Lazy Saturday Reads: Signs of Life After the Snowpocalypse

 crocus snow

Good Morning!!

I can’t wait for spring flowers and warmer weather, can you tell? I have all the symptoms of Spring fever, including inability to concentrate on anything serious, like politics or plane crashes. But I’ll do my best to give you some interesting links on this lazy late March Saturday.

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Amanda Knox has finally been freed to live her life without the bizarre Italian legal system breathing down her neck. From the Chicago Tribune: Amanda Knox conviction thrown out by Italian court, closing legal saga.

Amanda Knox, who maintained that she and her former Italian boyfriend were innocent in her British roommate’s murder through multiple trials and nearly four years in jail, was vindicated Friday when Italy’s highest court threw out their convictions once and for all.

“Finished!” Knox’s lawyer Carlo Dalla Vedova exulted after the decision was read out late Friday. “It couldn’t be better than this.”

The surprise decision definitively ends the 7½-year legal battle waged by Knox, 27, and co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito, 31, to clear their names in the gruesome 2007 murder and sexual assault of British student Meredith Kercher.

The supreme Court of Cassation panel deliberated for 10 hours before declaring that the two did not commit the crime, a stronger exoneration than merely finding insufficient evidence to convict. Instead, had the court-of-resort upheld the pair’s convictions, Knox would have faced 28 ½ years in an Italian prison, assuming she would have been extradited, while Sollecito had faced 25 years.

“Right now I’m still absorbing what all this means and what comes to mind is my gratitude for the life that’s been given to me,” Knox said late Friday, speaking to reporters outside her mother’s Seattle home.

This case has made me grateful that in the U.S. Constitution contains a double jeopardy clause.

crocus

Things are getting really ugly in Yemen. From The Washington Post: How the Yemen conflict risks new chaos in the Middle East.

The meltdown in Yemen is pushing the Middle East dangerously closer to the wider regional conflagration many long have feared would arise from the chaos unleashed by the Arab Spring revolts.

What began as a peaceful struggle to unseat a Yemeni strongman four years ago and then mutated into civil strife now risks spiraling into a full-blown war between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran over a country that lies at the choke point of one of the world’s major oil supply routes.

With negotiators chasing a Tuesday deadline for the framework of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, it seems unlikely that Iran would immediately respond militarily to this week’s Saudi airstrikes in Yemen, analysts say.

But the confrontation has added a new layer of unpredictability — and confusion — to the many, multidimensional conflicts that have turned large swaths of the Middle East into war zones over the past four years, analysts say.

The United States is aligned alongside Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and against them in Yemen. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, who have joined in the Saudi offensive in Yemen, are bombing factions in Libya backed by Turkey and Qatar, who also support the Saudi offensive in Yemen. The Syrian conflict has been fueled by competition among all regional powers to outmaneuver one another on battlefields far from home.

Scary. All this because George W. Bush lied us into two needless, unwinnable wars.

Crocus in Boston

Ahramonline: Arab leaders pledge support to Yemen.

Although Saturday’s Arab League summit was due to cover a range of regional topics, the ongoing crisis in Yemen took the lead spot as the summit opened with speeches from Arab leaders.

A Saudi-led military offensive is underway against targets held by Houthi rebels in the turmoil-hit country, with the backing of a number of Arab states.

In his opening speech, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said that military action was  “inevitable” to restore legitimate rule in Yemen.

El-Sisi also said that Egypt has accepted a proposal by a meeting of Arab foreign ministers to form a joint Arab military force to counter the “unprecedented threats” facing the region’s stability.

Arab foreign ministers agreed on a draft resolution to form a joint Arab military force to counter growing security threats in the region. The proposal requires the endorsement of the Arab leaders during the two-day summit this weekend.

Saudi’s King Salman vowed in his opening speech that the military intervention will not stop until Yemen is stable and safe. The monarch said that Saudi Arabia supports the Hadi government’s legitimacy in Yemen and wants stability for the Yemeni population.

He further stated that the situation in the region necessitates an Arab coalition to fight terrorism.

More details from CNN: Arab League to discuss military operation in Yemen.

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The Wall Street Journal on the incredibly selfish, suicidal co-pilot of that crashed Germanwings jet: Germanwings Co-Pilot Andreas Lubitz Concealed Depression From Airline.

BERLIN—Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot who crashed an airliner into a French mountainside, was being treated for depression, a fact he concealed from his employer, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

Mr. Lubitz had been excused from work by his neuropsychologist for a period that included the day of the crash, this person told The Wall Street Journal, but he decided to ignore the advice and reported to work.

The Germanwings tragedy highlights a broader industry dilemma: reliance on pilots themselves to disclose serious physical or psychological ailments to their employer—and what can happen when secrecy urges or privacy considerations trump full disclosure, safety and medial experts say.

Despite mandatory, regular medical exams—supplemented by company-specific safeguards intended to periodically check on aviators’ skills and psychological state—airlines ultimately depend on employees to honestly assess and report when they shouldn’t be flying.

In return, Germanwings, a unit of Deutsche Lufthansa AG, and many other airlines around the globe promise to avoid punishing pilots who comply with that guiding principle.

Read more at the WSJ. As Dakinikat wrote yesterday, this guy could have just shot himself or jumped out of a high window, but instead he decided to take 149 other people–including babies and high school kids–with him when he committed suicide.

Life after Snowpocalypse

A few stories on the terrible explosion in NYC’s East Village:

Newsweek: A Slice of New York City History Goes Up In Smoke.

An explosion in Manhattan’s East Village on Thursday injured an estimated 25 people and destroyed a row of landmarked buildings that have held meaning for generations of New Yorkers. At one time the mayor’s residence was there, and another building housed an iconic vintage-clothing store made popular in the 1985 film Desperately Seeking Susan.

“It’s a real tragedy. It was scary,” says Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council. “It’s shocking when this happens in an area that’s so close-knit. People really live on the streets here, in a good way. There’s a real community.”

City officials say the March 26 explosion happened at 121 Second Avenue and also damaged the neighboring buildings at 119, 123 and 125. The buildings all were awarded landmark status in October 2012 as part of a designation of an East Village/Lower East Side Historic District. The buildings in that district date mostly to the mid- to late 1800s, a time when wealthier New Yorkers started moving uptown and selling off their properties, which were often turned into tenement housing.

European immigrants began moving into the area in large numbers in the second half of the 19th century. An early influx consisted mostly of Germans, and the area became known as Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany. Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe moved there too and established a vibrant theater district.

“The East Village and the Lower East Side are remarkable in that they’ve seen successive waves of immigrants and new populations coming in and really shaping and affecting the physical environment, bringing with them their social clubs, their gathering places,” Bankoff says.

By the middle of the 20th century, the Village became an epicenter for artists and bohemians.

The historic district, one of 114 in the city, runs north-south from around East 7th Street to East Second Street and east-west from First and Second avenues to the Bowery.

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Click on the above link to continue reading. More details on the fire at ABC News: NYC Building Fire: Restaurant Owner Smelled Gas Before Massive Explosion, Officials Say.

From The New Yorker, a thoughtful and interesting essay on living in the East Village by Sarah Larson: The East Village Fire: Love Saves the Day.

Finally, one of the passengers in the GOP Clown Car, faux libertarian Rand Paul, opens his big mouth and spews nonsense and hate.

From Charles Pierce’s “Stupid for Lunch” cafe: Rand Paul’s Take On Defense Spending. In which the cafe staff starts the five minute clock for Senator Rand Paul.

The staff at the Cafe has a small clock in one particular booth. The booth is reserved for Senator Rand Paul, whenever he stops by for a quick lunch, for which he invariably undertips, when he doesn’t try to beat itout the back door.

Time was when Senator Aqua Buddha entertained us all — five minutes at a time — about how the country was wasting its money on a whole mess of sophisticated boom-boom. The staff knows when to begin the countdown and they begin invariably to whisper again…

Continue reading at the link.

Atheist Ayn Rand must be spinning in her grave over this from TPM.

Rand: ‘Moral Crisis’ Led To Gay Marriage, US Needs Religious Revival.

“Don’t always look to Washington to solve anything,” Paul said during a private prayer breakfast at the Capitol Hill Club.

“In fact, the moral crisis we have in our country — there is a role for us trying to figure out things like marriage — there’s also a moral crisis that allows people to think that there would be some sort of other marriage.”

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Raw Story: Rand Paul calls for ‘tent revivals’ to resolve the ‘moral crisis’ of gay marriage.

“The moral crisis we have in our country — there is a role for us trying to figure out things like marriage — there’s also a moral crisis that allows people to think there would be some other sort of marriage, ” he explained. “I think the exhortation to try and change people’s thoughts has to come from the countryside.”

The libertarian lawmaker then took a slightly religious turn, saying “You know, I’ve said this before, we need a revival in the country.”

“We need another great awakening with tent revivals of thousands of people saying, you know,’reform or see what’s going to happen if we don’t reform’.”

In a recent interview with Brett Baier of Fox News, Paul admitted that the use of the term ‘marriage’ for same sex couples offends him.

Watch the video at Raw Story. Honestly, I think that cartoon JJ post last night is beginning to make sense. Someone must have put LSD in Rand’s grits when he was a kid. Why would anyone vote for this wacko?

I’d write about the latest “revelations” about Hillary’s emails, but I don’t want to completely depress myself. I have to believe this will all die down before the 2016 primaries.

What have you been hearing and reading? Let us know in the comment thread and enjoy the rest of March. April is coming soon!

 


Live Blog: Obama Outlines New Policies for Drones, Gitmo in Major Speech

A drone designed and constructed by Concepcion University and the Chilean army is seen during a flight test at Concepcion city

This is a live blog to discuss President Obama’s speech today at the National Defense University. The speech is scheduled for 2PM Eastern time. As I wrote in the morning post, Obama is expected to propose limits to the use of drones to assassinate suspected “terrorists” in places like Pakistan and Yemen.

Time Magazine’s Swampland Blog:

Obama’s speech is expected to reaffirm his national security priorities — from homegrown terrorists to killer drones to the enemy combatants held at the military-run detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — but make no new sweeping policy announcements. The White House has offered few clues on how the president will address questions that have dogged his administration for years and, critics say, given foreign allies mixed signals about U.S. intentions in some of the world’s most volatile areas.

Obama will try to refocus an increasingly apathetic public on security issues as his administration grapples with a series of unrelated controversies stemming from the attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups and government monitoring of reporters. His message will also be carefully analyzed by an international audience that has had to adapt to what counterterror expert Peter Singer described as the administration’s disjointed and often short-sighted security policies.

“He is really wresting with a broader task, which is laying out an overdue case for regularizing our counterterrorism strategy itself,” said Singer, director of the Brookings Institution’s 21st Century Security and Intelligence Center in Washington. “It’s both a task in terms of being a communicator, and a task in term of being a decider.”

The White House said Obama’s speech coincides with the signing of new “presidential policy guidance” on when the U.S. can use drone strikes, though it was unclear what that guidance entailed and whether Obama would outline its specifics in his remarks.

Do we really need to keep using the word “decider” now that Dubya is gone? Oh well…Time’s description of Obama’s remarks makes it sound like he’s not really going to make any real changes–just say some words. I hope that’s wrong.

Here’s USA Today’s take on the speech:

The White House said Obama “will discuss why the use of drone strikes is necessary, legal and just, while addressing the various issues raised by our use of targeted action.”

Obama has also approved new “policy guidance” that sets out “standards under which we take lethal action,” the White House said.

The president “will also discuss how to balance securing our country and protecting our civil liberties at home,” said the statement.

That includes new steps Obama plans to take to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, a frequent target of criticism from civil libertarians. Some detainees at the prison are in the midst of a hunger strike, protesting their conditions.

Obama had pledged to close the facility during his first year in office. But his efforts ran afoul of congressional Republicans who opposed trials of terrorism suspects in the United States, and other countries that refused to take some prisoners.

NBC News’ First Read has a little more:

A White House official, per NBC’s Shawna Thomas, says that the president’s speech also will discuss better securing U.S. diplomatic facilities (after the 2012 Benghazi attack), balancing security while protecting civil liberties at home (see the leak investigations), and stating his desire to close the Guantanamo Bay prison (an action which Congress opposes). Don’t be surprised if Obama says something along the lines of, “We will never send another detainee to Gitmo” as a way to express his willingness to close the facility. And don’t be surprised if he addresses — head on — the Justice Department’s seizure of reporters’ phone records in its prosecution of national security leaks. Obama delivers his remarks at 2:00 pm ET at the National Defense University in DC.

For further reference, here is the letter Attorney General Holder wrote to Congress acknowledging the drone assassinations of four American citizens and Charlies Savage’s article about it.

At Wired’s Danger Room Blog, Spencer Ackerman offers 4 Questions Obama’s Big National Security Speech Should Answer.

I’ll do my best to keep up with the speech, but I would greatly appreciate your contributions too. You can watch the speech on-line at C-Span.org.


Glenn Greenwald on Presidential Assassinations

Glenn Greenwald:

“To say that the President has the right to kill citizens without due process is really to take the constitution and to tear it up into as many little pieces as you can and then burn it and step on it.”

From Greenwald’s blog at Salon:

What amazes me most whenever I write about this topic is recalling how terribly upset so many Democrats pretended to be when Bush claimed the power merely to detain or even just eavesdrop on American citizens without due process. Remember all that? Yet now, here’s Obama claiming the power not to detain or eavesdrop on citizens without due process, but to kill them; marvel at how the hardest-core White House loyalists now celebrate this and uncritically accept the same justifying rationale used by Bush/Cheney (this is war! the President says he was a Terrorist!) without even a moment of acknowledgment of the profound inconsistency or the deeply troubling implications of having a President — even Barack Obama — vested with the power to target U.S. citizens for murder with no due process.

As Dakinikat posted in the comments to Minx’s evening post, a second U.S. citizen who was not on Obama’s assassination list was also murdered along with al-Awlaki. From bmaz at Emptywheel:

Awlaki was killed by a drone delivered Hellfire missile, via a joint CIA and JSOC operation, in the town of Kashef, in Yemen’s Jawf province, approximately 140 kilometres east of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital. But not only Awlaki was killed, at least three others, including yet another American citizen, Samir Khan, were killed in the strike.

That’s right, not just one, but two, Americans were summarily and extrajudicially executed by their own government today, at the direct order of the President of the United States. No trial, no verdict, just off with their heads. Heck, there were not even charges filed against either Awlaki or Khan. And it is not that the government did not try either, there was a grand jury convened on Khan, but no charges. Awlaki too was investigated for charges at least twice by the DOJ, but non were found.

But at least Awlaki was on Barrack Obama’s “Americans That Are Cool to Kill List”. Not so with Samir Khan. Not only is there no evidence whatsoever Khan is on the classified list for killing (actually two different lists) my survey of people knowledgeable in the field today revealed not one who believed khan was on any such list, either by DOD or CIA.

So, the US has been tracking scrupulously Awlaki for an extended period and knew with certainty where he was and when, and knew with certainty immediately they had killed Awlaki and Khan. This means the US also knew, with certainty, they were going to execute Samir Khan.

I can’t even begin to describe how sickened I am by these murders of American citizens. President Obama is a murderer and a tyrant who is destroying the last vestiges of the Constitution of the United States. At least I don’t have to live with the horror of having voted for this evil man.


US Citizens Arrested, Interrogated, and Stranded Overseas

Gulet Mohamed surrounded by family on return to U.S.

From The New York Times, January 5, 2011:

An American teenager detained in Kuwait two weeks ago and placed on an American no-fly list claims that he was severely beaten by his Kuwaiti captors during a weeklong interrogation about possible contacts with terrorism suspects in Yemen.

The teenager, Gulet Mohamed, a Somali-American who turned 19 during his captivity, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday from a Kuwaiti detention cell that he was beaten with sticks, forced to stand for hours, threatened with electric shocks and warned that his mother would be imprisoned if he did not give truthful answers about his travels in Yemen and Somalia in 2009.

American officials have offered few details about the case, except to confirm that Mr. Mohamed is on a no-fly list and, for now at least, cannot return to the United States. Mr. Mohamed, from Alexandria, Va., remains in a Kuwaiti detention center even after Kuwait’s government, according to his brother, determined that he should be released.

During the interview with the NYT, Mohammed said, “I am a good Muslim, I despise terrorism.”

During the 90-minute telephone interview, Mr. Mohamed was agitated as he recounted his captivity, tripping over his words and breaking into tears. He said he left the United States in March 2009 to “see the world and learn my religion,” and had planned to return to the United States for college.

He said he had traveled to Yemen to study Arabic, but stayed less than a month because his mother worried about his safety. He said that he spent five months later that year living with an aunt and uncle in northern Somalia, before moving to Kuwait in August 2009 to live with an uncle and continue his Arabic studies.

Mohammed’s ordeal began when he went to the airport in Kuwait to renew his travel visa. He was held for five hours and then handcuffed, blindfolded and taken to a prison where he was interrogated and beaten on his feet and face with sticks when he didn’t give the “right answers.”

“Are you a terrorist?” they asked, according to his account.

“No,” he replied.

“Do you know Anwar?” his interrogators asked, referring to Mr. Awlaki.

“I’ve never met him,” Mr. Mohamed recalled saying.

“You are from Virginia, you have to know him,” they responded, according to Mr. Mohamed. From 2001 to 2002, Mr. Awlaki was the imam of a prominent mosque in northern Virginia.

Mohammed told the NYT in January that even after being released, he couldn’t sleep or eat and was constantly fearful. He said he has “always been pro-American” and obviously could not understand why he was targeted. After the article in the NYT, Mohammed was finally permitted to return home later in January. He told the Washington Post that his ordeal had “made me stronger.”

Mohammed is only one of many American citizens of Middle Eastern or African descent who have found themselves stranded overseas, unable to return home because their names have been put on a no-fly list while they were out of the country. Many of these people have been arrested and interrogated by foreign governments, apparently at the request of the F.B.I. From the Post article (1/21/2011):

Civil liberties groups charge that his case is the latest episode in which the U.S. government has temporarily exiled U.S. citizens or legal residents so they can be questioned about possible terrorist links without legal counsel.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the U.S. government on behalf of 17 citizens or legal residents who were not allowed to board flights to, from or within the United States, presumably because, like Mohamed, they were on the government’s no-fly list. Of those stranded overseas, all were eventually told they could return, often after they agreed to speak to the FBI. None was arrested upon their return.

The ACLU suit, filed in Portland, Ore., alleges that Americans placed on the no-fly list are denied due process because there is no effective way to challenge their inclusion. The government does not acknowledge that any particular individual is on the no-fly list or its other watch lists. Nor will it reveal the exact criteria it uses to place people on its list.

This week Mother Jones published a series of reports on their investigations of FBI operations that sound like COINTELPRO updated.

COINTELPRO was an FBI covert operation that targeted domestic left-wing and anti-war groups from 1956 to 1971, in the name of “national security.” Frankly, the covert operations have probably continued even though they are technically illegal. But lately we’ve seen an uptick in FBI operations targeting groups within the U.S. Until I came across a couple of blog posts last week about American muslims being targeted overseas, I had no idea the FBI had branched out to foreign covert operations.

At Mother Jones, Nick Baumann writes:

In the past, the FBI has denied that it asks foreign governments to apprehend Americans. But, a Mother Jones investigation has found, the bureau has a long-standing and until now undisclosed program for facilitating such detentions. Coordinated by elite agents who serve in terrorism hot spots around the world, the practice enables the interrogation of American suspects outside the US justice system. “Their citizenship doesn’t seem to matter to the government,” says Daphne Eviatar, a lawyer with Human Rights First. “It raises a question of whether there’s a whole class of people out there who’ve been denied the right to return home for the purpose of interrogation in foreign custody.”

I highly recommend reading the whole article. Baumann describes other cases similar to Mohammed’s and reveals information he obtained from government officials and representatives of human rights groups.

Here is another example from a 2010 Huffpo article:

Yahya Wehelie

A Virginia man said he has been stuck in limbo in Egypt for the last six weeks, living in a cheap hotel and surviving on fast food after his name was placed on a U.S. no-fly list because of a trip to Yemen.

Yahya Wehelie, a 26-year-old Muslim who was born in Fairfax, Virginia to Somali parents, said Wednesday he spent 18 months studying in Yemen and left in early May. The U.S. has been scrutinizing citizens who study in Yemen more closely since the man who tried to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas was linked to an al-Qaida offshoot in Yemen.

Wehelie was returning to the U.S. with his brother Yusuf via Egypt on May 5 when Egyptian authorities stopped him from boarding his flight to New York. They told him the FBI wanted to speak with him.

He said he was then told by FBI agents in Egypt that his name was on a no-fly list because of people he met in Yemen and he could not board a U.S. airline or enter American airspace. His passport was canceled and a new one issued only for travel to the United States, which expires on Sept. 12. He does not have Somali citizenship.

Wehelie said his brother Yusuf was allowed to return home, but only after he was detained for three days by Egyptian police on suspicion of carrying weapon. He said his brother was shackled to a jail wall and interrogated by a man who claimed to work for the CIA. He was then dumped in the street outside the prison when he feigned illness.

In June, 2010, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) posted a list of American Muslims who had been kept from returning to the U.S. after trips abroad.

In July, 2010, CAIR posted a warning on its website informing Muslim-Americans that they could end up in “forced exile” if they traveled to another country.

CAIR this week issued an advisory to American Muslims — whether citizens, permanent residents or visa holders — warning of the risk of “forced exile” when traveling overseas or attempting to return to the United States. Muslim travelers are urged to know their legal rights if they are placed on the so-called “no-fly list.”

In the past few months, CAIR has received a number of reports of American Muslims stranded overseas when they are placed on the government’s no-fly list. Those barred from returning to the United States report being denied proper legal representation, being subjected to FBI pressure tactics to give up the constitutionally-guaranteed right to remain silent, having their passports confiscated without due process, and being pressured to become informants for the FBI. These individuals have not been told why they were placed on the no-fly list or how to remove their names from the list.

FBI agents have reportedly told a number of individuals that they face being stranded outside the United States longer, or forever, unless they give up their rights to legal representation or to refuse interrogations and polygraph tests. But even those who submitted to interrogations without an attorney or to the “lie detector” tests remain stranded.

This situation is outrageous, and President Obama should be directly confronted about his support of this un-American, authoritarian policy (White House approval is required for many of these FBI activities). Perhaps a relatively high profile article like the one in Mother Jones will influence some mainstream reporters to do that. In the meantime, please spread the word in any way you can.


Monday Reads

Good Morning!

The top stories on every one’s mind these days are the lousy jobs report last week and the tumbling stock markets.  Democrats in the House are calling for new infrastructure spending as a way to create more jobs in the hopes that a few federal projects could provide some stimulus to the stalling recovery.

“The American people, while concerned about the deficit, place much more emphasis on job creation, and they see a role for the government,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told The Hill. “A fast injection of job stimulus on the public side would help tremendously. … It [the job report] helps our argument about investment.”

Other Democrats delivered a similar message on Friday. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said “the answer” to the lingering jobs crisis is “investment” in the “communities and businesses who need confidence and resources to hire [people].”

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said “investing in our communities goes hand in hand with full economic recovery.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said that only in Washington is targeted new spending being demonized.

“Once you get outside the Beltway, almost everyone agrees that we should be rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and investing in clean American energy that reduces our dependence on oil,” Blumenauer said.

Meanwhile, the major reason for home foreclosures these days isn’t the subprime loan scandal.  It’s unemployment.

The Obama administration’s main program to keep distressed homeowners from falling into foreclosure has been aimed at those who took out subprime loans or other risky mortgages during the heady days of the housing boom. But these days, the primary cause of foreclosures is unemployment.

As a result, there is a mismatch between the homeowner program’s design and the country’s economic realities — and a new round of finger-pointing about how best to fix it.

The administration’s housing effort does include programs to help unemployed homeowners, but they have been plagued by delays, dubious benefits and abysmal participation. For example, a Treasury Department effort started in early 2010 allows the jobless to postpone mortgage payments for three months, but the average length of unemployment is now nine months. As of March 31, there were only 7,397 participants.

“So far, I think the public record will show that programs to help unemployed homeowners have not been very successful,” said Jeffrey C. Fuhrer, an executive vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

One additional question is popping up now that it appears more than certain that some entitlements will be subject to cuts, That is why aren’t Democrats defending Medicaid?  Democrats have spoken out against cuts to Social Security and have defended Medicare.  What about Medicaid?

…for all the Democrats’ posturing and campaigning against Republican plans for Medicare, the GOP budget actually makes more immediate and deeper cuts to Medicaid. But Democrats haven’t been blasting the GOP Medicaid plan with nearly the same fervor, even though Republicans would cut about $750 billion from the program during the next decade and end the guaranteed federal match for states.

With intense budget negotiations on the debt limit under way, health care insiders think Democrats won’t budge much on Medicare now that they have a significant campaign chip in their pockets: Kathy Hochul’s upset win in New York’s 26th Congressional District is Exhibit A of the power of Medicare.

And that makes advocates worry that Medicaid cuts are more likely to come out of budget negotiations led by Vice President Biden.

Medicaid covers more than 50 million people, including low-income children and seniors in long-term care, but it doesn’t pack the same political punch as Medicare. Some observers say that’s due to the lingering perception that Medicaid is just a program for poor people that holds a much less broad-based appeal.

That perception is definitely part of the challenge in communicating Democratic opposition to the GOP’s Medicaid plans, Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) told POLITICO.

Medicaid “doesn’t quite have the same political dynamic” as Medicare, Andrews said.

Protestors in Wisconsin have opened a ‘Walkerville’ Tent city in Madison as a reminder of the Great Depression and to protest the governor’s budget.  Wisconsin is leading the way in protesting the way state budgets are being balanced on the backs of the poor and the working and middle classes.

In a move meant to evoke the infamous “Hooverville” tent cities of the Great Depression, protesters in Madison, Wisconsin opened “Walkerville” on Saturday evening, a tent city in the heart of Madison intended as a protest of Governor Scott Walker’s budget plan.

The Wisconsin Sentinel Journal calls the protest “the latest act in the 2011 political drama featuring the governor’s push to eliminate most collective bargaining rights for most public employees”.

By 9:00pm, an estimated 250 campers in up to 100 tents were arrayed throughout the designated protest area, with many campers pitching their tents on concrete sidewalks. City police, state troopers, and other law enforcement personnel were on hand, but on the whole a carnival air prevailed as families set up for the night, some intending to stay just for a night or two and others through June 20.

Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh is in Saudia Arabia recovering from injuries suffered in an attack on his palace last week.  Many people are encouraging him to stay there.

The United States and Britain are pressing Saudi Arabia to persuade the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to formally stand down after flying to Riyadh for treatment for injuries that were sustained in shelling in Sana’a on Friday.

Diplomats said that Washington and London were insisting that Saleh now be urged to implement a deal under which he would relinquish power in exchange for immunity from prosecution and financial guarantees about his future.

Pro-democracy protestors in Yemen were celebrating his departure after 33 years in power, but the Arab world’s poorest country still faces turmoil as well as immediate concerns over whether a truce will hold if Saleh tries to return and his relatives and supporters fight back.

The risks ahead were underlined by clashes in the southern city of Taiz, which left at least two dead and four injured. Shelling was also reported in Sana’a.

Saleh was described as recovering following emergency medical treatment in a Riyadh military; he was injured by shrapnel when his palace compound was attacked by tribal rivals.

Yemen’s ruling party, the General People’s Congress, insisted he would be back, but diplomats and analysts expressed doubt, suggesting that Saudi patience with an always fractious and often manipulative neighbour was exhausted.

It would be impossible for Saleh to return, argued Abdul Ghani Iryani, a respected Yemeni political commentator. “He is out. That is the only rational course. The exit of the president has defused some of the tensions and war is less likely today than it was yesterday.”

Evidently John Edwards is going to trial because the Feds offered him a plea deal that included prison time.

Just before John Edwards was indicted Friday, prosecutors made a final offer: They would accept his guilty plea to three misdemeanor campaign finance law violations in the $925,000 cover-up of his affair.

With the deal, the former Democratic vice-presidential nominee would avoid a felony conviction – and almost certainly keep the law license that had made him wealthy.

But there was a catch.

The government wanted to dictate a sentence that would result in up to six months of prison for Edwards, even with the plea to lesser charges.

Edwards and his lawyers were concerned. They wanted the ability to at least argue to a judge for alternatives, such as a halfway house, weekend releases, home arrest or some arrangement that would allow Edwards to be with his school-age children. He is a single parent after the death of his wife, Elizabeth, in December.

Yeah, right.  My guess is he doesn’t want to be some one’s mistress.

So, that’s what I’ve dug up today.  What’s on your reading and blogging list?


Sunday Reads: The day after…the day, that was the last day?

Personally, I have always had a fascination with little people.

Good Sunday! We are all still here, and I am a bit disappointed. It would have been real nice to be rid of all these religious right, fetus fanatics and loud mouth politicians. After their Ascension, the rest of us heathens could get back to living a regular life without the constant sermons. Imagine a world where women can make their own choices and have access to affordable health care.

We can only dream…right?

Okay, so on with the show.  I have lots of updates on the Arab Spring, and its movement  northwest, to the land of Paella and running bulls.

First on our list has to be Syria.  The protesters continue to be killed by Assad’s “security forces.” And on Saturday, 11 mourners were killed at the funerals.  Syria mourners ‘attacked by security forces’ – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

At least 11 mourners have been killed and at least 27 wounded in Homs after security forces opened fire on a massive funeral procession, according to human rights activists.

More than 40,000 people gathered in Homs on Saturday for the funerals of protesters killed in the city on Friday and were walking back from the cemetery in Tal al Nasser on the outskirts of the city when they were fired on without warning, a witness told Al Jazeera.

The sound of gunfire and cries to help the wounded were audible over the phone as Al Jazeera spoke to the eyewitness.

But lawyer and human rights activist Lina Mansour told Al Jazeera, “Today we’ve lost about 10 people killed in Homs. Tens of people injured as well.”

It seems like these killings have been going on for so long, and it is not even Summer yet.

Another lawyer and human rights activist Razan Zaitouna told Al Jazeera that about 58 people have been killed since Friday and that the number continues to increase by the hour.

Zaitouna said while her human rights group has eleven names of those killed in protests at Homs, the actual death toll is much higher because there are many hospitals in different areas that have not yet been contacted for confirmation of casualties.

“First we should be clear, [the] violence is from one side,” she told Al Jazeera by phone from Damascus.

“People on the street act peacefully and don’t use any kind of violence. So who can stop this violence? It is the regime which uses the violence to crack down. It’s the regime who can stop the violence against the people who are demanding freedom – peacefully,” she said.

Zaitouna said there were many chances for the regime to open dialogue with the Syrian people and to stop the deadly crackdown, but now it might be too late.

According to this report, the number of dead in Syria is around 900: Shootings push death toll in Syria above 900 – The Boston Globe

“International pressure is still weak,’’ said Hilal Khashan, a political science professor at the American University of Beirut. “Despite Obama’s speech, the regime knows that staying in power is more important and in order to stay in power the regime is ready to do anything.’’

As I said above, the protest in Spain are gaining steam:  Defiant Spaniards continue protests – Europe – Al Jazeera English Just look at this picture below, all those hands up, the young people standing up for themselves.

Thousands of demostrators demand social and political changes, the day prior to the elections. [EPA]

Thousands of Spaniards have filled city squares and camped out across the country to protest against government austerity before regional elections on Sunday which are likely to deal a blow to the Socialist government.

“In theory, we are going to continue” the protests after the elections, said Angela Cartagena, a spokeswoman for the organisers at the ramshackle protest ‘village’ that has sprung up in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square.

A “general assembly” of the organisers would be held on Sunday morning to confirm the decision, she said.

In the first major election since the government passed huge spending cuts and unpopular reforms, some voters will have to pick their way through plazas littered with protesters’ tents and makeshift beds to reach polling stations.

Demonstrations are forbidden in Spain on election days and the preceding 24 hours. Spain’s electoral commission on Thursday declared that protests planned for Saturday and Sunday were illegal as they “go beyond the constitutionally guaranteed right to demonstrate.”

Let’s see what comes of this, I wonder what country will be next. Geez, I only wish American women would start gathering in the downtown squares and streets of towns in Wisconsin, Texas, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska…damn, not going to pull a Howard Dean…and don’t have the time to list all the states sticking it to women.

Oops, kind of went off on a tangent there.

Back to World News.  North Sudan army takes control of Abyei – Africa – Al Jazeera English

North Sudan’s army appears to have gained control of the main town in Sudan’s disputed Abyei region after fierce fighting with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), UN and rebel sources said.

UN officials saw 15 tanks of the Sudanese Armed Forces, the northern army, on Saturday in parts of the key town Abyei where earlier mortars slammed against a UN base, Hua Jiang, the UN spokeswoman said on Saturday.

[…]

The United States, one of the main backers of Sudan’s landmark 2005 peace deal, has deplored the attack and urged both sides to stop all unauthorised military actions in Abyei.

Click the link above for a picture of Susan Rice on the ground in Sudan.

In Yemen, just how many times is this dude going to yank the carrot backwards. It has happened so many times, I am surprised the stick that carrot (the agreement) is dangling from isn’t broken. Yemen again nears accord for president to step down – latimes.com

Yemen’s political opposition signed an internationally negotiated deal Saturday that lays the groundwork for an end to PresidentAli Abdullah Saleh’s nearly 33-year rule.

Saleh has said he intends to sign the agreement Sunday. But in a speech Saturday, he dismissed the plan as “a mere coup operation.” He also claimed that if he left office, Yemen’s Al Qaeda offshoot would overrun parts of the country.

Yemen's leader calls for early vote

“This is the message that I send to our friends and brothers in the United States and the European Union,” Saleh said. “The successor will be worse than what we have currently.”

Okay, why the hell do all these dictators have to scream and point fingers…

This next link has a very sobering image. It is from The Lens, and thanks to Wonk for highlighting this website in one of her post a couple of months ago.  Turning Point: Michel Slomka on the Work of Joachim Eskildsen – NYTimes.com

An old woman in front of me found what she was looking for: her son’s coffin. I remember she stood there, crying. She had no news of her son for so long and now she found him again, in a wooden box. She probably never had the chance to say goodbye. She was stroking the coffin, whispering softly.

Be sure to take a look at it.

For those tweeter’s out there, the US State Department Blog had a post with lots and lots of official Twitter address to follow. Just click the link:  @StateDept Passes 100,000 Followers | U.S. Department of State Blog

Okay, on to the US after the jump…

Read the rest of this entry »


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Well, we dodged a bullet yesterday when Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour announced that he won’t be running for president in 2012. Whew! I really didn’t want a president who would decorate the Oval Office with Confederate Civil War memorabilia, did you? Newsweek, January 2010:

The Republican governor of Mississippi keeps a large portrait of the University Greys, the Confederate rifle company that suffered 100 percent casualties at Gettysburg, on a wall not far from a Stars and Bars Confederate flag signed by Jefferson Davis.

Not to mention a guy who praised the segregationist Southern “citizens councils” in an interview with the Weekly Standard. And the fact that Barbour talks like he has a mouthful of marbles doesn’t help either.

We won't have him to kick around anymore

Politico has an analysis of why Barbour “pulled the plug,” which basically boils down to he really didn’t want to go through the aggravation. The story ends this way:

There were also nagging concerns among GOP insiders about the prospect of nominating a deep-South governor with an accent matching his Delta roots to take on the country’s first black president.

Barry Wynn, a former South Carolina Republican chairman, put it politely after hearing Barbour speak in the state earlier this month: “There’s a perception that he might be more of a regional candidate.”

Gee, no kidding. Like I said, we dodged a bullet. But there are plenty of other creepy Republicans out there to take his place. In fact Ron Paul is getting ready to announce another campaign for president.

Speaking of creepy Republicans, Donald Trump claimed today that President Obama’s birth certificate is “missing.”

When asked from whom he received the information, Trump said he didn’t want to say and that he feels bad about the situation.

“I’d love for him to produce his birth certificate so that you can fight one-on-one,” Trump said in an interview set to air Monday. “If you look at what he’s doing to fuel prices, you can do a great fight one-on-one, you don’t need this issue.”

CNN’s Gary Tuchman also interviewed the former director of the Hawaii Department of Health, who said she has seen the original birth certificate in the vault at the Department of Health.

Trump supporter Franklin Graham, son of Billy, is also on the birther bandwagon.

{sigh….}

Meanwhile, multiple media outlets are talking about Trump’s generous campaign contributions–to Democrats. In fact, Trump recently donated $50,000 to Rahm Emanuel’s campaign for Chicago Mayor. From CNN:

Shortly before announcing interest in pursuing the GOP presidential bid, Republican Donald Trump gave $50,000, his largest campaign contribution in Illinois, to Democrat Rahm Emanuel, who was running for mayor, in December 2010….

Rahm’s brother Ari, who is co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, represents a majority of Hollywood’s celebrity elite, including Trump….

Records from the Illinois State Board of Elections show that Trump has made various sizable donations to Democratic causes in Illinois.

From Salon’s War Room:

When [Ed] Rendell entered Pennsylvania’s 2002 gubernatorial race, Trump committed himself to the former Democratic National Committee chairman’s cause. Between December 2001 and Election Day ’02, Trump personally gave $27,000 to Ed Rendell’s gubernatorial campaign. He also chipped in $5,000 more at the end of 2003, when Rendell was finishing up his first year in office.

Mind you, Rendell’s victory in 2002 was by no means a foregone conclusion. He faced a serious threat in the May Democratic primary from Robert Casey, then the state’s treasurer and the son of a former governor. The sharpest ideological difference between the two men may have been on abortion: Rendell was pro-choice, while Casey was pro-life (like his father, who was denied a speaking slot at the 1992 Democratic convention in part because of it). During the primary campaign, Trump provided Rendell with $6,000. Rendell ended up beating Casey by 13 points.

Trump is supposedly the one of the biggest contributors to Charlie Rangel ever, yet he is supposedly running as a Republican.

And then we have our current president, who is a Republican who ran as a Democrat in 2008. I posted this in comments on the morning thread yesterday, but I can resist doing it again. It’s so funny to see former Obama supporter (why?) Eric Alterman comparing Obama to Jimmy Carter.

Stylistically speaking, Barack Obama could hardly be further from Jimmy Carter if he really had been born in Kenya. Carter was a born-again Baptist who was raised on his father’s peanut plantation and supported George Wallace on the road to the Georgia state house. Barack Obama—well, you know the story. But the two men have a great deal in common in their approach to the presidency, and not one of these similarities is good news for the Democrats or even for America. Both men rule without regard to the concerns of the base of their party. Both held themselves to be above politics when it came to making tough decisions. Both were possessed with superhuman self-confidence when it came to their own political judgment mixed with contempt for what they understood to be the petty concerns of pundits and party leaders. And worst of all, one fears, neither one appeared willing to change course no matter how many storm clouds loomed on the horizon.

Ask yourself if the following story does not sound like another president we could name The gregarious Massachusetts pol, House Speaker Tip O’Neill, could hardly have been more eager to work with a Democratic president after eight years of Nixon and Ford. But when they first met, and O’Neill attempted to advise Carter about which members of Congress might need some special pleading, or even the assorted political favor or two with regard to certain issues, to O’Neill’s open-jawed amazement, Carter replied, “No, I’ll describe the problem in a rational way to the American people. I’m sure they’ll realize I’m right.” The red-nosed Irishman later said he “could have slugged” Carter over this lethal combination of arrogance and naivety, but it would soon become Carter’s calling card.

In some bad news for the radical right, the Supreme Court has refused to hear a challenge to Obamacare before it wends its way through the federal courts.

And in some good news for football fans, a district court has decided that

The NFL’s lockout is harming players and fans and is not in the public interest, District Judge Susan Nelson said in a ruling on Monday that granted the players’ request for an injunction to halt the work stoppage.

Nelson’s order to end the six-week lockout, imposed last month after a breakdown in talks over a new collective deal, is to be appealed by the NFL.

In an 89-page statement, the judge also accepted that the players dissolution of their union was valid and allowed them to act as individuals rather than be constricted by labor bargaining rules.

The Minnesota judge said in the absence of a collective bargaining process, which ended on March 11, antitrust policies come to the fore.

The plaintiffs in the case, led quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, argued they were suffering harm as a result of a lockout that stops them from reporting to work.

Here’s some more analysis of the decision at USA Today. I realize that I’m one of the few sports fans here at Sky Dancing, so I won’t burden you unduly. But I just want to say that the Red Sox have won five games in a row and are now only one game under .500–after starting the season with a string of pathetic losses. I know at least Pat Johnson will join me in cheering that news.

Daknikat wrote yesterday about the terrible flooding that was expected in Missouri. Well, it’s happening.

Gov. Jay Nixon activated the Missouri National Guard on Monday in response to the flooding of the Black River near Poplar Bluff, Mo. The executive order came just three days after the governor declared a state of emergency from the tornado that tore through St. Louis last Friday.

“Maj. Gen. Stephen Danner has mobilized 200 citizen soldiers and airmen to report initially to the Poplar Bluff area to assist with flood relief there,” said Maj. Tammy Spicer, public affairs officer for the Missouri National Guard.

More from the Houston Chronicle: Residents flee as river overflows Missouri levee.

Thunder roared and tornado warning sirens blared, and all emergency workers in the southeast Missouri town of Poplar Bluff could do Monday was hope the saturated levee holding back the Black River would survive yet another downpour.

Murky water flowed over the levee at more than three dozen spots and crept toward homes in the flood plain. Some had already flooded. If the levee broke — and forecasters said it was in imminent danger of doing so — some 7,000 residents in and around Poplar Bluff would be displaced.

One thousand homes were evacuated earlier in the day. Sandbagging wasn’t an option, Police Chief Danny Whitely said. There were too many trouble spots, and it was too dangerous to put people on the levee. Police went door-to-door encouraging people to get out. Some scurried to collect belongings, others chose to stay. Two men had to be rescued by boat.

“Basically all we can do now is wait, just wait,” Whitely said.

A Roosevelt would probably have created jobs by having people repair the nation’s rotting infrastructure. But, instead we got Barack “Hoover” Obama and the levees keep on failing.

Things are getting worse and worse in Syria, where there has been a brutal crackdown on protesters over the past several days. From CNN: Deadly attack on protesters raises questions about Syria’s stability

With reports emerging Monday that at least one high-ranking Syrian military commander refused to participate in a bloody, predawn raid that left dozens dead in the southern border city of Daraa — the heart of Syria’s weekslong civil unrest, questions are being raised about possible cracks in President Bashar al-Assad’s hold over the military.

The crackdown on anti-government protesters by Syrian forces escalated in recent days as demonstrators, emboldened by weeks of protests, called for the ouster of al-Assad. The crackdown culminated with the raid in Daraa where thousands of troops reportedly stormed the city and opened fire on demonstrators. It was an attack reminiscent of the brutal rule of al-Assad’s father, who once ordered the military to crush a revolt that resulted in the deaths of thousands.

“I think he’s clearly going toward the security solution, which is where he could be following in the steps of his father,” said Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

I’ve been hearing all day that Yemen’s president Saleh was renigging on his promise to step down soon, but Al Jazeera reports that there is an agreement between the government and opposition forces.

Yemen’s opposition has agreed to take part in a transitional government under a Gulf-negotiated peace plan for embattled leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to step aside in a month in exchange for immunity for him and his family.

A spokesman for an opposition coalition said on Monday that his group had received assurances in order to accept the deal.

“We have given our final accord to the [Gulf] initiative after having received assurances from our brothers and American and European friends on our objections to certain clauses in the plan,” Mohammed Qahtan said.

But not all protesters are going along.

many pro-democracy protesters, who are not members of the coalition that agreed to the peace talks, appear to be unconvinced by the Gulf-proposed deal and have called for fresh demonstrations, as security forces continued their crackdown.

In Libya, the fighting continues to be centered in the city of Misurata.

The battle for Misurata, which has claimed hundreds of lives in the past two months, has become the focal point of the armed rebellion against Gaddafi since fighting elsewhere is deadlocked.

Images of civilians being killed and wounded by Gaddafi’s heavy weapons, have spurred calls for more forceful international intervention to stop the bloodshed.

NATO’s mandate from the UN is to try to protect civilians in Libya, split into a rebel-run east and a western area that remains largely under Gaddafi’s control.

While the international coalition’s air attacks have delivered heavy blows to his army, they have not halted attacks on Misurata, Libya’s third largest city, with a population of 300,000.

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by insects. I loved to read books about ants, spiders, and other such creepy-crawly critters. Truthfully, I still find them interesting. Here’s a story about fire ants and how they cooperate to protect the group in an emergency.

When flood waters threaten their underground nests, fire ants order an immediate evacuation. They make their way to the surface and grab hold of one another, making a living raft that can sail for months.

The extraordinary survival tactic, which can involve entire colonies of more than a hundred thousand ants, has been captured on film by US engineers who used the footage to help unravel how the insects co-operate to overcome nature’s dangers.

Time-lapse film of the ants in action reveals that pockets of air get trapped between them and around their bodies, helping them breathe if the raft is pushed under the water.

In normal circumstances the ants lock legs, and sometimes mandibles, to form a floating mat that sits on top of the water through a combination of surface tension and buoyancy.

“Even the ones at the bottom remain dry and able to breath because they are not actually under the water,” said Nathan Mlot, a PhD student at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

If only we humans would get together and cooperate like that!


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