really go wrong

Hahaha. ha.

I really wish you were right, but the thing about ladies/women/girls/females/dames/womyn/gals/femmes is, being individuals, they have individual opinions on the matter. And being human, they just may have specific fears and wishes regarding their perception. So some girls hear “woman” as “old!” and some women hear “girl” as “object!” and so on and so forth.

Just as in anything else messy and human, there isn’t an easy answer.

But, oops now you are transphobic! Because "female" excludes those who identify as women but are not biologically female. I've seen enough people catch flak for it on Twitter.

I wonder if Anil retweets trans women? Can I qualify for his retweets if I become woman? But then I spent most of my life being overrepresented so maybe not?

And wait: trans women as a group are also likely already overrepresented in tech compared to the rest of the population; so maybe one should NOT retweet trans women?

It is literally impossible to address gender in a way that doesn't offend somebody.

Sexists, police, and Ferengi.

For the unenlightened among us, why don't you just step us through the logic on exactly why this is odious.

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