It’s Monday. And already the last day in February?




Biggest Fish Face Little Risk of Being Caught

So much for Angelo Mozilo taking the fall for the financial crisis.

Late last week, word leaked out that Mr. Mozilo, who had co-founded Countrywide Financial in 1969 — and, for nearly 40 years, presided over its astonishing rise and its equally astonishing fall — would not be prosecuted by the Justice Department.


Aficionados of financial crises like to point to the savings-and-loan debacle of the 1980s as perhaps the high-water mark in prosecuting executives after a broad financial scandal. When the government loosened the rules for owning a thrift, the industry was taken over by aggressive entrepreneurs, far too many of whom made self-dealing loans using savings-and-loan deposits as their own personal piggy banks.

In time, nearly 1,000 savings and loans — a third of the industry — collapsed, costing the government billions. According to William K. Black, a former regulator who teaches law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, “There were over 1,000 felony convictions in major cases” involving executives of the thrifts. Solomon L. Wisenberg, a lawyer who writes for a blog on white collar crime, said, “The prosecutions were hugely successful.”


Today, Mr. Black says, the government doesn’t have nearly as many resources to pursue such cases. With the F.B.I. understandably focused on terrorism, there isn’t a lot of manpower left to dig into potential crimes that may have taken place during the financial crisis. Fewer than 150 of the bureau’s agents are assigned to mortgage fraud, for instance. Several lawyers who represent white collar defendants told me that outside of New York, there aren’t nearly enough prosecutors who understand the intricacies of financial crime and know how to prosecute it. It is a lot easier to prosecute people for old-fashioned crimes — robbery, assault, murder — than for financial crimes.

Which leads to another point: as Sheldon T. Zenner, a white collar criminal lawyer in Chicago, puts it, “These kinds of cases are extraordinarily difficult to make. They require lots of time and resources. You have some of the best, highest-paid and most sophisticated lawyers on the other side fighting you at every turn. You are climbing a really high mountain when you try to do one of these cases.”




Social Security isn’t the problem

The White House OMB director, Jacob Lew:

The budget put forward by President Obama last week is a blueprint for how we can live within our means and win the future. As this begins the budgeting process in Washington, we need to be clear about the causes of the pressing fiscal problems we face. Specifically, looking to the next two decades, Social Security does not cause our deficits.



About a month ago, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama urged President Obama to follow the lead set by our friends across the pond: “We need a budget with a bold vision — like [the one] unveiled in Britain.” Last week, Sessions praised British Prime Minister David Cameron’s “leadership” on cutting spending.

This isn’t an uncommon sentiment on the right. British officials are pursuing policies similar to those Republicans are demanding in the United States, so GOP praise for Cameron and his austerity agenda is often incorporated into the party’s talking points.

And how’s that British model working out?

Britain’s economy shrank by 0.6% in the final quarter of last year, a sharper fall than previously thought.

The previous four quarters, by the way, had shown modest growth.

Remind me again why Republicans want to follow Britain’s lead?

Or for that matter, why the right is so enamored with the German model, which is arguably even worse?

Update: And as Atrios reminds us, let’s also not forget what happened after Irish officials bailed out the bankers and cut public spending.




Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers

The American landscape is dotted with hundreds of thousands of new wells and drilling rigs, as the country scrambles to tap into this century’s gold rush — for natural gas.

The gas has always been there, of course, trapped deep underground in countless tiny bubbles, like frozen spills of seltzer water between thin layers of shale rock. But drilling companies have only in recent years developed techniques to unlock the enormous reserves, thought to be enough to supply the country with gas for heating buildings, generating electricity and powering vehicles for up to a hundred years.

So energy companies are clamoring to drill. And they are getting rare support from their usual sparring partners. Environmentalists say using natural gas will help slow climate change because it burns more cleanly than coal and oil. Lawmakers hail the gas as a source of jobs. They also see it as a way to wean the United States from its dependency on other countries for oil.

But the relatively new drilling method — known as high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking — carries significant environmental risks. It involves injecting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, at high pressures to break up rock formations and release the gas.




It’s the Inequality, Stupid

Eleven charts that explain everything that’s wrong with America.


Wells Fargo could face penalties on foreclosures

Wells Fargo & Co. says that it is being investigated by several government agencies for its foreclosure practices and is likely to face enforcement actions.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday, the San Francisco based bank said the investigations focus on whether the bank violated fair-lending laws and whether it followed proper procedures with its foreclosure affidavits. The company noted that the enforcement actions could include monetary penalties.


Consumers Hold On to Products Longer

For a number of products — cars, phones, computers, even shampoo and toothpaste — the data shows a slowing of product life cycles and consumption. In many cases the difference is mere months, but economists and consumers say the approach just may outlast a full recovery and the return of easy credit, because of the strong impression the downturn made on consumers.


Whether a broad, long-term shift in consumer habits is under way is a question tickling economists and analysts. Some insist that, as with the Depression, the recent downturn has made a lingering impression on how people view the propriety of, say, stuffing a still-working cellphone into a desk drawer in favor of a newer model.

But other experts and historians argue that as spending and credit return, so will yearnings to favor brands, fashion and novelty over practicality.


Nancy F. Koehn, a professor at the Harvard Business School and a historian of consumer behavior, said she would bet her boot collection that the change was, if not permanent, at least lasting. She said it stemmed not just from a shaky economy but also from a sense that great institutions — like government and major corporations — might not be reliable saviors in a crisis.




Gates Warns Against More Wars Like Iraq and Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates bluntly told an audience of West Point cadets on Friday that it would be unwise for the United States to ever fight another war like Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the chances of carrying out a change of government in that fashion again were slim.

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.

That reality, he said, meant that the Army would have to reshape its budget, since potential conflicts in places like Asia or the Persian Gulf were more likely to be fought with air and sea power, rather than with conventional ground forces.




The War on Women

The egregious cuts in the House resolution include the elimination of support for Title X, the federal family planning program for low-income women that provides birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and testing for H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases. In the absence of Title X’s preventive care, some women would die. The Guttmacher Institute, a leading authority on reproductive health, says a rise in unintended pregnancies would result in some 400,000 more abortions a year.


The House resolution would slash support for international family planning and reproductive health care. And it would reimpose the odious global “gag” rule, which forbids giving federal money to any group that even talks about abortions. That rule badly hampered family planning groups working abroad to prevent infant and maternal deaths before President Obama lifted it.


Their continuing resolution would cut by 10 percent the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC, which serves 9.6 million low-income women, new mothers, and infants each month, and has been linked in studies to higher birth weight and lower infant mortality.

The G.O.P. bill also slices $50 million from the block grant supporting programs providing prenatal health care to 2.5 million low-income women and health care to 31 million children annually. President Obama’s budget plan for next year calls for a much more modest cut.

These are treacherous times for women’s reproductive rights and access to essential health care. House Republicans mistakenly believe they have a mandate to drastically scale back both even as abortion warfare is accelerating in the states. To stop them, President Obama’s firm leadership will be crucial. So will the rising voices of alarmed Americans.


America as a Free Fire Zone

On January 12, thirty thousand people attended a memorial service for the seven victims of the Tucson massacre.

Thirty thousand: that’s about the same number of Americans who died in 2006 from gunshot wounds. Almost one hundred every day.

That is a statistic that stands alone among the civilized nations of the world. The Brady Campaign reports that the annual gun homicides in Finland were 17, in Australia 35, in England and Wales 39, in Spain 60, in Germany 194, in Canada 200, and in the United States 9484. This means that homicides amounted to almost one third of gun deaths in the United States.

Compared with other industrial countries, the U.S. firearm homicide rate was:

— 5 times that of Canada
— 10 times that of Finland
— 13 times that of Germany
— 19 times that of Australia
— 24 times that of Spain.
— 44 times that of England and Wales

These are hard, authenticated facts. Whatever position one takes on the gun control issue, statistics such as these must be acknowledged and dealt with if one is to be taken seriously in the debate.




Scott Walker Appoints Political Confidante With 4 Public Pensions to $90,000 State Position

Scott Walker is against public union pensions, but he’s not against pensions, for himself or his cronies.

In fact, Walker’s former chief of staff at the Milwaukee County Board, Tom Nardelli, is well on his way to receiving a whopping four pensions, one of them is $30,000 a year from the city of Milwaukee.

Upon being elected governor, Walker appointed Nardelli, 66, to a state position overseeing state building and safety codes paying $90,000 a year.

So Walker clearly is not anti-taxpayer funded pensions when it comes to his chief political confidante, who is currently receiving two pensions while earning $90,000 from the state – and who will shortly be receiving a third, and then a fourth pension when he leaves state government.

And Walker himself has a nice pension that he received from his days in the state legislature, not to mention his years heading the county board, and then a third pension will come from his years as governor. Now, although Walker, when campaigning for governor, implied that he would pay for his pension, he only was really promising to pay 11% of his salary toward the pension, the taxpayers footing the rest of the bill.


Tea Party Group Issues Warning to the G.O.P

“The mood here is that we’re a little disappointed in the Republicans in the House in not living up to their pledge,” said Sally Oljar of Seattle, a member of the national coordinating team for the Tea Party Patriots, a coalition of several thousand Tea Party groups. “We realize we have to keep the pressure on these guys all the time. If you leave them alone they revert back to their own ways.”


Republicans lawmakers face a delicate balancing act as negotiations to avert a government shutdown reach a critical phase this week. Senate Democrats have said the $61 billion in spending cuts proposed by House Republicans are too severe, although Tea Party members consider them not severe enough.

If the parties cannot reconcile their differences, the federal government could be shut down for the first time in 16 years.

“If these politicians don’t get the message, they had better step aside,” said Carter Brough, a retiree from Whitney, Tex. “Right now, I can’t tell the difference between the parties. I’ve chopped my credit cards. I’m watching my spending. This country needs to do the same.”

Many said they were new to politics in the last election but intended to stay involved. They added that they were willing to make personal sacrifices as government programs were pared back, but only if the cuts were broad based.

“It’s going to hurt,” said Patricia Morlen of Albuquerque. Ms. Morlen said she was a longtime teacher and union member, but wondered, “Why don’t we share the sacrifice, act as Americans and come together to solve the national debt crisis that we have?”


Evangelicals Preach the Gospel of Getting Out of Debt

“Thou shalt not overspend” is rapidly becoming a tenet of the evangelical belief system, rivaling social issues like gay marriage.

The priorities of white evangelical Christians, about 60 million strong, have driven the culture wars for decades. It was they who formed the Moral Majority in the 1970s, which helped elect Ronald Reagan in a landslide in 1980. And it was their children—some of them, anyway—who strayed from their parents’ interpretations of faith and helped elect Barack Obama in 2008. Politically active, evangelicals have fought with varying degrees of success against abortion, same-sex marriage, and the teaching of evolution in public schools.

But a recent study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows that white evangelicals may, in fact, have more pragmatic concerns than their reputation indicates. “They, like everyone else, are concerned about the $14 trillion national debt. And true to evangelical principles, it’s an issue they have started to talk about in moral terms.



Boehner makes budget case at religious convention

House Republicans specifically want to target entitlement programs, like Medicaid and Medicare, the speaker said.

“To not address entitlement programs, as is the case with the budget the president has put forward, would be an economical and moral failure,” Boehner said. “By acting now, we can fulfill the mission of health and retirement security for all Americans without making changes for those in or near retirement.”



Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think is a 1996 book by cognitive linguist George Lakoff. It argues that conservatives and liberals hold two different conceptual models of morality. Conservatives have a Strict Father morality in which people are made good through self-discipline and hard work. Liberals have a Nurturant Parent morality which sees people as something to be cared for and assisted.



To pay even passing attention to American politics is to notice that contemporary congressional Republicans are as right-wing as they’ve ever been. The GOP caucuses in both chambers have embraced a hysterical, borderline-nihilist worldview, which is often terrifying in its scope and severity.


National Journal‘s Ron Brownstein explained this week that President Obama “finds himself fighting a two-front war,” one in Congress with right-wing lawmakers, and one at the state level with a new breed of right-wing governors.

On the same grounds, Republican governors in Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin have also renounced federal money to build high-speed rail. Seventeen states — all but two headed by Republicans — are suing to block Obama’s effort to regulate carbon emissions. GOP governors led the drive to resume offshore drilling after Obama suspended it following last year’s BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. From the other direction, the president did his part to heighten tensions by suing Arizona over its immigration law and conspicuously siding with public-employee unions in their struggle with GOP governors (the most notable so far led by Wisconsin’s Scott Walker) over collective-bargaining rights.

The mother of all disputes, though, remains over health care.


Keep in mind, it’s ideology, not practical concerns, that lie at the heart of these governors’ reactionary moves. The states turning down investments for high-speed rail, for example, were effectively handed a gift — jobs, economic development, improved infrastructure — but Republicans like Rick Scott and Scott Walker turned down the benefits because of a philosophical opposition, deliberately hurting their state in the process. The administration was effectively throwing a life-preserver to a Republican who’s drowning, only to be told, “We don’t like government life-preservers.”

The same is true of health care, which would be a boon to states, but which far-right governors resist for reasons that have nothing to do with public policy.

President Obama, in other words, not only has to resolve crises unlike anything his predecessors have dealt with in generations, he has to do so with a ridiculous Republican Party in Washington that approaches public policy with all the sophistication of a junior-high student government, and Republican governors who resist effective policies for purely ideological reasons.

Continue reading…




Leaving Children Behind


At the state and local level, however, there’s no doubt about it: big spending cuts are coming.

And who will bear the brunt of these cuts? America’s children.

Now, politicians — and especially, in my experience, conservative politicians — always claim to be deeply concerned about the nation’s children. Back during the 2000 campaign, then-candidate George W. Bush, touting the “Texas miracle” of dramatically lower dropout rates, declared that he wanted to be the “education president.” Today, advocates of big spending cuts often claim that their greatest concern is the burden of debt our children will face.

In practice, however, when advocates of lower spending get a chance to put their ideas into practice, the burden always seems to fall disproportionately on those very children they claim to hold so dear.


But here’s the thing: While low spending may sound good in the abstract, what it amounts to in practice is low spending on children, who account directly or indirectly for a large part of government outlays at the state and local level.


It’s not a pretty picture; compassion aside, you have to wonder — and many business people in Texas do — how the state can prosper in the long run with a future work force blighted by childhood poverty, poor health and lack of education.

But things are about to get much worse.




Obama Set to Ease Health Law Requirements

Senior administration officials said Mr. Obama would reveal to the National Governors Association in a speech on Monday morning that he backs legislation that would enable states to request federal permission to withdraw from the law’s mandates in 2014 rather than in 2017.

The bipartisan amendment that Mr. Obama is now embracing was first proposed in November, eight months after enactment of the Affordable Care Act, by Senators Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and Scott Brown, Republican of Massachusetts. Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, a Democrat, is now a co-sponsor.

The legislation would allow states to opt out earlier from various requirements if they could demonstrate that other methods would allow them to cover as many people, with insurance that is as comprehensive and affordable, as provided by the new law. The changes also must not increase the federal deficit.

If states can meet those standards, they can ask to circumvent minimum benefit levels, structural requirements for insurance exchanges and the mandates that most individuals obtain coverage and that employers provide it. Washington would then help finance a state’s individualized health care system with federal money that would otherwise be spent there on insurance subsidies and tax credits.




To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test

Taking a test is not just a passive mechanism for assessing how much people know, according to new research. It actually helps people learn, and it works better than a number of other studying techniques.

“I think that learning is all about retrieving, all about reconstructing our knowledge,” said the lead author, Jeffrey Karpicke, an assistant professor of psychology at Purdue University. “I think that we’re tapping into something fundamental about how the mind works when we talk about retrieval.”

Several cognitive scientists and education experts said the results were striking.

The students who took the recall tests may “recognize some gaps in their knowledge,” said Marcia Linn, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, “and they might

revisit the ideas in the back of their mind or the front of their mind.”




Fiore Cartoon: The Huffington Post Strikes It Rich


PBS Faces New Threat in Federal Budget

With the new Congress, Republicans again have made public broadcasting a target for cuts, and the petitions and on-air appeals are back. This time, however, even a recent Capitol appearance by Arthur [The Aardvaark], the booking-loving aardvark, may not be enough to fully stave off a reduction in financing.


Underscoring that assessment, on Feb. 19, the House approved a bill for 2011 that cut all financing for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for the year 2013, the first time in recent memory that such a zeroing-out measure passed a vote.


The Democratic-controlled Senate is certain to push back this week, and President Obama has already proposed a 2012 fiscal year budget that includes a $6 million increase to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s basic appropriation, for a total of $451 million. But a collective $75.8 million for other public media initiatives, like the Department of Education’s Ready to Learn program, was eliminated from the president’s budget. House Republicans, meanwhile, have already proposed a handful of other bills to eliminate or reduce financing.


Keith Olbermann launches new nonprofit news Web site

The site is called the “FOK News Channel,” a crude wordplay on the FOX News Channel, which Olbermann has frequently gone after, and a group of Olbermann’s supporters who use the acronym “FOK” for “Friends of Keith.”


Today’s Misleading Headline

USA Today wins today’s prize for most misleading headline with “U.S. health care law not immune to nullification.” The truth is that all federal laws are immune to nullification.


Sean Hannity Forecasts World War III

Hannity: World War III May Be Upon Us

Hannity: Egyptian Revolution Could Lead To “A Modern-Day Holocaust” That Could Evolve Into “World War.”

Hannity Asked Rumsfeld If “World War” Is A Possibility.

RUMSFELD: Well, if you think of the Iran model where there was a popular revolution, and it wasn’t the populace that ended up in charge — it was a very small, radical extremist clique — that risk exists. I think it was Winston Churchill who said that autocrats or dictators ride a tiger and they’re afraid to get off.

It — you don’t know what’s going to happen. And you naturally sympathize with the desire for people to have freer political systems and freer economic systems. I remember the old saying that there’ll be no peace in the world until every man is free because to every man he is the world.

Hannity: “My Fear Is We Would Literally Have The Potential Of A World War Emerging If Things Go Entirely The Wrong Way.”




The book no one can read: Why can’t anyone decipher this mysterious manuscript?

Inside the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University is the Voynich manuscript: a book that has come to be known as “the world’s most mysterious manuscript.” Since a team of scientists has recently determined the age of  the Voynich (pronounced Voy-nitch) manuscript, we relish the opportunity to discuss this enigma as well as some wonderful words around cryptography and linguistics.

Consisting of 240 pages of detailed illustrations and a cipher (a method of secret writing using substitution or transposition of letters according to a key), the book has a unique and notorious quality. For decades, historians and scientists have studied its ancient pages but have been unable to decipher its text.  Who wrote this manuscript and why? Is there a hidden message within the pages of this document?

A book dealer named Wilfrid M. Voynich discovered the manuscript outside of Rome in 1912, and it has been in the news because of the work of scientists at the University of Arizona. Using a technique called radiocarbon dating, the team of researchers concluded that the book was probably composed between 1404 and 1438 – earlier than previously thought. The detailed illustrations of specific dress, hairstyles and landscapes as well as the “letter-based cipher” theory help to identify the region of origin as European. The manuscript is written on vellum (animal skin); this enabled scientists to accurately date the manuscript.

The text within the manuscript consists of over 170,000 glyphs, some resembling Latin text. These pictographs or characters, written with one or two simple pen strokes, outline six sections: Herbal, Astronomical, Biological, Cosmological, Pharmaceutical and Recipes. Each section contains an illustration depicting the subject and within each section there seems to be an alphabet consisting of 20-30 distinct glyphs that repeat. However, there are about twenty-four isolated characters that occur only once or twice throughout the manuscript



“If you can’t convince them, confuse them.

~~ Harry S. Truman

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KQµårk 死神

What Obama did by allowing states to be flexible is real big news. I’ve always said a healthcare system has to fit the culture of the people under that system. Well we don’t have a homogeneous culture in this country. We have red states and blue states. So the move to give states flexibility to mold their healthcare systems give blue states options like expanding public insurance to make it cheaper and even a path to eventual single payer. If citizens in red states will get more privatized systems. The fights in the purple states should be quite interesting. The states programs all need to adhere to the standards of the law but delivery of insurance will vary quite a bit I imagine.


Regarding Walker and pensions: why is that we can elect someone to one 2-, 4-, or 6-year term, and they get a pension?

Most corporations require you to work for them for a set amount of time (continuously, I might add) before you are “vested” at the minimum pension amount. I have seen any time frame from 4 to 20 years (the amount of time a member of the military must serve to be eligible).

And how many politicians will voluntarily give that up for the sake of the economy?


Regarding the economy leaving a “lasting impression” on consumers: don’t bet on it. If the Depression, and years of rationing during WWII, didn’t, we wouldn’t be in this mess.


I will never understand how someone could be against family planning AND against abortion at the same time. I wonder if these people know how incredibly stupid they sound.
It reminds me of the expression, “Did you ever listen to yourself? I really believe it’s a combination of greed and stupidity.


Cher. “Might” One agree, that this “Warning” may also be “Forshadowing?”

“Gates Warns Against More Wars Like Iraq and Afghanistan”

Moist Robot
Moist Robot

Thanks for the work you put into this Cher.

Interesting about testing as a great way to study.