I was listening to more about this Libor scandal on Sam Seder yesterday, and Taibbi was talking to Sam about a meeting with Hank Paulson and the heads of all the other banks (except Bear Stearns) meeting in Moscow in 2008. As Taibbi points out, it's a little strange and certainly makes you wonder if Libor rates weren't being manipulated here in the U.S. as well. However, if all of them were in on it, that would mean our only recourse is to either nationalize all the banks, or hit them with huge fines - neither of which would benefit the economy (see "too big too fail"). But no matter how this turns out, this story is a really big deal:
Former Barclays CEO Bob Diamond is testifying before parliament in London today, and that's sure to bring some shocking moments. But there's already been one huge stunner. In advance of that testimony, Barclays released an email from October 29, 2008, written by Diamond to then-Chairman John Varley and COO Jerry del Messier (who also stepped down yesterday). The email from the CEO to the other two senior Barclays execs purports to detail the content of the conversation Diamond had with Bank of England deputy governor Paul Tucker that same day.
In the email, Diamond essentially tells the other two execs that he has been given permission by Tucker ? encouraged, actually ? to rig Libor rates downward. What?s even worse is that Diamond?s email suggests that Tucker was only following orders, i.e. that Tucker had received phone calls from "a number of senior figures within Whitehall" ? that is, the British government ? expressing concern about Barclays' high Libor rates. Tucker in this version of events was acting as a middleman for the British government, telling Diamond to fake his borrowing rates in order to preserve the appearance of financial stability, for the good of Queen and country as it were.
Again: Libor, the London Interbank Exchange Rate, is the rate at which banks borrow from each other. A huge percentage of the world?s variable-rate investments are pegged to Libor. When Libor rates are high, it suggests that the banks? confidence in each other is low, and high Libor rates are generally an indicator of shaky financial health among the banks. If the banks manipulated Libor, they did it to make themselves look healthier, but this had the consequence of affecting hundreds of trillions of dollars? worth of financial products worldwide.
During the crash of 2008, governments understandably would have been concerned about high Libor rates ? high rates and a lack of confidence in banks threatened economic stability ? but the notion that governments would have encouraged banks to fake those rates would have been beyond unthinkable even a decade ago.
Back to the email. Diamond?s version of the conversation with Tucker, if true, is mind-blowing. To paraphrase, Diamond said that Tucker started off by asking Diamond why other banks were reporting such low borrowing rates relative to Barclays.
Diamond apparently deadpanned that his bank?s problem was that it was reporting the real numbers, while all the other banks were lying. "I asked [Tucker] if he could relay the reality, that not all banks were providing quotes at the levels that represented real transaction," Diamond wrote.
Tucker then steered Diamond to crime using the painfully oblique manner of an English gentleman trying to engage a prostitute without using any dirty words. He told Diamond that "while he was certain [Barclays] did not need advice,? the bank did not necessarily need to report such high rates all the time. Tucker put it this way: ?It did not always need to be the case that [Barclays] appeared as high as [it has] recently."
This email amazes for a few reasons. One, it suggests that Barclays, which is currently carrying the standard in the LIBOR-manipulation scandal, was actually bringing up the rear -- that all of the other banks were in on it, and Barclays only attracted the government's notice because they were last.
The second is the apparent revelation that Tucker was acting on orders, or at least suggestions, from Whitehall. If nothing else, this is an awesome piece of political jungle defense by Diamond, tossing a hand-grenade into the seat of Her Majesty's government minutes before he's supposed to be grilled by parliament. This revelation is almost certain to inspire an Aldrich-Ames-style manhunt for the Whitehall figures responsible for this alleged communication to Tucker. And if this turns out to be true? Wow.
One of America’s top science officials says the current onslaught of extreme weather in the U.S. is raising awareness of climate change among Americans.
Speaking at a university forum today in Australia, Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Americans are increasingly connecting the dots between climate change and the severe heat, drought, wildfires, and storms hitting the country. The Associated Press reported on her comments, made at the University of Canberra:
?Many people around the world are beginning to appreciate that climate change is under way, that it?s having consequences that are playing out in real time and, in the United States at least, we are seeing more and more examples of extreme weather and extreme climate-related events,? Lubchenco told a university forum in the Australian capital of Canberra.
?People?s perceptions in the United States at least are in many cases beginning to change as they experience something first-hand that they at least think is directly attributable to climate change,? she said.
Lubchenco’s comments are backed up by actual research. According to a recent poll conducted by the National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change, an increase in extreme weather has increased Americans’ understanding of climate change — bringing public acceptance of the problem to the highest level since 2009.
This is the third statement on the link between climate change and extreme weather made by a high-level U.S. official in the last week. Speaking about the devastating Colorado wildfires on Monday, Harris Sherman, Undersecretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment, told the Washington Post that “the climate is changing, and these fires are a very strong indicator of that.”
And while touring the damage from wildfires this week, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also warned about the influence of climate change on the intensity of fires: ?You have to look at climate change over a period of years, not just one summer. You could always have one abnormal summer. But when you see one after another after another then you can see, yeah, there?s a pattern here.?
However, even while officials draw the connection to climate change — thus increasing the number of people who say it’s a problem — a poll released earlier this week by the Washington Post and Stanford University shows that the issue has fallen behind local air and water pollution as the most important environmental priority for Americans.
Why the change in priority? Because political leaders — particularly President Obama — are not talking about the issue enough in America. (Case in point: Lubchenco’s comments were made in Australia, not in the U.S. And it took a trip to Australia last November for Obama to make strong comments about climate change — and he’s said almost nothing about the problem directly to Americans since then.)
The Washington Post offered some interesting anecdotes on the Administration’s messaging problem:
The findings, along with follow-up interviews with some respondents, indicate that Washington?s decision to shelve action on climate policy means that the issue has receded ? even though many people link recent dramatic weather events to global warming. And they may help explain why elected officials feel little pressure to impose curbs on greenhouse gas emissions.
?I really don?t give it a thought,? said Wendy Stewart, a 46-year-old bookkeeper in New York. Although she thinks warmer winters and summers are signs of climate change, she has noticed that political leaders don?t bring up the subject. ?I?ve never heard them speak on global warming,? she said. ?I?ve never heard them elaborate on it.?
Michael Joseph, 20, a student at the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, said he sees extreme weather-related events such as the Colorado wildfires and the derecho storm that struck Washington on Friday as ?having something to do with climate change.? But, like Stewart, he added, ?I don?t really hear about it that much.?
Even with this poor messaging, the Washington Post poll found three quarters of Americans believe the earth is warming and that governments must act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One wonders how dramatically demand for action would increase if high-level officials continued to be as blunt as climate scientists about the problem.
The Olympics are normally an opportunity for us to marvel at the things the human body can do if it’s conditioned to its peak. Watching people break world records is thrilling in its revelation of the possibility of human improvement?with continued improvements in science, and in health and training, what can’t we do? We may no longer be walking on the moon, but we fly higher and run faster on our own planet with every passing year. But part of what’s particularly exciting for me about the summer Olympics this year is the kinds of conversations competitors are sparking about the capacities of bodies we often see as less capable or less normatively desirable.
First, there’s Sarah Robles, the weightlifter who is literally the strongest person in the United States, but is barely getting by because, unlike some of her fellow competitors who are the best in their fields, she doesn’t have the backing of or an endorsement with a major company. As Maya writes at Feministing:
There?s no doubt that some sports?both men?s and women?s?are considered sexier than others when it comes to sponsorships and media attention. And certainly only the most famous Olympic athletes are able to bring in the big bucks through six-figure endorsements. But for women like Robles, who don?t fit the thin ideal of women?s athleticism, it?s particularly difficult. As she notes, ?You can get that sponsorship if you?re a super-built guy or a girl who looks good in a bikini. But not if you?re a girl who?s built like a guy.?
I think of all of that is true. And I’d add that while we have archetypes of women who are less strong than men, but manage to hold their own through cleverness, and of bigger women who are funny or cheery (or even occasionally intimidating, as with Melissa McCarthy’s pep talk in Bridesmaids), we don’t have a positive established archetype of women who are as big and as strong as men, whether as heroes, or rescuers, or funny action stars. Advertisers may not be interested in Robles, but they, and their marketing agencies, may simply not be creative enough to figure out the many engaging things they could do with her. If she medals in London, one would hope that someone, somewhere, gets their creative juices flowing and figures that out.
Then there’s Oscar Pistorius, the South African double-amputee who just qualified to represent his country in the 400 meters and the 4-by-400 in London. Pistorius is a reminder that astonishing physical accomplishment isn’t merely something that’s available to able-bodied people. Whether or not his prosthetics constitute an unfair advantage?the consensus seems to be that they may make him slower to start than able-bodied runners, canceling out any boost?the point remains that being able to run on them, much less run as fast as Pistorius does, is a major achievement. If he shows well on this enormous international stage, his presence could have a major impact on the way people with disabilities are perceived around the world.
This is the reason that stories like Bleacher Report’s idiotic ranking of hot female athletes are so infuriating, and why the counterexamples of people like Robles and Pistorius are so important. Pursuing your Olympic dreams doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up an avatar of normative physical beauty, nor should it. And you don’t need a normatively attractive body in order to be physically extraordinary.
Authorities in St. Petersburg, Russia, have rescinded authorization for a Pride parade after receiving an “enormous” number of requests to ban the event, but LGBT activists intend to march as planned. Fewer than 300 people may show up, but they intend to march without concern for violating the so-called “homosexual propaganda” law passed in March. In May, violent protesters attacked LGBT activists attempting to march in Ukraine.
Mississippi’s voter identification law might prove literally impossible for some of its residents to adhere to. In the state, a measure written by State Senator Joey Fillingane (R) and approved by a ballot initiative requires voters to have photograph identification, which they can only obtain if they’ve got a birth certificate to present. But they can only get a birth certificate using photo ID. (It is worth noting here that Fillingane is a member of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is notorious for its voter suppression efforts).
State officials acknowledge the problem Fillingane’s law might cause:
State officials are running into problems with the new voter-identification law even before the federal government has approved or rejected it. Voters without a photo ID are facing a circular problem: They need a certified birth certificate to get the voter ID, and they need a photo ID to get the birth certificate.
Pamela Weaver, spokeswoman of the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office, today confirmed the catch-22 problem, which the Jackson Free Press learned about from a complaint posted on Facebook. One of the requirements to get the free voter ID cards is a birth certificate, but in order to receive a certified copy of your birth certificate in Mississippi, you must have a photo ID. Not having the photo ID is why most people need the voter ID in the first place.
The law is not yet in place, since the federal government needs to approve it under the Voting Rights Act. That Act forbids state voting laws that have a discriminatory impact on minority voters, and, because of Mississippi’s sordid history of voter suppression, requires that the state’s voting laws be precleared by the Justice Department or a federal judge before they can take effect.
There’s no good reason why the Mississippi law should survive such scrutiny. Voter ID laws are especially likely to prevent certain historically disenfranchised communities from voting — 18 percent of elderly voters lack a valid photo ID, as do 25 percent of black and 20 percent of Asian adults.
The IRINN put up results on its homepage from an online survey on Tuesday asking what Iran should do in response to the increased pressure levied by the West against Iran. But the Iranian news agency quickly took down the results and accused the BBC — which had reported on the survey — of hacking the website to tamper with the poll’s outcome.
According to Golnaz Esfandiari at RFE/RL, the survey asked respondents:
What method do you prefer for facing the unilateral Western sanctions against Iran?
1. Giving up uranium enrichment in return of the gradual removal of sanctions
2. Retaliatory measure by closing the Strait of Hormuz
3. Resistance against the unilateral sanctions for preserving nuclear rights
As of Tuesday evening, 63 percent opted for the first option: for Iran to give up domestic enrichment. During recent nuclear talks with the West, however, Iran has held fast to a position of maintaining the full nuclear fuel cycle. (Multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions demand enrichment be suspended, but Iran says such demands violate its rights as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — a right some experts dispute.)
Though also not entirely reliable, a 2008 World Public opinion survey found that 90 percent of Iranians support “hav(ing) a full fuel cycle nuclear program” — which would entail enrichment — and a RAND survey last year (PDF) found that nearly 90 percent of Iranians “strongly favored” a civilian nuclear program and 98 percent viewed the program as a national right.
The IRINN survey, therefore, represents a startling shift made all the more stark because it was published on a government-run media site. An initial analysis on the IRINN, according to the BBC, cast doubt on its own survey by remarking that the results “by no means can reflect the views of all or even the majority of the revolutionary people of Iran.”
Nonetheless, the disparity between policy and the survey results may have driven the news agency to quickly remove the results and replace them with a survey about soccer. The website put up a statement that the survey was hacked by “countries outside of Iran, including England,” according to Esfandiari, adding that the BBC’s Persian service — an old foil of the Iranian government — had promoted the results, suggesting complicity in the supposedly skewed results.
The BBC released a statement calling the accusations “both ludicrous and completely false, and the BBC Persian Service stands by its reporting.”
In some ways, anti-gay hate groups have polished their rhetoric over the years, but often times they remind that they still believe the same old tired myths about homosexuality. At the core of this mythology is the belief that homosexuality is chosen, and thus it must be coerced from young people. That’s exactly what the Alliance Defense Fund believes was happening in Erie, Illinois.
The Erie Community Unit School District had adopted some curriculum resources from GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network. Parents complained about one book in particular, Todd Parr’s “The Family Book,” which mentions on one page that “some families have two moms or two dads.” The controversy that erupted when the school board elected to remove that book and all other GLSEN materials reignited the national conservative war against GLSEN ? a war against LGBT youth and the children of same-sex families.
This week, for no apparent reason except to prolong the conflict, the anti-gay Alliance Defense Fund issued a legal memo supporting the Illinois school district. ADF’s attorney Jeremy Tedesco explained why he believes GLSEN’s materials are dangerous:
TEDESCO: Public schools should not be coerced by outside groups into indoctrinating students into homosexual behavior by exposing them to inappropriate sexual materials. Schools are supposed to be places of learning, not places where schools push propaganda on students. The school is right under these circumstances to prohibit access to the GLSEN materials and not cave to the ACLU’s demands.
By this logic, any kid who comes to school and mentions that she has two daddies is “indoctrinating” her classmates into “homosexual behavior.” The claims are simply outlandish. Having same-sex parents is neither inappropriate nor sexual, but Tedesco’s comments reflect how conservatives insist on equating anything gay with sex.
GLSEN’s mission has always been to make sure that students feel “valued and respected” regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This means creating visibility and education to counter the ignorance and stigma present in society that has been clearly demonstrated to harm students. ADF, the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, and the Family Research Council ? all of whom have come to Erie’s defense ? are intent on scaring parents by capitalizing on their own lack of education about sexuality. By demonizing GLSEN, they believe they can maintain the toxic climate in schools and somehow discourage young people from “becoming” LGBT. After decades of trying to erase LGBT people, all they’ve done is create harm, but they persist with their lies nevertheless.
A Connecticut family whose son is struggling to pay off hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical school debt has hatched a plan to pay it off by selling an 84-year-old home run baseball hit by former New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig in the 1928 World Series.
The ball has been in Elizabeth Gott’s family for generations, since her great-uncle caught it in the Yankee Stadium stands. Gehrig, a Hall of Famer, hit the home run off of Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, and another Yankee legend — Babe Ruth — was on base, according to the Associated Press. But now the family heirloom is up for auction thanks to the rising costs of medical school and the burden of student loan debt, the AP reports:
Hunt Auctions plans to sell the ball Tuesday at the All-Star FanFest in Kansas City, Mo., and predicts it could fetch $100,000 to $200,000. Online bidding has already begun, with the top bid at about $37,000 as of Thursday. [...]
Michael Gott, who is in his last year of residency, said he was surprised at the potential value of the ball. He said his medical school debt was nearly $200,000.
Gott’s situation, famous baseball excluded, is not at all unique. The cost of medical school has skyrocketed, rising 165 percent at private colleges and an astounding 312 percent at public institutions in the last 20 years. Just as student debt has soared over the last two decades, medical school debt has ballooned. Doctors are $2.3 billion in debt, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the average medical school graduate in 2010 left school with $158,000 in debt. Nearly a third, meanwhile, were like Gott, carrying at least $200,000 in debt out of school with them.
Stephanie Miller cries on the shoulder of President Obama at a campaign event at Washington Park in Sandusky, Ohio (Reuters)That's Stephanie Miller, an Ohio voter who had a chance to thank President Obama for health insurance reform for a very personal reason: She lost her uninsured sister to colon cancer four years ago.
"I thanked him for the getting the Affordable Health Act passed," Miller said, referring to the health care overhaul the Supreme Court upheld last week. [...]That's the status quo Republicans are fighting tooth and nail to return to: needless, premature, painful death for people who aren't lucky enough to have won in the health insurance lottery.
"Even after she was diagnosed with cancer, she was told her income was too high for Medicaid," Miller said.
If you believe that America should have first-class infrastructure, if you believe in the benefits to productivity and reducing carbon emissions and creating an environment for economic growth in the nation's largest state, if you believe that times of[...]
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