Saturday / December 20, 2014

“If you don’t enter the lion’s den, you will never capture the lion.”

– Seung Sahn

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Outgoing Republican Senator Tom Coburn Now Singlehandedly Responsible for Every Veteran Suicide

One last middle finger to veterans. 

 
By Carl Gibson
Reader Supported News (12/16/14)
 

Before retiring from a decades-long career in the US Senate and leaving Washington for good, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) gave one last middle finger to veterans – he said that preventing future veteran suicides would be “throwing money away” and singlehandedly blocked $22 million aimed at addressing the veteran suicide crisis. By blocking a simple bill that might have saved thousands of lives by providing more services to veterans, Tom Coburn has now become singlehandedly responsible for the suicide of every veteran until the funding gets passed after his departure.

Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide. Just recently, suicide became the leading cause of death for military personnel, outdoing even war itself. If the suicide prevention bill is passed when Congress reconvenes on January 3, it will have been 18 days from the date of Coburn’s filibuster. And that means almost 400 veteran suicides might have been prevented if a lame duck senator hadn’t needlessly stood in the way.

A Senator’s lies and misrepresentations

The alleged reason for Coburn’s filibuster of veteran suicide prevention was the cost – $22 million. He also shifted blame to the Department of Veterans Affairs, saying the bill wouldn’t do anything to make up for the VA’s lack of services to veterans in need. But both of those arguments fall flat on their face. The $22 million cost of the bill pales in comparison to the $770 billion cost of the Afghanistan war, or the $818 billion cost of the Iraq war, both of which Coburn repeatedly voted for. Both of those wars are costing the American people $10.5 million every hour, yet Coburn is making noise about a price tag that amounts to two hours of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Coburn’s feigned concern over the lack of services the VA provides is also flimsy at first glance. In 2011, Coburn voted for Paul Ryan’s House Republican budget that would have ended VA care for 1.3 million veterans. Year after year of consistent budget cuts to the VA naturally results in delayed services for veterans and a longer backlog of veterans who wait months and even years for their care. If Coburn is looking for a reason why the VA can’t provide enough services, he should look in the mirror.

This bill, named after Clay Hunt – an Afghanistan veteran who committed suicide in 2011 – would have made a difference in the lives of military personnel switching from active duty to veteran status by providing them with services to ease the transition. It would have set up a user-friendly website to help direct veterans to mental healthcare services, given psychiatrists financial incentives to provide mental healthcare to veterans, and funded independent reviews at the Pentagon and the VA for suicide prevention. The bill passed the House with bipartisan support, and had the support to pass the Senate had it not been for Coburn’s actions.

Coburn’s blocking of the bill has made him a target of rage on social media. After a meme explaining Coburn’s vote went viral on Facebook, the outgoing senator’s Facebook page lit up with hundreds of comments on all of his recent posts urging him to kill himself, among other things. Angry tweets directed to @TomCoburn said they hoped he had no help available when he decided to commit suicide. After a brief reading of comment threads in recent posts, I wasn’t able to find one comment in support of Coburn’s vote to block veteran suicide prevention.

As Paul Rieckhoff, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said: this is why people hate Washington. The suicide prevention bill must be passed as soon as the next Congress convenes, so the ramblings of one bitter, out-of-touch senator won’t have any further impact on veterans who legitimately need help holding on.

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Free Ride: Banksters Are Allowed To Deduct 75 Percent Of Fines Imposed By Justice Department For Criminal Conduct

When is a fine not a fine? When it can be put against your tax bill.

By Lynnley Browning
Newsweek (12/19/14) 

At the Justice Department, senior officials like to congratulate themselves on the headline-making, big bucks settlements they have imposed upon banks and lenders for their part in causing the 2008 mortgage meltdown that sparked the biggest American financial crisis since the Great Depression.

But wait a moment. Those settlement figures are not quite what they seem. Buried deep in the announcements of the astronomical sums that Wall Street banks are being forced to pay is a dirty secret: A big chunk of the hundreds of billions of dollars banks have paid in settlements to various federal agencies and regulators since 2010 is deductible from the taxes banks and lenders pay.

When is a fine not a fine? When it can be put against your tax bill.

Because settlements can be deducted from tax liabilities, for nearly every dollar a bank or lender has pledged to pay in cash or pony up in other ways—such as through buying back soured mortgage-backed securities, extending cheaper loans or forgiving failed loans held by struggling homeowners—up to 35 cents will find its way back into bank coffers, a reflection of the 35 percent federal corporate tax rate.

Deep in the legalese weeds of the settlement documents lies buried treasure. Big banks such as Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase will receive deductions against the corporate tax that will amount to between half and nearly three-quarters of their multibillion-dollar settlements, at least. Meanwhile, midsized banks and nonbank lenders generally get to deduct the whole shebang.

Under Attorney General Eric Holder, whose agency has not prosecuted a single major bank or executive in the aftermath of the 2008 meltdown, the Justice Department has been criticized, not least by Democrats, for believing banks are too big to fail and their top brass too big to jail. But here’s the twist. It turns out that banks are also too big to tax: Windfall tax deductions set against the civil settlements imposed by the Justice Department total more than $44 billion, according to Newsweek estimates.

That’s a big sum. Yet it is not a figure the Justice Department appears aware of. In fact, the nation’s top law enforcement agency in charge of cracking down on perpetrators of the mortgage crisis says it has no clue exactly how much money and consumer-relief services the banks have agreed to hand over in settlements with the agency—or how much of a tax deduction the banks are getting through the settlement deals.

Asked by Newsweek the grand total of all mortgage-related settlements between the agency and banks and nonbank lenders since the 2008 crisis, an agency spokeswoman says, “A global figure? We just don’t have that.”

Things aren’t much clearer over at the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), the overseer of home mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The two government-sponsored mortgage-finance giants have engaged in their own chest-thumping by muscling banks and lenders into buying back the stinky mortgages they deceptively packaged into securities and sold to the finance giants, but which later blew up.

When Newsweek asked an FHFA spokeswoman the same question—what is the grand total of all settlements related to inappropriate mortgages that led to the 2008 crisis—she cited the agency’s public list of $18.2 billion worth of settlements with 17 banks for deception and fraud in misrepresenting the value of mortgage-backed securities.

One thing the list doesn’t point out: The figure isn’t $18.2 billion, according to a Newsweek tally of the individual settlement documents; it’s $24.7 billion, at least on paper. But the grand total is tax-deductible by those who paid the penalties, FHFA spokeswoman Stefanie Johnson tells Newsweek, leading to more than $8.6 billion in tax savings for the banks and a true fine of only around $16 billion.

Astonishingly, for an economic crisis estimated to have cost the U.S. economy anywhere from $6 trillion to $14 trillion in lost output and value—if not twice that, according to a September 2013 study by the Dallas Federal Reserve bank—tracking the settlements and the deductions against taxes via government websites is almost impossible.

So Newsweek got out its calculator.

An estimate in August by SNL Financial, a data company, puts the total cost of settling with all regulators by the six largest banks—Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley—at $128 billion. (That figure doesn’t include various federal settlements with big foreign banks, midsized and smaller American banks, and nonbank lenders, including Deutsche Bank, Barclays Bank, Credit Suisse, HSBC Holdings plc, UBS, First Horizon National Corp. and nonbank lenders including Ocwen Financial Corp., Ally Financial and General Electric.)

Once other settlements with regulators—including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Reserve Board, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., various state attorneys general and state banking regulators such as New York’s Department of Financial Services—are included, the total comes to $143.2 billion. (The figure does not include settlements with a handful of investment-advisory firms and individual mortgage brokers, or lawsuits settled between banks and private sector investors.)

Federal tax rules allow companies to deduct from their tax returns as an ordinary cost of doing business any settlement payments that are construed, explicitly or not, as restitution or compensation. Payments flagged as penalties or fines, typically outlined in criminal cases, are generally not deductible, as opposed to the civil settlements with banks.

Nicole Navas, a Justice Department spokeswoman, tells Newsweek that the agency has “engaged in a broad effort to hold financial institutions accountable for their misconduct related to the housing market.”

Misconduct, certainly. But accountable? Hardly …

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Santa’s Real Workshop: The Town In China That Makes The World’s Christmas Decorations

Santa Claus is now better known to most Chinese people than Jesus.

By Oliver Wainwright
The Guardian (12/19/14)
 

There’s red on the ceiling and red on the floor, red dripping from the window sills and red globules splattered across the walls. It looks like the artist Anish Kapoor has been let loose with his wax cannon again. But this, in fact, is what the making of Christmas looks like; this is the very heart of the real Santa’s workshop – thousands of miles from the North Pole, in the Chinese city of Yiwu.

Our yuletide myth-making might like to imagine that Christmas is made by rosy-cheeked elves hammering away in a snow-bound log cabin somewhere in the Arctic Circle. But it’s not. The likelihood is that most of those baubles, tinsel and flashing LED lights you’ve draped liberally around your house came from Yiwu, 300km south of Shanghai – where there’s not a (real) pine tree nor (natural) snowflake in sight.

Christened “China’s Christmas village”, Yiwu is home to 600 factories that collectively churn out over 60% of all the world’s Christmas decorations and accessories, from glowing fibre-optic trees to felt Santa hats. The “elves” that staff these factories are mainly migrant labourers, working 12 hours a day for a maximum of £200 to £300 a month – and it turns out they’re not entirely sure what Christmas is.

“Maybe it’s like [Chinese] New Year for foreigners,” says 19-year-old Wei, a worker who came to Yiwu from rural Guizhou province this year, speaking to Chinese news agency Sina. Together with his father, he works long days in the red-splattered lair, taking polystyrene snowflakes, dipping them in a bath of glue, then putting them in a powder-coating machine until they turn red – and making 5,000 of the things every day.

In the process, the two of them end up dusted from head to toe in fine crimson powder. His dad wears a Santa hat (not for the festive spirit, he says, but to stop his hair from turning red) and they both get through at least 10 face masks a day, trying not to breathe in the dust. It’s a tiring job and they probably won’t do it again next year: once they’ve earned enough money for Wei to get married, they plan on returning home to Guizhou and hopefully never seeing a vat of red powder again.

Packaged up in plastic bags, their gleaming red snowflakes hang alongside a wealth of other festive paraphernalia across town in the Yiwu International Trade Market, aka China Commodity City, a 4m sq m wonder-world of plastic tat. It is a pound shop paradise, a sprawling trade show of everything in the world that you don’t need and yet may, at some irrational moment, feel compelled to buy. There are whole streets in the labyrinthine complex devoted to artificial flowers and inflatable toys, then come umbrellas and anoraks, plastic buckets and clocks. It is a heaving multistorey monument to global consumption, as if the contents of all the world’s landfill sites had been dug-up, re-formed and meticulously catalogued back into 62,000 booths.

The complex was declared by the UN to be the “largest small commodity wholesale market in the world” and the scale of the operation necessitates a kind of urban plan, with this festival of commerce organised into five different districts. District Two is where Christmas can be found.

There are corridors lined with nothing but tinsel, streets throbbing with competing LED light shows, stockings of every size, plastic Christmas trees in blue and yellow and fluorescent pink, plastic pine cones in gold and silver. Some of it seems lost in translation: there are sheep in Santa hats and tartan-embroidered reindeer, and of course lots of that inexplicable Chinese staple, Father Christmas playing the saxophone …

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Largest Tar Sands Pipeline To US Shut Down Indefinitely After Spill of 50,000+ Gallons

By Scott Haggett
Reuters (12/18/14)

Enbridge Inc said on Thursday it has no restart date yet for its 796,000-barrel-per-day Line 4, the largest oil-export pipeline to the United States, after it was shut a day earlier after a spill of 1,350 barrels at its Regina, Saskatchewan, oil terminal.

Graham White, a spokesman for the company, said in an email the spill originated at a flange or valve within the terminal, so there were no problems with the pipeline itself. He said that could mean the problem is “a relatively easy fix”, but could not speculate on when the line would return to service.

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  • Obama Takes A Swing At Keystone Pipeline – President Barack Obama spoke on the Keystone XL pipeline during his last press conference of the year, saying the project would be “a nominal benefit” to consumers in the United States. ”The issue in Keystone is not American oil. It’s Canadian oil,” Obama said, noting the project would have “very little impact” on U.S. gas prices. Obama said he wants to make sure the Keystone project wouldn’t add to the threat of climate change … Read the Rest and 4+-Minute Video
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Glenn Greenwald Blasts Dick Cheney And President Obama On Torture

By Ryan Buxton
The Huffington Post (12/18/14)

Glenn Greenwald responded to Dick Cheney’s recent “Meet The Press” appearance on HuffPost Live on Thursday with a blistering critique that indicted both Cheney and President Obama.

“The reason why Dick Cheney is able to go on ‘Meet The Press’ instead of being where he should be — which is in the dock at The Hague or in a federal prison — is because President Obama and his administration made the decision not to prosecute any of the people who implemented this torture regime despite the fact that it was illegal and criminal,” Greenwald said.

Cheney asserted in a Dec. 14 interview that torture “absolutely” worked and said he would do it again “in a minute.” Greenwald told HuffPost Live’s Alyona Minkovskithat Obama is partially to blame for Cheney’s controversial sentiment.

“When you send the signal, as the Obama administration did, that torture is not a crime that ought to be punished, it’s just a policy dispute that you argue about on Sunday shows, of course it emboldens torturers like Dick Cheney to go around and say, ‘What I did was absolutely right,’” Greenwald said.

Link to Story and 2-Minute Video

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Victim: I Watched British MPs Rape And Murder Young Boys

An anonymous man claims that he and other boys were sexually abused by members of Parliament and police during the Thatcher years—and that he watched them kill for sport.

By Nico Hines
The Daily Beast (12/18/14)

LONDON — Scotland Yard detectives believe that an organized pedophile ring at the heart of the British establishment was responsible for the murder of three young boys and the violent sexual abuse of dozens more.

A survivor, known as Nick, described regular “abuse parties” that were held at a luxury apartment block near Westminster during the premiership of Margaret Thatcher. He said he watched a Conservative Member of Parliament strangle one boy to death, and witnessed another young boy brutally murdered in front of a Cabinet minister.

Detective believes allegations

Detective Superintendent Kenny McDonald, who is leading an investigation of the alleged “VIP” abuse network said today: “I believe what Nick is saying to be credible and true.”

Nick says children between the ages of seven and 16 were taken to the events, including regular Christmas parties, which were often held at Dolphin Square, an exclusive building on the River Thames that was popular with MPs who needed second homes in London close to the Houses of Parliament. He has described the partygoers as a cross-section of some of the most powerful men in Britain including Sir Peter Hayman, a long-time MI6 chief.

Abuse parties

Perhaps the most shocking of Nick’s allegations concerns a Conservative MP accused of murdering a boy, who looked about 12 years old, during a sadistic sex game in 1980. He claimed that he and the brown-haired boy were collected in a chauffeur-driven car and taken to a town house in Central London for one of these “abuse parties”, where members of the military, law enforcement and political establishment would give glasses of whiskey to the children before violating them.

Speaking to the investigative journalism website Exaro, Nick gave a graphic account of the way the MP sexually assaulted and then strangled the child to death. “I watched while that happened. I am not sure how I got out of that,” he said.

Nick said he had witnessed a second boy being beaten so savagely by two men at one of the parties that he succumbed to his injuries and died, while a serving member of the Thatcher government watched on. He alleges that a third boy, aged 10 or 11, was deliberately hit by a car and killed by a member of the pedophile network in 1979.

The extraordinary allegations were first made public earlier this year by Exaro, which agreed to maintain the victim’s anonymity. He subsequently asked a reporter to accompany him as he dared to share his story with the police for the first time.

On Thursday, Detective Superintendent McDonald described his account as “harrowing” and compelling.  “Nick has been spoken to by experienced officers of the child abuse team and experienced officers from the murder investigation team. They and I believe what Nick is saying,” he said.

“He has outlined how organized the abuse was. How a car would be sent to collect him and he would be taken somewhere. The abuse he was subjected to was carried out by a man acting alone or a group of men or even what can only be described as parties… Today I want to appeal directly to those other young boys, now men, who were also subject to abuse at the hands of these men. I believe that there were other boys who were abused, or who were present whilst the abuse took place.”

Scotland Yard investigation

Nick, and another survivor who has spoken to Exaro allege that policemen and senior security officials were among the abusers, giving the impression that they were acting with impunity.

A Scotland Yard inquiry has been established to investigate whether the Metropolitan Police was guilty of overlooking the crimes of powerful figures, or whether some kind of cover-up operation was in place.

Over the years, several MPs have alleged cover-ups or suggested that investigations were shut down by senior security officials. In 1981, Sir Peter Hayman, a former diplomat and intelligence operative, was outed by Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens, who used Parliamentary privilege to name him as a pedophile in the House of Commons. Dickens continued to investigate the pedophile ring, which he claimed included “big, big names,” and he passed a 40-page dossier of evidence to the Home Secretary in 1983.

Dickens claimed his name subsequently appeared on a hit-list and his house was broken into by burglars who scoured his office but never stole any possessions. “The noose around my neck grew tighter after I named a former high-flying British diplomat on the Floor of the House. Honorable Members will understand that where big money is involved and as important names came into my possession so the threats began,” he told the House of Commons in 1985.

Dossier disappears as investigations shut down

No criminal charges ever came from the evidence he raised. Last year, the Home Office said the dossier had mysteriously disappeared from the archives.

Current Labour MP John Mann has suffered no personal threats but says his investigation into allegations of a VIP pedophile network were also shut down by the authorities. As a local politician in Lambeth, South London, he said he became aware of allegations that young boys in care homes were being recruited as rent boys and taken to Dolphin Square.  “We were told this by several sources. It was very specific: there were sex parties there, and they involved Tory MPs,” he told the Daily Mail last month.

He passed the information to the police who came back to him after three months to apologize and say they had been instructed to stop looking into the abuse parties. “They’d been forced to drop it,” Mann said. “Pressure had come from on high in the police service.”

A former senior detective at the Metropolitan Police, Clive Driscoll, said earlier this year that he had been hastily removed from an investigation that had begun in Lambeth into child abuse when his superiors saw a list of suspects, which included several MPs, that he wanted to investigate. He said he thought his investigation was “too uncomfortable.”

Steve Rodhouse, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said on Thursday that an inquiry was underway to address allegations that police officers had acted inappropriately in relation to child abuse allegations, including the claims made by Driscoll. “Clive has had a fantastic and distinguished career so we listen to what he has to say,” he said.

The investigation into an alleged cover-up is just one of 18 strands of inquiry currently ongoing as part of Operation Fairbank, which was first set up in 2012 into allegations of a VIP pedophile ring. One of those concerns Nick’s more recent allegations about Dolphin Square, another involves allegations against Cyril Smith, a Liberal MP who died in 2010. Twenty men have come forward to claim they were abused as boys by Smith, who was investigated numerous times during a three decade career but was never charged with any crime.

In total, officers said 600 emails or tip-offs had been received by more than 40 officers working on Operation Fairbank. Thus far, just five people have been arrested.

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‘Stand Your Ground’ Defense Fails In Montana Murder of German Exchange Student

By Kathryn Haake
Missoulian (12/18/14)

A collective cry erupted on the third floor of the Missoula County Courthouse on Wednesday as a jury of eight women and four men found Markus Hendrik Kaarma guilty of deliberate homicide.

After eight hours of deliberation, jurors convicted Kaarma of fatally shooting 17-year-old Diren Dede, a German exchange student at Big Sky High School who entered Kaarma’s garage looking for alcohol last April 27.

The courtroom’s enthusiasm for the verdict was tempered by sobs coming from Kaarma’s mother, Chong Oak Kaarma.

“Oh, no,” she cried, leaning forward in her chair.

Dede’s parents, Celal and Gulcin, held each other – crying tears of joy as the verdict was read. They continued to hold one another after the jury was dismissed.

“Diren, we made it,” Gulcin cried in German while hugging friends in the courtroom.

“Long live justice,” Celal said. “This is very good. I don’t know what else to say. Thank for all. Thank you for Montana.”

Dede was taking a late-night walk through his host family’s Grant Creek neighborhood when Kaarma confronted him in the darkened garage – shooting Dede twice with a shotgun. One shot hit the boy’s arm, and was survivable. The second, fatal shot hit him in the head.

Kaarma cried quietly as the jury entered the courtroom and continued to cry as the verdict was read.

He was escorted out of the courtroom by a Missoula County sheriff’s deputy and one of his attorneys, Brian Smith, after District Judge Ed McLean remanded him to the Missoula County jail to await sentencing Feb. 11.

Dede’s parents will give a victim’s impact statement in the courtroom and McLean will set bail for Kaarma on Thursday at 10 a.m. Under state sentencing guidelines, Kaarma faces prison time of “not less than 10 years and not more than 100.”

Randy Smith and Kate Walker – Dede’s Missoula host parents – were also crying in the courtroom. Walker, who testified that Dede was a joy to host and reported never having any conflicts with him, was overwhelmed with emotion.

“Obviously, we feel good about the verdict,” he said. “Justice was done. There’s no way you can undo all the pain that was caused by so many people, but maybe this is a time to start over.”

Lead defense attorney Paul Ryan said his team will appeal the guilty verdict.

“At this point, we’re obviously disappointed with the decision, and we’ll continue to fight this until we feel that justice is served for Markus Kaarma,” Ryan said.

He anticipates lawyers will file the appeal as court procedures dictate, likely several months after sentencing. They will base it in part on “a number of procedural issues that we just think were not addressed properly that need to be looked at by the (Montana) Supreme Court.”

“We’re still analyzing those kinds of things. Obviously, it’s pretty raw and fresh for us today,” Ryan said.

As the attorneys left a packed courthouse, Smith walked with his arm around Kaarma’s mother.

Defense lawyers presented a relatively short case. They called only a few witnesses and rested after a couple of days.

A variety of decisions – both strategic ones by the team and decisions by the court – led to the defense’s presentation, Ryan said Wednesday.

Once the lawyers digested the outcome, he said, they would take time later to review their case to see where it may have fallen short …

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Jon Stewart Takes On North Korea Over Sony Hack

By Ed Mazza
The Huffington Post (12/19/14)

Jon Stewart can’t figure out why North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has such a big problem with Hollywood. The two places have a lot in common.

“Hollywood’s just like North Korea,” Stewart said on Thursday night’s “Daily Show.” “Everyone’s always telling you how great you are, there are billboards everywhere with your face on them and no one eats.”

Stewart then examined the threats made by hackers to launch 9/11-style attacks on theaters that go through with plans to show the film “The Interview,” a comedy about a fictional plot to kill Kim.

“You done fucked up now, buddy!” Stewart declared. “You stepped in it. 9/11 is our magic strength. It’s our spinach. It reminds us we don’t give in, we never give up, we don’t back down.”

Of course, Sony pulled the film. Not only that, the studio has also indicated it won’t release the film via video-on-demand either.

“That’s it?” Stewart asked. “So Kim Jong Un gets to decide what movies we make?!”

Stewart had an idea for what a Kim-approved movie might look like.

Link to Story and 4-Minute Video

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The Rick Perry Mug Shot Mug Is The Perfect Xmas Gift For Democrats

WARNING: Contents may be HAWT

By Adi Cohen
Vocativ (12/17/14)

Political campaigns for 2016 are beginning to take shape, and with Jeb Bush brewing up a campaign for the White House, Democrats are brewing up their own merchandise ideas, using their favorite Republican poster boy. After theGeorge H.W. Bush socks line and the Democrats’ I Hate Tea (Parties) Tumbler, the official Texas Democrats organization is now offering the Indicted: Rick Perry Mugshot Mug, yours for a meager $14 donation (a price even the 47 percent can afford!). The mug is just one item in a series using Perry’s mug shot to remind people why the Texas governor might not be the best presidential candidate.

A jury in Texas indicted Perry on two felony charges last August for abusing power while he was in office. He turned himself in to the police for a mug shot that later went viral. Perry’s own political action committee tried to spin the mug shot by printing the picture on T-shirts with the caption: “Wanted for securing the border and defeating Democrats.”

Democrats don’t want him to own all the spin, so their Rick Perry indictment version ensures that voters won’t forget about Rick Perry’s day in front of the police camera, nor his infamous “oops” moment during a candidates’ debate.

The mug shot picture comes with the lines:

Name: Perry, James Richard
Alias: “Slick Rick”
Eyes: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Hair: Good
The last thing: Oops.

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Dept. Of Much Needed Humor — Rubio Vows to Block Twenty-First Century

“We cannot stop time, perhaps, but we can defund it.” 

 
By Borowitz
The New Yorker (12/19/14)

Seizing upon an issue that could become the cornerstone of a possible 2016 Presidential campaign, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said on Thursday that he would do everything in his power to block the twenty-first century.

“A lot of folks in Washington believe that the twenty-first century is a forgone conclusion, and that there’s nothing we can do about it,” Rubio said. “I say, ‘Not on my watch.’ ”

Explaining his strategy, Rubio said that he and fellow Republicans were exploring ways to stop funding any items in the federal budget that pertain to the current century. “We cannot stop time, perhaps, but we can defund it,” he said.

In a blistering attack, he laid blame for the twenty-first century squarely on the shoulders of someone he accused of “using every trick in the book to make it happen”: President Obama.

“Much like Obamacare, the twenty-first century is something that the American people never asked for and do not want,” Rubio said.

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Friday / December 19, 2014

“We are all so guilty at the way we have allowed the world around us to become more ugly and tasteless every year that we surrender to terror and steep ourselves in it.” 

― Norman Mailer, In the Belly of the Beast: Letters From Prison.

(See “More Brutal and Grotesque”, below.)

Posted in 2014-12-19 | Tagged | Comments Off

US Executes Fewer Prisoners, But Deaths Are More Brutal, Grotesque

New documents released this week unveiled new details of the tragedy, including blood splattering over the doctor who was trying to insert the IV.

By Ed Pilkington
The Guardian (12/18/14)

When students of the US death penalty look back on the year 2014 they are likely to remember it as one of the most grotesque on record, punctuated by a series of botched executions in which prisoners writhed, gasped and groaned for lengthy periods on the gurney.

But the Death Penalty Information Center, a leading chronicler of capital punishment trends in the US, notes in its annual review published on Thursday that the year was also marked by the onward decline of the controversial practice. The 35 executions carried out in 2014 marked a 10% decline compared with the previous year, and a dramatic slump from the peak of 98 judicial killings in 1999.

Though many people around the world think of the death penalty as being an American foible, the annual report points out that it has receded into a rump of hardline states. All 35 executions were carried out by just seven states, and of those 80% were accounted for by just three states – Texas, Missouri and Florida.

Even Texas, long ground zero of the death penalty in America, the number of executions sharply declined this year, from 16 in 2013 to 10 in 2014. Only Missouri bucked the trend – it lethally injected 10 prisoners compared with just two the previous year, as it forged ahead with an aggressive new drive to carry out executions at a rate of almost one a month.

The number of new death sentences also showed a steep decline, falling to 72, the lowest number since the death penalty recommenced in the modern era in 1974. The center notes this was the fourth year in a row with fewer than 100 sentences, compared with figures above 100 for every year between 1974 and 2010.

“The relevancy of the death penalty in our criminal justice system is seriously in question when 43 out of our 50 states do not apply the ultimate sanction,” said Richard Dieter, the center’s executive director and author of the report. “The US will likely continue with some executions in the years ahead, but the rationale for such sporadic use is far from clear.”

More extreme and inhumane

Opponents of the death penalty will be heartened that its overall trajectory is steadily moving in their direction. But if 2014 is anything to go by, as capital punishment becomes less common, it also appears to be growing more extreme and arguably inhumane.

DPIC’s report highlights the string of botched executions that occurred through the year, starting in January with that of Dennis McGuire who gasped and snorted for 15 minutes in front of his horrified children. It was Ohio’s first – and critics said experimental – use of a new lethal drug combination.

Then in April, Oklahoma saw gruesome scenes of officials struggling and failing to find a vein in the death row inmate Clayton Lockett, who struggled for 43 minutes, much of it behind a curtain that prevented the media witnessing the events. New documents released this week unveiled new details of the tragedy, including blood splattering over the doctor who was trying to insert the IV.

The Guardian has joined the ACLU and Oklahoman news outlets in legallychallenging the state’s refusal to allow full public access to the execution.

Arizona added its name to the grizzly list of death penalty states carrying out botched executions in July when it took almost two hours and 15 doses of drug to kill Joseph Wood http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/23/justice/arizona-execution-controversy/ .

Part of the reason for the apparent increase in executions that have gone wrong is the scramble for lethal injection drugs. The European boycott of medical drugs going to US prisons is now biting deeply, and in an attempt to circumvent it, many states have attempted to find new ever more unconventional supply routes.

Many states have also tried to avoid public scrutiny of their experimental new methods by passing secrecy laws designed to keep the identity of its suppliers hidden. The Guardian is involved in legal challenges to such secrecy in Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri and Pennsylvania.

The other area highlighted in DPIC’s annual review are exonerations, with seven former death row inmates being freed in 2014 – the highest number since 2009.

The seven included brothers Henry McCollum and Leon Brown who were convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1984 when they were both teenagers. They were eventually exonerated 30 years later when the North Carolina Innocence Commission recovered crime-scene material which provided a positive match to a known sex offender living just a few feet from where the victim’s body was found.

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Posted in 2014-12-19, Newsletter | Comments Off

Local Frac Sand Resolution Gains Traction

“Why has there never been an environmental study of any sort done on a frac sand facility?”

 
By Rod Stetzer
Chippewa Valley Herald (12/17/14)

A resolution asking the state to fund a scientific study by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources of the sand mine industry will be considered by the Chippewa County Executive Committee next month.

If the committee gives its approval at its Jan. 6, 2015 meeting, the resolution would go before the full County Board Jan. 13.

Town of Howard resident Ken Schmitt asked the committee Tuesday for support of the Citizens Petition for a Strategic Analysis for Frac Sand Mining. Schmitt, a vocal critic of the sand mine industry, spoke before the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board in October about the petition.

“This request would have no impact on the county budget,” said Schmitt, and County Administrator Frank Pascarella confirmed that would be the case.

“This action is the right thing for you to do for your constituents,” Schmitt said.

He said the study, which would be the first of its kind in the state, would look at the environmental, health and economic impact of the sand mine industry.

County Board chairman Paul Michels said he is all for public safety. “But I’m not an advocate of duplication of public services,” he said, asking Schmitt if a study would be a duplication. Schmitt said not to his knowledge.

“How many counties will it take to get any movement, to get any action?” asked board Vice Chairman Henry Shakal.

“More always helps,” Schmitt replied, adding that Chippewa County is known in the state as a frac sand area. He said he has passed the petition on to people in four or five other counties, but has not heard if those counties will consider asking the state to fund such a study.

The petition method is a relatively new mechanism in the state administrative rules, Schmitt said. He said he understands this is only the second time this method is being used.

“I think the pace and the amount of expansion (of the frac sand industry) has opened eyes,” said Schmitt.

“One example is Chieftain Sand, just north of New Auburn. They are in the permitting process with the DNR to increase (the company’s) drier capacity from 150 tons per hour to 400 tons per hour and are adding nine mines to what they already have,” Schmitt told the committee.

“There may be at least another four dry plants between Chetek and Bloomer, in addition to the four already there, along with a resin plant.”

According to Schmitt, there hasn’t been an environmental impact statement or an environmental assessment of a frac sand operation in Wisconsin. He said the state is doing an environmental impact study on a shooting range on DNR property in Columbia County.

“The size and scale of this industry simply dwarfs that project. Why has there never been an environmental study of any sort done on a frac sand facility?” he asked.

Schmitt said he’s gathered 50 signatures for the petition and another man has gathered 40, plus others at the Howard Town Hall.

“A very high percentage of these signers are from Chippewa County and are directly impacted by this industry,” Schmitt said, adding that the frac sand industry should be on board asking for the state to conduct a scientific study.

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Dodd-Frank Budget Fight Proves Democrats Are A Bunch of Puffy Stuffed Suits

Warren’s opposition to the Citi provision wasn’t a left-leaning move at all. It was very much a conservative position. Ayn Rand herself, dragged from the grave and lashed to a chair on the floor of the Senate, would have argued the same thing.

 
 
By Matt Taibbi
Rolling Stone (12/15/14)

Gosh, the Democrats are really pushing hard to save a key portion of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill, aren’t they? Like tigers, or Siamese fighting fish they battle! Thrilling to watch!

Oh, wait, that’s what they aren’t doing. Actually what we’re watching in the “Cromnibus” budget fight, is a stage-managed surrender that was inevitable pretty much from the moment the ink began to dry on the so-called sweeping reform of Wall Street the Democrats passed years ago.

The dominant media narrative this past week has been that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, firmly saddled in her high horse, is trying to hold up the passage of the budget over a trifle. In reality, the so-called “Citigroup” provision to kill a rule designed to prevent future bailouts (so named because it was allegedly written by Citigroup lobbyists) is potentially quite an evil and destructive little thing. But the nitpicking counter-spin is already coming hot and heavy.

“It’s a marginal regulation,” said Patrick Brennan of the National Review, about the Dodd-Frank rule Warren wants to keep. Brennan bro-ishly dismissed “Liz” as an “indefatigable academic” who is “picking a fight that really can’t be said to help or hurt the economy,” a political fight that is “hardly a hill to die on.”

Republicans like South Carolina Senator Linsey Graham derided Warren’s gambit as an immature squabble and blasted Democrats in the House who followed her line of thinking. “Don’t follow her lead,” he said. “She’s the problem.”

The old media switcheroo

Making the budget fight a news story not about bailouts, but about the ambitions of Elizabeth Warren, is part of the game. And the Beltway hacks have succeeded there. Media on all sides have described last week’s episode as Warren’s political coming-out party. Former Obama aides sent a letter urging her to run for president, and Fox news said the rebellion showed Warren has the “clout” to “disrupt the best plans of the establishment.”

The Atlantic saw the budget fight as an episode that secretly thrilled the Republicans, who came away with a powerful new talking point: Warren’s “star is rising,” and she’s pushing the Dems leftward, to a platform that wouldn’t carry a general election.

“Every leading Democrat,” said RNC spokescreep Sean Spicer, “feels like Elizabeth Warren is looking over their shoulder to go further to the left.”

All of this is infuriating on multiple levels, but mainly because Warren’s opposition to the Citi provision wasn’t a left-leaning move at all. It was very much a conservative position. Ayn Rand herself, dragged from the grave and lashed to a chair on the floor of the Senate, would have argued the same thing.

All the Dodd-Frank rule says is that if you’re a federally-insured depository institution – if you’re an FDIC-guaranteed bank, where real people have real bank accounts that are guaranteed by the federal government – you can’t also be gambling with swaps and other dangerous derivative instruments.

Think of it in terms of a workman’s compensation law. If you’re going to be insured against injury by the state, the state should get to demand that you don’t engage in fire-eating or base-jumping during work hours.

You’re Wall Street’s human shield

There’s no logical argument against the provision. The banks only want it because they want to use your bank accounts as a human shield to protect their dangerous gambling activities.

Thus it was no surprise when JPMorgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon started personally calling lawmakers this week to make sure the Citigroup provision passed. Dimon’s bank is the poster child for this rule, since the infamous London Whale episode of a few years ago is exhibit A of what this rule is designed to prevent: a trillion-dollar federally-insured depository bank engaging in tons of unsafe financial sex with risky derivatives, leading to spiraling losses in the billions that imperiled the savings of millions of ordinary people.

Both parties are moving against their ideological reputations in this fight. On one side, we have “conservatives” in the House and Senate who want to put taxpayers on the hook for massive future welfare payments. We had to have Senate hearings last year after the London Whale episode, which by itself ought to have infuriated conservatives everywhere. After all, why should the government have to get involved if Jamie Dimon feels like losing $6 billion at the blackjack table? Why is that our business?

Well, we had to have those hearings because the offending gambler, JPM, was and is a company whose bank deposits were federally insured. All Chase has to do is untether its consumer bank from its lunatic hedge fund, as both Warren and genuine conservatives like David Vitter want, and the state wouldn’t have to so much as blink when these rich dweebs rack up big gambling losses.

Whoring for big banks

Meanwhile, on the other side, we have “liberals” in the White House and in the lame-duck Senate leadership who are nakedly whoring for big business in this affair, unashamedly doing favors for banks like Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase that in recent years have racked up tens of billions of dollars in penalties for a smorgasbord of corrupt practices. Establishment Democrats like Harry Reid almost certain to cave and wave through the Citigroup provision, foregoing a filibuster-type standoff.

Why? As Warren has cannily pointed out, veterans of Citigroup have dominated the Democratic Party establishment for quite a long time now, through figures like current Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and former Clinton Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin.

Beware the Blob

Conservatives for welfare, and liberals for big business. It doesn’t make sense unless we’re not really dealing with any divided collection of conservatives or liberals, and are instead talking about one nebulous mass of influence, money and interests. I think of it as a single furiously-money-collecting/favor-churning oligarchical Beltway party, a thing that former Senate staffer and author Jeff Connaughton calls “The Blob.”

What’s happening here is that The Blob, which includes supposed enemies like Reid and Graham, wants to give donation-factory banks like Citi and Chase a handout. But a coalition of heretics, including the liberal Warren, the genuinely conservative Vitter and (surprisingly to me) the usually party-orthodox Nancy Pelosi is saying no to the naked giveaway.

Is killing the Citigroup provision really worth the trouble? Is it a “Hill to die on”? Maybe not in itself. But the key here is that a victory on the swaps issue will provide the Beltway hacks with a playbook for killing the rest of the few meaningful things in Dodd-Frank, probably beginning with the similar Volcker Rule, designed to prevent other types of gambling by federally-insured banks. Once they cave on the swaps issue, it won’t be long before the whole bill vanishes, and we can go all the way back to our pre-2008 regulatory Nirvana.

The Dems are not a real party

If the Democrats actually stood for anything other than sounding as progressive as possible without offending their financial backers, then they would do what Republicans always do in these situations: force a shutdown to save their legislation. How many times did Republicans hold the budget hostage to rescue the Bush tax cuts?

But the Democrats won’t do that here, because they’re not a real party. They’re a marketing phenomenon, a big chunk of oligarchical Blob cleverly sold to voters as the more reasonable and less nakedly corrupt wing of a two-headed political establishment.

So they’ll punt on this issue in the name of “maturity” or “bipartisanship,” Wall Street will get a nice win, and Hillary Clinton or whoever else is being set up as the Blob candidate on the Democratic side will receive an avalanche of Financial Services donations to stave off Warren (who will begin appearing in the press as an unhinged combination of Lev Trotsky and Spartacus). A neat little piece of business all around. I don’t know whether to applaud or throw up.

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Posted in 2014-12-19, Newsletter | Comments Off