Friday, January 31, 2014

Late night shows make for good videos

You just have to wait for the good music to come on, like Jessica Lea Mayfield, singing "Our Hearts Are Wrong"

SOTU in 2 panels

From the pen of Stuart Carlson

One the one hand, Matt Taibbi rips into Dimon's payday

And the absolute thumbing of the Wall St. corporate nose at the federal regulators in doing so.
Everyone from the Financial Times to to the Huffington Post decried the move. The Wall Street pundits mostly thought it was a dumb play by the Chase board from a self-interest perspective, one guaranteed to inspire further investigations by the government. Meanwhile, the non-financial press generally denounced the raise as a moral obscenity, yet another example of the serial coddling of Wall Street's habitually overcompensated executive class.

Both groups were right. But to me the biggest news was how brutal an indictment Jamie's raise was of the Obama/Holder Justice Department, which continues to profoundly misunderstand the mindset of the finance villains they claim to be regulating.

Chase's responses to Holder's record penalties have been hilarious. Their first move was to make sure people outside the penthouse boardroom took on all the pain, laying off 7,500 employees and freezing salaries for the non-CEO class of line employees.

Next, Chase's board members sat down, put their misshapen heads together, considered the impact of this disastrous year of settlements, and decided to respond by more than doubling the take-home pay of the executive in charge, giving Dimon about $20 million in salary and equity.

In the end, the fines left the decision-making class of the company not just uninjured but triumphant. Dimon's raise was symbolic of a company-wide boost in compensation following the mass layoffs, as average per-employee expenses rose four percent overall, to $122,653, despite the $20 billion burden imposed upon the firm by the state.

There were a variety of reasons for the board's decisions, but one of the big ones, according to various reports, was that bank honchos wanted to send a message to the government that it believed the company had been unfairly treated. This was a notion Dimon himself snootily trumpeted just before his raise was announced.
And on the other hand, the New York Times has an article defending all that money Jaime Dimon gets for breaking the law and deflecting any useful punishment.
But in the world of executive compensation, especially when viewed from the rarefied perspective of other chief executives, and more broadly on Wall Street, Mr. Dimon’s pay — and how it was determined — is not only defensible, but laudable. Warren Buffett said he thought Mr. Dimon’s pay was not high enough.

David Larcker, an expert in executive compensation and director of the Corporate Governance Research Program at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, said his father “was a regular guy working as a carpenter, and to him this kind of pay would be inconceivable.” But, he added, “If you look at this from the point of view of the board, this package seems to be structured the right way. ”

He noted that the bulk of Mr. Dimon’s pay — $18.5 million — was in the form of restricted stock, which does not vest immediately and can be canceled by the board. “It’s not like he’s taking home $20 million in cash,” Professor Larcker said. “His incentives are aligned with shareholders. There’s risk imposed on him. That’s called pay for performance, and it’s a good thing.”

Christopher Armstrong, associate professor of accounting at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, whose research focuses on executive compensation, agreed. “I can totally understand the populist backlash. This level of pay is difficult for the average person to wrap their heads around. But there’s a lot to be said for pay for performance. If shares go up and his restricted stock gains in value, you’re not going to hear any shareholders complaining. And in the context of the labor market, if running that large a company is so complex and difficult, those people are going to command a premium.”
So whether you look at as a reward for protecting illegal activity or a reward for corporate excellence (in protecting illegal activity), one thing is clear. He got it and you don't.

Never send a dollar to do an Afghans job.

The dollar will disappear
and the Afghan will no longer need to do the job, if he was able to do so in the first place.
Millions of dollars in U.S. aid is flowing into Afghanistan even though the ministries receiving the funds are incapable of managing such large sums of money, a U.S. report said Thursday.

Despite moves by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to boost safeguards over direct assistance to the Afghan government, "a number of troubling issues remain," a watchdog group created by Congress found....

The audit by the watchdog, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), may well exacerbate the situation as Karzai has long accused Washington of trying to undermine his authority.

The U.S. has committed some $1.6 billion in direct aid to the Afghan government this year to fund some 18 programs across 10 ministries.

But according to SIGAR, which oversees Afghan reconstruction, "USAID contractors assessed 16 Afghan ministries and found they are unable to manage and account for funds."

"USAID's own risk reviews of seven Afghan ministries concluded each ministry is unable to manage U.S. direct assistance funds," it added, pointing to a high level of corruption among Afghan officials.

Despite its findings, USAID "waived its own requirements" for direct assistance and has "not required the Afghan ministries to fix most of the risks identified prior to receiving U.S. money."

The watchdog also maintained that USAID had sought to hide its findings from Congress, which is responsible for setting U.S. budgets.
But if Karzai of the Afghans keeps refusing to sign any agreement to keep troops in the country, we won't have to worry about this next year.

India, a country only an NRA could love.

As more and more reports of rapes come out of India, there is a new report of someone's solution to the problem.
The brutal gang rape of a young woman on a public bus in Delhi in December 2012 — in which six men raped and beat her so severely that she died — enraged the Indian public, inspired mass protests across the country and catapulted the problem of violence against Indian women into the international spotlight.

One year and an updated rape law later, a state-run company is marketing a solution to the harassment Indian women have said they face on a daily basis — a small, lightweight firearm billed as “India’s first gun for women.”

The Nirbheek is a .32-caliber handgun made of titanium alloy. Weighing in at just over a pound, it’s the smallest revolver made in India, and “ideal to fit a purse or a small hand bag,” according to the Times of India newspaper, which first reported the story.

The gun was designed to be a hybrid of a Smith & Wesson and a Webley & Scott, the Times reported, and will come packaged in a maroon velvet case.

Because, after all, “Indian women like their ornaments,” Abdul Hameed, general manager of the Indian Ordnance Factory (IOF), the state-run manufacturer of the gun, told BBC News.

The name Nirbheek is a synonym of Nirbhaya, the pseudonym given the 23-year-old rape victim because Indian law protected her identity. Both Nirbheek and Nirbhaya mean “fearless,” according to the BBC.

The price tag? A whopping 112,360 rupees, the BBC reports, or the equivalent of $1,950. That’s significantly more than the average annual income in India, which is about $1,100, according to the country's Central Statistics Office.

The IOF has sold 20 of them so far in January, with “many more inquiries,” according to the BBC. (The IOF did not respond to Al Jazeera’s emails seeking comment about the gun, its price and how many had been ordered so far.)
Is Wayne LaPierre learning Hindi in advance of a triumphal tour of the country? Inquiring minds want to know.

It's a dirty job

So you can probably kiss your health goodbye if you live near a fracking operation. It's not that they are trying to poison you, simply that they are throwing so much shit in the air and ground that you can't avoid it.
The report by the Colorado School of Public Health, released Jan. 28, gathered evidence from heavily drilled rural Colorado, which has among the highest densities of oil and gas wells in the U.S.

“What we found was that the risk of congenital heart defects (CHD) increased with greater density of gas wells — with mothers living in the highest-density areas at greatest risk,” Lisa McKenzie, a research associate at the Colorado School of Public Health and the lead author of the study, told Al Jazeera.

The study examined links between the mother’s residential proximity to natural gas wells and birth defects in a study of more than 124,842 births from 1996 to 2009 in rural Colorado.

The study found that “births to mothers in the most exposed (areas with over 125 wells per mile) had a 30 percent greater prevalence of CHDs than births to mothers with no wells in a 10-mile radius of their residence.”

Many pollutants that are suspected of increasing the risk of birth defects are emitted into the air during development and production of natural gas, the report said.

McKenzie added that the study is not conclusive but found an “association.” But critics of the oil and gas industry were not so cautious about drawing conclusions from the evidence.

“This study suggests that if you want to have a healthy baby and you live near a fracking site, move,” Gary Wockner of Colorado’s Clean Water Action, said.

Colorado has more than 50,000 active oil and gas wells — including more than 20,000 in northern Weld County. Wockner told Al Jazeera the industry predicts another 50,000 wells will be added over the next 15 to 20 years in the state, “so the public health impact is of extreme concern.”

“The shocking story here is that fracking has moved forward with virtually no regulation and no study of public health impacts.”
The industry was effectively green lighted under the Bushoviks, who also gave them unlimited protection to cover up any health hazards they used or created. And if you were lucky enough to drill in a state like Pennsylvania, you could practically frack your heart out and take your rewards for free of any government tax or fee. It is long past time to bring the industry under close control.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

An interesting combination

A folk singer Tift Merritt and a concert pianist Simone Dinnerstein join together to perform Merritt's "Only In Songs" and Schubert's "Night and Dreams"

New elephant math (and civics)

From the pen of Jim Morin

It's about time

With new policies eliminating harsh penalties for simple possession and even decriminalizing it, the Federal government has put the word out that it is looking for low level, non violent drug cases for clemency consideration.
The Obama administration, in its effort to curtail severe penalties in low-level drug cases, is taking the unprecedented step of encouraging defense lawyers to suggest inmates whom the president might let out of prison early.

Speaking at a New York State Bar Association event Thursday, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole said the Justice Department wanted to send more names to White House for clemency consideration.

“This is where you can help,” he said, in remarks the Justice Department circulated in advance.

Prison officials will also spread the word among inmates that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders might be eligible to apply for clemency.

The clemency drive is part of the administration’s effort to undo sentencing discrepancies that began during the crack epidemic decades ago. Offenses involving crack, which was disproportionately used in black communities, carried more severe penalties than crimes involving powder cocaine, which was usually favored by affluent white users.

In some cases, crack crimes resulted in a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity. The tough sentencing laws led to an 800 percent increase in the number of prisoners in the United States.

Congress reduced the sentencing disparity in 2010. In December, President Obama commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates who were convicted of crack sentences under the old rules.

“There are more low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who remain in prison, and who would likely have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of precisely the same offenses today,” Mr. Cole said. “This is not fair, and it harms our criminal justice system.”
To be fair, clemency decisions will have to be like some of those mass Moonie weddings that used football fields to hold everyone.

If the mountain won't go to Mohammed

The Federal government is going directly to the people who need to know about healthcare with the help of one of the largest private insurers.
A custom-built bus with oversized windows is parked outside a health fair at the University Medical Center. The decal on its side reads, “Making Healthcare Reform Transparent.” Inside the bus are snacks, Wi-Fi and three booths where sales agents from the Humana health-insurance company sit behind laptops and explain the Affordable Care Act to uninsured people. They sign up customers, too.

Mississippi is the poorest, sickest state in the nation, and most insurance companies have avoided it altogether, preferring to do business in more profitable markets. In 36 of Mississippi’s poorest counties, no insurance companies were offering plans that meet ACA guidelines until the Obama administration intervened and asked Kentucky-based Humana to help fill in the gaps. Humana had two of these buses built to spread awareness and drum up business. They’re zigzagging around the state on a tour called Covering Mississippi. So far they’ve traveled 7,000 miles, and the agents have seen more than a thousand people.

“We’ve been going to malls, drugstores, churches, community halls, Walmarts, you name it,” says Stacey Carter, Humana’s sales director for Mississippi. “Sometimes it’s a gas station, because out in the rural areas that’s where people congregate. A lot of them don’t have Internet, so the Wi-Fi is essential. But education has been the first priority.

Chris Taylor, a 58-year-old Walmart employee, climbs aboard the bus because he’s heard that health insurance is now mandatory. He’s never had insurance before and can’t remember the last time he went to a doctor. Humana sales agent Ezsma Holmes welcomes him into a booth. She spends about 20 minutes asking him questions and entering the information into her laptop. Then she hits “save and continue” for the final time, taps her fingernail for a few moments and breaks into a smile.

She turns her screen to show Taylor the results. Thanks to a subsidy from the federal government, a silver plan will cost him only 55 cents a month, with a $95 deductible. All he has to do is click “accept” on the email that she’s sending him and pay the first 55 cents by bank card or money order. Taylor doesn’t have a computer, but he gets email on his phone. She asks him to check the phone now and he says, “Need to put some credit on that one. But I’ll do it. Fifty-five cents a month? So far, so good.”
Keeping people in the dark is the Republican strategy and what they don't know can hurt them very badly.

Growing marijuana is still a legal problem

Growing it in quality and quantity for the market is still a crime but the money involved is enough to keep people trying in many ways and many places to bring in a crop.
Vineyards, fruit orchards and vegetable crops thrive in this bucolic region of a state that feeds almost half the nation.

But in recent years, the rural tranquillity of the central San Joaquin Valley in California has been shattered by a surge in illegal marijuana grows.

This boom in large illicit marijuana farms has given way to more sinister sights not usually associated with pastoral scenes: motion sensors, security cameras, barbed-wire fences and armed farmers.

Two years ago, someone leased 20 acres along John Schmall’s property line. A couple of rows of squash and corn masked the marijuana plants, but as the weed plants grew taller and the skunklike smell stronger, there was no question what the main crop was. The smell at harvest time in the fall became unbearable, and the presence of armed guards watching over the valuable crop frightening.

“I worry about my kids playing outside,” said Schmall, 35, a fourth-generation farmer who grows grapes for raisins on 100 acres.

In a brash move to capitalize on a 1996 ballot initiative, Proposition 215, that legalized medical marijuana in California, growers have come down from hiding in mountainous national forests where federal and local law enforcement crackdowns intensified in the previous decade. They planted seed out in the open in Fresno County and the rest of the valley. Pot cultivation got another boost recently when Colorado and Washington state legalized pot, which increased demand.

And yet another fillip may be coming this year. In November, California voters may face as many as four ballot measures to legalize the drug. Nationally, polls show that the majority of Americans favor legalization.

“Most of the time, marijuana growing is happening out in the open,” said Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, who has to put every one of her 15 deputies in the narcotics unit — and even some off-duty officers — on the case during the fall harvest. “During the season, everyone’s working marijuana,” Mims said. “We can’t even call them plants anymore. They are really trees.”

One grow covered 54 acres with plants up to 12 feet tall. Law enforcement has traced sales of marijuana grown here all the way to Massachusetts, Tennessee, Florida and numerous states in between. Nor is it just Fresno County. Madera, Kings and Tulare counties nearby are also grappling with the same problem. “We have proof of interstate trafficking,” Mims said.

But this boom has brought so much crime to Fresno County — nine murders since 2012 — and complaints from neighboring farmers that the county Board of Supervisors this month passed the strictest ban in the state: no marijuana cultivation, indoor or out. The law is expected to be challenged. The county had already banned all marijuana dispensaries.
Legalize industrial hemp and the growers will stay away from your farm. They don't want any wild pollen polluting their hybrid beauties.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Caitlin Rose

"Sinful Wishing Well" from a 2009 appearance on Music City Roots.

Ergo, Ipso and Facto

From the pen of Nick Anderson


That is the latest number of US Military deaths in Shitholeistan since W began the invasion and occupation in 2001. They have died in vain. And until we remove all our troops, the number will increase.

Downsizing military saving money on benefits

More stories are surfacing
about the military's use of less than honorable discharges to limit future medical and disability liabilities for veterans broken by their service and now discarded like an old pizza box.
John Bettencourt, an infantry soldier who served two tours in Afghanistan, tested positive for marijuana at the military base here in 2012. Drug use is against Army rules, and though the soldier went to drug treatment programs and never had another positive test, he was told he’d be kicked out for misconduct.

But Bettencourt had suffered head injuries in a truck bombing in Afghanistan that, he said, had left him sleepless, depressed and suffering from debilitating headaches. He appealed for medical help and for further evaluation that would have made him eligible for medical care and possibly disability benefit checks. He enlisted the help of two soldier advocates to make his case, went to a brain-injury doctor who told commanders the soldier needed medical attention, and contacted an Army hospital ombudsman who tried to stop the discharge.

The Army kicked him out anyway. And then local commanders fired the doctor, banned the advocates from the military base and opened two investigations into the hospital ombudsman. (The Army said that it followed procedures and that soldiers need to be held responsible for their actions.)

Bettencourt, who was decorated for valor in combat, left Fort Carson with no medical benefits and a lifetime ban on access to health care through the Veterans Administration. He even owed the Army $120 because he was kicked out before his enlistment was up. At last contact, five months ago, he was living in an abandoned trailer in Arizona with no water or electricity.

“This is how they treat us, even after we risk our lives,” he said. “And the only people that tried to help, the Army went after them.”
Dealing with someone like Bettencourt properly takes time and money. And just like at the beginning of the Iraqistan Wars, we don't have time or money to do what's right for the troops. A misconduct discharge is dirty, cheap and quick and the way we say thank you these days.

Target breach costing banks a pretty penny

So far to the tune of $153 Million to replace 15.3 Million cards that may have been compromised.
U.S. banks have spent more than $153 million so far replacing 15.3 million debit and credit cards after the huge data heist from Target Corp., and the numbers are only growing.

The Consumer Bankers Association announced the numbers Tuesday, saying that as more retailers announce breaches the price tag for banks could grow to "hundreds of millions of dollars, and possibly billions."

It's time for Target to step up to the plate and pay some of the costs for one of the largest data thefts recorded in the United States, the industry group said.

"I cannot think of another breach where 1 out of 3 Americans were affected," said Richard Hunt, head of the Consumer Bankers Association. "They've been silent since their first and only response to this. They've been hiding behind the retail trade associations."

The association's members include many of the country's largest banks, and Hunt's punch reflects long-standing tensions between the banking industry and retailers over who is responsible for the growing cost of card fraud...

The Consumer Bankers Association estimates that it costs an average of $10 for banks to replace a card, which is higher than the $4-$5 figure often cited.

The 15.3 million cards replaced to date is a relatively small number, given that U.S. shoppers carry 1.5 billion credit and debit cards, noted David Robertson, publisher of The Nilson Report.

But the customer service required for banks to help anxious customers, particularly with debit cards, is sizable. "That's what adds up," Robertson said.

The unanticipated spike in orders for new cards has sent card manufacturers into overtime. There's been talk of some processing delays and scattered shortages of card stock. Card manufacturers say they're coping well.

Giesecke & Devrient, one of the world's largest card manufacturers, said it's been adding shifts and hours to get the orders processed, as well as shifting jobs to facilities around the globe to balance the load.
Curious that the one thing not being done or even mentioned is a shift to more secure chip technology rather than continuing to rely on the old mag stripe. I guess the $153Million isn't really all that much.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

One of those songs that it seems like everybody has done

This is Lulu's cover of Bonnie Dobson's "Walk Me Out In The Morning Dew"

It wouldn't hurt to take a memory course.

From the pen of Ben Sargent

Karzai of the Afghans getting a little paranoid

When you have a job where people are dedicated to killing you, it has to be difficult to know who you can trust. And after awhile, the group will probably get smaller and smaller. And like Karzai of the Afghans, you end up paranoid even though people really are trying to kill you.
President Hamid Karzai has frequently lashed out at the U.S. military for causing civilian casualties in its raids. But behind the scenes, he has been building a far broader case against the Americans, suggesting that they may have aided or conducted shadowy insurgent-style attacks to undermine his government, according to senior Afghan officials.

Karzai has formalized his suspicions with a list of dozens of attacks that he believes the U.S. government may have been involved in, according to one palace official. The list even includes the recent bomb and gun assault on a Lebanese restaurant in Kabul, one of the bloodiest acts targeting the international community in Afghanistan, the official said. The attack, which left 21 people dead, including three Americans, was almost universally attributed to the Taliban.

But Karzai believes it was one of many incidents that may have been planned by Americans to weaken him and foment instability in Afghanistan, according to the senior palace official, who is sympathetic to the president’s view and spoke on the condition of anonymity. He acknowledged that his government had no concrete evidence of U.S. involvement and that the American role had not been formally confirmed.
It does need to be repeated that a healthy dose of paranoia is vital to survival when one rules Afghanistan. The question is, how much is healthy?

If you can't stop them, join them

That is the current position of the Mexican government in the western state of Michoacan where the locals have formed vigilante groups to fight the drug cartels because the government couldn't.
Mexico essentially legalized the country's growing "self-defense" groups Monday, while also announcing that security forces had captured one of the four top leaders of the Knights Templar drug cartel, which the vigilante groups have been fighting for the last year.

The government said it had reached an agreement with vigilante leaders to incorporate the armed civilian groups into old and largely forgotten quasi-military units called the Rural Defense Corps. Vigilante groups estimate their numbers at 20,000.

The twin announcements may help the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto find a way out of an embarrassing situation in the western state of Michoacan, where vigilantes began rising up last February against the Knights Templar reign of terror and extortion after police and troops failed to stop the abuses.

"The self-defense forces will become institutionalized, when they are integrated into the Rural Defense Corps," the Interior Department said in a statement. Police and soldiers already largely tolerate, and in some cases even work with, the vigilantes, many of them armed with assault rifles that civilians are not allowed to carry.

Vigilante leaders will have to submit a list of their members to the Defense Department, and the army will apparently oversee the groups, which the government said "will be temporary." They will be allowed to keep their weapons as long as they register them with the army.
They have already caught one of the leaders of the notorious Knights Templar gang.

If the pictures weren't bad enough

The Chinese government is considering a move that should imprint on the mind of everyone just how atrociously bad air pollution is in China and all point down wind.
Imagine New York’s Times Square without the ball drop, or London without the ringing of Big Ben. Beijing is preparing for its own big celebration – the Lunar New Year – but may mark the holiday this week with a ban on fireworks, a Chinese tradition and invention.

City authorities have warned that if weather patterns are conducive to choking air pollution in the next few days, they may ban residents from their usual mass-ignition of pyrotechnics. In other words, Year of the Horse fireworks could be derailed by the Year of the Hoarse.

Like many government edicts in China, this one hasn’t won universal acclaim, either nationally or on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. Numerous commenters support the conditional ban, and online petitions may have helped prompt the government to propose it. But a large number of netizens see it as a misdirected move by nanny bureaucrats out of touch with the people.

“Extreme stupidity,” wrote one. “The government doesn’t do a good job of environmental protection with industries. Instead it blames the very small amount of fireworks.”

“There are so much exhaust emissions,” wrote another netizen. “You don’t manage them and now you won’t let the people have one day of delight?”

City officials say they won’t know until just before the start of the Lunar New Year on Friday if fireworks are banned. If they are, it could test authorities’ ability to control a Chinese custom that dates back at the latest to the Song dynasty, of the 12th century A.D.
It may be more for show than for dough but it shows a lot.

R.I.P.Pete Seeger

Our country has lost a great American, the world has lost a great human being and music has lost a treasure.

Monday, January 27, 2014

John McCain should try this with the AZ Republican Party

Some '80s country from Baillie & the Boys. "Treat Me Like A Stranger"

Corporations can be people but not terrorists

And the ever intrepid Tom Tomorrow makes to clear as day using something as simple as water.

It makes about 1% sense

From the pen of Nick Anderson

Darrell Issa, once again supports criminal endeavors.

As shifty payday lenders find new means and new venues to continue their fleecing of financially ignorant and desperate Americans, our favorite Congressional felon, Darrell Issa is running interference for them as the DoJ attempst to bring some regulatory sanity to the business.
In the first action under Operation Choke Point, Justice Department officials brought a lawsuit this month against Four Oaks Bank of Four Oaks, N.C., accusing the bank of being “deliberately ignorant” that it was processing payments on behalf of unscrupulous merchants — including payday lenders and a Ponzi scheme. As a result, prosecutors say, the bank enabled the companies to illegally withdraw more than $2.4 billion from the checking accounts of customers across the country.

The lawsuit, which includes reams of internal bank documents, offers the most vivid look yet at how some senior bank executives brushed off warning signs of fraud while collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees. While the bank has reached a tentative $1.2 million settlement with federal prosecutors, the impact of the lawsuit extends far beyond Four Oaks, and federal prosecutors say this points to a problem rippling fast across the banking industry.

Banks are required under the Bank Secrecy Act, a federal law that requires banks to maintain internal checks against money laundering, to thwart suspicious activity by thoroughly examining both their customers and the companies their customers do business with. But until recently, they have largely escaped scrutiny for their role providing financial services to the payment processors.

The new, more rigorous oversight could have a chilling effect on Internet payday lenders, which have migrated from storefronts to websites where they offer short-term loans at interest rates that often exceed 500 percent annually. As a growing number of states enact interest rate caps that effectively ban the loans, the lenders increasingly depend on the banks for their survival. With the banks’ help, the lenders that typically work with a third-party payment processor that has an account at the banks are able, authorities say, to automatically deduct payments from customers’ checking accounts even in states where the loans are illegal.

Short-term lenders argue that the loans, when used responsibly, can provide vital credit for a whole swath of borrowers largely frozen out of the traditional banking services, while state law enforcement officials say that the lenders still have to abide by state restrictions aimed at shielding residents.

And the payday industry has its defenders. Representative Issa has begun an investigation into Operation Choke Point, according to a letter addressed to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

In the January letter — a copy of which was reviewed by The New York Times — Mr. Issa accused the Justice Department of trying to “eliminate legal financial services to which the department objects.”

So far, it is unclear whether those objections will be enough to stifle the Justice Department’s investigation. But the assistant United States attorney who led the investigation is scheduled to leave the investigations in February, according to several people with direct knowledge of the matter, and the Justice Department is not extending his detail. Other lawyers within the agency are working on separate investigations related to Choke Point. The Justice Department declined to comment on the investigation, but people with knowledge of the matter say that the agency is fully committed to the project.
Darrell probably doesn't give a damn about payday lenders, but the banks which can collect lots of nice fat fees will keep him interested in this.

One finally does the right thing

Usually Republican/Teabaggers cling to their ethically and morally failed members like barnacles to a rock. But every once in a while one of them becomes too toxic to keep. The latest one is Florida Teabagger Congressman Trey "Snort" Radel.
Rep. Trey Radel plans to resign, two months after the Florida Republican pleaded guilty to drug possession, prompting a congressional investigation and primary challenges in his district.

Radel, 37, planned to inform House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, of his decision in a letter Monday, a spokesman said.

The first-term congressman, a former radio and television host in the southwest Florida area he represents, agreed to one year of probation after pleading guilty in November to a misdemeanor charge of possession of cocaine.

Radel had come to the attention of the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration during an investigation of drug trafficking in the Washington area. The congressman purchased 3.5 grams of cocaine from an undercover officer during an October "buy and bust" sting.

After his plea, Radel took a leave of absence from the House to begin undergoing treatment for what he said was a struggle with alcoholism. He returned to the Capitol this month, but at the time did not address his future, saying a possible reelection bid was "the absolute last thing on my mind."

The House Ethics Committee created an investigative subcommittee in December to determine whether any of Radel's actions violated the chamber's rules.
You got to love a Congress that doesn't directly consider felonies as a violation of House rules.

The DOT-111-A, bad from the beginning

But only now, because it is traveling in larger herds, is its failings getting any attention. And even that will have to grind through the usual bureaucratic and lobbyist obstruction.
Federal regulators might be weeks away from issuing new safety guidelines for tank cars carrying flammable liquids, after a series of frightening rail accidents over the past six months.

But the type of general-service tank car involved in recent incidents with crude oil trains in Quebec, Alabama and North Dakota – the DOT-111-A – has a poor safety record with hazardous cargoes that goes back decades, raising questions about why it took so long for the railroad industry and its federal regulators to address a problem they knew how to fix.

Other, more specialized types of tank cars received safety upgrades in the 1980s, and the industry’s own research shows they were effective at reducing the severity of accidents.

Tank car manufacturers have built new DOT-111A cars to a higher standard since 2011, but the improvements haven’t caught up to tens of thousands of older cars...

About 92,000 DOT-111s are in use; 78,000 lack extra safety features. Most tank cars are leased by oil companies or other firms moving products by rail; safety standards difficult to update.
Even with existing standards and features, upgrading or replacing 78,000 railcars is a long term project. Until then, keep your fingers crossed when you hear that train whistle blowing.

At last! A real reason why we are in Afghanistan

And why everybody involved in shooting or blowing things up wants to stay there even though they have shown no usable skills for winning.
The risk that President Obama may be forced to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year has set off concerns inside the American intelligence agencies that they could lose their air bases used for drone strikes against Al Qaeda in Pakistan and for responding to a nuclear crisis in the region.

Until now, the debate here and in Kabul about the size and duration of an American-led allied force in Afghanistan after 2014 had focused on that country’s long-term security. But these new concerns also reflect how troop levels in Afghanistan directly affect long-term American security interests in neighboring Pakistan, according to administration, military and intelligence officials.

If Mr. Obama ultimately withdrew all American troops from Afghanistan, the C.I.A.’s drone bases in the country would have to be closed, according to administration officials, because it could no longer be protected.

Their concern is that the nearest alternative bases are too far away for drones to reach the mountainous territory in Pakistan where the remnants of Al Qaeda’s central command are hiding. Those bases would also be too distant to monitor and respond as quickly if there was a crisis involving missing nuclear material or weapons from the arsenals and related facilities in Pakistan and India.
They know they can't win, but as long as they can stay, they can play with their big old blow things up toys. If we could fly our drones and blow up wedding parties from another base outside Afghanistan we probably would have left years ago.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Billie Holiday

From 1937 singing "Why Was I Born" and accompanied by Buck Clayton (t), Benny Goodman (cl), Lester Young (ts), Teddy Wilson (p), Freddy Green (g), Walter Page (sb) and Joe Jones (d).

al-Qaeda - the Kleenex of Terrorism

Having established the penultimate brand name in violent, murderous terrorism, followed by determined attacks on its leadership and infrastructure, al-Qaeda is discovering the difficulties of retaining control of your brand.
THE letter bore the corporate tone of a C.E.O. resolving a turf dispute between two middle managers. In formal prose and numbered lists, Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of Al Qaeda, directed one of the group’s affiliates in Syria to withdraw to Iraq and leave operations in Syria to someone else.

The response was unequivocal. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, declared that his fighters would remain in Syria “as long as we have a vein that pumps and an eye that blinks.”

It was the first time in the history of the world’s most notorious terrorist organization that one of the affiliates had publicly broken with the international leadership, and the news sent shock waves through the online forums where jihadists meet. In no uncertain terms, ISIS had gone rogue.

That split, in June, was a watershed moment in the vast decentralization of Al Qaeda and its ideology since 9/11. As the power of the central leadership created by Osama bin Laden has declined, the vanguard of violent jihad has been taken up by an array of groups in a dozen countries across Africa and the Middle East, attacking Western interests in Algeria and Libya, training bombers in Yemen, seizing territory in Syria and Iraq, and gunning down shoppers in Kenya.

What links these groups, experts say, is no longer a centralized organization but a loose ideology that any group can appropriate and apply as it sees fit while gaining the mystique of a recognized brand name. In short, Al Qaeda today is less a corporation than a vision driving a diverse spread of militant groups.

“Al Qaeda is kind of a ready-made kit now,” said William McCants, a scholar of militant Islam at the Brookings Institution. “It is a portable ideology that is entirely fleshed out, with its own symbols and ways of mobilizing people and money to the cause. In many ways, you don’t have to join the actual organization anymore to get those benefits.”
Dilution of brand, dissipation of effort and lack of direction. Add to this the inability to even collect franchise fees and we are seeing a major sea change in freebooting murder and violence. When every Tom Dick and Hussein can use you name with impunity, your cause is lost.

Watering the Tree of Life with the Chemicals of Commerce

From the pen of Brian McFadden

Can Rand Paul mix the indefensible with the merely unpalatable

And will anybody actually buy the resulting swill, beyond the hillbillies of Kentucky? Rand is certainly putting in the necessary effort to mix his peurile selfish libertarianism with the ordinary unpleasantness of the GOP agenda.
With top billing on the opening night of the Liberty Political Action Conference, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky told the audience at a Marriott in Virginia that a viable Republican Party must reach out to young people and minorities.

But not long after the applause died down, Mr. Paul was out the door. He skipped an address by his father, former Representative Ron Paul, as well as closing remarks by his own former Senate aide, an ex-radio host who had once celebrated Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and extolled white pride.

The senator was off to an exclusive resort on Mackinac Island, Mich., where he again talked about the future of the party. But this time he was in the company of Karl Rove and other power brokers, and his audience was of Republican stalwarts who were sizing up possible presidential candidates.
Launch media viewer
LIKE FATHER, LIKE ... Senator Rand Paul has been his father’s apprentice, aide, surrogate and, finally, libertarian successor. Portraits of the two hang in the senator’s conference room. Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

As Rand Paul test-markets a presidential candidacy and tries to broaden his appeal, he is also trying to take libertarianism, an ideology long on the fringes of American politics, into the mainstream. Midway through his freshman term, he has become a prominent voice in Washington’s biggest debates — on government surveillance, spending and Middle East policy.

In the months since he commanded national attention and bipartisan praise for his 13-hour filibuster against the Obama administration’s drone strike program, Mr. Paul has impressed Republican leaders with his staying power, in part because of the stumbles of potential rivals and despite some of his own.

“Senator Paul is a credible national candidate,” said Mitt Romney,
There is a worthwhile endorsement if ever I saw one. Rand will persevere and if the media and the country don't shine a spotlight on his antics, we will have to put up with him for a long time.

Are you feeling lucky today?

If you live near one of the rail lines that is now the main delivery system for millions of gallons of crude, you do feel lucky if all the cars stay upright and on the rails.
Kerry’s Kitchen is where Casselton residents gather for gossip and comfort food, especially the caramel rolls baked fresh every morning. But a fiery rail accident last month only a half mile down the tracks, which prompted residents to evacuate the town, has shattered this calm, along with people’s confidence in the crude-oil convoys that rumble past Kerry’s seven times a day.

What was first seen as a stopgap measure in the absence of pipelines has become a fixture in the nation’s energy landscape — about 200 “virtual pipelines” that snake in endless processions across the horizon daily. It can take more than five minutes for a single oil train, made up of about 100 tank cars, to pass by Kerry’s, giving this bedroom community 20 miles west of Fargo a front-row seat to the growing practice of using trains to carry oil.

“I feel a little on edge — actually very edgy — every time one of those trains passes,” said Kerry Radermacher, who owns the coffee shop. “Most people think we should slow the production, and the trains, down.”

Casselton is near the center of the great oil and gas boom unleashed these last few years. And it has seen up close how trains have increasingly been used to transport the oil from the new fields of Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota, in part as a result of delays in the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. About 400,000 carloads of crude oil traveled by rail last year to the nation’s refineries, up from 9,500 in 2008, according to the Association of American Railroads.

But a series of recent accidents — including one in Quebec last July that killed 47 people and another in Alabama last November — have prompted many to question these shipments and have increased the pressure on regulators to take an urgent look at the safety of the oil shipments.

In the race for profits and energy independence, critics say producers took shortcuts to get the oil to market as quickly as possible without weighing the hazards of train shipments. Today about two-thirds of the production in North Dakota’s Bakken shale oil field rides on rails because of a shortage of pipelines. And more than 10 percent of the nation’s total oil production is shipped by rail. Since March there have been no fewer than 10 large crude spills in the United States and Canada because of rail accidents. The number of gallons spilled in the United States last year, federal records show, far outpaced the total amount spilled by railroads from 1975 to 2012.
They could also try the power of prayer.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A little bit country, a little bit San Francisco

And throw in any other musical influence and you have Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers singing "A Little Too Late" from their latest album.

He thinks he is the leader of the country

Karzai of the Afghans
is having one of his continuing delusions about being the leader of Afghanistan. In his latest seizure, he is demanding that we re-engage with the Taliban or he will throw us out of his country.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai appeared to stiffen his resolve Saturday not to sign a security pact with Washington, saying the United States should leave Afghanistan unless it could restart peace talks with the Taliban.

"In exchange for this agreement, we want peace for the people of Afghanistan. Otherwise, it's better for them to leave and our country will find its own way," Karzai told a news conference.

The president said pressing ahead with talks with the Taliban, in power from 1996-2001, was critical to ensure that Afghanistan was not left with a weak central government.

"Starting peace talks is a condition because we want to be confident that after the signing of the security agreement, Afghanistan will not be divided into fiefdoms," he said.

Most diplomats now agree that Karzai is unlikely to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that would allow for some form of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after the end of 2014, when most troops are due to leave.

Along with reviving peace talks with the Taliban, Karzai is also demanding an end to all U.S. military operations on Afghan homes and villages, including drone strikes which are deeply unpopular with the local population.

The U.S. has threatened to pull all of its troops out unless a deal is signed in good time, but embassies are examining alternative solutions behind the scenes that would enable the NATO-led mission to remain.
Damn! Here is a perfect opportunity to leave quietly and peacefully and there are always some shitheads somewhere trying to fuck it up.

UPATE: And now this.
It was the kind of dossier that the Taliban often publish, purporting to show the carnage inflicted during a raid by American forces: photographs of shattered houses and bloodied, broken bodies, and video images of anguish at a village funeral, all with gut-churning impact and no proof of authenticity.

But this time, it was the government of President Hamid Karzai that was handing out the inflammatory dossier, the product of a commission’s investigation into airstrikes on Jan. 15 on a remote village and the supposed American cover-up that followed.

In an apparent effort to demonize their American backers, a coterie of Afghan officials appears to have crossed a line that deeply troubles Western officials here: They falsely represented at least some of the evidence in the dossier, and distributed other material whose provenance, at best, could not be determined...

Mr. Karzai’s growing antipathy toward the United States is no secret, and civilian casualties have proved to be one of the most corrosive issues between the allies. Yet the photographs and the video, handed out by Mr. Karzai’s office last week, have injected a new level of vitriol into the relationship and shown how the Karzai government’s political speech has been increasingly mirroring that of the Taliban — including the insurgents’ habit of twisting facts, or simply making them up when necessary.
Well, at least he is acting like a government.

Speak loudly and be a big dick.

Bill Maher on Republican manliness, as fake as everything else they do.

All government contractors cut corners and take short cuts

And so long as you deliver a reasonable product for the cost, Uncle Sam is a forgiving uncle. When the bulk of your product is fraudulent and your systems are set up to deliver that, you can expect a world of hurt. All the more so if part of your deliverables was a vetting of Edward Snowden.
The federal government is seeking billions of dollars in penalties and damages from the company that did the background check on National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

In a 25-page complaint, the Justice Department said that U.S. Investigations Services, the largest of several firms that have government contracts to investigate current and prospective federal employees, lied about 665,000 checks it conducted between March 2008 and September 2012.

USIS devised an elaborate scheme in which the Falls Church, Va.-based company told the government it had completed probes of people whose backgrounds, in fact, had not been thoroughly vetted, according to the complaint, which was filed Wednesday in a federal district court in Alabama as part of an ongoing civil lawsuit against the firm.

USIS set production quotas – monthly, quarterly and annual targets – and then used a process of “dumping” or “fishing” to submit incomplete background reports in order to meet the quotas, the Justice Department said. The firm used a software system called Blue Zone to help run the fraudulent reports, according to the complaint. It said the U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management relied on the reports to pay USIS.

“Due to its fraudulent conduct, USIS received millions of dollars that it otherwise would not have received had OPM been aware that the background investigations had not gone through the quality-review process required by the fieldwork contracts,” the Justice Department said in the complaint.

The OPM oversees employment background checks and investigations for security clearances granted to federal employees. It does some of its own probes but hires USIS and other firms to do most of them.
Time for the US government to stop contracting and return all sensitive functions in house. For some reason, that nasty old profit motive keeps dragging the free hand of the market astray.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A fine performance and video, too

Sarah Jarosz sings the title track of her new album "Build Me Up From Bones" on the CBS Late Late Show with some creepy Scottish guy.

Quote Of The Day

Now if Mr. Huckabee would like to redefine the war on women, I’m all for it. But let’s call it what it really is – the hunt for Red November Voters. So I have a solution. If you believe women should have the freedom to decide when and how often to bring children into the world, vote for your friendly Democrat – preferably a female. If you would prefer that sex exists simply as a means to procreate, vote for Huckabee or any other old, white Republican.
Helen Philpot reponding to Pastor Huckabee.

It's all a matter of perspective

From the pen of Stuart Carlson

Keep yourself & your buddies out of jail

And keep all your fines and settlements from being big enough to hurt you bank while continuing to do illegal acts that you promised the last time never to do again and you too can get a nice hefty raise.
Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chief executive, has been awarded total pay of $20 million for 2013, a huge increase over the amount he received for 2012, according to a regulatory filing released on Friday.

The bank’s board of directors approved the increase even though a steady stream of scandals and a raft of regulatory actions have in recent months cast doubt on Mr. Dimon’s leadership at the nation’s largest bank. The big raise for 2013 came in the face of opposition from a vocal minority of board members, who wanted Mr. Dimon’s compensation for 2013 to be roughly equal to his pay for 2012, which totaled $11.5 million.

Last year, the board decided to cut Mr. Dimon’s 2012 bonus payout, a decision that was driven in part by a desire to hold him accountable for some the issues that led to a multibillion-dollar trading loss stemming from a bad bet on derivatives.

Mr. Dimon’s 2013 package is made up of $18.5 million of restricted stock, which he will be free to sell over the coming years, as well as a base salary of $1.5 million.

The filing said that the board approved the increase in part because, under Mr. Dimon, the bank had taken steps to deal with its regulatory problems. It added that some of the regulatory actions related to practices at two firms that JPMorgan purchased – Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual — and therefore predated Mr. Dimon’s stewardship. Mr. Dimon was, however, in charge of JPMorgan when the two problematic firms were acquired.

Mr. Dimon’s 2013 pay was close to the $23.1 million he got for 2011, when he was the highest-paid chief executive at a large bank. Over the last five years, Mr. Dimon has been paid nearly $70 million.
Slick Jaime has it pretty good since most of the work is done by his legal flunkies.

Which side of his mouth did he say this with?

Because Eric Holder is notorious for telling the masses one thing while doing what his bosses wants. His latest remarks seem in keeping with what his current boss wants.
Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that the Obama administration plans to roll out regulations soon that would allow banks to do business with legal marijuana sellers.

During an appearance at the University of Virginia, Holder said it is important from a law enforcement perspective to give legal marijuana dispensaries access to the banking system so they don't have large amounts of cash lying around.

Currently, processing money from marijuana sales puts federally-insured banks at risk of drug racketeering charges. Because of the threat of criminal prosecution, financial institutions often refuse to let marijuana-related businesses open accounts.

The issue has taken on urgency now that Colorado and Washington have become the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana. And medical marijuana dispensaries in other states have also had to buy inventory, pay employees and conduct sales entirely in cash — putting them at a high risk of robbery.

"You don't want just huge amounts of cash in these places," Holder told the audience at the University of Virginia. "They want to be able to use the banking system. And so we will be issuing some regulations I think very soon to deal with that issue."
As they say, "the proof of the pudding is in the eating", so we must wait to see what is produced and if they are honored, perhaps more in the breech, as Shakespeare would remind us.

Pseudo-christian David Green is an asshole

He is also the founding CEO of Hobby Lobby which operates in 41 states under the same legal business protections and requirements as every other business. However, because that asshole David Green pretends to be a christian, he demands the right to impose the rules of his particular sky demo on all of his employees, as if he owned them. He believes this is religious freedom.
A new government healthcare mandate says that our family business MUST provide what I believe are abortion-causing drugs as part of our health insurance.

Being Christians, we don’t pay for drugs that might cause abortions, which means that we don’t cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill. We believe doing so might end a life after the moment of conception, something that is contrary to our most important beliefs.

It goes against the Biblical principles on which we have run this company since day one...

The government is forcing us to choose between following our faith and following the law. I say that’s a choice no American and no American business should have to make.

The government cannot force you to follow laws that go against your fundamental religious belief.
Call me liberal, but I believe there is a big difference between forcing David Green to buy anduse abortion inducing drugs (might do him some good) and allowing people who believe in a different sky demon access to health insurance that follows their beliefs. But when you are an asshole like David Green, nothing is important beyond what you believe. But if you believe that he would close 400+ stores if he were required to render unto Caesar, that which is Caesar's, then you are a fool.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

After spending 3 years on the road with Leonard Cohen

The Webb Sisters, Charlie & Hattie, took some time to make their latest album Savages. "Calling This A Life" is one of the songs from it.

Parts added to make it understandable

From the pen of Matt Wuerker

The price of a torture chamber - $15 Million

That is how much the CIA paid the Polish intelligence service for a secret prison tucked away in a remote part of the country where the agency could interrogate anyone in their clutches without regard fo those pesky legal niceties that had not yet been eliminated in the US.
On a cold day in early 2003, two senior CIA officers arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw to pick up a pair of large cardboard boxes. Inside were bundles of cash totaling $15 million that had been flown from Germany via diplomatic pouch.

The men put the boxes in a van and weaved through the Polish capital until coming to the headquarters of Polish intelligence. They were met by Col. Andrzej Derlatka, deputy chief of the intelligence service, and two of his associates.

The Americans and Poles formalized an agreement that over the previous weeks had allowed the CIA the use of a secret prison — a remote villa in the Polish lake district — to interrogate al-Qaeda suspects. The Polish intelligence service had some more funds, and the agency had a solid location for its newest covert operation, according to former CIA officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the interrogation program, including previously unreported details about the creation of the agency’s black sites.

The CIA prison in Poland was arguably the most important of all the black sites created by the agency in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It was the first of a trio in Europe that housed the initial wave of accused Sept. 11 conspirators, and it was where Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-declared mastermind of the attacks, was waterboarded 183 times after his capture.

Much about the creation and operation of the CIA’s prison at a base in one of the young democracies of Central Europe remains cloaked in mystery, matters that are classified as state secrets by the U.S. government. But what happened in Poland more than a decade ago continues to reverberate, and the bitter debate about the CIA’s interrogation program is about to be revisited.
There were probably more payments, but the CIA must have thought it was worth it. And there was one extra added attraction for the CIA men. All the girls down at the local whorehouse were real blondes and good at what they did. That was always a major consideration for the location of CIA facilities.

Greater love has no one than this

To lay down one's life for one's wife
? Not in Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's book, nosirree! It seems that before the current charges were brought, there was the usual lawyerly negotiation with a twist.
Maureen McDonnell relayed to federal prosecutors last summer that she felt responsible for the relationship with a wealthy businessman that had drawn legal scrutiny to Virginia’s first family, and her attorney asked whether the case could be resolved without charges for her husband.

But prosecutors showed no interest, according to people familiar with the conversation. Instead, months later, authorities proposed that then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell plead guilty to one felony bank fraud charge that had nothing to do with corruption in office and his wife would avoid charges altogether. The governor rejected the offer, the people with knowledge of the conversations said.

On Tuesday, Robert and Maureen McDonnell were jointly charged in a 14-count indictment that alleges that they engaged in conspiracy and fraud, trading on his office to provide assistance to the businessman in exchange for more than $165,000 worth of luxury gifts and loans.
Perhaps it is best her offer was not accepted. Had it been, she would have thought her sacrifice was for a good man.

It's been a good few weeks for Law Enforcement

Juries and prosecutors have been giving them carte blanche to beat up or gun down or otherwise act in a perverted manner any time they please. When cops are videotaped beating a homeless man to death and obviously enjoying it and then acquitted at trial, you know there is nothing they will not be allowed to do. In Ohio:
Prosecutors declined to charge an Ohio State Patrol trooper with a history of domestic violence who admitted to a sexual encounter with a boy.

State trooper Ricky Vitte Jr. told his wife that he had watched a pornographic video and masturbated with the boy five years ago, according to a report issued by the Sandusky County sheriff’s office.

Investigators said Vitte told his wife he was attempting to teach the boy about sex, The Sandusky Register reported.

“Rick’s reasoning is the fact that he did not want (the boy) to feel pressured on feeling the need to have to have sex with someone, when he can fix those needs by masturbating to porn,” wrote Deputy Sean O’Connell after speaking to the trooper’s wife.
When I was young I experienced a pervert who masturbated in front of me and two friends. He too was a repeat offender and there was no question of whether he would be prosecuted, but he wasn't a cop. In North Carolina:
A Mecklenburg County grand jury declined to indict Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Randall Kerrick on Tuesday on voluntary manslaughter charges in the Sept. 14 shooting death of 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell.

Kerrick fired his service weapon 12 times and struck Ferrell 10 times, investigators said, killing him.

WBTV-TV reported that grand jurors asked prosecutors for a lesser charge than voluntary manslaughter, and the state attorney general’s office said it would submit the new charge to a full grand jury.
So the victim was black and he played for Florida A & M so I guess blasting 12 shots at him would be considered involuntary in North Carolina. Somewhat surprised they didn't request dismissal for self defense.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I am not a fan of Lady Gaga

But these four women students from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY do a wonderful cover of one of pop music's most over marketed divas. The Breaking Winds Bassoon Quartet performs a very unique rendition of a Lady Gaga medley, featuring: Telephone, Poker Face and Bad Romance- transcribed and arranged by Kara LaMoure.

It all looks good to me

From the pen of Kevin Sears

Paid in 26 years, gets 20 weeks back

Thanks to diligent efforts by Republican/Teabaggers in North Carolina, hard work avails you nothing when your boss lays you off because he screwed up.
After losing her job as a security guard in June, Alnetta McKnight turned to food stamps and unemployment insurance to support herself and her 14-year-old son. But her jobless payments ran out after 20 weeks, and now they are living on close to nothing.

“I worked for 26 years; I lost my job through no fault of my own,” Ms. McKnight said, sitting in her darkened living room — she keeps the lights off to save money — in this small town about 20 miles from Wilmington, N.C. “This is what I get?”

Had Ms. McKnight been laid off a year earlier, she almost certainly would have qualified for more than a year of unemployment insurance payments, helping keep her family out of penury while she sought another position. But last July, North Carolina sharply cut its unemployment program, reducing the maximum number of weeks of benefits to 20 from 73 and reducing the maximum weekly benefit as well.

The rest of the country is now following North Carolina’s lead. A federal program supplying extra weeks of benefits to the long-term unemployed expired at the end of 2013, and congressional Democrats failed in an effort to revive it. About 1.3 million jobless workers received their last payment on Dec. 28. Starting on Jan. 1, the maximum period of unemployment payments dropped to 26 weeks in most states, down from as much as 73 weeks.
You can hear the Republican/Teabagger champagne bottles popping from here.

Choice between doing it right or fucking up

And as should be expected by now, the Pentagon's preferred option is to fuck it up and leave 10,000 US targets troops in Afghanistan after the end of the year.
The Pentagon has proposed to President Obama that 10,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan when the international combat mission there ends after this year, or none at all, senior government officials said Tuesday.

That figure, debated in recent days within the White House, is the midpoint of a range of 8,000 to 12,000 troops — most of them Americans — that has been contemplated for months as the United States and its NATO allies planned for the long mission’s end. Anything less than that, the officials said, would be too few to be able to protect the reduced retinue of diplomats, military and intelligence officials that remain in Afghanistan.

“The proposal is 10,000 or basically nothing, a pullout,” said one official, who has been briefed on the plan but spoke on the condition of anonymity about internal administration deliberations.

Both the intelligence agencies and the State Department, who would have personnel remaining in Afghanistan after 2014, back the Defense Department’s proposal, the officials said. But it has met resistance among some officials in the White House National Security Council, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who question why the choice has to be 10,000 troops or zero, and nothing in between.
There are other plans that are even worse than leaving 10,000 residual troops in Shitholeistan. So far the only support for a full withdrawal is Karzai of the Afghans' refusal to sign an agreement allowing the continued presence of foreign troops through 2024. We can only wonder how much he is holding out for to sign that paper.

Try to pretend you aren't in over your heads

Nothing says fiscal conservative
like a long trip to a extra fancy resort on the company dime to listen to people speak over your heads because of your basic ignorance and ideological blindness. That is what a bunch of of our fiscally conservative Republicans are doing as they travel to the ritzy Swiss ski resort of Davos to pretend the have a clue about what is being discussed at the Economic Forum.
The forum, which attracts about 2,500 delegates, features discussions about world economic competitiveness, growth, and other ideas. The Republicans plan to attend Wednesday through Saturday.

Heading to the Swiss resort forum in Davos are House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas; House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Reps. Kay Granger, R-Texas, Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.

Cantor also hoped to discuss security issues, saying the forum is "an excellent opportunity to meet with world leaders to discuss shared national security challenges and partnerships."
And where is that economic whizz kid Lyin' Paul Ryan? Is he smart enough to know when he is out of his depth?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

An Australian band that hasn't toured the States but should.

Emily Barker & The Red Clay Band perform the title song from their latest album "Dear River".

You know he has a plan for this.

From the pen of Tom Toles

Amid all the worries about terrists at Sochi

The will be one ray of sunshine. The Norwegian curling team will be dressed to the 10's (one better than 9's) for this years competition.
The sun had set on the Strip and some members of the Norwegian curling team were taking a break from competing in a tournament here. They were ready to hit the town, the Bellagio, perhaps, and maybe dinner at Caesars Palace. But the men knew that tourists would not recognize them as Scandinavian stars of an obscure sport.

People cared more about their pants.

In a scene straight out of a geekier version of “Ocean’s Eleven,” Thomas Ulsrud, the team’s skip, wore purple paisley pants with a matching jacket. Christoffer Svae opted for a tuxedo with a playing card pattern, and Haavard Vad Petersson wore bright pink cotton candy swirls with dots of electric green.

Camera phones, laughter and the drunken exclamations of tourists followed the team as they traversed the dizzying casino carpet.

“You would think in Vegas people have seen crazy stuff like that before,” Svae said. “But they got a lot of attention.”

The curlers have gotten used to people paying attention to their clothes. In 2010, at the Vancouver Games, where the Norwegians won a silver medal, they made a splash when they made the sheet of curling ice their runway, competing in bright red, white and blue pants, the colors of their country’s flag.

The pants came as a shock in a sport in which athletes traditionally wear black and draw little notice outside of curling circles.

But for the coming Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, the Norwegian team is back, and so are their pants.

This year, there are at least two new pairs: one that’s a zigzag homage to their country’s flag and one that’s black and flowery and could be called grandmother-chic.
Gotta love it!

Abortion issue to be worked by both sides

And, as usual, when the Republican/Teabaggers act like a bunch of big dicks all women can expect from them is to be pissed on and told it is God's Own Rain.
When the Republican National Committee gathers for its winter meeting here on Wednesday, the action will start a few hours late to accommodate anyone who wants to stop first at the March for Life, the annual anti-abortion demonstration on the National Mall. And if they need a lift to the meeting afterward, they can hop on a free shuttle, courtesy of the Republican Party.

“We thought it only fitting for our members to attend the march,” said Reince Priebus, the party chairman.

Abortion is becoming an unexpectedly animating issue in the 2014 midterm elections. Republicans, through state ballot initiatives and legislation in Congress, are using it to stoke enthusiasm among core supporters. Democrats, mindful of how potent the subject has been in recent campaigns like last year’s governor’s race in Virginia, are looking to rally female voters by portraying their conservative opponents as callous on women’s issues.

“Republicans have turned the floor of the House into the battleground for their relentless war on women’s health care and freedoms,” said Representative Steve Israel of New York, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Every time they launch another extreme attack against women’s rights, they lose more ground with women voters.”
The Democrats, on the other hand, think that presenting themselves as people who will treat women as human beings will turn out enough women voters for their candidates in what everybody believes will be a low turnout election. We will see which is more effective in turning out the vote.

2013 was a dirty year

The oil industry has drilled the wells
and they can't afford to leave it in the ground until the pipelines are built to transport it to refineries. Their answer to this problem has been to ship it in railroad tank cars in unprecedented numbers with the result that railroad crude spills have reached unprecedented numbers, as well.
The Association of American Railroads, an industry group, estimates that railroads shipped 400,000 carloads of crude oil last year. That’s more than 11.5 billion gallons, with one tank car holding roughly 28,800 gallons.

Last year’s total spills of 1.15 million gallons means that 99.99 percent of shipments arrived without incident, close to the safety record the industry and its regulators claim about hazardous materials shipments by rail.

But until just a few years ago, railroads weren’t carrying crude oil in 80- to 100-car trains. In eight of the years between 1975 and 2009, railroads reported no spills of crude oil. In five of those years, they reported spills of one gallon or less.

In 2010, railroads reported spilling about 5,000 gallons of crude oil, according to federal data. They spilled fewer than 4,000 gallons each year in 2011 and 2012. But excluding the Alabama and North Dakota derailments, more than 11,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from trains last year.

Last week, the principal Washington regulators of crude oil shipments by rail met with railroad and oil industry representatives to discuss making changes to how crude is shipped by rail, from tank car design to operating speed to appropriate routing. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called the meeting productive and said the group would take a comprehensive approach to improving the safety of crude-oil trains.
As always no one wants to put any effort or money into safety until the need becomes obvious. And in 2013, the need became obvious.

Monday, January 20, 2014

They sang this at The March on Washington

So on this day honoring Rev. Martin Luther King Jr it is appropriate to post Peter, Paul & Mary singing Bob Dylan's "Blowing In The Wind"

How it might have gone down

Tom Tomorrow indulges in some speculation on how The Honorable Gov. Doublewide McFatass may have been besmirched by the poorly timed George Washington Bridge traffic study.

Another entry in Awards Season

From the pen of Stuart Carlson

It is sad when a love affair breaks up

How much sadder then when the entire affair and break up is between a notorious politician and a desperate news network? Just watch the end of the affair of NJ Gov. Doublewide McFatass and MSNBC.
It was a match made in moderately minded Northeast Corridor heaven.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey needed a TV network that would burnish his bipartisan bona fides and showcase his gleefully contrarian style. MSNBC craved a Republican who cut against the party grain and lit up the screen with his everyman-ish, Springsteen-loving spontaneity.

An on-air romance blossomed, forged over chummy strolls along the Jersey Shore and heart-to-hearts in the studio about everything from overeating to education, embodying the aisle-crossing aspirations of this partisan era.

Now, the improbable relationship between a governor with his eyes on the White House and a network determined to break into the top tier, up to now so beneficial to both, has curdled in a spectacularly public fashion.

Mr. Christie is confronting the worst crisis of his career, stemming from his aides’ role in shutting down approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge. The governor’s predicament is a ratings bonanza for MSNBC, whose left-leaning viewers are eating up every development in the sordid scandal.

Over the weekend, Mr. Christie, who has appeared on MSNBC many times since taking office, angrily denounced it as a “partisan network” that is “almost gleeful in their efforts attacking” him. Christie aides have called it a “feeding frenzy.”

“There is a difference between treating this matter seriously and seeking out the truth and irresponsibly using hearsay and conjecture without confirming the facts,” Colin Reed, a spokesman for Mr. Christie, said on Sunday. Feelings are frayed on both sides. Mika Brzezinski, a co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” who makes no secret of her affection for Mr. Christie, seemed taken aback by the governor’s harsh critique.

“I was a little surprised when he took a jab at us,” she said in an interview on Sunday.
It is a tossup bretween Mika and Tweety as to whom is hurting worse. They both loved them some McFatass.

Putting a number to what you already know

Everyday we see evidence of how much different the very rich are from the rest of us. Supposedly the American Dream gives us a chance to reach the dizzying heights of wealth reached by the 1%. But as the latest report from Oxfam makes clear, not only do they have more than the rest of us, but they use it to rig the system and pull up the ladder behind them.
The world’s richest 85 people control the same amount of wealth as the total held by half the world’s population, according to a report issued today by the British-based anti-poverty charity Oxfam.

The means the world’s poorest 3,550,000,000 (3.55 billion) people must live on what the richest 85 possess. Another way to look at it: Each of the wealthiest 85 Earthlings has access to the resources available to about 42 million of the world’s poor, a population equal to the total number of people living in Canada, with those all those from Kentucky and Kansas tossed in.

Announcing the study, Oxfam’s website noted that it isn’t a simple notion of Social Darwinism. The game is rigged for the rich, and against the poor.

“Wealthy elites have co-opted political power to rig the rules of the economic game, undermining democracy and creating a world where the 85 richest people own the wealth of half of the world’s population.”

And the report makes clear that the trend is seeing a rapidly increasing division of global wealth.

The report says 210 people joined the very small ranks of billionaires last year (the report said the total number of about 1,400 worldwide).

“The past quarter of a century has seen wealth become ever more concentrated in the hands of fewer people… The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half.”

In fact, the report notes that while the recent financial crisis was an enormous burden on the world’s poor, it ended up being a huge benefit to the rich elite. The very wealthiest people on earth collected 95 percent of the post crisis growth, increasing the global wealth disparity.

The report, released Monday, quotes Adam Smith (the author of “The Wealth of Nations”) saying “No society can be flourishing and happy of which the far greater part of members are poor and miserable.”

The report notes that the trend of an increasing share of wealth flowing to the hands of the wealthiest one percent is more pronounced in the United States than on any other nation.

But the trend is hardly limited to the United States.
All wealth R belong to them, very soon.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

They make overhauls and work clothes

And Dickies also has a music channel with some sweet videos. One of them is Tristen and her band singing "Avalanche"

Want to Google up your future?

You can with help from Google and the pen of Brian McFadden

Here comes the smoke and mirrors

As the state of West Virginia
tries to recover a sense of normalcy following the massive poisoning of a major water supply, the lap dogs and turd polishers of the coal and chemical industries are deploying their forces against the public to prevent any loss to their corporate masters.
Here in West Virginia, residents were still reeling from the chemical spill that left more than 300,000 people without usable water for days, many of them still frightened and unsure whether official assurances that they could once again drink tap water or bathe their children were true.

But in Washington on Wednesday, among friends at an event sponsored by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, West Virginia’s junior senator and former governor, Joe Manchin III, was preaching a familiar gospel of an industry under siege by overzealous regulators.

“You feel like everyone’s turned against you,” he said. He assured his audience that he would continue to fight back against proposed new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on coal, quoting the state motto in Latin: “Montani semper liberi” — “Mountaineers are always free.”

In an interview the next day, he expounded on the theme. “Coal and chemicals inevitably bring risk — but that doesn’t mean they should be shut down,” Mr. Manchin said. “Cicero says, ‘To err is human.’ But you’re going to stop living because you’re afraid of making a mistake?”
Sorry Joe, a mistake is when somebody bumps you at a cocktail party and spills your drink. When somebody poisons the water supply for 300,000 people for a week and shuts down the local economy because they could not be bothered to take basic maintenance and safety steps, that is a serious problem that requires a serious solution. Sadly, with people like Joe in the way, the possibility of any meaningful regulation is in the vicinity of slim to none.

Mainlining Money

Just like heroin, money is a drug that can be overwhelmingly addictive. Sam Polk, a former big time trader on Wall St. has written a reminiscence of his time as a wealth junkie.
My counselor didn’t share my elation. She said I might be using money the same way I’d used drugs and alcohol — to make myself feel powerful — and that maybe it would benefit me to stop focusing on accumulating more and instead focus on healing my inner wound. “Inner wound”? I thought that was going a little far and went to work for a hedge fund.

Now, working elbow to elbow with billionaires, I was a giant fireball of greed. I’d think about how my colleagues could buy Micronesia if they wanted to, or become mayor of New York City. They didn’t just have money; they had power — power beyond getting a table at Le Bernardin. Senators came to their offices. They were royalty.

I wanted a billion dollars. It’s staggering to think that in the course of five years, I’d gone from being thrilled at my first bonus — $40,000 — to being disappointed when, my second year at the hedge fund, I was paid “only” $1.5 million.

But in the end, it was actually my absurdly wealthy bosses who helped me see the limitations of unlimited wealth. I was in a meeting with one of them, and a few other traders, and they were talking about the new hedge-fund regulations. Most everyone on Wall Street thought they were a bad idea. “But isn’t it better for the system as a whole?” I asked. The room went quiet, and my boss shot me a withering look. I remember his saying, “I don’t have the brain capacity to think about the system as a whole. All I’m concerned with is how this affects our company.”

I felt as if I’d been punched in the gut. He was afraid of losing money, despite all that he had.

From that moment on, I started to see Wall Street with new eyes. I noticed the vitriol that traders directed at the government for limiting bonuses after the crash. I heard the fury in their voices at the mention of higher taxes. These traders despised anything or anyone that threatened their bonuses. Ever see what a drug addict is like when he’s used up his junk? He’ll do anything — walk 20 miles in the snow, rob a grandma — to get a fix. Wall Street was like that. In the months before bonuses were handed out, the trading floor started to feel like a neighborhood in “The Wire” when the heroin runs out.
Having previously dealt with alchoholism and drug problems, Sam Polk had the self awareness to get help and deal with his wealth addiction. But we all know he left behind him a world of big swinging dicks who think they are Masters of the Universe.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Something good from Ohio for a change

Over the Rhine singing "The Laugh Of Recognition"

The New American Paradigm

From the pen of Tom Toles

Bill Maher starts the new year on a cynical note

And encourages us to do the same.

Shakespeare asked "What's in a name?"

And in Mexico
we have a clear example of how names can be used by people clearly embracing the opposite of the names original meaning.
In medieval times, a powerful Christian military order known as the Knights Templar fought during the Crusades. Today, meth-peddling gangsters have taken the Templar name, and in an ironic twist they are finding Roman Catholic clergy among their fiercest enemies.

In the embattled Mexican state of Michoacan, Catholic priests are openly backing armed vigilante groups that are waging war against the Knights Templar gang.

Some priests allow the vigilantes to ring church bells to summon citizens to meetings. Others use their pulpits to lambaste local and state officials for colluding with the Knights Templar.

The anger of the clergy is aimed with equal vehemence at gangsters and at government officials, who they say have not done enough to rein in crime and extortion. That vexation will get a vast airing at morning Mass this Sunday, when priests across the Apatzingan diocese will read a scathing pastoral letter from Bishop Miguel Patino Velazquez that accuses federal police and soldiers of doing little to capture Knights Templar bosses.

“Their leaders are fully identified and yet no authority stops them,” the letter says.

In his letter, Patino evokes the Nazi era, saying Christian believers should not only console the victims but also halt the Nazi campaign to kill its enemies.

“We ask politicians, the government and the Interior Secretariat to give people of our region clear signals that in reality they want to halt the ‘killing machine,’” Patino writes.

Michoacan, a fertile agricultural state along Mexico’s Pacific Coast, has been the site of criminal turmoil since the middle of the last decade, when gangsters turned the state into a hub for production of methamphetamine, adding to their marijuana and cocaine smuggling business.

Since February 2013, a vigilante campaign by armed civilians has spread across nearly a third of Michoacan. The vigilantes call themselves self-defense groups or community police, and they have won broad citizen support from nearly everyone, from large farm owners down to tortilla vendors and doormen at public restrooms.

In barely 11 months, the vigilantes have occupied at least 15 townships. In each, they have disbanded municipal police and run off politicians believed linked to organized crime.

On Monday, the country’s interior secretary, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, stepped in as the vigilante groups nearly encircled this city of 140,000, the center of the Knights Templar empire, for fear that an attempt to dislodge the gangsters would lead to a bloodbath.
Clearly a case of enough is enough and won't the government have a difficult time separating itself from its friends in the drug trade. But you have to root for the locals.

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