Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Last Call

The UN special tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands has sentenced Liberia's former leader, Charles Taylor, to 50 years in prison for his role in aiding rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone.

The first former head of state to be convicted of war crimes since World War II was sentenced to 50 years in prison Wednesday by an international court in The Hague, Netherlands.

The court convicted Charles Taylor last month of aiding rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone in a campaign of terror, involving murder, rape, sexual slavery and the conscription children younger than 15.

The prosecution had asked the Special Court for Sierra Leone for a sentence of 80 years for Taylor, the president of Liberia from 1997 to 2003, but the judges found the recommendation "excessive" citing the "limited scope" of the conviction in some points.

There is no death penalty in international criminal law, and Taylor, 64, would serve out his sentence in a British prison.

Taylor's record of crimes against humanity was purely awful.  He literally tried to take over Sierra Leone by funding rebels and sending in troops and weapons across the border from Liberia to allow multiple massacres of women and children in an orchestrated attempt to topple the government there through bloody terrorism.  It was moderately successful, so much so that outside funding of rebel forces was immediately apparent and pinned on Taylor ten years ago.  It's taken this long for him to pay the price, but pay it he will, spending the rest of his life in prison.

Child soldiers, roving rape gangs, prostitution slavery rings, assassinations of enemies, Taylor did it all.  Fifty years is a million years too short of a sentence for this monster.

Flamin' Hot Fries

Methinks the Mexican drug cartels might have bit off more than they can chew with their latest target.

Mexican drug cartels are not strictly drug cartels. One of their fastest growing markets is extortion of private citizens and businesses. Don’t pay, and you can be threatened — or worse. But largely, the cartels target small businesses and individuals, and stay away from the larger industries. Now several arson attacks over the weekend against a Mexican snack chip subsidiary might be the first time the cartels have targeted a multi-national corporation.
That corporation would PepsiCo. According to press reports, masked men attacked five warehouses and vehicle lots on Friday and Saturday nights belonging to the U.S. snack and soft drink giant. More specifically, PepsiCo’s Mexican subsidiary: Sabritas. Dozens of yellow delivery trucks — which transport Sabritas chips and Fritos, Cheetos and Ruffles (among other brands) for the Mexican market — were burned. The good news: no one was injured or killed. At least one member of the Knights Templar cartel was reportedly arrested. Video has also emerged of firefighters battling the blazing trucks and the European Pressphoto Agency released images of Sabritas’ smiley-face mascot illuminated by the flames.
“What we cannot allow is for this kind of isolated case to become generalized,” Gerardo Gutierrez, president of Mexico’s Business Coordinating Council, told the Associated Press. “The authorities have to take forceful action.”

Now the rumor is that the Mexican government is running surveillance operations on the cartels out of the ubiquitous Sabritas trucks (which everyone even remotely involved is categorically denying).  And the Knights Templar are a bunch of dangerous lunatics even for a Mexican drug cartel.  But I'm thinking screwing with a major multinational corporation is not going to end well strategically for these guys.

Alternately, here's 66% of the pitch for Expendables 3.  Just saying.

Just Stay Home

Glenn "Instadouche" Reynolds is back on the warpath again against college loans, arguing in the New York Post that higher education simply isn't worth the debt of student loans anymore.

For students, piece of advice No. 1 is: Don’t go into debt. When I went to law school, back in the ’80s, I turned down free rides at a couple of excellent schools to go to Yale Law School, even though it meant taking on a lot of student-loan debt. I’m not sure I’d advise anyone to do the same thing today, even to go to Yale Law, the undisputed king of the law-school rankings — and I’m positive I wouldn’t make a similar tradeoff for many other places, even Harvard Law.

Debt is what gets people into trouble in bubbles: They borrow heavily because they think the value of what they’re buying, whether it’s a house or a tulip, will go up. When it stops going up, they’re sunk.

Today, the value of an education isn’t going up, but the price is. That’s a bad combination. So don’t borrow heavily.

That’s good advice for schools, too. Those that borrow money based on the expectation that tuition revenue will continue to increase will have problems, and, in fact, some already are. Instead, schools should be looking to cut costs and increase value — the exact opposite of what many have been doing in recent years. 

And why are schools having to borrow money?  Because education budgets, particularly state university systems, are being shredded and conservative knuckleheads like Glenn here are demanding that universities cut costs the same way that public schools do:  fire instructors, drop classes and programs, and shrink admissions.  Not that schools are completely exonerated from being at fault.

But Reynolds wants state universities run like for-profit schools.  The problem is there's plenty of evidence that for-profit schools are more interested in creating profits than providing value or enhancing worth for students.  When students go into debt to pay for a education at a for profit school and don't get a job, Reynolds is saying it's the government's fault for making the student loan available in the first place.

We should be sending more kids to college, not less.  And yes, there's a lot colleges and universities can do in order to cut costs.  But eliminating student loans and grants isn't going to lower university price tags.  If anything it'll just redistribute the costs to taxpayers as there's fewer students.

It's crazy.

Russian Gay Activists Arrested

About 40 gay activists were detained by police in Moscow today while trying to demand their right to hold a gay pride parade, according to organizers of the march.
The activists gathered outside the Moscow city council building, where they were accosted by Orthodox Christians before being detained by the police. The Christians attempted to break up the gathering, throwing water, attacking protesters, and grabbing the demonstrators’ rainbow flags.
Gay rights opponent Dmitry Tsarionov spoke to the crowd in front of a sign that read, “Moscow is not Sodom.”
“I will not allow perverts to bring the wrath of God onto our city,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “I want our children to live in a country where a sin that so awfully distorts human nature is not preached in schools.”
My first thought was, oh that poor man, how awful it is for him to lose the right to speak his mind.  Then I felt the usual eye rolling annoyance at the "wrath of God" comment, and that education is again immediately attacked.

But then I realized... we are doing the same thing here.  Don't say gay, don't ask don't tell, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, it's all the same thing except it's America.

I am incredibly sad right now.

Yet Another WTH

DETROIT (USA TODAY) — A 22-year-old pregnant woman survived after being bound, driven to Detroit, set on fire and shot early Saturday morning.
The woman, who was nine-months pregnant, had returned from a movie with her boyfriend and dropped him off at his house in Warren when she was approached from behind, Warren police Sgt. Dave Geffert said.
The woman's hands, feet and eyes were bound with duct tape. She was then forced into her car and driven to an unknown place in Detroit where she was doused with lighter fluid, set on fire and shot once in the upper back, he said.
The woman reported a male voice.  The rest of the details are sketchy, but it seems to be an utterly random act of violence, performed against a pregnant woman.  Because she can't identify her attacker, it's unlikely he will be caught, but one must hope for karma in a case like this.

Where's The Hypocrisy Again?

Jo Becker and Scott Shane at the New York Times gave us this article on "Obama's terrorist kill list" on Tuesday and it characterized President Obama signing off on which terrorists to try to eliminate thusly:

In interviews with The New York Times, three dozen of his current and former advisers described Mr. Obama’s evolution since taking on the role, without precedent in presidential history, of personally overseeing the shadow war with Al Qaeda. 

They describe a paradoxical leader who shunned the legislative deal-making required to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, but approves lethal action without hand-wringing. While he was adamant about narrowing the fight and improving relations with the Muslim world, he has followed the metastasizing enemy into new and dangerous lands. When he applies his lawyering skills to counterterrorism, it is usually to enable, not constrain, his ferocious campaign against Al Qaeda — even when it comes to killing an American cleric in Yemen, a decision that Mr. Obama told colleagues was “an easy one.” 

Questions about the President green-lighting assassinations aside (which is another gigantic discussion in and of itself I'll tackle later) my problem is with the notion that the President "shunned the legislative deal-making" to close GitmoThat's an absolute falsehood if you remember anything from 2009.

President Barack Obama’s allies in the Senate will not provide funds to close the Guantanamo Bay prison next January, a top Democratic official said Tuesday. 

With debate looming on Obama’s spending request to cover military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the official says Democrats will deny the Pentagon and Justice Department $80 million to relocate Guantanamo’s 241 detainees.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposed changes to the bill were to be unveiled later. 

There was no deal-making process.  Republicans were universally opposed to closing Gitmo and Democrats in Congress completely folded on the issue, to the point that they actively blocked any deal to close Gitmo by revoking all funding to do so.  It was never going to happen and Congress, not the President, assured Gitmo would never close.

We can (and should) have a serious discussion on the President's powers to call the ball on who and when gets a face full of drone missiles, but that discussion should at least start with the truth of the why Gitmo is still open and why it will stay open for the foreseeable future.

So If You Want This Money Baby

CNN asks this question:

Justin Combs worked hard in high school to improve his football game and earn a 3.75 GPA . He recently received a $54,000 merit-based scholarship to UCLA, where he'll play football.
In April, Forbes named Justin Combs' dad,  Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, the wealthiest artist in hip-hop. Some say the family should return Justin's scholarship, arguing that Combs should pay for his son's education and taxpayer money should go to students with greater financial need. Other say Justin Combs earned the scholarship through his grades and athletic ability, and deserves to keep it.
What do you think? Should the Combs family keep, return or donate the money? Should students with wealthy parents have access to merit-based scholarships and financial aid?

Here's my question: Why is this even a question?

Justin Combs earned an athletic scholarship.  It was based on merit, and he kept a 3.75 GPA as a student athlete to boot.  if he was anyone else's son other than the most famous hip-hop media mogul on the planet, this wouldn't be asked.  There's nothing stopping P. Diddy from donating to UCLA in the amount of the scholarship too.  But it shouldn't be up to mob rule whether he does or not, nor should we be questioning the scholarship.

I can't help but think that if Justin's father was a hedge fund manager or CEO of a tech company, this wouldn't even be newsworthy (and my opinion that he not give back the merit scholarship would still stand.)  If I was completely cynical, I'd say this had something to do with race, but of course since Sean Combs is an extremely successful businessman who obviously raised a son with a fantastic work ethic and no small amount of physical skill, that can't possibly be it either.  Maybe it's politics, but if anything, Republicans should be screaming bloody murder over this.  Isn't this exactly what they say the success story of a strong, intelligent black father raising a gifted son should be?

So again I'm baffled by why this is being asked at all.  Again, should P. Diddy donate to UCLA in the amount of his son's scholarship (or more than that?)  Sure, if I were him, I'd make that happen, I can afford to.  But I wouldn't make my son give up something he earned with his own ability, especially a son trying to make his own way in the world in his father's very long shadow.  And we're certainly not implying that Justin Combs didn't earn a merit scholarship, right?

So unless one of those assumptions I made up there is wrong, why is CNN asking if he should return it outright?  If this was Bill Gates son, or Angelina Jolie's daughter, or Mitt Romney son, would this still be an issue?

I'd like to know.


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