Wednesday Reads: Big Bang July 4th Edition

Good Morning!

It’s July 4th!

So, in honor of those big firework shows that are probably canceled throughout the US, I will bring y’all a special edition of the evening reads, so be sure to check it out.

Now, however…this morning’s post we’ll be catching up on world news reports, and a few other stories to make your day.

First a warning, some of the news is upsetting and graphic.

In Syria, there is a report that exposes how Syria is running 27 torture centres, says rights group

 Syrian intelligence agencies are running torture centers across the country where detainees are beaten with batons and cables , burned with acid, sexually assaulted, and their fingernails torn out, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Tuesday.

The New York-based rights group identified 27 detention centers that it says intelligence agencies have been using since President Bashar al-Assad’s government began a crackdown in March 2011 on pro-democracy protesters trying to oust him.

Human Rights Watch conducted more than 200 interviews with people who said they were tortured…

I won’t post the rest, safe to say that it is not an enjoyable read.

In Mexico, the new president-elect is making some key decisions. Mexico’s president-elect may double security spending: aide

Mexico’s President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto will seek to double security spending to around 2 percent of GDP to fight drug violence and organized crime while proposing new tactics to the United States, a top aide said on Tuesday.

Emilio Lozoya, touted as a possible pick for foreign minister, said Pena Nieto’s administration would try to boost efforts to tackle money laundering and propose trans-border infrastructure projects to help create jobs, cut business costs and increase security.

“Today Mexico is investing a bit less than 1 percent of gross domestic product (in security) which is low and clearly not enough to confront this problem,” Lozoya told Reuters in an interview. “Investment on security needs to double at least.”

The aide continued…

Pena Nieto proposes focusing efforts on projects that straddle the U.S.-Mexico border such as tunnels and high-tech border crossings, which would create jobs, boost security and promote economic development, Lozoya said.

He said there was also scope for cooperation to fight money laundering and that the United States could help Mexico by stopping automatic weapons from crossing the border and feeding drug gang violence.

“There is a lot that can be done to combat money laundering in particular,” Lozoya said. “We are not getting the results that we want. … The United States can make an additional effort to reduce the flow of arms from there into Mexico.”

In other world news, the State Department released this statement last night: Statement by Secretary Clinton on her Call With Pakistani Foreign Minister Khar

I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.

As I told the former Prime Minister of Pakistan days after the Salala incident, America respects Pakistan’s sovereignty and is committed to working together in pursuit of shared objectives on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect.

In today’s phone call, Foreign Minister Khar and I talked about the importance of taking coordinated action against terrorists who threaten Pakistan, the United States, and the region; of supporting Afghanistan’s security, stability, and efforts towards reconciliation; and of continuing to work together to advance the many other shared interests we have, from increasing trade and investment to strengthening our people-to-people ties. Our countries should have a relationship that is enduring, strategic, and carefully defined, and that enhances the security and prosperity of both our nations and the region.

You can read the rest at the link, it seems that relations between the US and Pakistan are feeling a little less heated, Clinton Says ‘Sorry’ to Pakistan, Afghan Supply Lines to Re-Open

gty hillary clinton jef 120703 wblog Clinton Says Sorry to Pakistan, Afghan Supply Lines to Re Open

Image credit: Laurent Gillieron/AFP/Getty Images

“Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives.  We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military.”

The word “sorry” has never been used by the U.S. government since the incident, instead choosing to express regrets and condolences.   The Pakistani government has been demanding an apology before it would consider re-opening NATO supply lines to Afghanistan, which were closed after the incident.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rehman issued a statement that the country accepts Secretary Clinton’s statement and hopes that the two reluctant  allies can move forward.

” We appreciate Secretary Clinton’s statement, and hope that bilateral ties can move to a better place from here,” said Reham. “I am confident that both countries can agree on many critical issues, especially on bringing peace to the region.”

Yesterday Ralph mentioned a link about the Plantation State we’ve been discussing lately. Probation Fees Multiply as Companies Profit –  It was an important story and I thought it should be put up on the front page.

Three years ago, Gina Ray, who is now 31 and unemployed, was fined $179 for speeding. She failed to show up at court (she says the ticket bore the wrong date), so her license was revoked.

When she was next pulled over, she was, of course, driving without a license. By then her fees added up to more than $1,500. Unable to pay, she was handed over to a private probation company and jailed — charged an additional fee for each day behind bars.

For that driving offense, Ms. Ray has been locked up three times for a total of 40 days and owes $3,170, much of it to the probation company. Her story, in hardscrabble, rural Alabama, where Krispy Kreme promises that “two can dine for $5.99,” is not about innocence.

It is, rather, about the mushrooming of fines and fees levied by money-starved towns across the country and the for-profit businesses that administer the system. The result is that growing numbers of poor people, like Ms. Ray, are ending up jailed and in debt for minor infractions.

“With so many towns economically strapped, there is growing pressure on the courts to bring in money rather than mete out justice,” said Lisa W. Borden, a partner in Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, a large law firm in Birmingham, Ala., who has spent a great deal of time on the issue. “The companies they hire are aggressive. Those arrested are not told about the right to counsel or asked whether they are indigent or offered an alternative to fines and jail. There are real constitutional issues at stake.”

Please read the rest at the link.

In another part of the US, this time South Carolina a Drunk Driver Kills Son; Grieving Mom Must Pay For Clean-Up

A coroner in Greenville, South Carolina, called Loretta Robinson in June, 2011, and told her that her oldest son, Justin Walker, had died when his car was struck by a drunken driver.

This must be every parent’s worst nightmare.

As Robinson told WYFF4. com,

“I never would have imagined getting that call,” she said. “Never in one million years expected that.”

You might imagine that nothing could make this worse, but you would be wrong: Robinson has since been slapped with several bills in connection with the accident, including one to clean the street of her son’s blood.

I swear, you can’t make this stuff up these days…

She was in court on June 19, and looked Anna Gonzalez, the accused driver, in the eye as Gonzalez pleaded guilty. Justin Walker, Robinson’s deceased son, was not found at fault for the accident.

From WYFF:

The grieving mother then showed the judge the many bills she’s had to pay, even though her son was not at fault.

Robinson said she paid to have the wrecked car stored for months, in case there was a trial.

“I had to pay to have the vehicle towed,” she said. “I had to pay for the vehicle removed and to clean up the street from Justin’s blood on the ground.”

Robinson said that was the bill that stung the most – paying $50 to have the street cleaned.

“First of all, having to open the mail and look at the charge to the deceased, Justin Darryl Walker — the deceased! It’s just a hard thing to deal with in the context of your child,” she said.

That’s right: Robinson is being charged $50 for the removal of her son’s blood from the scene of the accident, even though her son was not at fault. How insensitive can the system get?

Robinson has not been able to work because of all the stress and emotional grief, she received some funds from the SC State Office of Victims Assistance, but it was not enough to pay for the cleaning fees. I just don’t understand why she is being charged for this in the first place.

Let’s move on to another car accident, this time a hit and run…John Bryson Had Ambien In System, But Prosecutors Decline To Charge

A report released on Tuesday revealed that former U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson was driving with a small amount of the sleep drug Ambien in his system when he was involved in multiple collisions in Southern California last month.

Despite that, prosecutors declined to charge Bryson with any crimes, saying it was not clear the drug had anything to do with the bizarre June 9 collisions and that a seizure was more likely to blame.

Bryson resigned from President Obama’s cabinet on June 21 after revelations that he had crashed his Lexus into another car, drove away and then crashed into a second car minutes later in a neighboring city.

Well, Bryson’s actions still seem strange to me, but with all these zombie freak attacks going on in the world, I guess his odd behavior is nothing to get worked up about.

Casey Anthony Wears Caylee’s Cremated Remains Around Her Neck, Report Says Oops, I guess I spoke too soon about freakish behavior.

Casey Anthony is reportedly wearing a constant reminder of her daughter, Caylee – a necklace that contains cremated remains of the deceased two-year-old.

According to People, the locket containing Caylee’s ashes was a gift to the 26-year-old from her mom, Cindy. The magazine also reports Cindy Anthony wears a matching necklace.

Geez, now that is one story that gets me running for a bucket and a cleaning lady…ugh.

(See, I told you these stories were going to make your day!)

Mandatory Ultrasounds Not Enough In Virginia Yup, I am going from one stomach turning link to another.

As Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound law goes into effect the state has released a list of places that a woman or girl can go to obtain a free ultrasound, purportedly to help defer the additional expense incurred with the procedure. The problem is, the list is made up almost exclusively of crisis pregnancy centers.

The Virginia law requires a girl or woman who needs to terminate a pregnancy obtain an ultrasound 24 hours before the procedure, regardless if one is medically warranted or not. The states that a “qualified medical professional trained in sonography and working under the supervision of a physician licensed in the Commonwealth shall perform fetal transabdominal ultrasound imaging on the patient undergoing the abortion for the purpose of determining gestational age.” CPC’s often perform ultrasounds, but they just don’t always have medical professionals, so there’s no guarantee that an ultrasound performed by the CPC’s identified by the state would even meed the law’s requirements.

It gets worse. CPC’s are independently run women’s health “centers” that often fall outside the bounds of state regulation and oversight. A woman or girl who has an ultrasound at one of these CPC’s has no guarantee her medical information will remain private, nor does she have any guarantee the center will even turn over the image.

I wish someone would light some firecrackers under the asses of some of the legislators in Virginia, and give these douche bags a sparkling orifice to stick their PLUB ultrasound wands.
Of course, we can’t talk about dickheads without mentioning Rep. Joe Walsh… Blasts Double Amputee’s Military Service, Says She’s Not A ‘True Hero’
Though he never joined the military himself, Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) disparaged his Democratic opponent’s military service at a town hall on Sunday, saying that she’s not a “true hero.”Walsh is running against Tammy Duckworth, a double amputee who lost both her legs in Iraq when insurgents hit her helicopter with an RPG in 2004.The Tea Party freshman opened the Elk Grove town hall by arguing that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was reluctant to discuss his own military service in 2008, which made him a “noble hero.” By contrast, “Now I’m running against a woman who, my God, that’s all she talks about,” Walsh said.

Video at the link.

I have a couple other political links for you, Which states have the most to lose if their governors reject Medicaid expansion? | theGrio

The Supreme Court has declared that states can opt out of the provision in the Affordable Care Act that expands Medicaid coverage (at the federal government’s expense for the first three years, and with states paying a small percentage of the cost after that) to people under age 65 who reach up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. But which states stand to lose the most if their governors say “thanks, but no thanks,” to the Medicaid funds? We ranked them based on the Kaiser Family Foundation data on the states with the highest rates of children currently being covered by Medicaid the percentage have no health insurance (via their parents or the government) at all.

Be sure to check out the states at the link…
And then, this one is a “must read” article:  UFO Sightings Are More Common Than Voter Fraud | Mother Jones
I won’t quote from that one, because there are just too many juicy tidbits to choose from. Just go read it.
Well, don’t think today’s post is all bad news,  Pilgrims’ Progress: Nuns Return Home After Bus Tour Against Ryan Budget
Good for them!
nunsbus.banner.getty.jpg

Sister Simone Campbell stands in front of her bus during a stop in Harrisburg, Pa., on June 28. (Getty Images)

Last week, the most famous old lady on a bus was Karen Klein, whose torment by a couple of middle school monsters in Greece, New York, went viral (8 million clicks and counting) and netted her a new pension fund ($677,000 and counting). The bullies got one-year suspensions and Klein got a much-overdue vacation.

On Monday, the second most famous old ladies on a bus — the “Nuns on the Bus” — arrived in Washington after two weeks, nine states, 31 towns, and 2,700 miles on the road. They’d taken to the highway to decry Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed federal budget — now a cornerstone of the Republican platform — which slashes funding for food stamps, Medicare, and social services. Ryan, a practicing Catholic, has defended his budget as aligned with the teachings of the Church. The sisters, backed by American bishops, have a slightly different reading of the Gospel. “Many politicians offer deeply flawed theological justifications for the federal budget,” said Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice group, and the Whoopi Goldberg-style ringleader of the Nuns on the Bus. “They oughta get some theological help.” She added, “They gut the very programs that help Catholic sisters house the homeless, feed the hungry, and give children a chance.”

It’s been a turbulent few months for American nuns. In April, the Vatican handed down a report excoriating the Leadership Council of Women Religious — a group that represents most of the 57,000 nuns in the United States — for breaking with Church doctrine on social issues (e.g., abortion, contraception, homosexuality) and entertaining “radical feminist themes.” The sisters were gobsmacked. “I’ve given my life to living in this way,” Campbell said. “If you vow poverty, chastity, and obedience, you live open to embracing everybody. If the whole idea of Catholic sisters is to hug the world — and then they say you work too much with the poor? It hurt.”

These are my kinda sistahs!

Sister Diane Donoghue, 81 years old and, by her own estimation, still kicking, took the mic. The bus had stopped by Rep. Eric Cantor’s office yesterday, she said. The crowd hissed. There, the sisters had met a woman with cerebral palsy who depended on federal assistance. The crowd awwed. “I’m not going to stand here and say that the Ryan budget is moral,” Donoghue said. “It’s immoral!” The crowd went bonkers.

Wonderful isn’t it?

So on that note, what are you all doing on our Nation’s Birthday? Have a safe 4th  of July y’all! Stay cool!


Paul Ryan in La La Lie Land

Economist Aaron Carroll forecast the trend in temperature for Indianapolis based on the last two days. Scared yet?

Lying with statistics is one of those things you watch out for when you work with numbers.  It’s one of the reasons there’s peer review for journal submissions.  Mistakes in methodology ruin academic careers and reputations.  However, loosey goosey methodology is the hallmark of advocacy research.  Paul Ryan’s chart–published today in the WSJ–is going to be a hallmark of Stats Gone Wild.  Finding a trend in an economic variable is a standard practice for analyzing time series.  It’s taught to undergraduates in their first stat class and doctoral students continually in econometrics.  Results are dependent on a lot of things you can do while running the analysis.  The first thing you teach to your undergrads is there has to be a certain number of observations.  Then, you start looking for other things that could cause problems.  Forecasts are only as good as the assumptions.  We’ve seen this problem before when Ryan’s number crunching. Paul Ryan’s new little chart takes the cake.  Ryan’s assumptions continually fail the reality test.  They also are extreme in their result.

Ryan’s assumptions and programs are summed up by Ezra Klein this way.

Ryan’s budget funds trillions of dollars in tax cuts, defense spending and deficit reduction by cutting deeply into health-care programs and income supports for the poor.

Yes, folks, the poor are going to pay if Paul Ryan gets his way.  All of this based on ideology and the same baseless assumptions he always makes.  Tax cuts more than pay for themselves.  Privatization always saves money.  Health care costs only increase by the rate of inflation.  Giving money to the rich will grease the wheels of manufacturing and hiring.  We might as well assume that the Treasury can hire a few alchemists to turn hay bushels into gold.

Ryan tells CBO to assume his tax plan will raise revenues to 19 percent of GDP and then hold them there. He tells them to assume his Medicare plan will hold cost growth in Medicare to GDP+0.5 percentage points. He tells them to assume that spending on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program won’t grow any faster than inflation. He tells them to assume that all federal spending aside from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will fall from 12.5 percent of GDP in 2011 to 3.75 percent of GDP in 2050.

Oh, there’s more of that Republican wishful thinking. Or as I like to call it, big fat ol’ lies. Lies and ideology in. Ideology and Lies and Pain out.

At the end of his initial release, Ryan posts a table comparing his budget to the president’s budget. The single largest difference is in the tax section: Ryan raises $2 trillion less in revenue than the White House does. In the president’s budget, those revenues come mostly from increasing taxes on the wealthy. So that’s the first big gap between the two proposals: Under Ryan’s budget, revenue would be lower, and the distribution of taxes more regressive, than under Obama’s budget.

On the spending side, Ryan’s biggest cuts come from health-care programs. He eliminates the $1.5 trillion that the Affordable Care Act uses to purchase health insurance for 30 million Americans. Then he cuts Medicaid and related health programs by $770 billion — which is to say, by about a third. Medicare takes $200 billion in cuts on top of that.

Yes.  All of us will be held hostage to Insurance Companies in Paul Ryan’s world.  Ryan thinks he’s doing us all a favor.  Here’s some more thoughts from Matthew Yglesias who reminds us that all of Paul Ryan’s analysis comes from the bad fiction of Ayn Rand. 

What Ryan is talking about here is Medicaid which offers health care coverage to the poor, to the disabled, and to an important class of elderly people. Currently the money for Medicaid comes from both the states and the federal government. States have to meet a lot of minimum coverage standards and get federal financial assistance for doing so, and in addition states have the option of securing additional federal monies for additional coverage if they’re willing to kick in extra money of their own. Because health care is proejcted to grow more expensive over the next fifty years, the cost of this program is projected to go up substantially. One way of preventing that from happening is to just refuse to pony up the money, and make Medicaid beneficiaries get by with less health care. And that’s what Ryan’s plan does. On the one hand, it excuses states from their minimum coverage responsibilities. On the other hand, it reduces the amount of money that’s available to give people coverage. Which is all about what you’d expect from a tax cutting Ayn Rand fan. Keep the money in the hands of the job creators who earned it rather than handing it out to the moochers and looters looking for a little free medicine.

But please God almighty can we avoid referring to this as a measure that “strengthens the safety net” by empowering states to “tailor assistance to their specific populations”? Ryan doesn’t like taxing the wealthy to give resources to the poor and disabled, so he proposes to give fewer resources to the poor and disabled.

Every time I read something that comes out of Paul Ryan I end up wondering what is seriously wrong with this man.  He’s like the master of doublespeak. We’ve seen this before and it’s still called voodoo economics in my book.  There is no evidence that giving excessive tax cuts to rich people creates jobs.  There is plenty of evidence that our health care delivery system is the worst and most expensive of all the development nations. Paul Ryan wants to continue life support to the sick system we have now.  The one that was put into place by the Dubya Bush administration that’s delivered endless, expensive wars, poor job creation and economic growth, huge deficits, and a global financial crisis.  Why does he keep playing the scratched-up record?  My hope is that all the political activism and outrage brought about by Scott Walker in Wisconsin will hand Paul Ryan a pink slip in the fall.  The nation cannot afford any more lies, distorted statistics, and voodoo economics. How can congress ever negotiate a budget in good faith when at least one of the major players appears to be delusional?


Let’s hear it for the “Emily’s List” candidate: Kathy Hochul wins NY-26

Kirsten Gillibrand campaigning for Kathy Hochul at a rally this past Saturday.

With over 60% reporting and Hochul holding onto her lead, lots of people calling it for Hochul:

@fivethirtyeight: Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) has called it for Hochul. Good as done. #ny26

Another great tweet:

@thepeoplesview: First Republican electoral casualty of Paul Ryan’s Kill-Medicare plan: Kathy Hochul wins in NY-26! Hee!

As I noted in my post earlier tonight, in a move signaling how weak the GOP is, their candidate Jane Corwin obtained a court order blocking a certification of the winner tonight… it looks like we’ll have to wait until Thursday or so, but let the celebrating begin… here’s hoping this is a huge blow to DC and the Austerity crowd.

It was after all Kirsten Gillibrand, and not DC Dems, who saw the opening in NY-26 and campaigned hard for Kathy Hochul…via the Hill:

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has emerged as one of the most prominent supporters of New York House candidate Kathy Hochul.

Washington Democrats have been keeping their distance from Hochul, the party’s nominee in the May 24 special election for former Rep. Chris Lee’s (R-N.Y.) seat. Meanwhile, Republicans leaders including Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas) and Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) have lent their backing to the GOP nominee, Jane Corwin.

Gillibrand, a former upstate congresswoman, sent a fundraising pitch on Hochul’s behalf and teamed with the pro-choice group EMILY’s List to urge activists to lend their support.

“Kathy is an extraordinary candidate,” Gillibrand said Tuesday during a Web forum hosted by EMILY’s List. “I know she can win this race.”

This just reminds me of all the attacks on Coakley and Emily’s List during the Scott Brown race… as I said then, “In Defense of the Emily’s List Candidate”:

Emily’s List produced a winning primary candidate (they backed the candidate who won the popular vote in the 2008 primaries too for that matter). It’s the Obama Era of the Democratic party that has created bad electoral conditions for Democratic nominees and made it difficult for liberals to stand on principle. (Even the socialist in the U.S. Senate voted for Obama’s health insurance scam. Way to discredit the right-wing canard that Obama’s terrible policies are synonymous with socialism.)

The one surefire way to avoid becoming the target of local backlash against Obama is to run against Obama’s policies–and in today’s environment where the activist left is split up along deep fault lines (“submit to party unity or else you’re a certain class of politician, voter, or woman”), Democratic nominees do not have the benefit of a ready-made independent fundraising network to take on the Obama machine during a general election yet. Of course they could try to build one, but either way it is an uphill battle and there is no easy path to victory whatever they choose.

This race was somewhat different in that Hochul could run against the GOP’s toxic Ryancare rather than against Obamacare, but when you hear all the spin tonight and the Dem machine taking credit for Hochul’s win, remember that it was Kirsten Gillibrand and Emily’s List who shored up Kathy Hochul, not Washington Dems, who were too afraid to get behind Hochul.

The “Emily’s List” candidate won in the very red district of NY-26!

Congrats to Kathy, and Kirsten for president!

Hochul’s win tonight also makes Eric Cantor’s and Jonah Goldberg’s push for Paul Ryan to run for president (not to mention Charles Krathammer’s “Draft Paul Ryan” noises from a month ago) all the more ridiculous and embarrassing for the GOP.