Thursday Reads: Rainbows, Wildfires, Gangsters, Spies, and Superheroes

Double rainbow over Boston, evening of June 12, 2013

Double rainbow over Boston, evening of June 12, 2013

Good Morning!!

Isn’t that a gorgeous photo? There was a double rainbow over Boston last night, and quite a few people took photos and videos of it. Here’s another shot of it over the harbor and seaport.

Double rainbow harbor

You can see more views of it here.

Some people said the rainbow must be a positive sign for the Boston Bruins, who are in the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks. It didn’t work out that way though. The Blackhawks ended up winning game one, after what seemed like an endless triple-overtime hockey game.

In other local news, yesterday was the first day of the trial of 83-year-old Irish gangster James “Whitey” Bulger. Opening statements were apparently riveting. It’s a shame the federal courts won’t allow TV cameras, because this trial is going to be an incredible show. Yesterday both sides gave their opening statements. From The Washington Post:

BOSTON — The trial of James “Whitey” Bulger, the Irish mob boss who allegedly helped scratch out 19 lives and ran this city’s underworld aided by corrupt FBI agents, got underway Wednesday morning almost 20 years after he fled the city on the eve of his indictment.

Now 83 and with just a bit of white hair left, Bulger wore a long-sleeve green shirt and jeans and listened without displaying any reaction as prosecutors laid out their 32 charges against him in a packed South Boston federal courtroom near the gangster’s old hangouts.

“It’s a case about organized crime, public corruption and all types of illegal activities,” federal prosecutor Brian Kelly said during opening statements. “He was no ordinary leader. He did the dirty work himself. He was a hands-on killer.”

Kelly told the story of one of Bulger’s alleged murder victims, Arthur “Bucky” Barrett, who prayed for his life before he was led to a cellar stairwell. “Barrett’s going downstairs to lie down for a while,” Bulger told an accomplice. Barrett walked down the stairs, and Bulger shot him the back, Kelly said.

Bulger’s rise as the city’s brutal organized crime leader was aided and abetted by corrupt FBI agents, who brushed off Bulger’s racketeering and violence in exchange for his help as an informant to bring down the local mafia, according to a lengthy ruling by a federal judge and other investigations.

On the defense side, (Hartford Courant)

Bulger lawyer Jay Carney made it clear in his remarks to the jury that much of the crime boss’s defense will be spent trying to discredit the government’s three chief witnesses. They are close former Bulger associates who agreed to turn on him for leniency or other considerations.

Carney argued to the jury that the three — John Martorano, Stephen Flemmi and Kevin Weeks — will say whatever they think the government wants in order to protect their cooperation agreements. Among other things, he said, they are accusing Bulger of their crimes.

Martorano was sentenced to 14 years in prison for 20 murders. Weeks, once a Bulger protégé, got a shorter sentence for less serious offenses. Flemmi, Bulger’s long-time partner, got a life sentence, but was not exposed to possible death sentences for crimes in Florida and Oklahoma related to the gang’s attempt to takeover World Jai Alai, once one of the country’s largest pari-mutuel businesses.

Carney compared the federal prosecutors to chefs and the three witnesses to elaborately prepared meals.

‘What [we] are going to try to do is show you what happens in the prosecutors’ kitchen before the witness comes out,” Carney said.

I guess I’ve bored you with enough Boston news for today. Let’s see what’s happening in the rest of the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Thursday Reads: Greece, Golf, and the Stanley Cup

Good Morning!!

Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in Greece to protest austerity measures being forced on them by the government, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Government leaders are so nervous that

Prime Minister George Papandreou of Greece said on Wednesday that he would reshuffle his cabinet and request a vote of confidence in Parliament after talks with the opposition about a unity government foundered.

Earlier in the day….Mr. Papandreou offered to step aside so that his Socialist party could form a coalition government with the center-right opposition, but only if the opposition would support a new bailout plan for the debt-ridden country.

Mr. Papandreou’s support has been plummeting, even within his party, and the Socialists appear to be lagging behind the center-right opposition for the first time since the current government was elected in 2009. With a five-seat majority in Parliament, Mr. Papandreou has been struggling to get his government fully behind the measures and to contain growing rifts within his party.

Antonis Samaras, the leader of the center-right New Democracy party, has opposed spending cuts. He has called instead for tax breaks and a renegotiation of the terms of Greece’s agreement with its foreign creditors.

The markets reacted negatively to the situation in Greece.

Greece’s financial and political crisis, compounded by new fears about the pace of the United States economic recovery, sent financial markets reeling on Wednesday….

Anxious investors feared the situation could spin out of control, igniting a series of crises in other heavily indebted euro zone countries, like Portugal, Ireland and Spain. That, in turn, could threaten Europe’s banks and even reach into the United States financial system.

“We are pretty much giving back everything we got yesterday and more,” said Lawrence R. Creatura, a portfolio manager at Federated Investors, noting the rise in the main American indexes of more than 1 percent Tuesday. “Today the market just can’t escape the undertow of deteriorating economic data and political events.”

Awwww…poor little rich men…just let me break out my tiny violin.

In just a few days, President Obama will be playing golf and schmoozing with John Boehner, supposedly to try to come to a “compromise” on the raising the debt ceiling. But according to The New York Times, voters don’t relish seeing privileged politicians playing and watching golf with the economy being so bad for the majority of Americans.

…with two wars, a tight economy and a high national unemployment rate, the prevailing belief is that constituents do not want to see their representatives having fun at the golf course.

“Right now, some constituents think that members of Congress playing golf is a big deal and they don’t like it,” Tate Sr., who lobbies for the PGA Tour, said. “There is so much less talk about politicians going fishing or hunting, because that supposedly makes those members of Congress seem more normal. How ambushing and slaughtering another living creature makes you more normal, I have no idea. But it’s all about perception.”

Do Obama and Boehner care? Apparently not.

Here’s some good news for a change. Yesterday a bankruptcy judge in California followed the example of Massachusetts and declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

The decision issued by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Thomas Donovan was prompted by a joint bankruptcy filing by a Los Angeles gay couple legally married in 2008. The U.S. trustee assigned to vet the filing by Gene Balas and Carlos Morales had asked Donovan to dismiss the Chapter 13 petition because the 15-year-old law, known as DOMA, restricts federal benefits like joint filings to marriages between a man and a woman. Donovan ruled that the law violated the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.

Legal analysts said the ruling could have broad implications for gay spouses seeking equal treatment from federal agencies because it adds weight to two other federal court rulings in Massachusetts last year making their way through the appeals process.

The rulings last July by U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro dealt only with the law as it affects Massachusetts residents, and Monday’s ruling by the Los Angeles bankruptcy court was likewise specific to the local case. But the rulings are seen as bellwethers for the possible extension of federal benefits to gay spouses in states where such marriages are legal, including the estimated 18,000 gay couples who wed in California in 2008.

Potential presidential candidate Rick Perry considers himself a “prophet.”

In his first national TV interview since presidential rumors surfaced, Perry answered Fox News’ Neil Cavuto question about why he’s so unpopular in his home state by suggesting he’s a “prophet”:

CAVUTO: You have kind of like the Chris Christie phenomenon: very popular outside your state, still popular but not nearly as popular within your state. There are even Tea Party groups within your state who like you but don’t love you. […] What do you say?

PERRY: I say that a prophet is generally not loved in their hometown. That’s both Biblical and practical.

You can watch the video at Think Progress.

An interesting trial will begin on Monday in New Hampshire. A woman who was raped by a member of her church and impregnated when she was only 15 years old may finally get a chance for justice.

Jury selection starts Monday at Merrimack Superior Court in New Hampshire in the case against Ernest Willis, who prosecutors charge raped Tina Anderson twice in her home in 1997, leaving her pregnant, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.

The then-teenager was then compelled by leaders of the Trinity Baptist Church to apologize for becoming pregnant with a married man’s child, the Concord Monitor reported.

Willis, now 52, has admitted to the sex, but claims it was consensual.

Anderson, now 29, who asked media outlets to publicly identify her to draw attention to the case, told police the church’s pastor, Charles Phelps, spirited her away to another church member in Colorado in an effort to muddle a police investigation back in 1997.

Finally, a little provincialism once again…The Boston Bruins are the Stanley Cup Champions!!!!

Tuesday Reads: Republican Freak Show, Obama’s Hypocrisy, and Other News

Yikes! We're in big trouble.

Good Morning!!

Last night several of the Republican presidential candidates participated in a debate in New Hampshire, hosted by CNN. John King was the moderator. I have never heard anyone talk that fast before. I could barely understand what he was saying. He also talked over much of what the candidates said, telling them they were going too long. For some reason, CNN only allowed 30 second answers. Here are some media reactions to what the candidates said.

The NYT Caucus blog: Fact Checking the Republican Debate

On economic policy:

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said that while President Obama didn’t start the recession, “he made it worse, and longer.” Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, called President Obama “anti-jobs.”

While it is true that unemployment is far worse today than Mr. Obama’s advisers initially predicted, it would be even worse without the stimulus bill that many Republican candidates derided, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

On Michelle Bachmann’s inconsistencies:

“I don’t see that it’s the role of a president to go into states and interfere with their state laws,’’ said Ms. Bachmann, a favorite of Tea Party members who believe in states’ rights.

But then, after some other candidates said that they supported a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, she amended her answer.

“John, I do support a constitutional amendment on marriage between a man and a woman,’’ she told the moderator, John King of CNN, “but I would not be going into the states to overturn their state law.”

ABC News: Michele Bachmann Steals Show at GOP Debate to Announce Presidential Run

The Minnesota congresswoman was invited to the debate as an undeclared candidate, despite ample evidence that she was planning a White House bid, and she used the first question posed to her to announce she had officially filed to run.


“Our country needs a leader who understands the hardships that people across America have been facing over the past few years, and who will do what it takes to renew the American dream,” Bachmann said. “We must become a strong and proud America again, and I see clearly a better path to a brighter future.

“For these reasons, earlier this evening I instructed my team to file the necessary paperwork to allow me to seek the office of President of the United States.”

From The Fix: New Hampshire Republican debate: Winners and losers Chris Cilizza says the big winners are Michelle Bachmann and Mitt Romney, big losers – Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain. Cilizza also liked John King (ugh!) and the “this or that” choices at the breaks (stupid!!).

Juli Weiner at Vanity Fair: Bachmann a Big Winner and Romney Is Bulletproof at CNN’s Republican Debate Here’s what Weiner had to say about Newt:

Most Obviously Disinterested

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich appeared sullen, and his answers were notably terse. He seemed most excited about two things: talking about NASA—Gingrich is a longtime admirer of outer space—and when King asked him to choose between Dancing With the Stars and American Idol. For the record, he choose the latter—although how long until divorces it in favor of its younger, flashier update, The Voice?

We were wondering if Gingrich’s disgruntled former staff organized a watching party tonight? And if so, what was the drinking game like?

She loved Romney’s facial expression when Herman Cain was talking abut his muslim phobia.

Most Comically Skeptical Face
For a fleeting, glorious moment during Cain’s exposition about “peaceful” Muslims versus Muslims “who are trying to kill us,” the split-screen showed Romney making a face not dissimilar to the one your blogger was making—a face one might make after eating a lemon-soaked pickle, or a slice of Godfather’s Pizza. “Romney’s face during Herman Cain’s answer might just have won my vote,” Ezra Klein of The Washington Post tweeted. Romney’s rejoinder to Cain’s response was measured: “Of course Sharia Law isn’t going to be applied in our courts,” he said. “Our country was founded on a principle of religious tolerance.”

This isn’t a reaction to the debate, but is very relevant to the Republican candidates and their so-called economic policies: American Chronicle: Grover pulls GOP strings

Today’s Republicans love to point out that President John F. Kennedy saw the wisdom of tax cuts when he reduced the top income tax rate. However, congressional Republicans at the time were worried that this would cause a budget deficit. President Dwight Eisenhower supported the continuation of high wartime taxes to reduce the nation’s debt. President Richard Nixon defended the continuation of a surtax to pay for the Vietnam War. Fearing deficits, President Gerald Ford opposed a permanent tax cut.

All of these leaders would be RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) today, because they put balanced budgets ahead of cutting taxes. President Ronald Reagan remains a hero, but that’s because his rhetoric on taxes and smaller government is beloved. Never mind that he agreed to several tax increases (including a huge hike in the payroll tax that rescued Social Security for decades to come), never once proposed a balanced budget and oversaw an expansion of the federal government. The Reagan tax hikes were a responsible response to growing imbalances, but they would be shot down today.

The bipartisan national debt commission and the Gang of Six (now down to five senators) are looking at a simpler tax code that would widen the tax base, lower rates and eliminate many deductions as part of a debt and deficit solution, which includes significant spending cuts. But because this would increase revenue overall, the grand poo-bah of anti-tax purity has declared that this must be opposed by any politician who has signed a pledge to never raise taxes. He Who Must Be Obeyed is Grover Norquist, who invented the tax pledge and is the head of Americans for Tax Reform.

In other news, President Obama opened his big mouth and said that Anthony Weiner should resign.

In an interview that will air on the Today show on Tuesday morning, Obama said that Weiner’s online exchanges with women were “highly inappropriate” and that he “embarrassed himself.” And while Obama said the decision about leaving Congress would ultimately be up to him and his constituents, he made his own preference clear.

“When you get to the point where, because of various personal distractions, you can’t serve as effectively as you need to, at the time when people are worrying about jobs, and their mortgages, and paying the bills—then you should probably step back,’’ Obama said.

Frankly, I think a President who hasn’t done diddly-squat about jobs or foreclosures should step back. Maybe he’s distracted by all those White House parties and so many vacations. If I had failed as badly as Obama has, I’d resign.

This is a horrifying story from Think Progress: JP Morgan Records Largest Profit Ever, While Community Devastated By Its Predatory Lending Sheds 1,000 Workers

One of the many tragic stories of the Great Recession involves Jefferson County, Alabama. As Matt Taibbi explained in an article in Rolling Stone last year, mega bank JP Morgan Chase used a predatory refinancing deal on sewer bonds to reap billions while the local area was financially devastated.

Now, Jefferson County, still reeling from the effects of JP Morgan’s dirty deals, is moving to place nearly 1,000 public workers on administrative leave without pay, as the state Legislature failed last week to come to the municipality’s aid with any fiscal support. In doing so, the county hopes to save “just over $12 million.”

Yet while the public workers of Jefferson County will soon face the prospect of losing their wages and livelihoods through no fault of their own, JP Morgan Chase continues to rake in lavish profits. In 2010, the mega bank posted a profit of a whopping $17.4 billion; during this past quarter, the bank “reported the biggest quarterly profit in its history,” with a 67 percent rise in net income.

I’ll end with some provincialism: Bruins dominate the Canucks, force Game 7

The Boston Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-2 in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals at the Boston Garden. That makes the two teams tied 3-3. Game 7 should be a doozey. The last time the Bruins won the Stanley Cup was in 1972.

So what are you reading and blogging about today?