Monthly Archive: February 2013

Feb 28 2013

US Tax Payers Still Bailing Out TBTF

With sequestration looming, many Americans are still struggling to recover from the the 2008 recession that cost them billions in lost savings and jobs but not the banks who were the chief perpetrators for the housing crash. As a matter of fact, American tax payers are still bailing out the “Too Big To Jail” banks $83 billion a year:

So what if we told you that, by our calculations, the largest U.S. banks aren’t really profitable at all? What if the billions of dollars they allegedly earn for their shareholders were almost entirely a gift from U.S. taxpayers? [..]

Banks have a powerful incentive to get big and unwieldy. The larger they are, the more disastrous their failure would be and the more certain they can be of a government bailout in an emergency. The result is an implicit subsidy: The banks that are potentially the most dangerous can borrow at lower rates, because creditors perceive them as too big to fail. [..]

The top five banks — JPMorgan, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc [..] with almost $9 trillion in assets, more than half the size of the U.S. economy — would just about break even in the absence of corporate welfare. In large part, the profits they report are essentially transfers from taxpayers to their shareholders.

It is outrageous that Americans are being bludgeoned with $85 billion in austerity cuts that will most likely halt any recovery while handing banking shareholders an $83 billion gift.

During his appearance before the Senate Banking Committee, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was asked by freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren about about the risks and fairness of having banks that are “too big to fail

Warren quizzed Bernanke on that study. “I understand that we’re all trying to get to the end of too big to fail, but my question, Mr. Chairman, is until we do, should those biggest financial institutions be repaying the American taxpayer that $83 billion subsidy that they’re getting?”

Bernanke responded, “The subsidy is coming because of market expectations that the government would bail out these firms if they failed. Those expectations are incorrect.”

After some back and forth, Warren countered, “$83 billion says there really will be a bailout for the largest institutions.”

“That’s the expectation of markets. But that doesn’t mean we have to do it,” Bernanke responded.

Warren insisted that the large banks should pay for the subsidy. “Ordinary folks pay for homeowners’ insurance, ordinary folks pay for car insurance, and these big financial institutions are getting cheaper borrowing to the tune of $83 billion in a single year simply because people believe that the government would step in and bail them out. I’m just saying, if they’re getting it, why shouldn’t they pay for it?” she said.

“I think we should get rid of it,” Bernanke said. He said he agreed with her that government should address the problem of “too big to fail.”

Meanwhile, as Chris in Paris at AMERICAblog points out these banking executives are the forefront of the attack on the social safety net:

You may recall Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, the guy who Obama has a strange bromance with, adjusted bonus payout dates in both the US and UK to avoid paying taxes. You know, as in the taxes that saved his entire lifestyle.

Even worse is Blankfein’s insistence on bashing programs that are critical to middle class Americans. It’s the Blankfeins of the world that want to take your Medicare and Social Security away.  God forbid we ran out of money and there weren’t any left to bail out the banks next time, right?

Then there’s my other favorite bankster, good old Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan. Dimon is the delightful fellow who ignored the warnings and ended up costing the bank, and our taxpayers, billions.

Since these banks really aren’t turning a profit without government welfare, what would JPMorgan look like without those handouts? For Dimon, banking rules that help protect taxpayers from bailing out the gambling banks are “un-American.”

The major bank chiefs have been quite vocal about trashing the social system, just as they trashed our economy. But when it comes to helping Americans, the banks have little interest beyond their next bailout.

Speaking of Jamie, our favorite vampire capitalist, “thoughtfully” explained why he’s richer than anyone else” in this exchange with Mike Mayo, an analyst at CLSA and Dimon critic:

Mayo: I think what I hear UBS saying in the presentation is that if I’m an affluent customer I’ll feel a lot better going to UBS if they have 13.5 (percent) capital ratio than another big bank with a 10 percent ratio. Do you agree with that?

Dimon: You would go to UBS and not JPMorgan?

Mayo: I didn’t say that. That’s their argument.

Dimon: That’s why I’m richer than you. [..]

FDL New Desk‘s DSWright found Dimon’s response arrogant but indicative of something even more offensive:

Dimon is right, he did get rich having low capital ratios – which is why his form of banking is dangerous. It’s the precise reason the banks could not protect themselves during the crisis, they were over-leveraged.

   “The real issue isn’t who is rich, but rather whose interests are being fairly served and whose aren’t. Dimon’s approach gives short shrift to both shareholders and taxpayers. Taxpayers still carry substantial risks for which they are not being compensated, a state that will only change when regulations are tightened, and hopefully vastly simplified.

   Shareholders do badly because the kind of bank Dimon runs is prone to loss and volatility, leading markets to set a low value on the bank’s earnings.”

Mathematician Albert Einstein said that doing the same thing over and over expecting different results was the definition of insanity. Continuing to bail out these banks on tax payer’s “dime” when there is no evidence that breaking them up would harm the economy is just insane.

Feb 28 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Glen Ford: Remember: Sequestration was Obama’s Idea

Obama's Satan Sandwich Sequester photo satan_sandwich_chef_barack_zps3232b1e9.jpg President Obama is a full partner with the Republicans in the latest episode of the manufactured disaster saga: sequestration. “The idea was to make every popular constituency in the country scream – and accept the inevitability of massive entitlement cuts.” It’s a goal shared by corporatists in both parties. [..]

Disaster capitalism is manifesting itself as disaster governance, and President Obama is fully complicit in the corporate-imposed charade. Indeed, Obama is most culpable for infecting the nation with austerity fever.

Robert Kuttner: The Sequestering of Barack Obama

President Obama has miscalculated both the tactical politics of the sequester and the depressive economic impact of budget cuts on the rest of his presidency. The sequester will cut economic growth in half this year. But it’s now clear, one way or another, that we will get cuts in the $85 billion range that the sequester mandates this fiscal year. All that remains are the details. [..]

Obama needs to do something that doesn’t come easily to him. He needs to demolish the previous terms of debate, some of them partly of his own making. He has warned Republicans that if they allow the sequester to destroy a fragile recovery, the burden will be on them. More broadly, he needs to disavow earlier mistaken policies that he embraced, such as the belief that targeting a lower debt ratio as an end in itself will produce a recovery. If he could embolden his thinking on such issues as same-sex marriage and gun control, he owes us no less on the economy. Otherwise, Obama will preside over the worst eight-year economic record of any Democratic president, and the steepest rate of decline in social spending. He will leave an economy even more unequal than the one that he inherited. He needs to find within himself the audacity to restore hope.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Lords of Disorder: Billions For Wall Street, Sacrifice For Everyone Else

The President’s “sequester” offer slashes non-defense spending by $830 billion over the next ten years. That happens to be the precise amount we’re implicitly giving Wall Street’s biggest banks over the same time period.

We’re collecting nothing from the big banks in return for our generosity. Instead we’re demanding sacrifice from the elderly, the disabled, the poor, the young, the middle class – pretty much everybody, in fact, who isn’t “too big to fail.”

That’s injustice on a medieval scale, served up with a medieval caste-privilege flavor. The only difference is that nowadays injustices are presented with spreadsheets and PowerPoints, rather than with scrolls and trumpets and kingly proclamations.

And remember: The White House represents the liberal side of these negotiations.

Norman Solomon: Three-Quarters of Progressive Caucus Not Taking a Stand Against Cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

For the social compact of the United States, most of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has gone missing.

While still on the caucus roster, three-quarters of the 70-member caucus seem lost in political smog. Those 54 members of the Progressive Caucus haven’t signed the current letter that makes a vital commitment: “we will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”

Jill Richardson: We’re All Guinea Pigs

I don’t want to expose the most precious people in my life to an endocrine disruptor.

A few years ago, my world changed when I began dating a single dad whose youngest child was a toddler. Bonding with and loving his two kids has been the single most enriching and rewarding – and sometimes frustrating and exhausting – experience of my life. [..]

Around the same time, I began reporting on some very scary chemical news. One by one, I’d discover the dangers of this toxic chemical or that one. I carefully eliminated these chemicals from my own life, replacing them with affordable and effective alternatives. [..]

One offending ingredient in the soaps and toothpaste marketed for tots is triclosan. It’s common in anti-bacterial soaps aimed at the grownup market too – as well as facial cleanser, shave gel, lip gloss, deodorant, and even dog shampoo. [..]

Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor, which means it can confuse the signals your body receives from hormones. It’s found in three-fourths of the liquid soap Americans use. (Another endocrine disrupting chemical, triclocarban, lurks in deodorant bar soaps.)

Chase Madar: The School Security America Doesn’t Need

Outrage over the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre may or may not spur any meaningful gun control laws, but you can bet your Crayolas that it will lead to more seven-year-olds getting handcuffed and hauled away to local police precincts.

You read that right.  Americans may disagree deeply about how easy it should be for a mentally ill convicted felon to purchase an AR-15, but when it comes to putting more law enforcement officers inside our schools, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and liberal Democrats like Senator Barbara Boxer are as one.  And when police (or “school resource officers” as these sheriff’s deputies are often known) spend time in a school, they often deal with disorder like proper cops-by slapping cuffs on the little perps and dragging them to the precinct.

Feb 28 2013

Shell Will Not Drill In The Arctic In 2013

Well, if you’ve been following the news, it’s really kind of obvious that this was going to happen.

The Shell high tech, best in the industry effort is basically 1 Ship, 1 Rig, and a Barge.

The ship is the Noble Discoverer, an obsolete hunk of junk with barely the power to get out of its own stink when the engines are working which they seldom do.  They couldn’t even muster enough steam to get it out of the way of Alaskan property taxes.

The Coast Guard found a lack of preventive maintenance and “systematic failure” led the Discoverer to experience a loss of its propulsion system and an explosion in its exhaust system.



The Coast Guard reportedly found that the Discoverer is not able to maintain sufficient speed at sea to maneuver safely in all conditions without a tow; multiple dead end wires and improper wire splices in the engine room; main engine cooling water contaminated with oil and sludge.

In addition, the vessel experienced an abnormal propeller shaft vibration on the way back from the Arctic in November, requiring the crew to shut down the vessel’s main engines and have the rig towed to the Port of Seward.

Oh, and it catches fire all the time too.

The Coast Guard inquiry began after the ship had propulsion problems while pulling into Seward, Alaska last November. Earlier that month, a fire broke out in the rig stack on the vessel while it was in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. It was swiftly put out by personnel on board the Discoverer and no one was injured.

After exploding in flame in Dutch Harbor, missing the January 1st property tax deadline, and collecting 16 major Coast Guard citations for safety violations the ship is being floating drydocked to South Korea for repair since it’s too unseaworthy to sail there on its own.  It won’t arrive until late spring to say nothing of the time needed for repair (unless they determine that it’s fit only for razor blades).

Then there is the Kulluk which when last we checked was doing a pretty good job of grinding itself to razors near Kodiak after it broke it’s tow.  It’s headed to South Korea too though it’s still a Keystone(XL) Cops comedy of errors.

The Corbin Foss, one of Seattle-based Foss Maritimes’ tugboats, hit the port side of the Ocean Wave, a Crowley Marine Services tug, around 5:30 p.m. Friday in Killiuida Bay on the eastern side of Kodiak Island, where the Kulluk is anchored while awaiting Coast Guard approval to leave, said Petty Officer David Mosley.

It won’t get there or be fixed any time sooner than the Noble Discoverer.

And then there was the Arctic Challenger a useless dockside Queen, an “Ice Breaking Barge” with no utility except as a floating hole which on a calm tranquil September day in Puget Sound had its super high tech blowout containment unit crushed like a beer can at half its rated depth.

So-

Shell Vessels Sidelined, Imperiling Arctic Plans

By CLIFFORD KRAUSS, The New York Times

Published: February 11, 2013

The new potential delay in drilling does not necessarily doom Shell’s seven-year, $4.5 billion quest to open a new oil frontier in the far north, but it may strengthen the position of environmentalists who have repeatedly sued to stop or postpone exploration that they claim carries the risks of a spill nearly impossible to clean up.

It may also give the Obama administration considerably more time to decide whether to allow Shell to continue operations in two Arctic seas after repeated accidents, failed inspections and mechanical problems that have called into question the company’s safety management

And today-

Shell Suspends Drilling for Arctic Ocean in 2013

By DAN JOLING Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska February 27, 2013 (AP)

Royal Dutch Shell PLC says it will not drill for petroleum in the Arctic Ocean in 2013.

The problem with our elites is that they’re massive morons and inbred idiots.

Feb 28 2013

On This Day In History February 28

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 28 is the 59th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 306 days remaining until the end of the year (307 in leap years)

On this day in 1953, Cambridge University scientists James D. Watson and Frances H.C. Crick announce that they have determined the double-helix structure of DNA, the molecule containing human genes.

History of DNA research

DNA was first isolated by the Swiss physician Friedrich Miescher who, in 1869, discovered a microscopic substance in the pus of discarded surgical bandages. As it resided in the nuclei of cells, he called it “nuclein”. In 1919, Phoebus Levene identified the base, sugar and phosphate nucleotide unit. Levene suggested that DNA consisted of a string of nucleotide units linked together through the phosphate groups. However, Levene thought the chain was short and the bases repeated in a fixed order. In 1937 William Astbury produced the first X-ray diffraction patterns that showed that DNA had a regular structure.

In 1928, Frederick Griffith discovered that traits of the “smooth” form of the Pneumococcus could be transferred to the “rough” form of the same bacteria by mixing killed “smooth” bacteria with the live “rough” form. This system provided the first clear suggestion that DNA carries genetic information, the Avery-MacLeod-McCarty experiment, when Oswald Avery, along with coworkers Colin MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty, identified DNA as the transforming principle in 1943. DNA’s role in heredity was confirmed in 1952, when Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase in the Hershey-Chase experiment showed that DNA is the genetic material of the T2 phage.

In 1953, James D. Watson and Francis Crick suggested what is now accepted as the first correct double-helix model of DNA structure in the journal Nature. Their double-helix, molecular model of DNA was then based on a single X-ray diffraction image (labeled as “Photo 51”) taken by Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling in May 1952, as well as the information that the DNA bases are paired – also obtained through private communications from Erwin Chargaff in the previous years. Chargaff’s rules played a very important role in establishing double-helix configurations for B-DNA as well as A-DNA.

Experimental evidence supporting the Watson and Crick model were published in a series of five articles in the same issue of Nature. Of these, Franklin and Gosling’s paper was the first publication of their own X-ray diffraction data and original analysis method that partially supported the Watson and Crick model; this issue also contained an article on DNA structure by Maurice Wilkins and two of his colleagues, whose analysis and in vivo B-DNA X-ray patterns also supported the presence in vivo of the double-helical DNA configurations as proposed by Crick and Watson for their double-helix molecular model of DNA in the previous two pages of Nature. In 1962, after Franklin’s death, Watson, Crick, and Wilkins jointly received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. However, Nobel rules of the time allowed only living recipients, but a vigorous debate continues on who should receive credit for the discovery.

Feb 28 2013

The White House For Sale By OFA

White House for Sale photo white-house-for-sale_zpsffe731a9.jpg President Barack Obama’s campaign organization, “Obama for America” (OFA), is being reinvented as as a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt “social welfare group” that is not subject to federal contribution limits, laws that bar White House officials from soliciting contributions, or the stringent reporting requirements for campaigns. The goal is to raise $50 million  support of Mr. Obama’s second-term policy priorities, including efforts to curb gun violence and climate change and overhaul immigration procedures. Much like the alleged “grassroots” organizations, The Tea Party and Freedom Works, the new organization, now known as “Organizing for Action” (still OFA, so as not to confuse Obama supports), will derive most of its budget from a select group of donors who will each contribute or raise $500,000 or more. Sounds harmless? But wait, there’s more, as reported in The New York Times

But those contributions will also translate into access, according to donors courted by the president’s aides. Next month, Organizing for Action will hold a “founders summit” at a hotel near the White House, where donors paying $50,000 each will mingle with Mr. Obama’s former campaign manager, Jim Messina, and Mr. Carson, who previously led the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Giving or raising $500,000 or more puts donors on a national advisory board for Mr. Obama’s group and the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House. Moreover, the new cash demands on Mr. Obama’s top donors and bundlers come as many of them are angling for appointments to administration jobs or ambassadorships. [..]

Many traditional advocacy organizations, including the Sierra Club and the National Rifle Association, are set up as social welfare groups, or 501(c)(4)’s in tax parlance. But unlike those groups, Organizing for Action appears to be an extension of the administration, stocked with alumni of Mr. Obama’s White House and campaign teams and devoted solely to the president’s second-term agenda.

The new OFA, which would be among the largest lobbying groups in Washington, will supposedly stay out of electoral politics, advocating only for progressive issues which as the article notes may be easier said than done as the 2014 midterm elections near. It’s already drawing fire from Democrats and watch dog groups that are accusing the group of selling access to President Barack Obama. Cole Leystra, executive director of former Sen. Russ Feingold’s Progressives United group said in a blog post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…

(I)t was exactly “what selling access looks like.”

“It’s embarrassing that the largest grassroots organization in history would abandon its own beliefs,” wrote Leystra.

“Organizing for Action should embrace its base of grassroots donors as a model of participatory democracy, not shun them in the dash to rake in huge contributions from a wealthy and powerful few,” he added. “We cannot return to the days of soft money — when unlimited corporate contributions blurred the differences between the two political parties, and resulted in policies that slammed average working families while rewarding Wall Street.”

In an interview with Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh, the president of the watch dog group Common Cause, Bob Edgar raised the main objections to the new and “improved” OFA:

The watchdog group Common Cause called on President Obama on Tuesday to shut down the nonprofit spinoff of his campaign committee, saying that the group effectively puts access to the president up “for sale.”

“If President Obama is serious about his often-expressed desire to rein in big money in politics, he should shut down Organizing for Action and disavow any plan to schedule regular meetings with its major donors,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause. “Access to the President should never be for sale.”

Apparently Pres. Obama thinks that since the Koch Brothers and Pete Peterson can get away with influencing and misinforming voters with massive media campaigns and its paid shills on every talk show spouting the company line, so can he. Don’t be fooled, these groups are all the same: certainly not “grass roots” and definitely not for the people, unless they’re the rich ones.

Feb 27 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Sheila C. Bair: Grand Old Parity

I am a capitalist and a lifelong Republican. I believe that, in a meritocracy, some level of income inequality is both inevitable and desirable, as encouragement to those who contribute most to our economic prosperity. But I fear that government actions, not merit, have fueled these extremes in income distribution through taxpayer bailouts, central-bank-engineered financial asset bubbles and unjustified tax breaks that favor the rich.

This is not a situation that any freethinking Republican should accept. Skewing income toward the upper, upper class hurts our economy because the rich tend to sit on their money – unlike lower- and middle-income people, who spend a large share of their paychecks, and hence stimulate economic activity.

But more fundamentally, it cuts against everything our country and my party stand for. Government’s role should not be to rig the game in favor of “the haves” but to make sure “the have-nots” are given a fair shot.

Louise Erdrich: Rape on the Reservation

TWO Republicans running for Congressional seats last year offered opinions on “legitimate rape” or God-approved conceptions during rape, tainting their party with misogyny. Their candidacies tanked. Words matter. [..]

Having lost the votes of many women, Republicans now have the chance to recover some trust. The Senate last week voted resoundingly to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, the 1994 law that recognized crimes like rape, domestic abuse and stalking as matters of human rights.

But House Republicans, who are scheduled to take up the bill today and vote on it Thursday, have objected to provisions that would enhance protections for American Indians, undocumented immigrants and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth, among other vulnerable populations.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Sequestering common sense

The media is going sequester 24-7. Anyone who hasn’t been paying attention to the across-the-board spending cuts about to hit this Friday is about to have little choice. The brouhaha about the austerity bomb is drowning out any attention to what is actually going on in the economy – which is supposedly the point of the whole debate.

The stark reality is the economy is still in trouble and Americans are still hurting. The economy contracted last quarter, even before Americans got hit with the end of the payroll tax holiday, which will take $1,000 out of the typical family’s annual paycheck. The Congressional Budget Office projects that growth will inch along at about 1.5 percent this year. That translates into continued mass unemployment – with more than 20 million people in need of full-time work – and falling wages. The richest 1 percent captured an unimaginable 121 percent of all income growth in 2009 and 2010, coming out of the Great Recession. They pocketed all of the growth in income, while 99 percent of Americans actually lost ground. That trend is likely to get worse rather than better. [..]

Yet most of Washington – from the newly reelected Democratic president to the self-described insurgent Tea Party Republicans – is ignoring this reality to focus on cutting deficits.

Diane Roberts: Jim Crow Isn’t Dead, He Just Got Lawyers

The US Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on the Voting Rights Act could let discriminatory laws make a comback

When a black man won the White House in 2008, many in the commentariat declared the United States a “post-racial” society, no longer hamstrung by old hatreds, freed at last from the embarrassments of segregation – finally and triumphantly color blind.

Conservatives have been telling themselves some version of this pretty lie ever since Robert E Lee surrendered at Appomattox. On 27 February, we’ll hear it again when the supreme court takes up a challenge to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The case, Shelby County v Holder, centers on Section 5 of the VRA, which requires that nine states with histories of discrimination (Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, Alaska and Arizona), and parts of seven more states must seek permission from the justice department to change election laws. The Alabama county argues that Section 5 is an unconstitutional infringement on “state sovereignty”, and a relic from the bygone days of poll taxes and literacy tests. [..]

As President George W Bush said when he signed the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act a mere seven years ago: “In the four decades since the Voting Rights Act was first passed, we’ve made progress toward equality, yet the work for a more perfect union is never ending.”

Jessalyn McCurdy: Sequestration Puts Spotlight on America’s Dangerously Overcrowded Federal Prisons

Talk about worrying about the symptom instead of the cause: Attorney General Eric Holder recently sent a letter to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, warning of the devastating effect budget cuts will have on the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) if sequestration moves forward. If no deal is reached by March 1, the BOP will face a 5% reduction in staffing levels. His letter paints a scary picture:

   [The cuts] would endanger the safety of staff and over 218,000 inmates. As a consequence, BOP would need to implement full or partial lockdowns and significantly reduce inmate reentry and training programs. This would leave inmates idle, increasing the likelihood of inmate misconduct, violence, and other risks to correctional workers and inmates.

Holder’s concerns are legitimate, but he’s not talking about the real problem: our federal prison population is completely out of control.

Haifa Zangana: For Iraqi Women, America’s Promise of Democracy is Anything But Liberation

Iraq’s jailers learned their abuses from the allied occupiers. And under today’s sectarian regime, women are under assault

A decade on from the US-led invasion of Iraq, the destruction caused by foreign occupation and the subsequent regime has had a massive impact on Iraqis’ daily life – the most disturbing example of which is violence against women. At the same time, the sectarian regime’s policy on religious garb is forcing women to retire their hard-earned rights across the spectrum: employment, freedom of movement, civil marriage, welfare benefits, and the right to education and health services.

Instead, they are seeking survival and protection for themselves and their families. But for many, the violence they face comes from the very institution that should guarantee their safety: the government. Iraqi regime officials often echo the same denials of the US-UK occupation authorities, saying that there are few or no women detainees. An increasing number of international and Iraqi human rights organizations report otherwise.

Feb 27 2013

The Sequester: Bipartisan Craponomics at Its Worst

Yes, because no one listened to those that warned(including myself) this would happen in 2010 with the Bush tax cut sellout leading to the debt ceiling debacle in 2011 to now, it looks like the sequester created by this White House and Congress is going to happen. Back then, there was leverage with the Bush tax cuts expiring for using the High Value Platinum Coin, invoking the 14th amendment, or legislating the debt ceiling away entirely. None of this was considered even as a temporary measure to avoid this epic failure fixing to hit our shores.

It’s insulting to the public that none of this was even tried, because this sequester will be painful and more painful in the future. The political damage as we create more miniature crisis will be even costlier than what is projected as more bills have to be passed every few months which always get worse the more they are revisited, all needlessly created all in the name what I call deficit terrorism. Through each bipartisan crisis more austerity is brought out in these miniature Shock Doctrine scenarios especially on the debt ceiling. This austerity will eventually terrorize the public because a failure to govern or understand our economy.

Sure, it will take awhile to be phased in and each federal agency will implement its cuts differently, on its own timeline, but by April 4th, 2013 some real pain is likely to be felt by the public.

Feb 27 2013

On This Day In History February 27

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 27 is the 58th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 307 days remaining until the end of the year (308 in leap years).

On this day in 1827, New Orleanians take to the streets for Mardi Gras with groups of masked and costumed students dance through the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, marking the beginning of the city’s famous Mardi Gras celebrations.

The celebration of Carnival–or the weeks between Twelfth Night on January 6 and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian period of Lent–spread from Rome across Europe and later to the Americas. Nowhere in the United States is Carnival celebrated as grandly as in New Orleans, famous for its over-the-top parades and parties for Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday), the last day of the Carnival season.

History

The celebration of Mardi Gras was brought to Louisiana by early French settlers. The first record of the holiday being celebrated in Louisiana was at the mouth of the Mississippi River in what is now lower Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, on March 3, 1699. Iberville, Bienville, and their men celebrated it as part of an observance of Catholic practice.

The starting date of festivities in New Orleans is unknown. An account from 1743 notes that the custom of Carnival balls was already established. Processions and wearing of masks in the streets on Mardi Gras took place. They were sometimes prohibited by law, and were quickly renewed whenever such restrictions were lifted or enforcement waned. In 1833 Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville, a rich plantation owner of French descent, raised money to fund an official Mardi Gras celebration.

James R. Creecy in his book Scenes in the South, and Other Miscellaneous Pieces describes New Orleans Mardi Gras in 1835:

   Shrove Tuesday is a day to be remembered by strangers in New Orleans, for that is the day for fun, frolic, and comic masquerading. All of the mischief of the city is alive and wide awake in active operation. Men and boys, women and girls, bond and free, white and black, yellow and brown, exert themselves to invent and appear in grotesque, quizzical, diabolic, horrible, strange masks, and disguises. Human bodies are seen with heads of beasts and birds, beasts and birds with human heads; demi-beasts, demi-fishes, snakes’ heads and bodies with arms of apes; man-bats from the moon; mermaids; satyrs, beggars, monks, and robbers parade and march on foot, on horseback, in wagons, carts, coaches, cars, etc., in rich confusion, up and down the streets, wildly shouting, singing, laughing, drumming, fiddling, fifeing, and all throwing flour broadcast as they wend their reckless way.

On Mardi Gras of 1857, the Mystick Krewe of Comus held its first parade. Comus is the oldest continuously active Mardi Gras organization. It started a number of continuing traditions. It is considered the first Carnival krewe in the modern sense. According to one historian, “Comus was aggressively English in its celebration of what New Orleans had always considered a French festival. It is hard to think of a clearer assertion than this parade that the lead in the holiday had passed from French-speakers to Anglo-Americans. . . .To a certain extent, Americans ‘Americanized’ New Orleans and its Creoles. To a certain extent, New Orleans ‘creolized’ the Americans. Thus the wonder of Anglo-Americans boasting of how their business prowess helped them construct a more elaborate version of the old Creole Carnival. The lead in organized Carnival passed from Creole to American just as political and economic power did over the course of the nineteenth century. The spectacle of Creole-American Carnival, with Americans using Carnival forms to compete with Creoles in the ballrooms and on the streets, represents the creation of a New Orleans culture neither entirely Creole nor entirely American.”

In 1875 Louisiana declared Mardi Gras a legal state holiday. War, economic, political, and weather conditions sometimes led to cancellation of some or all major parades, especially during the American Civil War, World War I and World War II, but the city has always celebrated Carnival.

Feb 27 2013

The Extraordinary Cost of Health Care

In an a cover story  for Time magazine, journalist Steven Brill spent seven months examining how medical bills are what is really killing us: the extraordinary costs of health care is a “bitter pill”  that nickels and dimes even the insured patient for every pill, band-aid and blanket:

Simple lab work done during a few days in the hospital can cost more than a car. A trip to the emergency room for chest pains that turn out to be indigestion brings a bill that can exceed the price of a semester at college. When we debate health care policy in America, we seem to jump right to the issue of who should pay the bills, blowing past what should be the first question: Why exactly are the bills so high? [..]

· Hospitals arbitrarily set prices based on a mysterious internal list known as the “chargemaster.” These prices vary from hospital to hospital and are often ten times the actual cost of an item. Insurance companies and Medicare pay discounted prices, but don’t have enough leverage to bring fees down anywhere close to actual costs. While other countries restrain drug prices, in the United States federal law actually restricts the single biggest buyer-Medicare-from even trying to negotiate the price of drugs.

· Tax-exempt “nonprofit” hospitals are the most profitable businesses and largest employers in their regions, often presided over by the most richly compensated executives.

· Cancer treatment-at some of the most renowned centers such as Sloan-Kettering and M.D. Anderson-has some of the industry’s highest profit margins. Cancer drugs in particular are hugely profitable. For example, Sloan-Kettering charges $4615 for a immune-deficiency drug named Flebogamma. Medicare cuts Sloan-Kettering’s charge to $2123, still way above what the hospital paid for it, an estimated $1400.

· Patients can hire medical billing advocates who help people read their bills and try to reduce them. “The hospitals all know the bills are fiction, or at least only a place to start the discussion, so you bargain with them,” says Katalin Goencz, a former appeals coordinator in a hospital billing department who now works as an advocate in Stamford, CT.

Mr. Brill was a guest on MSNBC’s “The Last Word“, he discussed with guest host Ezra Klein the costs of health care, who’s to blame and how we can fix the US broken health care system:

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Feb 27 2013

Congressional Game of Chicken: This Is Not The Policy You’re Looking For

MSNBC’s “The Last Word” guest host Ezra Klein translates Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s testimony before the Senate Banking Committee lecturing Congress that the austerity of sequestration is a really bad idea for the economy:

“Given the still-moderate underlying pace of economic growth, this additional near-term burden on the recovery is significant,” Bernanke told his students, who included a number of right-wing Republican diehards, such as Senator Bob Corker, of Tennessee, and Patrick Toomey, of Pennsylvania. “Moreover, besides having adverse effects on jobs and incomes, a slower recovery would lead to less actual deficit reduction in the short run.”

Translated from Fed-speak, that meant that congressional Republicans have got things upside down. Bernanke has warned before about the dangers of excessive short-term spending cuts. But this was his most blunt assertion yet that Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, et al. should change course. “To address both the near- and longer-term issues, the Congress and the Administration should consider replacing the sharp, frontloaded spending cuts required by the sequestration with policies that reduce the federal deficit more gradually in the near term but more substantially in the longer run,” Bernanke said. “Such an approach could lessen the near-term fiscal headwinds facing the recovery while more effectively addressing the longer-term imbalances in the federal budget.”

Here is Ezra’s translation of Chairman Bernanke’s “Yoda Speak”:

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