Thursday Reads: War on Women, the Fiscal Cliff, and Austerity Arriving in the USA

GWTW reading

Good Morning!!

Brrrrrrrrrr! All of a sudden winter has arrived! Can you believe it’s 4 degrees outside my house? With a wind chill factor of 6 below 0. My furnace can’t keep up in this kind of weather, so I have to bundle up. So what else is in the news this morning? Let’s see….

Today the new Congress gets sworn in and there are a record number of women in the new Senate. From ABC News: Meet the New Class: The Senate Swears in a Historic 20 Female Senators

Today the Senate will make history, swearing in a record-breaking 20 female senators – 4 Republicans and 16 Democrats – in office….

“I can’t tell you the joy that I feel in my heart to look at these 20 gifted and talented women from two different parties, different zip codes to fill this room,” Sen. Barbara Mikulksi, D-Md., said while surrounded by the group of women senators. “In all of American history only 16 women had served. Now there are 20 of us.”

Senator-elect Deb Fischer, R-Neb., becomes today the first women to be elected as a senator in Nebraska.

“It was an historic election,” Fischer said, “But what was really fun about it were the number of mothers and fathers who brought their daughters up to me during the campaign and said, “Can we get a picture? Can we get a picture?’ Because people realize it and — things do change, things do change.”

There’s a group photo at the link.

Still, the war on women continues. HuffPo reports: House GOP Lets Violence Against Women Act Passed By Senate Die Without A Vote.

Despite a late-stage intervention by Vice President Joe Biden, House Republican leaders failed to advance the Senate’s 2012 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, an embattled bill that would have extended domestic violence protections to 30 million LGBT individuals, undocumented immigrants and Native American women.

“The House leadership would not bring it up, just like they wouldn’t bring up funding for Sandy [hurricane damage] last night,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a key backer of the Senate version of the bill, in an interview with HuffPost. “I think they are still so kowtowing to the extreme on the right that they’re not even listening to the moderates, and particularly the women, in their caucus who are saying they support this.”

The Senate bill passed way back in April.

In April, the Senate with bipartisan support passed a version of VAWA that extended protections to three groups of domestic violence victims who had not been covered by the original law, but House Republicans refused to support the legislation with those provisions, saying the measures were politically driven. Instead, they passed their own VAWA bill without the additional protections. In recent weeks, however, even some House Republicans who voted for the pared-down House bill have said they would now support the broader Senate bill — and predicted it would pass if Republican leaders let it come to the floor for a vote.

“I absolutely would support the Senate bill,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told HuffPost in late December, speculating that other House Republicans, namely GOP congresswomen, “are very supportive of that.”

Asked if he thought the Senate bill would pass in the House if it came up for a vote, Cole replied, “My judgment is yes.”

Too little, too late, Congressman. So Boehner managed to screw women yesterday too though it was the refusal to vote on Sandy relief that got all the media attention.

In India police have filed murder charges against five men in the horrific gang rape in New Delhi.

Authorities filed rape and murder charges Thursday against five men accused of the gang rape of a 23-year-old university student on a New Delhi bus, a crime that horrified Indians and provoked a national debate about the treatment of women.

Police said they plan to push for the death penalty in the case, as government officials promised new measures to protect women in the nation’s capital.

Prosecutor Rajiv Mohan filed a case of rape, tampering with evidence, kidnapping, murder and other charges against the men in a new fast-track court in south Delhi inaugurated only the day before to deal specifically with crimes against women. Mohan asked for a closed trial and a hearing was set for Saturday.

The men charged are Ram Singh, 33, the bus driver; his brother Mukesh Singh, 26, who cleans buses for the same company; Pavan Gupta, 19, a fruit vendor; Akshay Singh, 24, a bus washer; and Vinay Sharma, 20, a fitness trainer.

A sixth suspect was listed as 17 and was expected to be tried in a juvenile court, where the maximum sentence would be three years in a reform facility.

Read more at the link. The New Yorker has a good article on the New Delhi story by Basharat Peer: After a Rape and Murder, Fury in Delhi. Please go read the whole thing if you can.

Back in the USA, Republican state legislatures are up to their old tricks. Irin Carmon reports in Salon: Michigan, Virginia pass backdoor abortion restrictions.

In Michigan, Rick Snyder signed a bill passed by the lame-duck Senate — the same one whose anti-union legislating dominated headlines in recent weeks — requiring clinics that perform more than 120 abortions a year to become surgical outpatient facilities, a level of licensing intended to be onerous and put clinics out of business. He also approved a bill that purports to screen for women being coerced into abortions.

Snyder did veto another bill limiting insurance coverage in private employee plans, which would have required purchase of a separate abortion rider. He objected to that on the grounds that rape victims would have to pay out of pocket if they didn’t buy the rider, and because, “As a practical matter, I believe this type of policy is an overreach of government into the private market.” Overreach of government into other realms, of course, is another matter entirely. (According to Michigan resident Emily Magner, one legislator interrupted her to cry, “THIS ISN’T ABOUT WOMEN! THIS IS ABOUT PROTECTING FETUSES!”)

Virginia’s similar, hospital-level restrictions on clinics were somewhat overshadowed by the ultrasound requirements for women seeking abortions. Under threat of forever having the word “transvaginal” attached to his name, Gov. Bob McDonnell tried to split the difference on the ultrasound legislation, but in the final days of the year signed off on the clinic regulations. This followed months of conflict between the Board of Health and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli over whether existing clinics would be grandfathered into the legislation. The governor’s office called the regulations “common-sense”; NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia said in a statement, “After two years of shocking backroom deals and bullying public health servants, Governor Bob McDonnell is clearly proving his disregard of Virginians’ opinions about women’s health care.”

Clinic regulations are the most insidious of abortion restrictions, because they’re harder for the layperson to understand and tend to incite less outrage as a result. And opposition to them tends to fall into antiabortion narratives about back-alley butchers resisting safety standards. But research has suggested that they also tend to be the most effective: It’s difficult to talk a woman out of having an abortion, but if you make access near impossible, you might take the choice off the table altogether.

SimpsonEatsCatFood

On the “Fiscal Bunny Slope,” as Dakinikat refers to it, TPM reports that Simpson and Bowles of the famous Catfood Commission didn’t like the deal hammered out by the Senate and passed by the House. It seems it doesn’t cause enough suffering for the poor and elderly to satisfy them. Here’s their statement:

“The deal approved today is truly a missed opportunity to do something big to reduce our long term fiscal problems, but it is a small step forward in our efforts to reduce the federal deficit. It follows on the $1 trillion reduction in spending that was done in last year’s Budget Control Act. While both steps advance the efforts to put our fiscal house in order, neither one nor the combination of the two come close to solving our Nation’s debt and deficit problems. Our leaders must now have the courage to reform our tax code and entitlement programs such that we stabilize our debt and put it on a downward path as a percent of the economy.

Washington missed this magic moment to do something big to reduce the deficit, reform our tax code, and fix our entitlement programs. We have all known for over a year that this fiscal cliff was coming. In fact Washington politicians set it up to force themselves to seriously deal with our Nation’s long term fiscal problems. Yet even after taking the Country to the brink of economic disaster, Washington still could not forge a common sense bipartisan consensus on a plan that stabilizes the debt.

It is now more critical than ever that policymakers return to negotiations that will build on the terms of this agreement and the spending cuts in the Budget Control Act. These future negotiations will need to make the far more difficult reforms that bring spending further under control, make our entitlement programs sustainable and solvent, and reform our tax code to both promote growth and produce revenue. We take some encouragement from the statements by the President and leaders in Congress that they recognize more work needs to be done. In order to reach an agreement, it will be absolutely necessary for both sides to move beyond their comfort zone and reach a principled agreement on a comprehensive plan which puts the debt on a clear downward path relative to the economy.”

Don’t you love the way they call for “courage” from rich Congresspeople and then tell them to cut the sole income of millions of elderly and disabled people? What about calling for the real courage it would take for them to raise the cap on Social Security contributions so that rich people could pay a little more into the system? I doubt if many of them turn down the paltry extra income they get from it.

I’m running out of space, but I have some more fiscal cliff reads for you that I’ll pass on in link dump fashion.

Paul Krugman: That Bad Ceiling Feeling

Noam Scheiber: The House Comes Around on the Cliff. Why Am I Not Reassured?

Washington Post: U.S. markets surge after Congress approves ‘cliff’ deal

George Zornick at The Nation: While Congress Plays Deficit Games, Jobs Crisis Goes Unaddressed

Joan Walsh: Biggest Fiscal Cliff Lessions

Jonathan Chait: The Big Lebowski Explains the Fiscal Cliff

Truthout: Debt Versus Democracy: A Battle for the Future

Joe Conason: The GOP Clown Car Crashes, Again

I’ll end with a couple of articles on the European-style austerity that we’re heading for right now.

Brad Plummer at the Washington Post: U.S. now on pace for European levels of austerity in 2013

For years now, economists like Paul Krugman have been criticizing countries in Europe for engaging in too much austerity during the downturn — that is, enacting tax increases and spending cuts while their economies were still weak.

But after this week’s fiscal cliff deal, the United States is now on pace to engage in about as much fiscal consolidation in 2013 as many European nations have been doing in recent years — and more than countries like Britain and Spain.

A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests Congress has enacted around $336 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts for the coming year, an austerity package whose total size comes to about 2.1 percent of GDP. (That’s merely the size of the cuts and taxes; it’s not necessarily the effect on growth.)
This includes the expiration of the payroll tax cut, which will raise about $125 billion this year. It includes $68 billion in scheduled cuts to discretionary spending from the 2011 Budget Control Act. It includes $24 billion in new Obamacare taxes and $27 billion in new high-income taxes. And it includes about $92 billion from the now-delayed sequester cuts — assuming that these either take effect or are swapped with other cuts.

Check out the graph at the link. And in Greece, the Guardian reports: Euros discarded as impoverished Greeks resort to bartering

It’s been a busy day at the market in downtown Volos. Angeliki Ioanitou has sold a decent quantity of olive oil and soap, while her friend Maria has done good business with her fresh pies.

But not a single euro has changed hands – none of the customers on this drizzly Saturday morning has bothered carrying money at all. For many, browsing through the racks of second-hand clothes, electrical appliances and homemade jams, the need to survive means money has been usurped.

“It’s all about exchange and solidarity, helping one another out in these very hard times,” enthused Ioanitou, her hair tucked under a floppy felt cap. “You could say a lot of us have dreams of a utopia without the euro.”

In this bustling port city at the foot of Mount Pelion, in the heart of Greece’s most fertile plain, locals have come up with a novel way of dealing with austerity – adopting their own alternative currency, known as the Tem. As the country struggles with its worst crisis in modern times, with Greeks losing up to 40% of their disposable income as a result of policies imposed in exchange for international aid, the system has been a huge success. Organisers say some 1,300 people have signed up to the informal bartering network.

For users such as Ioanitou, the currency – a form of community banking monitored exclusively online – is not only an effective antidote to wage cuts and soaring taxes but the “best kind of shopping therapy”. “One Tem is the equivalent of one euro. My oil and soap came to 70 Tem and with that I bought oranges, pies, napkins, cleaning products and Christmas decorations,” said the mother-of-five. “I’ve got 30 Tem left over. For women, who are worst affected by unemployment, and don’t have kafeneia [coffeehouses] to go to like men, it’s like belonging to a hugely supportive association.”

Much more at the link.

So….what’s on your reading and blogging list today. I look forward to clicking on your links.


Evening Reads: Non-Election News Round-Up

Tonight’s reads will focus on other news events around the world.

Time for the Northeast to get hit again, this time the storm has been named “Athena” by The Weather Channel.

Wintry storm brings new woe to hard-hit Northeast

authorities warned weary residents not to ignore this storm’s dangers.

“You have to prepare for the storm that’s coming in a few hours,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told residents. “I’m waiting for the locusts and pestilence next,” he joked, in a reference to Old Testament plagues.

The low-pressure weather system brought wind gusts up to 60 miles per hour and could drop 2 inches to 4 inches of snow on New York City, the National Weather Service said.

Ice pellets hit Long Island and the storm lifted wave heights to nearly 20 feet off Nantucket, Massachusetts, AccuWeather reported.

School districts in Connecticut sent students home early as a precaution and the New York Stock Exchange removed the giant U.S. flag from its facade to protect it from high winds.

A mix of rain and snow fell on parts of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, causing airport delays.

Airlines canceled more than 1,700 flights, with Newark airport facing the most cancellations, according to tracking service FlightAware.com.

Many folks are still without power, and this new storm in hitting them hard.

“It’s coming up on 10 days with people being freezing in their homes,” said Peter DiPaola, town supervisor of Pelham, north of New York City.

“I lost all my winter clothing in the flood, so I am wearing three layers of things in order to stay somewhat warm and dry,” said Wayne Steinman, a resident of Staten Island, one of the parts of New York City hardest hit by Sandy. “Everything becomes overwhelming.”

Utilities warned that the storm would slow their efforts to restore power to homes and businesses.

“Up until today we have been making some good restoration progress. We’ve had some good restoration weather, but today is certainly an exception,” said John Miksad, senior vice president of electric operations at New York-area utility Consolidated Edison Inc. “We actually pulled back as a result of the weather today but we will be back out there first thing tomorrow morning.”

There was also a large earthquake today, Strong quake off Guatemala kills 39, felt in Mexico City

A strong earthquake off the coast of Guatemala shook buildings in the capital and killed at least 39 people on Wednesday, trapping others under rubble and triggering evacuations as far away as Mexico City.

The 7.4 magnitude quake hit at 10:35 a.m. local time (11:35 EDT). A local fire chief said at least some of the dead were buried under debris in a mountainous region near the Mexican border.

Landslides blocked roads in some areas, authorities said, and about 40 houses were severely damaged.

It was the strongest earthquake to hit Guatemala since a 7.5 magnitude quake in 1976 that claimed more than 20,000 lives.

President Otto Perez said that as many as 100 people were unaccounted for, based on reports from relatives.

“These are preliminary figures and we don’t have them confirmed,” Perez said in Guatemala City. “Our priority is to focus on lives, rescuing people and treating the wounded.”

Okay, now for the man-made disasters: Greece narrowly passes crucial austerity bill

Greece’s Parliament passed a crucial austerity bill early Thursday in vote so close that it left the coalition government reeling from dissent.

The bill, which will further slash pensions and salaries, passed 153-128 in the 300-member Parliament. It came hours after rioters rampaged outside Parliament during an 80,000-strong anti-austerity demonstration, clashing with police who responded with tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons.

Approval of the cuts and tax increases worth €13.5 billion ($17 billion) over two years was a big step for Greek efforts to secure the next installment of its international rescue loans and stave off imminent bankruptcy.

The country’s international creditors have demanded that the bill and the 2013 budget, due to be voted on Sunday, pass before they consider releasing an already delayed €31.5 billion installment from Greece’s €240 billion bailout. Without it, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras says Greece will run out of money on Nov. 16.

“Greece made a big decisive and optimistic step today. A step toward recovery,” Samaras said, adding that he was “very happy” with the result.

Greek parliament narrowly approves €13.5bn austerity package after mass protests – as it happened

A petrol bomb thrown by protesters explodes near riot police in front of parliament during clashes in Athens, Wednesday Nov. 7, 2012.

A petrol bomb thrown by protesters explodes near riot police in front of parliament during clashes in Athens, Wednesday Nov. 7, 2012. Photograph: Dimitri Messinis/AP
Over in Syria, here is the latest according to BBC News – David Cameron meets Syrian refugees as UK begins rebel talks

David Cameron says he is determined to give Syria a brighter future as he met refugees of the conflict at a camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Britain is to begin talks with armed Syrian rebels in a bid to unite the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, the UK prime minister said.

The discussions are due to take place in Jordan and Turkey.

Visiting the refugee camp on Wednesday, Mr Cameron said the suffering of refugees was “horrendous”.

Up to 500 people a day have been arriving at the Za’atri camp, Mr Cameron was told, some having walked 15 days in order to try and find shelter.

I want to end this post with a video, I don’t know if it is “real” or not, but it sure is funny…and I think we all need a laugh.

It starts at 1:09, and it involves a bank robbery…

Now that isn’t just luck, that is plain dumb.

This is an open thread!


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

On Sunday during his “get to know the regular people” bus tour, Mitt Romney expressed “amazement” at a gas station in Pennsylvania where you could order “hoagies” using a touch-screen.

At a campaign stop in Pennsylvania on Sunday, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee told a crowd that he had been astonished by a touch screen computer used to order food at the Wawa gas station chain….

“I was at Wawas,” Romney explained. “I went in to order a sandwich. You press a little touchtone keypad, alright? You just touch that and, you know, the sandwich comes up. You touch this, touch this, touch this, go pay the cashier. There’s your sandwich. It’s amazing!”

The ordering system has been there for 10 years. Of course this reminded everyone of the apocryphal story about out-of-touch patrician George H.W. Bush being amazed by a supermarket scanner.

Poor Mitt. In another article on Romney’s bus tour, James Fallows makes fun of the candidate’s habit of expressing surprise by saying “oh my goodness!”

Romney’s trademark small-talk exclamation, “Oh my goodness!” seems completely genuine. But I am trying to think of the last time I heard a 21st-century person use that phrase — as opposed to all the other possibilities, which when you think about it range from coarse to profane. (Jeez louise, WTF, Holy shit, and on through a long list you can fill in yourself.) When combined with his Don-Draper-in-the-’50s very dapper personal style, it adds to a retro atmosphere that some people will find reassuring and appealing and others will find odd.

Well I have to admit that I often say “oh my goodness!” too. Maybe I’m out of touch then–or maybe it’s a Midwestern thing. I got in the habit of saying that when taking care of my nephews. John McWhorter at The New Republic also thinks Romney’s “verbal stylings” are strange. Romney is also guilty of using “g” words like gosh, golly, and gee, which McWhorter says are substitutes for taking the name of “god” in vain.

Gee, gosh, and golly are all tokens of dissimulation. They are used in moments of excitement or dismay as burgherly substitutions, either for God and Jesus—words many religious people believe should not be “taken in vain”—or for words considered even less appropriate. Fittingly, they even emerged as disguised versions of God (gosh and golly) and Jesus (gee; cf. also jeez). This was in line with how cursing worked in earlier English. The medieval and even colonial Anglophones’ versions of profanity were to express dismay or vent pain by swearing—“making an oath”—to God or related figures considered ill-addressed in such a disrespectful way. The proper person at least muted the impact with a coy distortion, à la today’s shoot and fudge. Hence zounds (first attestation: 1600), as in by his (Christ’s) wounds; egad for Ye God (1673); and by Jove (1598). To increasing numbers of modern Americans, the G-words are unusable outside of quotation marks, be these actual or implied, rather like the word perky.

Well, gee, I use that one sometimes too, though not “gosh” or “golly.” So maybe I’m as much of an anachronism as Romney. Of course I’ve been known to swear also. I really think saying the “g” words might be a Midwestern mannerism.

Robert Shrum says Mitt Romney reminds him of Thomas E. Dewey, who was expected to beat Harry Truman in 1948, but didn’t. Check it out. I found it interesting.

It appears that police are suspicious about the drowning death of Rodney King. An autopsy has been done, but the results haven’t been released yet. There was no obvious evidence of foul play, but apparently King was a very avid swimmer. There are also conflicting reports of sounds from King’s backyard right before his body was found. Reuters:

King’s fiancée, Cynthia Kelly, a juror in the civil suit he brought against the city of Los Angeles, “didn’t give any indication he was unhappy or that there was an issue.” He said King was known to swim frequently and at all hours.

Shepherd said Kelly told investigators that, shortly before the drowning, she had been inside the house talking with King off and on through a sliding glass door that leads to a patio beside the pool.

At some point, she told them, she heard a splash, prompting her to run outside to find him at the bottom of the deep end. Unable to swim well herself, she called emergency 911 for help.

The Los Angeles Times, in an online account on Monday, cited a next-door neighbor, Sandra Gardea, 31, as saying she heard the sound of a man sobbing from King’s back yard in the two hours before police say he was found in the pool.

The Times also reported that Gardea heard King’s fiancée trying to coax him back into the house.

“It wasn’t like an argument,” she told the newspaper. “She was just saying, ‘Get in the house. Get in the house.’” Gardea said she heard a splash a few minutes later.

Very mysterious.

The prosecution in the Trayvon Martin case has released calls between George Zimmerman and his wife when he was in jail the first time.

The recordings show that from his jail cell, Zimmerman gave his wife step-by-step instructions on how to change a password and clear security questions so she could move money, gave her orders to withdraw specific amounts and directed her to pay the bills.

Prosecutors allege the couple was moving money out of an Internet PayPal account that was awash with donations for Zimmerman, who’s charged with second-degree murder in one of the most racially-charged criminal cases in the country. He shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, in Sanford Feb. 26.

The couple spoke in code, according to prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda. In the calls Zimmerman makes repeated reference to “Peter Pan,” an apparent reference to PayPal.

And neither Zimmerman or his wife ever refer to more than $100,000, talking instead about amounts generally totaling “10 dollars” and “20 dollars.” Prosecutors say those were references to $10,000 and $20,000.

Shellie was careful to move less than $10,000 at a time, to avoid triggering attention from the feds.

The tapes of six conversations were released Monday, as were bank statements from the Zimmermans’ accounts at a credit union. The statements show repeated transfers to and from the account in amounts just under $10,000. On April 24, for example, there were 8 transfers of $9,999.00 into Shellie Zimmerman’s account. Banks and financial institutions are required to file “suspicious activity reports” in such cases, according to Jack Blum, a Washington lawyer who specializes in money laundering.

Structuring the money in such a way is not itself illegal, he says, if the money isn’t from an illicit source. But, he says, it shows “a guilty mind.”

“What they’ve done,’ Blum said, “is they’ve given the prosecutors, on a silver platter, evidence of guilty intent.”

This one should probably be at the top of this post, but gee golly gosh and my goodness! I thought the other stories were more fun to read–so gosh darn it, what the heck!

Obama, Putin meet on Syria at G-20 summit.

Meeting for nearly two hours on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Mexico, the two presidents tried to focus mostly on areas of agreement — even when it came to areas of disagreement, such as Syria.

The U.S. wants Syrian President Bashar Assad out of power. Russia, which sells arms to Syria, has blocked United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for tough sanctions and leaving the door open to military intervention.

“We agreed that we need to see a cessation of the violence, that a political process has to be created to prevent civil war and the kind of horrific deaths that we’ve seen over the last several weeks,” Obama said after his first meeting with Putin following his return to the presidency this year. “We pledged to work with other international actors, including the United Nations, Kofi Annan and all interested parties, in trying to find a resolution to this problem.”

Putin was upbeat following the meeting, which went on much longer than planned and covered the full range of issues between the two nations. “From my perspective, we’ve been able to find many commonalities pertaining to all of those issues,” he said.

I’m glad it was Obama negotiating and not Romney. Otherwise, we might be at war with Russia by now.

The New York Times has a piece on what Europe will do now that the Greeks have voted for austerity.

BERLIN — After Greek elections eased fears that the country’s exit from the euro zone was imminent, attention turned Monday to an even bigger challenge: restoring the economic body to health with Greece still in it.

A respite from market pressure early Monday proved to be short-lived, as investors shifted their attention from political infighting in Athens to the larger question of whether European leaders could find a more lasting solution to a debacle now well into its third year.

But even though Brussels had been hoping for the victory by Antonis Samaras and his center-right New Democracy Party, the yearned-for result, paradoxically, may weaken Europe’s determination to take more radical steps to avert a meltdown.

German hard-liners were emboldened by the victory, viewing it as an endorsement of the drive for structural adjustment in Greece and elsewhere in Southern Europe through further austerity. As a result, the vote may delay concerted pro-growth steps by central banks and governments around the world, as well as the hard choices within Europe over deeper integration that are likely to prove necessary in the long run.

Much more at the link.

There’s lots of talk around the ‘net about the upcoming SCOTUS decision on the health care law. Scalia appears to be signaling that it may go down. You can read about what might happen if parts of the bill found unconstitutional here, here, and here.

Ronan Farrow with mother Mia

Woody Allen’s son Ronan (who looks exactly like Mia Farrow) celebrated father’s day by tweeting “Happy father’s day — or as they call it in my family, happy brother-in-law’s day.” And Mother Mia retweeted it. Ouch!

Woody and Ronan have been estranged for years since his parents split and because Woody was dating (and later married) Soon-Yi Previn, Mia’s adopted daughter, Ronan’s step-sister. He has been quoted in the past as saying, “He’s my father married to my sister. That makes me his son and his brother-in-law. That is such a moral transgression.” [....]

Ronan, named Satchel Ronan O’Sullivan Farrow when he was born in 1987, is the sole biological child of Woody and actress Mia Farrow. He is currently serving as special adviser to the Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues and director of the State Department’s Global Youth Issues office.

Finally, Roger Clemens was found not guilty yesterday, and honestly I’m glad. He probably did use steroids late in his career, but the prosecution couldn’t prove it. Thousands of players did it, and I think it was terrible; but the Justice Department has much more important things to do than making examples out of baseball players (and former presidential candidates for that matter). Clemens will go down in history as one of the greatest pitchers ever. He certainly is one of the best ever to play for the Red Sox.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Saturday Morning Reads

Good Morning!!

Yesterday was a pretty busy news day for a Friday. So if you’ve had your sugar bombs and coffee, let me fill you in on the latest before you head outside to enjoy a beautiful June day. The weather folks are saying this will be a nice weekend around the country.

Yesterday the President announced an executive order telling the Department of Homeland Security not to deport children who were brought to the U.S. illegally and have grown up here and gone to school here. These are the young people who would be eligible to stay here and have a path to citizenship under the “Dream Act” if Republicans in Congress would stop blocking the legislation.

In a move that seemed to be aimed at Hispanics whose enthusiasm for voting in the November 6 election could be crucial to Obama’s re-election chances, the president acted to potentially protect 800,000 people from deportation proceedings for at least two years.

Obama, who previously was reluctant to impose such an order even as Republicans in Congress blocked immigration reform bills he supported, called his action “the right thing to do.”

His announcement was on the 30th anniversary of a Supreme Court decision that said children of illegal-immigrant parents were entitled to public education in the United States.

Right wingers–including Mitt Romney–are of course calling the move “political,” but so what? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Politicians make political decisions. Duh! But if they’re doing the right thing, I don’t care what their motivation is. The LA Times published some basic information for people who want to know what this change means to them.

During the President’s announcement of the policy change at a press availability in the Rose Garden, a wingnut blogger from The Daily Caller, rudely broke into Obama’s speech with an offensive question. David Graham at the Atlantic:

An extremely unusual occurrence happened today as President Obama spoke at the White House. The president was offering a statement on his executive order suspending deportations for certain illegal immigrants brought here as children….when a reporter started heckling him and shouting questions.

The reporter has been identified as Neil Munro of the Daily Caller, a conservative online news outlet run by Tucker Carlson….

Interrupting the president mid-speech is considered a serious breach of etiquette, and Obama’s reaction shows how peeved (and probably taken aback) he was. Munro, and the Daily Caller, have immediately come in for harsh criticism by a wide range of journalists, including conservative ones. The problem isn’t that Munro was asking tough questions; it’s that he interrupted the commander-in-chief to ask them and in doing so guaranteed that none of the assembled press would be able to ask any serious questions — since it’s fairly clear that Munro’s query was intended as provocation.

I have video of the confrontation, but youtube seems to be down at the moment. I’ll put it up again later if I can. Munro yelled “Why do you favor foreigners over Americans?” Then when Obama responded, he proceed to argue and then yell while Obama was speaking. Pretty unprofessional for a so-called “journalist.”

Even Bill O’Reilly condemned the wingnut hack’s behavior, along with Fox News talkers Shep Smith and Chris Wallace.

At CNN, Dean Obeidallah says this type of behavior by wingnuts is part of an overall effort to “delegitimize” Obama’s presidency.

A reporter from a right-wing media outlet heckled President Obama — not once, but twice — on Friday as he was unveiling a new immigration policy. If this shocks you, you haven’t been paying attention. This is simply the latest page from the right’s playbook to delegitimize Barack Obama’s presidency.

Some may dismiss it as an isolated incident, but it’s not. It goes much deeper. Believe me, I know hecklers — I’m a stand-up comedian. If someone heckles me once, it can be a mistake: too many drinks, overcome by emotion, etc. But when you heckle twice, you have an agenda.

BTW, Munro is an Irish immigrant. So what is his problem?

A quick perusal of Munro’s Twitter feed reveals he does not hide his contempt for President Obama. His tweets range from claims that Obama is using NASCAR and country music to attract “white non-college voters,” to slams of Michelle Obama, to allegations that Obama is racially discriminating against blacks in his White House hiring practices.

But this is all not about Munro — he is just a small cog in the right’s campaign to diminish the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency. I’m not talking about people disagreeing with policies. I mean specifically the campaign to paint Barack Obama as less than American — as an “other”–as someone whose presidency is not entitled to the same respect as that of the presidents who came before him.

OK, maybe I’m spending too much time on this, but I guess I’m a bit old fashioned. I believe in respecting the office of the President. I think it’s very important for the White House press corps to behave respectfully, while at the same time asking tough questions. In this case, Munro’s behavior led to the press conference being cut off before more responsible reporters could ask questions.

I have some other news for you, and I’ll give it to you quickly so you can get out an enjoy your day.

The send-off for Mitt Romney’s bus tour of “small-town America” was overshadowed by Obama’s announcement.

After weeks of gaining momentum amid a spate of bad economic news that has shaken Obama’s reelection campaign, Romney was faced with a classic demonstration of how the White House can use its power to reset the agenda.

For hours, Romney tried to ignore the news. Finally, after a rally here with a ragtime band playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in a town-square gazebo, Romney made a statement that struck a radically different tone from the hard-line approach he took on illegal immigration during the Republican primaries.

“I believe the status of young people who come here through no fault of their own is an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis so they know what their future would be in this country,” he told reporters outside of his campaign bus.

“I think the action that the president took today makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution, because an executive order is of course just a short-term matter. It could be reversed by subsequent presidents. I’d like to see legislation that deals with this issue.”

But he made no commitment to supporting any particular option.

Of course not. Just more meaningless huffing and puffing from an old stuffed suit.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg expects “sharp disagreement” in the Supreme Court over the Affordable Care Act.

The LA Times reports: Egypt revolution losing steam as military asserts power

Germany could be in trouble if Greece opts out of the Euro.

Why can’t the Euro nations agree on a plan? In Germany, the situation is being compared to Titanic, one of the greatest disasters in history.

Since Euro Zone is like the Titanic heading for an iceberg called Greece, there’s plenty of concern on the first-class deck called Germany. If Greece goes down, it can take even Europe’s biggest economy with it.

“I believe Europe is right in a crossroads right now,” Gerhard Hofmann, director of the German Cooperative Bank Group, told CBS News.

How the shock waves will hit the U.S. if it happens.

The NYT says Obama is “looking to Merkel” for aid and comfort.

A collapse of the euro could derail America’s fragile recovery and doom Mr. Obama’s re-election hopes. So the president finds himself in the strange position of having forged a relationship with Ms. Merkel that is perhaps the best he has with any foreign leader, but that has not yet resulted in the chancellor’s agreeing to what Mr. Obama thinks must be done in Europe: an American-style bailout and fiscal stimulus.

Mr. Obama and Ms. Merkel will meet again Monday at a Group of 20 summit meeting in Mexico, with the stakes for Europe even higher than they were last month. With Greece holding elections on Sunday that could precipitate its exit from the European currency union — the nightmare feared by the financial markets — Mr. Obama may be running out of time to make his case.

And there is no indication Ms. Merkel is any more inclined to heed his advice. In a speech to the German Parliament on Thursday, she said the world should not expect Berlin to be Europe’s savior, rejecting calls to create euro bonds to share the debt burden of the Mediterranean countries.

Boy is she ever stubborn. And she seems determined to bring the entire world economy crashing down. Mitt Romney must love her.

A new study suggests that Gay Men Have Evolutionary Benefit For Their Families.

Henry Hill with Goodfellas star Ray Liotta

Finally, Henry Hill has died. He was the “wise guy” who was the inspiration for Martin Scorcese’s “Goodfellas.” Hill was only 69, and died from health problems related to smoking.

Henry Hill, the infamous mob informant whose life of crime was chronicled in the film classic “GoodFellas,” was the first to admit that he did “a lot of bad things back then.”

“I shot at people. I busted a lot of heads, and I buried a lot of bodies,” he told the London-based Daily Telegraph in 2010. “You can try to justify it by saying they deserved it, that they had it coming, but some just got whacked for absolutely no reason at all.”

….

Henry Hill, the infamous mob informant whose life of crime was chronicled in the film classic “GoodFellas,” was the first to admit that he did “a lot of bad things back then.”

“I shot at people. I busted a lot of heads, and I buried a lot of bodies,” he told the London-based Daily Telegraph in 2010. “You can try to justify it by saying they deserved it, that they had it coming, but some just got whacked for absolutely no reason at all.”

RIP, Henry.

Have a fabulous Saturday, and if you’re reading anything interesting today, please share!


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!! Let’s get right to the news. Yesterday wasn’t a big political news day here in the U.S. The President appeared on The View and talked about gay marriage and the Kardashians. He also pandered to young women at Barnard.

The Obama campaign released a new ad highlighting Mitt Romney’s career as a corporate “vampire” at Bain Capital.

The Obama campaign ad focuses on Bain Capital’s misadventures with GST steel of Kansas City and features former steelworkers describing what they saw between the time Bain bought the firm in 1993 and filed to put it in bankruptcy in 2001. (Romney left Bain in 1999).

“It was like a vampire. They came in and sucked the life out of us,” says one of the men. “What Bain Capital did was not capitalism, it was bad management,” says David Foster, lead negotiator for workers at GST Steel. Former steelworker Joe Soptic accuses Bain of cutting corners on safety, saying “it was like working in the sweatshops of the ’30s,” and that watching the plant close was “like watching an old friend bleed to death.”

The campaign also set up a new website to provide information about “Romney economics.”

Ron Paul announced that he won’t compete in any of the remaining primaries, but he still plans to compete with Mitt Romney for delegates to the Republican convention.

Ron Paul, the congressman from Texas and a favorite of tea partyers, effectively ended his presidential campaign Monday but urged his fervent supporters to continue working at the state party level to cause havoc for presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

In an email to supporters, Paul urged his libertarian-leaning backers to remain involved in politics and champion his causes despite the apparent end of his presidential aspirations. Paul has found success in wrecking the selection process for delegates to the party’s late-summer nominating convention in Tampa, Fla., and trumpeted that he has delayed Romney’s expected nomination….

Paul’s supporters have proved successful in winning state GOP conventions in places such as Maine and Nevada. His supporters in Iowa and Nevada were chosen to lead the state central parties.

Over the weekend, Paul’s supporters managed to boo Mitt Romney’s son Josh off the stage at the Arizona state Republican convention.

Hundreds of state GOP members were gathered at Grand Canyon University to elect delegates for the national convention in July in Tampa, Fla., which is expected to select Mitt Romney as the official Republican nominee to challenge President Obama.

“We cannot afford four more years of President Obama,” said Josh Romney, the third of Mitt Romney’s five sons. “We need someone to step in there and turn things around.”

But Josh Romney had to stop repeatedly as people booed and yelled for Paul, who has continued campaigning in the Republican primary.

What is Ron Paul up to? At HuffPo, Stewart J. Lawrence suggests that Paul may be trying to set up his son Rand Paul to become Romney’s vice presidential choice. Or perhaps he just wants a speaking role at the Convention and input into the party platform. In any case, Romney may have to deal with Ron Paul at some point.

So it was a pretty quiet day in the U.S., but not in Europe, where Greece is teetering on the brink of destruction and threatening to pull all of the Eurozone down with it. From the Washington Post: Greek deadlock heightens fears of full European economic crisis.

Political deadlock in Greece rattled world markets Monday, reviving fears that the fractious Mediterranean country could spurn an international bailout, abandon the common European currency and risk a fresh round of world economic turmoil.

European stock indexes fell, with Greece’s market now at a 20-year low, while the euro currency continued a recent decline against the dollar. U.S. stocks also fell.

Coming only days before the leaders of the world’s Group of Eight industrialized nations meet at Camp David, the standoff in Greece over its political direction has thrust Europe’s troubles to the top of the agenda. A downturn in Europe could stagger a fragile recovery in the United States and undermine growth around the world.

Some headlines from The Independent UK:

World braces itself for Greek euro exit.

Financial markets were plunged into fresh turmoil after Greece’s political parties failed once again to agree to form a unity government, and European policymakers warned that Greece’s aid payments would be cut off unless Athens quickly produced an administration prepared to deliver far-reaching economic reforms and budget cuts.

Without those funds from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, Greece could run out of cash to meet its national debt interest payments as early as next month. The country would then have no option but to default. Most analysts expect that a default would be a prelude to Greek exit from the single currency altogether.

Panic and violence in the streets as protesters turn against politicians.

Southern Europe is preparing for a summer of discontent as protesters of all ages, and from across the political spectrum, plan demonstrations against greater austerity measures and against those policymakers who say there is no alternative to cuts.

Up to 50,000 “Indignant Ones” gathered in Madrid’s Puerta de Sol area on Saturday, many more than expected, to demonstrate against the Spanish government’s austerity measures. But, as indignant as they might have been, there were fewer on the streets for what was billed as an even bigger rally on Sunday, despite a message of support from the US rocker Bruce Springsteen.

A public holiday in Madrid today is likely to draw another protest, and one group almost certain to be there is the yayoflautas, a collection of people in their sixties and seventies, and who were involved in anti-Franco protests. The group has staged sit-ins in banks, radio stations, hospitals and even the reception area of a ratings agency.


Angela Merkel’s party humiliated by shock election defeat

Angela Merkel’s ruling conservatives suffered a humiliating defeat in key elections in Germany’s most populous state yesterday when voters rejected her party’s austerity policies and handed a resounding victory to her pro-growth Social Democratic Party opponents.

Ms Merkel’s Christian Democrats were shell-shocked by the devastating result they returned in the poll in North Rhine Westphalia, which has a total population of 18 million. Exit polls showed that they secured a mere 25.5 per cent of the vote – their worst performance ever in the state….

By contrast, the pro-growth Social Democrats and their candidate Hannelore Kraft, 50, romped home with 38 per cent of the vote. They were expected to form a so-called Red-Green coalition with the environmentalist Greens who won around 12 per cent of the vote. The two parties secured enough seats to obtain an absolute majority in the state parliament.

U.S. politicians should be paying attention. Austerity is not a long-term winning policy.

In miscellaneous news, Gizmodo reports that the Kodak company had a nuclear reactor in its basement for many years.

Kodak may be going under, but apparently they could have started their own nuclear war if they wanted, just six years ago. Down in a basement in Rochester, NY, they had a nuclear reactor loaded with 3.5 pounds of enriched uranium—the same kind they use in atomic warheads….

Kodak officials now admit that they never made any public announcement about it. In fact, nobody in the city—officials, police or firemen—or in the state of New York or anywhere else knew about it until it was recently leaked by an ex-employee. Its existence and whereabouts were purposely kept vague and only a few engineers and Federal employees really knew about the project.

The company had a legitimate purpose for having the reactor and radioactive material:

Kodak’s purpose for the reactor wasn’t sinister: they used it to check materials for impurities as well as neutron radiography testing. The reactor, a Californium Neutron Flux multiplier (CFX) was acquired in 1974 and loaded with three and a half pounds of enriched uranium plates placed around a californium-252 core.

But still it’s amazing they were able to get away with the reactor and especially the secrecy. The reactor was dismantled in 2006.

Why would a mafia boss be buried in a Roman basilica? Especially when he was suspected of abducting a 15-year-old girl, the daughter of a Vatican employee.

Forensic teams and marble workers have pried open a mobster’s tomb in the basilica Sant’Apollinare in Rome, searching for clues that might help to solve one of Italy’s greatest mysteries.

Fifteen-year-old Emanuela Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican bank functionary, disappeared in 1983 on her way to a music lesson. Her body has never been found, and the truth about what happened to her has puzzled investigators for nearly 30 years. One of the most prominent conspiracy theories was that Orlandi’s remains would be found in the crypt where the notorious Roman mafioso Enrico “Renatino” De Pedis was eventually laid to rest after he was shot dead in a Rome square in 1990.

On Monday, his tomb was finally opened. His body was there, inside a three-layer sarcophagus, well preserved and wearing a dark blue suit and black tie. Police took fingerprints and confirmed his identity. But also, tucked inside a niche of the ancient crypt – a burial place since before Napoleonic times – were dozens of boxes containing unidentified human bones.

Dozens of boxes of bones?! This should be an interesting story to follow.

Finally, I’d like to call your attention to a profile of Mitt Romney’s top adviser Eric Fernstrom, published in GQ Magazine. It’s long, but well worth reading. Here’s a brief preview:

Fehrnstrom calls himself a “utility player,” and in the press he’s typically identified as a “Romney spokesman” or a “Romney strategist.” But that doesn’t begin to do justice to his place in the high command. Fehrnstrom has been with Romney for a decade, longer than any other political adviser on his 2012 campaign. “Anytime I’ve got questions or I’ve got a doubt, I know I can go to Eric and I’m getting feedback from someone who’s inside Mitt’s brain,” Romney’s senior adviser Kevin Madden told me. Or as Peter Flaherty, another senior Romney adviser, puts it: “Eric has a deeper shelf of institutional knowledge of Mitt Romney than anyone I know whose last name is not Romney.”

Fehrnstrom’s first job for Romney was running the press shop during his successful 2002 run for Massachusetts governor. But his role quickly expanded, and as Romney’s national profile grew, so did his trusted aide’s. (So much so that when Scott Brown was looking for someone to help him win Ted Kennedy’s old Massachusetts Senate seat in 2010, he hired Fehrnstrom, who remains Brown’s top strategist.) Over the course of his decade with Romney, Madden says, Fehrnstrom has become “a Tom Hagen figure. He’s consigliere to the governor.”

But with two slight differences. Whereas Hagen was always trying to cool off the hotheaded Sonny Corleone and keep the peace, Fehrnstrom, 50, is both the wise man and the hothead. He wears the uniform of the modern political consultant—iPad tucked in the crook of his arm, open-collared shirt, rectangular-framed glasses—but his fleshy face and thick New England accent betray a rougher core. And far from reining in Romney, he performs the opposite service for his client: Fehrnstrom toughens him up. “Eric gives Mitt a capability that Mitt doesn’t have,” says Ben Coes, Romney’s campaign manager in 2002. “It’s a streetwise savvy; it’s an on-the-ground Boston-smarts mentality; it’s a back-alley-politics, survival-of-the-fittest point of view. Mitt is not a knife fighter. Eric is a knife fighter.” The best political operatives are the ones who provide their clients with a tangible quality the candidate himself lacks. If Karl Rove was Bush’s brain, then Fehrnstrom is Romney’s balls.

That’s all I’ve got for today. What are you reading and blogging about?