Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Golden Vanity

Crooked Still from their album Some Strange Country

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Traitor

And Martha Wainwright does justice to Leonard Cohen's song.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday! I thought you said Black Coffee!

And admit it, Sassy Sarah Vaughn is so much better than all those stupid stores.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

On this Thanksgiving Day

You might be wanting some exercise. If a full concert show of Katzenjammer doesn't get you moving, Jack, you dead! Don't mind the intro in German, they sing in English and they love what they do.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Leave the light on

Sung by Beth Hart

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Sung by Lucinda Williams

Monday, November 24, 2014

She's Played With Too Many Great Musicians

Not to be beter known for her own work. Shannon McNally singing "You Can't Pin a Color on Another"

And now, a respite from our dismal present

Tom Tomorrow gives us a first hand look at what the future will give us.

Logic lies buried next to Irony

From the pen of Jim Morin

Graft in the Iraqi Army

In a report in the New York Times, we get an understanding of the scope and effect of graft in the New Iraqi Army.
One Iraqi general is known as “chicken guy” because of his reputation for selling his soldiers’ poultry provisions. Another is “arak guy,” for his habit of enjoying that anis-flavored liquor on the job. A third is named after Iraq’s 10,000-dinar bills, “General Deftar,” and is infamous for selling officer commissions.

They are just a few of the faces of the entrenched corruption of the Iraqi security forces, according to Iraqi officers and lawmakers as well as American officials.

The Iraqi military and police forces had been so thoroughly pillaged by their own corrupt leadership that they all but collapsed this spring in the face of the advancing militants of the Islamic State — despite roughly $25 billion worth of American training and equipment over the past 10 years and far more from the Iraqi treasury.

Now the pattern of corruption and patronage in the Iraqi government forces threatens to undermine a new American-led effort to drive out the extremists, even as President Obama is doubling to 3,000 the number of American troops in Iraq.

The United States has insisted that the Iraqi military act as the conduit for any new aid and armaments being supplied for a counteroffensive, including money and weapons intended for tribal fighters willing to push out the Islamic State. In its 2015 budget, the Pentagon has requested $1.3 billion to provide weapons for the government forces and $24.1 million intended for the tribes.

But some of the weaponry recently supplied by the army has already ended up on the black market and in the hands of Islamic State fighters, according to Iraqi officers and lawmakers. American officials directed questions to the Iraqi government.

“I told the Americans, don’t give any weapons through the army — not even one piece — because corruption is everywhere, and you will not see any of it,” said Col. Shaaban al-Obeidi of the internal security forces, also a Sunni tribal leader in Anbar Province. “Our people will steal it.”
The problem lies not so much in the graft, which has always existed, but in the new operators who don't have the strictures of an established government like Saddam's which set rules and limits on all of it. In a wild, everybody for themselves atmosphere, anything can happen and does.

Talk about a bad set of choices

The US and Iran and 5 other nations
have been working for 14 months to reach an agreement to end a very bad situation that the US and Iran pushed each other into. At this time there is still no final agreement and there will probably be an extension of the talks. This is good because they can still work towards one and it is bad because as they do the hard-line conservative shitheads on both sides who would dearly love to fuck over their own leaders are marshaling their forces to do just that.
Despite a frenzied weekend of negotiations in Vienna capping 14 months of unprecedented diplomatic engagement, Iran and world powers have failed to reach an agreement addressing Western concerns over Tehran's nuclear program. But as yet, no one has has walked away from the table. The parties agreed Monday to a seven-month extension for reaching a final agreement — news that underscored both what has been achieved and the continued desire of all parties for a diplomatic solution.

Still, analysts warn that the extension could make concluding a deal more difficult because domestic political opposition to compromise is likely to increase in both Tehran and Washington and the durability of international sanctions against Iran could come into question...

Negotiators in Vienna failed to reach agreement on the timing and scope of sanctions relief, and on what restrictions on uranium enrichment Iran would be required to voluntarily accept over and above those demanded by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which it is a signatory. The NPT allows all signatories to enrich uranium for civilian purposes, but the U.S. and its allies fear that Tehran could use infrastructure permitted under the NPT to create fissile materiel to build nuclear weapons should it break out of the treaty. That's why Western powers want Iran to accept restrictions beyond those required by the NPT, in order to strengthen safeguards against any “breakout” toward weaponization. Iran denies that it seeks nuclear weapons, but insists on recognition of its rights under the NPT — a principle partly addressed by the fact that Western powers now appear to accept that Iran will maintain some degree of enrichment capacity on its own soil, having previously insisted that Tehran should not be allowed any such infrastructure. But the extent of Iran's enrichment capacity remains a point of contention, as is the question of the timetable and scope of easing the sanctions that have hindered Iran's economic growth.

“The domestic political costs of an extension will not be easy to contain,” said Reza Marashi, research director for the National Iranian American Council. “To date, Obama and Rouhani have done a fairly good job of handling their hawks and keeping them boxed in. An extension could empower extremists in both capitals who have long sought to torpedo the negotiations.”

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was elected in June 2013 with a mandate to repair relations with the international community, but ultimate decision-making power in Iran — including over the terms of the any nuclear deal — remains in the hands of the clerical Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Despite his intense distrust of the U.S. and its allies, Khamenei also recognizes that Iran’s economy desperately needs relief from the burden of sanctions. But Khamenei needs to be able to cast any deal as a win for Iran and a defeat for Iran's enemies, and he is reluctant to make what he thinks are undue concessions. Hardliners in Iran are also less inclined to seek a wider normalization of relations with the West.

“A straight extension will place the Rouhani administration in a very difficult position,” said Farideh Farhi, a leading Iran scholar based at the University of Hawaii, noting that the status quo created by last November’s agreement is more comfortable for the U.S. than for Iran. While it's “easier for Western powers to live with a straight extension," Farhi said, "this imbalance also risks the total collapse of the talks if not given due attention."
And in WAshington, President Obama has to face two different oppositions, the AIPAC directed crew supporting Netayahu's fascist agenda and the stark raving loonies who will never give PBO the time of day. Rather than supporting any kind of agreement, far too many are pushing for more sanctions to make their much sought after war easier to start. It's too bad that PBO isn't the dictator that these loons say he is, there is plenty of extra room in Guantanamo.

Chuck didn't fire enough generals

And so in the end they managed to grind him down. And as a result, they got their way in Iraq and Afghanistan again to the detriment of all of us as a country. And now they can add a trophy head on the wall.
Chuck Hagel, the beleaguered Secretary of Defense, announced he will step down less then two years after taking office and at the height of the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State terrorist group.

President Barack Obama announced the departure in the State Dining Room Monday morning. Hagel and Vice President Joe Biden stood beside him.

“Over nearly two years, Chuck has been an exemplary defense secretary, providing a steady hand as we modernized our strategy and budget to meet long-term threats while still responding to immediate challenges like ISIL and Ebola,” Obama said. “Thanks to Chuck, our military is on a firmer footing engaged in these missions and looking ahead to the future.”

Obama said Hagel came to see him and “determined that having guided the department through this transition, it was an appropriate time for him to complete his service.”

Hagel submit his resignation Monday.

“It's been the greatest privilege of my life -- the greatest privilege of my life to lead and most important, to serve -- to serve with the men and women of the Defense Department and support their families,” Hagel said.

It was unclear who would replace the 68-year-old Vietnam veteran and former Republican senator from Nebraska, as no replacement would be named during the ceremony.
President Obama needs to consider a replacement who is respected by country and will drive the Teabaggers nuts. Or he could name Mitch McConnell and let Gov Beshear name a qualified replacement for the Senate.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Village girl moves to Brooklyn

And got there by busking on the subway. Elizabeth & The Catapult sing "Happy Pop" from her newest album Like It Never Happened.

A Thanksgiving Carol?

From the pen of Brian McFadden

Michigan Court rules in favor of stupidity

In a ruling that should strike terror in the hearts of everyone who believed that the United States is a civilized nation, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the state has no responsibility to educate its children, at least not the dark ones in poor neighborhoods.
A 2-1 decision reversed an earlier circuit court ruling that there is a “broad compelling state interest in the provision of an education to all children.” The appellate court said the state has no constitutional requirement to ensure schoolchildren actually learn fundamental skills such as reading — but rather is obligated only to establish and finance a public education system, regardless of quality. Waving off decades of historic judicial impact on educational reform, the majority opinion also contends that “judges are not equipped to decide educational policy.”

“This ruling should outrage anyone who cares about our public education system,” said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties of Michigan. “The court washes its hands and absolves the state of any responsibility in a district that has failed and continues to fail its children.”

The decision dismisses an unprecedented “right-to-read” lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Michigan in July 2012 on behalf of eight students of nearly 1,000 children attending K-12 public schools in Highland Park, Mich. The suit, which named as defendants the State of Michigan, its agencies charged with overseeing public education and the Highland Park School District, maintained that the state failed to take effective steps to ensure that students are reading at grade level.

“Let’s remember it was the state that turned the entire district over to a for-profit charter management company with no track record of success with low performing schools,” said Moss. “It is the state that has not enforced the law that requires literacy intervention to children not reading at grade level. It is the state’s responsibility to ensure and maintain a system of education that serves all children.”

In a dissenting opinion, appellate court judge Douglas Shapiro accused the court of “abandonment of our essential judicial roles, that of enforcement of the rule of law even where the defendants are governmental entities, and of protecting the rights of all who live within Michigan’s borders, particularly those, like children, who do not have a voice in the political process.”
No doubt the charter school industry will hail this as a blow for private profit at public expense.

13 Years In Shitholeistan

And this is what we got. From the New York Times:
“This is our daily life,” said the police chief of Tagab district, a mostly Taliban-controlled patch of Kapisa Province about an hour from Kabul, as rounds struck the compound’s edges, showering his men with dirt. “Everything is like this — you can see it with your own eyes.”

In areas like this, it is the government that operates in the shadows, following the dictates of the Taliban in order to stay alive. Afghan soldiers in Tagab district will not leave their base except for one hour each day starting at 9 a.m., when the Taliban allow them to visit the bazaar as long as the soldiers remain unarmed.

The situation in southern Kapisa Province has quietly become one of the greatest challenges of the war for the new government of President Ashraf Ghani. In the absence of international troops or their air support, the Taliban have eclipsed the legitimacy of government forces there and in several other parts of the country, in what many see as a worrying portent for the coming years.

It is trouble spots like Kapisa, and several others where insurgents have directly confronted security forces and district centers, that helped drive the American military to lobby President Obama to approve a more aggressive role in 2015 than just training and advising. The new authorization would also allow more American air support of Afghan forces, after a year of record-high casualties at the Taliban’s hands.

As they racked up more victories this year, the Taliban grew noticeably bolder.

These days, the Kapisa police chief says, the insurgents mass in larger numbers than even six months ago. They already control a crucial stretch of a highway leading into Kabul, and some local officials believe the militants are trying to carve a large area of Taliban rule across the lower two-thirds of the province.
Mighty white of the Taliban to let the soldiers visit the bazaar. And if this is the best we can get after 13 years, why do we believe the Pentagon when they ask for more time?

Safety warning for TV viewers

Not much surprise here

The Swiss pride themselves on their banking services so it would make sense to study bank workers. The results were not something the Swiss can be proud of.
Researchers in Switzerland studied bank workers and other professionals in experiments in which they won more money if they cheated, and found that bankers were more dishonest when they were made particularly aware of their professional role.

When bank employees were primed to think less about their profession and more about normal life, however, they were less inclined to dishonesty.

"Many scandals... have plagued the financial industry in the last decade," Ernst Fehr, a researcher at the University of Zurich who co-led the study, told reporters in a telephone briefing. "These scandals raise the question whether the business culture in the banking industry is favoring, or at least tolerating, fraudulent or unethical behaviors."

Fehr's team conducted a laboratory game with bankers, then repeated it with other types of workers as comparisons.

The first study involved 128 employees all levels of a large international bank - the researchers were sworn to secrecy about which one - and 80 staff from a range of other banks.

Participants were divided into a treatment group that answered questions about their profession, such as "what is your function at this bank;" or a control group that answered questions unrelated to work, such as "how many hours of TV do you watch each week?"

They were then asked to toss a coin 10 times, unobserved, and report the results. For each toss they knew whether heads or tails would yield a $20 reward. They were told they could keep their winnings if they were more than or equal to those of a randomly selected subject from a pilot study.

Given maximum winnings of $200, there was "a considerable incentive to cheat," Fehr's team wrote in the journal Nature, online November 19.

The results showed the control group reported 51.6% winning tosses and the treatment group - whose banking identity had been emphasized to them - reported 58.2% as wins, giving a misrepresentation rate of 16%. The proportion of subjects cheating was 26%.
And the cheating was driven by their recognition of their roles as bankers. So now we know that fiduciary responsibility is a driving force behind bankers dishonesty. That's a tough place to be.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Florida ginger rocker

Kim Logan went to Boston to learn her craft and now hangs out in the Southeast. This is "Black Magic Boy" from her eponymous debut album.

For the first time since Monday

I was able to drive my car to the grocery store. Between the 5 feet of snow and the travel bans, its been a while. Mind you, I am not a snow virgin, but after two consecutive snowboobs* I can identify with the remarks of Bills running back and Mississippi native Boobie Dixon.
"All the ice, the cold temperature. It’s been different. It’s been a learning experience. Next time I’ll definitely be more ready for it."

How so?

"When I hear lake effect, I’m going to run as far as I can,"
Don't look back, I might be gaining on you.

*What you call a haboob sandstorm made of snow.

Poor Mitch, The Things He Is Forced To Do

From the pen of Stuart Carlson

House Intelligence Committee finds no wrong in Benghazi

Something which many may find surprising considering the lack of intelligence in the Republican majority on the committee. One has to suppose this is merely the result of the end of a successful election.
The CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, a Republican-controlled House committee has found. Its report asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration officials.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the two-year investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.

The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week. Many of its findings echo those of six previous investigations by various congressional committees and a State Department panel. The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May.
Let us not forget there are two other committees that the Republicans can use against Hilary when the time comes. There is the House Dumb Committee headed by Congressfelon Darrell Issa and the House Select Dumber Committee under the leadership of that creepy guy Trey Gowdy. The Republicans never have just one arrow.

You know that war that was supposed to end?

The one in Shitholeistan?
Well, don't stop counting your coffins quite yet. It has come to pass that inorder to protect the 9,800 poor souls left behind, who were always going to remain in harms way, President Obama has signed an order allowing them to conduct combat missions to protect themselves.
Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.

In an announcement in the White House Rose Garden in May, Mr. Obama said that the American military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year, and that the missions for the 9,800 troops remaining in the country would be limited to training Afghan forces and to hunting the “remnants of Al Qaeda.”

The decision to change that mission was the result of a lengthy and heated debate that laid bare the tension inside the Obama administration between two often-competing imperatives: the promise Mr. Obama made to end the war in Afghanistan, versus the demands of the Pentagon that American troops be able to successfully fulfill their remaining missions in the country.

The internal discussion took place against the backdrop of this year’s collapse of Iraqi security forces in the face of the advance of the Islamic State as well as the mistrust between the Pentagon and the White House that still lingers since Mr. Obama’s 2009 decision to “surge” 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan. Some of the president’s civilian advisers say that decision was made only because of excessive Pentagon pressure, and some military officials say it was half-baked and made with an eye to domestic politics.
It's nice of him to allow them to be proactive, but the idea that they will successfully complete their mission is a sure guarantee of perpetual deployment there. It was always too good to be true that we would leave that shithole.

Friday, November 21, 2014

When they weren't walking on sunshine

Katrina & The Waves could do a good job rocking a song, as they do with "Red Wine & Whiskey"

Elizabeth Warren speaks

And you would do well to listen, she is smart and she does care about you and me.

Obama hands off to the GOP

From the pen of David Horsey

You don't miss your water 'til your well runs dry

Nor do you put a real value on it until then. Now that California is gripped in a major drought, thieves have quickly found the real value of water and where to take it from.
They drive in the thick of night with a 1,000-gallon tank on the back of a pickup and go after the liquid gold wherever they can find it. Some have hit the same target twice in one night, filling up their tank, unloading it into storage and returning for a second fill-up.

Counties mostly in the more rural northern parts of California are reporting a surge in thefts and illegal diversions of water from wells and streams. The prime suspects are illegal marijuana farmers desperate for water before the fall harvest, which would explain the surge in water thievery over the summer.

“A lot of the wells have gone dry, and the marijuana growers have run out of water and have been illegally taking the water out of the creeks,” said Hank Weston, supervisor in Nevada County, an old mining center in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California’s northwest. (The county has been around longer than the state of Nevada next door.)

“They have broken into a school district holding tank and in the fire department’s holding tank,” Weston said. “Some of the water trucks are pulling up near rivers and dropping water hoses in and suctioning it out.”

All of which is illegal, of course, but does not usually amount to much more than fines and a misdemeanor — at least for now.
With only fnes and misdemeanor charges to stop them, water rustling will probably continue as long as the drought and probably make it worse in some areas.

Frontline soldiers lead from the rear

Thanks to the advent of Droney and his fellow warriors, American boots can stay on the ground, in America.
In America’s war against the Islamic State, many of those fighting sit in a dark, cold room and stare at computer screens for 12 hours at a stretch.

There are dozens of them, men and women, each wearing camouflage, looking for suspected Iraqi and Syrian jihadists scurrying across the screen. If something changes on the screen – a group of dark figures crossing a street, a string of vehicles racing down a road – they pass the information to another pilot, who might decide to open fire with a Hellfire missile or an electronically guided bomb.

The greatest combat hazard they face is from the Red Bull and other sugary drinks they devour to stay awake; their unit has the worst rate of cavities in the Air Force.

“I would rather be deployed,” said Capt. Jennifer, a reservist and intelligence analyst whose full name the Air Force withheld for security reasons. “My daughter calls me because she is sick and I have to pick her up from school. When I am deployed forward I am deployed. I don’t have to worry about the day-to-day.”

With the Obama administration’s strategy of “degrading and ultimately destroying” the Islamic State without putting American combat troops – “boots on the ground” – at risk, much of the war against the group depends on remotely piloted aircraft with names such as Predator and Reaper that are guided from rooms like this one, at a base three hours south of Washington. The way the administration now talks about war is changing the nature of war itself.

Drones that in previous conflicts had been used to provide support to troops on the ground now have become a vital form of fighting. But with no one on the ground to corroborate what pilots think they see from the drones, the certainty of what’s happening is limited. Air Force and U.S. Central Command officials concede that’s delayed the response to some Islamic State activity.

The airmen – the title applies to female pilots, too – can’t agree among themselves whether they’re at war. Some think they should qualify for a coveted combat patch – right now they don’t – while others say it’s harder to fight a war when one is not actually there. They say they must resist thinking they’re playing a video game.
Most military who have actually been shot at would resist giving any combat credit to those whose only experience has been playing "Duke Drone'em", no matter how many bad guys they may eliminate. And while the most cynical may say "Kill 'Em All & Let God Sort Them Out", it is the drone warriors who are putting that into practice.

Lewis Black On His Name Day

Black Friday, that is. Or is is Black Thanksgiving?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

They do have jungle in Australia

So it is OK for Lanie Lane to sing "Jungle Man" from her album To The Horses.

History is a series of repetitions

From the pen of David Horsey

How about role model for the next POTUS?

Elizabeth Warren
has said many times that she is not planning a run for the White House and I believe her. She has the fire in her belly but she knows the handcuffs that the office puts on the winner and she will not be constrained. That being said, she is a great role model for whoever does win because she is the tip of the iceberg for the true feelings of a large majority of Americans.
Well then, a question buried in the new NBC-Wall Street Journal national poll suggests that the electorate is absolutely primed for the populist messaging that she has rode to prominence.

Asked whether they agreed that "the economic and political systems in the country are stacked against people like me," 56 percent of respondents in the NBC-WSJ poll agreed. That's a massive increase in the number of people who believe the deck-is-stacked-against-me idea; when NBC-WSJ asked the question in July 2002, just 34 percent of people agreed with the sentiment. In recent years, that number has moved steadily upward — 54 percent said the system was stacked against them in August 2012, and 55 percent said the same in April 2014 in NBC-WSJ polling.

Enter Warren, whose recent career — she helped form the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before running for the Senate in 2012 — has been built on the idea that the average American isn't getting a fair shake (or even the chance at a fair shake) in today's America. Warren has described herself as growing up on the "ragged edge of the middle class" and getting her first job at 9. (She was a babysitter.) And she draws on that background when she speaks, casting herself as a populist warrior for the middle class...

I've written before that Warren is the liberal liberals thought they were getting when they elected Obama. She is combative and unapologetic in her beliefs — particularly on inequality — in a way liberals believe Obama has never been. And, stylistically and policy-wise, Warren also represents a clear contrast with the more cautious, Wall Street-friendly campaign that most people expect Hillary Clinton to make in 2016. (Make sure you read Noam Scheiber's wonderful piece from November 2013 explaining why Warren is Clinton's biggest nightmare.)
Breathes there anyone, man or woman, who gives voters something more to actually vote FOR?? That's all we want. And anybody who hopes to overcome the well financed Clinton LLC steamroller would do well to get some of her fire in their belly.

In this time of lower gas prices

It is not all beer and skittles for everybody. No, there are people and whole countries who will suffer while you slurp up all the 'dinosaur wine' that you can at prices you might now be able to afford.
If prices remain low for a protracted period, which seems likely, it’ll send shock waves across the energy sector. For oil-producing countries, that could mean budget shortfalls. For energy companies, the lower profits may force mergers and consolidation that will cost thousands of jobs.

Oil prices have tumbled in recent months from their peak at about $105 a barrel in June to their current lows, below $75 on Wednesday. The Energy Information Administration projected last week that gasoline prices would stay under $3 a gallon throughout next year. A gallon of regular unleaded averages $2.86, the motor club AAA said Wednesday, about 25 cents lower than a month ago.

For American consumers, who used 135.4 billion gallons of gasoline last year, that’s a big savings – nearly $34 billion on an annualized basis.

But for companies and countries that depend on oil prices for their income, it’s a trend that makes them nervous.

Already, the oilfield services giant Halliburton, anticipating lower prices, has announced it will buy rival Baker Hughes in a cash and stock deal worth $34.6 billion.

Venezuela, heavily dependent on oil revenue, is looking for a buyer for its U.S. refining operations that run under the Citgo brand. Global giant BP, whose stock has yet to recover after the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010, is widely viewed as in play. In fact, veteran energy analyst Fadel Gheit thinks that every private oil company except Exxon Mobil Corp., which is twice as large as its competitors, is now potentially a merger target.

“If oil prices remain sub-$80 for a long period of time, we’re going to see a lot of mergers and acquisitions,” said Gheit, who works for the investment bank Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. When Exxon Corp. and Mobil Corp. merged in 1999, the combined company was able to eliminate 50,000 jobs. “Companies are drawing short lists of targets: plan A, plan B and plan C.”

In the past, when oil was too abundant, producers simply left it in the ground. The curtailed production tightened supplies and drove up prices. That’s going to be tougher to do now, analysts say, which explains why oil ministers from nations that belong to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have been deep in consultation before OPEC next meets on Nov. 27.
You hear that! Mergers! That means CEO's will be required to lay off thousands of workers because they need to overpay for their deals and still cook up profits for Wall St. And there is as yet no word on which OPEC countries will be forced to merge as a result of these abnormal price drops.

R.I.P. Mike Nichols

The American stage and screen has lost a great director. And funny, too. I hope your family has an easier time with your funeral.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Nowadays we forget that once Leonard Cohen could sing

And here he duets on 'Hey,That's No Way To Say Goodbye' with a California folk singer Julie Felix who went to Britain to make it.

The answer for everything, sort of.

Jesus and Mo figure out religious conflict

Go ahead and complain about payday lenders

But because of the breadth and depth of the problem, don't expect much relief because of it. The Consumer Financial Protection Board has become the best remedy you can find but it is also severely constrained in what it achieves.
Barely 1 in 10 customers who have complained about being ripped off or badly treated by a payday lender has seen any form of relief, according to an analysis by Al Jazeera of data kept by the regulatory authority tasked with protecting against loan sharks.

Figures from the Consumer Financial Protection Board’s (CFPB) database show that the regulator followed up on 1,579 complaints since payday loan customers were first allowed to file grievances with the board last November.

Of the 1,490 complaints that have been successfully closed, just 11 percent resulted in relief for the complainant. About 5 percent resulted in financial recompense, and 6 percent concluded with the consumer receiving some kind of nonmonetary relief, such as changes to the person’s credit report.

Consumer action groups praised the CFPB for finally providing a portal to lodge complaints about predatory tactics by payday lenders but said that the number of victims being handed back cash was “too small.”

The vast majority of complaints to the CFPB — about 86 percent — were “closed with explanation,” meaning the lender offered a response tailored to the individual complaint but provided no substantive relief. A small number of complaints were closed without any explanation or relief from the lender...

“The CFPB, as far as I can tell, has set up by far the best complaint process of any federal government agency,” she said. “However, there’s still work to be done in the complaint resolution area, and while they certainly cannot help resolve every complaint that comes across their desk, we would like to see more attention to resolution. Their numbers are too small, and it would be too easy to assume that if a complaint is closed, it is resolved or in some way settled.”

The CFPB looks for patterns in consumer complaints, so if a particular lender or company receives an unusual volume of complaints or fails to resolve them satisfactorily, the agency may take further action. The CFPB has been known to sue companies believed to be engaging in predatory practices. In September the agency filed suit against the Hydra Group, an online payday lender accused of illegally depositing loans in and withdrawing fees from the bank accounts of unsuspecting consumers. But constraints on the agency’s resources means that it needs to choose targets selectively, as Cordray has acknowledged.

“Complaints are not only opportunities for us to help specific people. They also make a difference by informing our work and helping us identify and prioritize problems,” he said in a speech earlier this month. “We know that if we hear about a particular problem from 50 consumers, it likely looms larger than if we hear about it from two. We know that if we begin to see a disturbing trend, we should consider allocating some of our limited resources to combat that particular problem.”
And if Elizabeth Warren had not worked so diligently to shield the funding for CFPB from politics, they would not even have what they do now. And though they may try to keep a low profile, we can expect any number of Republican/Teabaggers attacks to prevent the CFPB from doing even this minimum of relief. Their good friends in the payday lending business expect nothing less.

Bad NSA surveillance bill blocked in Senate

A last effort to pass a Democrat sponsored bill to put a happy face on NSA spying on US citizens phone calls has been filibustered by Mitch McConnell.
Legislation to keep most Americans' phone records out of government hands was defeated in the Senate on Tuesday, dooming at least for now prospects of national security reforms that supporters said would protect the privacy of law-abiding citizens.

A motion failed to get the necessary 60 votes needed to cut off debate on the bill sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., with most Republicans voting against. The final vote was 58 in favor to 42 against.

One of its most outspoken foes was incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who said stopping the National Security Agency from collecting telephone dialing records "would end one of our nation's critical capabilities to gather significant intelligence on terrorist threats."

Citing the recent beheadings of U.S. citizens in Syria, McConnell said, "This is the worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our backs."

Born of whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations that the NSA was secretly archiving data from virtually every telephone call made in the United States, the Leahy bill, dubbed the USA Freedom Act, would have required the NSA to request such records from telephone companies rather than collect and store the information itself.

Except in emergencies, U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI would have had to seek approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to access and use the data, and only in cases involving suspected terrorism or espionage. A similar procedure is used now to access the NSA database, but critics say that current system is open to abuse.

"The bill contains key reforms to safeguard Americans' privacy by prohibiting the indiscriminate collection of their data," Leahy argued. "It also provides for greater accountability and transparency of the government's surveillance programs."

At issue are telephone company records of customers and the phone numbers they have dialed, including date, time and duration of calls, but not the conversations themselves.

Privacy advocates vowed to keep fighting to limit government access to telephone records. Some key provisions of the USA Patriot Act - the post 9-11 law that authorized collection of the phone records - expire in June, when the congressional fight over privacy is likely to resume.

After Republicans take control of the Senate in January, it will be difficult to make changes as broad as those proposed by Leahy. But House Republicans have been more favorable to privacy concerns, and advocates hope they will continue to push.

Republican opposition came from both sides of the debate. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who is expected to seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, voted against the bill because he said it did not do enough to protect individuals' privacy.

But former CIA Director Michael V. Hayden and former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, who both served under President George W. Bush, wrote in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal that Leahy's bill was "exquisitely crafted to hobble the gathering of electronic intelligence."
Mitch plans to keep out all those "hobbles" while legitimizing further intrusions for the future Republican president, he hopes.

The Real Religious Right

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

One that you may have missed

Deena Webster a British folk singer from the 60's. Here she sings "Hurry, Tuesday Child"

Redefining the word

From the pen of Jim Morin

I Guess They Expect Us To Do It

Defend Europe that is. And why shouldn't they, almost 70 years after the end of World War II we still haven't left so we might as well do something useful. And since we are so eager to spend money on the military, we might as well pay for it.
A column of Russian tanks and artillery weapons rolled toward Donetsk in Ukraine recently, the latest move in a proxy war that’s seen Crimea and much of the country’s Donbas region pass from government control.

At the same time, fighting was raging in Kobani, Syria, between an assortment of Kurdish fighters and the radicals of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Donetsk is smack in the middle of Eastern Europe. Kobani is just beyond Europe’s southeastern edge, and thousands of radical fighters there come from Europe. The two hot spots span what military experts call the full spectrum of modern warfare, from the traditional Russian force to the far-too-common asymmetric threat of the terrorist Islamic State. Both represent very real and serious threats to European security.

Yet European militaries aren’t prepared to deal with either one, much less both. European security remains dependent on the might of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and NATO increasingly is dependent on the might of the United States. The European nations NATO was set up to defend contribute less and less to the organization.

“If we think about the threats from this year, there was no real possibility that Russia would push beyond Ukraine, because the Russians knew invading a NATO country would mean facing the might of the American military,” said Patrick Keller, an international security expert at the prestigious center-right Adenauer Stiftung research center in Berlin. “They most certainly would not have had similar concerns about facing the Bundeswehr,” the German army.

History isn’t kind to nations that neglect their own defense, a point military experts agree is on the minds of European leaders in light of the twin threats. But NATO’s over-reliance on the United States was built into the organization from the beginning, military analysts said. It was fundamental to the American role in a two-superpower world. Europe was never expected to contribute much, said Stephen Long, an international security expert at the University of Richmond, in Virginia.

“The European contribution is not so much the military force, but the rights/privileges/logistical support for the U.S. presence in Europe,” he wrote in an email.
Just one thing, we might be a little short of boots on the ground, can you spare a few divisions?

A good question

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Soderberg Sisters Unplugged

First Aid Kit performing "Master Pretender" from their Stay Gold album back home in Stockholm.

It just sort of grows by itself

Tom Tomorrow
looks at sexual harassment and how it just swells up from small, very small beginnings.

GOP prepare their death panel

From the pen of Tom Toles

It must be good for their business

Because the Affordable Care Act has made the health insurers into allies of President Obama and the Republican/Teabaggers into enemies of business and the free marketplace.
Those same insurers have long viewed government as an unreliable business partner that imposed taxes, fees and countless regulations and had the power to cut payment rates and cap profit margins.

But since the Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010, the relationship between the Obama administration and insurers has evolved into a powerful, mutually beneficial partnership that has been a boon to the nation’s largest private health plans and led to a profitable surge in their Medicaid enrollment.

The insurers in turn have provided crucial support to Mr. Obama in court battles over the health care law, including a case now before the Supreme Court challenging the federal subsidies paid to insurance companies on behalf of low- and moderate-income consumers. Last fall, a unit of one of the nation’s largest insurers, UnitedHealth Group, helped the administration repair the website after it crashed in the opening days of enrollment.

“Insurers and the government have developed a symbiotic relationship, nurtured by tens of billions of dollars that flow from the federal Treasury to insurers each year,” said Michael F. Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute.

The relationship is expected only to deepen as the two sides grow more intertwined.

“These companies all look at government programs as growth markets,” said Michael J. Tuffin, former executive vice president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the main lobby for the industry. “There will be nearly $2 trillion of subsidized coverage through insurance exchanges and Medicaid over the next 10 years. These are pragmatic companies. They will follow the customer.”
And in the meantime, the Republican/Teabaggers are left holding their teeny, weeny peenies and opposing free enterprise.

Our National Shame

Maintained at great expense because of a Republican law preventing its closure, Guantanamo Concentration Camp enters its 14th year.
It’s the first Tuesday in November, just another day as Guantánamo grinds on toward the detention center’s 14th year as the most expensive prison on earth with no end in sight. President Barack Obama ordered it emptied in 2009, on his second day in office, and people here are dubious that it will be done before his last.

It will close “a year from now, six months from now, 10 years from now — I don’t know,” says Zak, a Pentagon employee who has served as the prison’s Muslim cultural adviser since 2005.

“My focus is to ensure that I have operationally effective and safe facilities for a mission with an indeterminate end date,” says Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, the 14th commander of the prison operation.

One captive was let out this month, the seventh detainee to leave this year, to a rehabilitation center in his native Kuwait after nearly 13 years in U.S. custody. Six more men await the outcome of Uruguayan elections to see if President Jose Mujica’s successor will make good on a February offer to resettle them. Another six to eight are in the pipeline for transfers to Afghanistan and Europe, according to administration officials, with security assurances.

In all 779 foreign men have been held at Guantánamo since the prison opened Jan. 11, 2002. Nine have died here. Those who got out were repatriated or resettled by farflung American allies such as Palau in the South Pacific and Slovakia in central Europe.

Meantime, Guantánamo grinds on, churning through temporary forces doing mostly nine-month tours managing a largely “compliant” prisoner population — as well as the so-called 10 per centers, who constantly give the guards problems and pass their days mostly in lockdown.

The admiral has a four-year plan to build new barracks for the troops and a new kitchen to feed both guards and guarded. Also, if Congress funds it, a $69 million new lockup will be built for Guantánamo’s most prized detainees — the 15 former CIA captives, seven awaiting trial, and none approved for transfer, even with security assurances.

And the warden, who arrived this summer, doesn’t see the last detainee leaving before this commander in chief leaves office. “I think that’s an unrealistic hope,” said Army Col. David Heath. “I'll run it the best I can until either I'm told to close it or I leave.” His tour ends in the summer of 2016.
So the tour of duty there is only 9 months. Is that to keep from brutalizing the guards?

The Only Good KKK

From Anonymous

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Her fame came from singing other writers songs.

And Judy Collins did a fantastic job with works like "(Just Like) Tom Thumb's Blues" by Bob Dylan.

Where has he been?

From the pen of Brian McFadden

Can the Old Turtle keep his word?

Not that anybody really attaches any value to his promises anymore, but Mitch "The Old Turtle" McConnell did promise no more shutdowns. The trouble is his caucus now includes a significant number of stark raving loonies who will do anything to get their way, modern day Bolsheviks you might say.
“Let me make it clear: There will be no government shutdowns and no default on the national debt,” McConnell said in a valedictory news conference in Louisville.

Less than two weeks later, that pledge is facing its first big test. A series of deadlines will force the incoming Senate majority leader to either find a way to keep his word or else get dragged into the same cycle of showdowns that has yielded few conservative victories and a lot of public anger.

Rather than starting the new year with a clean slate, McConnell is increasingly likely to begin by dealing with a pile of leftover government funding bills. McConnell and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) hoped that those spending bills could be finished by mid-December and provide funding for the rest of 2015, enabling the newly emboldened Republican majorities on both sides of the Capitol to challenge Obama on a host of issues.

But McConnell could be tripped up by the same conservative forces that have undercut Boehner since he became speaker in 2011.

The issue this time is Obama’s expected executive action to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. Obama is likely to allow millions of illegal immigrants to remain in the country without fear of deportation — a move opponents refer to as “executive amnesty” — along with other changes.

Staunch conservatives, led by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the incoming chairman of the Budget Committee, have urged McConnell and Boehner to fight back by allowing only a short-term budget bill that would keep government agencies open until early next year.

These conservatives believe that once Republicans hold both chambers of Congress next year, they can force Obama to accept a budget bill that would prohibit him from implementing his executive order on immigration. Some Republicans, like Sessions, have said every option should be on the table, including a shutdown of the government over the issue.

The path McConnell takes between confronting Obama on immigration while keeping the federal government open could go a long way toward determining how he will serve as majority leader.

If McConnell can find a way forward, he could establish a foundation from which House and Senate Republicans can unite around conservative ideas without further damaging their party’s image.

If he blunders, however, the days of brinkmanship could return with a vengeance, and the government could once again be shut down. That could provide a devastating blow to Republicans, hurting their chance to win back the White House and hold on to their relatively slim Senate majority in 2016.
Can Mitch keep control of his Bolshie crew now that they no longer see a need for restraint? Time will tell.

Dodging a bullet

Just under a year ago there was a train derailment in Casselton, N.D. The resulting fire led to the temporary evacuation of half the town. On Thursday there was another derailment in Casselton, a mile from the first on and right next door to the local ethanol plant.
Unlike the Dec. 30 derailment, Thursday’s mishap didn’t ignite a huge fireball or lead to the evacuation of half the town. This time, the oil train was empty.

“Fortunately, this one here turned out better than last year’s,” said Casselton Fire Chief Tim McLean, who’s testified before Congress this year, at a news conference Thursday.

Still, the derailment of two trains about a mile from December’s accident site angered local officials and drew the attention of federal regulators who have spent more than a year working with the rail industry to improve the safety of crude oil shipments.

“We deserve some answers and I don’t think any of us want to hear anymore that this is a coincidence,” Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said Thursday night.

No one was injured in Thursday’s incident, when a freight train derailed into the path of the empty crude oil train on an adjacent track near an ethanol plant.

“We got lucky this time, the fact that these cars were empty. They derailed right next to the ethanol plant,” Laney said. “What if they had been full?”

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a statement Friday that luck wasn’t good enough.

“We saw what happened in Casselton almost a year ago and yesterday’s incident is disappointing,” she said.

BNSF Railway said Friday in a statement that a broken rail appears to have caused the latest derailment. The track is inspected regularly according to federal standards, the railroad said, and a visual inspection of the track on Wednesday revealed no defects.
Good fortune, grace of god, call it what you will, Casselton caught a lucky break this week.

Sunday Sermonette for a Secular Nation

Saturday, November 15, 2014

An American Addiction

Angaleena Presley sings "Pain Pills" from her new album American Middle Class.

The Mouse House, just like the White House

From the pen of Ted Rall

Philly, the new oil capitol of the US?

One can really hope not, but now that the industry has hit peak profit from drilling, the next step is "downstream" infrastructure enhancement. Some of it is currently in place and the industry is looking to expand it.
“Philly has the best ports, the best workforce, the best transportation and roads, great educational institutions and two very healthy refineries,” said Michael Krancer, a former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, now a lawyer working with some of the energy companies involved in pushing for the city to become an energy center.

“To put it mildly, eastern Pennsylvania is where the opportunity is to valorize our shale industry,” he said.

Krancer and others want to make Philadelphia a hub for processing and distributing the massive amounts of energy flowing through the state, thanks to the Marcellus Shale hydraulic fracturing boom.

Their plan would see much of the energy being produced through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the western part of the state piped to Philadelphia, where some refinery infrastructure already exists. If the proponents of this plan are successful, the second phase would be to build more infrastructure to turn that fuel into value-added products like plastics and chemicals, all at refineries and factories in the Philadelphia area.

There’s not much standing in the way economically. Several companies have long been pushing to build different parts of the framework. The biggest challenge may be convincing the public and local environmentalists that the plan won’t harm Philadelphia neighborhoods, some of which are already packed with oil and gas infrastructure, and the Delaware River, which runs right next to where much of the development has been proposed.

“If you've only got people talking about the benefits and others only talking about the costs — i.e., environmentalists — you’re not going to get a deal,” said Mark Alan Hughes, the director of the Kleinman Center on Energy and Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. “The big challenge is, can we overcome this political divide?”

Much of the plan hinges on a facility southeast of Philadelphia, Marcus Hook, where Sunoco Logistics Partners is converting a refinery that used to handle oil into one that can handle natural gas. The conversion will take place regardless of whether other parts of the project go through as Sunoco tries to take advantage of cheap natural gas prices in the state. Once the plant is converted, it could be the first in a string of other development plans around Philadelphia.

A second component is adding capacity for natural gas to two oil refineries, the longest-running ones on the East Coast, owned by Philadelphia Energy Solutions.

The third and perhaps most crucial aspect of the project is building a pipeline that can handle several times more natural gas liquids than the ones currently running from the Marcellus to Philadelphia. Sunoco Logistics Partners officially announced on Nov. 7 that it will be building that pipeline, the Mariner East 2, which will carry four times as much natural gas as its current Mariner East pipeline. The Mariner East 2 will take two years to build. Natural gas pipelines usually aren’t subject to local regulations and are overseen by a presidentially appointed panel, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But pipeline projects are notoriously contentious, and smaller pipelines to Philadelphia, including the first Mariner East, have run into community opposition.
The real question is, what part of the Delaware River will become the Houston Ship Channel North?

Bill Maher: Why Voting Matters

Bill Maher drops the bullshit and cuts to the heart of the matter.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Men and how they should be treated.

Elle King singing "Ex's & Oh's"

Those old bastards won't be here to enjoy it

From the pen of David Horsey

If you don't examine the evidence

How can you be expected to catch the perp?
And Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has pledged funding to help reduce the huge backlog of unexamined rape kits in police departments and hopefully catch some perps.
“Certainly, there is an issue of rape culture,” Natasha Alexenko, founder of Natasha’s Justice Group, said. “We hear people say things like, ‘Well, women lie,’ or, ‘She’s doing it to get revenge.’”

But analysts say each time a suspect is convicted with the help of DNA evidence, it helps to break down the assumption that rape victims lie about their assaults, a long-held notion that may have kept some rape victims’ evidence kits from being DNA-tested.

The announcement that the Manhattan DA’s office would disburse millions of dollars to counties across the country that apply for the funds comes after Congress recently re-approved the Debbie Smith Act. The legislation, renewed through 2019, gives federal grants to state and local law enforcement agencies so they can expedite the testing of evidence kits from sexual assault cases.

The law is named for a woman from Williamsburg, Virginia, who was dragged from her home by a masked stranger and raped in 1989. The evidence from her sexual assault evidence kit was not tested until 1994, which helped the police almost immediately apprehend her attacker.

The funding from the Manhattan DA will help pay the $1,000 to $1,500 it can cost to DNA-test the evidence in each rape kit. The U.S. Department of Justice has estimated that there are some 400,000 untested kits nationwide.

There are 12,000 untested kits in Memphis alone, 11,000 in Detroit and 4,000 in Cleveland, according to statistics gathered by the Rape Kit Action Project, a collaboration between the National Center for Victims of Crime, Natasha’s Justice Project, and the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN).

Rights advocates say they struggle to understand why such a staggering number of kits go untested, even after assault survivors go through a lengthy and uncomfortable physical exam to gather the forensic evidence.
The cost of testing the evidence can be daunting, especially in a sharply reduced funding environment as a result of massive Republican tax cuts at all levels. I'm not saying that the Republicans are deliberately providing cover for rapists, but it helps to know what happens when they slash governmental revenue.

Good thing he's not governor

Crazy Carl Paladino has found a way to enrich himself as a member of the Buffalo Board of Education, with a guaranteed 10% of profits. Strangely, certain members of the public have taken exception to Crazy Carl's scheme.
Joan L. Simmons is the latest to pile onto the anti-Carl Paladino train.

The Buffalo resident has filed complaints with five federal, state and city departments, accusing the real estate developer of conflicts of interest because he has business interests in six city charter schools and also votes on matters affecting charter schools as a member of the Buffalo School Board.

Her filings come on top of recent anti-Paladino rallies sponsored by the Buffalo Teachers Federation and other community and education advocacy groups in the school district. They contend that Paladino’s support of charters is an attempt to further his financial interests.

The timing of the ramped-up anti-Paladino campaign is not coincidental.

Public school advocates are aggressively challenging the School Board’s recent state-sanctioned invitation to bring more charter schools to Buffalo. They see Paladino as the weakest link in the 5-4 majority, even though a recent School Board legal opinion gives Paladino the green light to cast his vote.

“He’s looking to expand charter schools, and he’s using his vote in ways that promote his own self interest,” said Billy Easton, executive director for the New York Alliance for Quality Education. “I think there’s a lot of resentment that the community has been totally shut out of this process so far.”

Accustomed to being the center of controversy, Paladino shrugs off the latest campaign against him as “just another day at the office” and described the campaign as an orchestrated union effort.

“Who do you think is writing this stuff?” he said. “It’s coming out of the union and their lawyers. The union doesn’t want charter schools, period. I’m the lightning rod.”

Other members of the board majority say they are steeling themselves for “a huge mess,” as Paladino’s adversaries continue to cry foul over his ties to charter schools.
And Carl, while maintaining his "innocence", has been shifting ownership of his investments so as to appear clean.

We haven't got rid of coal fired power yet

But with an improving economy and a good harvest plus a whole fracking lot of crude oil, railroads are having a difficult time moving the coal needed by existing plants in the current cold spell.
Ongoing rail service problems have left power plants from Minnesota to Texas low on coal as an early blast of winter weather hit the nation’s midsection this week.

Some fear the stage has been set for a repeat of last winter, when heavy snowfall and subzero temperatures crippled rail operations in the Upper Midwest and Chicago, which had ripple effects across the rest of the country.

Anticipating heavy electricity use this winter, coal customers and groups representing them have written letters to federal regulators in recent weeks to complain about delayed deliveries and low stockpiles.

“Our members are having a hard time receiving the coal they need to operate their plants,” said Will Coffman, senior government relations representative for the American Public Power Association, a trade group.

Last year’s problems have become this year’s problems as overall rail traffic rises to levels not seen since before the last recession and railroads struggle to handle large volumes of grain, coal, automobiles and increasingly, crude oil.

Utilities have focused their frustration particularly on BNSF Railway, the nation’s leading coal hauler and a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, a multinational conglomerate that oversees various subsidiaries.

BNSF and the nation’s other major railroads say they’re working to fix the problems, investing in new track and locomotives and hiring new employees. Responding to power companies’ complaints, BNSF said that coal service is improving.

“October was the best month for deliveries since August 2013,” the company wrote, “and we expect service improvements to continue.”

But heavy consumers of coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin say they’re not seeing enough progress and want federal regulators to force action. Some utilities want the federal Surface Transportation Board to force railroads to prioritize coal shipments over others, an action the rail industry is all but certain to oppose.
Isn't that special! Now they want government interference, with the railroads.

WalMart strikers working to lower your true costs

Thursday, November 13, 2014

There are places no one knows

Kate Wolf singing "In China Or A Woman's Heart"

Time for an epiphany

From the pen of Joel Pett

From the pen of Mike Lukovich

As usual, the Banksters say "Who Us?"

But with their huge size
, senior management can be safely shielded from the latest cheesy little fraud perpetrated on the American public.
In the netherworld of consumer debt, there are zombies: bills that cannot be killed even by declaring personal bankruptcy.

Tens of thousands of Americans who went through bankruptcy are still haunted by debts long after — sometimes as long as a decade after — federal judges have extinguished the bills in court.

The problem, state and federal officials suspect, is that some of the nation’s biggest banks ignore bankruptcy court discharges, which render the debts void. Paying no heed to the courts, the banks keep the debts alive on credit reports, essentially forcing borrowers to make payments on bills that they do not legally owe.

The practice — a subtle but powerful tactic that effectively holds the credit report hostage until borrowers pay — potentially breathes new life into the pools of bad debt that are bought by financial firms.

Now lawyers with the United States Trustee Program, an arm of the Justice Department, are investigating JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Synchrony Financial, formerly known as GE Capital Retail Finance, suspecting the banks of violating federal bankruptcy law by ignoring the discharge injunction, say people briefed on the investigations.

The banks say that they comply with all federal laws in their collection and sale of debt.

Still, federal judges have started to raise alarms that some banks are threatening the foundations of bankruptcy.

Judge Robert D. Drain of the federal bankruptcy court in White Plains said in one opinion that debt buyers know that a bank “will refuse to correct the credit report to reflect the obligor’s bankruptcy discharge, which means that the debtor will feel significant added pressure to obtain a ‘clean’ report by paying the debt,” according to court documents.

For the debt buyers and the banks, the people briefed on the investigations said, it is a mutually beneficial arrangement: The banks typically send along any payments that they receive from borrowers to the debt buyers, which in turn, are more willing to buy portfolios of soured debts — including many that will wind up voided in bankruptcy — from the banks.
Real people would be whacked big time with contempt of court if they ever tried to ignore rulings like this, but the big financial corporations as people have nothing to fear. The can sell worthless paper and assist in the fraudulent claims of the debt collectors for their profit and then profess total innocence because what they are doing is most definitely not in their process manual. And what individual can afford the time and place to deal with this corporate collusion?

Another way to thank those who served

And many of those who served have given many years of their lives to the military. In the end however, The Thin Grey Line takes care of its own. And any problems about paying a pension are conveniently disposed of.
For the first time since the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, the Army is shrinking. Faced with declining budgets, the Army, the largest of the services, cut its force this year to 508,000 soldiers from 530,000, with plans to trim an additional 20,000 troops next year. If funding cuts mandated by Congress continue, the Army could have fewer than 450,000 soldiers by 2019 — the smallest force since World War II.

The cuts have largely come through attrition and reductions in recruiting, and have, so far, mostly affected low-ranking enlisted soldiers who have served only a few years. But this summer, the cuts fell on officers as well, 1,188 captains and 550 majors, many who were clearly intending on making a career of the military. More are expected to lose their jobs next year.

And for reasons the Army has not explained, the largest group of officers being pushed out — nearly one in five — began as enlisted soldiers.

For many of those officers, being forced out of a life they have known for a decade or more has been a disruption as shocking and painful as being laid off. They are losing jobs, and in many cases, receiving smaller pensions than they had expected — or no pensions at all. They are being forced to give up their identities as soldiers. Some are losing their ranks or status as officers. All must be out by April...

Many are being pushed out despite having good records. When the Army announced the impending officer cuts a year ago, officials said they would target officers with evidence of poor performance or misconduct.
Continue reading the main story

But an internal Army briefing disclosed by a military website in September showed the majority of captains being forced out had no blemishes on their records. The briefing, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, also showed that officers who had joined the Army as enlisted soldiers, then endured the demanding process required to rise into the officer corps, were three times as likely as captains who graduated from West Point to be forced to retire.

Many of those former enlisted officers had been encouraged to make the jump to the officer corps between 2006 and 2009 when the Iraq war was raging and the Pentagon was struggling to replace junior officers who were leaving the Army as soon as their initial commitments were over, often because they were worn out by multiple deployments.

The soldiers who volunteered to fill the gap — older than most junior officers because they had already served in the enlisted ranks — were picked from the best of the ranks, and some had to earn bachelor’s degrees to make the cut. Many said in interviews they believed they were being pushed out because they were entitled to more pay and were eligible for retirement earlier, since they had been in the Army longer than other commissioned officers.

“The Army knew we had more years and they could save money by cutting us,” said Capt. Tina Patton, 43, a combat medic who became an officer in 2007. “Looking back at our records, a lot of us can’t figure out why else we would be cut.”
So when called upon to put boots on the ground in the next Imperial War Of Great Goodness, who will fill those boots? And who will lead them as we can be sure That Thin Grey Line will be busy defending their desks in the Pentagon when next we Cry Havoc and let slip the Dog Of War (the rest of the pack had to be put down for lack of funds).

If we can't eliminate it here, where can we?

Poverty is ugly,
so much so that most of us choose to look the other way when we encounter it. Now, in an effort to get something done, as well as bring it into the view of the Congress, the Federal contract workers in the Capitol and other location plan a strike.
Federal contract workers at the U.S. Capitol and other high profile locations in Washington planned to go on a one-day strike Thursday, pushing for higher wages and collective bargaining rights.

The food service workers at the Capitol and Pentagon will be joined by workers at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Zoo as well as Union Station, a major Washington train station.

The protest is aimed at President Barack Obama, designed to press him for an executive order to contractors paid by the federal government to provide services such as food courts in government buildings.

“This is (Obama’s) opportunity to help workers that he’s responsible for and that he can have an effect on and improve their working conditions,” said Paco Fabian, the communications director for Change to Win, a labor organization taking part in the strike.

In February, Obama signed an executive order boosting the minimum wage for federal contractors from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour. In late July, the administration issued another executive order requiring prospective federal contractors to disclose past labor law violations.

The hike to $10.10 per hour will be effective on Jan. 1. After 2015, the U.S. labor secretary will determine raises in the wage floor on a yearly basis.

But some labor groups and wage hike advocates say more executive action is needed.

“Nobody is going to get lifted out of poverty on $10.10 an hour,” Fabian said.

One of those planning to strike Thursday was Reginald Lewis Sr., 50, of Hyattsville, Md., a dishwasher at the Capitol. Although he makes $12 per hour, he says the area’s high cost of living is challenging to keep up with.

“I’m barely making it to get to work and back home,” Lewis said.
In a city where even Congress members whine about not being paid enough, it should be a major embarrassment that those serving the high and mighty are lucky if they make ends meet. And it is a bad idea to keep them there, you never know who will spit in the soup.

1 man in 100 knows what is right.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

As heard on Greys Anatomy

Erin McCarley singing "What I Needed" from her album My Stadium Electric

Quote of the Day

From the inimitable Charles P Pierce:
Right now, Jon Gruber of MIT is getting roasted on the Intertoobz by the right because he called American voters stupid. Go to Kansas, and tell me how wrong he is.

Immigration has been a long term problem

Another week, another Bankster conspiracy

This latest one that is being punished by a "humongous" fine of $4.25 Billion for conspiring to manipulate the currency exchanges. The huge fine for manipulating a $5 Trillion+ market will be split by 5 of the usual suspects.
On Wednesday, the Financial Conduct Authority of Britain said it had reached a so-called global settlement worth a combined 1.1 billion pounds, or more than $1.7 billion, with five companies: the Swiss bank UBS; the British lenders HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland; and the American banks JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup. The settlement is large by European standards, and it is a record for the British financial authority.

In a surprise move, the authority said at a news conference on Wednesday that the British bank Barclays was the only bank that remained under investigation in its inquiry and would be the only bank likely to face a penalty by the regulator going forward.

Separately on Wednesday, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in the United States imposed $1.4 billion in penalties against Citigroup, HSBC, JPMorgan, R.B.S. and UBS.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency fined Citigroup, JPMorgan and Bank of America a combined $950 million for what it said were “unsafe and unsound practices” in their currency trading businesses. And regulators in Switzerland penalized UBS about $138 million.

From January 2008 to October 2013, the British financial authority said, the banks allowed traders in the foreign exchange markets to put the interests of their banks ahead of those of their clients, of other market participants and of the wider British financial system. That included sharing confidential client information and attempts to manipulate currency rates by colluding with traders at other companies.

The British and American regulators released documents detailing conversations among traders in electronic chat rooms that were filled with jargon, incorrect spelling, bad language and typos. One document showed a conversation among three traders — at JPMorgan, Citibank and UBS — discussing whether to let a fourth into their group. “Will he tell rest of desk stuff or god forbin his nyk’” asked one trader, referring to the New York office when he said he was concerned about whether the new participant could be trusted.
As usual no one went to peison or was barred or suspended from trading for these activities.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

To Aging Children

Joni Mitchell "Songs To Aging Children"

96 years ago it ended

Not quite as depicted here in the ending of "Oh! What A Lovely War" but you get the picture.

Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen:

Read by Christopher Eccleston | Remembering World War 1

It's OK because we are better than you

The official US response to the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva may not be put in so many words, but remember, we are Americans so that is really all that matters.
During a periodic review of the country’s obligations under the Convention Against Torture, the United States is expected to go before the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva and defend the use of solitary confinement.

On November 12 and 13, the committee will scrutinize President Barack Obama’s administration and its compliance with the treaty.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture defines [PDF] solitary confinement as “physical and social isolation of individuals who are confined to their cells for 22 to 24 hours a day.” The UN has been particularly concerned about “prolonged solitary confinement,” which is a “period of solitary confinement in excess of 15 days.” This is when “some of the harmful psychological effects of isolation can become irreversible.”

Also, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern in 2011 that “super maximum security” prisons “impose solitary confinement as a normal, rather than an ‘exceptional,’ practice for inmates.”

The Committee has asked the US government to “please describe steps taken to improve the extremely harsh regime imposed on detainees in “super-maximum security prisons”, in particular the practice of prolonged isolation.”

The US government, however, still maintains [PDF], as it did in 2011, that “there is no systematic use of solitary confinement in the United States.”

In a response to the question posed by the committee, the US government submitted a written response that included this defense of solitary at supermax prisons (ADX).

Security requirements at the ADX mandate restrictive procedures for movement of inmates and physical interaction with staff. For security reasons, inmates in General Population spend most of their day in individual cells. They are not deprived, however, of human interaction. Inmates can speak with (but not touch) one another in the recreation yards, and can communicate with the inmates housed on either side of their cells. The Warden, Associate Wardens, Captain, and Department Heads perform weekly rounds so they can visit with each inmate. Correctional Officers perform regular rounds throughout all three shifts on a daily basis. A member of an inmate’s Unit Team visits him every day, Monday through Friday, except on holidays. Inmates receive regular visits from medical staff, education staff, religious services staff, and mental health staff, and upon request if needed. In addition, General Population inmates are permitted five non-contact social visits per month and two fifteen-minute phone calls. Inmates in less restrictive housing units are permitted even more social visits and phone calls. Inmates can also send and receive personal correspondence.
Essentially, the US government’s position on solitary confinement or “administrative segregation” is that it is not inhumane because inmates come into contact with staff members of the prison on a daily basis.

The US government additionally states in its response to the committee that the US Supreme Court has “held that a 30-day period of disciplinary segregation of prisoners from the general population does not give rise to a liberty interest that would require a full due process hearing prior to imposition of the punishment.”

In other words, it is not until fifteen days after “irreversible” effects of solitary confinement starts to occur that the US government believes an inmate should be able to challenge his or her confinement condition
We're cool, SCOTUS said it was OK, just like George W said torture was OK. If you can't believe them, who can you believe.

They seriously want you to believe this.

They left out the word Bad

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Winner For Creative Use Of Salmon

John Oliver

So much talent, so little fame

In the world of American music there are far too many musicians that you can say this about, including The Ditty Bops. singing "Ooh La La" from their first album.

A curiously familiar ring to it

Tom Tomorrow reviews the epochal week in American politics that just ended. Somehow it seem curiously familiar.

American Exceptionalism

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