Frontline: Too big to jail?

Watch The Untouchables on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Frontline takes a look at how the Obama administration protected Wall Street:

Commenting on clips from the episode showing former home loan underwriters explaining how they would laugh as they pushed through mortgages that were too expensive for the borrowers, Smith said this type of behavior was “very frequent and common.”


“There are lawsuits that name 35 — easily 36, 37 — of these kind of testimonies,” Smith told HuffPost Live host Jacob Soboroff. “And these guys are joking about it at this point, but of course it’s not really funny in the end because it all resulted in the collapse of 2008, a million people losing their houses, many people out of work and businesses seeing demand sink.”

“It was like a party,” one former loan underwriter tells Frontline’s” Martin Smith. “We were getting through these loans as quick as we can. They were not being looked at like they should’ve been looked at.”

A full transcript of the report is available here.

The new hard drive

DNA.

A team of British researchers has used DNA — the genetic building blocks of life — to record Shakespeare’s sonnets and excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

The experiment, along with another published late last year, show that what we think about as life’s alphabet can also be used to preserve our greatest creations, perhaps for thousands or tens of thousands of years. […]

The researchers used strands of DNA synthesized by a machine — not from a living creature — encoded to create the zeroes and ones of digital technology. Although the two teams worked independently and used different codes, their papers are “fraternal twins,” Endy said, that show it will soon be both realistic and practical to record vast reams of information in strands of chemicals too small to see. […]

Reading the DNA is the expensive part right now, though both teams predict that cost will come down exponentially within the next decade, putting DNA storage potentially within reach of average people. Birney predicted that couples could soon be storing their wedding videos on DNA, to be seen by their grandchildren.

Storage of the DNA should be relatively inexpensive and easy, both teams said. A cold, dry, dark place is ideal, so there will be no electricity bills. And DNA is incredibly small and virtually weightless. One Shakespearean sonnet weighs 0.3 x 10-12 grams, Goldman said, and information that would fill more than a million CDs can fit in a vial smaller than a pinkie.

And because the DNA didn’t come from a living creature, it doesn’t figure to face the same obstacles that slowed stem cell research.

Insider trading

Why on earth would your librul media not want to investigate how outgoing Treasury Secretary Tim “Turbo Tax” Geithner was accused of leaking inside information to Wall Street –by the Richmond Fed president? I can’t imagine, because it does seem like a story to those of us outside the Beltway bubble. Maybe the complicit ladies and gentlemen of the corporate media could get up off their knees and, you know, actually cover this story? Maybe earn those paychecks for doing something other than parroting the conventional wisdom of the elite?

Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum, about the 2007 Federal Reserve transcripts released last week:

Of all the majors, Reuters does the best, and it advances the story by getting Lacker to stand by his 2007 comments about Geithner and to expand them to include other banks beyond BofA:

“My understanding was that (New York Fed) President Geithner had discussed a reduction in the discount rate with these banks in connection with these initiatives.”


But Reuters still falls well short of telling the whole story here. It doesn’t take the obvious next step and look at what happened in markets that day.


For that we turn to… Zero Hedge, which appears to have been the first to spot the Geithner-Lacker exchange last Friday:


What makes this much more interesting, as Zero Hedge notices, is that the Lacker-Geithner spat came at about 6:15 p.m. on August 16, four hours after stocks had jumped a stunning 4 percent in the span of sixty minutes.

Many shorts ended up being carted out of the front door that day, unsure what has just happened. Sure enough, the next day at 8:00 am the Fed did what it had decided the previously it would do, and announce the 50 bps cut to the discount rate to fed funds rate spread…


…the S&P futures moved from a low of 1320 (and 1330 at the 2:00 pm moment that the market saw a mysterious “invisible hand” pushing it higher), all the way to well over 1410 the next day: an unprecedented 90 ES point move in a few hours!


The Times headline called it a “tiff” and stuck the story deep inside. Chittum notes, “The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and Bloomberg haven’t even touched the story.”

Gee. I wonder why. As Zero Hedge’s “Tyler Durden” says, “If he leaked one, he leaked them all.” From the transcript:

MR. LACKER. If I could just follow up on that, Mr. Chairman.


CHAIRMAN BERNANKE. Yes, go ahead.


MR. LACKER. Vice Chairman Geithner, did you say that [the banks] are unaware of what we’re considering or what we might be doing with the discount rate?


VICE CHAIRMAN GEITHNER. Yes.


MR. LACKER. Vice Chairman Geithner, I spoke with Ken Lewis, President and CEO of Bank of America, this afternoon, and he said that he appreciated what Tim Geithner was arranging by way of changes in the discount facility. So my information is different from that.


CHAIRMAN BERNANKE. Okay. Thank you. Go ahead, Vice Chairman Geithner.


VICE CHAIRMAN GEITHNER. Well, I cannot speak for Ken Lewis, but I think they have sought to see whether they could understand a little more clearly the scope of their rights and our current policy with respect to the window. The only thing I’ve done is to try to help them understand—and I’m sure that’s been true across the System—what the scope of that is because these people generally don’t use the window and they don’t really understand in some sense what it’s about.

Maybe Tim is telling the truth. But it sure is odd that so many people made so much money such a short time after he ‘splained things!

Logic

Tweety really did a good job backing Marjorie Dannenfelser of the deceptively-named Susan B. Anthony List (it’s an anti-abortion group) into a corner with the same question I always use with them: Do you want to see women go to jail? Your mother, sister, daughter, cousin, friend?

If they’re going to push for these fetal personhood laws, then by God, they should be ready to talk about the inevitable legal consequences. Are they really so illogical that they never bothered to think about the outcomes? It may indeed not be their intent, but women will indeed go to jail. If that’s what they want, they should say so.

And if it isn’t what they want, well, it’s time to rethink their position.

Game changer

Starting with the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade this week, we got the welcome news that for the first time, the majority of Americans want abortion to be legal in all or most cases. As you can imagine, the sex-hating religious extremists are working to spin those results. They continue to place every possible legal obstacle between women and an affordable, safe, legal abortion.

But eventually that will change. The most significant long-term news is this new study in the American Journal of Public Health, whose lead author was Tracy Weitz, associate professor and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at UCSF.

As you know, the shrinking number of abortion clinics (and more importantly, the declining number of physicians willing to perform abortions) has made the legal right to have an abortion an empty promise in many states. And many doctors now graduate medical school without ever learning how to perform an abortion.

The public health solution? The six-year study says that abortions performed by midwives, nurses and nurse practitioners are just as safe as those performed by doctors. We now know for a fact that there’s no medical basis for requiring higher-paid doctors to provide first-term abortions:

Currently in the United States, a patchwork of state regulations determines who can provide abortions, with several states specifically prohibiting non-physician clinicians from performing the procedure.


The new study was designed to evaluate the safety of early aspiration abortions when performed by nurse practitioners, physician assistants and certified nurse midwives trained in the procedure. The study was conducted under a legal waiver from the Health Workforce Pilot Projects Program, a division of the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. California law requires a legal clarification about who can perform aspiration abortions.


The researchers report in their study that the results show the pool of abortion providers could be safely expanded beyond physicians to include other trained health care professionals. They found that:

  • Nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician assistants can provide early abortion care that is clinically as safe as physicians;
  • Outpatient abortion is very safe, whether it is provided by physicians or by nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives or physician assistants.


Nationally, 92 percent of abortions take place in the first trimester but studies find that black, uninsured and low-income women continue to have less access to this care, according to the researchers.


In California, 13 percent of women using state Medicaid insurance obtain abortions after the first trimester. Because the average cost of a second trimester abortion is substantially higher than a first trimester procedure and abortion complications increase as the pregnancy advances, shifting the population distribution of abortions to earlier gestations may result in safer, less costly care, according to the research team.


“Increasing the types of health care professionals who can provide early aspiration abortion care is one way to reduce this health care disparity,’’ said lead author Tracy Weitz. “Policy makers can now feel confident that expanding access to care in this way is evidence-based and will promote women’s health.’’


Currently, non-physicians are allowed to perform aspiration abortions in four states: Montana, Oregon, New Hampshire and Vermont. In other states, non-physician clinicians are permitted to perform medication but not aspiration abortions. In recent years, in an effort to limit abortion availability, several states have put laws on the books to prohibit non-physician clinicians from performing abortions.


In the study, 40 nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician assistants from four Planned Parenthood affiliates and from Kaiser Permanente of Northern California were trained to perform aspiration abortions. They were compared to a group of nearly 100 physicians, who had a mean of 14 years of experience providing abortions.


Altogether, 5,675 abortions were performed in the study by nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician assistants, compared to 5,812 abortions by physicians. The abortions were performed between August 2007 and August 2011 at 22 clinical facilities in California.


And skilled abortion doctors can be reserved for the higher-risk second- and third-term abortions. It won’t happen overnight (the Republicans still control too many state legislatures for that), but this is an important piece of science that will eventually make it easier and safer for women to have abortions.

Idle threat, or real this time?

Will Harry Reid really do it? He’s threatened to do it so many times before, and then he pulled back at the last minute. Stay tuned, because this will really turn up the heat on the Hill if he does use the constitutional option:

In a turnaround, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is threatening Senate Republicans with an obscure (and unprecedented) method of enacting filibuster reform. In a statement to reporters on Tuesday afternoon, the Nevada Democrat said that if he does not secure enough Republican votes within the next 36 hours, he will trigger what is known as the “nuclear option” (alternatively, the “constitutional option”), which would override the established precedent of requiring a supermajority of Senators to change the rules of filibuster, which is the especially annoying tactic used by both sides to delay (and often kill) undesirable legislation. The “nuclear option” requires 51 votes instead of 67, and Reid said Tuesday that he has the votes.


This means two things. One, that Reid is making good on his word from November that he would seek, in whatever way possible, to reform the filibuster maneuver.r. And two, that his prior stance on the filibuster is no impediment to him seeking reform now. In several statements collected by BuzzFeed in November, Reid inveighed heavily against the “nuclear option” when it was being considered by Senate Republicans in 2005, calling it “un-American.” What changed? As far back as May 2012, Reid signaled that, between then and the middle of President Bush’s tenure, the filibuster rule had been significantly “abused” and needed to be reformed:

“I have been here in Congress 30 years, but this is a new one. Even bills that [Republicans] agree on, they want to mess around with. In years past, this would have gone through here just like this,” Reid said, snapping his fingers.


Still, the “nuclear option” is risky: It’s never been tried before, and would establish a new precedent for how the Senate majority controls the tactical strategy of the Senate minority.

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