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Don't Hold Your Breath Waiting for a Loughner Trial "How could he plead 'not guilty' when they tackled him with a gun in his hand after shooting a judge?" said a Twitter message, Wednesday afternoon, in reaction to news that Tucson shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner had pleaded "not guilty" to federal murder and attempted murder charges.
Yes, it's true. So far, at least, Loughner, 22, is not ready to legally (or publicly) admit what 99.99 percent of us reckon to be true. And he may never be. Apprehended at the scene of the crime, with his alleged deeds recorded on security videotape, and with living witnesses, including the universally beloved Rep. Giffords, ready to testify against him, Loughner's federal case is really just about two questions. Was he legally insane at the time of the crimes? And is he legally competent now to stand trial for them?
He was smiling when he entered court said the news reports from Tucson Wednesday during Loughner's arraignment. He was smirking throughout the hearing. That's all that many people will remember, if they remember anything, about he details of Wednesday's hearing. But there were far more important things that occurred inside U.S. District Judge Larry Burns "away" courtroom (Judge Burns, like Loughner's lead defense counsel Judith Clarke, lives and works in San Diego, which is where this trial may end up). (The Atlantic)
Red flag: Biggest bond fund dumps U.S. Treasuries Last fall Jason Thomas, writing in National Affairs, explained the danger of our increasing debt:
The government borrows in a currency that it prints, and it is difficult to conceive of a situation in which it would be more advantageous for the United States to renounce obligations than to print whatever amount of dollars would be necessary to meet them. The real problem is that bond-market investors are not oblivious to this flexibility. When it appears likely that a country will print money to inflate away unsustainable debt burdens, interest rates rise to incorporate an inflation risk premium -- thus increasing the burden on the government and on private borrowers. The danger, then, is that excessive borrowing will bring investors' hunger for Treasury securities to an end, causing a spike in interest rates that could crush the American economy and send it into a debt spiral we would find very difficult to escape.
Treasury securities have continued to sell, as Thomas explained, because of "the weakness of other countries' fiscal positions, and the power of inertia and familiarity." But that can change. Thomas warned:
The Treasury market's status as a safe haven is not an immutable feature of economic life: It is a function of institutional credibility that took generations to build, but that would take just a fraction of that time to destroy. Were Treasury securities to lose their status as the global reserve asset of choice to gold, other commodities, or a different currency, the consequences for the American economy would be disastrous. Unlikely as such a scenario might seem at the moment, today's fiscal policies unquestionably increase the probability of its coming to pass. (Washington Post)
Libya army transport deal frozen after US approval In the months before Libyans revolted and President Barack Obama told leader Moammar Gadhafi to go, the U.S. government was moving to do business with his regime on an increasing scale by quietly approving a $77 million dollar deal to deliver at least 50 refurbished armored troop carriers to the dictator's military.
Congress balked, concerned the deal would improve Libyan army mobility and questioning the Obama administration's support for the agreement, which would have benefited British defense company BAE. The congressional concerns effectively stalled the deal until the turmoil in the country scuttled the sale. Earlier last week, after all military exports to the Gadhafi regime were suspended, the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls informed Capitol Hill that the deal had been returned without action — effectively off the table, according to U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the deal's sensitive details.
State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner said the proposed license was suspended along with the rest of "what limited defense trade we had with Libya."
The Gadhafi regime's desire to upgrade its troop carriers was so intense that a Libyan official told U.S. diplomats in Tripoli in 2009 that the dictator's sons, Khamis and Saif, both were demanding swift action. Khamis, a commander whose army brigade reportedly attacked the opposition-held town of Zawiya with armored units and pickup trucks, expressed a "personal interest" in modernizing the armored transports, according to a December 2009 diplomatic message disclosed by WikiLeaks, the whistleblower website. (Associated Press)
Taking the fat out of the fat bin Laden confession video For millions of people seeking the truth about September 11,2001, the videotape released by the Department of Defense on December 13, 2001 in which Osama bin Laden confesses to prior knowledge of 9/11 has been a powerful talking point when making the case that the government is covering up what actually happened on that notorious day.
Many in the global movement to discover the truth about 9/ 11 have referred to this video as the fat bin Laden video, including yours truly. When we see frames from the video such as in Figure 1, any person with eyes can look and see that the bin Laden in
the video appears much fatter than any other known image of Osama.
However, when one or even a few frames are taken from a 35-minute segment of video, and those selected frames exploit t he least recognizable images of bin Laden while hundreds of other frames resemble him more closely, it is a misrepresentation of the truth. Clearly,the center frame above is one of those frames in the video that least resembles Osama bin Laden - yet has been picked and published as if the entire video reveals bin Laden in this distorted image, when it does not. - While reading some of the coverage and investigation done by Maher Osseiran on the bin Laden confession tape, and his assertion that the tape is likely actually a tape of bin Laden himself, it occurred to me that since the tape was recorded in the Pakistan region, it was likely recorded in PAL video format. In the United States, we use the NTSC format. The difference is primarily that the standard PAL format has the same spatial resolution horizontally, but vertically it has a higher spatial resolution (720 x 576 for PAL – 720 x 480 for NTSC) than doe NTSC. Many PAL and NTSC converters simply eliminate the extra horizontal lines from the PAL format in order to conform to the NTSC format. This results in an image that appears to be ‘squashed’ along the vertical axis...making people and objects look fatter after the conversion. (Muckraker Report)
Hillary Clinton: US Losing Information War to Alternative Media The US is losing the global information war, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared while appearing before a congressional committee to ask for extra funds to spread US propaganda through new media.
Clinton said existing private channels are not good enough to handle the job, naming as rivals Al Jazeera, China's CCTV and RT -- which she watches, she added.
Clinton was defending her department's budget in front of the House's Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday.
Clinton said the US should step up its propaganda effort and get back "in the game" of doing "what we do best." (Russia Today)
Documents Reveal TSA Research Proposal To Body-Scan Pedestrians, Train Passengers
Updated with the TSA’s response below, which denies implementing airport-style scans in mass transit. - Giving Transportation Security Administration agents a peek under your clothes may soon be a practice that goes well beyond airport checkpoints. Newly uncovered documents show that as early as 2006, the Department of Homeland Security has been planning pilot programs to deploy mobile scanning units that can be set up at public events and in train stations, along with mobile x-ray vans capable of scanning pedestrians on city streets.
The non-profit Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) on Wednesday published documents it obtained from the Department of Homeland Security showing that from 2006 to 2008 the agency planned a study of of new anti-terrorism technologies that EPIC believes raise serious privacy concerns. The projects range from what the DHS describes as “a walk through x-ray screening system that could be deployed at entrances to special events or other points of interest” to “covert inspection of moving subjects” employing the same backscatter imaging technology currently used in American airports. (Forbes)
Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle Update: Congressional Majority Votes for Continued Military Waste As Peregrin Wood noted in January, House Republicans refused to include cuts to the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle from their version of the federal budget, even though he EFV fails to meet its production standards after a generation of expensive development. It turns out that during the month of February, a bipartisan majority comprised mostly but not completely of Republicans actively voted down an attempt to cut the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle from the budget. Speaking on the floor of the House, Representative Ron Kind described his amendment to scrap two weapons systems the military says it does not need or want:
…my amendment is pretty straightforward and simple. It would eliminate two weapons programs that the Defense Department, Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the bipartisan fiscal commissions all say are not necessary, they are not needed, they don’t go to improve military readiness, and they are redundant. It’s the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle as well as the Surface Launch Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile System, the SLAMRAAM for short…. if we’re going to be serious about true deficit reduction, the defense aspect of the Federal budget also has to be on the table. (Irregular Times)
Why the Dollar's Reign Is Near an End For decades the dollar has served as the world's main reserve currency, but, argues Barry Eichengreen, it will soon have to share that role. Here's why--and what it will mean for international markets and companies. - The single most astonishing fact about foreign exchange is not the high volume of transactions, as incredible as that growth has been. Nor is it the volatility of currency rates, as wild as the markets are these days.
Instead, it's the extent to which the market remains dollar-centric.
Consider this: When a South Korean wine wholesaler wants to import Chilean cabernet, the Korean importer buys U.S. dollars, not pesos, with which to pay the Chilean exporter. Indeed, the dollar is virtually the exclusive vehicle for foreign-exchange transactions between Chile and Korea, despite the fact that less than 20% of the merchandise trade of both countries is with the U.S.
Chile and Korea are hardly an anomaly: Fully 85% of foreign-exchange transactions world-wide are trades of other currencies for dollars. What's more, what is true of foreign-exchange transactions is true of other international business. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries sets the price of oil in dollars. The dollar is the currency of denomination of half of all international debt securities. More than 60% of the foreign reserves of central banks and governments are in dollars. (Wall Street Journal)
John Hunter on the World Peace Game John Hunter puts all the problems of the world on a 4'x5' plywood board -- and lets his 4th-graders solve them. At TED2011, he explains how his World Peace Game engages schoolkids, and why the complex lessons it teaches -- spontaneous, and always surprising -- go further than classroom lectures can. (Ted Talks)
You Can Have Sex With Them; Just Don't Photograph Them: A former cop's 15-year prison sentence illustrates the absurdity of federal child porn laws. In the spring and summer of 2006, Eric Rinehart, at the time a 34-year-old police officer in the small town of Middletown, Indiana, began consensual sexual relationships with two young women, ages 16 and 17. One of the women had contacted Rinehart through his MySpace page. He had known the other one, the daughter of a man who was involved in training police officers, for most of her life. Rinehart was going through a divorce at the time. The relationships came to the attention of local authorities, and then federal authorities, when one of the girls mentioned it to a guidance counselor.
Whatever you might think of Rinehart's judgment or ethics, his relationships with the girls weren't illegal. The age of consent in Indiana is 16. That is also the age of consent in federal territories. Rinehart got into legal trouble because one of the girls mentioned to him that she had posed for sexually provocative photos for a previous boyfriend and offered to do the same for Rinehart. Rinehart lent her his camera, which she returned with the promised photos. Rinehart and both girls then took additional photos and at least one video, which he downloaded to his computer. (Reason)
Can geoengineering put the freeze on global warming? Scientists call it "geoengineering," but in plain speak, it means things like this: blasting tons of sulfate particles into the sky to reflect sunlight away from Earth; filling the ocean with iron filings to grow plankton that will suck up carbon; even dimming sunlight with space shades.
Each brings its own set of risks, but in a world fretting about the consequences of global warming, are these ideas whose time has come?
With 2010 tying as the world's warmest year on record and efforts to slow greenhouse gas emissions looking stymied, calls are rising for research into engineering our way out of global warming — everything from launching solar shade spacecraft to genetically engineering green deserts. An international consortium of 12 universities and research institutes on Tuesday, for example, announced plans to pioneer large-scale "ocean fertilization" experiments aimed at using the sea to pull more greenhouse gases out of the sky. (USA Today)
Darpa's Cheetah-Bot Designed to Chase Human Prey Perhaps you thought the four-legged BigDog robot wasn’t eerily lifelike enough. That’ll change soon. BigDog’s makers are working on a new quadruped that moves faster than any human and is agile enough to “chase and evade.”
Boston Dynamics, maker of the Army’s BigDog robotic mule, announced today that Darpa has awarded it a contract to build a much faster and more fearsome animal-like robot, Cheetah.
As the name implies, Cheetah is designed to be a four-legged robot with a flexible spine and articulated head (and potentially a tail) that runs faster than the fastest human. In addition to raw speed, Cheetah’s makers promise that it will have the agility to make tight turns so that it can “zigzag to chase and evade” and be able to stop on a dime.
Cheetah builds off work on the company’s previous four legged animal bot, BigDog. It was built as a kind of unmanned pack mule, designed to carry equipment for troops on the battlefield. The robotic donkey could carry 300 lbs. over 13 miles on flat ground, take a swift kick and keep on moving. It’s creepy, lifelike movement can be seen on a number of videos online, climbing over hills and snow and hiking alongside soldiers, using GPS coordinates as its waypoints. (Wired)
Border deal raises sovereignty issues, ex-envoy says A proposed border deal between Canada and the United States will mean a tradeoff between sovereignty and security, says a former ambassador to Washington.
Michael Wilson, a retired diplomat and one-time Tory finance minister, told a defence and security conference there must be understanding, trust and confidence for the plan to work.
The planned perimeter deal is aimed at increasing cooperation on security practices to fortify the North American border while allowing the unfettered flow of goods, people and services across the 49th parallel.
“This border agreement does raise some very significant issues on sovereignty, on privacy, on the form of collaboration between both sides. Sharing of information is very important to being able to make this agreement work,” Wilson said Thursday. (Toronto Star)
Libya protests: Oil prices rise as unrest continues Oil prices have risen in the UK and US after continued unrest in Libya and worries about the impact on the country's crude exports.
In London Brent crude rose by more than $2 a barrel to $108.5, before falling back to $105.78 a barrel.
In New York, US light sweet crude oil rose by $7.37 to $93.57 a barrel.
US shares also closed heavily down. Asian stocks had closed down, and European shares also fell before recovering by mid-afternoon. (BBC)
Billionaire Brothers' Money Plays Role in Wisconsin Dispute Among the thousands of demonstrators who jammed the Wisconsin State Capitol grounds this weekend was a well-financed advocate from Washington who was there to voice praise for cutting state spending by slashing union benefits and bargaining rights.
The visitor, Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, told a large group of counterprotesters who had gathered Saturday at one edge of what otherwise was a mostly union crowd that the cuts were not only necessary, but they also represented the start of a much-needed nationwide move to slash public-sector union benefits.
“We are going to bring fiscal sanity back to this great nation,” he said.
What Mr. Phillips did not mention was that his Virginia-based nonprofit group, whose budget surged to $40 million in 2010 from $7 million three years ago, was created and financed in part by the secretive billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch. (New York Times)
Monsanto Shifts ALL Liability to Farmers Farmers like genetically modified (GM) crops because they can plant them, spray them with herbicide and then there is very little maintenance until harvest. Farmers who plant Monsanto's GM crops probably don't realize what they bargain for when they sign the Monsanto Technology Stewardship Agreement contract. One farmer reportedly 'went crazy' when he discovered the scope of the contract because it transfers ALL liability to the farmer or grower.
Here is the paragraph that defines Monsanto's limit of liability that shifts it to the farmer:
"GROWER'S EXCLUSIVE LIMITED REMEDY: THE EXCLUSIVE REMEDY OF THE GROWER AND THE LIMIT OF THE LIABILITY OF MONSANTO OR ANY SELLER FOR ANY AND ALL LOSSES, INJURY OR DAMAGES RESULTING FROM THE USE OR HANDLING OF SEED (INCLUDING CLAIMS BASED IN CONTRACT, NEGLIGENCE, PRODUCT LIABILITY, STRICT LIABILITY, TORT, OR OTHERWISE) SHALL BE THE PRICE PAID BY THE GROWER FOR THE QUANTITY OF THE SEED INVOLVED OR, AT THE ELECTION OF MONSANTO OR THE SEED SELLER, THE REPLACEMENT OF THE SEED. IN NO EVENT SHALL MONSANTO OR ANY SELLER BE LIABLE FOR ANY INCIDENTAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, SPECIAL, OR PUNITIVE DAMAGES." (MorphCity)
Zero-Waste Family Maintains Normal Lifestyle (VIDEO) Bea Johnson wears makeup. She lives in one of the wealthiest counties in the country. And while raising two children, she's determined to live a zero-waste lifestyle.
Four years ago, Johnson's family downsized their home and decided to simplify their life, reducing the amount of stuff they owned. According to this video from NBC News, Bea's now down to one pair of shorts and two skirts. The family refills cloth sacks with grains and produce, have created a major composting system, and make their own cleaning products. Bea even offers reduction tips on her blog, The Zero Waste Home, encouraging readers to buy in bulk and start a junk mail war. The family's cumulative waste for this year all fits into a small metal box. This is a far cry from the over four pounds of waste every American produces per day. (Huffington Post)
"CIA spy" Davis was giving nuclear bomb material to Al-Qaeda, says report Double murder-accused US official Raymond Davis has been found in possession of top-secret CIA documents, which point to him or the feared American Task Force 373 (TF373) operating in the region, providing Al-Qaeda terrorists with "nuclear fissile material" and "biological agents," according to a report.
Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) is warning that the situation on the sub-continent has turned "grave" as it appears that open warfare is about to break out between Pakistan and the United States, The European Union Times reports.
The SVR warned in its report that the apprehension of 36-year-old Davis, who shot dead two Pakistani men in Lahore last month, had fuelled this crisis. (Yahoo!)
No Brain Damage From Ecstasy, New Research Shows Contrary to long-held opinion, ecstasy, the popular rave-culture drug, may not harm your brain.
This is according to one of the largest studies ever conducted on the illegal drug's effect on cognition, published last week in the journal Addiction.
Though former studies have concluded quite the opposite about the drug (technical name 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA) there's been concern that these conclusions were overstated and reached through faulty methods.
The latest research, a $1.8 million study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), set out to correct these methods by eliminating all other factors that could possibly contribute to mental impairment: 1) sleep deprivation and dehydration commonplace in rave culture, 2) previous habitual drug or alcohol use, or 3) former cognitive damage for any reason. (Huffington Post)
A Monopoly on Cheating I HATE cheats. They cut the line and snatch the bargain. They sweet-talk the customer service rep into bending the rules. They count cards and win the raffle with some sneaky ticket placement. They are the 100th caller every time. They trick you on mileage or square footage and bribe their way up the organ transplant list. They pump and dump their stocks, their families, their friends. They get ahead and they win. We lose. Then they explain ever so condescendingly that it’s not a zero-sum game.
I never cheated much as a child, not on tests or papers, not at Go Fish or poker or even board games like Sorry or Risk. It’s been the same since. I pay my taxes, under-claim expenses, give mistaken change back to the cashier. I don’t lie on applications. I’d probably fill out my own death warrant with civic-minded meticulousness.
I’m not bragging. I find this part of me repellent. I’m not noble or good. I’m adult enough to know that the victories of cheats don’t feel hollow to them. They live happy lives. They don’t think they are cheats. They consider themselves warriors of life. (New York Times)
Congresswoman's Inspiring Speech On Her Abortion And Planned Parenthood In the heated House debate yesterday on a proposal to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding for women's health and sex education services, one speech stood out. California representative Jackie Speier said she would abandon her prepared remarks because "my stomach is in knots." Then she told the world about her own abortion.
In her case, it was a wanted pregnancy she had to terminate because of complications. "But for you to stand on this floor and to suggest, as you have, that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought is preposterous." She then went on to say that Republicans were wasting the time of Americans, who are primarily concerned with jobs and not with what is, last time we all checked, a legal procedure. There's no other way to say it: She kicked ass. (Also, just hearing the word vagina on the House floor is excitement enough.)
Meanwhile, Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin showed yet another reason why it's important to elect women and people of color — the prospect of a bunch of old white guys standing around talking about black women's fertility and alleged genocide. After Rep. Paul Brown said (falsely) that clinics target neighborhoods where people of color live and that "more black babies are killed" by Planned Parenthood. (Jezebel)
It's a bird! It's a spy! It's both Backed by the Pentagon's research arm, Monrovia firm AeroVironment has developed the Nano Hummingbird, an experimental miniature drone that could one day do reconnaissance by landing on a window ledge.
A pocket-size drone dubbed the Nano Hummingbird for the way it flaps its tiny robotic wings has been developed for the Pentagon by a Monrovia company as a mini-spy plane capable of maneuvering on the battlefield and in urban areas.
The battery-powered drone was built by AeroVironment Inc. for the Pentagon's research arm as part of a series of experiments in nanotechnology. The little flying machine is built to look like a bird for potential use in spy missions. (Los Angeles Times)
Appeals planned as Amazon residents win ruling against Chevron A judge in Ecuador this week awarded $8.64 billion to Ecuadorian residents of the Amazon who had sued Chevron for years of crude oil pollution, but both sides said Tuesday they will appeal the verdict.
Chevron charges the verdict against them is the "product of fraud," and the plaintiffs say the size of the award is too small in comparison to what would be needed to do a real cleanup.
Luis Yanza, speaking for the residents' group the Assembly of those Affected by Chevron, said at a news conference that the ruling was "historic" and a "collective victory." However, he said, "Eight billion dollars doesn't represent a significant amount to repair the environmental damages."
The judgment against Chevron is the latest in 18 years of litigation between the Amazon residents and Texaco, which was later purchased by Chevron. It was decided in a courtroom in the Amazon by Judge Nicolas Zambrano. (CNN)
Revolution U: What Egypt Learned From The Students Who Overthrew Milosevic Early in 2008, workers at a government-owned textile factory in the Egyptian mill town of El-Mahalla el-Kubra announced that they were going on strike on the first Sunday in April to protest high food prices and low wages. They caught the attention of a group of tech-savvy young people an hour's drive to the south in the capital city of Cairo, who started a Facebook group to organize protests and strikes on April 6 throughout Egypt in solidarity with the mill workers. To their shock, the page quickly acquired some 70,000 followers.
But what worked so smoothly online proved much more difficult on the street. Police occupied the factory in Mahalla and headed off the strike. The demonstrations there turned violent: Protesters set fire to buildings, and police started shooting, killing at least two people. The solidarity protests around Egypt, meanwhile, fizzled out, in most places blocked by police. The Facebook organizers had never agreed on tactics, whether Egyptians should stay home or fill the streets in protest. People knew they wanted to do something. But no one had a clear idea of what that something was.
The botched April 6 protests, the leaders realized in their aftermath, had been an object lesson in the limits of social networking as a tool of democratic revolution. Facebook could bring together tens of thousands of sympathizers online, but it couldn't organize them once they logged off. It was a useful communication tool to call people to -- well, to what? The April 6 leaders did not know the answer to this question. So they decided to learn from others who did. In the summer of 2009, Mohamed Adel, a 20-year-old blogger and April 6 activist, went to Belgrade, Serbia. (Foreign Policy)
Sen. Leahy on anthrax case: 'It's not closed' After the deadly shooting rampage in Tucson, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) was asked to reflect on his own experience as the would-be target of an assassin. That's when he let slip something that he rarely talks about publicly: He has never accepted the FBI's decision to close the case in the series of anthrax-laced letters mailed to public officials in fall 2001.
"I still wonder who sent it and why they sent it," the Judiciary Committee chairman told a crowd gathered last month at the Newseum in Northwest Washington to hear his 2011 legislative agenda.
More than a month later, Leahy was given fresh evidence this week that the science in the case was not airtight, reopening emotional wounds 91/2 years after letters sent to him and then-Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) helped cause the deaths of five people and sickened 17 others. On Tuesday, the National Research Council questioned the efficacy of the genetic testing used by the FBI to allege that a Fort Detrick scientist had acted alone in mailing the deadly letters to Capitol Hill and media outlets. (Washington Post)
Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail? Financial crooks brought down the world's economy -- but the feds are doing more to protect them than to prosecute them By Matt Taibbi. Over drinks at a bar on a dreary, snowy night in Washington this past month, a former Senate investigator laughed as he polished off his beer.
"Everything's fucked up, and nobody goes to jail," he said. "That's your whole story right there. Hell, you don't even have to write the rest of it. Just write that."
I put down my notebook. "Just that?"
"That's right," he said, signaling to the waitress for the check. "Everything's fucked up, and nobody goes to jail. You can end the piece right there."
Nobody goes to jail. This is the mantra of the financial-crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world's wealth — and nobody went to jail. Nobody, that is, except Bernie Madoff, a flamboyant and pathological celebrity con artist, whose victims happened to be other rich and famous people.
This article appears in the March 3, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available now on newsstands and will appear in the online archive February 18.
The rest of them, all of them, got off. Not a single executive who ran the companies that cooked up and cashed in on the phony financial boom — an industrywide scam that involved the mass sale of mismarked, fraudulent mortgage-backed securities — has ever been convicted. Their names by now are familiar to even the most casual Middle American news consumer: companies like AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. Most of these firms were directly involved in elaborate fraud and theft. Lehman Brothers hid billions in loans from its investors. Bank of America lied about billions in bonuses. Goldman Sachs failed to tell clients how it put together the born-to-lose toxic mortgage deals it was selling. What's more, many of these companies had corporate chieftains whose actions cost investors billions — from AIG derivatives chief Joe Cassano, who assured investors they would not lose even "one dollar" just months before his unit imploded, to the $263 million in compensation that former Lehman chief Dick "The Gorilla" Fuld conveniently failed to disclose. Yet not one of them has faced time behind bars. - "You put Lloyd Blankfein in pound-me-in-the-ass prison for one six-month term, and all this bullshit would stop, all over Wall Street," says a former congressional aide. "That's all it would take. Just once." (Rolling Stone)
My credit card had a 79.9% APR Toni Riss had a credit card with a 79.9% interest rate.
The 58-year-old woman from Texas thought she struck gold when she found the First Premier card, which is aimed specifically at consumers with poor credit.
"I had an accident on a motorcycle, went through bankruptcy to pay for medical expenses and my credit went to hell in a hand basket, so I was looking for credit cards for people with bad credit" Riss said.
They granted her a card with a $300 limit -- typical for new customers -- and a starting rate of 29.9%, which Riss said she considered decent given her credit score.
But about six months after opening the card -- at the end of 2009 -- she received an unwelcome surprise in the mail.
"I about had a heart attack when I got a disclosure notice saying that my starting rate of 29.9% was going up to 79.9%," said Riss. "It was ludicrous. Talk about a highway robbery."
At that same time, First Premier Bank launched a new credit card with the sky-high 79.9% rate.
The card proved popular with consumers, said First Premier Bankcard CEO Miles Beacom, but the performance was bad: "A lot of the people ran up the card, defaulted and went directly to charge off." (CNN)
Was Judge John Roll the actual target of the Giffords shooting? While most of the country has been focused on the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), the murder of Judge John McCarthy Roll, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, remains largely and strangely missing from most of the mainstream press coverage of this event.
Judge Roll, considered by some to be one of the most constitutionally-centered judges in history, was a defender of liberty who, prior to his murder, had begun working with Rep. Giffords to build a new courthouse and to assert Arizona's sovereignty in dealing with illegal immigration. In essence, Rep. Giffords and Judge Roll were effectively breaking down the false 'left/right' political paradigm that paralyzes Americans from fighting back against government tyranny. This unique alliance between 'left' and 'right', and the potential it had to dismantle a whole host of encroaching federal interventions in state affairs, may be one of the reasons why Judge Roll's murder is conveniently being left out of the spotlight.
Worth noting here is that Jared Lee Loughner's two primary victims were a significant and growing threat to the political status quo. Giffords is a Democrat, and Judge Roll was a conservative. But the two had begun working hand-in-hand to accomplish real goals for the people they served, both in Arizona and across the country. (Natural News)
Feds slap Zions over billions in illegal money transfers Two federal agencies have slapped Zions Bank with multimillion-dollar civil penalties for failing to monitor suspicious wire transfers of billions of dollars related to transactions that may have involved drug trafficking and other crimes.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency on Friday said it imposed an $8 million penalty against Zions for shortcomings in its anti-money laundering controls — violations of the Bank Secrecy Act and the USA Patriot Act.
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network — a Treasury Department agency involved in fighting money laundering — also fined Salt Lake City-based Zions $8 million but said the government would be satisfied by a single payment of $8 million.
“The bank is supposed to file suspicious activity reports if they find suspicious activity, and the bank failed to file those on a timely basis,” OCC spokesman Dick DeBuck said.
“The regulations also require the bank to monitor this wire activity, and the bank did not do that, either.” (The Salt Lake Tribune)
Happy toking: Strong majorities for drug reform (The Economist/YouGov poll) THIS week’s Economist-YouGov poll contains some exciting news for devotees of the weed. A huge majority of Americans, more than two to one once don’t knows have been excluded, support the legalisation and taxation of marijuana. Even without excluding the don’t knows, a clear majority favours treating the drug equivalently to tobacco and alcohol.
The data (see chart) reveal some interesting patterns. In every age group, more people favour than oppose legalisation. Predictably enough, the young are very strongly in favour, but babyboomers are almost as strongly so; and even those over 65 are narrowly in favour as well. Breaking the poll down by party, one finds that Republicans as well as Democrats are in favour, though the former much more narrowly so. (The Economist)
Patriot Act Extension Fails, Splitting Tea Party Republicans The Patriot Act took a temporary hit Tuesday night when the House failed to muster a two-thirds majority to extend three provisions of the law under special fast-track rules. It’s a temporary setback for the bill, which is expected to easily pass in a few days under regular rules. And it’s a kick in the teeth to the newly-minted GOP leadership, which missed what should have been a lay-up.
Most Democrats voted against the extension (which the White House supports) and were joined by 26 Republicans. What I find interesting is the fault line this vote reveals among Tea Party GOPers.
Slate’s Dave Weigel breaks out the list of GOP defectors, which includes eight freshmen elected under the Tea Party banner and three more veteran lawmakers who were inaugural members of the Tea Party caucus last year. But, he notes, high profile Tea Partyers like Michele Bachmann (who founded the Tea Party caucus after all), Kristi Noem, and Allen West all voted for the extension. “I break this out because there'll be a temptation to say ‘the Tea Party and its isolationist elements beat the reauthorization,’ and that's not quite it,” he writes. (US News & World Report)
Patriot Act extension fails in the House by seven votes House Republicans suffered an embarrassing setback Tuesday when they fell seven votes short of extending provisions of the Patriot Act, a vote that served as the first small uprising of the party's tea-party bloc.
The bill to reauthorize key parts of the counter-terrorism surveillance law, which expire at the end of the month, required a super-majority to pass under special rules reserved for non-controversial measures.
But it fell short of the required two-thirds after 26 Republicans bucked their leadership, eight of them freshman lawmakers elected in November's midterm elections. With most Democrats opposing the extension, the final tally was 277 members in favor of extension, and 148 opposed. (Washington Post)
What is a 'Presidential Alert'? "This is a test of the Emergency Alert System. This is only a test..."
You've heard that warning before, but it may soon come directly from the White House.
The Federal Communications Commission has approved plans to hold the first test of a "Presidential Alert," or a broadcast warning that might be issued in the event of a serious natural disaster or terrorism threat.
It may seem like a scene out of George Orwell's "1984" or some other apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster, but government officials have wanted for years to establish a way for the White House to quickly, directly alert Americans of impending danger.
Commissioners voted last week to require television and radio stations, cable systems and satellite TV providers to participate in a test that would have them receive and transmit a live code that includes an alert message issued by the president. No date has been set for the test. (Washington Post)
Magnetic Polar Shifts Causing Massive Global Superstorms: Superstorms can also cause certain societies, cultures or whole countries to collapse. Others may go to war with each other. NASA has been warning about it…scientific papers have been written about it…geologists have seen its traces in rock strata and ice core samples…
Now "it" is here: an unstoppable magnetic pole shift that has sped up and is causing life-threatening havoc with the world's weather.
Forget about global warming—man-made or natural—what drives planetary weather patterns is the climate and what drives the climate is the sun's magnetosphere and its electromagnetic interaction with a planet's own magnetic field.
When the field shifts, when it fluctuates, when it goes into flux and begins to become unstable anything can happen. And what normally happens is that all hell breaks loose.
Magnetic polar shifts have occurred many times in Earth's history. It's happening again now to every planet in the solar system including Earth.
The magnetic field drives weather to a significant degree and when that field starts migrating superstorms start erupting.
The superstorms have arrived
The first evidence we have that the dangerous superstorm cycle has started is the devastating series of storms that pounded the UK during late 2010. (Salem News)
All-Time Record: Wall Street Compensation Hits $135 Billion Wall Street was on the ropes just 25 months ago. Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Bros., Bank of America, Wachovia, maybe Morgan Stanley; Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase were wounded. GE could not role over its commercial paper. European banks required cash infusions from our central bank.
Just in the wake of a report highlighting Wall Street’s narrow, selfish imbecilities, we are treated to the stunning realization that the captains of the sinking liner are today enjoying the all-time record payoff for surviving with massive transfusions. The payout of $135 billion to employees of Wall Street firms in 2010 is equivalent to the total market value of both Bank of America and Citigroup. Imagine– in two years. (Forbes)
Iceland Shows Ireland Did 'Wrong Things' Saving Banks On his second day as head of Iceland’s third-largest bank, Arni Tomasson faced a crisis: The firm he had been asked by regulators to run was out of cash.
It was Oct. 8, 2008, at the height of the global financial meltdown, and Iceland's bank assets in the U.K. had been frozen, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its March issue. Customers flocked to branches of Tomasson's Glitnir Banki hf to withdraw money, even though the government had guaranteed their deposits. By the end of the day, the vaults were empty, says Tomasson, recalling the drama two years later.
The only way Glitnir and other lenders could avoid a panic the next morning was to get more cash, which they were having trouble doing. A container of crisp kronur sat on the tarmac at Reykjavik's airport awaiting payment, Tomasson says. The British company that printed the bills, De La Rue Plc, was demanding sterling, and the central bank couldn't access its U.K. account.
"Everybody was panicked -- depositors, creditors, banks around the world," Tomasson says. "The effort by all of us at the time was to make sure life could go on as normal." (Bloomberg)
Public Funding of Presidential Elections
Published in August 1996 (updated February 2011)
What is Public Funding?
When and How Did it Begin?
How Does Public Funding Work?
Primary Matching Funds
General Election Funding
Expenditure Limits for Publicly Funded Candidates
What is the FEC's Role?
Eligibility for Public Funds
Repayments of Public Funds
How Can I Support My Candidate?
How Can I Obtain Copies of Reports?
How Can I Get More Information?
(Federal Election Commission)
Clinton Ambassador Meeting: Unprecedented Mass Meeting Of Top Envoys Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is convening an unprecedented mass meeting of U.S. ambassadors.
The top envoys from nearly all of America's 260 embassies, consulates and other posts in more than 180 countries will be gathering at the State Department beginning on Monday. Officials say it's the first such global conference.
The gathering comes at a time of crisis in Egypt that could reshape dynamics in the Middle East, fallout from leaked diplomatic documents and congressional calls for sweeping cuts in foreign aid. (Associated Press)
Egypt's Web blockade raises concerns about 'kill switch' for Internet The news of Egypt's crackdown on Web access is raising new concerns over a comprehensive cybersecurity bill that critics claim gives the president a "kill switch" for the Internet.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) recently indicated they plan to re-introduce their bipartisan legislation, which passed the Senate Homeland Security Committee last year only to get mired in a standoff with Senate Commerce Committee members over which panel should have oversight of civilian cybersecurity.
Civil rights advocates such as the ACLU also raised concerns about the bill, which they claim gives the president the ability to shut down the Web in the event of a catastrophic cyber-attack.
Specifically, observers are concerned the new version of the bill will reportedly not allow for judicial review when the administration shuts down a network under attack. - Collins has bristled at that characterization, pointing out that the White House has indicated they already have the authority to shut down portions of the private-sector Web in the event of a national security emergency under a little-used provision of the Communications Act passed one month after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
A Senate aide also pointed out that the infrastructure of the U.S.-based Web is designed in such a fashion that no single "kill switch" to take down the entire network exists. Instead, a fiber-optic backbone connects servers in several geographically diverse locations to ensure continuity even in the event of an attack. (The Hill)
Rahm's Back In The Running For Chicago Mayor Host Scott Simon talks to Carol Marin, political columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and political editor for NBC 5 News, about the Illinois Supreme Court ruling that put former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel back of the ballot in the Chicago mayor's race. - Rahm Emanuel's name is back on the ballot, this time for good. The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously overturned an appellate court ruling that Mr. Emanuel did not meet the Chicago's residency requirements to run for mayor, because he had lived in Washington D.C. while serving as President Obama's chief of staff and hadnt returned to reside in Chicago long enough before he started to run.
Got that? What an eventful week, that began with the ruling that knocked Mr. Emanuel off the ballot, the decision that put him back on and a debate of the mayoral candidates. (National Public Radio)
House votes for repeal of public-paid campaigns: Lawmakers say system is broken Saying it has become an obsolete waste of money, the House on Wednesday voted to end the taxpayer-funded presidential campaign finance system that has fallen out of favor over the past decade as candidates have chosen to ignore it.
The bill steps back from the 1970s-era dream of publicly financed campaigns. More than $600 million could be saved over the next decade by ending the system that channels taxpayer dollars to presidential candidates who agree to abide by fundraising and spending limits.
Republicans said the 239-160 vote was just a recognition of how broken the system has become, particularly after Barack Obama reversed a campaign pledge and opted out of the primary and general election matching funds in 2008.
“It was President Obama who killed it and made a mockery of public financing of campaigns,” said Rep. Aaron Schock, Illinois Republican.
Despite his decision to opt out in 2008, Mr. Obama on Tuesday announced that he opposed the Republicans’ bill. He said the system should be fixed rather than ended, and predicted that corruption would grow with the end of publicly financed presidential campaigns. (Washington Times)
Left, right gear up for campaign-finance clash before 2012 elections Liberals and conservatives alike are gearing up for battles over campaign financing rules in anticipation of the 2012 election, which will decide control of the White House and Congress.
Liberal groups want to impose disclosure rules on shadowy political advocacy groups that raised and spent tens of millions of dollars in corporate contributions on the 2010 midterm elections. (The Hill)
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 08-205 (2010), was a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court holding that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited—because of the First Amendment. The 5–4 decision, in favor of Citizens United, resulted from a dispute over whether the non-profit corporation Citizens United could air a film critical of Hillary Clinton, and whether the group could advertise the film in broadcast ads featuring Clinton's image, in apparent violation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, commonly known as the McCain–Feingold Act.
The decision reached the Supreme Court on appeal from a January 2008 decision by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The lower court decision upheld provisions of the McCain–Feingold Act which prevented the film Hillary: The Movie from being shown on television within 30 days of 2008 Democratic primaries.
The Court struck down a provision of the McCain–Feingold Act that prohibited all corporations, both for-profit and not-for-profit, and unions from broadcasting “electioneering communications.” An "electioneering communication" was defined in McCain–Feingold as a broadcast, cable, or satellite communication that mentioned a candidate within 60 days of a general election or thirty days of a primary. The decision overruled Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990) and partially overruled McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003). McCain–Feingold had previously been weakened, without overruling McConnell, in Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. (2007). The Court did uphold requirements for disclaimer and disclosure by sponsors of advertisements. The case did not involve the federal ban on direct contributions from corporations or unions to candidate campaigns or political parties. (Wikipedia)
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