Monthly Archive: June 2012

Jun 30 2012

Random Japan

THE ANNALS OF SCIENCE

   Pass the Bloody Marys: Researchers at two of Japan’s top beverage companies say drinking tomato juice while getting drunk will allow you to sober up faster.

   In possibly related news, a research team that included scientists from the Kazusa DNA Research Institute in Chiba has, for the first time, fully decoded the genome of a tomato.

   The Meteorological Agency unveiled a supercomputer that can perform 847 trillion calculations per second—30 times faster than its previous machine. Even so, officials suspect it will be obsolete in about five years.

   A professor at Kansai Medical University has developed a treatment for bedsores that involves using the patient’s own blood platelets.

Jun 30 2012

Health and Fitness News

Welcome to the Stars Hollow Health and Fitness News weekly diary. It will publish on Saturday afternoon and be open for discussion about health related issues including diet, exercise, health and health care issues, as well as, tips on what you can do when there is a medical emergency. Also an opportunity to share and exchange your favorite healthy recipes.

Questions are encouraged and I will answer to the best of my ability. If I can’t, I will try to steer you in the right direction. Naturally, I cannot give individual medical advice for personal health issues. I can give you information about medical conditions and the current treatments available.

You can now find past Health and Fitness News diaries here and on the right hand side of the Front Page.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Sweet and Savory Bread Puddings

Photobucket

The savory bread puddings I’ve always made have been Italian strata, casseroles made with cubes or slices of bread, milk, eggs, cheese and vegetables. I was recently introduced to an Alsatian version of a sweet bread pudding, in which the bread is soaked in the milk first, then beaten with eggs, sugar and flavorings, folded with beaten egg whites, and poured into a baking dish over fruit. I loved this technique, because there were no hard, dry edges of bread after baking, so I applied it to my savory bread puddings too (without separating the eggs), and got delicious results. The puddings are moist, with a bonus layer of custard that seeps out of the bread crumbs at the bottom of the casserole dish. The sweet ones, in which the eggs are separated, puff like soufflés.

   You can use baguettes or country bread for these, white or whole-wheat. I tried them with whole-wheat sandwich bread, but the sliced bread didn’t hold the custard as well and the puddings were a bit soggy.

~Martha Rose Shuman~

Savory Bread Pudding With Swiss Chard and Red Pepper

Half of a stale baguette soaked in milk makes for an incredibly moist dish.

Savory Bread Pudding With Grated Squash and Feta

Dill or mint lends Greek overtones to this comforting dish.

Savory Whole-Wheat Bread Pudding With Seared Tomatoes and Mushrooms

If you’re eager to use the season’s first tomatoes, this is a good vehicle for them, as they can be slightly underripe.

Cherry Bread Pudding

A lighter version of a traditional Alsatian dish called a bettelmann, this sweet dish features a classic pairing: cherries and almonds.

Apricot Bread Pudding

Even apricots that aren’t at the peak of sweetness develop an intense flavor as they bake.

Jun 30 2012

On This Day In History June 30

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.

Click on images to enlarge.

June 30 is the 181st day of the year(182nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 184 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Bowers v. Hardwick that states can outlaw homosexual acts between consenting adults.

Bowers v. Hardwick, upheld the constitutionality of a Georgia sodomy law criminalizing oral and anal sex in private between consenting adults when applied to homosexuals. Seventeen years after Bowers v. Hardwick, the Supreme Court directly overruled the decision in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), and held that such laws are unconstitutional. In overruling Bowers v. Hardwick, the 2003 Court stated that “Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today.”

Concurrences and dissents

The short concurring opinion by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger emphasized historical negative attitudes toward homosexual sex, quoting Sir William Blackstone‘s characterization of sodomy as “a crime not fit to be named.” Burger concluded, “To hold that the act of homosexual sodomy is somehow protected as a fundamental right would be to cast aside millennia of moral teaching.”

Opponents of sodomy laws criticized Bowers not only for its result but also because of the Court’s dismissive treatment of the liberty and privacy interests of gay men and lesbians. A sharply worded dissenting opinion by Justice Harry Blackmun attacked the majority opinion as having an “almost obsessive focus on homosexual activity.” Justice Blackmun suggested that “(o)nly the most willful blindness could obscure the fact that sexual intimacy is ‘a sensitive, key relationship of human existence, central to family life, community welfare, and the development of human personality.'” (Ironically quoting from the opinion by Chief Justice Burger in Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton which held that obscene films are not constitutionally protected)

Blackmun revealed in a 1995 oral history with Harold Koh that his dissent in Bowers v. Hardwick was written primarily by openly gay Pam Karlan (then a law clerk for Blackmun, and now professor of law at Stanford Law School). Blackmun said of the dissent; “[K]arlan did a lot of very effective writing, and I owe a lot to her and her ability in getting that dissent out. She felt very strongly about it, and I think is correct in her approach to it. I think the dissent is correct.”

Lewis Powell was considered the deciding vote during the case. He had initially voted to strike down the law but changed his mind after a few days. In a concurring opinion, Powell voiced doubts about the compatibility of Georgia’s law with the Eighth Amendment as it related to the prison sentence for conviction, but joined the majority opinion upholding the law against a substantive due process attack. It has been argued that Powell’s decision to uphold the law was influenced by the fact that he believed he had never known any homosexuals, unaware that one of his own law clerks was gay. In 1990, three years after retiring from the Court, Powell told a group of New York University law students that he considered his opinion in Bowers was an error. “I do think it was inconsistent in a general way with Roe. When I had the opportunity to reread the opinions a few months later I thought the dissent had the better of the arguments.” However, Powell believed that the case was one of little importance and spent only thirty minutes thinking about it.

Aftermath

Bowers was decided at a time when the court’s privacy jurisprudence, and in particular the right to abortion recognized in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), had come under heavy criticism and was in doubt. In this historical context, Bowers signaled a reluctance by the then-members of the Court to recognize a general constitutional right to privacy or to extend such a right further than they already had.

State sodomy laws were seldom enforced against private consensual conduct in the decades following the decision, but the Bowers decision was frequently cited in opposition to gay rights programs. The Georgia law upheld in Bowers forbade oral sex and anal sex whether engaged in by people of the same sex or different sexes, but Justice White’s decision was restricted to homosexual sex. “The only claim properly before the Court, therefore, is Hardwick’s challenge to the Georgia statute as applied to consensual homosexual sodomy. We express no opinion on the constitutionality of the Georgia statute as applied to other acts of sodomy.”

In the years after Bowers was decided, several state legislatures repealed their sodomy laws. In addition, a number of state courts invalidated sodomy laws under privacy or other provisions of their state constitutions. The same sodomy law that was upheld in Bowers was struck down by the Georgia Supreme Court under the Georgia state constitution in the case of Powell v. State, 270 Ga. 327 (1998).

The remaining state sodomy laws in the U.S. were invalidated, insofar as they applied to private consensual conduct among adults, in the Supreme Court case of Lawrence v. Texas 539 U.S. 558 (2003). Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in Lawrence, ruling that Texas’ state sodomy law was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause (adult consensual sexual intimacy in ones’ home is a vital interest in liberty and privacy protected by the Due Process Clause). Lawrence explicitly overturned Bowers, with Kennedy writing “Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled.”

Jun 30 2012

Popular Culture (Music) 20120629: Live Moody Blues

We shall finish this rather long series with some live material from the canonical work of The Moody Blues.  My aim is to present some of my personal favorites, recorded during the period that they were contemporaneous at the time that they were released.

There is a really nice set of videos on YouTube about the Isle of Wight festival in 1970, but they do not fit into the format for this series because they were excerpted from a documentary about the festival and have lots of talk and not much music.  They are worth checking out, but this in not the venue.  When you do, check out the first on when they have some cameras on the back of the sound system.  Notice that many of those Hiwatt amps are labeled “WHO”, and a few are labeled “TULL”.  Yes, they also played there.  What a concert!

Jun 29 2012

Federal Reserve Lies About Foreclosures

While the attention was on the SCOTUS ruling on the affordable Care Act, this is what was going on under the radar at the Federal Reserve:

Federal Reserve, Regulators Arguing for More, Quicker Foreclosures

by David Dayen

The Federal Reserve has decided to put their thumbs on the scales of justice, explicitly attempting to overturn state-based anti-foreclosure laws on the spurious grounds that they hurt the economy.

This story by Tim Reid in Reuters cites the Fed arguing against the kind of laws in states like Nevada – and soon, California – that have saved hundreds of thousands of homes from foreclosure.

   “State and federal laws enacted to protect homeowners from eviction in the wake of the 2008 housing crash may be extending the slump, according to a growing number of economists and industry experts.

   Foreclosures have all but ground to a halt in Nevada, which passed one of the stiffest borrower-protection laws in the country last year. Yet the housing market is further than ever from recovery, local real estate agents say, with a lack of inventory feeding a “mini-bubble” in prices that few believe is sustainable.

   A recent U.S. Federal Reserve study found that in states requiring a judicial review for foreclosure, delays associated with the process had no measurable long-term benefits and often prolonged the problems with the housing market.”

There’s been a concerted effort to overturn due process in these judicial foreclosure states, on the theory that foreclosures must be quickly flushed through the system so the market can “clear.” Incredibly, house organs like the Fed still express this opinion even after years of documented evidence of illegal foreclosures using false and forged documents in court. The explicit recommendation from the Federal Reserve is to react to systematic foreclosure fraud by closing the courthouse doors to troubled borrowers.

The entire premise that judicial foreclosure states are prolonging the housing slump is completely spurious. Nothing furthers the housing slump more than a spate of foreclosures flooding the market, increasing the supply of distressed homes that sell cheaply and bringing down property values in a particular area. That’s what the Fed is arguing for.

Yes, they’re serious. This is basically siding with the banks, giving fraud as pass and screwing the homeowners and housing market with a flood of foreclosures. And Reuters and other trade publications have decided to publish the propaganda that keeping people in their homes is causing the market to slump and the solution is more foreclosures.

Freelance writer and attorney who helped expose the foreclosure fraud, Abigail Field takes on the Reuters “b.S.” sentence by sentence, shredding the propaganda that the housing crisis was caused by homeowners but by the banks themselves who created the shadow market of foreclosed homes and the underwater crisis. She makes these four points:

  • First, en route to committing mass securities fraud the banks dishonored their contracts and failed to document the mortgage loans as they promised investors they would. As a result, they’ve had to fabricate nonsensical, obviously fraudulent and often sworn statements to try to foreclose. It’s that swamp of fraud that’s causing the delays.
  • Second, banks are manipulating housing market inventory, letting properties they own rot, not listing them for sale, and when auctioning them, sometimes outbidding third parties.
  • Third, bankers’ securities fraud broke the secondary market for non-government backed mortgages. As a result, there’s a lot less capital to lend wannabe homeowners.
  • Fourth, lender-driven appraisal fraud led to such inflated prices that the underwater problem is directly attributable to them.
  • Rather than deal in the reality that our housing crisis is banker driven and dare push the meme that bankers must be held accountable, Reuters is helping bankers (and their government allies) push the idea that if only we made it easy for bankers to use their fraudulent documents, the housing market would heal quickly.

    There’s even more that exposes not just the Federal Reserve’s pass on bank fraud but the how the Obama administration’s so called homeowner bail out is just more hand outs to the banks:

    Sentences ten and eleven:

    “The increasing doubt about the impact of anti-foreclosure laws on the long-term health of the housing market calls into question a basic principle of the Obama Administration’s approach to the housing crisis.

    Many Democrats, including Obama, say struggling homeowners should get more time to make good on their mortgage arrears, or have the breathing room to renegotiate their loans with lenders, especially in the wake of the “robo-signing” scandal in which banks were found to have falsified foreclosure paperwork.”

    How I wish the Obama Administration’s approach had really been about helping struggling homeowners. Instead it has been mostly theatrics with gifts to the banks thrown in. Most recent example – the latest refinancing program has become a fee/profit center for the big banks. Moreover, if homeowners did “make good”, that would be better for everyone involved, including the broader market, but in the era of maximally predatory servicing, it’s not easy. Ditto with mortgage mods that work – and when they include principal reduction that’s meaningful, they work.

    Hey, look! In sentence 11 we get the first whiff of banker wrongdoing. And wow, he not only uses the misleading “robo-signing“, but he also says “falsified foreclosure paperwork.” Foreclosure “paperwork” doesn’t sound that serious, though, does it? How about “falsified documents affecting property title”? Or, “lied under oath about how much borrowers owed and to whom?”

    And as Yves Smith at naked capitalism notes in her article the lies get repeated ad nauseum:

    The way Big Lies get sold is by dint of relentless repetition. In the wake of the heinous mortgage settlement, foreclosure fatigue has set in. A lot of policy people want to move on because the topic has no upside for them. Nothing got fixed, the negotiation process took a lot of political capital (meaning, as we pointed out, it forestalls any large national initiatives in the near-to-medium term), and Good Dems don’t want to dwell on a crass Obama sellout (not that that should be a surprise by now). But the fact that this issue, which ought to be front burner given its importance both to individuals and the economy, is being relegated to background status creates the perfect setting for hammering away at bank-friendly memes. When people are less engaged, they read stories in a cursory fashion, or just glance at the headline, and don’t bother to think whether the storyline makes sense or the claims are substantiated.

    Just look at the headline: “Evidence suggests anti-foreclosure laws may backfire.” First, it says there are such things as “anti-foreclosure laws.” In fact, the laws under discussion are more accurately called “Foreclose legally, damnit” laws. Servicers and their foreclosure mill arms and legs have so flagrantly violated long-standing real estate laws in how they execute foreclosures that some states have decided to up the ante in terms of penalties to get the miscreants to cut it out. [..]

    And that is perhaps the most remarkable bit, the failure to consider that gutting the protections to the parties to a contract undermines commerce. Borrowers in judicial foreclosure states paid higher interest rates due to the greater difficulty of foreclosure. So now they are to be denied what they paid for because the banks recklessly disregarded the procedures they set up and committed to perform? What kind of incentive system is it when we reward massive institutional failure with a bank-favoring settlement and supportive messaging from central bank economists? As Dayen stated:

       “So when these officials argue against laws like those in Nevada, which merely criminalize a criminal practice, or California, which provides due process for people having their homes taken from them, they’re arguing in favor of what amounts to a dissolution of justice.”

    I don’t think you’ll read anything like this at Reuters. Shameful

    Jun 29 2012

    ACA: The Good, the Bad & the Truly Ugly

    First, this morning House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) made the rounds of talk shows spouting how the Affordable Health Care bill can be repealed with a simple majority in the House and Senate since the bill was passed under reconciliation. Without a filibuster proof majority in the Senate, Ryan Lizza at The New Yorker points out the obstacles for that to happen:

    Many Republicans, especially in the blog and talk-radio swamps, would cry, “Use reconciliation!” Readers familiar with the congressional debates of 2009-2010 will remember that this procedure allows certain budgetary measures to pass through the Senate with a simple majority. [..]

    But reconciliation wouldn’t work here-the process can only be used for policies that have budgetary effects and a C.B.O. score. Much of the A.C.A., such as the insurance exchanges and subsidies, would fall under these categories. But a lot of it, including the hated individual mandate, does not. Repealing the exchanges and subsides without repealing the mandate and the other regulations and cost controls in the law would create a health-care Frankenstein that a President Romney would be rather nuts to support.

    That said, the SCOTUS ruling has some rather complex ramifications and Chief Justice Robert’s ruling was rather sly. First was there are the three bit from SCOTUSblog that Lambert Strether pointed out at Corrente:

    First, here’s the reasoning:

       Essentially, a majority of the Court has accepted the Administration’s backup argument that, as Roberts put it, “the mandate can be regarded as establishing a condition — not owning health insurance — that triggers a tax — the required payment to IRS.” Actually, this was the Administration’s second backup argument: first argument was Commerce Clause, second was Necessary and Proper Clause, and third was as a tax. The third argument won.

    Second, here are the implications for the role of the State as we have understood it from the New Deal onward; what Phillip Bobbitt would call a change a Constitutional Order:

       The rejection of the Commerce Clause and Nec. and Proper Clause should be understood as a major blow to Congress’s authority to pass social welfare laws.

    Third, here is the new Constitutional Order:

       Using the tax code — especially in the current political environment — to promote social welfare is going to be a very chancy proposition.

    Chancy or not — and it will be the precariat that suffers mischance, and not the elite, in any case — that’s what they’re going to do.

    Next from Scarecrow at FDL News Desk who argues that Chief Justice Robert’s “incoherent decision” will “shackle congress” and “screw millions of uninsured:

    In the process, he did violence to constitutional law and logic.  Consider, for example, Robert’s logic on the “mandate.”  In saving the “mandate,” Roberts essentially defined it as not a mandate.  You are not really required to purchase insurance, he noted; instead, you may choose not to purchase insurance and instead pay a minor tax.  As we know, taxing is just a way to collect revenues, a contribution to the common, aggregate costs of public programs.  In this case, the program is paying for many people’s health care through a system of risk/cost sharing.

    But if the so-called mandate is not really a mandate but rather an option that can be avoided by paying a tax, and if a legitimate purpose of this tax, as government and amicus briefs argued, is to help cover aggregate costs across a pool of many insured and uninsured people, then what does that do to Robert’s argument about the Commerce Clause?  When arguing about the Commerce Clause, Roberts insists it’s a requirement to purchase a “product,” which forces you to take an action, and thus to engage in commerce when you would not otherwise have done that.  Regulating “inaction” is not permissible, Roberts argues.

    But if, as Roberts concludes, the “mandate” is not a mandate, and the tax’s purpose is to help cover pooled costs, and not to buy a “product,” then there is no “mandate” to purchase a “product.”  So no one is forced to engage in commerce as Roberts framed it.  Indeed the “commerce” is already there in the risk sharing system across millions of people, all engaged in commerce by paying premiums into a pooled risk scheme.  Robert’s entire premise for striking down the Commerce Clause rationale is thus contradicted by his argument about how it’s permissible for Congress to enact a tax to support funding of collective health care costs.  That’s what the tax does; but it’s also what paying insurance premiums does.

    Roberts’ reasoning on Medicaid is equally illogical. His premise is that Congress cannot expand an existing program administered by states that depends on shared state/federal funding by conditioning funding for the whole program on the states actually implementing the expansion.  As Brad DeLong observes, if Congress were just now creating a fully expanded Medicaid, to be implemented by states but mostly paid for by the feds, there would be no question that Congress could condition federal funding on the states actually carrying out the programs.  But if the program already exists for half the needy population, Congress cannot complete the program for the other half and use the same leverage to achieve the same degree of state cooperation.

    As per the CBO, if the states actually implement the expansion and make an effort to get those eligible to sign up, 16 to 17 million more people will have health care coverage. But without that leverage to get the states to accept Medicaid expansion it leaves the poor between around 50% and 133% of the poverty line in a real no man’s land, because they would both be ineligible for Medicaid AND the coverage subsidies in the exchanges.

    As for the states voluntarily opting in for the Medicaid expansion, David Dayen doesn’t think that will happen either, even though the cost for the states would only be responsible for less than 10% of the costs.

    And being on the hook for even a small amount of funds isn’t going to make any of these governors happy. Heck, here’s a Democrat, former West Virginia Governor and current Senator Joe Manchin, making the argument for them:

       We should all recognize that the health care challenges that many West Virginians and Americans face are not going to go away unless Congress takes additional action to repair this bill. Now that the Court has ruled, we can move forward with fixing what is wrong with this bill and saving what is right. I have always been determined to reduce the burden on states from the Medicaid expansion, and this ruling affirms my position – and makes clear that states must have the flexibility to live within their means by determining Medicaid eligibility as each state sees fit. I have always said one size doesn’t fit all.

    That’s going to be a compelling set of logic for a non-trivial number of governors. They’ll also distort how much the expansion would put their states “on the hook.” 26 states sued to eliminate the Affordable Care Act entirely, and they almost got there. Why wouldn’t they jump at the chance to eliminate the portion that creates half of the coverage benefits?

    This isn’t going to be universal. New Mexico’s Republican Governor Susanna Martinez, for example, certainly sounds like she’ll take the money. But Southern states in particular, who paradoxically house the citizens most in need of the Medicaid expansion coverage, will be likely resisters at the outset. And it’s not like a lot of success in modern America comes from rallying at the grassroots level for poor and disenfranchised people.

    As was noted by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, opponents of the ACA see this as a win:

    “We won,” said Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett, who was perhaps the most influential legal opponent of the Affordable Care Act. “All the arguments that the law professors said were frivolous were affirmed by a majority of the court today. A majority of the court endorsed our constitutional argument about the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause. Yet we end up with the opposite outcome. It’s just weird.”

    Yes, it’s weird but so was the whole ACA bill from the very start.

    Jun 29 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”.

    Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

    Paul Krugman: The Real Winners

    So the Supreme Court – defying many expectations – upheld the Affordable Care Act, a k a Obamacare. There will, no doubt, be many headlines declaring this a big victory for President Obama, which it is. But the real winners are ordinary Americans – people like you.

    How many people are we talking about? You might say 30 million, the number of additional people the Congressional Budget Office says will have health insurance thanks to Obamacare. But that vastly understates the true number of winners because millions of other Americans – including many who oppose the act – would have been at risk of being one of those 30 million.

    So add in every American who currently works for a company that offers good health insurance but is at risk of losing that job (and who isn’t in this world of outsourcing and private equity buyouts?); every American who would have found health insurance unaffordable but will now receive crucial financial help; every American with a pre-existing condition who would have been flatly denied coverage in many states.

    Richard (RJ) Eskow: Don’t Kid Yourself. It’s Still a Corporate Court. Here Are 10 Lessons From CEO Roberts

    Was today’s ruling a victory for justice over corporate power? Did Chief Justice John Roberts rise above partisan differences because that’s where an honest reading of the law took him?

    Nah. The majority on this Supreme Court is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Corporate America. Call it SCOTUS™ Inc., and it’s brought to you by the same fine folks that gave you Citizens United and Bush v. Gore. John Roberts is its CEO, not its chief justice.

    The point isn’t to reinforce anybody’s cynicism. The point is to act more effectively on behalf of our ideals, by seeing things as they really are.

    Robert Reich: Roberts’ Switch

    Today a majority of the Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare in recognition of its importance as a key initiative of the Obama administration. The big surprise, for many, was the vote by the Chief Justice of the Court, John Roberts, to join with the Court’s four liberals. [..]

    Unfortunately for President Obama – and for Chief Justice Roberts, to the extent his aim in joining with the Court’s four liberals was to reduce the public appearance of the Court’s political partisanship – the four conservatives on the Court, all appointed by Republican presidents, were fiercely united in their view that the entire Act is unconstitutional. Their view will surely become part of the Romney campaign.

    George Zornick: Ruling Could Allow Republicans to Deny Medicaid to Millions of Poor Americans

    The Affordable Care Act didn’t survive entirely as passed-somewhat lost amidst the intense focus on the individual mandate was a ruling that part of the law’s Medicaid expansion was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s modification of the law probably won’t have a fundamental, long-term impact, but does make it easier for rogue Republican governors to exempt their states from participating in the expansion-and could cost millions of low-income, uninsured Americans a chance at government health care. [..]

    The decision is only hours old, and as yet, no Republican governor has announced that he or she will reject the Medicaid expansion. But if anyone does it will have real impacts on many uninsured in that state-in Texas, for example, Rick Perry could yank Medicaid away from 1.8 million people who would get it under an expansion. The biggest question for healthcare reformers and the uninsured going forward is whether Perry and his cohorts will actually pull the trigger.

    John Nichols: Bernie Sanders, Nurses: We Still Need ‘Medicare for All’

    There has been few steadier Congressional hands throughout he debate over healthcare reform than that of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Principled in his support for the real reform of “Medicare for All,” yet pragmatic in his advocacy for Affordable Care Act provisions that expand public health programs and allow states to experiment with single-payer options, Sanders has been in the thick of every fight over President Obama’s signature reform. And the ensuing legislative and legal battles over its implementation.

    What Sanders says about Thursday’s Supreme Court decision upholding the ACA provides important insights for progressives as they respond to a complex decision that, in the words of the National Nurses United union, “should not be seen as the end of the efforts by health care activists for a permanent fix of our broken health-care system.”

    Robert Sheer: Supreme Court Leaves Romney in the Cold

    Mitt Romney is an idiot or, even worse, is pretending to be one. His tantrum of a response on Thursday to the Supreme Court’s health care decision was pure playground: As president I will own the ball, and the game will be played by rules that leave me a winner.

    That game has already been called in a decision written by the top-ranking conservative jurist, and shorn of the constitutional objection; Barack Obama’s health care plan now will be judged by its practical outcomes. Romney’s promise that “I will act to repeal Obamacare” from “my first day as president of the United States” is a prescription of destructive gridlock for a program already well under way.  

    Jun 29 2012

    Remind me why we whale again.

    Japan’s appetite for whale meat wanes

    Justin McCurry in Osaka, The Guardian

    Thursday 14 June 2012 05.19 EDT

    Junko Sakuma, a freelance journalist, said the body responsible for selling meat from Japan’s controversial “scientific” whaling programme had failed to sell 908 tonnes of the 1,211-tonne catch, despite holding 13 public auctions since last October.



    Sakuma said the oversupply of whale meat, despite pockets of demand for the highest quality produce, had made Japan’s lethal research programme unsustainable.



    Late last year, it was revealed the government used 2.28bn yen (£18.5m) from the 11 March earthquake recovery fund, on top of its existing $6m (£3.87m) annual subsidy, to pay for the most recent Antarctic hunt.

    The fisheries agency said the use of the fund was justified because one of the towns destroyed by the tsunami was a whaling port.

    This is about the 3rd year in a row of declining catches and failure to sell even a majority of the harvest.

    Complex thinking goes beyond primates: Dolphins understand zero, elephants rescue each other

    By Associated Press

    June 24

    Dolphins are so distantly related to humans that it’s been 95 million years since we had even a remotely common ancestor. Yet when it comes to intelligence, social behavior and communications, some researchers say dolphins come as close to humans as our ape and monkey cousins.

    Maybe closer.

    “They understand concepts like zero, abstract concepts. They do everything that chimpanzees do and bonobos can do,” said Lori Marino, a neuroscientist at Emory University who specializes in dolphin research. “The fact is that they are so different from us and so much like us at the same time.”

    Jun 29 2012

    On This Day In History June 29

    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.

    Click on images to enlarge.

    June 29 is the 180th day of the year (181st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 185 days remaining until the end of the year.

    On this day in 1928, The Outerbridge Crossing and Goethals Bridge in Staten Island, New York are both opened.

    The Outerbridge Crossing is a cantilever bridge which spans the Arthur Kill. The “Outerbridge”, as it is commonly known, connects Perth Amboy, New Jersey, with the New York City borough of Staten Island and carries NY-440 and NJ-440, each road ending at the respective state border.

    The bridge was named for Eugenius Harvey Outerbridge (sometimes pronounced “ooterbridge”) the first chairman of the then-Port of New York Authority and a resident of Staten Island. Rather than call it the “Outerbridge Bridge” the span was labeled a “crossing”, but many New Yorkers and others mistakenly assume the name comes from the fact that it is the most remote bridge in New York City and the southernmost crossing in New York state.

    It is a steel cantilever construction, designed by John Alexander Low Waddell and built under the auspices of the Port of New York Authority, now the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which currently operates it.

    It opened simultaneously with the Goethals Bridge on June 29, 1928. Both spans have similar designs. Neither bridge saw high traffic counts until the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in 1964. Traffic counts on both bridges were also depressed due to the effects of the Great Depression and World War II.

    The Outerbridge Crossing carried 32,438,000 vehicles (both directions) in 2006, or approximately 90,000 each day. Tolls are collected in the eastbound direction only. In early 2009, the cash toll was $8 for passenger vehicles. Users of E-ZPass pay a toll of $6 during off-peak hours (outside of 6-9 am and 4-7 pm).

    In 2003, the Port Authority raised the speed limit for the three inner E-ZPass lanes at the toll plaza from 15 mph to 25 mph, separating these lanes from the rest of the eight-lane toll plaza by a barrier. Two years later, the tollbooths adjacent to the 25 mph E-ZPass lanes were removed and overhead gantries were installed with electronic tag readers to permit E-ZPass vehicles to travel at 45 mph in special high-speed lanes.[9] Motorists using the high-speed E-ZPass lanes cannot use the Page Avenue exit, which is located immediately after the toll plaza.

    In recent years, the bridge has undergone numerous repair jobs as a result of the high volume of traffic that crosses the bridge each day.

    The Goethals Bridge connects Elizabeth, New Jersey to Staten Island (New York City), near the Howland Hook Marine Terminal, Staten Island, New York over the Arthur Kill. Operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the span was one of the first structures built by the authority. On the New Jersey side it is located 2 exits south of the terminus for the New Jersey Turnpike-Newark Bay Extension. The primary use for this bridge is a connection for New York City to Newark Airport. The bridge has been grandfathered into Interstate 278, and named for Major General George Washington Goethals, who supervised construction of the Panama Canal and was the first consulting engineer of the Port Authority.

    A steel truss cantilever design by John Alexander Low Waddell ], who also designed the [Outerbridge Crossing. The bridge is 672 ft (205 m) long central span, 7,109 feet (2,168 m) long in total, 62 feet (19 m) wide, has a clearance of 135 feet (41.1 m) and has four lanes for traffic. The Port Authority had $3 million of state money and raised $14 million in bonds to build the Goethals Bridge and the Outerbridge Crossing; the Goethals bridge construction began on September 1, 1925 and cost $7.2 million. It and the Outerbridge Crossing opened on June 29, 1928. The Goethals Bridge replaced three ferries and is the immediate neighbor of the Arthur Kill Rail Bridge. Its unusual mid-span height was a requirement of the New Jersey ports.

    Connecting onto the New Jersey Turnpike, it is one of the main routes for traffic between there and Brooklyn via the Staten Island Expressway and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Until the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was completed in 1964 the Goethals Bridge never turned a profit. The same happened to the Outerbridge Crossing. The total traffic in 2002 was 15.68 million vehicles.

    Jun 28 2012

    The Cost of Doing Business

    Barclays fined for manipulation of Libor

    By Danielle Douglas, Washington Post

    Published: June 27

    The British bank admits to scheming to manipulate rates to increase profits and hide the reality of its distress during the financial crisis. Regulators suspect Barclays did not act alone, but was part of a larger conspiracy to set artificially low rates for Libor and the Euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor.

    The U.S. Commodities Future Trading Commission uncovered evidence of Barclays senior management and numerous traders in London, New York and Tokyo making false reports to improve the bank’s trading position dating to 2005, according to the complaint filed Wednesday. At the height of the recession, the bank submitted low figures to keep rates down and to deflect public scrutiny about its condition.

    “When a bank acts in its own self-interest by attempting to manipulate these rates for profit, or by submitting false reports . . . to lower submissions to guard the bank’s reputation, the integrity of benchmark interest rates is undermined,” David Meister, director of enforcement at the CFTC, said in a statement.

    Counterparites: Barclays’ $450 million LIBOR settlement

    By Ben Walsh, Reuters

    June 27, 2012

    The importance of Libor and, to a lesser extent, Euribor, is hard to overstate. They are used to value of hundreds of trillions of dollars of financial instruments. Or as Matt Levine puts it, they “set the rates on pretty much all the loans and swaps in the world … CFTC order mentions $350 trillion of [over-the-counter] swaps, $10 trillion of loans, and $437 trillion of CME eurodollar contracts indexed to Libor alone”.

    In that context, it’s fair to ask what’s $450 million compared with a scheme like that? Not much, proportionally. And Barclays won’t face criminal prosecutions, because of what the DOJ calls its “extraordinary cooperation”. Individual employees, though, are the subject of ongoing criminal investigation.

    This Week in Financial Not-Crime

    By: masaccio, Firedog Lake

    Wednesday June 27, 2012 1:47 pm

    (T)oday we learn that manipulating LIBOR isn’t a crime. Barclays Bank paid $450 million to settle charges that it deliberately manipulated the bench-mark interest rate used to establish how much people pay on $350 billion worth of credit cards, student loans and mortgages. It’s also good news for other banksters who haven’t even been sued, like HSBC, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and other firms that are being looked at by regulators around the world.

    Apparently the manipulation ran both ways, to increase the rate artificially for direct profit, and to reflect a lower rate to hide the fact that other banks were charging Barclays more than other banks because of its perceived weakness. Still, it’s hard to see a connection between a $450 million fine and the massive profits that could come by increasing LIBOR even fractionally. If LIBOR were .1% higher on $350 billion of debt, that comes to $350 million per year. The fraud went on for at least 4 years, which in my example means $1.4 billion in profits, all going directly to the bottom line.

    Quelle Surprise! Barclays Settlement on Massive Interest Rate Price Fixing Illustrates Bank Crime Pays Well

    Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism

    Thursday, June 28, 2012

    Barclays is first to settle, and given the scale and potential profitability of this activity, the fine looks paltry: $450 million among the FSA, the CFTC, and the Department of Justice (£230 million to the US authorities, £60 million to the FSA). The DOJ has granted “conditional leniency” on anti-trust charges. Price fixing is criminal under the Sherman Act. Four top executives, including CEO Bob Diamond are also giving up bonuses this year.



    But all we need to do is contrast this case with the municipal bid-rigging prosecution described by Matt Taibbi in the current Rolling Stone. Here you have three individuals at GE Capital going to jail for price fixing, which is crime under the Sherman Act. But they were merely the arms and legs of big banks. Where were the prosecutions of the higher ups, or of the senior officers of banks who were in on this con? We see the same pattern over and over: justice is meted out only on the foot soldiers, those far enough away from the executive ranks so as not to call into question the integrity of the system. The irony of it all is the public is well aware of how crooked the financial services industry is (the poll data alone is proof). But for the elites, it is vital that they not admit that something is rotten in Denmark, for if they did, they’d have to do something about it.

    A Huge Break in the LIBOR Banking Investigation

    Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

    POSTED: June 28, 10:15 AM ET

    This is unbelievable, shocking stuff. A sizable chunk of the world’s adjustable-rate investment vehicles are pegged to Libor, and here we have evidence that banks were tweaking the rate downward to massage their own derivatives positions. The consequences for this boggle the mind. For instance, almost every city and town in America has investment holdings tied to Libor. If banks were artificially lowering the rates to beef up their trading profiles, that means communities all over the world were cheated out of ungodly amounts of money.

    First there were huge bid-rigging settlements for Chase, UBS, Bank of America, GE and Wachovia. Now we’ve got a $450 million settlement for Barclays for Libor manipulation, and one imagines this won’t be the end of it. Anyway, more on this to come soon, and if you’re wondering, yes, there should be a lot more press on this.

    UK probing more banks for interest rate fixing

    By ROBERT BARR, Associated Press

    20 minutes ago

    Osborne said Barclays was not the only bank to be involved in market fixing. Beyond the U.K., there are also investigations in several countries involving numerous global banking groups.



    “Banks were clearly acting in concert,” said Andrew Tyrie, a British lawmaker who chairs the influential Treasury Committee in the House of Commons. “I fear it’s not going to be the end of the story, that we are going to find that other banks have been involved.”



    “If Bob Diamond had a scintilla of shame, he would resign,” said Matthew Oakshott, a member of the House of Lords. “If Barclays’ board had an inch of backbone between them, they would sack him.”

    Prime Minister David Cameron, when asked whether Diamond should resign, said he thinks “the whole management team have got some serious questions to answer. Let them answer those questions first.”

    The massive fines are unlikely to be the end of the pain for Barclays. The cost of lawsuits related to the LIBOR scandal will likely be bigger, said Sandy Chen, banking analyst at Cenkos Securities.

    “Since Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Lloyds Banking Group have also been named in lawsuits, we expect they will also face significant fines and damages. We are penciling in multi-year provisions that could run into the billions,” Chen said.

    Leading article: A sick banking culture that cannot be tolerated

    The Independent

    Friday 29 June 2012

    Politicians have attempted with varying degrees of rigour to introduce rules preventing a recurrence. Mostly, in the face of determined lobbying by the banks (led in the UK by Barclays), they have retreated or watered down their proposed measures. But it is obvious now that the authorities are only scratching at the surface: a far stronger hand is required.

    For a start, they should act immediately and decisively. Fining a bank has little effect: what is required is the naming and shaming and driving from office of those involved. The era of entitlement – something we hear an awful lot about in relation to those at the other end of society, on benefits – must be brought to an end for bankers. Incredibly, only one UK top banker has been punished for his bank’s role in provoking the credit crunch: Fred Goodwin lost his job and subsequently, his knighthood. Now, with a second storm engulfing the sector, that cannot be allowed to happen again. Light-touch regulation and, with it, light-touch penalties should be banished. In that respect, Bob Diamond is right: the time for mere remorse is well and truly over.

    Barclays Libor fix trail leads to senior managers

    By Sarah White, Reuters

    Wed Jun 27, 2012 6:09pm EDT

    Staff responsible for submitting rates in some instances told colleagues of “internal political” pressure to set these low, the FSA’s report shows.

    Barclays “senior management at high levels” became concerned over the media scrutinizing the bank’s funding access early in the financial crisis, in August 2007.

    “Senior management’s concerns in turn resulted in instructions being given by less senior managers at Barclays to reduce Libor submissions in order to avoid negative media comment,” the UK’s FSA said in its report. “The origin of these instructions is unclear.”

    The U.S. CFTC said specific instructions to lower submissions came from “senior Barclays Treasury managers”. They asked submitters to provide rates at a level where Barclays wouldn’t be “sticking its head above the parapet”.

    Can Bob Diamond hang on after Barclays Libor scandal?

    Nils Pratley, The Guardian

    Wednesday 27 June 2012 11.37 EDT

    Barclays tried to manipulate a $550tn market for almost half a decade. Internal controls and risk management functions were inadequate. The compliance department failed to do its job. The bank’s actions created the risk that the stability of the UK financial system would be threatened.

    Add up that collection of misdemeanours and even £290m of fines, plus a voluntary waiving of boardroom bonuses, is woefully inadequate. The outside world will want to know why no director of Barclays has offered his resignation.



    None of the various regulators’ reports suggest that Diamond or any other executive director at Barclays knew what was going on – they, we must assume, are not the “senior management” referred to in the FSA report who gave instructions to reduce Libor submissions. But should the top brass have known what was going on? Why doesn’t the buck stop at the top when the reputation of the bank has been so badly damaged?

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