Saturday, November 30, 2013

While Italy's Economy Was Going Down The Toilet, Guess What Silvio Berlusconi Was Doing


Silvio and Ruby

Italy's 77 year old right-wing former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, a flamboyently crooked billionaire, was finally kicked out of Parliament Wednesday. Ostensibly it was because he had been convicted for tax fraud. The Senate vote was 192-113 with 2 abstentions. He'll never face prison on the tax conviction but the loss of his Senate seat also means the loss of his immunity against prosecution for all sorts of other criminal activities he's been immersed in for decades. Probably the first one he'll have to face involves the charges of bribery in the sex scandals that have plagued his recent career. He has been bribing the then-underage stripper, Ruby, who he had hired for sex. The judges are calling the bribery "pollution of evidence." Already convicted in the case are a TV anchorman from one of his stations, a talent scout and his dental hygienist, all of whom were procuring underage girls for him to have sex with. The 2 males were also accused of "testing" the girls before presenting them to the Prime Minister. There were 32 young women called as material witnesses, 18 of whom are now thought to have perjured themselves after being paid off by Berlusconi.
Berlusconi is accused of paying 2,500 euros ($3,400) apiece each month to young models and TV showgirls to tone down their accounts of the sexually charged nature of his dinner parties.

Three Berlusconi associates were convicted earlier this year of pimping for him. Berlusconi wasn't a defendant in that trial, but he is appealing a seven-year sentence he received in June for paying for sex with Karima El Mahroug, a nightclub dancer who was 17 when she attended the parties.

In a document released on Friday explaining the pimping conviction, the judges detailed the bribery accusations and said they had forwarded them to prosecutors, who are now expected to open an investigation.

The judges said that after the homes of Berlusconi’s female party guests were searched during the prostitution probe, he called about a dozen of them to his Milan mansion in January 2011 for a conference and initiated their monthly payments.

In court, the judges said, the women gave “perfectly overlapping” evidence of “elegant” soirees, rather than the striptease sessions described by some other guests.

The judges said they noticed the female witnesses using the same phrases in their statements, and that when they were asked the exact meaning of words they had used, some women were unable to respond, suggesting they had been coached.

Berlusconi, 77, has acknowledged paying his female guests regular sums but has claimed it was compensation for their stalled show-business careers, which suffered from the poor publicity stemming from the "bunga bunga" trial.


Resurrected from oblivion: a march for General Patton's Third Army


The U.S. Army Concert Band plays Gregorio A. Diaz's "Third Army March."

by Ken

There was a time a bunch of years ago when the New York Times was constantly finding stuff. What was it, a Bach manuscript? And, well, just all sorts of stuff, given credibility by the presence of a reporter from the Newspaper of Record.

I don't think we can accuse the Washington Post of belatedly trying to play catch-up. This is just kind of a happy story about the resurrection of a long-presumed-lost march written for the army of one of the U.S. military historic personages. And if you've listened to it, I think you'll agree that it's a highly engaging march. J. P. Sousa it's not, but then what is?

It's not quite a great historic moment, but I think it's kind of a neat story.
Toe-tapping Patton march is finally recorded, to the joy of composer’s son

Tom Diaz looks over some of the memorabilia from his father's time in the military.

By Michael E. Ruane, Published: November 29

As Tom Diaz sat in the Army band hall waiting to hear his late father’s music for the first time, he had a troubling thought: What if it’s lousy? What if the march his father wrote for Gen. George S. Patton Jr. during World War II was a stinker?

Diaz knew that his father, Gregorio A. Diaz, had written the “Third Army March” in 1945. But he’d never heard it. It hadn’t been played in ages. And his father had been dead for 24 years.

Now, as the Army concert band prepared to record it for the first time, Diaz braced himself.

Lt. Silas N. Huff, associate conductor, told the band that the son of the composer was present. The band applauded. Huff raised his baton. What followed was a rousing, jaunty, toe-tapping piece of superb march music.

“Yeah!” Diaz thought, as he listened, “It’s really good.”

The recording, one day this month at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia, capped a story of an impoverished immigrant musician who joined the Army in 1924 and wound up becoming the band leader for one of most famous generals of World War II.

It brought back rich memories for his son.

“What a moment,” Tom Diaz, 73, of Northwest Washington, said. “Knowing everything I know about my father, having grown up as an Army brat . . . it’s almost a sense of unreality that this is actually happening.”

The recording also culminated a 15-month quest to restore the march to prominence by Lawrence A. Devron, the former Army musician who rediscovered it last year. He had found, to his dismay, that the modern incarnation of the Third Army, U.S. Army Central, uses the popular “Patton March,” from the 1970 film “Patton” for ceremonies, not the original.

No one there had ever heard of the march Diaz created over a half-century ago.

The story began in June 2012, when Devron, who works for the Army records management and declassification agency, was visiting Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, the main command post of U.S. Army Central.

During the visit, Devron was touring part of the installation with the command’s archivist, Kathy Olson, when he spotted a drum major’s mace and sash in a trophy case.

Devron, 67, of Springfield, Va., who had played French horn in the Army Band in the 1960s, was curious. He asked if he could take a closer look.

“When I looked in there . . . I saw this piece of manuscript,” he said. It was written on now-aging paper and was dated April 10, 1945.

“I looked at it real close, and it was the ‘Third Army March.’ ”

“That’s great!” he told Olson, who had assembled the items in the case. “I’ve never heard that piece.’”

“Neither have we,” she replied. “There’s no recording of it.”

“I said, ‘Well, what do you play . . . at Third Army ceremonies?’ ” Devron asked.

“The theme from the movie ‘Patton,’ ” Olson said.

Devron thought, “I got a mission.”

For the ‘big boss’

Warrant Officer Gregorio Diaz was 39 when he composed the march in April 1945 in Germany.
“Respectfully dedicated to Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. and the gallant officers and men of the Third U.S. Army,” he wrote on the title page of the condensed score.

The war in Europe was almost over, and Patton’s Third Army was famous for dashing across France, saving America forces at the Battle of the Bulge and pushing into the heart of Nazi Germany.

Patton, himself, had become a legend. Flamboyant, controversial and brilliant, he would say at war’s end that commanding the Third Army had been the highlight of his life.

His men returned the affection. Gregorio Diaz, a diminutive man, referred to Patton as the “big boss.”

Diaz’s 61st Army Ground Forces Band had been chosen by Patton to serve as the Third Army’s official band.

“It wasn’t just some band,” Tom Diaz said. “Gen. Patton had a very high standard. He liked pomp and circumstance and music, and this was the band he wanted for his Army headquarters.”

It was an honor for Gregorio Diaz, who had been born in a poor village in the Canary Islands and left home when he was 12. He’d made his way to Mexico, crossed into the United States in 1924, and went right to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he enlisted in the 7th Cavalry’s band, his son said in an interview.

He apparently had learned clarinet and saxophone while playing in a youth band in his home village.

In the Army, he moved among several different bands in Colorado, Panama and Washington, becoming leader of the 61st Ground Forces band on June 7, 1944, the day after Allied forces landed in Normandy on D-Day, according to his military service record.

Gregorio Diaz finished the march less than a year later.

“He wanted to call it ‘The General Patton March,’ ” Tom Diaz said. “I think Gen. Patton thought that was, even for his ego, too much. So they called it the ‘Third Army March.’ ”

It’s a “pass in review” march that lasts for about three minutes, enough to allow a band to pass in front of a reviewing party. It’s a light, European-style march — more festive than martial.

There is a snapshot of Patton, in gleaming helmet and knee-high boots, purportedly listening to the march’s debut in Luxembourg. Another photo depicts Patton watching the band march by, with Gregorio Diaz in the forefront.

And Tom Diaz has a snapshot of his father talking to Patton, who is much taller, and another man. On the back is written, “Big Boss, his aide, and ‘me.’ ”

Sitting dormant

Lawrence Devron, who did not know Tom Diaz, was determined to find out more about the old march in the trophy case.

After the war, the Third Army became an administrative headquarters back in the United States and then was deactivated in the 1970s, Devron said. Olson, the archivist, said she suspected that its band was also deactivated then.

The march faded into obscurity. A U.S. Army Central spokesman said he did not know exactly why.

Devron, the son of a prominent Washington dance-band leader, said he was motivated, in part, by one of his old music teachers, who used to tell students, “Music is a dead art. You must make it live.”

He started contacting friends, music experts and Army band alumni. “I said, ‘What do you know about this? Nothing. Is there a recording? No,’ ” he said.

He got a copy of the condensed score via e-mail but said it’s difficult to extrapolate a full score from a condensed score. He asked the Army band to do some research, and the band located other parts in its library.

“The march has been played,” Devron said. “That’s never been the issue. The issue is it’s been dormant for all these years, and nobody [had] ever recorded it.”

Plus, it was historic. “How many guys have a chance to compose something” like that, he said. “The Schwarzkopf ceremonial march? Have you heard that?” he said. “The Colin Powell march?”

“It’s a rare thing that a guy can . . . dedicate a piece that the [general] has listened to and blessed,” he said.

He started lobbying the Army band to get the march recorded.

“Third Army does not need to be playing the ‘Patton’ theme only,” he said he argued. “That’s not its history.”

The band agreed, and the recording session was scheduled for 11 a.m. Nov. 6 in the band’s Brucker Hall.

Devron and Tom Diaz were both present. “I’ve been working on this for a year and three months,” Devron said. “I was delighted.”

As he sat listening to the music, Tom Diaz said he thought of his father — how he would listen to opera on the radio, how he loved the music of John Philip Sousa, and how he had showed up at the front door with a big duffel bag when the war was over.


If Henry Waxman Doesn't Stay On His Toes, Marianne Williamson Will Beat Him Next Year


I don't want to demonize Henry Waxman. As congressmen go, he's been a fairly decent one, for the most part, relatively progressive and-- except on issues relating to Israel and the Middle East-- pretty open-minded. The only time I remember really disagreeing with him, in fact, was when he backed Cheney's and Bush's horrific decision to attack Iraq without provocation. And he has been in Congress for 20 terms, about 39 years… long enough for anyone, way too long for most. But Waxman should realize when his time is up on his own and bow off the congressional stage gracefully. Demonization should have no role in that decision.

A few days ago, we saw that highly acclaimed author, Marianne Williamson had decided to challenge Waxman's reelection. She's running as an independent. And she has a real shot at beating him. I wish she were running next door against Blue Dog/New Dem Adam Schiff instead, a much worthier target. Schiff and Waxman share the Sunset Strip. Doheny Drive is the border between Schiff's 28th CD on the east side of the street and Waxman's 33rd on the west side of the street. Laurel Canyon Blvd. divides the two districts between Lookout Mountain Avenue and Mulholland Dr. Rosewood Avenue, a street just between Melrose and Beverly in West Hollywood is another border between the two districts, Schiff on the northern side of the street, Waxman on the southern side. Waxman has Cedars-Sinai but I think they share Macy's Men's Store in the Beverly Center. They also share deep reservations about Obama's decision to take the diplomatic route with Iran.

A few weeks go, Waxman was joining House Republican warmongers and extremists howling for more and tougher sanctions. “The Senate should act. We ought to pass these increased sanctions, and make sure that the Iranians don't think that they can charm their way out of this situation. Act now,” he barked. The White House asked the Senate to hold off to give the peace process so time to work.

Williamson is more in that camp. Like Waxman, she's also Jewish. I asked her how she felt about the agreement. "It's a tenuous first step," she told me yesterday, "and there are legitimate reasons for mistrust-- but if you don't plant a seed, then how you can ever expect a tree to grow and bear fruit?"

I have no doubt she could beat Schiff easily. And if Waxman doesn't treat her challenge as a serious threat, she'll beat him. Last year, running against mad dog billionaire Republican Bill Bloomfield (posing as an "independent"), Waxman had his closest call ever. He managed to beat Bloomfield 171,860 (54%) to 146,660 (46%). Consider that on the same ballot, Obama won the district over Romney 210,010 (61%) to 127,421 (37%). Bloomfield did a lot better than Romney and Waxman trailed Obama. If EMILY's List jumps into this race on behalf of Williamson, which would be a real stretch, Waxman might as well retire.

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Under House Republicans The War On Poverty Has Morphed Into A War On The Poor


House Republicans may not have "the time" to vote on important measures with wide popular support like comprehensive immigration reform, ending workplace discrimination against the LGBT community (ENDA) or raising the minimum wage-- none of which Boehner will allow onto the 2013 schedule-- but they do have time to further attempt to steal the food out of the mouths of children by more chopping from the food stamp program. House Republicans look at the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas and what they see is another chance to pass a bill to accelerate their endless class warfare against working families going through hard times because of the GOP ideological economic agenda that wrecked the economy. Lobbyists are drooling at the thought of their big Farm Bill payoff.
The top leaders of the House-Senate farm bill have come close to a framework during several tense negotiating sessions in the past two weeks, raising hopes on K Street that legislation could squeak through Congress by the end of the year. The four negotiators spoke via conference call Tuesday and reported no new developments.

“Everyone is still working hard to bring this together, which is what you want to see,” said lobbyist Tom Sell of Combest and Sell, who as a staffer was instrumental in crafting the 2002 Farm Bill.

“I’m in the optimist camp,” said Chandler Goule of the National Farmers Union. “There is plenty of time to get this done. Every time there is a meeting, there has been progress.”

House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), House Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Senate Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) failed to resolve their differences in a Monday conference call.

The biggest sticking points are cuts to food stamps, and work requirements in the House farm bill for recipients of that aid.

The House bill cuts $39 billion from food stamps, while the Senate's cuts $4 billion.

The White House is pushing to limit the food stamps cuts, and on Tuesday released a report that shows how many dependent families are on the program.

Food stamps were automatically cut by $11 billion on Nov. 1, when extra money provided under President Obama’s stimulus law expired.

Stabenow wants to count the $11 billion for the farm bill and is arguing against cuts that go beyond what is in the Senate bill. Republicans say that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) cannot credit the farm bill with that deficit savings since it already happened.

Reaching an agreement on food stamps is key to resolving the two main problems in the farm subsidy title. Bigger cuts to food stamps gives negotiators more wiggle room to deal on the farm subsidies and still get a sizeable deficit-cutting score that could win over fiscal hawks.

“There is a lot of work left to do,” said Dale Moore, executive director for public policy of American Farm Bureau. “They need to make the decisions at the top end of the decision tree and then the rest will fall into place.”

On commodities, the House farm bill calculates subsidies by relying more on actual planted acres than what farmers planted historically.

That can be said to more accurately reflect risk, but at the same time it can distort the market by encouraging more production. The House bill offers more generous subsidies but forces producers to chose between price supports and revenue-based margin insurance.

The rift on farm subsidies can be bridged more easily than the one on food stamps, as was evident when corn, soy and canola producers floated using a rolling average of recent planted acres.
The cuts that already began this month translate to 20 fewer meals per month for every child and every vet who is struggling to survive on food stamps. This conservative class war against the poor has got to stop. But it will only stop if voters want it to stop enough to refuse to vote for Republicans and refuse to vote for New Dems, Blue Dogs and other right-wing Democrats. And it isn't just religionist hypocrites like Stephen Fincher (R-TN) who are guilty. Democrats in Congress should refuse to vote for the Farm Bill if it includes any cuts to food stamps until unemployment gets to 3%. Only 15 Republicans, almost every one of them cowering in blue-leaning districts, crossed the aisle to vote with the Democrats against more draconian cuts. 217 Republicans voted for more draconian cuts. Almost all are Republicans the DCCC is running against. There are plenty of Republicans in blue-leaning districts who the DCCC isn't challenging and who all voted for the cuts.

Among those Republican class-war extremists who can be defeated but whom the DCCC gives immunity are Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, John Kline, Buck McKeon, Fred Upton, Mike Rogers, John Mica, Dave Reichert and, of course, Paul Ryan, who cynically insists he's fighting poverty even while he votes to cut food stamps. Paul Upton's and John Mica's constituents have been polled recently and in both cases, there is a clear willingness to end their careers and replace them with Democrats. But Steve Israel is protecting each of them and refuses to back either Paul Clements in Michigan or Nick Ruiz in Florida, their opponents.

Paul Clements told us that this class war jihad by Republican congressmen like Upton against working families is "deeply un-American. He voted for a bill that kicks 3.8 million people out of the food stamps program by 2014. Michigan still has 9% unemployment, many people have used up their unemployment benefits, and our food banks can’t keep up with demand. Many children in Fred Upton’s district already struggle with hunger. I wonder how much time Fred Upton has spent with children who don’t have enough to eat? We do not need more hunger in America. Mr. Upton, in America we can afford to feed our people."

Nick Ruiz is running against a worthless old hack, John Mica and he and Clements are on the same page. "In voting to cut food aid to citizens who need it most," asked Nick, "what exactly does John Mica hope to prove? That he's heartless? That he doesn't care about the health of citizens who are having difficulty providing basic nutritional food for themselves or their families? There's no greater sign of weakness and dishonor than to prey upon the weak or downtrodden: today John Mica has proven his worthlessness as a representative of all American families."

Help Blue America replace these class warriors like Upton and Mica, with leaders who want to solve the hunger crisis, not exacerbate it. You can find Paul Clements and Nick Ruiz here on our ActBlue page, as well as the other Blue America candidates, each of whom wants to deal equitably with families who have fallen on hard times.

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Do Public Officials Ever Lie? Better Question: Do They Ever Tell The Truth?


Since taking over from Tim Sebastian in 2006, Stephen Sackur has been the anchor for the BBC's flagship news interview show, HARDtalk, which runs four times a week. I travel a lot, so I see it a lot. Sackur has a well-deserved reputation as the voice of Establishment Group Think propaganda and for asking questions and then aggressively interrupting his guests when they attempt to answer. He's one of television's most annoying little twits and I often wonder why credible figures ever agree to be interviewed by him. Last week, he interviewed Glenn Greenwald. I haven't been able to access the whole half hour back and forth, but above is a three-minutes excerpt that wound up on YouTube.

I could see by the tightening in Greenwald's face that he was about to explode at Sackur's mindless and sycophantic line of questioning. And Greenwald did not disappoint. Sackur started quoting patently false assertions from a batch of Military-Industrial Complex war criminals as "evidence" against whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Sackur pretends to be unable to comprehend that anyone in the upper echelons of the British Establishment could ever lie for any reason. Greenwald: "There is this thing called the Iraq War in which the U.S. and the U.K. governments persuaded their media outlets and their populations to support an aggressive attack on another country by making one false claim after the next, designed to scare the population into believing that there was a security threat that did not really exist, that they had to go to war to stop. What journalism is about," he tried explaining to the very-well paid state propagandist who plays the role of a journalist on television, "is based on the premise that when people like Mr. Robins and others who exercise power in the dark make these kinds of claims to justify their own power, they're often lying. They often tell things to the population that turns out to be untrue and the job of a journalist is not to investigate other journalists who are investigating those powerful officials; it's to try and be responsible when telling their viewers and readers what government officials are saying and then to access whether there's evidence for it. That's my role…"

By this time Sackur realized he and the Establishment he reveres were under attack and he was having none of it and started a series of interruptions to prevent Greenwald from completing his response to the questions. He went from attacking Ed Snowden's credibility to atticking his guest's credibility, begging the question of why he invited Greenwald onto the show (if not to discredit him on behalf of BBC viewers). He probably didn't count on how well Greenwald could hold his own-- and more.

"First of all," he began responding to Sackur's outburst, "I think the Iraq War in a pretty significant…" when Sackur burst in again, obviously intent on preventing him from answering. That's when Greenwald let him have it:
If you want to scream at me and make all kinds of filibustering remarks, I can just disconnect and you can do that, but if you want to ask me a question, you're going to give me time to actually answer it! The evidence that government officials lie is found in history with things like the Iraq War, when the U.S. and the U.K. destroyed a country of 26 million people based on lies they told over the course of two years to their population. And if you look at what happens in counties where there's constitutional guarantees of a free press, which I know doesn't include the U.K., but includes most western democracies, what you find us all sorts of people who have created those protections have done so based on their recognition that people in power, specifically national security officials, will routinely lie to their population. The evidence that I have is that 3 Democratic senators, just two weeks ago in the United States, who are on the Intelligence Committee and have access to classified information, came out and said that the claims of NSA officials and others that these programs have stopped terrorist plots is completely false, that there is no evidence for it.
I assume the three senators Greenwald was referring to were Ron Wyden (OR), Mark Udall (CO) and Martin Heinrich (NM), all moderate centrists. A few days ago they penned an explosive OpEd for the NY Times, End The N.S.A. Dragnet, Now. "The framers of the Constitution," the wrote, "declared that government officials had no power to seize the records of individual Americans without evidence of wrongdoing, and they embedded this principle in the Fourth Amendment. The bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records-- so-called metadata-- by the National Security Agency is, in our view, a clear case of a general warrant that violates the spirit of the framers’ intentions. This intrusive program was authorized under a secret legal process by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, so for years American citizens did not have the knowledge needed to challenge the infringement of their privacy rights.

"Our first priority is to keep Americans safe from the threat of terrorism. If government agencies identify a suspected terrorist, they should absolutely go to the relevant phone companies to get that person’s phone records. But this can be done without collecting the records of millions of law-abiding Americans. We recall Benjamin Franklin’s famous admonition that those who would give up essential liberty in the pursuit of temporary safety will lose both and deserve neither.

"The usefulness of the bulk collection program has been greatly exaggerated. We have yet to see any proof that it provides real, unique value in protecting national security. In spite of our repeated requests, the N.S.A. has not provided evidence of any instance when the agency used this program to review phone records that could not have been obtained using a regular court order or emergency authorization.

"Congress needs to preserve the agencies’ ability to collect information that is actually necessary to guard against threats to our security. But it also needs to preserve the right of citizens to be free from unwarranted interference in their lives, which the framers understood was vital to American liberties."

This grotesque perversion of the Constitution was specifically designed by Dick Cheney and David Addington in a serious and still unpunished series of criminal endeavors while Bush was fast asleep at the wheel. Pulitzer Award-winning journalist Barton Gellman laid out the whole operation in his jaw-dropping Cheney exposé Angler. This comes from Gellman's website:
One untold story that Angler recounts at length is what happened behind the scenes of the Bush administration's internal rebellion over warrantless domestic surveillance. Top advisers say on the record that Cheney came close to destroying Bush's presidency. This episode takes up two full chapters of Angler. The Washington Post gives a taste of the narrative in a pair of condensed excerpts.

From part one of the excerpts

A burst of ferocity stunned the room into silence. No other word for it: The vice president's attorney was shouting.

"The president doesn't want this! You are not going to see the opinions. You are out… of … your... lane!"

Five government lawyers had gathered around a small conference table in the Justice Department Command Center. Four were expected. David S. Addington, counsel to Vice President Cheney, got wind of the meeting and invited himself.

If Addington smelled revolt, he was not far wrong. Unwelcome questions about warrantless domestic surveillance had begun to find their voice.

Cheney and his counsel would struggle for months to quash the legal insurgency. By the time President Bush became aware of it, his No. 2 had stoked dissent into flat-out rebellion. The president would face a dilemma, and the presidency itself a historic test. Cheney would come close to leading them off a cliff, man and office both.

On this second Monday in December 2003, Addington's targets were a pair of would-be auditors from the National Security Agency. He had displeasure to spare for their Justice Department hosts.

Perfect example, right here. A couple of NSA bureaucrats breeze in and ask for the most sensitive documents in the building. And Justice wants to tell them, Help yourselves? This was going to be a very short meeting.

Joel Brenner and Vito Potenza, the two men wilting under Addington's wrath, had driven 26 miles from Fort Meade, the NSA's eavesdropping headquarters in Maryland. They were conducting a review of their agency's two-year-old special surveillance operation. They already knew the really secret stuff: The NSA and other services had been unleashed to turn their machinery inward, collecting signals intelligence inside the United States. What the two men didn't know was why the Bush administration believed the program was legal.

It was an awkward question. Potenza, the NSA's acting general counsel, and Brenner, its inspector general, were supposed to be the ones who kept their agency on the straight and narrow. That's what Cheney and their boss, Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, told doubters among the very few people who knew what was going on. Cheney, who chaired briefings for select members of Congress, said repeatedly that the NSA's top law and ethics officers-- career public servants-- approved and supervised the surveillance program.

That was not exactly true, not without one of those silent asterisks that secretly flip a sentence on its tail. Every 45 days, after Justice Department review, Bush renewed his military order for warrantless eavesdropping. Brenner and Potenza told Hayden that the agency was entitled to rely on those orders. The United States was at war with al-Qaeda, intelligence-gathering is inherent in war, and the Constitution appoints the president commander in chief.

But they had not been asked to give their own written assessments of the legality of domestic espionage. They based their answer in part on the attorney general's certification of the "form and legality" of the president's orders. Yet neither man had been allowed to see the program's codeword-classified legal analyses, which were prepared by John C. Yoo, Addington's close ally in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Now they wanted to read Yoo's opinions for themselves.

He was massive in his swivel chair, taut and still, potential energy amping up the menace. Addington's pugnacity was not an act. Nothing mattered more, as the vice president and his lawyer saw the world, than these new surveillance tools. Bush had made a decision. Debate could only blow the secret, slow down vital work, or call the president's constitutional prerogatives into question.

The NSA lawyers returned to their car empty-handed.

The command center of "the president's program," as Addington usually called it, was not in the White House. Its controlling documents, which gave strategic direction to the nation's largest spy agency, lived in a vault across an alley from the West Wing-- in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, on the east side of the second floor, where the vice president headquartered his staff.

The vault was in EEOB 268, Addington's office. Cheney's lawyer held the documents, physical and electronic, because he was the one who wrote them. New forms of domestic espionage were created and developed over time in presidential authorizations that Addington typed on a Tempest-shielded computer across from his desk.

It is unlikely that the history of U.S. intelligence includes another operation conceived and supervised by the office of the vice president. White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. had "no idea," he said, that the presidential orders were held in a vice presidential safe. An authoritative source said the staff secretariat, which kept a comprehensive inventory of presidential papers, classified and unclassified, possessed no record of these.

…Addington's behavior with the NSA auditors was "a wake-up call for me," Jack Goldsmith [chief of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel] said. Cheney and Addington, he came to believe, were gaming the system, using secrecy and intimidation to prevent potential dissenters from conducting an independent review.

"They were geniuses at this," Goldsmith said. "They could divide up all these problems in the bureaucracy, ask different people to decide things in their lanes, control the facts they gave them, and then put the answers together to get the result they want."

…Mike Hayden and Vito Potenza drove down from NSA headquarters after lunch on Feb. 19, 2004, to give Jim Comey his first briefing on the program. In the Justice Department's vault-like SCIF, a sensitive compartmented information facility, Hayden got Comey's attention fast.

"I'm so glad you're getting read in, because now I won't be alone at the table when John Kerry is elected president," the NSA director said.

The witness table, Hayden meant. Congressional hearing, investigation of some kind. Nothing good. Kerry had the Democratic nomination just about locked up and was leading Bush in national polls. Hardly anyone in the intelligence field believed the next administration would climb as far out on a legal limb as this one had.

"Hayden was all dog-and-pony, and this is probably what happened to those poor folks in Congress, too," Comey told his chief of staff after the briefing. "You think for a second, 'Wow, that's great,' and then if you try actually to explain it back to yourself, you don't get it. You scratch your head afterward and you think, 'What the hell did that guy just tell me?'"

The NSA chief insisted on limiting surveillance to e-mails, phone calls and faxes in which one party was overseas, deflecting arguments from Cheney and Addington that he could just as well collect communications inside the United States.

…By the end of February, Goldsmith and Philbin had reached their conclusion: Parts of the surveillance operation had no support in law. Comey was so disturbed that he drove to Langley one evening to compare notes with Scott W. Muller, the general counsel at the CIA. Muller "got it immediately," agreeing with the Goldsmith-Philbin analysis, Comey said.

"At the end of the day, I concluded something I didn't ever think I would conclude, and that is that Pat Philbin and Jack Goldsmith understood this activity much better than Michael Hayden did," he said.

On Thursday, March 4, Comey brought the findings to Ashcroft, conferring for an hour one-on-one. Three senior Justice Department officials said in interviews that Ashcroft gave his full backing. He was not going to sign the next presidential order-- due in one week, March 11-- unless the White House agreed to a list of required changes.
And today? The situation is not better… it's worse, as though Cheney were still completely in charge and unchecked. This week, Andrew Rosenthal wrote a major editorial for the NY Times, The N.SA. Dips Into Pornography. The NSA is now collecting data on what porn sites people access online. "On one level," wrote Rosenthal, "this is old news-- using embarrassing sexual information against enemies. Spy novels are replete with the fabled 'honey trap' in which a tempting woman is placed in the path of an intelligence target in the hope that he will succumb and be vulnerable to blackmail. The only progress we’ve made in our digital times is that no actual person need be involved anymore, just images on the web. On another level, it’s sort of hilarious to imagine a gang of techno spy nerds in a darkened room, poring over browser histories, hunting for dirty URL’s, which of course they don’t linger over."
But beyond the absurdity of it all, this is precisely the way that politically directed, clandestine surveillance goes off the rails-- by digging into personal behavior. Because all of these operations are conducted in secret, according to secret rules, the public has no way of knowing whether the targets are actually enemies of the state, or just individuals who have fallen out of the state’s favor.

In fact, according to the Huffington Post, “none of the six individuals targeted by the N.S.A. is accused in the document of being involved in terror plots.”

J. Edgar Hoover compiled secret dossiers on the sexual peccadillos and private misbehavior of those he labeled as enemies-- really dangerous people like Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy, for example.

Government officials have repeatedly claimed that the National Security Agency’s collection of metadata is perfectly legal.  We should not worry about the N.S.A., according to President Obama, because there are safeguards in place to protect our constitutional rights. Agents would never, ever misuse that information to, say, check on where you’ve been web surfing.
One of the senators nodding and winking at the NSA shredding of the Constitution is Maine's make-believe moderate, Susan Collins (R). Luckily, an independent-minded grassroots progressive, Shenna Bellows, is running against her this cycle. Shenna, the former Executive Director of the Maine ACLU, has a very different perspective on the importance of the Constitution and the importance of legitimate privacy than Collins does. This morning she reiterated that "History demonstrates time and time again that government secrecy breeds abuse of power. The revelations about NSA spying show that yet again, the NSA is engaged in surveillance operations that clearly violate the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. News that the NSA is monitoring the online pornography habits of "radicalizers" is eerily reminiscent of the FBI's surveillance of the private lives of leading political figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. It's a waste of taxpayer dollars and an attack on civil liberties. Yet, Congress continues to abdicate its critical role in providing checks and balances on the Executive branch. The decision by members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to codify NSA spying authority and expand the Patriot Act demonstrates a dangerous disregard for our fundamental constitutional freedoms. It's time to rein in an out-of-control NSA and restore our constitutional freedoms. In a healthy democracy, the government doesn't spy on the private lives of its citizenry."

If you'd like to help Shenna replace Collins in the U.S. Senate, you can do that here on the Blue America Senate 2014 page.


The BBC has now posted the entire Sackur-Greenwald video on YouTube. Kudos! Here is is:

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Sunday Classics preview: "Sing a merry madrigal!"


Yet until the shadows fall
over one and over all,
sing a merry madrigal!

by Ken

I'm not going to identify tonight's madrigal tonight, but I also haven't attempted to conceal its identity. I mean, I could have identified Yum-Yum as "Lady 1" or "Bride" and Nanki-Poo as "Man 1" or "Bridegroom" and so on. Obviously those of you who know the music will know that there's a joke built into it, but for tonight I don't want to think about the joke; I just want to focus on the beauty of the piece.

Madrigal, "Brightly dawns our wedding day"

YUM-YUM: Brightly dawns our wedding day.

Joyous hour, we give thee greeting!
Whither, whither art thou fleeting?
Fickle moment, prithee stay!
Fickle moment, prithee stay!
PISH-TUSH [or GO-TO]: What though mortal joys be hollow?
PITTI-SING: Pleasures come, if sorrows follow:

Though the tocsin sound, ere long,
ding dong!
Ding dong!
Yet until the shadows fall
over one and over all,
YUM-YUM: Sing a merry madrigal!

Sing a merry madrigal,
sing a merry madrigal:
Fa la,
fa la la la la la la.

YUM-YUM: Let us dry the ready tear,
Though the hours are surely creeping,
little need for woeful weeping,
till the sad sundown is near,
till the sad sundown is near.
PISH-TUSH [or GO-TO]: All must sip the cup of sorrow --
PITTI-SING: I today, and thou tomorrow

This the close of ev'ry song,
ding dong!
Ding dong!
What though solemn shadows fall,
sooner, later, over all,
YUM-YUM: Sing a merry madrigal!
Sing a merry madrigal,
sing a merry madrigal:
Fa la,
fa la la la la la la.
[Ending in tears]

Jean Hindmarsh (s), Yum-Yum; Beryl Dixon (ms), Pitti-Sing; Thomas Round (t), Nanki-Poo; Owen Grundy (bs), Go-To; New Symphony Orchestra of London, Isidore Godfrey, cond. Decca, recorded October 1957

Elizabeth Harwood (s), Yum-Yum; Barbara Elsy (ms), Pitti-Sing; Edward Darling (t), Nanki-Poo; Ian Humphris (b), Pish-Tush; Westminster Symphony Orchestra, Alexander Faris, cond. EMI, recorded 1961

Valerie Masterson (s), Yum-Yum; Peggy Ann Jones (ms), Pitti-Sing; Colin Wright (t), Nanki-Poo; John Broad (bs), Go-To; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royston Nash, cond. Decca, recorded Jan. 10-15, 1973

Marie McLaughlin (s), Yum-Yum; Anne Howells (ms), Pitti-Sing; Anthony Rolfe Johnson (t), Nanki-Poo; Nicholas Folwell (bs-b), Pish-Tush; Welsh National Opera Orchestra, Sir Charles Mackerras, cond. Telarc, recorded Sept. 2-4, 1991


We'll clear up any lingering mysteries about "Brightly dawns our wedding day" and hear another madrigal from the same source, more or less, and hear some other vocal ensembles from (again) the same source, more or less.


A holiday F.U. to NYC Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio from his friends in City Hall and especially at 1 Police Plaza


From inside the fortress of 1 Police Plaza, NYC's Imperial Counterrevolutionary Guard will have complete security and surveillance power over incoming Mayor de Blasio's police transition team, scheduled to be holed up in a now-unused trailer outside the building.

by Ken

There have been advantages to having a benevolent (at least in his own mind) billionaire as NYC's imperial mayor for 12 years, including his imperially ordained extra-legal third term. But if anyone needs a reminder of why, whatever happens next, we're better off once the little egomaniacal scumbag is pried out of City Hall, here's a heart-warming story about the anti-transition being planned by his egomaniacal-scumbag police commissioner.

I realize that the Little Emperor isn't mentioned at all in this article. But if by chance he has a problem with this (and I'm not at all sure that he does, since his only objection would have been from a public-relations standpoint, and since he's not running for anything in the foreseeable future, why would he care about that?), a single phone call would have put an end to it.

The Little Emperor has used the NYPD as his Imperial Counterrevolutionary Guard, and he and his Imperial Counterrevolutionary Guard commissioner take personally any suggestion that any of their policing has been not just unethical and antidemocratic but plainly illegal. As they plan their departure, they make it abundantly clear that their wildly outsized egos matter more than the well-being of the citizens of the city. So let me say this as graciously as possible: Say, boys, why don't you rot in hell?

Ray Kelly to Stash De Blasio NYPD Transition Team in Trailer

By Murray Weiss on November 29, 2013 9:43am

MANHATTAN — Call it the Transition Trailer.

Outgoing Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly is planning to stick his successor and his transition team in an unused trailer outside police headquarters, sources said.

The trailer will offer the team limited, if any, access to the inside of the super-secure 14-story headquarters, with its lobby guarded by sentries and a bank of turnstiles that require special electronic swipe cards.

The team's coming-and-goings will require screening outside One Police Plaza by NYPD headquarters security, like other members of the public. In the past, transition teams have been afforded space in police headquarters.

And their movements will also be watched 'round-the-clock by NYPD surveillance cameras that can be viewed by Kelly himself on any of the dozens of television monitors in his office that have access to feeds from around the city, sources say.

The trailer simply creates a perception problem, especially for those who already question the way Kelly sometimes does business.

“You are talking about the next police commissioner and his people and you are putting him in a trailer in the back and outside the very place that they will be taking over," said a police official who respects Kelly. "It is very condescending . . . and I think the reason why is to even micro-manage his exit.”

"There is something negative about a new team being put in a trailer by the old team," a second official said. "A trailer has certain connotations, and none of them are good.”

And yet another observer quipped, “It’s worse than a corner office . . . on the corner.”

The trailer, which has been sitting unused outside Police Headquarters for three months, has a conference area, a coffee room and cubicles, and the interior resembles an NYPD command post vehicle.

Document sharing and scheduled meetings between officials will take place in the trailer, with limited exceptions, the sources say.

Since Election Day, there has been virtually no contact between Kelly, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and any transition personnel.

The only public encounter between the police commissioner and the mayor-elect occurred after Kelly blasted him and the other mayoral candidates in a “Playboy” interview for turning their backs on him during their campaigns and criticizing his tactics.

De Blasio and Kelly later met, and the mayor-elect said the two ironed out their issues.

But the choice of a trailer for the police transition team will likely stir new friction regardless of the mayor’s pick to succeed Kelly.

‘You have to go through security checkpoints to get inside the Police Headquarters perimeter and pass through exterior zones to get to the trailer, and you are always monitored by the surveillance of cameras,” one official said. “And you can’t get into the building and through the turnstiles without the special entry cards, which none of them will have.

“If I were them, I would say, ‘We will find our own space, and you can come to us.’”

NYPD transition teams are generally comprised of personnel who are no longer part of the department, although one of the leading candidates to succeed Kelly is the current Chief of Department, Philip Banks.

Kelly said earlier this week that he has selected an undisclosed point person from his office to deal with the transition team. Sources say Kelly's choice is Assistant Chief Brian Burke, the longtime head of Kelly's personal security detail.

When asked earlier this week about whether the transition has started, Kelly chuckled.

“We have to talk to somebody,” he said, referring to the fact that no successor has been chosen.

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Even In Oklahoma They Can't Always Escape Reality-- The GOP War Against Contraception (And Sex)


Oklahoma state Rep. Doug Cox (R-OK) is the chairman of the Public Health and Social Services Committee. First elected in 2005, he's also a physician who graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine in 1978. If you think every Republican in Oklahoma is as radical and extreme as GOP sociopath James Lankford, you haven't met Doug Cox yet. Last February, Rep. Cox-- who, unlike lunatic freak Dr. Paul Broun, is the kind of doctor who actually does believe in science-- took on his party over a very extreme anti-abortion bill meant to eliminate the judicial bypass system for young victims of incest and violence seeking abortion care. He told his fellow legislators at that time that if "we keep passing stuff like this, they'll be done in back alleys with coat hangers, people… [Abortions] are done in clinics inspected by the Health Department under sterile, medical condition. This bill basically is trying to intimidate the providers who do those." He lost the argument.

Three months later he penned a letter to the editor to his local paper about the stepped-up Republican Party jihad against contraception. [If you skipped it,now's the time to watch the Rachel Maddow video above.] This is Rep. Cox's letter. Let me remind you, he's a Republican… in Oklahoma-- from the same town as James Lankford.
All of the new Oklahoma laws aimed at limiting abortion and contraception are great for the Republican family that lives in a gingerbread house with a two-car garage, two planned kids and a dog. In the real world, they are less than perfect.

As a practicing physician (who never has or will perform an abortion), I deal with the real world. In the real world, 15- and 16-year-olds get pregnant (sadly, 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds do also). In the real world, 62 percent of women ages 20 to 24 who give birth are unmarried. And in the world I work and live in, an unplanned pregnancy can throw up a real roadblock on a woman's path to escaping the shackles of poverty.

Yet I cannot convince my Republican colleagues that one of the best ways to eliminate abortions is to ensure access to contraception. A recent attempt by my fellow lawmakers to prevent Medicaid dollars from covering the “morning after” pill is a case in point. Denying access to this important contraceptive is a sure way to increase legal and back-alley abortions. Moreover, such a law would discriminate against low-income women who depend on Medicaid for their health care.

But wait, some lawmakers want to go even further and limit everyone's access to birth control by allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraception.

What happened to the Republican Party that I joined? The party where conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater felt women should have the right to control their own destiny? The party where President Ronald Reagan said a poor person showing up in the emergency room deserved needed treatment regardless of ability to pay? What happened to the Republican Party that felt government should not overregulate people until (as we say in Oklahoma) “you have walked a mile in their moccasins”?

Is my thinking too clouded by my experiences in the real world? Experiences like having a preacher, in the privacy of an exam room say, “Doc, you have heard me preach against abortion but now my 15-year-old daughter is pregnant, where can I send her?” Or maybe it was that 17-year-old foreign exchange student who said, “I really made a mistake last night. Can you prescribe a morning-after pill for me? If I return to my home country pregnant, life as I know it will be over.”

What happened to the Republican Party that felt that the government has no business being in an exam room, standing between me and my patient? Where did the party go that felt some decisions in a woman's life should be made not by legislators and government, but rather by the women, her conscience, her doctor and her God?

Cox, R-Grove, has delivered more than 800 babies.
Republicans, even extreme right Oklahoma Republicans of the Lankford variety, aren't exactly the same as the patriarchs who want to bring back stoning as a mechanism for controlling women in Afghanistan. Not exactly… but almost. Sex is as threatening and frightening to them as it is to the primitive Afs. I bet they don't like people like Rachel Maddow-- or Doug Cox-- reminding them. The progressive Democrat running for the Oklahoma City seat Lankford is occupying now, Tom Guild, has similar motivations to Cox, even if they're from different parties. For one thing, Tom is not a big fan of government intrusion into people's private lives.
Representative Cox hits the nail squarely on the head. Today’s Republican Party pursues legislation that outlaws common forms of birth control. The inevitable fallout from this government intrusion into private matters greatly increases the demand for abortion following unplanned and preventable pregnancies. Today’s GOP has forgotten that their hero, Ronald Reagan, was famous for saying he wanted to get the government off of our backs. Big Brother is alive and well in today’s GOP.

Do we really want the police searching the sacred marital bedroom for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? Do we really want poor women to be denied the fundamental right to make their own personal health decisions? Do we need to destroy women’s economic opportunities because of admittedly regrettable decisions, where the rigid and unforgiving law strictly refuses any reasonable remedy? America doesn’t need a Taliban Party. What America needs is a responsible Republican Party that gets off of its condescending high horse and lives in the real world for a change, and gets the government off of American women’s backs, and out of America’s bedrooms.

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Primitive man developed some relatively sophisticated social mechanisms to enforce male dominance over primitive women. Patriarchal religion was the biggie, of course, but even before than, ritualized violence worked wonders in establishing who the boss was and who was subservient. Stoning, later embraced by patriarchal religions-- at least 'til Jesus came along with a forward-thinking perspective.

In 1969 I went to Afghanistan for the first time. I recall writing back to my friends and family in America that it felt more like a journey in time than a journey in space. Especially outside of Kabul, there wasn't much that reminded me of the 20th Century. I spent a winter in a tiny hamlet in the Hindu Kush where no one recognized a country called Afghanistan, where no one had ever heard of the U.S., where no one knew how to read of write or speak the language (Farsi) people spoke in Kabul, and where no one had ever experienced electricity or had an idea of manned flight-- let alone that the U.S. was landing a man on the moon that year.

While I was there, my friend, whose family compound I was living in, got married. I went to the wedding, of course-- it was in the compound-- but I never met or even saw his wife. No women were allowed at the wedding and no males were allowed to see the wife until after she had a baby-- which was long after I was back in Kabul. In another Afghan town I stayed in, Ghazni, between Kandahar and Kabul down south, college pals of mine were Peace Corp volunteers. The wife told me that the Afghan women's vocabulary was so limited that they couldn't even conceive of the kinds or social progress mankind had made in the last 10 or so centuries. Their vocabulary was sufficient for serving the needs of men; that's it.

I was in Afghanistan twice and spent nearly a year there all told. I travelled around the country in my VW van at first and then, when I realized there were no roads in our sense of what a road it in most of the country, on horseback. Thank God I never saw a stoning. And thank God almost everyone I met was kind, generous, friendly and courteous. The Afs had awesome senses of humor and, at least in the dealings I had with them, a very live-and-let-live approach.

Several decades later the U.S. had occupied their devastated country. Progressives wanted that to end-- or at least most progressives did. I recall getting into a lively debate with some progressive congresswomen and progressive women candidates who felt strongly that the U.S. should "save" Afghanistan's women from repression. I was dumbfounded. These were really smart women I was talking with. The U.S. military-- and mercenaries-- occupying Afghanistan were also going to change the country's codes of behavior which had been set in stone long before the first Europeans set foot in North America and… started changing the mores here?

Last week the American puppet government announced that they were reintroducing stoning as a mechanism to keep women in their place. The beautifully named Ministry of Justice, was, in fact, drawing up a draft law that specified that stoning for adultery would be done in public, the way it was in the Taliban days. There was an uproar in Washington and the puppet government rolled its collective eyes and said, basically, "just kidding." Karzai said it was all a big misunderstanding and that stoning would not be brought back as part of the legal system. Can we bring our troops home now?
The president, Hamid Karzai, said in an interview that the grim penalty, which became a symbol of Taliban brutality when the group were in power, would not be coming back.

"It is not correct. The minister of justice has rejected it," he told Radio Free Europe, days after the UK minister Justine Greening urged him to prevent the penalty becoming law.

Afghanistan's penal code dates back over three decades. The government is drawing up a new one to unify fragmented rules and cover crimes missed out when the last version was written, such as money laundering, and offences that did not even exist at the time, such as internet crimes.

The justice minister presiding over the reform is an outspoken conservative who last year denounced the country's handful of shelters for battered women as brothels.

As part of the process, a committee tasked with looking at sharia law came up with draft legislation that would have condemned married adulterers to the slow and gruesome death; unmarried people who had sex would be flogged.

But after several days of silence in the face of growing international outcry, the justice ministry said in a statement that although stoning had been proposed it would not appear in the new legislation because there was "no need to regulate the issue."

The country's penal code already encompasses sharia law, but some controversial aspects of traditional punishments such as stoning have never been put on the books in Afghanistan.

"The legality of the crime and punishment is fully addressed and there is no need to regulate the issue in the new code. So, the ministry of justice does not intend to regulate it in the new draft code," the statement said.

Rights groups who first highlighted the draft law warned that although the government's quashing of the proposal was good news, its emergence in the first place was a sign of how fragile gains in human rights over the last decade had been, particularly for women.

Although stoning is listed as a punishment for adulterers of both sexes, in countries where it has been used in recent years women have often appeared on the execution ground alone.

As foreign troops head home before a 2014 deadline for the end of combat action in Afghanistan, and political attention fades with it, many activists fear that years of painstaking progress are at risk of being swept away.
Don't watch this:

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Right Wing Automaton Mike Huckabee And Benghazi!


When I was growing up, I looked forward to watching 60 Minutes every Sunday. Not so much after I grew up. For me it had lost its relevance some time in the 1980s. I haven't watched it since. So when the whole Lara Logan kerfuffle exploded, we didn't cover it here at DWT and I only followed it second and third-hand in news reports about how CBS-TV had allowed one of their reporters to twist a Benghazi story into deceitful right-wing propaganda that fit her own political agenda and then gave her a paid vacation to shut the critics up. Unpleasant but not something that surprised me coming from corporate media.

Yesterday my friend Jack sent me a story about how Mike Huckabee is ending his daily Hate Talk Radio show in a few weeks, wondering if that augurs another presidential run for the former Arkansas governor.
Mike Huckabee will host his final radio show on December 12, ending the former Arkansas governor’s foray into daily talk radio that began in April 2012.  Syndicated by Cumulus Media, The Mike Huckabee Show currently airs from noon-3pm Eastern on more than 200 stations.  In a Facebook posting, Huckabee said his contract was at “a decision point for both Cumulus Media and me, and we mutually agreed to conclude.”  He’ll continue to host his daily short-form Huckabee Report commentaries.

“I have loved doing the Mike Huckabee Show and its success of going from launch to over 200 stations in less than 2 years is significant,” Huckabee said on Facebook.  “I have opportunities in some other areas that cannot be accomplished given the 8-9 hours a day I was devoting to the daily long form show.”
Let's hope one of those "other areas" isn't electoral politics. Huckabee works hard to sound reasonable and moderate but, in reality, he's a deranged, pig-headed extremist with a dangerous and unAmerican right-wing belief system. His response, in fact, to the Lara Logan 60 Minutes cluster-fuck-- motivated by opportunistic anti-Hillary Clinton/anti-Obama hysteria on the right-- was typical Huckabee. Knowing full well he has a low-info, reality-isolated and easily-manipulated audience, Huckabee's take-away on the completely discredited 60 Minutes Benghazi report is to paint Lara Logan a victim and a "hero journalist."

When one of the Fox News propagandists, wormy little wing nut Brian Kilmeade, asked Huckabee what he thought of 60 Minutes suspending Logan, he said he was "very shocked."And I think that the fact is that we’re missing the big story here. We still don’t know what happened in Benghazi. Our government lied to us, they covered it up. Lara Logan is certainly a hero journalist to at least attempt to get the story out."

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Austerity Agenda In Latvia Leads To A Tragic Supermarket Collapse, Followed By The Collapse Of The Right-Wing Government Of Krugman Nemesis Valdis Dombrovskis


I doubt most Americans could locate Latvia on a map, even if someone told them it is in Europe. And even the most geographically-astute Americans would have a one-in-three shot of pointing out which Baltic country was Latvia, which was Lithuania and which was Estonia. As for the country's longest serving Prime Minister, Valdis Dombrovskis, the only people who ever heard of him outside of the State Department only heard of him because of his big public spat with Paul Krugman-- until yesterday. Yesterday Dombrovskis resigned and his right-wing government collapsed. That happened because a supermarket collapsed, killing dozens. And that brings us back to what Dombrovskis and Krugman were fighting about: the Austerity agenda that Dombrovskis mindlessly grabbed hold of and shoved down Latvia's throat.

Dombrovskis is an apostle of Austerity and he foolishly attacked Krugman last spring. “Krugman famously said back in December 2008 that Latvia is the new Argentina, it will inevitably go bankrupt, and now he has difficulty apparently admitting he was wrong and so he tries to seek some problems in how Latvia is recovering from the economic crisis,” Dombrovskis told CNBC. “But I think that the mere fact that for the last two years we are enjoying rapid growth shows that it was probably the right strategy.”

Dombrovskis was furious because Krugman had recently written that “[W]e’re looking at a Depression-level slump, and 5 years later only a partial bounceback; unemployment is down but still very high, and the decline has a lot to do with emigration. It’s not what you’d call a triumphant success story, any more than the partial US recovery from 1933 to 1936-- which was actually considerably more impressive-- represented a huge victory over the Depression… [T]he adulation over Latvia really tells us more about what the European policy elite wants to believe than it does either about the realities of Latvian experience or the fundamentals of macroeconomics."

What does this have with Dombrovskis' resignation? The supermarket collapse is a result of Austerity.
President Berzins earlier described the disaster as "murder" and called for foreign experts to investigate what had happened… The prime minister's spokesman told Agence France-Presse news agency that "the government takes political responsibility for the tragedy."

…Structural experts have suggested that the supermarket building itself may have been badly designed and so not able to support a garden that was being built on the roof.

After analysing photos, videos and eyewitness reports, one structural engineer suggested there had been numerous design flaws in the roof's supporting beams - including not enough bolts. Substandard construction materials and corruption are other possible lines of inquiry.
Even Dombrovskis' own Economy Minister, Daniels Pavluts, admitted that the supermarket collapse was at least in part due to "a lack of government oversight of construction projects. The government abolished a national building inspectorate as part of austerity measures that helped pave Latvia's way into the single currency." This is exactly what the Paul Ryan budget, if it is ever passed and enacted, would be bringing the our own country.

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TV Watch (among other things): It's been a quiet Thanksgiving Day here in the Big Apple


With all three DVD players loaded for action, one of today's TV Watch objects was Michael Palin's most recent travel series, New Europe, his look at the eastern part of the continent, previously so little known to him, and the location of the largest amount of change on the continent in recent decades.

by Ken

It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon . . . no, wait, that's that other guy's franchise. What I meant to say was, it's been a quiet Thanksgiving Day here in the Big Apple, or anyways in my little corner of it. I haven't been out of my apartment, and haven't even done the media plug-in to find out how the Macy's parade turned out -- there was much anxiety in the preceding days over whether the winds would be stiff enough to ground the parade balloons.

I don't need to go outside, since it's quite cold enough inside to give me a feel for the season. The days are long since past when NYC landlords pumped up so much heat in winter that a person had to open windows to keep the inside temperature manageable. Last winter, I got weary enough of resorting to an overcoat (over a sweater) and a knitted cap to make the indoor freeze bearable that I invested in a couple of those cheapie digital thermometers, sure that my landlord must be shamefully below the city's legally mandated temperature minimums, only to find out that in fact the readings were pretty consistently well above those minimums. Which was small comfort to me, huddled in my winter outdoor garb.

This morning, though, when I finally dragged myself out of bad (what a joy it was not to have to answer an alarm's summons, as I've had to do lately even on weekends, thanks to planned activities), I had the inspiration, in the interest of going along to get along, that no law prevented me from wearing two sweaters -- and, yes, the knitted cap. That served me well enough to get my holiday kitchen labors accomplished, to the accompaniment of the first DVD of the complete Larry Sanders Show box set that's been sitting unwatched for ages. And what a treat to reencounter that wonderful cast -- no surprise in the case of Garry Shandling himself as Larry and the inimitale Rip Torn as his producer, Artie, and so much of the supporting cast, but I found that much as I'd previously admired Jeffrey Tambor's performance as announcer "Hey Now" Hank Kingsley, I hadn't properly appreciated a truly majestic piece of work. Hank himself is such an, er, problematic character, that even such a transecendantly accomplished performance comes out looing, well, problematic.

As it happens, I had discs from assorted DVD boxes loaded in the DVRs of all three TVs. This is thanks to the successful near-conclusion of an infinitely complex shuffle that followed my second TV acquisition in less than six months, which included the forced retirement of an ancient 19-inch Sharp TV I've had for nearly 40 years (and in fact bought used from the neighbor of a friend, who I thought shamefully overcharged me, little imagining that the thing would still be in use all these decades later, simply refusing to die) and the shift of a 20-year-old 31-inch Panasonic into its spot in the kitchen, where it just barely fits. That 31-inch Panasonic has for some years been held together with bubble wrap and duct tape, following a seemingly catastrophic forward tilt; I wan't able to reconstruct the plastic of the upper part (hence the bubble wrap), but in its ramshackle repaired state the thing has continued to function pretty well, and to be honest, I'm happy not to have to part with it.

But I've formed quick emotional bonds with the new HD TVs -- first a 40-inch Samsung for the bedroom (replacing what was the newest of my TV's, which died about a week before my scheduled knee-replacement surgery in the spring, at which point I decided it was too late to do anything about it and so had no TV in the bedroom during the early weeks of recuperation; well, it got me out of bed!) and now a 50-inch Toshiba for the living room. The terrible part is that a person becomes accustomed to the new state of the art so quickly that he's all too likely to begin taking it for granted. When in my life did I ever imagine I might ever have such a TV picture as the new set produces? (From, as it happens, the very same DVR cable box that I was using with the old 31-inch Panasonic, which turned out, as I discovered upon taking it in to Time Warner Cable for swapping and waiting an hour for help -- to produce HD as well as analog output.) And now after a week and a half I turn the set on and think I've always had a picture like that.

So from the kitchen I could venture into the living room, where I had the first disc of Michael Palin's New Europe loaded, or into the bedroom, where I had just loaded the first disc of my Amazon Gold Box Friends set. I've seen the Friends episodes a lot in syndication, of course. But now, starting from the start and watching them in order and uncut, I was more impressed than I expected. I always thought the show should have been a little better than it was. Now, by comparison with what the networks, both broadcast and cable, are dumping onto the air, it looks brilliant -- certainly a lot wiser about the process of discovering what Life is all about than Girls (but then, what isn't?)

Then in mid-afternoon there was an inordinately pleasant, and inordinatley long, time spent on the phone with Howie, which developed into another extended look back at our high school days, triggered in part by the conversations he reported recently which we each had with the peculiar classmate who, as best we can figure out, is going through the James Madison HS directory that was published . . . um, I don't remember when, let's just say it was published, and apparently calling members of the class of '65. In neither of our conversations did our long-lost classmate give any indication of actually remembering us, let alone knowing anything about our post-'65 lives. (In the interest of accuracy, let me correct Howie's attribution to me of a "photographic memory," unless the photographs in question are of the kind usually associated with pictures of the Loch Ness Monster. Yes, In once had a pretty good memory. Not great, but pretty good. Now, however . . . .

With the coast-to-coast time difference, Howie had been marking time till he had to leave for his traditional Thanksgiving-dinner hosts. Eventually he realized that after that inordinate time warp, he was now late. For me it was a remarkably pleasant bridge to Thanksgiving evening, with quite happy results for both the pea soup and the pork shoulder roast.

I hope everyone out there has had and continues to have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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Unlike An Israel-Sensitive Congress, Normal Americans Overwhelming Favor A Negotiated Peace With Iran


Polling shows that most Americans are backing Obama's deal with Iran-- and by a wide margin.
Americans back a newly brokered nuclear deal with Iran by a 2-to-1 margin and are very wary of the United States resorting to military action against Tehran even if the historic diplomatic effort falls through, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Tuesday.

…According to the Reuters/Ipsos survey, 44 percent of Americans support the interim deal reached between Iran and six world powers in Geneva last weekend, and 22 percent oppose it.

While indicating little trust among Americans toward Iranian intentions, the survey also underscored a strong desire to avoid new U.S. military entanglements after long, costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even if the Iran deal fails, 49 percent want the United States to then increase sanctions and 31 percent think it should launch further diplomacy. But only 20 percent want U.S. military force to be used against Iran.

The survey's results suggest that a U.S. public weary of war could help bolster Obama's push to keep Congress from approving new sanctions that would complicate the next round of negotiations for a final agreement with Iran.

"This absolutely speaks to war fatigue, where the American appetite for intervention-- anywhere-- is extremely low," Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said. "It could provide some support with Congress for the arguments being made by the administration."
But 22% who oppose the deal and the 20% who want to attack Iran are very over-represented in Congress… and in the media. As Maddow explains in her short piece on the deal in the video above, "Democrats and Republicans in Congress, both, are trying to scuttle the deal, working in a bipartisan way no less-- miracle of all miracles-- to try to scrap it, working too impose new sanctions on Iran…" Who exactly? The Republicans who have been paid off by Israel's GOP paymaster, Sheldon Adelson and the Democrats who have been paid off by Israel's Democratic Party paymaster, Haim Saban. If you get an idea that there are people-- regardless of party-- who are putting Israel's national priorities ahead of America's national priorities… well, those are probably not men and women who belong in the U.S. Congress.

Lindsey Graham, John McCain and the forever war crew are dangerous hardliners. Iran has that type too-- and they are also opposing the deal. And they're in Iran's version of Congress too, the Majlis. One John McCain-like creature called the deal a "poisoned chalice."
Having signed the first-stage accord that curbs Iranian nuclear activity in exchange for limited relief from sanctions, President Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif now have the task of trying to convince skeptics that they are not compromising on key issues of national sovereignty.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has publically supported nuclear negotiators and opposition to the deal seems limited, but opinion can shift quickly in Iran and Rouhani's task will become more delicate as the country moves toward a final accord six months from now.

In the debate broadcast live on state radio, Zarif tried to deflect criticism by noting that some construction will continue at the planned Arak heavy water reactor, whose advancement was effectively frozen by the Geneva accord.

Zarif pointed out the building projects would not involve areas covered by the deal, including the installation of new equipment or work toward making the reactor operational. But even minor progress at Arak could bring claims by Israel and other opponents of the deal that Iran is violating its rules and spirit.

Heavy water reactors such as Arak produce a greater amount of byproduct plutonium, which can be used in nuclear weapons production if extracted by a special process. Iran has pledged not to pursue facilities that could separate the plutonium.

Coming at it from the other side, Iranian hard-liners said that it placed overly sweeping restrictions on the Islamic Republic's nuclear activities.

Lawmaker Ruhollah Hosseinian said the deal was so vague and conditional that it may finally lead to a shutting down of Iran's uranium enrichment program, which can lead to material used in nuclear weapons. Iran denies Western claims that it is pursuing weapons and says the enriched uranium is needed for peaceful purposes.

"It practically tramples on Iran's enrichment rights... Uranium enrichment restrictions in the final stage and constraints in the first stage mean that enrichment in Iran is headed toward self shut-down," he said.

"A chalice of poison has been given to the people but (the government) is trying to show it as a sweet drink through media manipulation," Hamid Rasaei said.

…Others government supporters say the angry reaction from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called it a "historic mistake," shows it was a triumph.
I was in Iran twice, in the last 1960s and again in the early 1970s, each time for several months. I remember thinking at the time that I had never been in such a pro-American country. There has been a great deal of damage to the trust between the two countries, as well as between Iran and Israel which were close military and commercial allies back then as well. But Iran is not some savage, uncivilized Arab country. This is a very sophisticated country that doesn't want to be pushed around and that has a proud sense of its place in history. Obama is very smart to try too bring them back into the community of nations. His opponents-- and Rouhani's-- are barbarians and warmongers. Jay Stamper, the progressive Democrat running against Lindsey Graham is cautiously optimistic about the deal. Yesterday, he told us that "Our agreement with Iran doesn't give us everything we want but if Iran actually honors its obligations, we will have succeeded in slowing the progress of Iran's nuclear weapons program. Predictably, Lindsey Graham opposes any agreement that has the potential to postpone or prevent a war. And Lindsey never misses an opportunity to embrace war as a first resort."

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