Monday, July 11, 2011

Last Call

And this is why nobody should take my Senator seriously.

The top Republican in the Senate invoked the high-profile acquittal of Casey Anthony on charges she murdered her daughter as a reason to oppose the use of civilian trials for terrorism suspects.

"These are not American citizens. We just found with the Caylee Anthony case how difficult is to get a conviction in a U.S. court," Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on "Fox News Sunday." McConnell has called on the Obama administration to place suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay and prosecute them in the military justice system.

"I don't think a foreigner is entitled to all the protections of the Bill of Rights. They should not be in U.S. courts. They should be at Guantanamo and before military commissions," McConnell said.

To recap, Mitch McConnell sees the "innocent until proven guilty" part of the American justice system as a fatal weakness that means we can't possibly try terrorists in civilian court, even though in a number of high profile cases prosecutors has successfully earned convictions.

The fact that Casey Anthony was found not guilty means you should hate and despise the American justice system and instead just demand show trials where evidence doesn't matter and we can feel good about locking "them" up because we would never, falsely accuse anyone of being a terrorist so really what's the point of a trial?

Because if you know, a terrorist was found not guilty, he would immediately kill everyone you know and we would never be able to stop a terror plot like that before it happened, like we umm, stopped the Times Square car bomb guy and underwear guy and hey, come to think of it Democrats seem to be pretty good at prosecuting terrorist and stopping terror plots in general, it seems.

Mitch of course would never want to remind you of that.

Hacked Off In The UK

The News Corp phone hacking scandal is now getting huge.  It was bad enough when the targets were tabloid subjects, but now we learn the victims included 9/11 victims' families and may have included even former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown himself.

The Sunday Times is alleged to have targeted the personal information of the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the time he was chancellor, a BBC investigation has found.

Documents and a phone recording suggest "blagging" was used to obtain private financial and property details.

The Browns also fear medical records relating to their son Fraser, whom the Sun revealed in 2006 had cystic fibrosis, may have been obtained.

News International is yet to respond.

The company, a subsidiary of News Corporation, owns the Sun and the Sunday Times, and also owned the News of the World which was shut last week amid allegations of phone-hacking and illegal payments to police officers.

Other alleged targets include British royalty, too.  When they weren't hacking phone mails, Murdoch's tabloid reporters were apparently pretending to be government officials or other folks in order to get information on their targets to print. Anything to get the story went for these guys, and now Murdoch has been exposed.  Hell, the guy went after Gordon Brown's infant son just to get a story.

The question now of course is what kind of criminal tricks went on over here in the States.  It's like someone should investigate or something.  Meanwhile, News Corp. shareholders are suing Murdoch for not responding to the scandal fast enough.

The lawsuit, filed by Amalgamated Bank and a group of pension funds, accuses News Corp's board of "failing to exercise proper oversight and take sufficient action since news of the hacking first surfaced at its subsidiary nearly six years ago."
The failure of News Corp's board has led to a "piling on of questionable deals, a waste of corporate resources, a starring role in a blockbuster scandal, and a gigantic public relations disaster," said Jay Eisenhofer of Grant & Eisenhofer, the law firm that filed the suit in Delaware.
The legal complaint is an updated version of action that Amalgamated first bought in March, when they accused Mr Murdoch of "rampant nepotism" for paying 415m pounds for Shine, a UK television production company founded by his daughter Elizabeth. News Corp could not immediately be reached for comment. 
News Corp's shares plunged more than 6.6pc on opening, as investors digested developments on both sides of the Atlantic. 

Things are getting bad for ol' Rupert here.  Very, very bad.

No Dealing On The Debt Ceiling, Part 32

Republican recalcitrance on the debt ceiling has gotten to the point where Steve M. is now saying he doesn't believe a deal will happen.

Sorry, I don't buy this for a second. It's McConnell's job to go on TV and do as convincing an imitation as he can of a reasonable man. More to the point, it's his job to spin any failure to reach an agreement as 100% the Democrats' fault. Elsewhere in the clip posted by Mediaite, he says:

Obviously, the other side, the other political side, controls most of the government. They have the Senate. They have the presidency. You can't get an accomplishment without some kind of bipartisan agreement, and that's part of what the meeting tonight is about, and we hope it'll be successful.

Translation: Who, us? Responsible for anything that goes wrong?

A month ago I would have completely disagreed with him, but he has a valid point.  If the plan was to make 90% of America eat an austerity crap sandwich, we would of had a deal by now.  Instead, I think the GOP has gotten to the point where any deal is unacceptable.  The reaction by the right to Boehner pulling out puts him in an untenable position.

The Powers That Be on Wall Street want a deal.  The Tea Party will eliminate him if there is one.  The Corporate Wing and the Tea Party Wing are at each other's throats, and the Tea Party Wing is winning.  Obama called their bluff again today and dared them to make a deal.

But if we really do get to the point where Treasury then has to take funding from the Departments of Education, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, etc to pay SS and Medicare and hundreds of thousands of federal employees get furloughed, well that appears to be a battle the Republicans now seem willing to have.

A terrifying thought, but one that may define the GOP for a long, long time.  I've been convinced for months now that Wall Street would win this battle.  Now I'm thinking that it's very possible that Wall Street will simply bet on a complete economic collapse and let the Tea Party finish the job they started in 2007.  Matt Osborne notes the consequences of that:

Christine Lagarde, the first woman to head the lending institution, said in an interview broadcast Sunday that it would cause interest rates to rise and stock markets to fall. That would threaten an important IMF goal, which is preserving stability in the world economy, she said.
“If you draw out the entire scenario of default, yes, of course, you have all of that — interest hikes, stock markets taking a huge hit and real nasty consequences, not just for the United States, but for the entire global economy, because the U.S. is such a big player and matters so much for other countries,” she said.

This is what the Tea Party is risking, not just our economy but the world as well, in their quest for political power.  And it's looking more and more like they are willing to force it in order to try to destroy the country in order to "win".  Greg Sargent:

In another sign of the right’s total intransigence on revenues of any kind, the Club for Growth is going up with a new national ad putting Republicans on notice: Hold firm against any tax hikes, or else

As I've said before, the dealbreaker for the Democrats is no revenue increases and SS/Medicare cuts.  The dealbreaker for the GOP is a brokering a deal at all.   They don't want one.  They are confident they win without one, so they won't lift a finger to stop the economy from going under.  They'll merely blame Obama. Best part? If a deal doesn't happen?  Well, there's already well-known progressives willing to blame the Democrats too.

Time to start being concerned about this, I think.  George Zornick over at The Nation does have this to add:

Many of the large financial institutions that gave money to Cantor have specifically said the debt ceiling must be raised. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, said “[i]f anyone wants to push that button ... I think they're crazy.” JP Morgan Chase is among the top-20 contributors to Cantor’s campaign committee and leadership PAC, kicking in $27,800 in the last cycle alone between the company PAC and employee contributions.

An even bigger financial backer for Cantor is KKR & Co., a major private equity firm who's employees gave Cantor $52,600 during the last cycle, making them his fifth-largest contributor. In their first-quarter performance report, KKR & Co. described serious concerns over a failure to raise the debt ceiling.

“[Failure to raise the debt ceiling] could also limit our ability and the ability of our funds and portfolio companies to obtain financing, and it could have a material adverse effect on the valuation of our portfolio companies and other assets held by our funds,” their statement read. “Under such circumstances, the risks we face and any resulting adverse effects on our business, financial condition and results of operations would be significantly exacerbated.”

The money's on the GOP folding.  The crazy is on them letting a default destroy the country.  I don't honestly know which one will win.

School Of Hard Knocks: College Edition

Thanks to massive cuts in state education budgets, America will only continue to fall behind the rest of the world in number of college graduates.

Only one in five of those who enroll in community colleges — and, in some states, barely one in 10 — graduates in three years, while only about half of students who attend universities get their bachelor's degrees within six years, helping drag the United States from first to 10th in the world in the proportion of the population that has graduated from college.

It's a trend that Obama, in a speech on the Macomb campus, promised to reverse. Yet conversations with dozens of experts and reviews of available data show that obstacles on the road to graduation have gotten only greater in the two years since then. Few believe the 2020 target will be met.

"The outlook is not good," says Michael Lovenheim, an assistant professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University and co-author of a 2010 study that found students are taking more, not less, time to graduate thanks to such things as continued deep cuts in public higher education budgets and services, enrollment increases and steep hikes in tuition that are forcing more students to work.

The study by Lovenheim and his colleagues upended the common contention by universities that graduation rates are falling because students are arriving unprepared. American high school graduates are, in fact, better prepared than ever, it found, but most go to unselective community colleges and public universities where budgets and services have been deeply cut, classes are large, and per-student expenditures are low.

It's gotten to the point that even community colleges are now priced out of reach for Americans.  And Republicans, demanding smaller government and less spending, have only made the situation worse.  American high school students in 2011 simply can't afford college anymore without ending up in massive debt.

And as Republicans continue to demand that we cut spending instead of raise revenues, this problem will only get worse.  America will continue to fall further and further behind other countries, where jobs and companies will go.  Remember that next time someone tells you there's no difference between Republicans and Democrats.

A Pain Most Of Us Will Never Know

Things are so bad in eastern Kenya that mothers are forced to let weaker children die to prolong the lives of the other children, and the infant mortality rate has tripled in the refugee camps.  People are pouring in looking for help, and sometimes the help is too little too late.  Hundreds make it to the camps only to die from chronic starvation and dehydration.
Frequently, they do not want to go - they say they need to forage for food, water and firewood for their other children - often as many as seven or eight - and they cannot afford to be away from their families.
To some mothers, the weak, malnourished child has become a burden and they are prepared to let it die - a sacrifice in order to save their other children.

Aid workers like Abubakar have to negotiate hard with mothers to convince them to change their minds.
 It's hard to fathom survival circumstances so dire.  It's also a reminder that the rest of the world is facing unprecedented losses and increasing hunger.

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Screaming Kids

A restaurant in Monroeville, PA is drawing fire for refusing to serve kids under six because they lack volume control.  The owner sent out a very polite email stating "Beginning July 16, 2011, McDain's Restaurant will no longer admit children under six years of age. We feel that McDain's is not a place for young children. Their volume can't be controlled and many, many times, they have disturbed other customers."

Some are offended.  Many have supported Mike Vuick's right to decide how to run his business, even if they have kids and won't be bringing them there any longer.  I can  understand.  At any rate, he has the ability to decide this for his own business.  I think that should apply to smoking laws as well, because people can choose whether they want to support the businesses and owners could cater to a crowd performing a legal activity.  But there I go again with all my crazy talk.

Justice Has To Work All The Time

Lost this weekend in the debt ceiling news, the final space shuttle launch and the death of Betty Ford comes this story from Mother Jones' Stephanie Mencimer on the case of Jaime Leigh Jones, the ex-KBR/Halliburton contract employee who sued the company over an alleged rape by KBR employees while she was in Iraq in 2005.

The allegations were explosive when they first hit in 2007: A 20-year-old woman named Jamie Leigh Jones alleged that four days after going to work in Iraq for contracting giant KBR in July 2005, she was drugged and gang-raped by fellow contractors. She accused the company, then a subsidiary of Halliburton, of imprisoning her in a shipping container after she reported the rape, and suggested KBR had tampered with some of the medical evidence that had been collected at an Army hospital. The harrowing story has made international headlines. It's been the subject of congressional hearings and has inspired legislation. Jones even plays a starring role in the new documentary Hot Coffee, about efforts to limit access to the justice system.

Jones' charges fell on fertile ground, compounding KBR's reputation as a corporate scofflaw—all the more so when it came out that the firm's contract had included a mandatory arbitration clause intended to block employees from suing it. Jones spent years fighting for a jury trial, and now, six years after the alleged attack, she is finally getting her day in court in a civil suit that accuses KBR of knowingly sending her into a hostile workplace. The verdict could come as early as Thursday. And—in a twist that's likely to shock her numerous supporters—there's a good chance she will lose.

Jones' trial, which started on June 13, is highlighting significant holes and discrepancies in her story. Not only has the federal trial judge already thrown out large portions of her case, evidence introduced in the trial raises the question of whether Jones has exaggerated and embellished key aspects of her story.

None of this means that Jones was not raped in Iraq. But the evidence does undermine her credibility and could create serious doubts in jurors' minds.

And indeed, the jury returned a not guilty verdict Friday in the case.  The evidence in the trial was shaky at best and the jurors deliberated for less than 48 hours before coming back with the verdict.  Mencimer does an excellent job of showing why jurors doubted Jones.  As she says, it's entirely possible she was raped.  But the evidence prevented simply didn't add up.

The funny thing about justice is it has to protect both the defendant and the plaintiff in cases like this.  When the evidence was laid out, there just wasn't enough to find in favor of Jones.

One thing Jones has working in her favor is that her story seems so incredible, her pursuit of justice so sincere, that it's almost unimaginable that she would make it up. After all, why would anyone put themselves through that kind of torture? But KBR and Bortz also have a ready answer to that question. It's The Jamie Leigh Story: How my Rape in Iraq and Cover-up Made Me a Crusader for Justice, the working title of her book.

For years, Jones has been in discussions with book agents, screenwriters, and production companies. In 2008, Paul Pompian, a film producer with dozens of docudrama credits to his name, bought the rights to her story. He says that his company is working on film version of Jones' story and that a book is also in the works. "Frankly, we're waiting for the outcome of the trial," he told me. "We're hoping for a verdict that will give us a third act. Hopefully it will be an outcome that's good for us and the movie and especially for Jamie Leigh." Both the screenwriter and Jones' coauthor were expected to be in Houston watching part of the trial, according to Pompian.

When KBR's lawyers first learned of the book deal, they went to court seeking access to the manuscript and other documents. Jones fought the disclosure, arguing that it would diminish the work's financial value. Jones' lawyers filed a motion with the court declaring that the manuscript was a work of fiction.

And so that third act is now going to be very interesting indeed.  There are such things as false rape allegations.  There are also many that are actual rape that aren't reported.  The whole truth still isn't apparent.  But KBR has successfully defended itself, that much we know.

Blacked Out

The financial crisis and recession of 2007 has all but eliminated the black middle class in America.

Economists say the Great Recession lasted from 2007 to 2009. In 2004, the median net worth of white households was $134,280, compared with $13,450 for black households, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by the Economic Policy Institute. By 2009, the median net worth for white households had fallen 24 percent to $97,860; the median black net worth had fallen 83 percent to $2,170, according to the EPI.

Algernon Austin, director of the EPI's Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy, described the current wealth gap this way: "In 2009, for every dollar of wealth the average white household had, black households only had two cents."

Since the end of the recession, the overall unemployment rate has fallen from 9.4 to 9.1 percent, while the black unemployment rate has risen from 14.7 to 16.2 percent, according to the Department of Labor.

"I would say the recession is not over for black folks," Austin says. He believes more black people than ever before could fall out of the middle class, because the unemployment rate for college-educated blacks recently peaked and blacks are overrepresented in state and local government jobs that are being eliminated due to massive budget shortfalls.

Do you want to know why the GOP's first target after Obama got elected was to eliminate middle-class government jobs at the state and local level?   Now you know.  Eliminate the road to the middle class for blacks and they lose sociopolitical power.  Breed resentment among everyone else.  Government workers are "lazy" and "spoiled".  Government jobs are equivalent to "welfare".  It's jobs where "they" work.  Republicans played the class and race cards perfectly and the results have been the virtual elimination of the black middle class in America in just four years.

Blacks in America have been crushed by the recession.  These numbers are horrifying to the point where I feel physically ill.  And the best part is conservatives now want us to finish the job by abandoning the Democrats or abandoning voting altogether while they in turn do everything they can to keep blacks out of the voting booth through Voter ID laws.

Two percent.  That's the percentage of median household wealth the average black household compared to the average white one.  This is what Wall Street did to black America, they leveled it with bulldozers, took the money, and then said "Sorry, we can't afford to help you anymore.  Go to hell."

This is what the last decade of greed and hatred has done.  It has literally put the middle-class on the block to be sacrificed to the rich, but especially the black middle class is seeing their world crumble.  Gone.  And the Republican Party is doing everything they can to make sure we are never heard from again.

Remember that.  Remember you have a voice.  Use it.

Priority One Alert

If you're wondering what happens to be the number one priority for the Republican Party at this point, Mitch McConnell explained it all to FOX News Sunday host Bret Baier.

Even with the country on the brink of default, the Senate's highest ranking Republican says his "single most important" goal is to make Barack Obama a one-term president.

"The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told National Journal's Major Garrett in October.

Fox News' Bret Baier asked McConnell Sunday if that was still his major objective.

"Well, that is true," McConnell replied. "That's my single most important political goal, along with every active Republican in the country."

"But that is in 2012," he added. "Our biggest goal for this year is get this country straightened out and we can't get this country straightened out if we don't do something about spending, about deficit, about debt and get the economy moving again. So our goal is to have a robust vibrant economy to benefit all Americans."

So yeah, the economy kinda sort but getting rid of President Blackguard McDarkkenyan, that's the "single most important political goal" of every Republican in the country.  They hate Obama that much.  Getting rid of him is more important than the economy, politically.

If we pay attention to what Republicans say when they accidentally tell the truth, we shouldn't be surprised at the actions that follow.  We shouldn't be surprised that the GOP-led House has blocked every single job measure the Democrats have brought up this year and have put forth zero job bills of their own.

That's because they are now fully invested in wrecking the economy for political gain.  McConnell, my own Senator, just admitted that getting rid of Obama is more important than fixing the economy, and that goes for all active Republicans.  One would almost think that McConnell is threatening the American people with "Get rid of the President or we'll continue to make you miserable."

Priorities, people.  Priorities.


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