Lazy Caturday Reads: Famous Authors And Their Cats (Plus News)

Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday, Dakinikat highlighted this article at The Independent in which the owner of a tanker that the Trump administration claims was attacked by Iran says the Trump folks are lying.

The ship operator said “flying objects” that may have been bullets were the cause of damage to the vessel, rather than mines used by Iranian forces, as the US has suggested.

Yutaka Katada, chief executive of the Japanese company operating the ship called Kokuka Courageous, one of two vessels attacked near the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday, said the damage could not have been caused by mines or torpedos that are shot underwater, since the damage was reportedly above the ship’s waterline.

Now Germany has chimed in. Newsweek: Germany Joins Chorus Casting Doubt on Trump Administration Claim that Iran was Behind Attack on Oil Tankers.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Friday cast doubt on evidence that the U.S. government claims is proof that Iran was behind an attack this week on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

William Faulkner and cat

The attack on the two vessels, one Japanese and one Norwegian, took place as Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Iran to try to calm tensions between Tehran and Washington.

The U.S. Navy later released a video that purported to show members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard sneaking over to the ship in the middle of the night to remove an unexploded mine. U.S. officials claimed this is evidence of Iran’s culpability, but Maas argued that the video was insufficient proof to pin the attack on Iran.

“The video is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me,” Maas told reporters during a press conference on Friday. The boat’s Japanese owner also cast doubt on the theory that a mine had been used to attack the ship, telling journalists that members of his crew had witnessed a flying object.

Iran has denied any role in the event, and some observers have raised questions about whether the intelligence was being used as a pretext for the U.S. to escalate conflict with the country.

Peter Baker writes at The New York Times: As Trump Accuses Iran, He Has One Problem: His Own Credibility.

For any president, accusing another country of an act of war presents an enormous challenge to overcome skepticism at home and abroad. But for a president known for falsehoods and crisis-churning bombast, the test of credibility appears far more daunting.

Ursula Le Guin and cat

For two and a half years in office, Mr. Trump has spun out so many misleading or untrue statements about himself, his enemies, his policies, his politics, his family, his personal story, his finances and his interactions with staff that even his own former communications director once said “he’s a liar” and many Americans long ago concluded that he cannot be trusted.

Fact-checking Mr. Trump is a full-time occupation in Washington, and in no other circumstance is faith in a president’s word as vital as in matters of war and peace. The public grew cynical about presidents and intelligence after George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq based on false accusations of weapons of mass destruction, and the doubt spilled over to Barack Obama when he accused Syria of gassing its own people. As Mr. Trump confronts Iran, he carries the burden of their history and his own….

The task is all the more formidable for Mr. Trump, who himself has assailed the reliability of America’s intelligence agencies and even the intelligence chiefs he appointed, suggesting they could not be believed when their conclusions have not fit his worldview.

That’s an important point. Trump has been attacking the findings of the U.S. intelligence community since he was a candidate. He has repeatedly said he believes Vladimir Putin over his own FBI and CIA.

Again following up on Dakinikat’s post yesterday, here’s a brilliant essay by Virginia Heffernan at The Los Angeles Times: All the president’s lying ladies — Hicks, Sanders and Conway — make news.

Anton Chekhov and cat

The Trump White House is a bit like Shakespeare summer camp: not enough substantial parts for the girls. The female roles at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. are for craven ladies-in-waiting who are allotted very little moral agency, let alone opportunities for heroics. They subvert their ambitions to their overlord’s; they lie, in short.

Yes, there’s a Lady Macbeth, portrayed in Trumpworld as a waxen blonde sleepwalker, a ghostly daughter-wife whose veins are certifiably free of the milk of human kindness. (Ivanka’s understudy, the creepy Melania, has skipped so many rehearsals she’s been written off.)

A shrewd, unholy trinity has settled for lesser roles: the liar-handmaidens Hope Hicks, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway. The president, according to Michael Wolff’s latest book, “Siege,” likes to see these three in a “cat fight,” in which each undermines the others as she competes to lie most robustly on his behalf.

The melancholic former White House Communications Director Hicks, choleric counselor Conway and splenetic Press Secretary Sanders aren’t just complicit in the president’s depravity. They have managed to advance it.

But the advantage this trio has over Lady Ivanka is that they can leave.

To further tempt you to read the whole thing, here is Heffernan’s characterization of Sarah Huckabee Sanders:

Sanders is known for her never-ending mendacity and her near-religious devotion to Trump, who, according to Wolff, calls her the “Huckabee Girl.”

Patricia Highsmith and cat

Indeed, Trump has often treated Sanders as if she were the possession of her father, Mike Huckabee, on loan to him as a scullery maid. Scullery for Trump includes, above all, mendacity. Sanders is featured in the Mueller report for her “slip of the tongue” — the claim that “countless” FBI agents disliked former FBI Director James Comey.

Not only was this fabrication part of Sanders’ tireless effort to make it seem as though Trump is a normal law-and-order Republican (and not a carnie thug with well-documented contempt for the whole FBI), it was also an effort to obfuscate Trump’s reason for firing Comey. We all know it: to kill the Russia investigation.

Go read the rest. You won’t be sorry.

At Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson explains how the trial of a border patrol agent could expose the “toxic culture” of his agency: ‘Guats,’ ‘Tonks’ and ‘Subhuman Shit’: The Shocking Texts of a Border Patrol Agent.

In the days before he allegedly struck a 23-year-old undocumented Guatemalan man with a government-issued Ford F-150, Border Patrol agent Matthew Bowen sent a text to a fellow agent. In the exchange, which federal prosecutors now claim offers “insight into his view of the aliens he apprehends,” Bowen railed against unauthorized migrants who’d thrown rocks at a colleague as “mindless murdering savages” and “disgusting subhuman shit unworthy of being kindling for a fire.” The text message also includes a plea to the president: “PLEASE let us take the gloves off trump!”

Kingsley Amis and cat

Two weeks later, on December 3rd, 2017, Bowen was on patrol near Nogales, Arizona, when he spotted a suspected unauthorized border crosser. Identified as Antolin Rolando Lopez-Aguilar in a federal affidavit, the man had been hiding but took off running back toward the Nogales point of entry, “in an apparent effort to avoid apprehension,” the affidavit states.

Instead of pursuing Lopez-Aguilar on foot, Bowen chased after him in his federal vehicle, known as a “Kilo Unit” in Border Patrol lingo. As caught on camera, Bowen maneuvered “the front grille of the truck directly behind Lopez-Aguilar,” according to the affidavit. With the F-150 bearing down on him, Lopez-Aguilar reached back “to ‘push off’ of the hood” before Bowen “accelerated the… Kilo Unit directly into the back of Lopez-Aguilar’s body, knocking Lopez-Aguilar to the ground,” the document states. The Ford’s tires came to a full stop “within inches of running Lopez-Aguilar over where he lay on the ground.”

Bowen, now 39, was indicted in May 2018, on two counts — one, a civil rights crime, for what prosecutors call Bowen’s choice to use “deadly force against a person who was running away from him and posed no threat,” and the other, an obstruction charge, for his alleged effort to “cover up his crime.” Bowen has pleaded not guilty to both counts. (Lopez-Aguilar was scraped up, but not seriously injured according to court documents, and reportedly sentenced to 30 days for the misdemeanor offense of illegal entry into the United States.)

PD James and cat

Bowen’s trial is due to begin in August. But the case is already shining a spotlight on a troubled culture at Border Patrol, the law enforcement arm of Customs and Border Protection, at a moment when both agencies have been grappling with a surge in migrants, and faced allegations of widespread wrongdoing, ranging from physical and sexual abuse of minors to housing migrants in substandard shelters, including one likened to “a human dog pound.”

Read the rest at Rolling Stone.

At The Washington Post, David Von Drehle examines the differential treatment given to rich men in the U.S. justice system: Jeffrey Epstein’s scandal of secrecy points to a creeping rot in the American justice system.

When rich people are credibly accused of crimes, does the public have a right to know? Should multimillionaires be allowed to silence their accusers with cash?

According to superlawyer David Boies, “dozens” of women who could give testimony about being sexually assaulted as girls by mysterious financier Jeffrey Epstein are silenced by settlements they reached with their alleged assailant. The exact number is yet another secret in this least transparent of criminal cases. “Three dozen or eight dozen, I don’t know, but there are dozens,” Boies told me recently. He himself represents two alleged Epstein victims bound by “non-disclosure agreements” (NDAs).

Robert Graves and cats

Because Epstein can afford to buy silence, he may succeed in shuttering the window of accountability pried open in a South Florida court back in February. U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra ruled that federal prosecutors — led by the current labor secretary, Alexander Acosta — broke the law by entering a secret sweetheart deal to allow Epstein to serve a cushy sentence without facing evidence that he assaulted more than 30 underage girls in Palm Beach.

That ruling may prove hollow, however, if the alleged victims are now gagged by their settlements with Epstein. What a galling next chapter that would be in this appalling story.

Epstein, whose enormous and unexplained wealth attracted a circle of friends that included Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, actor Kevin Spacey and Britain’s Prince Andrew, travels from mansion to mansion while poor men accused of lesser crimes rot in prison.

This scandal of secrecy points to a creeping rot in the American justice system. Too many cases involving potential felonies are resolved through civil settlements that include ironclad NDAs. Once the money changes hands, witnesses can no longer testify to crimes; indeed, penalties for telling the truth after a settlement often run to the millions of dollars — ruinous for most crime victims. It’s a short step removed from silencing witnesses with cement shoes.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a nice weekend!


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Here’s some good news for a change: a judge in the Southern District of California will allow a lawsuit by the ACLU challenging the Trump administration policy of separating parents and children at the border to go forward.

Bloomberg: Judge Calls Trump’s Border Separations of Children ‘Brutal.’

The Trump administration failed to kill a legal challenge to its practice of separating undocumented parents and children who seek to enter the U.S. to flee persecution at home, with a judge handing an early victory to civil rights activists who say the policy is unconstitutional and cruel.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego on Wednesday denied a motion to dismiss the suit, in which the American Civil Liberties Union argues that splitting up families at the border violates their due process rights.

The practice, spearheaded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, caused widespread outrage after images of children in detention centers circulated on social media. The government argues separations are necessary to properly prosecute adults who cross into the U.S. illegally, while activists say children are being used as pawns in an informal policy intended to deter migrants.

“These allegations sufficiently describe government conduct that arbitrarily tears at the sacred bond between parent and child,” the judge wrote. The conduct, if true, “is brutal, offensive, and fails to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency.” [….]

Sabraw said the ACLU’s claims are particularly troubling because the plaintiffs in the case had allegedly come to the U.S. seeking asylum out of fear for their well-being in their home countries. The suit applies to migrants who formally present themselves at ports of entry as political refugees as well as those who seek asylum after they are apprehended during illegal border crossings.

“The government actors responsible for the ‘care and custody’ of migrant children have, in fact, become their persecutors,” the judge said.

Read more at the link. The entire filing can be read here.

More good news: a new NBC/WSJ poll found that voters are much more likely to support candidates who stand up to Trump.

NBC News: Poll: Economic satisfaction under Trump isn’t helping his party’s 2018 chances.

By a whopping 25-point margin, voters say they’re more likely to back a congressional candidate who promises to serve as a check on President Donald Trump, according to a new national poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal.

And by a similar margin, they say they’re less likely to vote for someone who has supported the president on most issues.

At the same time, six-in-10 are satisfied with the U.S. economy, and a plurality of voters give Trump credit for the economic improvement.

Despite that economic optimism, however, the poll shows that Democrats enjoy a 10-point advantage on congressional preference, with 50 percent of registered voters wanting a Democratic-controlled Congress, versus 40 percent who want a GOP-controlled one.

Now if national Democrats would just wake up and realize that standing up to Trump is the best mid-term strategy!

The summit with North Korea is coming up next week, but Trump isn’t listening to advice from experts on how to proceed, according to Politico: Trump and Bolton spurn top-level North Korea planning.

National Security Adviser John Bolton has yet to convene a Cabinet-level meeting to discuss President Donald Trump’s upcoming summit with North Korea next week, a striking break from past practice that suggests the Trump White House is largely improvising its approach to the unprecedented nuclear talks.

For decades, top presidential advisers have used a methodical process to hash out national security issues before offering the president a menu of options for key decisions. On an issue like North Korea, that would mean White House Situation Room gatherings of the secretaries of state and defense along with top intelligence officials, the United Nations ambassador, and even the treasury secretary, who oversees economic sanctions.

But since Trump agreed on a whim to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un on March 8, the White House’s summit planning has been unstructured, according to a half-dozen administration officials. Trump himself has driven the preparation almost exclusively on his own, consulting little with his national security team outside of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Senior officials from both the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations called the absence of a formal interagency process before such a consequential meeting troubling. Peter Feaver, a former National Security Council (NSC) official in the George W. Bush White House, said his colleagues would likely have held “quite a few” meetings of the so-called Principals Committee of Cabinet-level NSC members in a comparable situation. A former top Obama White House official echoed that point, calling the lack of top-level NSC meetings “shocking.”

Trump has also not presided personally over a meeting of those senior NSC officials, as a president typically does when making the most important decisions.

On the other hand, Trump has given serious thought to whether he should invite Kim Jong Un to play golf with him in Florida if the summit goes well. The Daily Beast reports:

Trump has floated hitting the links with his counterpart as he considers a secondary charm offensive to complement the diplomatic tête-à-tête. The president has already told those close to him and advisers that he is open to inviting Kim to a follow-up summit at Trump’s famous Mar-a-Lago estate and private club in Palm Beach, Florida, as Bloomberg first reported this week.

And, according to two administration officials, Trump has also raised the possibility of a leisurely activity and, perhaps, getting in 18 holes with Kim if the two end up getting along.

“He has also discussed [possibly] golfing with Kim,” a senior Trump administration official said.

It is unclear if such an outing would or could occur during a potential follow-up meeting or the one planned, then canceled, then planned again for Singapore. The site of the upcoming Singapore talks, a five-star hotel on Sentosa Island, is located near a theme park, resorts, and—as luck would have it—multiple golf courses.

The article says no one actually know if Kim even plays golf.

I suppose Kim would agree with Trump on this though. At The Washington Post, Josh Rogin writes that Trump still wants to pull U.S. troops out of South Korea.

For almost two years, President Trump has been talking about withdrawing large numbers of U.S. troops from South Korea, where there are currently around 28,000 stationed. The president’s advisers have repeatedly argued against a large-scale reduction, but he remains unpersuaded. And after his upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump will have another big chance to push the issue.

Less publicly, but still privately, Trump continues to say he doesn’t agree with the argument that U.S. troops in South Korea are strategically necessary, and he thinks the United States gets nothing back from paying to keep them there, according to administration officials and people who have spoken to Trump directly about the issue. He often asks his generals to explain the rationale for America’s deployments in Asia and expresses dissatisfaction with their answers.

At Trump’s direction, the Pentagon has taken a hard line in ongoing negotiations with the South Korean government over a new cost-sharing agreement for U.S. troops there. If those negotiations fail, Trump could have another excuse to move forward with large reductions….

Inside the administration, top officials have been trying — and failing — to convince the president of the strategic value of the South Korea-based troops since the beginning of his administration. In February, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly reportedly talked Trump down from starting a withdrawal.

Trump has picked fights with most of our allies at this point. Now he’s whining about having to to the Canada on Friday because he’s mad at Justin Trudeau.

The president has vented privately about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as their trade tensions have spilled into public view. He has mused about finding new ways to punish the United States’ northern neighbor in recent days, frustrated with the country’s retaliatory trade moves.

And Trump has complained to aides about spending two days in Canada for a summit of world leaders, believing the trip is a distraction from his upcoming Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to three people familiar with Trump’s views.

In particular, the president said Tuesday to several advisers that he fears attending the Group of Seven summit in rural Charlevoix, Quebec, may not be a good use of his time because he is diametrically opposed on many key issues with his counterparts — and does not want to be lectured by them.

Additionally, Trump has griped periodically both about German Chancellor Angela Merkel — largely because they disagree on many issues and have had an uneasy rapport — as well as British Prime Minister Theresa May, whom he sees as too politically correct, advisers say.

Awwww . . . poor baby. BTW, have you heard that State Department spokesperson and former Fox and Friends host Heather Nauert thinks Germany was our ally during World War II? Rachel Maddow discussed this at the beginning of her show last night.

Please watch the video–even if you already saw it last night. These are the people who are running our foreign policy!

Politico reports that many foreign leaders are beginning to wake up to Trump’s insanity: Foreign leaders who embraced Trump now feel burned.

Trump calls Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who visits the White House Thursday, his “good friend.” French president Emmanuel Macron is a “great friend.” And Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a “great friend, neighbor, and ally.” All have sought to butter up Trump through friendly face time, recognizing that the quickest way to the president’s heart is through his ego.

But all, to varying degrees, are exasperated with Trump.

The president is moving ahead with a June 12 summit with North Korea despite Abe’s grave concerns about its wisdom. He has also threatened to slap tariffs on imported Japanese cars and metals. It’s hardly what Abe expected when he became the first foreign leader to meet with Trump after the November election or when he flew with Trump on Air Force One in February 2017 for golfing at his Mar a Lago resort.

Macron treated Trump to a military parade in Paris last summer. He and Trump also exchanged hugs and handshakes during an April visit by the French leader, during which Trump said of his guest: “He is perfect.” But a few weeks later, Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal despite French pleas, and shows no sign of heeding Macron’s request that he rejoin the Paris climate accords, which Trump rejected last year.

Trump has also threatened trade sanctions on the European Union, and is already slapping them on Canada — prompting Trudeau to call Trump’s tariffs on steel imports “insulting and unacceptable.” That’s a change of tune from the early months of Trump’s presidency, when Trudeau avoided criticizing Trump, and even took Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner to a Broadway play in March 2017.

All have paid a domestic political price back home for their efforts to make nice with a highly divisive U.S. president. One French parliamentarian fumed after Macron’s visit that France had “prostituted” and “humiliated” itself.

Angela Merkel knew who she was dealing with from day one, evidence that we need more women in leadership positions around the world.

That’s it for me today. What stories have you been following?


Monday Afternoon Reads

Good Afternoon!

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Sorry that this post has been taking so long.  My computer is having a complete meltdown.  I’m on my old one right now and it’s reallllllyyyyyy slowwwwww.

I want to spend a little time with the meltdown in Greece which is a complex situation.  The most interesting source that I’ve found to date is an interview with French Economist Thomas Piketty with Germany’s Zeit Magazine.  Last night, I read a good translation of the piece here.  It’s been removed–temporarily hopefully–from the medium site so you’ll have to struggle through the bad German-English translation at Zeit’s site.  The most interesting part of the interview is that Piketty explains the history of nations having to repay their debt after losing wars or under other circumstances.  He explains that the European fixation with austerity and punishing Greece denies how German debt was handled post WW2 and the reality that forgiving German national debt helped Germany become what it is today.  So, why are the Germans not extending the same courtesy to Greece?

Piketty: When I hear the Germans now say that they maintain a very moral dealing with debt and firmly believe that debts must be repaid, then I think: That’s a big joke! Germany is the country that has never paid his debts. It can be obtained in other countries no lessons.

TIME: Do you want to try the story in order to portray States who do not repay their debts as a winner?

Piketty: Just such a state is Germany. But slowly: The story teaches us two options for a highly indebted country to settle its arrears. One has fooled the British Empire in the 19th century after the Napoleonic Wars expensive: It’s slow method, which today also recommends Greece. The UK division at that time the debt through rigorous financial management from – although it worked, but took extremely long. Over 100 years the British relatives two to three percent of its economic output on the debt, spending more than they for schools and education.That must not be and should not be today. For the second method is much faster.Germany has it tried in the 20th century. Essentially, it consists of three components: inflation, a special tax on private assets and liabilities sections.

TIME: And now you want to tell us that our economic miracle was based on debt cuts that we deny the Greeks today?

Piketty: Exactly. The German government was in debt after the war ended in 1945 with more than 200 percent of its gross national product. Ten years later it had little choice but the national debt was less than 20 percent of the national product. France succeeded in that time a similar feat. This tremendously rapid debt reduction but we would never have reached with the budgetary resources that we recommend Greece today. Instead, our two countries turned to the second method, the three mentioned components, including debt restructuring. Think. To the London Debt Conference in 1953, canceled on the 60 percent of Germany’s foreign debt and also the domestic debt of the young Federal Republic were restructured

TIME: This was from the realization that the high repayment demands on Germany after the First World War on the grounds of the Second World Warincluded. They wanted this time forgive the Germans for their sins!

Piketty: Nonsense! This had nothing to do with moral insights, but was a rational economic decision. It was recognized at the time correctly: According to major crises which have a high debt burden result, there comes a time when you have to turn to the future. We can not expect to pay for decades for their parents’ mistakes of new generations. Now the Greeks have undoubtedly made ​​great mistakes. By 2009, the government in Athens have forged their budgets. Why not the younger generation of Greeks now bears more responsibility for the mistakes of their parents as the young generation of Germans in the 1950s and 1960s. We must now look forward. Europe was founded on forgetting the debt and investing in the future. And it is not on the idea of eternal penance. We need to remember.

The Guardian similarly argues that what was good for Germany in 1953 is good for Greece today.download

The arguments being used by the Greek government to secure debt relief can be traced back to a little-reported speech made to the students of Harvard University on 5 June 1947.

It was there that George Marshall, the then US secretary of state, floated the idea of a European programme of economic reconstruction. The Americans saw thatEurope was on the brink of economic collapse. Industrial capacity had been wiped out. Trade had ceased. People were going hungry and, in Marshall’s view, at risk of turning to communism.

Despite being the turning point for Europe’s economies after the second world war, Marshall’s speech was not considered as especially important at the time. The State Department did not bother to tell anybody in Europe about what he was about to say and the British embassy in Washington did not think it worth the cost to send a cable with an advance copy of the speech to London.

But the speech was covered by the BBC’s Washington correspondent and, by luck, his report was heard by the then UK foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, in a wireless set he kept by his bedside. Bevin seized on the opportunity provided by the Americans, who said the Europeans had to organise their own plan for disbursing the money. “It was like a life line to sinking men,” he said later. “It seemed to bring hope where there was none.”

Lessons had been learned from the mistakes made after the first world war. Then, the victorious Allied powers had imposed a punitive peace on Germany, demanding heavy reparations that bred resentment.

Marshall tried a different approach. Over four years, the US pumped $13bn into Europe (the equivalent of more than $150bn today) in the hope that it would rebuild economic capacity, enable countries to trade with each other, and rebuff the threat from Stalin’s Soviet Union. It was not an entirely selfless act. The US at the time accounted for 50% of the world’s output, and needed to find markets for its exports. The lack of demand in countries such as France, Italy and Germany in 1947 meant this was not possible.

Britain was the single biggest beneficiary of Marshall aid, receiving more than a quarter of the total. Germany took $1.4bn (11% of the total), four times as much as Greece received.

imagesPaul Krugman had some analysis and advice.

The truth is that Europe’s self-styled technocrats are like medieval doctors who insisted on bleeding their patients — and when their treatment made the patients sicker, demanded even more bleeding. A “yes” vote in Greece would have condemned the country to years more of suffering under policies that haven’t worked and in fact, given the arithmetic, can’t work: austerity probably shrinks the economy faster than it reduces debt, so that all the suffering serves no purpose. The landslide victory of the “no” side offers at least a chance for an escape from this trap.<
But how can such an escape be managed? Is there any way for Greece to remain in the euro? And is this desirable in any case?

The most immediate question involves Greek banks. In advance of the referendum, the European Central Bank cut off their access to additional funds, helping to precipitate panic and force the government to impose a bank holiday and capital controls. The central bank now faces an awkward choice: if it resumes normal financing it will as much as admit that the previous freeze was political, but if it doesn’t it will effectively force Greece into introducing a new currency.

Specifically, if the money doesn’t start flowing from Frankfurt (the headquarters of the central bank), Greece will have no choice but to start paying wages and pensions with i.o.u.s, which will de facto be a parallel currency — and which might soon turn into the new drachma.

Suppose, on the other hand, that the central bank does resume normal lending, and the banking crisis eases. That still leaves the question of how to restore economic growth.

In the failed negotiations that led up to Sunday’s referendum, the central sticking point was Greece’s demand for permanent debt relief, to remove the cloud hanging over its economy. The troika — the institutions representing creditor interests — refused, even though we now know that one member of the troika, the International Monetary Fund, had concluded independently that Greece’s debt cannot be paid. But will they reconsider now that the attempt to drive the governing leftist coalition from office has failed?

The European Central Bank (ECB)--which is akin to our FED for those countries in the EuroZone–has stated it will continue Emergency Liquidity Assistance to Greek Banks.  However, they are imposing higher “haircuts”. 

And the ECB has maintained the cap on emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) at €89bn, but crucially it has “adjusted” the haircuts it applies to the assets which Greek banks hand over in return for funds.

In simple terms, that probably means the ECB is treating Greek government bonds as riskier, and valuing them as such when it calculates how much liquidity it can provide.

It’s another tightening of the screw on Greece – meaning some banks may find it even tougher to qualify for emergency liquidity assistance.

This is from Robert Reich as posted to his Facebook page.

Five things you need to know about the Greek debt crisis as of now:

1. The Greek people voted correctly yesterday in rejecting more tax increases and spending cuts. They’ve already been punished too much by their creditors — mostly big banks, as represented by the IMF, European Central Bank, and European Commission.

2. Austerity was the wrong medicine to begin with. It put Greece into a death spiral of economic woe that worsened its debt crisis.

3. Now it’s up to the rest of Europe to respond. It’s in its interest to offer Greece easier bailout terms, and then help Greece get to work on what Greece has already agreed to do — reform its tax system so that wealthy Greeks can’t escape taxation, and reform its budget process to avoid political payoffs.

4. But if Europe doesn’t respond, the best of the worst cases to follow would be for Greece to withdraw from the euro. That will happen automatically if Greek banks issue IOUs instead of euros (cash is already being rationed), and those IOUs become, in effect, a different currency.

5. There could be “contagion” to Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Italy if creditors fear future defaults and the incapacity of the eurozone to govern itself economically. That would hurt the United States, especially Wall Street, whose exposure to European banks is still considerable.

Greek’s Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has resigned.images (2)

Varoufakis was sidelined a week or so ago, not because of the “disrespectful” style of his jackets, but because of the directness of his argument. As the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras said, he speaks the language of economists better than they do.

He has always insisted that the responsibility for the Greek recovery did not lie with Greece alone, that there had to be realism in the conditions demanded by Greece’s creditors, as the sheer human cost was too much to bear. He showed how financial issues had become politicised, how the old paradigms were broken. Worse, he spoke to Eurocrats as equals.

He spoke to the rest of us as human beings, describing what Europe had laid on the shoulders of Greece as “fiscal waterboarding”. He railed at the birthplace of democracy being turned into what he called “a debt colony”.

As his heroic people last night rose up against “debt-bondage” he gave a press conference in a grey T-shirt and today announced his resignation, explaining that some Eurogroup participants don’t want him in the discussion. He says he does not care for the privilege of office but for collective support for Tsipras.

He is a man who walks like he talks, and that talk is open. This is so unlike the secretive deals usually made in airless rooms in Brussels. Here is a politician acting on his beliefs. He will be remembered not for his style, but for his substance. He faced down the automatons by insisting the Greek people should no longer be punished. And his people were with him. He refused the Eurocrats’ parameters and secrecy. He spoke with decency, and not in code. He is not afraid of the word “collective”. Nor is Syriza. Tsipras has said “negotiation does not belong to one person, it never did”. It is possible that Varoufakis was pushed rather than jumped, to smooth a deal, but whatever the case, he will not disappear, even as he revs off into the sunset. He knows, above all, that real style is substance. He saved his best look for last when he said, “I shall wear the creditors’ loathing with pride”.

I’m going to close this post with a quote from Lenin who wrote about the role of banks at the highest stage of capitalism which is supposed to lead to collapse from his viewpoint.  I just always find it an interesting read whenever I see how concentrated the banking sector has become. I’m not a Marxist but I always love a bit of insight when it’s  so, well insightful.

As banking develops and becomes concentrated in a small number of establishments, the banks grow from modest middlemen into powerful monopolies having at their command almost the whole of the money capital of all the capitalists and small businessmen and also the larger part of the means of production and sources of raw materials in any one country and in a number of countries. This transformation of numerous modest middlemen into a handful of monopolists is one of the fundamental processes in the growth of capitalism into capitalist imperialism; for this reason we must first of all examine the concentration of banking.

…These simple figures show perhaps better than lengthy disquisitions how the concentration of capital and the growth of bank turnover are radically changing the significance of the banks. Scattered capitalists are transformed into a single collective capitalist. When carrying the current accounts of a few capitalists, a bank, as it were, transacts a purely technical and exclusively auxiliary operation. When, however, this operation grows to enormous dimensions we find that a handful of monopolists subordinate to their will all the operations, both commercial and industrial, of the whole of capitalist society; for they are enabled-by means of their banking connections, their current accounts and other financial operations—first, to ascertain exactly the financial position of the various capitalists, then to control them, to influence them by restricting or enlarging, facilitating or hindering credits, and finally to entirely determine their fate, determine their income, deprive them of capital, or permit them to increase their capital rapidly and to enormous dimensions, etc.

Greece never met the convergence criteria for legitimate membership in the EuroZone.  That’s an interesting story in itself.  Now, the question is will they stay or will they go and how will all of this impact the EURO monetary union?

 


Wednesday Reads: Have it God’s way…

Coffee served, the way God intended…

Good Wednesday Morning

I have a variety of links for you today, no shared theme or clever connections this morning…let’s just say that my energy level and lack of ambition is at an all time low. (I don’t even think ambition is the correct word. It is like my mind has forgotten how to think.)

Anyway, first a few articles on the new FDA’s approved list of pharmaceuticals…and banned list of plastics.

Plastics. (I bet a few of you will key in on that word…I know I did.) So, I’ve got one word for you…Plastics.

F.D.A. Bans BPA From Baby Bottles and Sippy Cups

The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that baby bottles and children’s drinking cups could no longer contain bisphenol A, or BPA, an estrogen-mimicking industrial chemical used in some plastic bottles and food packaging.

Manufacturers have already stopped using the chemical in baby bottles and sippy cups, and the F.D.A. said that its decision was a response to a request by the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main trade association, that rules allowing BPA in those products be phased out, in part to boost consumer confidence.

But the new prohibition does not apply more broadly to the use of BPA in other containers, said an F.D.A. spokesman, Steven Immergut. He said the decision did not amount to a reversal of the agency’s position on the chemical. The F.D.A. declared BPA safe in 2008, but began expressing concerns about possible health risks in 2010.

Did you know there was a way to tell if the plastic bottle you are using has BPA?

BPA has been used since the 1960s to make hard plastic bottles, cups for toddlers and the linings of food and beverage cans, including those that hold infant formula and soda. Until recently, it was used in baby bottles, but major manufacturers are now making bottles without it. Plastic items containing BPA are generally marked with a 7 on the bottom for recycling purposes.

Fancy that…well, it is a move in the right direction, but there is still no ban on BPA use in baby formula containers.

Next on our list is the anticipated approval of a new diet drug.  FDA Approves Diet Drug Qsymia

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the diet drug Qsymia, the agency’s latest move to give doctors and their patients more tools to fight excessive weight gain as obesity rates continue to bulge in the U.S. and around the world.

An advisory panel voted 20 to two to approve the drug in February, the first time the FDA voted to approve a weight-loss drug in more than a decade. Originally known as Qnexa, the FDA required Vivus, the manufacturer of the drug, to change its name in order to prevent its confusion with other drugs with similar-sounding names. Data presented by the company showed that it helped patients lose about 10 percent of their body weight.

How the hell do you pronounce that name? Qsymia…sounds like a deaf hunchback or something you get after eating a whole box of Ho Ho’s and Ding Dong’s. That queasy, nausea sort of feeling.

Well, what do you know, FDA approves first pill to help prevent HIV

The Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved the first drug shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection, a milestone in the 30-year battle against the virus that causes AIDS.

The agency approved Gilead Sciences’ pill Truvada as a preventive measure for people who are at high risk of acquiring HIV through sexual activity, such as those who have HIV-infected partners.

Public health advocates say the approval could help slow the spread of HIV, which has held steady at about 50,000 new infections per year for the last 15 years. An estimated 1.2 million Americans have HIV, which develops into AIDS unless treated with antiviral drugs. With an estimated 240,000 HIV carriers unaware of their status, doctors and patients say new methods are needed to fight the spread of the virus.

Finally, maybe this new prevention method is signalling the beginning of the end of AIDS.

There was some new information on a drug for Alzheimer patients: Trial Hints Baxter’s Gammagard Can Slow Alzheimer’s

A drug already on the market that treats immune disorders may help stabilize patients with Alzheimer’s disease for up to three years, according to the results of a tiny study presented at a conference on Tuesday.

All four patients who received the optimal dose of the drug, Gammagard from Baxter International, had no decline in several measures of cognition and daily function for three years, researchers said.

Dr. Norman Relkin of Weill Cornell Medical College, the lead investigator of the study, said the results were “remarkable” because patients with Alzheimer’s disease typically worsen within 12 months.

“If we have a patient who goes 18 months without changing we begin to doubt they have Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Relkin said in a news conference at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, where the results were presented.

The doctors warned that it was an extremely small trial, but they are encouraged by their findings.

Whether the results are a fluke or not could be known by the first half of next year, when the results of a Phase 3 trial are expected.

The results presented Tuesday were from an extension of a 24-patient trial begun a few years ago. In the first six months of the study, those who received the drug did better than those who received a placebo. After that, patients could continue on the study, with all of them receiving the drug.

Sixteen patients completed three years of treatment. Five of those who originally received a placebo declined less rapidly once they shifted to the drug. Of the 11 who received the drug for the entire 36 months, those who got the optimal dose — which was a high dose — for the whole time fared the best.

That evidence “really suggests this is a drug effect and not just an accident,” said Bill Thies, chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Of course, the Baxter stock rose with the news…almost a whole dollar to $55.68 a share.

I guess I was wrong about this post not having a theme or connection.

In my home state of Georgia,  announces switch to single-drug method for executions even as a death penalty case looms  

(Your may remember that the death penalty drug of choice was no longer available, and they had to use the same drug veterinarians use on animals to carry out the sentence. )

Georgia announced Tuesday that it is switching immediately to single-drug executions from a three-drug combination, following the lead of several other states even as a death row case loomed.

The Georgia Department of Corrections said it will begin using a single dose of the sedative pentobarbital to carry out court-ordered death sentences. It had been using pentobarbital to sedate inmates before injecting pancuronium bromide to paralyze them and then potassium chloride to stop their hearts.

They announced this change the day before a man was sentenced to die…can you believe it?

Georgia inmate Warren Lee Hill had been set to be executed Wednesday evening, but authorities said that execution has now been rescheduled for Monday.

Hill’s attorney, Brian Kammer, expressed concern about the switch to a single-drug procedure even as he waged legal efforts to spare the inmate. “I think it is troubling to be confronted with a significant change in the execution protocol a day before the scheduled execution of my client,” Kammer said in an email.

[…]

Georgia began using pentobarbital as part of its three-drug combination last year after another drug, sodium thiopental, became unavailable when its European supplier bowed to pressure from death penalty opponents and stopped making it. But pentobarbital is now in short supply after its manufacturer said it would try to prevent its use in executions.

The article gives some statistics on how many people have been put to death using the pentobarbital alone. You can read the rest if you like…but the parts that I have quoted above give you the main part of the story I wanted to share with you this morning.

I have three more articles that are full of numbers…and since my mind is a bit off lately, we will just post quick links and no commentary.

Brent slips below $104 as Bernanke offers no signal on stimulus | Reuters

Brent crude slipped below $104 a barrel on Wednesday, snapping five days of gains as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke offered no signs of further monetary stimulus to boost growth in the world’s top oil consumer.

Oil also slipped as a 16 percent increase in prices from the the lows for the year touched last month prompted some investors to book profits. Broader markets, from Asian shares to the euro, edged higher as Bernanke in his testimony to the Senate Banking Committee left the door open for more stimulus.

Brent crude slipped 67 cents to $103.33 a barrel by 0258 GMT, after settling 63 cents higher. U.S. oil slipped 40 cents to $88.82 a barrel after ending 79 cents higher.

“Bernanke’s comments were in line with the last set of minutes – examining ways of doing more should that be necessary,” said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney. “Oil has recovered from its June lows pretty close to its medium-term equilibrium and that is why we are seeing a bit of softening. There is some profit-taking.”

HARP Refi Numbers Not as Strong as Advertised | FDL News Desk

The Federal Housing Finance Agency engaged in a little back-patting yesterday for improved HARP figures, which they say are a direct result of their changes to the system to allow for more underwater borrowers to take advantage of low refinancing rates. The truth is a little murkier.

Be sure you read this FDL article by David Dayen. There are some links to charts and statements that even in my diminished capacity, I can understand.

This next link is something Dakinikat and MABlue may find interesting. Chart of the Day: Germany in breach of Maastricht Treaty in 8 of 10 years since 2002 | Credit Writedowns

A recent story in German magazine Der Spiegel highlights the efforts in 2005 of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to relax the penalties for deficits in breach of the euro zone’s stability and growth pact. It is a good review of the contemporaneous actions of the German government within a wider EU political context. However, I feel there is a lot missing to the article in giving the German context to the present European sovereign debt crisis. Therefore, I am giving you a few tidbits here.

And finally, just one quick observation. With the RNC being held in Tampa, FL…the place I was born and raised, this next link made me laugh…why? Because the restaurants that are mentioned are the big expensive places that your average person would not be able to afford.  Ha, go figure.  Locals Dish About Tampa’s Secret Eats | Heard on the Hill

The Republican National Convention has offered up its version of the culinary frontrunners it’s supporting during next month’s nominating soiree. But Tampa food scribes assure HOH there are certain off-menu specials conventioneers won’t want to miss.

Tampa Tribune food writer Jeff Houck eats his way around the local dining scene like it’s his job (it is) for “The Stew” blog. Which makes it all the more impressive that, come quitting time, he’s still inclined to darken Pelagia Trattoria’s door.

“My favorite thing is to go to Pelagia Trattoria and ask the chef to make whatever he wants. That place is amazing,” Houck tells HOH, adding that he demanded just such a spontaneous tasting menu for an anniversary celebration.

And this is considered “gossip” according to The Hill website…

The open-ended invitations have spawned all manner of gustatory whimsy, including Kumato tomatoes showered with goat cheese “snow” (frozen and hand grated), tripe fritters partnered with pizzaiola sauce, juniper-marinated squab escorted by pickled white cherries and sweet corn polenta and a “coffee and cigars” closer featuring espresso panna cotta and chocolate tuiles inundated with Bailey’s Irish Cream.

“Tasting Tampa” food blogger Todd Sturtz offered up two under-the-radar gems surreptitiously served at the award-winning Bern’s Steak House: the house-made steak sandwich and burger.

According to Bern’s chef de cuisine, Habteab Hamde, the sandwich weaves together 4.5 ounces of chargrilled tenderloin served plain, fully loaded (cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, apple-smoked bacon, sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions) or anywhere in between, all on a whole-wheat bun. He described the burger as an 8-ounce patty forged from freshly ground 80/20 USDA Prime flap meat, which is then cooked to order and dressed accordingly.

Hamde confirmed that neither item appears on any menu, while noting that bar patrons have been savoring both for years.

Houck certainly has.

“The Bern’s sandwich tastes like God intended beef to taste,” he raves. “And in a setting where you don’t expect to get a burger, which always makes it fun.”

Ah, so this is what Romney probably is used to when it comes to that all American burger? No pink slime for you people…they leave that crap for the serfs.

You know, there are many good, no strike that, fabulous restaurants in Tampa that aren’t reserved for the rich and GOP millionaire class.  And I can bet the owners of these “dives” are part of that group of people who would appreciate some business thrown their way.

Yeah…I know that Romney and the rest of them are rich, but it is attitudes like this link above that makes their obvious lack of understanding even more apparent when it comes to us real folks out there.  Wish I could afford beef the way “God” intended it to taste, unfortunately I am one of the little people who don’t get to experience life the way “God” intended it to be…by that I mean the way these 1%ers do.  Anyone up for a 99 cent Whopper, made the way you like it? I’ll have my the way God likes it…all the way, with everything!


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!


Sunday Reads….Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day! After spending the day trying to find some sort of tribute to all you Mother’s out there…I realized that my only experience with mother’s are those of the Sicilian and Cuban variety, meaning that my perception of Mama is that of a woman…a short woman with a predisposition towards obesity, dark eyes, olive complexion…and more hairs on her face then Fidel Castro. Okay, so I am exaggerating about the facial hair…just a bit.

Ah…you have to love the Sicilian Mother! They usually are trying to get you to eat, gifted in the art of making you feel guilty…and always help their children any way they can!

(Be sure you check out those video links above…I will try to embed them at the end of the post!)

So please humor me while I honor my own special mother, grandmothers and great-grandmothers…Happy Mother’s Day!

Okay…on with the show. This week has been a crazy one indeed. With each new “release” of information/video/statement about the bin Laden raid, the more surreal it all becomes. I don’t know if I am watching The Onion or CNN. Boston Boomer has discussed this in two of her post this week…I’ll link to them here and here. So I will refrain from discussing bin Laden, and get on with other news that you may have missed this week.

They are calling this a 500 year flood…as Residents brace for more flooding as Mississippi River swells – CNN.com

As the Mississippi River gushes downstream with no clear boundaries, flooding continues to deluge parts of Tennessee as residents farther south brace for what will come.

“When you see the Mississippi River and it’s about two miles wide because it’s lost its borders, it’s sobering,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

In some areas, murky brown water inundated entire neighborhoods, with only the roofs of buildings and treetops visible from the sky.

The Mississippi River is expected to crest about 14 feet above flood stage at Memphis as early as late Tuesday.

Yup, that is me…on the banks of the Mississippi in Memphis, early 1990′s.

I spent a lot of time staring out over the Mississippi while in Memphis, the thought of that muddy water spanning two miles wide is overwhelming. Here is more on the floods:  Watery week ahead as Mississippi floodwaters hit Memphis, move downriver – CSMonitor.com

Record high floodwaters are expected to crest throughout the southern Mississippi Delta next week, starting in Memphis, Tenn., Wednesday and continuing through New Orleans by May 17. As momentum builds, the bulging waters moving down the Mississippi River are backing up tributaries that feed into it, resulting in evacuations, school cancellations, and road closures as water builds.

Some areas in and around Memphis are already under water, as river levels sit at 46 feet, breaking the record of 45.8 feet set during the historic 1927 flood. The National Weather Service forecasts that the Mississippi will crest there at 48 feet Wednesday and is expected to remain standing for as many as four days.

For up to date Flood Warnings and Watches click the image below.

Floods Monitor – NOAAWatch

On Saturday, Wonk the Vote had a great post about New Orleans and the Gulf.  Be sure to check it out if you missed it.

On to some world news.  Read the rest of this entry »


Japan, Libya Crises Contribute to Crushing Election Defeat for Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

From NPR: Merkel Suffers Historic Defeat In German State

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives have suffered a historic defeat in a state ballot after almost six decades in power there, partial results showed Sunday, in an election that amounted to a referendum on the party’s stance on nuclear power.

The opposition anti-nuclear Greens doubled their voter share in Baden-Wuerttemberg state and seemed poised to win their first-ever state governorship, according to calculations based on partial results published by public broadcaster ARD….

The Greens secured 24 percent of the vote, with the center-left Social Democrats down 2 percentage points at 23.2 percent, giving them enough form a coalition government in the state, the results showed.

Representatives of all parties said the elections were overshadowed by Japan’s nuclear crisis, turning them into a popular vote on the country’s future use of nuclear power, which a majority of Germans oppose as they view it as inherently dangerous.

The UK Telegraph explains:

Although overseeing a surging economy and falling unemployment, Mrs Merkel attracted withering criticism after she decided to reverse an unpopular decision taken last autumn to extend the lifespans of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors.

Critics condemned the abrupt u-turn, and the decision to shut down seven of the oldest reactors pending a safety review, as blatant electioneering, claiming that Mrs Merkel hoped to capitalise from rising opposition to nuclear energy in Germany following the disaster engulfing the Fukushima reactors in Japan.

Libya was also an issue for voters:

the government’s refusal to support military intervention in Libya added to Mrs Merkel’s woes.

In comments echoing conservative disquiet with the decision Joschka Fischer, a former foreign minister, said Germany had lost “credibility” on the world stage and had blown its chances of getting a seat at the UN Security Council.

It’s interesting that many Germans apparently wanted to help the Libyan rebels, while so many “progressives” in the U.S. opposed the UN/NATO intervention because Libya is not of much strategic importance to the U.S. and because of the cost.

Germans saw Merkel’s unwillingness to support the intervention in Libya as an embarrassment that could prevent Germany from getting a seat on the UN Security Council.

Here in the U.S., progressives (IMO) missed the importance of the U.S. President making a decision that concurred with the wishes of most of the Arab world–might that not be a better use of our military resources than endlessly pouring them into Afghanistan and Iraq. Just my 2 cents…

Just a couple of quick updates–

Libyan rebels are marching toward Tripoli

The last time the rebels made it as far west as Bin Jawad, it ended in disaster: their fighters ran into a murderous ambush, lost 70 men, and were forced into a terrifying retreat that nearly ended their campaign.

But yesterday, after a stunning sweep across the territory for which they have fought so hard and for so long, they were back.

This time, with Western air power destroying almost all that is left of the regime’s armour and artillery, the mood was very different. The rebels’ eyes were cast towards Sirte, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s birthplace and the centre of loyalist resistance.

[….]

The shift in momentum is palpable. Rebels are now back in possession of the two key oil complexes of Ras Lanuf and Brega which handle a sizeable proportion of the 1.5 million barrels a day the country used to export before the uprising. The opposition’s provisional administration in Benghazi stated that Qatar, which had joined the Western coalition in sending warplanes to Libya, would be marketing the oil. However, restarting production will be extremely difficult until the return of the foreigners who ran the plants, but left after the uprising.

In Japan, a 6.5 magnitude aftershock triggered a new tsunami warning, and workers have again left the Fukushima nuclear plant because of dangerously high radiation levels. From the Independent:

It [earthquake and tsunami alert] came after emergency workers fled from one of Fukushima’s stricken nuclear reactors yesterday, after contaminated water in the cooling system was apparently found to be 10 million times more radioactive than normal, only for officials to later say that the reading might have been inaccurate.

The latest confusion in the battle to bring Japan’s nuclear crisis under control came as villagers near the plant complained that they were being kept in the dark over radiation risks.

The technician who took the reading at reactor No 2 yesterday was so alarmed by the numbers that the team fled the building before taking a second measurement. And later, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co, the operator of the Fukushima plant, said: “There is a suspicion that the reading … is too high, so we are redoing our tests… We are very sorry for the inconvenience.”

Highly radioactive pools of water have formed inside all four of the damaged reactors, officials said. After previously downplaying fears of a serious breach in any of the reactors, Yukio Edano, the cabinet secretary and the face of the government throughout the crisis, said it “almost certainly” had happened.

The world is changing very rapidly, despite our government’s attempts to maintain the status quo. I wonder what dramatic news awaits us tomorrow?