Friday, February 28, 2014

A country cri de couer

Caitlin Rose sings "Sinful Wishing Well"

Navy braces for budget restrictions.

Promises to only ask for three Little Crappy Ships that can not carry out operational mission which they do not have instead of the four originally planned.
The U.S. Navy will request $2.1 billion to continue developing the Littoral Combat Ship and buy three of the vessels in fiscal 2015, one fewer than previously planned, according to defense officials.

No decision has been made on which of the two companies building different versions -- Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) and Austal Ltd. (ASB) -- will see one of its ships delayed by a year, according to one of the officials, who asked not to be identified before the Pentagon budget for the year beginning Oct. 1 is sent to Congress on March 4.

The reduced pace of ship purchases underscores the budget constraints facing the Defense Department and may reflect what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this week called his “considerable reservations” about the Littoral Combat Ship, a lightly armed vessel designed for missions in shallow coastal waters.

The ship is intended to operate in a “relatively permissive environment,” and the Pentagon must “closely examine” whether the vessel “has the protection and firepower to survive against a more advanced military adversary and emerging new technologies, especially in the Asia-Pacific,” Hagel said....

The Navy’s request also will include $2.1 billion for a new class of aircraft carriers, funding research and procurement for the Gerald R. Ford and John F. Kennedy vessels, an increase from $1.6 billion this year and $781.7 million in fiscal 2013, according to Navy budget figures. Carriers are built and refurbished by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. (HII) based in Newport News, Virginia.

In presenting his budget outline this week, Hagel said current plans foresee the Navy keeping 11 aircraft carrier groups. That may decline to 10 groups because plans to refuel and overhaul the aging George Washington will have to be canceled unless automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, are eased for future years, he said.
So three Little Crappy Ships with no foreseeable mission cost as much as 1 years work on two of the latest CVN class which includes systems that were still in the beta stage when installed. Good to see the Navy is doing its bit to deal with the budget.

Wouldn't this be nice

From the pen of Pat Oliphant

R.I.P. Jim Lange

Host of the Dating Game. Boy were you ever a sign of the times.

VA still can't get its disability shit together.

If you have a disability claim appeal pending with the VA, chances are good that you will have to wait about 2.5 years for a decision.
The average time for a denied claim to work its way through the cumbersome Department of Veterans Affairs appeals process shot up to more than 900 days last year, double the department’s long-term target.

After hovering between 500 and 750 days for the past decade, what the VA refers to as its “appeals resolution time” hit 923 days in fiscal 2013. That was a 37 percent jump in one year, from 675 in fiscal 2012, according to a review of the department’s annual performance report.

The department’s long-term goal is to get that figure to 400 days, although the trend over the past decade has been in the other direction.

Asked about the slowdown during a conference call to discuss the VA’s appeals system, the department said it has been reviewing the measure to see if it’s the most meaningful one to convey to veterans how long the appeals process might take. The department also said it was continuing to look for ways to make the process more efficient...

The VA has been engaged in a very public battle to reduce its overall backlog – the number of claims awaiting an initial decision. By 2015, the department wants to get the backlog to zero. That would ensure that no claim is pending for more than 125 days. That’s the goal that has gotten the most attention from Congress, the administration and veterans groups.

Veterans who appeal their decisions go into a separate system that can extend those waits far longer.

That appeals system has evolved in layers since it was adopted after World War I. It allows veterans, survivors or their representatives to trigger a fresh review of the entire appeal at any time by submitting new evidence or information, the VA said. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals can grant, deny or – most commonly – remand the case to one of the VA’s regional offices for additional review.

According to the most recent VA performance report, published in December, the VA’s “strategic target” – essentially a long-term goal – for total appeals resolution time is 400 days; its short-term goal is 650 days.

It hasn’t hit that 650 target in the last five years, although it got close in 2010, when the average appeals time was 656 days, records show.

Border Patrol trying to act like real police

And that includes shooting anybody that they don't like, no questions asked and none answered.
Last week, another shooting took place, bringing the total to 21.

The killings expose what lawyers and civil rights advocates assert are far-reaching problems in the nation’s largest federal law enforcement agency.

Those problems, critics charge, include a resistance to adopting safeguards on the use of lethal force, watered-down training standards amid rapid expansion and a mentality that anything goes in the battle to secure America’s borders.

Of the 21 dead, 16 were Mexican or Guatemalan. Most of the victims were unarmed, and some were on Mexican soil. One was a 16-year-old who was shot multiple times in the back as he stood on the Mexican side of the border fence. None of the shooters is known to have been disciplined, and the circumstances of most of the cases have not been aired in public. Sanchez’s wife and children – all American citizens – are still trying to learn the name of the man who shot him.

The spate of homicides raises an uncomfortable question, the critics say: Do Border Patrol agents have a green light to fire on and kill Mexican and Central American migrants?...

The Mexican Foreign Secretariat says it’s “profoundly concerned” about the killings of Mexican migrants by Border Patrol agents.

At least eight of the 21 agent-related deaths involved Mexicans who allegedly were throwing rocks at agents, often across the border fence. In three of the cases, the victims were minors. Agents shot one of those youths, Jose Antonio Elena, who was 16, multiple times in the back through the fence in Nogales. The Border Patrol declined to release video of the incident taken from an overhead camera.
Mexicans are fair game, in the country or out. They would never try this on Canadians, they are too white.

EPA drops a boulder on Pebble Mine.

Despite its well developed corporatist tendencies, the Obama administration has, this one time, chosen salmon over massive profits and will not allow a permit for the Pebble Mine.
The Environmental Protection Agency is putting the brakes on the massive Pebble Mine project in Alaska, saying it endangers the finest wild salmon run on earth.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said Friday her agency will look for ways to protect the salmon. In the meantime, the Army Corps of Engineers won’t be allowed to issue a permit for the mine.

“Extensive scientific study has given us ample reason to believe that the Pebble Mine would likely have significant and irreversible negative impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries,” McCarthy said. “It’s why EPA is taking this step forward in our effort to ensure protection for the world’s most productive salmon fishery from the risks it faces from what could be one of the largest open pit mines on earth.”

EPA released a report last month saying the mine could destroy up to 94 miles of salmon streams and 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes. McCarthy visited the region last summer and was clearly moved as Alaska Natives opposed to the project described their cultural ties to the salmon.

“The science EPA reviewed paints a clear picture: Large-scale copper mining of the Pebble deposit would likely result in significant and irreversible harm to the salmon and the people and industries that rely on them,” said Dennis McLerran, EPA’s regional administrator for the Pacific Northwest.
The mining interests could still buy a more amenable administration with pie-in-the-sky protection schemes for the fishies but this is unlikely without Republican electoral success.

Wendy Davis blasts Greg Abbott & His Pet Pervert

Thursday, February 27, 2014

It turns out Rob Schneider was actually good for something

He fathered a baby girl who grew up to be a singer who goes by the name Elle King. Here singing "Playing For Keeps"

A Huge Salary & Bloated Bonus does not equal intelligence.

Consider the latest entrant in the Dumbest Fucking Bankster contest, Brady Dougan, CEO of Credit Suisse. When asked what he and other senior executives knew about his bank's efforts to help rich Americans avoid taxes with accounts in his bank, his answer can be summed up with one word, nothing.
Because we have a new wrinkle on this old adage that senior executives of large banks have no idea what actually goes on inside the bowels of the companies they get paid stunning amounts of money to run. Yesterday Credit Suisse Group AG Chief Executive Officer Brady Dougan said his bank's top bosses didn't know the employees there were helping clients hide billions of dollars from the Internal Revenue Service. And his statements obviously deserve to be taken seriously, given that he was testifying under oath.

"Some Swiss-based private bankers went to great lengths to disguise their bad conduct from Credit Suisse executive management," Dougan told the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations at a hearing on the bank's tax-evasion services. "While that employee misconduct violated our policies, and was unknown to our executive management, we accept responsibility for and deeply regret these employees’ actions.”

According to the Senate panel's report on Credit Suisse, "in 2008, over 1,800 Credit Suisse bankers in eight different areas of the bank opened and serviced Swiss accounts for U.S. clients." At one point there were 22,000 such accounts holding 12.4 billion Swiss francs ($14 billion). Yet the misconduct, as Dougan called it, was unknown to Credit Suisse's most senior executives. Imagine that.

Perhaps they also weren't aware back then that Swiss banks had a reputation for helping wealthy foreigners evade taxes in their home countries. If you were to ask the average guy on the street what Swiss banks do, there's a good chance he would say something like: Hide money for rich people with secret bank accounts. But maybe that's something Credit Suisse's CEO wouldn't know his bank was doing in real life.
Even the janitors are expected to be more aware of what is happening than that. And everybody listening knew he was lying or was he?

A likely outcome.

From the pen of Jim Morin

Now that the Winter Olympics are over

Pooty Poot demands that the Crimean Games begin. And the first step has been taken.
Masked gunmen on Thursday seized government buildings in the capital of the Crimea region of Ukraine, barricaded themselves inside and raised the Russian flag, raising the specter of a separatist rebellion that could tear the country apart.

Further inflaming an increasingly volatile situation, Viktor F. Yanukovych released a statement Thursday saying that he remained the lawful president of Ukraine and appealed to Russia to protect “my personal safety.” While his precise whereabouts remained a mystery, Russian news agencies reported subsequently that Mr. Yanukovych would hold a news conference on Friday in Rostov-on-Don, a city in southern Russia, six days after he was driven from power by mass protests and fled from Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

Local police officers in Simferopol, the Crimean regional capital, sealed off access to the government buildings, including the regional Parliament, which were seized in mysterious overnight raids by people who appeared to be militant ethnic Russians. Crimea has been a source of tension between Ukraine and Russia for decades: the territory was transferred to Ukraine by the Russian Federation when they were both components of the Soviet Union in 1954, and Ukraine retained it when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, though Russia still maintains important military bases there, including the home port of the Black Sea Fleet.

Oleksandr V. Turchynov, the speaker of Parliament and acting president of Ukraine, urged Russian military forces early on Thursday not to stray out of the designated Russian military zones.
Looks like everybody is full of shit and looking for a fan. Will the Black Sea fleet re-enact its own Aurora moment?

When you come dressed for the Ball

You expect to do some dancing.

Sometimes Republicans have a good idea

True, it may only happen once in a blue moon, but they do happen. Like this idea for fixing the South Sudan troubles.
The former president has largely escaped the public eye since leaving office in 2008, but on Wednesday, Republicans in the House of Representatives encouraged the Obama administration to reach out to him to help end a bloody conflict in a country he helped create.

“President Bush is very well thought of in Africa and the president absolutely loves Africa,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. “If I have a serious problem, I want to bring in the best doctor I can, I don’t care if he has a different political ideology than me.”

South Sudan’s ambassador in Washington welcomed the idea. “When you have a deadlock, you need someone to break the ice and bring the people together,” Akec Khoc Aciew said. “I don’t know his stance, but as somebody who personally loves South Sudan I think he would answer the call.”
Shipping the former POTUS over there and not letting him back in the country until things are settled would be a wonderful gesture on the part of the Obama administration; and a suitable punishment for W.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Somewhere between Europe and here

Is a land called Iceland where they grow volcanoes and catch fish. And though they have their own language, they have English language bands. Of Monsters and Men began when Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir decided she needed a band to support her work. Here they sing "Little Talks"

It would be a successful fund raiser

From the pen of Jack Ohman

Pouring oil on troubled waters

The latest Russian Army maneuvers
would probably not qualify for that label.
President Vladimir V. Putin ordered a surprise military exercise of ground and air forces on Ukraine’s doorstep Wednesday, intending to demonstrate the country’s military preparedness at a time of heightened tensions with Europe and the United States over the turmoil gripping Russia’s western neighbor.

Russia’s military put tens of thousands of troops in western Russia on alert at 2 p.m. for an exercise scheduled to last until March 3. The minister of defense, Sergei K. Shoigu, also announced unspecified measures to tighten security at the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet on Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

The orders came as thousands of ethnic Russians gathered outside the regional parliament in Crimea’s capital, Simferopol, to protest the political upheaval in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, that felled the government of President Viktor F. Yanukovych over the weekend and turned him into a fugitive. Crimea was a part of Russian territory until the Soviet Union ceded it to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine in 1954, and Russians there have already pleaded for the Kremlin’s intervention to protect the region and its population from Ukraine’s new leadership.
And they have a convenient flashpoint to get the ball rolling whenever they are ready.

Nobody was paying attention to Israel

So Israel's unhinged Prime Minister Ben Bugsy Netanyahu decided to drop some bombs on Lebanon. This is always a surefire way to get Hezbollah stirred up. And, as previous encounters have shown, definitely not a win-win situation for the Israeli military.
Hezbollah said Wednesday that Israel had carried out an airstrike in Lebanon earlier in the week, targeting one of its positions near the border with Syria. The attack marks a new level of escalation in a region beset by chaos, bloodshed and waves of refugees.

Hezbollah, an armed Shia Muslim group allied with Iran and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, vowed to retaliate for the strike.

"The new aggression is a blatant assault on Lebanon and its sovereignty and its territory ... The resistance (Hezbollah) will choose the time and place and the proper way to respond to it," Hezbollah said in a statement.

The strike, which Israel confirmed, hit the Lebanese-Syrian border near the Bekaa Valley village of Janta, Hezbollah said. The group denied reports that the strike targeted artillery, adding that there were no casualties.

Lebanese security sources said they believed the attack took place on Syrian soil, but Hezbollah's reference to Lebanese sovereignty suggests it occurred on the Lebanese side of the ill-defined frontier.

Israeli planes have struck areas on the Syrian side of the border several times in the past two years. But if confirmed, an airstrike on Hezbollah in Lebanon would be the first since the Syrian revolt began in 2011.
This is not good. If the Israeli military needs more live fire drills, they should stick to bombing Gaza and shooting kids with slings on the West Bank.

After the disaster

Is the normal and, if history is any guide, the appropriate time to piss and moan about the lack of oversight over [insert favorite pollutant here]. The far too convenient disposal of tons of coal ash by Duke Energy into the Dan River has brought forth calls for the administration to begin some actual oversight of the many, as yet unpoliced, coal ash storage sites across the nation.
The federal government doesn’t regulate the disposal of “coal ash,” the dustlike material that’s left over when pulverized coal is burned to fuel electrical power plants. Pennsylvania leads the nation in coal ash production, followed by Texas, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.

Coal ash can contain toxic materials such as arsenic and selenium, but the Environmental Protection Agency has left it to the states to decide what rules to put in place. The result has been an inconsistent patchwork of regulations that the EPA acknowledges is full of gaps.

The agency promises to come out with long-delayed rules by the end of the year, but it’s likely to leave the enforcement in the hands of the states.

State coal ash enforcement is under particular fire in North Carolina after a Duke Energy spill this month poured coal ash into the Dan River. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has estimated that up to 39,000 tons of the waste traveled 80 miles downstream and coated the river bottom in a layer of sludge. It’s endangering aquatic life in the river, and health officials warn against eating fish caught in the contaminated stretch.

“If this doesn’t prove you need to have a strong federal regulation, then what proof does it take?” said Frank Holleman, attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, which has challenged state oversight of coal ash dumps.

The U.S. Justice Department has launched a criminal probe of North Carolina’s environmental agency in the wake of the spill, with state regulators receiving subpoenas to appear next month before a federal grand jury. Among the subpoena demands: State officials must bring any records they have of gifts from Duke Energy.
It would be nice if the EPA could generate some regulations while the polluters are lying low.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Dutch Treat

Caro Emerald belies the image of the stolid Dutch with this lively number, "A Night Like This" that uses her jazz training well.

There is just no pleasing some people

From the pen of Stuart Carlson

A case of Attorney General privilege?

In the tangled skein of legal discrimination that has developed from Republican/Teabagger laws against gay rights, our fearless Attorney General has some cautious advice for his state counterparts.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Monday injected the Obama administration into the emotional and politicized debate over the future of state same-sex marriage bans, declaring in an interview that state attorneys general are not obligated to defend laws that they believe are discriminatory.

Mr. Holder was careful not to encourage his state counterparts to disavow their own laws, but said that officials who have carefully studied bans on gay marriage could refuse to defend them.

Six state attorneys general — all Democrats — have refused to defend bans on same-sex marriage, prompting criticism from Republicans who say they have a duty to stand behind their state laws, even if they do not agree with them.

It is highly unusual for the United States attorney general to advise his state counterparts on how and when to refuse to defend state laws. But Mr. Holder said when laws touch on core constitutional issues like equal protection, an attorney general should apply the highest level of scrutiny before reaching a decision on whether to defend it. He said the decision should never be political or based on policy objections.

“Engaging in that process and making that determination is something that’s appropriate for an attorney general to do,” Mr. Holder said.
Cautious advice from a man who would rather avoid making trouble when he should be suing the bejesus out of some of these people.

After years of approving and allowing pesticides and GMO's

The Dept of Agriculture has begun a program to to promote healthy bee colonies after years of being decimated by pesticides and GMO's.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture was set to announce Tuesday a multimillion-dollar program to feed rapidly dwindling honeybee populations in the Midwest, where farmers and ranchers depend on the insects to pollinate their crops and pastures.

Commercial honeybees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of produce each year. Many beekeepers take hives to the upper Midwest in the summer for bees to gather nectar and pollen for food, then truck them in the spring to California and other states to pollinate everything from almonds to apples to avocados.

But agricultural production has been threatened by a more than decadelong decline in commercial honeybees and their wild cousins because of habitat loss and pesticide use.

A phenomenon called colony collapse disorder, in which honeybees suddenly disappear or die, has made the problem worse, raising losses over the winter to as much as 30 percent per year.

The USDA hopes to stem those losses by providing more areas for bees to build up food stores and strength for winter. The new program, details of which were provided to The Associated Press ahead of the announcement, will be "a real shot in the arm" for improving bees' habitat and food supplies, said Jason Weller, chief of the USDA's National Resources Conservation Service.

Dairy farmers and ranchers in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas can qualify for about $3 million to reseed pastures with alfalfa, clover and other plants that are useful to both bees and livestock. Farmers also can get help building fences, installing water tanks and making other changes that better enable them to move their animals from pasture to pasture so the vegetation doesn't become worn down. The goal is to provide higher-quality food for insects and animals.

"It's a win for the livestock guys, and it's a win for the managed honeybee population," Weller said. "And it's a win then for orchardists and other specialty crop producers across the nation because then you're going to have a healthier, more robust bee population that then goes out and helps pollinate important crops."
Maybe providing more than just the target crop to feed on will help the hives. Time will tell.

Death is a great motivator of government

The airlines industry is a prime example of government oversight that is unable to update rules, standards and laws until enough people die. But it is not the only industry so affected. The railroad industry provides us with the latest example of "tombstone regulating".
The rail industry asked the Department of Transportation three years ago to write new regulations for railroad tank cars that were carrying the country’s nascent oil boom.

In the two years that followed, state and local officials and the National Transportation Safety Board also urged the department to take action.

But the DOT did not begin the rulemaking process until last September, two months after 47 people were killed in a violent inferno when a trainload of North Dakota crude oil left the tracks in Quebec and exploded.

The department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is working on the new regulations, and its sister agency, the Federal Railroad Administration, last week announced a series of voluntary measures to improve the safety of crude oil shipments. However, it might be another year before the tank car rules take effect.

It wouldn’t be the first time that rail safety regulations were delayed until tragedy struck. Four decades ago, the DOT required tougher standards for certain types of tank cars carrying flammable gases such as propane. Regulators gave the industry a three-year deadline, but did little to enforce it.

On Feb. 24, 1978, two months after that deadline passed, 16 people were killed in Waverly, Tenn., when a derailed tank car of propane blew up. The accident claimed the lives of the small town’s police chief, fire chief and half its fire department. Many others were badly burned. Only then were the improvements made.

“Washington’s very reactive,” said Mary Schiavo, a DOT inspector general in the Clinton administration. “Most reactive of all is DOT.”
Safety is just a matter of having enough people die. This is not to say that had their efforts begun earlier, those good people in Quebec would still be alive. But you never know. As it stands now, whenever they begin to work on something, we do know how many people have died.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A fine set of pipes from Georgia

Kristina Train can belt out a song or croon one, as she does with "Dream of Me".

They don't call them gun nuts for nothing

As Tom Tomorrow makes abundantly clear.

Taking temptation out of the hands of the next W

When you have a powerful military and your supporters among the defense contractors need a military adventure to build more semi effective shit for them, the temptation to start those adventures is great. Secretary of Defense Hagel has a plan to reduce that temptation by reducing the size of the military. The howls and lamentations of members of Congress are already being heard.
The new American way of war will be underscored in Mr. Hagel’s budget, which protects money for Special Operations forces and cyberwarfare. And in an indication of the priority given to overseas military presence that does not require a land force, the proposal will — at least for one year — maintain the current number of aircraft carriers at 11.

Over all, Mr. Hagel’s proposal, the officials said, is designed to allow the American military to fulfill President Obama’s national security directives: to defend American territory and the nation’s interests overseas and to deter aggression — and to win decisively if again ordered to war.

“We’re still going to have a very significant-sized Army,” the official said. “But it’s going to be agile. It will be capable. It will be modern. It will be trained.”

Mr. Hagel’s plan would most significantly reshape America’s land forces — active-duty soldiers as well as those in the National Guard and Reserve.

The Army, which took on the brunt of the fighting and the casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, already was scheduled to drop to 490,000 troops from a post-9/11 peak of 570,000. Under Mr. Hagel’s proposals, the Army would drop over the coming years to between 440,000 and 450,000.

That would be the smallest United States Army since 1940. For years, and especially during the Cold War, the Pentagon argued that it needed a military large enough to fight two wars simultaneously — say, in Europe and Asia. In more recent budget and strategy documents, the military has been ordered to be prepared to decisively win one conflict while holding off an adversary’s aspirations in a second until sufficient forces could be mobilized and redeployed to win there.

The Guard and Reserves, which proved capable in their wartime deployments although costly to train to meet the standards of their full-time counterparts, would face smaller reductions. But the Guard would see its arsenal reshaped...

The proposals are certain to face resistance from interest groups like veterans’ organizations, which oppose efforts to rein in personnel costs; arms manufacturers that want to reverse weapons cuts; and some members of Congress who will seek to block base closings in their districts.

Mr. Hagel will take some first steps to deal with the controversial issue of pay and compensation, as the proposed budget would impose a one-year salary freeze for general and flag officers; basic pay for military personnel would rise by 1 percent. After the 2015 fiscal year, raises in pay will be similarly restrained, Pentagon officials say.
I hope Hagel is looking for a lot more than he expects to get. The opposition is going to fight tooth and nail to keep this from happening.

R.I.P. Harold Ramis

If it was a truly funny film, you probably had a hand in it. Thank you.

First they steal your franchise, then they kill you

It is tough enough being a senior al-Qaeda leader watching out for your Christian enemies without having to worry about the guys on your side of the fight, or are they?
A Syrian rebel commander, who fought alongside al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and was close to its current chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed by a suicide attack in Aleppo, intensifying in-fighting between rival armed groups.

The killing of Abu Khaled al-Suri on Sunday in a suicide bombing in the al-Halq area of Aleppo was confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said he died along with six others when a fighter from the rival Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group blew himself up at an Ahrar al-Sham post in al-Halq.

Al-Suri's death occurred against the backdrop of bloody rebel infighting between an al-Qaeda-breakaway ISIL and an array of armed opposition groups.

ISIL suspected

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday's assassination, but rebels quickly accused ISIL.

Speaking via Skype, Akram al-Halabi, spokesman for the Islamic Front, an alliance of seven rebel groups, told the Associated Press news agency that al-Suri had been critical of ISIL and its approach toward other rebel factions.

He said rebels believe that ISIL, which al-Qaeda publicly disowned earlier this month, was behind Sunday's bombing.

"The first fingers of blame point to the State,'' al-Halabi said. "Unfortunately this is going to make the infighting worse.''

Al-Suri had been critical of the group, blaming it for the internal conflict among rebels that has killed thousands of people across northern Syria since fighting began there in early January.
This would make Syria an unrestricted cage fight with the winner being the last asshole standing.

Supremes to let you breathe shit filled air soon

The Supreme Court is taking up a case between private, profitable utilities who believe they have a god given right to dump all their shit in the air because it costs them money to clean it up. Against their position is the EPA which has been using its rule making ability to try and make them clean up their mess.
The Supreme Court is slated Monday to begin scrutinizing the scope of the Environmental Protection Agency in a case with a narrow focus but with the potential to touch on the very purpose of the regulator and the use of executive action by President Barack Obama.

The case — Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA — examines six challenges brought by various industry groups and conservative politicians against the EPA for what they see as regulatory overreach.

The plaintiffs say they hope the Supreme Court justices will answer questions that get to the heart of the function of the EPA, like whether the agency has the right to freely interpret the Clean Air Act without the consent of Congress and even whether the EPA has the right to regulate carbon dioxide as a polluting gas at all.

But the court may skirt those thornier questions in favor of narrower ones —deciding whether the EPA can regulate greenhouse gases from power plants, big factories and other stationary sources of emissions under the same authority it has used to regulate new motor vehicles and whether the agency may unilaterally raise the amount a stationary source is allowed to emit before the EPA can regulate it.

Experts say that no matter what the court rules, the EPA will likely still be able to impose permitting requirements and limits on emissions for stationary sources.

Despite the likelihood of the Supreme Court hearing’s limited scope, the case has become a catch-all for criticism of the EPA, which some conservatives see as a rogue agency, overstepping constitutional protections for free enterprise and carrying out the whims of a president who has stated he will take progressive actions “with or without Congress.”

“This case involves perhaps the most audacious seizure of pure legislative power over domestic economic matters attempted by the executive branch” since President Harry S. Truman tried to control U.S. steel companies during the Korean War, a brief signed by Rep. Michele Bachmann and other politicians read.

Many conservatives take particular issue with the EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act — which was passed in 1963, decades before carbon dioxide was considered a pollutant — to make it easier to regulate carbon pollution. Specifically, the agency wants to change the amount emitted per year before a source falls under its purview, from 100 tons to 75,000 or 100,000 tons. Otherwise, the agency says, it would have to start regulating the emissions of not only power plants but also schools, hospitals and residential buildings.
Given the Supremes love affair with corporation rights, they are likely to rule against the EPA, long a bugbear of the radical Right. The real question is how narrow or broad in scope their ruling will be. Either way, just remember the pictures of Beijing's pollution and consider how the radical Right seeks a return of that to American air so they can make a few dollars more.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

In the '50s when you cast a diva in your opera

The first one you looked to for Bellini's Norma was Maria Callas, a role she owned during that decade. Here she sings the famous aria, "Casta Diva".

The gun grab that never was

Has stimulated the manufacture of a record number of shooting irons to accommodate the record number of morons who can now buy one because of efforts by Bloody Wayne LaPierre and his terrorist organization the NRA to put the American public in harm's way.
Gun makers in the United States produced a record number of weapons in 2012, as new government data suggests Democratic presidents may actually be a boon to firearms manufacturers.

According to numbers released by US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, more than 8.5 million guns were produced in 2012, compared to about 6.5 million in 2011. That’s a 31 percent increase, and the highest number recorded since the agency began tracking gun production in 1986.

Interestingly, a 2013 study by the National Opinion Research Center found that gun ownership per household has actually declined to its lowest level in more than 30 years, so what accounts for the high sales? According to one gun advocate, it’s President Barack Obama.

“Barack Obama is the stimulus package for the firearms industry,” Dave Workman, senior editor of Gun Mag, a print and online publication of the 2nd Amendment Foundation, told Bloomberg News. “The greatest irony of the Obama administration is that the one industry that he may not have really liked to see healthy has become the healthiest industry in the United States.”

As noted by Bloomberg, more than 26 million were produced during Obama’s first term alone. Former President George W. Bush, a Republican, was in office for eight years before 28 million guns were manufactured.

Bill Clinton’s Democratic presidency, which saw the government mandate background checks for gun purchases, also boosted firearms makers, who produced 33 million firearms over eight years. During George H.W. Bush’s one term, 16 million guns were made.

Even gun control advocates find some truth to the idea that Democratic presidents help cause a surge in gun sales. According to Brian Malte of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, gun advocates have “demonized” Obama in order to sell more firearms to a smaller consumer base.

“We see the percentage of households owning guns declining,” he said to Bloomberg, “and that indicates that those who already own guns are buying more of them.”
Heh! George W Bush sold less guns than either of the Democratic presidents. Who knew that Republicans are bad for gun sales?

Electronic cigarettes: Salvation or Scam?

No one really knows the answer to that yet
, but people on both sides are making their most compelling arguments now, while there is no evidence for either side.
Dr. Michael Siegel, a hard-charging public health researcher at Boston University, argues that e-cigarettes could be the beginning of the end of smoking in America. He sees them as a disruptive innovation that could make cigarettes obsolete, like the computer did to the typewriter.

But his former teacher and mentor, Stanton A. Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, is convinced that e-cigarettes may erase the hard-won progress achieved over the last half-century in reducing smoking. He predicts that the modern gadgetry will be a glittering gateway to the deadly, old-fashioned habit for children, and that adult smokers will stay hooked longer now that they can get a nicotine fix at their desks.

These experts represent the two camps now at war over the public health implications of e-cigarettes. The devices, intended to feed nicotine addiction without the toxic tar of conventional cigarettes, have divided a normally sedate public health community that had long been united in the fight against smoking and Big Tobacco.

The essence of their disagreement comes down to a simple question: Will e-cigarettes cause more or fewer people to smoke? The answer matters. Cigarette smoking is still the single largest cause of preventable death in the United States, killing about 480,000 people a year.

Dr. Siegel, whose graduate school manuscripts Dr. Glantz used to read, says e-cigarette pessimists are stuck on the idea that anything that looks like smoking is bad. “They are so blinded by this ideology that they are not able to see e-cigarettes objectively,” he said. Dr. Glantz disagrees. “E-cigarettes seem like a good idea,” he said, “but they aren’t.”

Science that might resolve questions about e-cigarettes is still developing, and many experts agree that the evidence so far is too skimpy to draw definitive conclusions about the long-term effects of the devices on the broader population.
So both sides will be trumpeting their beliefs and the makers of the e-smokes will be making profits until the research comes in.

Looking out for #1, yessirree!

From the pen of Stuart Carlson

As we, hopefully, near the end in Shitholeistan

It is time to look back and reflec
t on the waste and futility of our efforts there. And to know that if one looks back throughout history it is obvious that we are not alone.
It is a mistake to draw historical parallels too closely, or to seek unambiguous lessons. But looking at the past can clarify the present, even if it offers no secure guide for the future.

The British invasions of Afghanistan in the nineteenth century, the Soviet invasion in 1979, and the American led invasion of 2001, all have one thing in common. By a narrow definition, all the armies won their wars, though the British suffered some humiliating defeats on the battlefield. But neither the British, nor the Russians, nor the Americans achieved, at least through military means, the objectives they had set themselves. All scaled their ambitions down to aims that they could probably have achieved earlier and at less cost. All seriously damaged their own prestige. And all wreaked havoc on the country they claimed to have come to help...

Among British policymakers there were two schools of thought. One held that success could only be achieved by reducing Afghanistan to a protectorate under a British puppet, as the British had already done in so many parts of India. The other held that it would be enough to secure Afghan cooperation through diplomacy, subsidies, and the occasional threat of military action. The ‘forward policy’ proved unsustainable: the Afghans made life intolerable for the British occupiers. But the alternative was a success. The British effectively controlled Afghan foreign policy for eighty years, bribing and persuading even the formidable Afghan ruler Abdur Rahman to match their wishes. Today some Afghans regard Abdur Rahman as a traitor, though he was probably their most effective ruler in the last three hundred years.

Thus the British very soon abandoned any idea of imposing a political solution on Afghanistan, still less of trying to rule it in their own image. Their Russian and American successors, however, made the mistake of believing that they had not only the need, but the duty, to re-engineer Afghanistan’s political and social system, to bring the country, as the Russians said, from the fourteenth into the twentieth century.
And both Russia and the US gave social and cultural re-engineering their best shot, sort of. If you consider throwing bombs and dollars at a problem, yes we did. If you consider achieving a solution important, we didn't come close. So what now?
It is hard to establish what is really happening there amid the competing claims of optimists who say that the country has made significant strides in political and military organisation, women’s rights, education, and the economy, and pessimists who say that the present regime is corrupt, divided, and hopelessly inefficient. One possibility is that, once the Americans and their allies have left, the country will once again be torn apart by civil war, and most of the economic and social progress made in the last decade will be nullified. Another is that the Afghans’ immediate neighbours will be unable to refrain from meddling in Afghan affairs, and will keep the country in turmoil. A third is that enough has been done to ensure at least a kind of stability and a modicum of social and economic progress. What is certain is that however much outsiders may talk of the blood and treasure they have poured out in Afghanistan, it is the Afghans who have suffered most in the last thirty five years. Only they will be able to find solutions that endure.
Let the Afghans determine their own future, what a novel idea. Maybe we won't like it, but we aren't Afghans.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

There is still gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota

But one of the nuggets has moved to Minneapolis to pursue her music career. Here Haley Bonar sings "Raggedy Man" from her album Golder.

Another responsible gun owner

From the pen of Ben Sargent

Two big dogs talk about working together

And we hope it will result in some useful functioning for all those resources tied up in otherwise no win arrangements.
A top American military commander said Saturday that the United States Army was working to start a formal dialogue and exchange program with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army before the end of the year.

The commander, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told reporters at a news conference in Beijing that the program was aimed at expanding cooperation and “managing differences constructively.”

“It really is about us focusing on a long-term relationship and the importance of us conducting exchanges, conducting institutional visits,” he said.

General Odierno made his remarks at the United States Embassy on the second day of a visit to China. The general met with Chinese counterparts in Beijing on Friday and was scheduled to travel to visit the Shenyang military command in northeast China on Saturday afternoon.

General Odierno said the formal dialogue between American and Chinese army officials would include discussions of humanitarian relief, disaster management and peacekeeping operations. The two armies could have exchanges at institutional levels like that of training and doctrine commands, he said.
And Napoleon did say we should "know your enemy" even if we are friends this week.

Are you feeling lucky today?

Not Dirty Harry lucky but just everyday living and expecting clean water from your tap lucky. According to the CDC, today is their lucky day.
Federal health officials have used the word “safe” to describe West Virginia’s tap water for the first time since the area's water supply was contaminated Jan. 9 by a large spill of a coal-processing chemical. Earlier this month, those same authorities would only call the water “appropriate for use.”

“Based on what we know, if the water is at nondetectable levels for MCHM, it is safe to drink, bathe in and clean with, and this would include for pregnant women,” said Barbara Reynolds, spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), referring to methylcyclohexanemethanol, the compound that made up the bulk of the toxic spill.

But the CDC's defining of the water as “safe” likely won’t quell fears for many around the state’s capital, Charleston, who still don’t trust what is flowing from their taps. A licorice odor, a telltale sign of MCHM that first alerted residents to the spill, still wafts from faucets for thousands across the state.

The water ban applied to hundreds of thousands in cities, towns and remote villages across nine counties in central West Virginia after the leak from a Freedom Industries chemical storage site along the Elk River.

“We also want to recognize that any faint MCHM-related smell could be off-putting and that proper flushing of water lines is important,” said Reynolds. “We continue to believe (there is) no adverse harm below 1 ppm (parts per million), and we said Feb. 5 that people could drink and use water.”
Only time will tell if the water is really safe and who wants to be the one that proves them wrong?

Oh Goody! Both Leaks Are Plugged

And it was only a couple of hundred thousand tons of coal sludge that leaked out.
Duke Energy Corp., a North Carolina-based energy company, successfully halted a second leak at its decommissioned power plant in Eden that was found to be threatening a river already tainted by toxic sludge weeks earlier, state environmental regulators told Al Jazeera Friday.

After discovering the leak on Tuesday, the state's Department of Natural Resources (DNER) ordered Duke Energy to plug a 36-inch pipe that was allowing coal ash and slurry — the waste product of burning coal — to spill into the Dan River.

The first leak, which was plugged on Feb. 8, occurred when a 48-inch pipe at the same plant broke under a 27-acre coal ash pond, spilling thousands of tons of the pollutant into the river.

DNER told Al Jazeera that Duke Energy packed the second pipe with 40 feet of concrete at about 2:30 a.m. on Friday.

“Basically the pipe is plugged, as far as we’re concerned right now,” said Thomas Reed, director of DNER’s Department of Water resources.

Duke Energy spokesman Dave Scanzoni confirmed Reed’s statement. Temporary containment measures had already contained 95 percent of the spill, Reed said. Now both leaks are "permanently plugged."

Duke Energy staff reportedly emailed Reed Friday to say they “will let (the plug) cure for 72 hours, (before they) will move forward with grouting the (entire) pipe,” Reed said.

DNER has come under fire for its handling of the state's coal ash ponds, which it concedes are contaminating groundwater as well as harming aquatic life. It filed suit against Duke last year, and then proposed a settlement, which is opposed by environmental groups.
Both pipes were permanently plugged, something that could have been done when Duke Energy stopped using them instead of waiting for them to leak. Sadly doing so would have been profits under the bridge, instead of sludge.

Hearing Stories That Confirm Your Beliefs Isn't News; It's Fox News

Bill Maher rips the idea of personalized news replacing news you need to know.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The bass player likes her bourbon neat

She plays and sings neat as well. Amy LaVere sings "Killing Him"

What you call an Immoral Certainty

From the pen of Nick Anderson

Gov. Doublewide McFatso has a tough time in public meeting

Now that the public has seen him exposed as just another political hack, his latest excursion into the public spotlight has not gone well. Where he used to tell the people, Fuck You, now the people are responding with a hearty Fuck You of their own.
When Chris Christie started to talk over a complaining questioner, a signature tactic of the bellicose, pre-scandal governor, the audience here briefly turned on him.

“Answer the question,” some shouted.

When he took a microphone from a long-winded speaker, the man startled Mr. Christie by snatching it right back.

And when he singled out a young woman as his inspiration for repairing the Hurricane Sandy-battered coastline, he failed to grasp that the girl’s mother — sitting just a few feet from Mr. Christie — was angry with him for not doing enough.

“He’s full of it,” she said.

For the embattled Mr. Christie, bogged down by scandal and dogged by investigations, Thursday was supposed to represent a defiant, maybe even triumphant, return to the town-hall-style meeting, an intimate and comfortable setting in which he could bathe in the adulation of his fans and unleash harsh denunciations of anyone foolhardy enough to challenge him.

Over the course of four years, and 110 of the cozy sessions — all recorded by aides and quickly uploaded for consumption by his fast-expanding audience — Mr. Christie transformed himself from a little-known former prosecutor into the public face of New Jersey, a national emblem of straight-talking government, and the most forceful presence in the national Republican Party.

But the two-hour forum here near the Jersey Shore on Thursday, his first since controversy enveloped his administration, demonstrated just how difficult it will be for Mr. Christie to quickly recreate the political magic that once seemed certain to put him in contention for the White House.

The man who once commanded these rooms just by walking into them seemed unmistakably mortal.

The event, which was delayed several times by snowstorms, took place in Monmouth County, a location carefully selected to highlight Mr. Christie’s leadership in recovering from Hurricane Sandy. The county was hard-hit by the hurricane, but the governor carried it overwhelmingly in his re-election last fall.

Yet Mr. Christie arrived amid a flurry of protesters, who waved placards mocking his administration’s role in lane closings at the George Washington Bridge, demanding his resignation over the imbroglio and reminding him that even his musical idol was angry about the issue.

“Hey Gov,” read one, “Bruce Springsteen hates you.”
Now that they know he has feet of clay to go with his belly of jelly, he should be finished in politics. He never had any appeal beyond the New Jersey bosses.

Alison for Kentucky

The New York Times
has a bio piece on Alison Lundergan Grimes who is running for the Senate from Kentucky. Her opponent is that famous symbol of Republican/Teabagger obstructionism, "Mitch The Chin" McConnell. Despite being compared often to a turtle, Mitch The Chin is a seasoned political boss with no respect for opponents, rules or the truth. Ms. Grimes has her work cut out for her.
Alison Lundergan Grimes leaned across a table at an upscale bar near her home in this city’s historic district, sipped Maker’s Mark bourbon — a Kentucky staple — mixed with Diet Coke, and let out a belly laugh. “We’re in this campaign to kick butt!” she said.

It was a rare unguarded moment for the usually on-message Ms. Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state and the Democrats’ best hope for unseating one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington: Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader.

At 35, Ms. Grimes is a former sorority president, ballet dancer and daughter of an old-style Democratic pol. She has a booming voice, a litigator’s gaze and a lust for a fight that she says was born of a lesson she learned as a kickboxing instructor: “Don’t be afraid to strike back.”

Now she is striking first in her bid to become her state’s first female senator. With the 72-year-old Mr. McConnell deeply unpopular at home — a symbol of voters’ collective disdain for Washington — and fighting a primary challenge from the right, the race is already among the most closely watched congressional contests of 2014.

On Tuesday, Ms. Grimes will get a boost from former President Bill Clinton, who will headline a fund-raiser for her in Louisville, his first appearance for any 2014 candidate. If Mr. McConnell survives his primary challenge — polls show him with a strong lead over Matt Bevin, a Louisville businessman — and Ms. Grimes beats him, she will be lauded as a giant slayer.

It will not be easy. Mr. McConnell practically built the Republican Party in Kentucky and has spent decades reminding voters of federal dollars he has brought home.

Critics call Ms. Grimes unprepared — “Not ready for a race of this magnitude,” said Damon Thayer, the Republican State Senate floor leader. They predict she will crumble against a veteran who joined the Senate when she was in first grade. But polls indicate a tight race, and Kentucky Democrats are united for the first time in decades.

For now, Ms. Grimes benefits from not being Mr. McConnell. She is pitching herself to the conservative Kentucky electorate as a pro-coal, pro-labor Democrat and portrays the leader as a symbol of an out-of-touch Washington. “If the doctors told Senator McConnell he had a kidney stone,” she likes to say, “he would refuse to pass it.”
If you want to help Kentucky recover from years of Republican oppression, is the place to go.

Coming soon to a phone near you

Nigeria is an African country with lots of oil. There are two groups in Nigeria that are wealthy, those who control the oil money and those who send all those e-mails asking for your help. One man in Nigeria is about to move from one group to the other.
Nigerian intelligence agents seized the passport of ousted central bank boss Lamido Sanusi when he landed at Lagos airport Thursday, Nasir el Rufai, a close Sanusi ally, told Agence-France press news agency Friday...

Sanusi had become critical of government corruption and has accused the powerful state oil company of misappropriating $20 billion. The oil company, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), has repeatedly denied Sanusi’s allegations, which brought the bank governor into conflict with Jonathan’s administration a year before presidential elections.

Enough is Enough (EIE), a coalition of young Nigerians promoting good governance and citizen engagement, said via Twitter the firing was an attempt by the president to quiet dissent.

Analysts said Jonathan, widely thought to be preparing a re-election bid, may have removed Sanusi to silence a powerful critic who was committed to exposing the looting of public funds by political heavyweights.

Sanusi’s job performance was widely applauded by economists within Nigeria and abroad, notably for overhauling a banking sector rife with corruption.
Remember that name, Lamido Sanusi, you will be getting an e-mail from him soon. But don't help him, he knows how to do it by himself.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Holly sings this like she knows what it means

Holly Williams singing "Drinkin"

NRA heaven

From the pen of Steve Benson

No doubt God wants him to be comforted in his old age

Why else would God make him an archbishop
and give him access to as much of the archdiocese funds as necessary to put a 3,000 sq ft addition to his 4,500 sq ft vacation and soon to be retirement home?
Mater Dei Academy sits shuttered, blue drapes pulled across its windows, atop a hill in this working-class city. From its steps, you can peer across the mist-shrouded expanse of the Meadowlands to the distant spires of Manhattan.

For generations, this blond brick Catholic elementary school tossed a lifeline to the immigrants who, wave upon wave, washed ashore here. The Archdiocese of Newark closed it two years ago. Church officials offered deep regrets; the church’s wallet is thin to the touch these days.

“It was a loved place, that school,” said Dorothy Gawronski, a crossing guard holding a red “Stop” sign. “But the church, I don’t think it’s rich anymore.”

All of which brings me along a winding and narrow road that switches back and forth across the wooded Capoolong Creek to a splendid 8.5-acre spread in the hamlet of Pittstown. This is rural and rather affluent Hunterdon County, 49 miles from Mater Dei.

John J. Myers, the archbishop of the Newark Archdiocese, comes to this vacation home on many weekends. The 4,500-square-foot home has a handsome amoeba-shaped swimming pool out back. And as he’s 72, and retirement beckons in two years, he has renovations in mind. A small army of workers are framing a 3,000-square-foot addition.

This new wing will have an indoor exercise pool, three fireplaces and an elevator. The Star-Ledger of Newark has noted that the half-million-dollar tab for this wing does not include architects’ fees or furnishings.

There’s no need to fear for the archbishop’s bank account. The Newark Archdiocese is picking up the bill.

Jim Goodness, the spokesman for the archdiocese, has the thankless job of explaining this. “The press says it’s a hot tub; it’s a whirlpool,” he says of one of the wing’s accouterments. “He’s getting older — there are therapeutic issues.”

The proceeds from the sale of other properties owned by the archdiocese, he explained, will pay for the expansion. “It is not going to cost our parishioners anything,” he said.

I felt compelled to ask: Couldn’t this half million dollars go to, oh, more meals for the homeless? “Any extra monies will go to the diocese,” he replied.
They should get good money for those properties in New Jersey. As long as they aren't near the George Washington Bridge.

It is what they were designed to do

And the federal government
is now getting around to doing what it is designed to do, catch lawbreakers and make them pay.
Her charges are part of a federal lawsuit filed by seven former employees against Harris and its parent company, Premier Education Group, which owns more than two dozen trade schools and community colleges operating under several names in 10 states. The suit contends that while charging more than $10,000 for programs lasting less than a year, school officials routinely misled students about their career prospects, and falsified records to enroll them and keep them enrolled, so that government grant and loan dollars would keep flowing.

Though they vary widely in quality, for-profit schools have drawn scrutiny in recent years for aggressive recruiting, high prices, low graduation rates and heavy borrowing by students who often have poor job prospects afterward. They have been a particular target of overhaul efforts by the Obama administration. Much of the attention has gone to a handful of large, visible national chains, like the University of Phoenix, DeVry University and Corinthian Colleges, that are publicly traded. But like Premier, which had 17,000 students in 2012, most are privately owned and receive far less scrutiny.

In a separate case in New Jersey, dozens of former Harris students say that the school lied about what professional certifications they would qualify for after completing their courses; some were given a brochure saying they could sit for a dental assistant certification exam — an exam that had not been offered for years. Premier settled a similar case a few years ago before it went to trial.

The former employees’ federal suit also charges that the school enrolled people who should not have been in its programs — like a student enrolled for massage therapy, though he had been convicted of a sex crime, which would prevent him from being licensed. They say the schools enrolled students who had not graduated from high school, though their programs required it, including some who presented diplomas from known fraudulent “diploma mills.”
One more example of a business "making its numbers" by any means possible or what should be known as "The Business As Usual Model".

Finally they get a chance at parole

After all these years stuck in an illegal concentration camp, the prisoners of of Guantanamo will be facing the equivalent of a parole board hearing, including one fellow who was supposed to be a bad actor, Abu Zubaydah.

The Department of Defense has released an official list identifying 71 Guantanamo Bay prisoners who are eligible to receive parole-board-style hearings. The list includes a high-profile former CIA captive named Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded dozens of times.

Pentagon officials acknowledged last July that 71 prisoners qualified for parole board hearings, but they refused to identify who those prisoners were.

It’s unknown what criteria the Pentagon used to determine that Zubaydah, identified on the list as Zayn al-Ibidin Muhammed Husayn, qualified for a hearing before a Periodic Review Board, whose job is to assess whether “continued law of war detention is necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States."

Last year, Al Jazeera exclusively obtained six volumes of diaries Zubaydah wrote between 1990 and his capture in March 2002. The government-translated documents revealed that he helped accused members of Al-Qaeda escape from Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion in 2001.

Attorneys for Zubaydah said they have not been notified about a hearing for the high-value prisoner, and it seems unlikely the panel of government officials who sit on the parole board would conclude that Zubaydah no longer poses a national-security threat to the U.S.

The unclassified two-page list was obtained by Al Jazeera in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed last July, immediately after a Defense Department official began notifying attorneys for some prisoners that parole hearings would begin in an effort to empty out Guantanamo and help President Barack Obama make good on his five-year-old promise to shutter the detention facility.

The list of potential parolees was released at a time of heightened secrecy at Guantanamo. In mid-December, prison officials announced they would no longer provide the media with the number of prisoners on hunger strike or those who have been designated for force-feeding. Moreover, the prison’s public affairs staff in January issued a stricter set of ground rules for journalists who tour the detention facility.

What’s notable about the parole list is that it is dated April 19, 2013, indicating that it was prepared at the height of — and perhaps in response to — a mass hunger strike at Guantanamo.
Just like "double secret probation", no one knows what the criteria or ground rules will be but since the idea is to ship off as many of the inconvenient prisoners as possible, we know that some will regain their freedom.

What are they trying to sneak past us now?

From McClatchy:
The Department of Homeland Security warned airlines Wednesday to watch for explosives hidden in the shoes of passengers flying into the United States from overseas, officials said.

The alert was based on new intelligence indicating that a shoe bomb may be used to blow up a U.S.-bound jetliner, said two law enforcement officials who described the bulletin on the condition of anonymity.

Officials said the threat was not specific to a particular airline, flight, country or time. It was not related to the Winter Olympics underway in Sochi, Russia.

The alert was issued "out of an abundance of caution," said a homeland security official.

Airport screeners at international airports were instructed to step up scrutiny of passengers boarding flights for the United States.

Screeners will increase uses of swabs that can detect traces of explosive powder on shoes, bags and hands. They also are likely to pull aside more passengers for pat-downs and full-body screening, officials said.
And if you aren't properly knee-knocking scared, you will be in big trouble.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Born in Australia, living in Canada and singing one of the Boss's signature tunes

"Dancing In The Dark". Ruth Moody does keep herself busy traveling solo and with the Wailin' Jennys and with Mark Knopfler when she is not writing new songs.

It's all a matter of what you call it

From the pen of Tom Toles

Never punished, they never learn.

The shoddy and dishonest mortgage practices that hurt so many and were supposed to be ended with a nice huge settlement, have just moved to another corner of the banking arena.
A growing number of homeowners trying to avert foreclosure are confronting problems on a new front as the mortgage industry undergoes a seismic shift.

Shoddy paperwork, erroneous fees and wrongful evictions — the same abuses that dogged the nation’s largest banks and led to a $26 billion settlement with federal authorities in 2012 — are now cropping up among the specialty firms that collect mortgage payments, according to dozens of foreclosure lawsuits and interviews with borrowers, federal and state regulators and housing lawyers.

These companies are known as servicers, but they do far more than transfer payments from borrowers to lenders. They have great power in deciding whether homeowners can win a mortgage modification or must hand over their home in a foreclosure.

And they have been buying up servicing rights at a voracious rate. As a result, some homeowners are mired in delays and confronting the same heartaches, like the peculiar frustration of being asked for the same documents over and over again as the rights to their mortgage changes hands.

Wanda Darden of Riverdale, Md., has been bounced among three separate servicers since January 2012. Each time, the mix-ups multiply. “I either get conflicting answers or no answer at all,” said Ms. Darden, who is 62.

Servicing companies like Nationstar and Ocwen Financial now have 17 percent of the mortgage servicing market, up from 3 percent in 2010, according to Inside Mortgage Finance, an industry publication.

At first, some federal housing regulators quietly cheered the shift to the specialized companies, thinking that they could more nimbly help troubled homeowners without the same missteps. But as the buying bonanza steps up, some federal and state regulators are worried that the rapid growth could create new setbacks like stalled modifications for millions of Americans just as many were getting back on track from the housing crisis.

This month, New York State’s top banking regulator, Benjamin M. Lawsky, indefinitely halted the transfer of about $39 billion in servicing rights from Wells Fargo to Ocwen.

Katherine Porter, who was appointed by the California attorney general to oversee the national mortgage settlement, says complaints about mortgage transfers have surged, adding that the servicing companies have “overpromised and underdelivered.” Her office alone has received more than 300 complaints about servicing companies in the last year.
Rapid growth has caused many of the same problems to reappear and the knowledge that any penalties will be affordable in the face of huge profits to be made has the servicers ROTFLTAO. Nothing will get fixed until some gets put in a PHITA jail.

White fear trumps black life

By Leonard Pitts

"You can get killed just for living in your American skin." - Bruce Springsteen

On Aug. 7, 1930, two young black men were lynched in Marion, Ind.

A photographer named Lawrence Beitler had a studio across the street from the lynching tree. He came out and snapped what became an iconic photo, which he made into a postcard and sold. It shows Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith hanging dead and their executioners, faces clearly visible, milling about as if at a picnic. Though authorities possessed this damning photographic evidence, they never arrested anyone for the crime. It was officially attributed to "persons unknown."

This was not a unique thing. To the contrary, it happened thousands of times. And African-Americans carry this knowledge deep, carry it in blood and sinew, the understanding that the justice system has betrayed us often, smashed our hopes often, denied the value of our lives, often.

This knowledge lent a certain tension and poignancy to the wait for a verdict in the Jordan Davis trial last week. Davis was the black kid shot dead by a white man, Michael Dunn, at a gas station in Jacksonville, Fla., in November 2012 after an argument over loud music. Dunn's story was fishy from the beginning.

He claimed Davis pointed a weapon at him. No weapon was ever found. Nor was Dunn ever able to satisfactorily explain why he fired off a second round of shots as the SUV in which Davis was riding tried to retreat. Or why he left the scene and failed to call police. Or why his fiancee, who was inside the convenience store when the shooting started, says he never mentioned Davis' phantom "gun" to her.

A guilty verdict would seem to have been a forgone conclusion. It wasn't.

Indeed, the verdict was mystifying. Dunn was found guilty on three counts of attempted murder - meaning the three other young men in the SUV with Davis - but the jury deadlocked on the murder charge. It makes no sense: If Dunn is guilty of the three charges, how can he not be guilty of the fourth?

The jury's inability to hold him accountable for Davis' death only validates African-Americans' grimmest misgivings about the "just us" system. Brittney Cooper, an assistant professor at Rutgers University, put it as follows on Twitter: "This is not just about jail time. This is about whether white fear legally means more than black life."

It is an observation pregnant with painful truth, truth that was already old in 1930 when Shipp and Smith were butchered.

Dunn decided Davis was - his word - a "thug" and shot him. And we've seen this movie so many times before. George Zimmerman decided Trayvon Martin was a thug and stalked him. New York police decided Amadou Diallo was a thug and shot him. And so on.

These decisions are made independent of anything a man actually is - or does. They are made on sight, out of the same impulse that finds African-Americans committing a minority of drug crimes but doing, in some jurisdictions, 90 percent of drug time. They are made, in a word, in fear, the unspoken but clear recognition that black boys and men are our national boogeymen - they threaten by existing - and therefore it is ... understandable if occasionally one gets shot by accident.

If Davis had been a white kid in an SUV full of same playing their music too loudly, does anyone really think the confrontation with Dunn would have escalated to the point of gunfire? And if for some reason it had, is anyone so naive as to believe the jury would have failed to convict Dunn of murder?

But Dunn, unlike the killers of Shipp and Smith - and Martin and Diallo - is at least going to jail for something, right? Indeed, at 47, he may spend the rest of his life behind bars. And yes, you could call that progress.

But you could call it some other things, too.

Been a long time coming

But the Fed is finally taking steps to remedy one of the major bankster flaws following the collapse of the Great Recession.
The Federal Reserve moved Tuesday to correct one of the main causes of the 2008 financial crisis, ordering the nation’s largest domestic banks and foreign ones operating in the United States to hold more capital in case things go bad.

The long-anticipated rule covers banks both domestic and international with assets above $50 billion. It was required as part of the sweeping revamp of financial regulation back in 2010 that followed the most devastating financial crisis since the Great Depression. It aims to reduce system-wide risks.

Before the crisis, large interconnected financial institutions, many of them global in scale, were spottily supervised or had portions of their businesses supervised by multiple regulators. No one regulator was seeing the complete picture of the financial institution’s activities and risks.

“As the financial crisis demonstrated, the sudden failure or near failure of large financial institutions can have destabilizing effects on the financial system and harm the broader economy,” said Janet Yellen, the new Fed chairwoman. “And as the crisis also highlighted, the traditional framework for supervising and regulating major financial institutions and assessing risks contained material weaknesses.”

The rule, she said, would “help address these sources of vulnerability.”

Giant foreign banks operating in the United States would have to create U.S.-based intermediate holding companies that would be regulated by the Fed and would be subject to stricter capital requirements and enhanced risk-management efforts. They’d essentially be treated as if they were domestic banks.
This does nothing to stop the inbred dishonesty of the banksters, it just provides a little more bounce when the dead cat hits the pavement.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A modern American folk singer from Vermont

Anaïs Mitchell sings "Dyin Day" from her 2012 album YOUNG MAN IN AMERICA.

An avian poo flinger

From the pen of Pat Oliphant

It once was the Night has a Thousand Eyes

But that is no longer true
, at least not at Newark Airport. Thanks to a new type of LED lighting thos Thousand Eyes are available 24 hours so your Big Airport Brother can now keep a close watch on what you are doing.
Visitors to Terminal B at Newark Liberty International Airport may notice the bright, clean lighting that now blankets the cavernous interior, courtesy of 171 recently installed LED fixtures. But they probably will not realize that the light fixtures are the backbone of a system that is watching them.

Using an array of sensors and eight video cameras around the terminal, the light fixtures are part of a new wireless network that collects and feeds data into software that can spot long lines, recognize license plates and even identify suspicious activity, sending alerts to the appropriate staff.

The project is still in its early stages, but executives with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, are already talking about expanding it to other terminals and buildings.

To customers like the Port Authority, the systems hold the promise of better management of security as well as energy, traffic and people. But they also raise the specter of technology racing ahead of the ability to harness it, running risks of invading privacy and mismanaging information, privacy advocates say.
Of course it will only be used for good when it is introduced. But let's be honest, how long before the folks running it give into the temptation to use it for other purposes. Probably not very long at all.

A few interesting short bits

  Another banker has killed himself
, this one the second from JP Morgan Chase. He was allegedly a junior employee and not involved in any area of banking currently under investigation by several governments. He is also the fourth banker in as many weeks to kill himself. It's almost as if someone is getting rid of any witnesses.

  Bloomberg reports
on a most encouraging sign of economic recovery, the divorce rate is climbing. It seems that with an improved economy, people can now afford to split up.

 An important icon and staple of French life is currently endangered as the is only one French manufacturer left.
Laulhere, a 174-year-old beret-maker, is fighting to keep the quintessential French headgear French.

Laulhere became the country’s sole maker of traditional berets after it last week bought Blancq-Olibet, its only French competitor, which was almost 200 years old. Cheaper knockoffs from China, India and the Czech Republic made survival hard for local makers of berets, which have been as much a symbol of France as baguettes and Gauloises cigarettes.

“There are berets and there are berets,” said Mark Saunders, the head of sales at Laulhere and an Irishman who has lived in France for over two decades. “If you don’t want to smell like a sock wearing a wet beret, only our traditional French beret doesn’t retain odors. Small details like that make a difference.”
Remember, old sock, only you can save the genuine beret.

Please knock before attacking

Not that anybody in their right mind would do so, but if you are planning a conquest of Switzerland the weekend would be a good time to do it.
No Swiss fighter jets were scrambled Monday when an Ethiopian Airlines co-pilot hijacked his own plane and forced it to land in Geneva, because it happened outside business hours, the Swiss airforce said.

When the co-pilot on flight ET-702 from Addis Ababa to Rome locked himself in the cockpit while the pilot went to the bathroom and announced a hijacking, Italian and French fighter jets were scrambled to escort the plane through their respective airspaces.

But although the co-pilot-turned-hijacker quickly announced he wanted to land the plane in Switzerland, where he later said he aimed to seek asylum, Switzerland’s fleet of F-18s and F-5 Tigers remained on the ground, Swiss airforce spokesman Laurent Savary told AFP.

This, he explained, was because the Swiss airforce is only available during office hours. These are reported to be from 8am until noon, then 1:30 to 5pm.

“Switzerland cannot intervene because its airbases are closed at night and on the weekend,” he said, adding: “It’s a question of budget and staffing.”
It seems the Swiss have their budget properly prioritzed.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Unlike the singer in this song

Lindi Ortega is doing well enough to be nominated for a Juno award for her new album from which the title song is "Tin Star"

The Ultima Thule of income redistribution

Tom Tomorrow shows us what will finally happen as income inexorably moves upwards from our hands to the .001 and the final holder of all value.

First they stole your pensions

And while there are still some plans out there, most notably in the public sector, they are not given much longer to live. Therefore it is time to turn to the pension replacement, your 401k. The 1% know they can simply manipulate the markets and pour your savings into their accounts but that is disruptive and makes the peasants restless so they are taking a less obvious approach.
Employers are squeezing their workers’ retirement savings, holding back on both the amount and the timing of 401(k) matching funds and dragging out vesting schedules. Taken together, these measures are making it more difficult to save for old age.

Major companies that have engaged in such practices in recent years include Whole Foods Market Inc., Facebook Inc., Oracle Corp., Caesars Entertainment Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The most frugal have been scaling back company matches and setting lower limits for the maximum annual payment they’ll make to a 401(k) account, according to hundreds of government filings analyzed by Bloomberg. A difference of three percentage points on a match can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars lost for employees over the course of their careers.

“There’s been an implicit contract for years and years -- workers save and companies match -- but now they’re changing the rules,” said Brigitte Madrian, a Harvard Kennedy School professor who studies retirement policy and corporate management. “Most individuals can’t do it on their own. We’re going in the wrong direction.”
Used to be that a good company would match at least 50% of you contribution every time you got paid which was probably weekly. Then they realized the joys of paying you every two weeks or even monthly. Then they started to trim the match and now they are going for paying the match once a year, if you are still employed. If not, you lose. But the best part is if you leave the company before you are vested, they claw back all the match they might have made. And that tax deferred part, you put in so little each year it makes no difference in what you pay until you take it out. Let's face it, until someone puts a big money bounty on CEO scalps, you won't ever stand a chance of putting anything aside for your retirement.

One of the oldest water purification methods

Is being rejiggered with some modern touches to bring it into the 21st century. Evaporation/condensation has long been used to purify water, but the energy costs have made modern applications too expensive. An adaptation of solar technology is almost ready to bring the cost down to affordable levels.
The giant solar receiver installed on a wheat field here in California’s agricultural heartland slowly rotates to track the sun and capture its energy. The 377-foot array, however, does not generate electricity but instead creates heat used to desalinate water.

It is part of a project developed by a San Francisco area start-up called WaterFX that is tapping an abundant, if contaminated, resource in this parched region: the billions of gallons of water that lie just below the surface.

Financed by the Panoche Water District with state funds, the $1 million solar thermal desalinization plant is removing impurities from drainage water at half the cost of traditional desalinization, according to Aaron Mandell, a founder of WaterFX.

If the technology proves commercially viable — a larger plant is to be built this year — it could offer some relief to the West’s long-running water wars.

WaterFX faces a daunting and urgent task. The water is tainted with toxic levels of salt, selenium and other heavy metals that wash down from the nearby Panoche foothills, and is so polluted that it must be constantly drained to keep it from poisoning crops....

The parabolic-shaped receiver is a standard unit made by a Colorado company called SkyFuel for solar thermal power plants. It uses a reflective film rather than expensive mirrors to focus the sun on tubes containing mineral oil that are suspended over the solar array.

As the oil warms to 248 degrees, the heat is piped into refurbished, 1960s-era evaporators to generate steam. The steam then condenses fresh water and separates the salts and heavy metals. The cycle is repeated to further concentrate the brine.

WaterFX relies on off-the-shelf equipment except for a heat pump of its own design. The pump recycles excess steam for reuse through a chemical process rather relying on an electricity-driven compressor.

“It cuts the number of solar collectors you need roughly in half,” Mr. Mandell said.

That savings means WaterFX can purify water using half as much energy as conventional desalinization.

During the pilot project, WaterFX produced 14,000 gallons of purified water a day. A commercial version of the plant, set to be built this year on 31 acres of land, will produce 2,200 acre-feet a year. That’s the amount of water that would cover an acre of land at a depth of one foot, or 717 million gallons. The company will store excess heat generated by the solar array in molten salt to allow the plant to operate 24 hours a day.

Mr. Mandell said WaterFX currently produces an acre-foot of water for $450. That compares to about $280 an acre-foot charged by the Central Valley Project — when water is available.
The costs may be high now, but a drought is the perfect time to bring this online and work the bugs out and the price down.

A meeting to share some friendly sporting competition

And, shades of the Cold War, a protest breaks out following a perceived error by one of the officials at a hockey game.
It was the biggest demonstration so far concerning the Sochi Olympics, and it had nothing to do with gay rights, environmental damage or corruption.

Dozens of Russian fans gathered Monday outside the United States embassy in Moscow, some brandishing hockey sticks, to protest a disallowed goal scored by the Russian team in Saturday’s Olympic hockey match against the United States in Sochi, a decision that they felt cost them the game against their Cold War rivals.

A crowd of mainly students erected a large banner in front of the embassy reading, “Turn the referee into soap!”, a common Russian chant at sporting events, implying the referee is fit only to have his bones and body fat boiled down for soap.
I thought that the soap penalty was reserved for mistakes in the gold medal game. Oh well, nice banner they had.

When you respect the land, you must oppose KXL

And that is why various bands of First Immigrants across the West are preparing to fight the Canadian assault on the land.
Faith Spotted Eagle figures that building a crude oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast would bring little to Indian Country besides more crime and dirty water, but she doubts that Native Americans will ever get the U.S. government to block the $7 billion project.

“There is no way for Native people to say no – there never has been,” said Spotted Eagle, 65, a Yankton Sioux tribal elder from Lake Andes, S.D. “Our history has caused us not to be optimistic. . . . When you have capitalism, you have to have an underclass – and we’re the underclass.”

Opponents may be down after a State Department study found that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would not contribute to global warming. But they haven’t abandoned their goal of killing what some call “the black snake.”

In South Dakota, home to some of the nation’s poorest American Indians, tribes are busy preparing for nonviolent battle with “resistance training” aimed at TransCanada, the company that wants to develop the 1,700-mile pipeline.

While organizers said they want to keep their strategy a secret, they’re considering everything from vigils to civil disobedience to blockades to thwart the moving of construction equipment and the delivery of materials.

“We’re going to do everything we possibly can,” said Greg Grey Cloud of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, who attended a two-day conference and training session in Rapid City last week sponsored by the Oglala Sioux Tribe called “Help Save Mother Earth from the Keystone Pipeline.” He said tribes are considering setting up encampments to follow the construction, but he stressed that any actions would be peaceful. “We’re not going to damage anything or riot or anything like that,” he said.
As usual, some of the people, considered influential by the White Man, have been bribed to speak well of the economic benefits of the pipeline, despite most of the work would be low wage clean-up crews for the steady number of crude spills that can be expected from a TransCanada pipeline. That shouldn't stop them from putting up a good fight.

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