Thursday Reads: They Shall Be Released

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Good Morning!!

President Obama is meeting with other NATO leaders in Newport, Wales today, and the focus of meetings will be Russia’s encroachment into Ukraine and how to deal with it. The Christian Science Monitor reports: NATO members gather in Wales with Russia at the top of the agenda.

Russia faced harsh criticism at the start of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Wales today with the 28 member state alliance reevaluating its security role in Europe amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance continues to witness “Russian involvement in destabilizing the situation in eastern Ukraine” even after Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a seven-point peace plan. Russia maintains it has not armed rebels in eastern Ukraine or contributed to the conflict there.

Early reports from the summit suggest NATO leaders are set to agree to create “rapid reaction” forces that could be deployed in less than two days to regional crisis spots. Countries close to Russia, especially Poland, have called for NATO to permanently station troops on their territory, but Reuters reports this is unlikely to happen because it would break a 1997 agreement the alliance made with Russia.

As the Monitor reported, the creation of rapid response forces wouldthrust the United States into the center of any future conflict.

Terrific. Supposedly, Russian president Vladimir Putin in proposing a cease-fire, but he’s offering few specifics. From The New York Times: Putin Lays Out Proposal to End Ukraine Conflict.

Mr. Putin’s peace plan, jotted out during a plane ride over Siberia, muddied the diplomatic waters, leaving the West an excuse for delaying punitive sanctions that would also hurt European economies on the verge of a new recession. And it was expected to have some appeal to war-weary Ukrainians.

The ultimate effect, coming after Russian troops intervened in Ukraine last week to beat back a successful government offensive, may be to leave the country as a loose coalition that Moscow could still dominate, which critics of the Russian president say is his real aim.

It is being called a “seven-point plan,” but according to the Times,

Mr. Putin’s plan seemed to raise more questions than it answered. First, there was no mechanism for implementation. Second, just hours earlier, his own spokesman had repeated the Russian position, widely criticized as implausible, that Moscow could not negotiate a cease-fire because it was not a direct party to the conflict.

Analysts suggested that Mr. Putin’s strategy is to convince Kiev that it must negotiate, not fight, and to reinforce the idea that the overall outcome depended on Moscow.

“Russia wants to show that it is in command of what is happening,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of a prominent Russian foreign policy journal. “For Russia, it is important first to prevent the Ukrainians from thinking that they could win militarily, and to accept the separatist leaders as partners in negotiations.”

A few more headlines and opinions:

Al Jazeera: NATO summit to highlight unity against Russia.

Wall Street Journal: As Leaders Meet for NATO Summit, Alliance Says Russian Troops Still Active in Ukraine.

Foreign Policy: NATO’s Make or Break Moment (opinion).

Bloomberg: NATO Shifts Aim From Waterloo to East as Russia Menaces (opinion).

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European Central Bank News

The European Central Bank’s Mario Draghi finally decided to try to do something about Europe’s horrible economic situation. From the NYT: European Central Bank to Start Asset Purchases After Further Rate Cut.

FRANKFURT — Bolstering a surprise interest rate cut on Thursday, the European Central Bank will soon begin buying packages of bank loans in an effort to stimulate lending in the faltering eurozone economy.

The move is unprecedented, but appears to fall short of the broad, large-scale asset purchases advocated by many economists to prevent stagnation in the eurozone.

The central bank said that in October it would begin buying asset-backed securities, bundles of loans issued by banks to businesses and households. The central bank will also buy covered bonds, Mario Draghi, the E.C.B. president said. Covered bonds are similar to asset-backed securities, in that they also are made up of bank loans.

Perhaps more significantly, Mr. Draghi said that the central bank’s governing council was ready to take further measures if needed — a clear reference to quantitative easing, or broad-based purchases of government bonds or other assets.

Mr. Draghi did not say how much the central bank would spend buying asset-backed securities and covered bonds, adding that there was not yet enough information on the size of the market. He said the central bank would buy existing and new assets including residential and corporate loans. He said the purchases would be “significant,” if still short of a level considered quantitative easing.

More headlines:

CTV News: European Central Bank trims key interest rate to record low.

Marketwatch: U.S. stocks open up after ECB rate cut.

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Ferguson Civil Rights Investigation

As we heard yesterday, the Justice Department will likely announce today that it is launching a civil rights investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department.

From The Washington Post: Justice Dept. to probe Ferguson police force.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. this week will launch a broad civil rights investigation into the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department, according to two federal law enforcement officials.

The investigation, which could be announced as early as Thursday afternoon, will be conducted by the Justice Department’s civil rights division and follow a process similar to that used to investigate complaints of profiling and the use of excessive force in other police departments across the country, the officials said.

The federal officials said the probe will look not only at Ferguson but also at other police departments in St. Louis County. Some, like Ferguson, are predominantly white departments serving majority-African-American communities, and at least one department invited the Justice Department to look at its practices. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the pending inquiry.

The investigation is in addition to a Justice Department probe into whether Officer Darren Wilson, who fired the fatal shots, violated Brown’s civil rights. The new probe will look more broadly at whether the department employed policies and practices that resulted in a pattern of civil rights violations.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that five current and one former member of the Ferguson police force face pending federal lawsuits claiming they used excessive force. The lawsuits, as well as more than a half-dozen internal investigations, include claims that individual officers separately hog-tied a 12-year-old boy who was checking his family mailbox, pistol-whipped children and used a stun gun on a mentally ill man who died as a result.

More from The New York Times: Justice Dept. Inquiry to Focus on Practices of Police in Ferguson.

Ferguson’s police chief, Thomas Jackson, said in an interview on Wednesday night that he would welcome the investigation.

“We’ve been doing everything we can to become a professional police department and a professional city,” he said. “We have no intentional policies or procedures which discriminated or violated civil rights. But if we have anything there which may unintentionally do that, we need to know about it.”

Chief Jackson said he met with Justice Department officials on Wednesday afternoon and discussed the broader investigation. “Obviously, we have gaps. And any help we can get to help fill those gaps and to make ourselves stronger, we welcome,” he said.

What a crock of sh&t that is! I’ll just bet Jackson is thrilled about the Justice Department probe into his joke of a police force. Wouldn’t you love to hear what he’s saying privately?

In the Ferguson case, the Justice Department will conduct what it calls a “pattern or practice” investigation, with officials looking for evidence that the police have repeatedly violated residents’ civil rights. Such inquiries have been one of the Justice Department’s preferred tactics in addressing accusations of police misconduct.

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Rabid Bobcat Attacks 

Here’s a strange story I came across yesterday in The Boston Globe: Rabid Bobcat Spent Labor Day Weekend in Conn. Attacking People.

What’s worse than stumbling upon an angry bobcat on your nightly walk with your newborn daughter? Stumbling upon an angry, rabid bobcat on your nightly walk with your newborn daughter.

That’s what happened to Summer and Tom Berube last Sunday. The Lebanon, CT, couple were taking their evening walk with their infant daughter, Neeve, when a bobcat approached them.

According to NECN, the bobcat hissed and ran towards Tom, who was carrying his baby. Tom yanked a mailbox out of the ground and used it to defend his family, knocking the animal down when it leapt at him. Summer, meanwhile, said she “was just screaming at the top of my lungs for help.”

That help soon came from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which had already been alerted to the presence of an aggressive bobcat in the area. On Saturday, a woman in the neighboring Connecticut town of Bozrah was attacked by a bobcat while feeding her chickens. She was scratched and bitten, but quickly taken to a local hospital for treatment. If caught early enough, a postexposure vaccination prevents the disease from spreading.

I had no idea there were bobcats running around in New England, but according The Hartford Courant,  although sightings are rare, “Bobcats are common in Connecticut and are found in every town. They can weigh as much as 40 pounds, but rarely interact with people and rarely have rabies, DEEP said.”

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They Shall Be Released

Maybe you’re wondering why I’ve illustrated this post with photos of Bob Dylan. In 1968, I bought a two-record album in a plain white cover that was being sold by a street hawker in Harvard Square. I learned this morning from Wikipedia that it was known as “The Great White Wonder,” but either I didn’t know that then or I’ve forgotten. The recording was a bootleg of Bob Dylan’s so-called “basement tapes,” recorded in Woodstock, NY, with backup from The Band. Later, in 1975, a selection of the songs they had recorded was released as a studio album.

Anyway, the basement tapes are back in the news, because they are all going to be released as a 6-CD set.

The Guardian reports: Bob Dylan to share full Basement Tapes.

Bob Dylan is sharing the rest of his Basement Tapes. Four decades after the singer released 24 songs under that title – cuts he recorded with the Band in upstate New York – his label have agreed to unveil 114 more tracks from the same 1967 sessions.

“Some of this stuff is mind-boggling,” Sid Griffin, author of the set’s liner notes,told Rolling Stone. Packaged under the title The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11, the six-CD set incorporates alternate versions of Blowin’ In The Wind and It Ain’t Me Babe, covers of tunes by Johnny Cash and Curtis Mayfield, and at least 30 tracks that Rolling Stone claims “even fanatical Dylan fans never knew existed”. A shorter, two-disc compilation, The Basement Tapes Raw, will present 12 of the unreleased tracks alongside the original LP.

Almost all of this material was harvested from reel-to-reel tape: 20 tapes in all, which the Band’s Garth Hudson kept stored in his Woodstock home. Jan Haust, a Toronto-based collector, acquired the archive about 10 years ago; he worked with Dylan’s reps to find a way to put them out. Although a few tapes were allegedly missing, and a handful of recordings “just [sounded] like a distortion”, everything else is making its way to the public. “We usually curate these packages more, but we knew the fans would be disappointed if we didn’t put out absolutely everything,” an unnamed Dylan source told Rolling Stone.

Fans of The Basement Tapes have always known that there was unreleased material. There have been several expanded, bootleg editions over the years, and musicians have even turned their attention to Dylan’s unreleased Basement Tapes-era lyrics. Earlier this year, T Bone Burnett collaborated with Marcus Mumford, Elvis Costello and others to record their own versions of his incomplete songs. “The stuff that people haven’t heard justifies, in every way, shape and form, all the hype, hubris and myth that surrounds these tapes,” Griffin promised.

USA Today has published a list of all the songs on the album to be released in November.

So . . . what else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a tremendous Thursday!


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

I know some people are probably tired of hearing about the Trayvon Martin murder, but IMHO this case is every bit as important as the Supreme Court hearing arguments about the health care bill.

We live in a country in which suspicion still falls on African Americans even when they are just walking on the sidewalk or driving down the street. We live in a country in which the police can beat and kill and rape and and get away with it. We live in the land of “the new Jim Crow” in which “the mass incarceration of African American men”  is the latest state weapon in our nation’s long and bloody history of vicious racial violence.

How far have we really come when a young boy can be shot in cold blood and the shooter isn’t arrested or even tested for drugs and alcohol?

Over the weekend, the second stage of the Trayvon Martin media circus kicked into gear. That’s the part where various interested parties use the media to defend George Zimmerman–the man who thought a skinny 140-pound 17-year old boy walking home from the store looked “up to no good” and “like he’s on drugs,” and so chose to stalk and then kill the boy in cold blood. The Zimmerman rehabilitation campaign has consisted mostly of smearing the unarmed teenager who can no longer defend himself because he’s dead.

For the past three days, there has been a deliberate campaign to paint Trayvon Martin as a terrifying aggressor who deserved to die and George Zimmerman as a victim who was in terror of Martin and was forced to shoot him at point-blank range. Minx summarized much of the smear campaign in her evening reads last night. But here are a couple of things she didn’t mention:

Mail Online: Anonymous witness claims Martin attacked Zimmerman before the fatal shooting

The witness told FOX 35 in Orlando that he saw evidence of a fight between Martin and Zimmerman, which could lend credence to the gunman’s claim that he was acting in self-defence.
‘The guy on the bottom who had a red sweater on was yelling to me: “Help, help… and I told him to stop and I was calling 911,’ he said.

Zimmerman was wearing a red sweater; Martin was in a grey hoodie.
He added: ‘When I got upstairs and looked down, the guy who was on top beating up the

Really? And did this witness call 911? If so, we haven’t heard the tape of it yet.  Furthermore, this “new witness” isn’t even new. These same quotes were reported by Fox Orlando on February 27. But never mind, the quotes are helpful to Zimmerman, so they’re being reported as “new.”

An attorney, Craig Sonner, who says he is “advising” Zimmerman, but doesn’t yet “represent” him, has been making the rounds of the TV talk shows along with Joe Oliver, a former (maybe present?) TV news reporter, who says he is a close friend of Zimmerman’s and has known him for six years (actually Oliver’s wife is a friend of Zimmerman’s mother-in-law; it’s not clear how well Oliver knew Zimmerman before the shooting).

Sonner has been telling anyone who will listen that Trayvon broke George’s nose and cut open the back of his head, but yesterday we learned that Trayvon supposedly sucker-punched George in the nose, knocked him to the ground and then bashed his head against the sidewalk repeatedly. None of this was in the official police report.

Oliver says that George “couldn’t stop crying” for days after the shooting and he is now being treated for PTSD. Oliver says that George is very remorseful. He doesn’t say why George hasn’t contacted Trayvon’s parents to tell them he’s sorry about killing their son. In fact, Oliver even claims that if George hadn’t shot Trayvon, Trayvon would have killed George. Even though Trayvon was armed only with Skittles and iced tea.

Oh, and BTW, Oliver is an African American man. Therefore his close friend George Zimmerman could not possibly have been responding to racial stereotypes on the night of the shooting. AND, Oliver thinks calling someone a “fucking coon” is something to be proud of. And you don’t buy that, maybe Zimmerman was saying “fucking goons,” which is a “term of endearment” according to Oliver’s daughter.

All I can say is, I need to see pictures of Zimmerman’s injuries. I also need to have someone explain to me why Trayvon didn’t have a right to “stand his ground” and defend himself against an imposing 250-pound stranger who was stalking him with a gun.

Yesterday, the Zimmerman defense/smear campaign really doubled down, as the Sanford Police leaked information designed to smear the dead boy. Not to be outdone, the Miami/Dade School Police leaked selected portions of Trayvon’s private school records. Nothing about Trayvon acting violently, but hey–that will probably come out today, right? And all these leaks, along with the Sonner-Oliver media tour, are designed to make us forget that Trayvon Martin is DEAD at the hands of George Zimmerman.

I think this is a pretty good summary of the Zimmerman defense:

My client George Zimmerman is a very vulnerable individual weighing only 250 pounds. Fragile and delicate like a petite, gamine ballet dancer. His assailant Trayvon Martin was over 100 pounds lighter — making him much more agile and dangerous. Furthermore Trayvon Martin was armed with a bag of Skittles AND an iced tea. These are lethal weapons. It is no wonder that my client felt so threatened. And quite understandably felt that his life was in danger.

Read the rest  of the “Monty Python twinkie defense” at Huffpo.

There were two witnesses who did some media appearances in support of Trayvon Martin–Mary Cutcher and Selma Lamilla, but their efforts were mostly drowned out by the Zimmerman defense/smear campaign.

Cutcher and her roommate, Selma Lamilla, say they went outside when they heard the gunshot and saw Zimmerman standing over Martin.

“We both saw him straddling the body, basically, a foot on both sides of Trayvon’s body and his hands pressed on his back,” Cutcher said.

Cutcher says Zimmerman told her and her roommate to call the police.

“Zimmerman never turned him over or tried to help him or CPR or anything,” Cutcher said.

Lamilla said that after the shot was fired Zimmerman appeared to be pacing.

“He started walking back and forth like three times with his hand on the head and kind of, he was walking like kind of confused,” she said.

Lamilla said he was touching his head like “he was in shock.”

Police who responded to the scene noted that Zimmerman had injuries to his face and head.

When Lamilla was able to see who had been shot, she was stunned.

“And for me was a shock to see, ‘Oh my God, that it’s a kid. So skinny, no more than 20- years- old. So skinny, like baby faced,” Lamilla said.

Cutcher also told various media outlets that she had a really hard time getting the Sanford Police to listen to her story or even return her phone calls.

I’ve got a few more headlines to share. The first one is somewhat related to the Martin case. Another black teenager has been shot and killed by civilian neighborhood security guards, this time in Georgia. The two men, Curtis Scott and Gary Jackson have been arrested, but only for impersonating police officers so far.

Scott and Jackson, security guards for the apartment complex, were checking out a suspicious vehicle and had detained four women. They told the women they were police officers….the investigation shows that’s when the guards heard gunshots from a nearby residence. Around the same time, Ervin Jefferson, 18, pulled up to the scene.

The guards told police Jefferson approached them “aggressively and possibly even threatened to kill them.” ….that’s when Scott fired his gun at Jefferson, striking him once. The guard called 911.

Jefferson’s mother says she then saw the security guards hit her son with their car and drive over him. Police claim that Jefferson crawled under the car. Jefferson was declared dead at the hospital.

Ben Bernanke signaled yesterday that interest rates will remain low, because of the need to stimulate more job growth. Of course he means interest rates for the banksters, not regular people’s credit card or student loan rates. On the strength of that news, Wall Street surged.

Wall Street’s addiction to free money is on full display today.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up more than 100 points at lunchtime on the East Coast, while the Nasdaq was up more than one percent and the S&P 500 was up nearly one percent.

The primary reason? Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke made some notably downbeat comments about the economy today, seeming to put the kibosh on market expectations that the Fed could raise interest rates sooner rather than later.

Bernanke’s dedication to low rates also means the Fed is still capable of launching its third round of quantitative easing — buying up every bond that’s not nailed down in an effort to pump more cash into the economy. Pimco chief Bill Gross tweeted today that he thinks the Fed will hint at more QE, or “QE3,” in April. Of course, Gross stands to gain by cheerleading investors into thinking the Fed will buy more bonds, because Pimco has been buying bonds in a heavy bet on QE3, Reuters notes.

No word on when anyone in DC will do anything for us “small people.”

France has charged Dominique Strauss-Kahn in connection with a prostitution ring.

Former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was charged in France on Monday with “aggravated pimping” for his alleged participation in a prostitution ring, prosecutors said.

He is not allowed to have contact with other people involved in the investigation, nor is he permitted to talk to the media about the case. Strauss-Kahn was released under a 100,000-euro bail, according to prosecutors.

Rick Santorum kind of lost it yesterday: Rick Santorum’s nice-guy persona is turning a bit testy lately

For a while, it had seemed that Rick Santorum’s crabby days were behind him. Gone were the sarcastic potshots at reporters and peevish outbursts aimed at his political opponents. He had transformed into the Mr. Rogers of the presidential race: good-natured, self-deprecating and downright likable.

But that nice-guy image has gone down the drain lately, with a series of provocative remarks and testy exchanges that have coincided with his slipping presidential fortunes. He may have hit a low point Sunday, when he uttered an expletive in response to a question from a New York Times reporter.

Asked what he meant when he said in a speech that rival Mitt Romney was the “worst Republican in the country” to go up against President Obama, Santorum lashed back at reporter Jeff Zeleny in an exchange that was captured by CBS.

“Stop lying!” he responded. “I said he was the worst Republican to run on the issue of Obamacare. And that’s what I was talking about!” In case there was any doubt that he meant it, he suggested that if he saw such a statement in print, it would amount to “bull—-.”

Finally, I got a kick out of this story in The Independent: Hippies head for Noah’s Ark: Queue here for rescue aboard alien spaceship

A rapidly increasing stream of New Age believers – or esoterics, as locals call them – have descended in their camper van-loads on the usually picturesque and tranquil Pyrenean village of Bugarach. They believe that when apocalypse strikes on 21 December this year, the aliens waiting in their spacecraft inside Pic de Bugarach will save all the humans near by and beam them off to the next age.

As the cataclysmic date – which, according to eschatological beliefs and predicted astrological alignments, concludes a 5,125-year cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar – nears, the goings-on around the peak have become more bizarre and ritualistic.

For decades, there has been a belief that Pic de Bugarach, which, at 1,230 metres, is the highest in the Corbières mountain range, possesses an eery power. Often called the “upside-down mountain” – geologists think that it exploded after its formation and the top landed the wrong way up – it is thought to have inspired Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Since the 1960s, it has attracted New Agers, who insist that it emits special magnetic waves.

Further, rumours persist that the country’s late president François Mitterrand was transported by helicopter on to the peak, while the Nazis, and, later, Israel’s Mossad, performed mysterious digs there. Now the nearby village is awash with New Agers, who have boosted the local economy, though their naked group climbs up to the peak have raised concerns as well as eyebrows. Among other oddities, some hikers have been spotted scaling the mountain carrying a ball with a golden ring, strung together by a single thread.

Soooooo…. what are you reading and blogging about today?