Monday, March 28, 2011

Last Call

Here's the word cloud of the President's speech tonight (full text here)

Make of that what you will.

Meanwhile, Ivory Coast is actually in a civil war right now.

Heavy gunfire and explosions rang out from the strategic town of Duekoue in western Ivory Coast on Monday, residents said, but it was not clear who was involved in the shooting.

Duekoue has remained under the control of incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo since a 2002-3 war but rebels who seized the north of the country have pushed toward the town as the country's post-election crisis turns increasingly violent.

Would be nice if, you know, the world gave a damn.

Just saying.

The Reporters You Should Be Reading, Ladies First Edition

So Saturday I blew a gasket over this infuriating NY Times style section piece on DC's hot young reporter/blogger gurus who of course happened to be all male.  In the comments, bjkeefe took me to task for not naming any women in my response, something I corrected in the comments, but I feel I need to put it out here as its own post.  So here they are, the reporter/bloggers I follow who happen to be women.

Let's start with Mother Jones and some of the best in the business:  Mac McClelland, Kate Sheppard, Stephanie Mencimer and Suzy Khimm.  Sheppard is MoJo's Washington environmental reporter and her work on women's rights and the GOP abortion extremists is must-read stuff, Mencimer covers Capitol Hill and the Tea Party very well, and Khimm covers DC politics as well as anybody at the Post or Times, if not better.  McClelland's work on human rights, Haiti and the BP oil spill in particular is outstanding and even though she's not strictly a Washington correspondent, her work is just that good.

Also getting props, HuffPo's Amanda Terkel, formerly of ThinkProgress, now HuffPo's Senior Washington Correspondent.  I've been reading her for years, her coverage of the 2008 campaign was brilliant stuff.

ProPublica's Dafna Linzer is another excellent find, one of the best national security reporters out there.  Her columns on Gitmo are especially worthy reading.

Finally, Miami Herald's political ace, Joy Reid (of The Reid Report blog) shows you don't have to be in Washington to have an excellent political sense of the beltway.  I aspire to write as well as she does merely from a personal standpoint.

I read these folks on a regular basis, and you should as well.  At least in a fair world, it wouldn't matter that they all happen to be women.

Dems Get A Win-diana

When Dems left in Wisconsin to stop the GOP, it devolved into an ongoig nightmare.  But Indiana Dems are finally coming back home having beaten Republicans and Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Here are two big highlights from compromise, provided to TPM by a Democratic source:

Labor: Republicans have agreed to scrap the controversial right-to-work law that led the Democrats to shut things down back on Feb. 22. Republicans have also pledged not to pass a law making the state's existing ban on collective bargaining for state workers, created by Daniels executive order, permanent.

Daniels had suggested the legislature not take up the bill in the first place, saying he supported it but that it could "wreck" his goals of making the session about education reform and other top priorities for his administration. So the deal to take labor off the table can be seen as a victory for both the Democrats and Daniels, who's eager to move on to other things, possibly in advance of a run for the White House.

Education Daniels' signature policy agenda for this legislative session was a proposal to create a state-funded private school voucher system for low- and middle-income families. That plan will be curtailed considerably in the deal with House Republicans.

The compromise calls for strict caps on the number of vouchers the state can give out the program's first two years, denying, as a Democratic source put it, "the largest voucher program in the nation the Republicans originally wanted." Under the new plan, vouchers will be limited to 7,500 students in the first year and 15,000 in the second year.

Other concessions in the deal call for the abandonment of plan to let private companies take over failing public schools. 

It could be the Republicans were beaten by Democrats who finally showed enough spine to win.  Or it could be the fact that polls are showing that Republican governors pushing anti-union, anti-education agendas are getting savaged in polls.   Daniels wants to run as a "moderate Republican", not as a Tea Party nutbar (of course that still puts him to the extreme right of the country).  His presidential bid would die stillborn if he ran on that.

Still, it's a win for Democrats in the Hoosier State for sure.

The Ultimate In Unfinished Bush Business

Rolling Stone's article on the " Afghanistan Kill Team" is very sobering stuff, and they are not even close to kidding when they say the images are disturbingly graphic (and completely NSFW.)  Soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade, 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company out of Washington State, did things so horrific to Afghan civilians that every American needs to be made aware of them.  And yes, they are war crimes.

The poppy plants were still low to the ground at that time of year. The two soldiers, Cpl. Jeremy Morlock and Pfc. Andrew Holmes, saw a young farmer who was working by himself among the spiky shoots. Off in the distance, a few other soldiers stood sentry. But the farmer was the only Afghan in sight. With no one around to witness, the timing was right. And just like that, they picked him for execution.

He was a smooth-faced kid, about 15 years old. Not much younger than they were: Morlock was 21, Holmes was 19. His name, they would later learn, was Gul Mudin, a common name in Afghanistan. He was wearing a little cap and a Western-style green jacket. He held nothing in his hand that could be interpreted as a weapon, not even a shovel. The expression on his face was welcoming. "He was not a threat," Morlock later confessed.

Morlock and Holmes called to him in Pashto as he walked toward them, ordering him to stop. The boy did as he was told. He stood still.

The soldiers knelt down behind a mud-brick wall. Then Morlock tossed a grenade toward Mudin, using the wall as cover. As the grenade exploded, he and Holmes opened fire, shooting the boy repeatedly at close range with an M4 carbine and a machine gun.

Mudin buckled, went down face first onto the ground. His cap toppled off. A pool of blood congealed by his head.

The loud retort of the guns echoed all around the sleepy farming village. The sound of such unexpected gunfire typically triggers an emergency response in other soldiers, sending them into full battle mode. Yet when the shots rang out, some soldiers didn't seem especially alarmed, even when the radio began to squawk. It was Morlock, agitated, screaming that he had come under attack. On a nearby hill, Spc. Adam Winfield turned to his friend, Pfc. Ashton Moore, and explained that it probably wasn't a real combat situation. It was more likely a staged killing, he said – a plan the guys had hatched to take out an unarmed Afghan without getting caught.

Nor was this the only incident. Not by, and if you will excuse the term, a long shot.

After the killing, the soldiers involved in Mudin's death were not disciplined or punished in any way. Emboldened, the platoon went on a shooting spree over the next four months that claimed the lives of at least three more innocent civilians. When the killings finally became public last summer, the Army moved aggressively to frame the incidents as the work of a "rogue unit" operating completely on its own, without the knowledge of its superiors. Military prosecutors swiftly charged five low-ranking soldiers with murder, and the Pentagon clamped down on any information about the killings. Soldiers in Bravo Company were barred from giving interviews, and lawyers for the accused say their clients faced harsh treatment if they spoke to the press, including solitary confinement. No officers were charged.

But a review of internal Army records and investigative files obtained by Rolling Stone, including dozens of interviews with members of Bravo Company compiled by military investigators, indicates that the dozen infantrymen being portrayed as members of a secretive "kill team" were operating out in the open, in plain view of the rest of the company. Far from being clandestine, as the Pentagon has implied, the murders of civilians were common knowledge among the unit and understood to be illegal by "pretty much the whole platoon," according to one soldier who complained about them. Staged killings were an open topic of conversation, and at least one soldier from another battalion in the 3,800-man Stryker Brigade participated in attacks on unarmed civilians. "The platoon has a reputation," a whistle-blower named Pfc. Justin Stoner told the Army Criminal Investigation Command. "They have had a lot of practice staging killings and getting away with it."

After nine years of the abyss staring back, I can hardly say I'm surprised at this. But it's not an excuse for what should be considered war crimes, plain and simple.  Maybe this will be the incident that gets us out of Afghanistan, but I doubt it to the point of near despair.  it makes Abu Ghraib look like a church picnic, a systemic series of message killings of civilians, just to put the fear of God and the United States military in them (in that order.)

But frankly, given all that is going on the world this month, this won't even register on the Village radar.  And it's a damn shame, too.  The Army won't say how widespread this is.  We only know about it because Morlock and Holmes got caught.  We may never know the full extent of this mess.

But hey, it's all fair, right?  They killed our civilians on 9/11, so we're killing theirs.  Eye for an eye.  Torture and indefinite detention is an approved method of obtaining information in America now.  Why not outright murder?

Epic Fail: Boys Sleepover Leads To Man Shot In Groin Edition

Sometimes, you just gotta love a news story for the simple and amusing beast that it is.  This is one of those times. Those Aussies know how to throw down!

Six boys cowered in the dark as a knife-wielding man threatened to kill them during a suburban sleepover from hell.

The group of mostly 12-year-olds yesterday told how their neighbour went on a rampage, screaming they "were going to die" and trying to batter down the door to their townhouse in the Brisbane suburb of Capalaba.

The three-hour ordeal ended only when Brett Hayes, 50, was shot in the groin by a policewoman after he allegedly lunged at her with six 30cm knives.

An investigation has been launched into the shooting as police defended their response to several frantic calls for help.

There is some criticism of the police department for taking an hour to respond, but the policewoman's mighty shot put an end to the ruckus.  And silly me, I thought we had clinched the global redneck title.

And With A Loud Jangle, My BS Detector Went Off

Washington (CNN) -- After almost 30 years in a mental hospital, John W. Hinckley Jr., the college dropout who tried to kill President Ronald Reagan, is moving closer to the day his doctors may recommend he go free.

According to court records, a forensic psychologist at the hospital has testified that "Hinckley has recovered to the point that he poses no imminent risk of danger to himself or others."

That concerns former U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova, who helped oversee Hinckley's prosecution in 1982. He told CNN, "I think John Hinckley will be a threat the rest of his life. He is a time bomb."

There are certain things you can't do if you ever expect to enjoy freedom in your life again.  Shooting the POTUS is one of them.  Playing Russian Roulette on film and stalking a young actress is minutiae when compared to that one single act.  I understand redemption, I understand that he is 55 now, an old man when compared to the man who shot Ronald Reagan.  I also understand the depth of his insanity, and am in total agreement with diGenova.

How Much For The Little Girl?

Ezra Klein finally figures out what E.J. Dionne could have told you three weeks ago and what Steve M. expanded on:  John Boehner's game of "Bad Cop, Completely Insane Cop" means Republicans are going to get everything they wanted in budget negotiations and then some.

Back in February, Paul Ryan unveiled what was supposed to be the opening bid from the House Republicans: $32 billion in cuts for the rest of 2011. But the Tea Party demanded more and House leadership quickly caved, doubling their proposed cuts to more than $60 billion -- or almost $100 billion less than barack Obama’s 2011 budget request (quick note: different news stories present these numbers differently, as it depends on whether you use Obama’s budget request or 2010’s funding as a baseline. I’m using the difference from 2010 funding, which makes for lower sums). Now Democrats are offering as a compromise measure $30 billion in total cuts, or exactly what Ryan’s original proposal had called for. Pretty neat, huh?

And that’s not the Democrats’ final offer, either. Odds are good that the eventual compromise will see cuts somewhere between the $30 billion Republican leadership called for and the almost $70 billion the conservative wing of the House GOP demanded. “That’s not much of a compromise if we end up with what the House Republican leadership wanted in the first place,observe Michael Ettlinger and Michael Linden. And they’re right. But the irony is that it’s entirely possible the press will report that Democrats “won” the negotiations, as Republican leadership is likely to have to lose a lot of conservative votes in the House to get any compromise, no matter how radical, through the chamber. That will make them look bad, and in the weird logic of Washington, make the Democrats look good. But if you just keep your eye on the policy, Republicans are moving towards a win far beyond anything the House leadership had initially imagined. Getting there required learning they had less control over their conservative wing that they’d hoped, but it also taught them that their inability to control their conservative wing gave them credibility in negotiations with Democrats and can lead to pretty remarkable policy wins, as no one doubts that House Republicans really will shut down the government or allow for a default.

In other words, all Orange Julius had to do to win was to let his Tea Party lunatics do what they always do:

Yes, Jake and Elwood in the restaurant acting like complete nutjobs until they get what they want is an extremely viable political strategy in 2011.  Dionne called this weeks ago, and as I said back then, it's working.

I thought for sure a shutdown was coming.  But the Democrats have so completely folded in sheer terror at the prospect of more Tea Party abuse that they are going to give OJ the whole ball of wax just to get them to go away.  And you can bet Boehner will simply repeat this "Well gosh I dunno what they are going to do" threat time and time again.

[UPDATE]  And right on cue, Dems are offering another $20 billion in social cuts, which the Republicnas will not accept and will continue to shut down the government again in two weeks.   Rinse, repeat.

Land Of The Rising Core Temperature, Part 18

As highly radioactive water continues to leak from the Fukushima Daiichi reactors, Greenpeace is urging Japanese officials to widen the evacuation zone.

A partial meltdown of fuel rods inside the reactor vessel was responsible for the high levels of radiation at that reactor although Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said the radiation had mainly been contained in the reactor building.

TEPCO later said radiation above 1,000 millisieverts per hour was found in water in tunnels used for piping outside the reactor.

That is the same as the level discovered on Sunday. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says a single dose of 1,000 millisieverts is enough to cause hemorrhaging.

TEPCO officials said the underground tunnels did not flow into the sea but the possibility of radioactive water seeping into the ground could not be ruled out.

Greenpeace said its experts had confirmed radiation levels of up to 10 microsieverts per hour in a village 40 km (25 miles) northwest of the plant. It called for the extension of a 20-km (12-mile) evacuation zone.

"It is clearly not safe for people to remain in Iitate, especially children and pregnant women, when it could mean receiving the maximum allowed annual dose of radiation in only a few days," Greenpeace said in a statement, referring to the village where the radiation reading was taken.

More than 70,000 people have been evacuated from an area within 20 km (12 miles) of the plant and another 130,000 people within a zone extending a further 10 km are recommended to stay indoors. They have been encouraged to leave.

Of course, TEPCO officials are disputing Greenpeace's readings and they are of course saying everything is fine, even while admitting to the partial meltdown, something I called weeks ago.  Meanwhile, they have appealed to French nuclear technicians for assistance.  Whether or not that will make a difference here at this partial meltdown juncture is anyone's guess.

TEPCO stock is limit down on the Nikkei at this hour again.  It's lost two-thirds of its value in the last two weeks, going from 2,100 yen a share to under 700.

Empire State Building (A Budget)

If New York Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget agreement looks familiar -- eliminating a surcharge tax on the state's wealthy, making cuts to Medicare and education, and laying off state workers -- there's a reason for that.  Even relatively blue states like New York have to deal with Republicans that control at least one chamber in the statehouse, and in the case of the state senate, Cuomo did much of their austerity work for them.

Dashing the hopes of many Democratic lawmakers, including the bulk of the New York City delegation, the budget did not include an extension of a temporary income tax surcharge on wealthy New Yorkers, a measure that has drawn support among Democrats and even some Senate Republicans as a way to further offset Mr. Cuomo’s proposed cuts in money for schools and other programs.

Mr. Cuomo persuaded legislative leaders to agree to a year-to-year cut of more than $2 billion in spending on health care and education, historically the two largest drivers of New York’s budget. Over all, officials said, the budget deal would reduce year-to-year spending by about 2 percent.

For both Medicaid and education, the deal calls for a two-year appropriation instead of the traditional one year’s worth of financing, locking in fixed rates of growth through Mr. Cuomo’s second year in office and potentially allowing him to avoid a repeat of the battles he fought this year with teachers’ unions and other special interests.

In exchange, Mr. Cuomo agreed to add $250 million — a modest amount by Albany standards — to his executive budget proposal, including more money for schools, the blind and the deaf, human services, higher education, and prescription drugs for the elderly. 

So it's actually not quite as bad as Cuomo first proposed, and this is coming from a Democrat.  That's the best thing you can say about the state's budget.  Keeping the surcharge on finance tycoons would have made up for the end of stimulus dollars from Washington, but the former state AG who ran on cleaning up Wall Street is now helping the fat cats clean out the state's treasury.  They get tax cuts, the rest of the state gets spending cuts.

Even the Democrats look like Republicans in 2011.  The battle over budget austerity has long been lost by the American people, and in state after state taxes on the wealthy are being chopped to fight over what few corporate jobs these multinationals are creating in the US...corporations sitting on record profits, mind you, screaming that they need tax relief or else, playing states against each other in order to get the best set of incentives.  Meanwhile, state taxpayers are picking up the bill and taking the financial pain.

Of course, what did you expect from the Wall Street State?


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