Daily Archive: 01/25/2012

Jan 25 2012

They hate us for our freedoms!

Or maybe not so much now that we hardly have any left.

Rules of American justice: a tale of three cases

Laws are used to shield egregious crimes while severely punishing those who publicly discuss them

By Glenn Greenwald, Salon

Tuesday, Jan 24, 2012 4:23 AM Eastern Standard Time

(I)n American justice yesterday, the conclusion came to the criminal process arising from a horrific 2005 incident in which 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians were slaughtered in the town of Haditha during American raids conducted in the aftermath of an explosion of a roadside bomb. The Marine Staff Sgt. who ordered his soldiers to “shoot first, ask questions later,” Frank Wuterich, was in the midst of a manslaughter trial that could have sent him to prison for life (first-degree murder charges were previously withdrawn by the Government). Instead, prosecutors “offered Wuterich a deal that stopped the proceedings and could mean little to no jail time.” Instead, he “pleaded guilty Monday to negligent dereliction of duty” and “now faces no more than three months in confinement.” Lest you think that’s too lenient: “he could also lose two-thirds of his pay and see his rank demoted to private when he’s sentenced.”



The Rules of American Justice are quite clear:

(1) If you are a high-ranking government official who commits war crimes, you will receive full-scale immunity, both civil and criminal, and will have the American President demand that all citizens Look Forward, Not Backward.

(2) If you are a low-ranking member of the military, you will receive relatively trivial punishments in order to protect higher-ranking officials and cast the appearance of accountability.

(3) If you are a victim of American war crimes, you are a non-person with no legal rights or even any entitlement to see the inside of a courtroom.

(4) If you talk publicly about any of these war crimes, you have committed the Gravest Crime – you are guilty of espionage – and will have the full weight of the American criminal justice system come crashing down upon you.

Just to be clear, let’s remind ourselves of just what these “soldiers”, “this generation of heroes (that) has made the United States safer and more respected around the world” did-

What happened at Haditha?

By Martin Asser, BBC News

Monday, 10 March 2008

Eyewitness accounts suggest that comrades of TJ Terrazas, far from coming under enemy fire, went on the rampage in Haditha after his death.

Twelve-year-old Safa Younis appears on video saying she was in one of three houses where troops came in and indiscriminately killed family members.

“They knocked at our front door and my father went to open it. They shot him dead from behind the door and then they shot him again,” she says in the video.

“Then one American soldier came in and shot at us all. I pretended to be dead and he didn’t notice me.”

There were eight bodies in the house, including Safa’s five siblings, aged between two and 14.

In another house seven people including a child and his 70-year-old grandfather were killed. Four brothers aged 41 to 24 died in a third house. Eyewitnesses said they were forced into a wardrobe and shot.

In the street, US troops gunned down four students and a taxi driver they had stopped at a roadblock set up after the bombing.

According to a witness, they were shot by the side of the road, as they stood with their hands on their heads.

Gee- do you think they could be angry about that?

Marine gets no jail time in killing of 24 Iraqi civilians

By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times

January 25, 2012

Jones said he had planned to recommend 90 days in the brig – the maximum as requested by the prosecution – but that the plea bargain approved by Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser had called for no jail time.

“It’s difficult for the court to fathom negligent dereliction of duty worse than the facts in this case,” Jones told Wuterich.



A Marine Corps spokesman said Waldhauser would offer no public explanation of his decision to accept the plea bargain and stipulate that Wuterich receive no jail time.

No jail for marine? Haditha massacre verdict stuns Iraqis.

By Whitney Eulich, Staff writer, The Christian Science Monitor

January 25, 2012

However, the military court’s decision to demote Wuterich’s rank to private in lieu of jail time is one more blow to the idea of US justice system being a source of guidance or authority in Iraq, according to the Washington Post.

“I was expecting that the American judiciary would sentence this person to life in prison and that he would appear and confess in front of the whole world that he committed this crime, so that America could show itself as democratic and fair,” survivor Awis Fahmi Hussein told the Washington Post, showing his scars from a bullet wound to the back.

The Telegraph reports that the ruling is viewed as “…an insult to all Iraqis,” while the Associated Press reports that it reopened old wounds – both with the US and the Iraqi government. The predominantly Sunni region has been unable to convince its Shiite-led government to condemn the murders or push to bring those responsible to trial.

In Iraq, Haditha deal another case of injustice

By Raheem Salman and Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times

January 25, 2012 at 6:20 AM

“The Americans killed children who were hiding inside the cupboards or under the beds,” said Rafid Abdul Majeed Hadithi, 43, a teacher who says he witnessed the 2005 assault by Marines that took the lives of 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians. “Was this Marine charged with dereliction of duty because he didn’t kill more? Is Iraqi blood so cheap?”



“That soldier would be sent to prison for more than three months if he had thrown trash on the streets in America,” said Khalid Salman, 45, whose cousin was killed. “This is not new, and it’s not new for the American courts that already did little about Abu Ghraib and other crimes in Iraq.”



Assim Omar al-Hadithi, 40, a relative of another victim, said such a light sentence “shows the lies of the Americans, whether they are judges or members of the military.”

Thair Thabit Hadithi, 41, a photographer who says he came upon the scene shortly after the killings, on Tuesday recalled the unrelenting crackle of gunfire, an injured victim bleeding to death outside his house, the black nylon body bags in which Marines placed the corpses.

The Marine Corps initially said 15 Iraqis had been killed in a roadside bombing and that the others perished in a subsequent firefight. None of that was true. Hadithi said he had grisly photos showing the devastation and bloodshed in a poor residential quarter.

Anger in Iraq After Plea Bargain Over 2005 Massacre

By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, The New York Times

Published: January 24, 2012

Assim Omar al-Hadithi, 40, a relative of another victim, said that such a light sentence “shows the lies of the Americans, whether they are judges or members of the military.”

He continued: “All the world knew that the American soldiers committed crimes in Iraq. We were extensively surprised when we heard the news, and it has made our minds even worse. It is no consolation for the victims’ families.”

The shadows cast by the Haditha massacre, the abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison and the killing of civilians by contractors for Blackwater at a square in Baghdad helped turn Iraqi public opinion against the American presence. An agreement to keep American troops here past 2011 collapsed when Iraqi officials would not agree to extend their immunity from Iraqi prosecution.



A number of Americans in high-profile cases have received what many Iraqis regarded as token sentences. In August, the supposed ringleader in the Abu Ghraib abuses, Pvt. Charles A. Graner Jr., was released early from prison because of good behavior. He had been sentenced to 10 years but served just 6 1/2.

In 2009 charges were dropped against four American military contractors in the killings of the 17 civilians at the square in Baghdad. While a federal court ruling in Washington reopened manslaughter charges against the four, many Iraqis continue to believe that the contractors will never be punished.

Iraqis received Tuesday’s plea deal with the same cynicism and anger. “I am not satisfied with the court decision against those killers – they need to be tortured and executed because they killed innocent people,” said Tariq Abas al-Najar, 43, a taxi driver in Basra. “If Marines killed a sheep in Europe, the judge would punish them much harsher than for the killing of those innocent Iraqis.”

Jan 25 2012

Tweetie Likes Mitch

We all know that Chris Matthews is a fawning tool who gets excited over politicians’ rhetoric even when it laced with blatant lies and 1% talking points. But Matthews got called out by none other than Rachel Maddow when he went all gushy over Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN) rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address.

   MATTHEWS: You know, I really liked that speech by Mitch Daniels. I thought it was really a Midwestern conservatism of the best kind, honest, fiscally conservative or course, but recognizing that we have to protect our safety net and we have to recognize that the rich cannot get all the pension money and all the entitlement money. There’s not enough to go around. We’re going to have to have means testing. We’re going to have to close the loopholes.

   A very responsible kind of look at fiscal conservatism that recognizes that the rich can’t plunder the poor any more, that if you’re going to have a true conservatism, in other words a society that will sustain itself, a society that will be at peace with itself, you need to help the people to get a break and that means it’s not Libertarianism at all. There’s nothing of Ron Paul in what that man said.

   It was a responsible social policy of the right, which was really I think cast in old time Midwest, Bob Taft conservatism, except for some of the bromides, the idiomatic crap that he threw in there to make everybody happy. There was a seriousness to this speech. And now I understand why people like Mitch Daniels.

   MADDOW: Chris I am very glad that we area all talking about this together because I could not disagree with you more about the speech. This was just my impression of it but I don’t have time to go into that…

   MATTHEWS: Why?

   MADDOW: We’re going to go into that in a moment.

   MATTHEWS: What’s wrong?

   MADDOW: I think that Mitch Daniels there to say the world is on fire. Be afraid. Run to Republicans. I mean, he’s talking about America as a country that… America adrift, quarreling and paralyzed going over Niagra. I mean this was a “Be afraid, be afraid, be afraid” this guy’s trying to murder the country speech.

   MATTHEWS: But he also had solutions. He had gutsy solutions. He wasn’t afraid to take on the rich and that’s so rare today in the Republican side.

   MADDOW: I will take you on that Chris, absolutely.

Does Daniels make Matthews’ leg tingle?

h/t Heather at Crooks and Liars Video Cafe for the transcript

Jan 25 2012

Federal Investigation Mortgage Fraud A Possible Charade

While there are there are many reasons to cheer President Obama’s announcement during his State of the Union address that he was forming a special unit within the Financial Fraud Task Force to investigate the fraud and other illegalities that caused the financial crisis and collapse of the housing market, there are plenty of reasons to be very skeptical.

The unit will be co-chaired by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman who withdrew from the DOJ panel of state attorney generals that was working on a settlement with the big banks over their part in mortgage fraud. That’s about all the good news there is. The other members of the unit are Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general at the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, Robert Khuzami, director of enforcement at the SEC; John Walsh, a U.S. attorney in Colorado, and Tony West, assistant attorney general in the Civil Division at DOJ.  Also, the And there in lies the farce of this unit.

Lanny Breuer, along with Attorney General Eric Holder, was partner in the Washington DC law firm Covington & Burling that represented a number of big banks and MERS which are at the center of alleged foreclosure fraud. He recently appeared on “60 Minutesmaking numerous lame excuses justifying the lack of prosecutions out of the Justice Department. Despite the evidence, including records from federal and state courts and local clerks’ offices around the country, showing widespread forgery, perjury, obstruction of justice, and illegal foreclosures on the homes of thousands of active-duty military personnel, the Holder DOJ has not brought any criminal cases against big banks or other companies involved. There is a clear conflict of interest and possible ethics violations.

The director of enforcement of the SEC is another embarrassment. Robert Khuzami, a former general counsel at Deutsche Bank, one of the leading trustees in securitization, will no be looking into the instruments of the fraud he helped create. It has been Khuzami’s office that has been giving the banks no-fault settlements which recently were rejected by U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff.

U.S. Attorney in Colorado, John Walsh, is most notable for justifying the crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in that state. He doesn’t appear to have any experience in prosecuting banking fraud.

The last unit member is Tony West, the brother-in-law of California’s Attorney General, Kamala Harris who like Schneiderman withdrew from the DOJ agreement because it was too little and didn’t hold the banks or companies libel. West, a lawyer with a Oakland, CA law firm and a former US attorney, appears to have little experience with financial fraud.

Is this really the way to do this? Why not create a Special Prosecutor with the budget and subpoena power rather than a committee within a task force that has done minimal in the last three years to investigate fraud? Both David Dayen at FDL News Desk and Yves Smith at naked capitalism think that Schneiderman is being used for a charade that would eventually let the banks get away with fraud anyway. But is Schneiderman that easily misled or dazzled by Obama’s offer? He certainly didn’t sound like he was going to end his state level investigation in this release from his office:

I would like to thank President Obama for his leadership in the creation of a coordinated investigation that marshals state and federal resources to bring justice for the victims of the misconduct that caused the mortgage crisis.

In coordination with our federal partners, our office will continue its steadfast commitment to holding those responsible for the economic crisis accountable, providing meaningful relief for homeowners commensurate with the scale of the misconduct, and getting our economy moving again.

The American people deserve a robust and comprehensive investigation into the global financial meltdown to ensure nothing like it ever happens again, and today’s announcement is a major step in the right direction.

(emphasis mine)

Considering who has run the Treasury, the revolving door of bankers in the Oval Office and Obama’s weak efforts in investigating or prosecuting any person or entity that would ruffle the feathers of his Wall St. contributors over the last three years, there is a whole lot of reason to be doubtful about the president’s sincerity or any future hope of substantial relief for homeowners.

Jan 25 2012

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

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Why this election is a choice, not a referendum

At the “heart of this campaign,” Newt Gingrich told his adoring followers in his South Carolina victory speech on Saturday night, is the fundamental choice between “American exceptionalism” and “the radicalism of Saul Alinsky.” America has a choice, he argued, between the vision of the founders and that of radical organizer Saul Alinsky, between a paycheck president and a food stamp president.

For a man of serial corruptions, it is ironic that character assassination is Gingrich’s true craft. Dog-whistle racism – Obama as the “food stamp president” – provided him his initial lift in South Carolina. Few at Gingrich’s victory speech knew who Alinsky was, but they could tell from the name that he was surely unsavory and probably un-American.

But the Gingrich dichotomy is neither original nor unique. It is simply the gutter version of the standard Republican frame for this election. In the more tempered words of Mitt Romney, Obama is accused of trying to transform America from an “Opportunity Society” to a “European-style Entitlement Society.” No matter who wins the nomination, this will be a theme pounded on over the next months.

Adele M. Stan: Obama’s State of the Union Plays to His Base — But Not Everything Was Worth Cheering

In his State of the Union message, Obama succeeded in painting the GOP as obstructionist, and came down hard on the banks.

In the final State of the Union message President Barack Obama will deliver this term, he came out swinging against the obstructionism of Republicans in Congress, and spoke to the growing gap between America’s rich and poor.

With a delivery that often sounded like he was imploring America to believe in itself again, Obama gave an address that may not have been his most inspirational, but got the job done. He laid out a strong case for his programs and his administration’s efforts to revive the economy, and made the GOP look small and petty at the expense of everyday people.[..]

Joan Walsh: Mitt pounces, Newt pouts: Two rich guys squabble

Newt Gingrich clearly missed the rabid South Carolina crowds at Monday night’s debate. NBC asked the Tampa, Fla. audience not to cheer, and mostly they didn’t, leaving Gingrich listless without angry mob energy. He didn’t bash the media the way he did in last week’s Fox and CNN debates, and he tried to act presidential when Mitt Romney jabbed him about his work for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

But he failed. Presidents don’t pout. A sulky Gingrich complained the GOP campaign had become “unnecessarily personal and nasty, and that’s sad.” Gingrich objecting to “personal and nasty” is as believable as Romney pretending he does his own laundry. That’s really sad. But Romney had the better night, hitting Gingrich early and often for having to resign the House speakership “in disgrace” due to ethics charges. And when Gingrich tried to claim he left his leadership post voluntarily, Ron Paul double-teamed him with Romney. “He didn’t have the votes, that was what the problem was,” Gingrich’s former House colleague told the crowd.

Dana Goldstein: Scratching the Surface of Obama’s Education Rhetoric

In general, I was underwhelmed by the education sections of President Obama’s State of the Union address, which were long on platitudes and short on honest talk about the difficulties of implementing school reform.

Most notably, the president made an odd and surprising proposal to make dropping out of high school illegal before the age of 18:

   We also know that when students aren’t allowed to walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma. So tonight, I call on every State to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.

Obama has, thankfully, done more than his predecessor to focus attention on underperforming high schools. George W. Bush’s signature education bill, No Child Left Behind, put most of its emphasis on fourth and eighth grade test scores in just two subjects, reading and math, while Obama’s school turnaround programs include support for so-called “dropout factories,” high schools with a graduation rate of less than 60 percent. The administration has focused, however, on fostering management reform in those schools, by turning them over to charter-school chains or replacing their principals and teaching staffs. It seems to me, however-and to many innovative high school educators-that one can’t really address the drop-out crisis without making school much more engaging for low-income teenagers, whether or not they show an inclination toward making it to and through a four-year college. This means dealing head-on with curriculum, not just tinkering with how teachers are hired and fired, and by whom.

Valerie Tarico: Righteous Abortion: How Conservative Christianity Promotes What It Claims to Hate

One of the great ironies of American society is that most abortions in the U.S. are caused by conservative Christians. Read the statistics: Forty nine percent of pregnancies in this country are unintended, a rate that has been painfully stable for almost 30 years. Almost half of those pregnancies end in abortion. Or, to turn it around, over 90% of U.S. abortions are the result of accidental pregnancy. U.S. rates of unwanted pregnancy and abortion far exceed any other country with similar economic development.  So does our rate of religiosity.  The fact that we are outliers on both is not a coincidence.

Three aspects of conservative Christianity promote abortion:  pro-natalism, an obsession with sexual sin, and an emphasis on righteousness over compassion.

Mary Bottari: Scott Walker’s Plutonomy: An Economy for the One Percent

While volunteer after volunteer from each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties marched into the state’s election board to deposit over one million signatures for the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Walker was no where to be found.

At the hour petitions were being deposited on January 17, Mother Jones revealed that Walker was scheduled to attend a high-dollar fundraiser in the heart of the New York’s financial district at 339 Park Avenue — the towering headquarters for global financial giant CitiGroup. The $5,000 per couple fundraiser was hosted by none other than Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, former CEO of AIG.

Walker’s choice to be on Wall Street the day of the recall filing is so astounding, for many it goes far beyond the notion of a tin ear. “Walker could not have sent a clearer signal to Wall Street, that he is on the side of the 1 percent ready to do their bidding and take the heat,” said Scot Ross of the Wisconsin group, One Wisconsin Now. Ross points to the data his group compiled to support his claim that Walker is constructing an economy that only the 1 percent could love.

Jan 25 2012

Hot Greece

Yesterday

The fundamental reality is that their economies can no longer support the inflated, leveraged, fictional values the holders of these worthless scraps of paper demand and the reckoning is going to come from their pockets simply because they’re the ones holding the hot potato.

Today-

Hedge Funds Scramble to Unload Greek Debt

By LANDON THOMAS JR., The New York Times

January 25, 2012, 7:29 am

Hedge funds that in the last month or so have purchased an estimated 4 billion euros ($5.2 billion) of beaten down Greek bonds that mature on March 20 are now trying to unload their positions, according to brokers and traders.

That is because it is becoming clear to one and all that Greece – under pressure from its financial backers – is preparing to impose a broad-based haircut that would hit all investors with a loss of 50 percent or more, whether they agree to the deal or not.



Starting in December, the counterintuitive, go-long Greece bet was one of the more popular pitches made to funds in New York and London.

Investment banks – Merrill Lynch was particularly aggressive in recommending the trade, investors say – argued that even though Greece was near bankrupt, those who bought the paper maturing in March could double their money when Greece received its latest bailout tranche due that month.



Now, with momentum building in Europe for an agreement on a 50 percent-plus haircut to be reached before March 20 – one that would be legally binding on all holders – the smart money is not looking so smart anymore.

Oh, but it gets so much better.

European Central Bank Moves to Avoid Loss on Greek Bonds

By LANDON THOMAS Jr. and JAMES KANTER, The New York Times

Published: January 24, 2012

For months, the proposed debt restructuring deal between Greece and its private sector creditors had excluded the central bank from taking a loss on its Greek bond holdings while banks and hedge funds would have losses of 50 percent or more.



Private sector investors, including large European banks and hedge funds, have complained bitterly – and in some cases threatened legal action – over the central bank’s insistence that its 55 billion euros in Greek bonds were exempt from the loss that the private sector is facing, which some have estimated at 60 cents on the euro.

The central bank bought the bulk of its Greek bonds in 2010 in a failed attempt to stabilize Greece’s collapsing bond market, paying discounted prices of about 70 to 75 cents on the euro. As part of the current talks, the central bank might exchange its current bonds for a different form of Greek debt at a cost similar to that of the distressed bonds.

EU ratchets up pressure with Greek default threat

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business Editor, The Telegraph

9:39PM GMT 24 Jan 2012

The head of the European Commission’s economics team Mario Buti said Brussels is prepared to allow credit default swaps (CDS) on Greek bonds to come into play if talks fail to reach a deal that gives Greece enough debt relief to claw its way back to viability. “Triggering CDS may have to be considered,” he said.



Charlesa Dallara, the head of the International Institute for Finance (IIF) representing creditor banks, said EU officials were playing with fire by talking about default and demanded that the EU stick to the agreement reached last October.

“We put an offer on the table and it remains on the table. All parties need to contribute to the solution. We are wiping off the face of the earth €100bn in existing claims against Greece,” he told Bloomberg.

First Act of Greek Default Proceedings Drawing to a Close

Author: Claus Vistesen, EconoMonitor

January 24th, 2012

Let me be clear, absolutely clear, here. Within any conceivably realistic macroeconomic model, there is no way that Greece can reach a stable debt level with moderate growth under these conditions. Under the interest rate scenario noted above (let us say with an average interest rate of 3.8% on the new debt) the nominal interest rate would still be substantially higher than the growth rate of the economy. The only way, the nominal debt level could then be kept stationary is by forcing the fiscal balance into surplus. However, the problem is that this affects the denominator in the debt/GDP calculation by sucking out demand (growth) from an economy already structurally impaired (within a currency union and all that).



The deal which now seems to be close to completed by no means closes proceedings. It is very likely in my opinion that private creditors who are currently the only ones being forced to take a haircut due to seniority of the IMF and the ECB will face a near 100% loss on their holdings. The argument is simple. Given the amount of debt held by the ECB and the IMF and the fact that these two institutions are senior debt holders the debt held by private creditors becomes junior debt and thus the tranche which takes the first (and in my opinion likely complete) loss in the event of a default.

Of course, once we reach this point the issue of CDS contracts will rear its head yet again since if a 50-60% haircut can be considered voluntary anything beyond this becomes very difficult to characterize as such. Any rating agency would find it difficult not to classify further losses as a default and thus begins the fun in earnest. And then comes the ECB and IMF’s share. It will be political dynamite if the ECB had to print on the liability side to cover losses on the asset side on Greek sovereign debt or if the IMF had to ask its contributors for extra cash to cover for losses on loans made out to Greece or any other economy. Obviously, much will be done to prevent this, but just look at the numbers of Greece’s economy and you will see that it is not that outlandish, especially if Greece opts to stay in the euro zone. Finally, Greece only represents the starter here. Any deal agreed to  in Greece will be ardently watched in Ireland and Portugal who will feel they are entitled to the same deal with their private creditors.

Germany Loses Its Grip

By Delusional Economics, Naked Capitalism

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

(I)t is just one symptom of the actual problem. That problem was highlighted overnight with the European flash PMI’s. Germany once again outperformed the rest of Europe, France treaded water, admittedly with its head held a little higher, while the periphery of Europe slowly drifts away. The latest Euro PMI was a little better than expected, in some part due to the ECB’s actions over the last month or so no doubt, put the forward looking indicators suggest more weakness to come and I expect the divide to grow as Europe slows further. As I have stated previously that the German data is a double edged sword because, although it is good for Germany that its economy is powering, it is a big negative for the rest of Europe because one of the major issues that brought on the crisis in the first place was the competitiveness imbalance of nations under the single currency.



So now even if Greece manages a deal to write-off some of its debt the markets will quickly turn their eyes to Portugal who will no doubt require a second bail out, but increasingly a debt restructure as well.

With Spain also struggling and Italy under increasing pressure, the continuation of contagion appears to be taking its toll on the politics of Europe with Germany’s ability to control the situation diminishing.



Germany also appears to be losing support from even its strongest allies. Last week the Dutch central banker Klaas Knot gave an interview blaming Germany for the failure of the EFSF.



To add to that, Luxembourg’s new foreign minister gave an interview with German media yesterday in which he called the fiscal compact a ‘waste of time and energy’.

Is the failure of austerity-centric policy finally taking its toll on Germany’s ability to steer Europe’s response to the financial crisis? This would certainly explain why Mario Monti seems so sure that his country will be receiving the fiscal and monetary backstops. The outcomes from next week’s EU summit will provide more clues.

Jan 25 2012

On This Day In History January 25

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.

January 25 is the 25th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 340 days remaining until the end of the year (341 in leap years).

On this day in 1905, the world’s largest diamond is found. At the Premier Mine in Pretoria, South Africa, a 3,106-carat diamond is discovered during a routine inspection by the mine’s superintendent. Weighing 1.33 pounds, and christened the “Cullinan,” it was [the largest diamond ever found.

The Cullinan diamond is the largest rough gem-quality diamond ever found, at 3,106.75 carats (621.35 g).

The largest polished gem from the stone is named Cullinan I or the Great Star of Africa, and at 530.4 carats (106.1 g) was the largest polished diamond in the world until the 1985 discovery of the Golden Jubilee Diamond, 545.67 carats (109.13 g), also from the Premier Mine. Cullinan I is now mounted in the head of the Sceptre with the Cross. The second largest gem from the Cullinan stone, Cullinan II or the Lesser Star of Africa, at 317.4 carats (63.5 g), is the fourth largest polished diamond in the world. Both gems are in the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.

History

The Cullinan diamond was found by Frederick Wells, surface manager of the Premier Diamond Mining Company in Cullinan, on January 26, 1905. The stone was named after Sir Thomas Cullinan, the owner of the diamond mine.

Sir William Crookes performed an analysis of the Cullinan diamond before it was cut and mentioned its remarkable clarity, but also a black spot in the middle. The colours around the black spot were very vivid and changed as the analyzer was turned. According to Crookes, this pointed to internal strain. Such strain is not uncommon in diamonds.

The stone was bought by the Transvaal government and presented to King Edward VII on his birthday. It was cut into three large parts by Asscher Brothers of Amsterdam, and eventually into 9 large gem-quality stones and a number of smaller fragments. At the time, technology had not yet evolved to guarantee quality of the modern standard, and cutting the diamond was considered difficult and risky. In order to enable Asscher to cut the diamond in one blow, an incision was made, half an inch deep. Then, a specifically designed knife was placed in the incision and the diamond was split in one heavy blow. The diamond split through a defective spot, which was shared in both halves of the diamond.

Jan 25 2012

State of the Union

I’m grouchy about 2 things.  First and foremost I’ll be missing the Phineas and Ferb Time Warped series for about the 3rd time.  Secondly, Barack Obama has broken so many false populist promises that watching him talk is not just unconvincing, it’s physically painful.

The most optimistic estimates are that he’ll play some variation on his Osawatomie, Kansas speach which was frankly feckless and weak.  The usual suspects- Klein, Bernstein, DeLong, Sargent are all making the same tired old excuses for inaction at best and Republican policies as the norm.

It’s noteworthy that there has been less leakage of the prepared text which I suspect is due more to the collapse of his sellout to the Banksters on mortgage fraud and robo-signing than his and Holder’s fanatical prosecution of whistle blowers and journalists instead of war criminals and thieves.  The gang that couldn’t shoot straight screws up again, unless you prefer to call them simply evil which certainly matches the facts.

dday has the best preview I was able to find.  In addition to Warren Buffet’s secretary as a poster child for tax reform, he’ll also have Admiral William McRaven of the Bin Laden kill team, and Steve Jobs’ wife.

Not quite sure what she’s meant to illustrate unless it’s the efficiency of working people to death in overseas sweat shops.

I expect there will also be a full throated denial of science in defense of fracking and global warming from the president who had no problem denying women access to Plan B contraception and supporting the Stupak amendment.

If you don’t have access to a TV CSPAN will be starting its coverage at 8 pm with ceremonial entries.  They’ll also have the Republican response from Mitch Daniels who today attempted to strip Union rights from workers.

They should all be fired and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.