Saturday, February 28, 2015

Putin On Airs

Vladimir Putin is a barbarous Cold War relic, but he knows that there isn't anyone in Russia who can really oppose him, and he's out of damns to give to the point now where what little opposition he does have ends up getting murdered in front of the Kremlin.

Thousands of stunned Russians laid flowers and lit candles on Saturday on the bridge where opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was shot dead near the Kremlin, a murder that showed the risks of speaking out against President Vladimir Putin.

Nemtsov, 55, was shot four times in the back by killers in a white car late on Friday as he walked across the bridge over the Moskva River in central Moscow with a Ukrainian woman, who was unhurt, police said.

Police sealed off the blood-stained bridge close to the red walls of the Kremlin and Red Square for two hours overnight, then hosed it down as people came to pay tribute to one of Putin's biggest opponents over Russia's role in Ukraine.

Russia's Investigative Committee, which answers to Putin, said it was following several lines of inquiry, including that the opposition may have committed the crime to rally support for a march against Kremlin policies on the economy and Ukraine.

Flowers were piled at least a meter (three feet) high, about two meters deep and two meters wide. A piece of white paper saying "We are all Nemtsov" stood among the flowers.

"People are afraid to support our movement. Opposition activists receive threats every day and Boris was no exception. But they won't stop us," said opposition activist Mark Galperin.

On the contrary, Mr. Galperin, Putin is doing an excellent job of stopping his opposition.

Leading international condemnation of the murder, U.S. President Barack Obama called for a prompt, impartial and transparent investigation to ensure those responsible were brought to justice for the "vicious killing".
Political murders often go unsolved in Russia. Police said they were investigating whether the murder was aimed at destabilizing the political situation in Russia or was committed by radical Islamists against Nemtsov, a Jew.
A car suspected of being used by the killers, and identified as coming from the mainly Muslim Ingushetia region, was found abandoned in central Moscow. Some Russian news outlets said surveillance footage showed two men leaving it.
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev cautioned against jumping to conclusions but some opposition figures blamed Putin directly. Others said Russian society was in decline, describing an environment where Putin demands total loyalty and supporters go to great lengths to do what they think may please him.
"In Putin's atmosphere of hatred and violence, abroad and in Russia, bloodshed is the prerequisite to show loyalty, that you are on the team," another opposition leader, former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, said on Twitter.
"If Putin gave (the) order to murder Boris Nemtsov is not the point. It is Putin's dictatorship. His 24/7 propaganda about enemies of the state."

This is what an actual tyrant looks like.  So odd that Republicans scream at Obama over tyranny, but worship Putin.

Oh wait, that makes perfect sense too.

Boehner's Week Hand

So late last night Democrats rescued the incompetent John Boehner with a one week extension of Homeland Security funding after Boehner's own three-week plan failed completely.

Republicans vowing to govern effectively as a congressional majority failed a fundamental test Friday, when House leaders only narrowly managed to avert a partial shutdown of theDepartment of Homeland Security after an embarrassing defeat earlier in the day.

The seven-day funding extension, approved by a vote of 357 to 60, came just hours before money for the department was to run out at midnight. The accord was reached after a stunning and humiliating setback for Speaker John A. Boehner and his leadership team earlier Friday, when the House voted against their original plan to extend funding for the department for three weeks — a position that Mr. Boehner had considered a fail-safe. More than 50 House Republicans defected, voting against the bill.

The speaker was rescued by Democrats, who supported his offer of a weeklong extension because they believed it would lead to a vote next week on full funding for the department through the fiscal year, without any provisions related to President Obama’s executive actions on immigration included in the House’s original legislation. A spokesman for Mr. Boehner said the speaker had made no promises or deals with House Democrats to guarantee such a vote.

And curiously, a one-week extension passed the Senate last night with no problem. Republicans are jumping ship as fast as possible.

We should have never fought this battle,” said Senator Mark S. Kirk, Republican of Illinois. “In my view, in the long run, if you are blessed with the majority, you are blessed with the power to govern. If you’re going to govern, you have to act responsibly.”

Just two months into the new Congress, Republicans were sounding a grim note, far removed from their triumphant election victories in November. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said Friday that “2015 is about us.”

There’s nobody to blame but us now when it comes to the appropriations process,” Mr. Graham said. “If we can run the place more traditional, like a business, so to speak, I think we flourish. If we self-inflict on the budget, and the appropriations process, and we can’t get the government managed well, then I think we’re in trouble.”

 Now the question is will the tea party blow up the country again like the terrorists they are.  We'll find out in a week.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Last Call For He Lived Long And Prospered

The legendary Leonard Nimoy, Mr Spock, has passed at the age of 83.

Leonard Nimoy, the sonorous, gaunt-faced actor who won a worshipful global following as Mr. Spock, the resolutely logical human-alien first officer of the Starship Enterprise in the television and movie juggernaut “Star Trek,” died on Friday morning at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He was 83. 
His wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, confirmed his death, saying the cause was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 
Mr. Nimoy announced last year that he had the disease, which he attributed to years of smoking, a habit he had given up three decades earlier. He had been hospitalized earlier in the week. 
His artistic pursuits — poetry, photography and music in addition to acting — ranged far beyond the United Federation of Planets, but it was as Mr. Spock that Mr. Nimoy became a folk hero, bringing to life one of the most indelible characters of the last half century: a cerebral, unflappable, pointy-eared Vulcan with a signature salute and blessing: “Live long and prosper” (from the Vulcan “Dif-tor heh smusma”).

This one legitimately left a hole in my heart.  He absolutely will be missed. As Mr. Spock, Nimoy was more than a cultural icon, he was a hero to outsiders and nerds and geeks everywhere. We related to him. One of the best birthday presents I ever got from Zandardad was his autobiography, "I Am Spock".

Think I'll read it again this week.  His final tweet, by the way, was this:

A more perfect goodbye?  That would be...illogical.

It's Both Who He Is And What He Wants

I wasn't aware that Max Boot was still in the game (and writing for Time Magazine no less) until Zandardad emailed me Boot's article yesterday asking for my opinion.

Guess what Max Boot wants?

Back in 2007–08, when al-Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS’s precursor, was pushed out of the Sunni-dominated northwest of Iraq, it was by Sunni tribal fighters working in conjunction with American troops. To inflict serious setbacks on ISIS today will require resurrecting that successful coalition rather than flatly refusing, as Obama has done, to put any “boots on the ground.” 
It is in America’s interest to send as few troops as possible into harm’s way and to get our allies to do as much of the fighting as possible. But sending only 3,000 troops and essentially prohibiting them from leaving base, as Obama has done, is a recipe for ineffectiveness. If we’re going to have any impact on the fight against ISIS, we need to take off our self-imposed shackles. 
It’s hard to know now what commitment may be necessary, which is why it’s vital not to pass an Authorization for the Use of Military Force that would prohibit “enduring offensive ground combat operations.” It is folly to tell ISIS in advance that it has nothing to fear from the best ground troops on the planet. 
Credible estimates of how many troops we should send range from 10,000 to 25,000. Just as important as the troop numbers are the rules of engagement under which they operate. It is imperative that U.S. advisers and joint tactical air controllers be able to operate on the front lines with the local troops they support. This was the formula that made possible the rapid overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001.

"But Zandar," you may ask, "isn't Max Boot one of the leading voices that pushed for all-out ground war in Iraq while writing op-eds for the NY Times and helped paved the way for the decade plus and trillion plus we spent there? Why is he still writing articles for Time Magazine, and why is he advocating the same, open-ended Permawar strategy from 2002?"

Good questions. The answer of course is neocons can't be discredited, just the wars they want the rest of us to fight. And it's always the rest of us who pay the price. This time won't be any different either, is my guess.

Just Akin To Return

Guess who's back?  Back again?  Akin's back, tell a friend!

Todd Akin is considering a primary challenge to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) in 2016
“I have not ruled anything out,” the former congressman and 2012 GOP Senate nominee told The Hill in a phone interview on Wednesday.

“I think there is a high level of dissatisfaction among conservatives, that they have to some degree been pushed out of the Republican Party,” he continued. “The sentiment is there. The Tea Party is skeptical and wants some fresh blood, not just the same establishment guys.” 
Akin’s reemergence is sure to be an unwelcome development for national Republicans.

You think Mr. Legitimate Rape might be a problem in 2016 for the GOP?  I do.

During his 2012 race against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the Republican triggered a firestorm of criticism from both Democrats and fellow Republicans for saying that women rarely get pregnant from "legitimate rape” during a discussion about why abortion should be illegal in all cases, even rape and incest. 
When Akin refused to back down, the GOP essentially abandoned him in the once-winnable race, and his gaffes hurt the party across the board. 
Now, the GOP pariah says if he did run, it’d be to try to move his party away from a singular focus on economic issues, which he says has come at the expense of social issues, like abortion. 
And Blunt, he argues, will have problems with the state’s conservative base. 
“I think [Blunt’s] support among conservatives is weak,” Akin said. “His biggest liability is a third party conservative getting into the race. If I were in Roy’s shoes, that’s what I’d be worried about.”

Oh please run, Todd.  Be on the news as much as possible reminding voters exactly what Republicans think of women and their "place" in America", especially when the odds are very good that a woman will be at the top of the ticket for the Dems next year.

We'll have a way to shut all that down.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

John Kerry's Breakfast Of Champions

Righteous indignation is a good look on you, Secretary Kerry, especially when dealing with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday slammed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's opposition to a potential nuclear deal with Iran, calling it as wrongheaded as the prime minister's backing of the Iraq War.

"Israel is safer today with the added time we have given and the stoppage of the advances in the nuclear program than they were before we got that agreement, which by the way the prime minister opposed," Kerry said during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. "He was wrong." 
Kerry was later asked to address Netanyahu's criticism of a hypothetical deal with Iran as a threat to Israel. 
"The prime minister was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush," Kerry replied. "We all know what happened with that decision."

I'm betting it's right about now Netanyahu is wishing he never talked to John Boehner about trying to put President Obama "in his place".  Bibi's looking like a lonely man without a friend in the world at this point.

And yes, a not-so-gentle reminder that Bibi was part of the relentless drumbeat to invade Iraq and should be punished for it.  Hopefully Israeli elections will take care of that very, very soon.  About time Kerry told Bibi to go suck it.

Trump, Card


Real estate mogul Donald J. Trump, who has long toyed with presidential ambitions, said Wednesday he is serious about pursuing a run for the White House — moving ahead with a spate of political hires and delaying his television commitments for 2016. 
In recent days, Trump has enlisted several strategists to advise him in three key states, retained an attorney to help him navigate federal election law and alerted GOP officials about his desire to seek the Republican nomination. 
Trump said he has also declined to sign on for another season with the entertainment division of NBC, where he hosts “Celebrity Apprentice,” because of his political projects.

Oh this should be amusing.  Please, let The Donald stay in this mess as long as possible.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Last Call For The Religion Test

Here's what Americans think about President Obama's religion, "deep down":

Only 9% of Republicans believe Obama is a Christian, in their heart of hearts.  The vast majority think he's Muslim.

Independent voters mostly have no clue and don't know (47%), abut again only 16% believe it when the President says he's a Christian, a quarter think he's Muslim.

Hell, even 10% of Dems believe Obama is a Muslim.  But 45% believe he is a Christian.

Now given what most Republican believe about Muslims: that they are the Enemy and want to kill them, what does that tell you about Republicans and President Obama?

Both Sides Do It, Forever

The useless Ron Fournier literally blames both sides within the first 20 words of his piece on the Republicans shutting down Homeland Security in order to kill Obama's immigration orders.

Who's at fault for the looming Homeland Security Department shutdown? Everyone in power. Let me count the ways.

And who's at the top of his list?  President Obama, of course.

1. President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders punted on immigration reform while controlling the White House and Congress in 2009 and 2010. Choosing politics over the policy, they wanted immigration as a point of attack against the GOP in the 2010 midterm elections.

Never mind that Republicans trashed their own immigration plan under Bush in 2007, it's Obama's fault for not passing immigration reform in 2009, despite the fact that when Obama wanted to work on immigration, the GOP blocked the bill.

2. Just weeks after voters repudiated his administration in the 2014 midterms, Obama granted temporary relief from deportation to more than 4 million illegal immigrants. He did so without congressional approval, despitewarnings that such action might be illegal and would almost certainly worsen polarization and dysfunction in Washington. (The fundamental promise of his 2008 election was to break gridlock.)

So at this point it's literally all Obama's fault. Somehow, he made the GOP tie DHS funding to immigration executive orders.

3. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised the new GOP Senate would not allow a government shutdown. "So I think we have an obligation to change the behavior on the Senate and to begin to function again," he said.

This is somehow third in a two-party blame game.  That tells you all you need to know about Fournier.

5. Congress approved the annual federal budget in December, but Republicans held back funding for the terrorist-fighting agency known as DHS. They wanted leverage against Obama's immigration action. The DHS budget was extended only to February 27.

Now, this is the actual cause of the impending shutdown, but it's not listed until fifth.  Again, classic Fournier.

9. McConnell proposed to "get the Senate unstuck" by decoupling the president's immigration action from the DHS funding bill. Likely outcome: The agency would be funded; Republicans would register a symbolic vote against the president; and Obama would protect his immigration action with a veto.

This is somehow the last "cause" of the problem, the fact that this was all for show and always was. It rather neatly erases the other 8 "causes" but again, this is last.  Fournier ends with this:

The fact that both sides are wrong doesn't mean they are equally wrong. Most voters are likely to conclude that Republicans are a bit more culpable than Democrats. "As we learned during the last government shutdown," according to NBC's First Read political analysis, "the side that's using government spending to demand changes to existing law or directives is going to be the side that gets blamed if the government (or just part of it) shuts down." 
After the 2013 government shutdown, Republican approval ratings plummeted, and yet that searing example of government dysfunction was all but forgotten by the time Republicans stumped Democrats in the 2014 midterms. 
In 2013, voters viewed the GOP as the worst of two bad choices. In 2014, the coin flipped and Democrats were the most-worse option. If DHS shuts down this weekend, it almost doesn't matter who get blamed in the short, medium, and long terms. Both parties will be failures. Again.

So literally two paragraphs after noting that most Americans will blame the GOP because both parties are not "equally wrong", he then ends with "it doesn't matter" and "both parties are equally wrong."

Fournier, folks.

The Black Hole Of Chicago

Spencer Ackerman's series in The Guardian on Chicago's crooked cops continues with this horrifying piece on what can only be described as a "domestic black site" for off-the-record arrests, interrogations, and unconstitutional detainment.

The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.

The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights. 
Alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke out to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, include:
  • Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases. 
  • Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.
  • Shackling for prolonged periods.
  • Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility.
  • Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.
At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead. 
Brian Jacob Church, a protester known as one of the “Nato Three”, was held and questioned at Homan Square in 2012 following a police raid. Officers restrained Church for the better part of a day, denying him access to an attorney, before sending him to a nearby police station to be booked and charged. 
“Homan Square is definitely an unusual place,” Church told the Guardian on Friday. “It brings to mind the interrogation facilities they use in the Middle East. The CIA calls them black sites. It’s a domestic black site. When you go in, no one knows what’s happened to you.”

And Chicago cops are using this on protesters and minorities, people that nobody will miss.  No attorney, no cameras, no oversight, just treating people the way we treat Gitmo detainees.  In America.  On American soil.  By American cops.

Jesus hell.

The secretive warehouse is the latest example of Chicago police practices that echo the much-criticized detention abuses of the US war on terrorism. While those abuses impacted people overseas, Homan Square – said to house military-style vehicles, interrogation cells and even a cage – trains its focus on Americans, most often poor, black and brown. 
Unlike a precinct, no one taken to Homan Square is said to be booked. Witnesses, suspects or other Chicagoans who end up inside do not appear to have a public, searchable record entered into a database indicating where they are, as happens when someone is booked at a precinct. Lawyers and relatives insist there is no way of finding their whereabouts. Those lawyers who have attempted to gain access to Homan Square are most often turned away, even as their clients remain in custody inside. 
“It’s sort of an open secret among attorneys that regularly make police station visits, this place – if you can’t find a client in the system, odds are they’re there,” said Chicago lawyer Julia Bartmes.

And this is an open secret in Chicago among law enforcement and attorneys.  My god.

Get the DoJ in here yesterday.  People have to go to prison for a very long time for this one.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Last Call For Anything You Want

The Internet Service Economy(tm) reaches its nadir. TechCrunch's Sarah Burh introduces us to Magic.

Get sushi on a boat, a tiger at your door, or make your parking ticket vanish into thin air. An ambitious new startup says it will let you text for anything you want (and they do mean anything) as long as it’s legal, and it will magically come to you. 
Just text 408-596-5017 and Magic, a texting service that seems to have blown up over the weekend, promises to deliver. 
Magic is only 48 hours old, but we’re told it has already had over 17,000 text messages as of this morning. Someone added Magic to Product Hunt over the weekend and it was No. 1 on Hacker News within 20 minutes. 
Requests have ranged from help getting out of court to a tiger delivered to a customer’s door, according to co-founder Mike Chen. 
Magic seems to have blown up because of what I call “Product Hunt Effect” (similar to the “TechCrunch Effect“). A small startup with a simple idea gets posted on Product Hunt and it’s flooded with more traffic than it knows what to do with. 
Chen seemed overwhelmed when I spoke to him. “I had zero idea it would get like this. You know people say things happen overnight and I didn’t believe them before and now it’s happening to me,” he told me over the phone. 
The original idea was to create a service using text messaging instead of going through several steps on an app to order food, a driver or other things people might want. “Something like DoorDash or Postmates you have to manage it a bit,” Chen said. 
So this last Saturday his team put together a simple site with a number to text that would try to give you anything you want, as long as it’s legal and you are willing to pay the price.

And off to the races Magic goes.

Magic charges a fee on top of the cost of the products or services you're requesting, essentially acting as a middleman for services like Instacart or Seamless that are already acting as a middleman. That means you're paying two premiums: one for the convenience of simplifying the process to just a text message and one premium if Magic ends up using an existing delivery service. To be clear, you can definitely save some money if you go directly through those delivery apps or just order those plane tickets online yourself.

The ultimate concierge service for people with too much money and not enough common sense? These guys are going to make billions.

Shutdown Countdown: DHS Edition

With days left before 85% of Department of Homeland Security employees will have to start reporting to work without pay (because that will make them really want to protect America) Republicans finally have a plan for moving forward by caving on immigration, but a GOP partial shutdown is looking all but assured as there's no way the House will play ball.

Congress approved a full year’s funding for the rest of the federal government in December, but Republicans held back funding for DHS in reaction to Obama’s immigration actions, giving the agency budget authority only through midnight Feb. 27. 
Now, with four days before the security agency’s budget lapses, senior Republicans are pushing for a new strategy that does not directly link Obama’s actions on immigration to funding for DHS. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who had previously acknowledged that the chamber was in stalemate over the issue, set up votes later this week on separate legislation that would repeal one of Obama’s immigration actions.

Those actions, announced in December, would grant temporary relief from deportation to more than 4 million illegal immigrants. McConnell’s hope is that moving the immigration issue onto a separate bill may create a path for the DHS funding bill to go through. 
“It’s another way to get the Senate unstuck,” McConnell said.

But getting a clean bill past the House once again comes down to Boehner selling it to a base that wants to obliterate Democrats from the country.

Outside conservative groups, including Heritage Action, have been pushing Republicans not to not approve a “clean” funding plan, demanding that any DHS budget include the immigration provisions that would reverse Obama’s actions. 
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has sided with Heritage Action and other conservatives, even after the judge’s ruling last week that could tie up the issue for many months in the courts. 
“The House has passed a bill to fund the Homeland Security Department, but Senate Democrats are blocking debate on it — and, with just days left before the deadline, President Obama is doing nothing to help,” Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman, said Monday in a statement.

So even if a clean bill passes the Senate, it's not passing the House.  And time is running out.
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