Friday, May 24, 2013
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Two lost weekends
And a lost week in between. I'm going away until next month so enjoy your long weekend and stop by to see the bits I've left for each day.
Most people see the real scandal
Obama to throw out a teaser about war without end
Either they are running out of targets or they have realized what the drones strikes were doing to those that remained alive. President Obama is expected to announce a reduction in use and a change in policy for drone strikes.
In his first major speech on counterterrorism of his second term, Mr. Obama hopes to refocus the epic conflict that has defined American priorities since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and even foresees an unspecified day when the so-called war on terror might all but end, according to people briefed on White House plans.The new policy sound suspiciously like the one they told to us when the strikes began.
As part of the shift in approach, the administration on Wednesday formally acknowledged for the first time that it had killed four American citizens in drone strikes outside the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, arguing that its actions were justified by the danger to the United States. Mr. Obama approved providing new information to Congress and the public about the rules governing his attacks on Al Qaeda and its allies.
A new classified policy guidance signed by Mr. Obama will sharply curtail the instances when unmanned aircraft can be used to attack in places that are not overt war zones, countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The rules will impose the same standard for strikes on foreign enemies now used only for American citizens deemed to be terrorists.
Lethal force will be used only against targets who pose “a continuing, imminent threat to Americans” and cannot feasibly be captured, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a letter to Congress, suggesting that threats to a partner like Afghanistan or Yemen alone would not be enough to justify being targeted.
The standard could signal an end to “signature strikes,” or attacks on groups of unknown men based only on their presumed status as members of Al Qaeda or some other enemy group — an approach that administration critics say has resulted in many civilian casualties. In effect, this appears to be a step away from the less restricted use of force allowed in war zones and toward the more limited use of force for self-defense allowed outside of armed conflict.
Jaime Dimon can continue to double dip
Thanks to a lot of hard work and probably some ass kissing, he was allowed by the shareholders to remain as Chairman and CEO of J P Morgan Chase. Now he has to rebuild his organization following the financial and personnel losses from the London Whale.
Now Mr. Dimon plans to marshal the momentum from the shareholder victory to try to strengthen the bank’s compliance and audit controls, according to several people with knowledge of the matter. That cleanup work was already under way, but the victory gives him more of a mandate to tackle it head on, these people say.Any regulatory & compliance changes will most likely be of a Potemkin-like nature. He can't afford to change the criminal culture of JPM if he wants to keep Wall St. happy.
As part of that push, JPMorgan is beefing up the staff under Matt Zames, JPMorgan’s chief operating officer, according to several people close to the bank. Mr. Zames was initially chosen by Mr. Dimon to take over the chief investment office in the aftermath of the troubled bets. By the end of the year, JPMorgan is on track to hire as many as 1,000 employees charged with compliance and controls.
Top bank executives are increasing the frequency of their trips to meet with regulators in Washington, the people close to the bank said. Gordon A. Smith, who is chief executive of JPMorgan’s community and consumer banking, has taken about one trip to Washington each month.
Mending the frayed relationships with Washington will be difficult, however, as the bank continues to contend with a series of regulatory missteps.
In January, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency took an enforcement action against JPMorgan, faulting it for lapses in how the bank controls against the flow of tainted money. The Comptroller is also investigating whether JPMorgan failed to tell federal authorities of its suspicions about Bernard L. Madoff, subsequently convicted in the largest Ponzi scheme in history. The agency is now weighing a move against JPMorgan for using questionable documents to collect overdue credit card bills, according to officials with knowledge of the investigations.
“The regulators are not going away and JPMorgan still has a target on its back,” said Michael Mayo, a banking analyst for CLSA.
And despite the blessing of the bank’s shareholders, some regulators remain skeptical that Mr. Dimon and JPMorgan can truly overhaul a bank and a culture where requests from regulators were sometimes met with outright resistance.
Luxembourg to start show and tell
After years of being a preferred tax haven for the smart money, Luxembourg is set to open the books for other countries.
It was a blunt and unsettling message for a country whose opaque banks have sucked in hundreds of billions of euros from abroad and whose national motto — “We want to remain what we are” — is a credo of dogged resistance to change.True, secrecy will be gone, but money talks and there will always be safe place for it, if only in the hearts of politicians everywhere.
“Nothing is as it was before,” Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker told Parliament last month, explaining why, after years of resistance, Luxembourg had decided to start sharing information with foreign tax authorities about the money stashed in its banks. “Not everything has changed, but lots of things have changed. Other changes are necessary, or everything will change.”
The attention this week on the ability of Apple and other prominent American corporations to avoid corporate taxes through offshore tax arrangements obscures a perhaps more significant development, highlighted by Luxembourg’s abrupt retreat from banking secrecy: the relentless pressures being piled on opaque money centers around the world amid a sweeping global assault on tax evasion and the secrecy that enables it.
“Bank secrecy is a relic of the past,” said Algirdas Semeta, the European Union’s senior official responsible for tax issues. “Soon we will see the death of bank secrecy around the world.”
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
The singing lady with the red boots.
Despite previous disasters & sequester
The necessary disaster aid to Oklahoma is expected to flow smoothly to the affected areas.
The Oklahoma City area is already home to two of the costliest tornados in the last half a century, and Monday’s devastating twister that hit just south of the city is likely to stress federal emergency dollars already under pressure from the recent federal budget cuts.Later on as the end of the fiscal year approaches and more disasters, natural and otherwise, occur money will get tight as the GOPBaggers have slashed $Millions from the FEMA budget.
Even so, officials in Oklahoma and Washington pledged quick and robust aid to the area that spent Tuesday beginning the massive task of cleaning up even as officials tried to get an accurate count of the dead.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday declared the storm area a disaster area, making federal funding available to people in five counties. That includes grants for housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover.
“As a nation, our full focus right now is on the urgent work of rescue, and the hard work of recovery and rebuilding that lies ahead,” Obama said, before stressing that “Oklahoma needs to get everything that it needs right away.”
“So the people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground, there for them, beside them as long as it takes,” he added.
The money will come through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, which is one of the departments that took a heavy hit in the recent budget sequester. According to a March Office of Management and Budget report, the sequester cut $928 million from FEMA’s remaining fiscal 2013 budget.
Weiner has thrown his hat in the ring
And announced he is running for the office of Mayor of New York City. While the job description does require the ability to be a prick, we hope his hat is the only piece of clothing he takes off on the campaign trail. From his e-mail:
I want you to be the first to know that today I am launching my campaign for mayor of New York City. In the video below, I talk about why I'm running and how I will fight for middle class families and those struggling to get into the middle class. Nothing is more important.
I've put together 64 new ideas to move our city forward. After you watch the video, I hope you'll take a moment to stay on my website (www.anthonyweiner.com) and look them over. Then, I hope you'll let me know what you think.
Thanks for watching and I hope you will consider being a part of this campaign.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
We did it before & we can do it again
It is easier to Blame Sally
Than to go digging for something else to post today.
Looks like they'll be growing more pot & poppies
Because when the foreign military funding, which currently provides 97% of the Afghan GNP, ends they will need a new source of government funding. The Mes Aynak mine in Logar province was supposed to make up a large portion of this, but there are problems.
The giant copper mine that the Afghan government has made the centerpiece of its plans for building an economy nearly from scratch is at least five years behind schedule and the state-owned Chinese company that won the bidding has missed key deadlines in its still-secret contract with the Afghan government and is trying to renegotiate the deal, according to several officials and observers inside and outside the Mining Ministry.We may have to keep fighting a few years longer to keep the Afghan government afloat without their having to tap their "reserves" in Dubai & Switzerland.
The Mes Aynak mine in Logar province, about 25 miles south of Kabul, was celebrated as the biggest investment in Afghan history when it was announced in 2007. China Metallurgical Group Corp., a Beijing-based conglomerate, signed a deal valued at about $3 billion for 30-year rights to mine the site, which is thought to contain the second-richest unexploited copper deposit in the world, an amount equal to more than one-third of the copper reserves in all of China...
For years, the Afghan government has touted the nation’s mineral wealth as the heart of its economic plans. U.S. officials have estimated the value of mineral deposits at perhaps $1 trillion, and the Afghan government has claimed they’re worth $3 trillion, but no one really knows. It’s clear, though, that the resources are significant, and include additional deposits of copper, as well as iron, gold, lithium, chromite and gems. There also are reserves of oil and gas.
One way to save money on veterans benefits
Other than honorable discharges results in the loss of medical and other benefits for veterans. And in the years since 2009 there has been an increase of more than 25% in the number of misconduct discharges from the Army. While this covers a period of reduced standards for enlistment, many of these discharges are affecting wounded combat veterans and are based on chickenshit.
The newspaper reported Sunday that the investigation based on Army data found that annual misconduct discharges have increased more than 25 percent since 2009, mirroring the rise in wounded. Among combat troops, the increase is even sharper.These are long term savings and will, no doubt protect funding for important things like F-35's and Little Crappy Ships.
Total discharges at the eight Army posts that house most of the service’s combat units have increased 67 percent since 2009.
“I’ve been working on this since the ’70s, and I have never seen anything like this,” said Mark Waple, a retired Army officer who now tries military cases as a civilian lawyer near North Carolina’s Fort Bragg. “There seems to be a propensity to use minor misconduct for separation, even for service members who are decorated in combat and injured.”
The figures studied by The Gazette include soldiers who have served multiple tours and have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Some troops were cut loose for minor offenses that the Army acknowledges can be symptoms of TBI and PTSD.
“I see it every day,” said Lenore Yarger, a veterans advocate near Fort Bragg. “We have gotten very efficient at getting people to fight wars but are not prepared to deal with the aftermath.”
The Gazette found that several soldiers who tested positive for drugs were deployed anyway because the Army needed combat troops. But when they returned, they were discharged for the offense.
In other cases, the soldiers were discharged after suffering severe brain injuries in combat.
Kash Alvaro, a wounded combat soldier at Fort Carson near Colorado Springs, suffered from regular seizures from a traumatic brain injury after a bomb blast in Afghanistan. He was discharged in January 2012 for a pattern of misconduct that included missing medical appointments and going AWOL for two weeks. But because his other-than-honorable discharge barred him from veterans benefits, he soon became homeless and relied on the local hospital emergency room for care.
“It was like my best friend betrayed me,” Alvaro said from a hospital bed. “I had given the Army everything, and they took everything away.”
Monday, May 20, 2013
Corr, what a family!
They stopped playing together back in 2006 but put out some sweet stuff in their time. This one goes back to 1995.
R.I.P. Ray Manzarek
Well, you broke on through to the other side. Say hi to Jim.
A bedtime story with a moral
Brought to you by that modern day Aesop himself, Tom Tomorrow.
You don't miss your water until your well runs dry.
And for more than a few people sitting atop what was once the vast High Plains Aquifer, the well is running dry.
Forty-nine years ago, Ashley Yost’s grandfather sank a well deep into a half-mile square of rich Kansas farmland. He struck an artery of water so prodigious that he could pump 1,600 gallons to the surface every minute.The changes in farming patterns are happening as the "salad days" of irrigated farming disappear but the future is now more dependent on weather patterns than ever before. Good thing climate change is just a fairy tale to scare 4-H'ers around the campfire.
Last year, Mr. Yost was coaxing just 300 gallons from the earth, and pumping up sand in order to do it. By harvest time, the grit had robbed him of $20,000 worth of pumps and any hope of returning to the bumper harvests of years past.
“That’s prime land,” he said not long ago, gesturing from his pickup at the stubby remains of last year’s crop. “I’ve raised 294 bushels of corn an acre there before, with water and the Lord’s help.” Now, he said, “it’s over.”
The land, known as Section 35, sits atop the High Plains Aquifer, a waterlogged jumble of sand, clay and gravel that begins beneath Wyoming and South Dakota and stretches clear to the Texas Panhandle. The aquifer’s northern reaches still hold enough water in many places to last hundreds of years. But as one heads south, it is increasingly tapped out, drained by ever more intensive farming and, lately, by drought.
Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry. In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers.
And when the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains.
This is in many ways a slow-motion crisis — decades in the making, imminent for some, years or decades away for others, hitting one farm but leaving an adjacent one untouched. But across the rolling plains and tarmac-flat farmland near the Kansas-Colorado border, the effects of depletion are evident everywhere. Highway bridges span arid stream beds. Most of the creeks and rivers that once veined the land have dried up as 60 years of pumping have pulled groundwater levels down by scores and even hundreds of feet.
They're back and doing it again
The Chinese hackers that work for the Chinese military. Apparently efforts to get rid of them have failed and they are up to their old tricks again.
The Obama administration had bet that “naming and shaming” the groups, first in industry reports and then in the Pentagon’s own detailed survey of Chinese military capabilities, might prompt China’s new leadership to crack down on the military’s highly organized team of hackers — or at least urge them to become more subtle.And so we wait until we can outhack them because there is not much else that will stop them. Or maybe we already can and they have nothing of value to hack? Oh well, at least the Chinese don't much care for our e-mails, unless you are calling Xi Jinping a big fat poopy face.
But Unit 61398, whose well-guarded 12-story white headquarters on the edges of Shanghai became the symbol of Chinese cyberpower, is back in business, according to American officials and security companies.
It is not clear precisely who has been affected by the latest attacks. Mandiant, a private security company that helps companies and government agencies defend themselves from hackers, said the attacks had resumed but would not identify the targets, citing agreements with its clients. But it did say the victims were many of the same ones the unit had attacked before.
The hackers were behind scores of thefts of intellectual property and government documents over the past five years, according to a report by Mandiant in February that was confirmed by American officials. They have stolen product blueprints, manufacturing plans, clinical trial results, pricing documents, negotiation strategies and other proprietary information from more than 100 of Mandiant’s clients, predominantly in the United States.
According to security experts, the cyberunit was responsible for a 2009 attack on the Coca-Cola Company that coincided with its failed attempt to acquire the China Huiyuan Juice Group. In 2011, it attacked RSA, a maker of data security products used by American government agencies and defense contractors, and used the information it collected from that attack to break into the computer systems of Lockheed Martin, the aerospace contractor.
More recently, security experts said, the group took aim at companies with access to the nation’s power grid. Last September, it broke into the Canadian arm of Telvent, now Schneider Electric, which keeps detailed blueprints on more than half the oil and gas pipelines in North America.
Representatives of Coca-Cola and Schneider Electric did not return requests for comment on Sunday. A Lockheed Martin spokesman said the company declined to comment.
In interviews, Obama administration officials said they were not surprised by the resumption of the hacking activity. One senior official said Friday that “this is something we are going to have to come back at time and again with the Chinese leadership,” who, he said, “have to be convinced there is a real cost to this kind of activity.”
Sunday, May 19, 2013
An American singer who has gone ex-pat
Living across the pond with Brits and such.But Kristina Train can still sing. True, her sophomore effort, from which this tune comes from, may not have been produced to her best advantage, but she can still sing.
Todays Timely Church Sign
Based on today's report of President Obama's funding request.
A chance for PETA to do some good.
Does Pakistan Provide A Glimpse Of Our Future?
Once upon a time Pakistan was a developing country prospering in its energetic growth. This was followed by years of military rule which funded its own needs at the expense of the national infrastructure. Funding for programs for the people was reduced or eliminated. Infrastructure development halted and maintenance was slashed. Developing religious strife with the poor fringe elements of society also took its toll. Now Pakistan stands as a democracy on the verge of collapse.
“The railways are the true image of our country,” he said, sipping his tea in the heat. “If you want to see Pakistan, see its railways.”And how many more years of Republican/Teabagger misrule, mismanagement and defunding will it take before we are like Pakistan??
For all the wonders offered by a train journey across Pakistan — a country of jaw-dropping landscapes, steeped in a rich history and filled with unexpected pleasures — it also presents some deeply troubling images.
At every major stop on the long line from Peshawar, in the northwest, to the turbulent port city of Karachi, lie reminders of why the country is a worry to its people, and to the wider world: natural disasters and entrenched insurgencies, abject poverty and feudal kleptocrats, and an economy near meltdown.
The election last weekend was a hopeful moment for a struggling democracy, with the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif winning a huge mandate amid record voter turnout of nearly 60 percent. But the voting left undecided the larger battle against popular disillusionment. In a country forged on religion, Pakistanis are losing faith. People are desperate for change — for any improvement their proudly nuclear-armed government could make, yet has not.
Chronic electricity shortages, up to 18 hours per day, have crippled industry and stoked public anger. The education and health systems are inadequate and in stark disrepair. The state airline, Pakistan International Airlines, which lost $32 million last year, is listing badly. The police are underpaid and corrupt, and militancy is spreading. There is a disturbing sense of drift.
This failure is the legacy of decades of misadventure, misrule and misfortune under both civilian and military leaders, but its price is being paid by the country’s 180 million people.
To them, the dire headlines about Taliban attacks and sterile arguments about failed states mean little. Their preoccupations are mundane, yet vitally important. They want jobs and educations for their children. They want fair treatment from their justice system and electricity that does not flicker out.
And they want trains that run on time.
Why prayer in school is a bad idea.
Because Americans as a whole pray to many different sky and earth demons and American values demand that all should be allowed.
And having begun each day with the Lords Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance each day during my early education, I can say the daily repetition rendered both meaningless in my young mind.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
In 2000, 4 singer-songwriters got together
To play as a female-collaborative group. Over the years they have matured into a true band deserving respect for some fine music, like this one from their most recent studio album.
New Rules on Benghazi & a few slaps at Issa
Sometimes when a car alarm goes off there is an actual crime.
If a GOPBagger cries Scandal in the woods, does anyone hear it?
Koch Bros. Find A Use For Detroit
As a dumping ground for the petroleum coke left over from the Canadian tar sands refining process.
Assumption Park gives residents of this city lovely views of the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit skyline. Lately they’ve been treated to another sight: a three-story pile of petroleum coke covering an entire city block on the other side of the Detroit River.So the Koch Bros. are just a pair of coke heads hoping to now bring this shit to the Gulf Coast. And shipping that stuff overseas makes any problems out of sight, out of mind.
Detroit’s ever-growing black mountain is the unloved, unwanted and long overlooked byproduct of Canada’s oil sands boom.
And no one knows quite what to do about it, except Koch Carbon, which owns it.
The company is controlled by Charles and David Koch, wealthy industrialists who back a number of conservative and libertarian causes including activist groups that challenge the science behind climate change. The company sells the high-sulfur, high-carbon waste, usually overseas, where it is burned as fuel...
Coke, which is mainly carbon, is an essential ingredient in steelmaking as well as producing the electrical anodes used to make aluminum.
While there is high demand from both those industries, the small grains and high sulfur content of this petroleum coke make it largely unusable for those purposes, said Kerry Satterthwaite, a petroleum coke analyst at Roskill Information Services, a commodities analysis company based in London.
“It is worse than a byproduct,” Ms. Satterthwaite said.“It’s a waste byproduct that is costly and inconvenient to store, but effectively costs nothing to produce.”
And what about the leftover coke? The Environmental Protection Agency will no longer allow any new licenses permitting the burning of petroleum coke in the United States. But D. Mark Routt, a staff energy consultant at KBC Advanced Technologies in Houston, said that overseas companies saw it as a cheap alternative to low-grade coal. In China, it is used to generate electricity, adding to that country’s air-quality problems. There is also strong demand from India and Latin America for American petroleum coke, where it mainly fuels cement-making kilns.The family that does coke together....
“I’m not making a value statement, but it comes down to emission controls,” Mr. Routt said. “Other people don’t seem to have a problem, which is why it is going to Mexico, which is why it is going to China.”
“One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” he said. One of the world’s largest dealers of petroleum coke is the Oxbow Corporation, which sells about 11 million tons of fuel-grade coke a year. It is owned by William I. Koch, a brother of David and Charles.
Oh Goody! A Real Scandal A-Making in Virginia
And while it only involves one state, it is an important swing state and it does involve at least two rising Republican/Teabagger stars. And those two rising stars are the top Republican/Teabaggers in Virginia, Gov. Bob "Vaginal Wand" McDonnell and Attorney General Ken "The Cooch" Cuccinelli.
In the opening act, Virginians were introduced to Todd Schneider, the former personal chef to the governor and his family, who kept a stash of the first lady’s favorite crab-seasoned popcorn in the kitchen of the Executive Mansion.If it walks like a quid pro quo and it quacks like a quid pro quo...
Mr. Schneider, 52, told law enforcement agents last year that a $15,000 catering bill for the wedding of the McDonnells’ middle daughter, a menu that included bruschetta with local tomatoes and Virginia wines, was footed by a political donor.
Although state law requires elected officials to report gifts, Mr. McDonnell did not declare the $15,000, later explaining that it was exempt because it was a gift to his daughter.
Mr. Schneider, who calls himself a whistle-blower in court filings, showed investigators the catering contract signed by Mr. McDonnell, an invoice noting that he put down a deposit and a $15,000 check from the political patron who ultimately bought the food.
That donor, a serial entrepreneur named Jonnie R. Williams Sr., has given more than $120,000 to Mr. McDonnell’s campaigns, including nearly $80,000 in corporate jet travel, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks money in politics.
The McDonnells have returned the attention. Three days before the wedding of their daughter Cailin in June 2011, Maureen McDonnell, the first lady, flew to Florida on Mr. Williams’s plane to promote a dietary supplement sold by Mr. Williams. She “wowed” investors, one wrote, at a meeting to discuss the supplement, Anatabloc, which is said to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Later that summer, Ms. McDonnell gave a luncheon at the Executive Mansion, a stately Federalist home in pale yellow brick, to officially introduce Anatabloc the week it appeared in stores, speaking to a group of local health care providers.
Another friend of Mr. Williams’s is Virginia’s attorney general, Mr. Cuccinelli. Mr. Cuccinelli has reported $18,000 in gifts from Mr. Williams, including regular vacations at a house on Smith Mountain Lake, near Roanoke, and a catered $1,500 Thanksgiving dinner. He also received a box of Anatabloc.An abundance of caution brought on by an abundance of scrutiny. The Richmond media is running with this story so it could get good.
Mr. Cuccinelli, 44, bought stock in Star Scientific, which at one time was worth more than $20,000, although he failed to disclose his holding as required by law for nearly a year. Last October, he filed an updated statement of economic interest to include the stock, his only substantial investment.
The Cuccinelli campaign declined to answer questions about Mr. Williams and Star Scientific. Chris LaCivita, a strategist for the campaign, has said Mr. Cuccinelli did not realize his stock’s value had passed $10,000, the threshold for reporting. Once he did, he corrected the record. He has since sold all of his shares, his campaign has said, the last in mid-April.
While the two men were cementing their friendship after Mr. Cuccinelli’s election in 2009, Star Scientific sued Virginia over a $700,000 tax bill. Mr. Cuccinelli, whose office represents the state, resisted pressure from Democrats to recuse himself once the Star Scientific saga made it into the news. Last month, he agreed to appoint an outside counsel in what a spokesman called “an abundance of caution.”
Bill Maher dares call it treason
Bill defines Republican/Teabagger obstruction in one simple word.
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