Friday Open Thread

The Friends of Distinction are an American vocal group best known for their late 1960s hits, “Grazing in the Grass“, “Love or Let Me Be Lonely“, and “Going in Circles“. Founded by Harry Elston and Floyd Butler, The Friends of Distinction also included Jessica Cleaves and Barbara Jean Love (plus Charlene Gibson, who replaced Love during her pregnancy).

Elston and Butler’s involvement in music entailed several groups, including the Hi-Fis, Ray Charles‘ backing band. The Hi-Fis also included Lamont McLemore and Marilyn McCoo, who would go on to be members of The 5th Dimension. When the group disbanded in 1966, Elston and Butler recruited Cleaves and Love for a new band; initially, Elston came up with the name Distinctive Friends, but Love suggested reversing the words to Friends of Distinction.

About SouthernGirl2

A Native Texan who adores baby kittens, loves horses, rodeos, pomegranates, & collect Eagles. Enjoys politics, games shows, & dancing to all types of music. Loves discussing and learning about different cultures. A Phi Theta Kappa lifetime member with a passion for Social & Civil Justice.
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42 Responses to Friday Open Thread

  1. Ametia says:

    Legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in New York cleared the last major hurdle with a 33-to-29 vote in the state Senate, sending the bill to the governor’s desk for his expected approval.
    A vote on the measure, which the state Assembly passed June 15, had been stalled in the Senate. But it turned a corner Friday, according to Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, after lawmakers agreed on an amendment pushed by Republicans to protect religious groups from potential litigation.
    Currently, the District of Columbia and five states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire — grant same-sex marriage licenses.

  2. Ametia says:

    Please tell me who the HELL is Whitey Bulger, and why should we care?

  3. rikyrah says:

    DeMint: Republicans Who Vote To Raise The Debt Limit Will Be ‘Gone’
    Underscoring the challenge Republican leaders in Congress will face when they have to round up votes to increase the debt limit — and they will have to increase the debt limit — the most influential conservative in their party is telling his colleagues, ‘if you vote for it, you’ll lose.’

    “Based on what I can see around the country, not only are those individuals gone, but I would suspect the Republican Party would be set back many years,” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) told ABC when asked about the looming vote.

    DeMint is whipping Republicans to support a highly controversial Constitutional amendment requiring the government to maintain a balanced budget, and making tax increases functionally impossible as the price of voting to raise the debt limit. If not?

    “It would be the most toxic vote,” DeMint said. “I can tell you if you look at the polls, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, they do not think we should increase the debt limit.”

    Party leaders on both sides of the aisle understand the folly here. If Congress fails to raise the debt limit by early August, the U.S. Treasury will either default on its interest payments to lenders, or have to radically curtail spending on crucial government services, lending to states, and payments to vendors. Either way, the consequences would be negative, most experts agree, and many even say they’d be catastrophic.

    But numerous influential Republicans like DeMint have planted seeds of doubt about the stakes in the minds of rank and file members in both the House and Senate. Thus, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will likely face significant defections when the vote comes down. Thus, in one highy plausible scenario, raising the debt limit will require significant Democratic buy-in. And if that’s the case, it means the legislative package can’t include a GOP wishlist of dramatic spending cuts to big entitlements. But if Republicans don’t get what they want out of the debate, more of them will defect, meaning leaders will need more Democratic support, and a less draconian bill, which could trigger further GOP backlash in a dynamic that could end in a debt limit measure that can’t pass the Republican-controlled House. That’s the nightmare scenario.

    • Ametia says:

      Jimmy DEMINTED, got news for ya, the Rethuglican Party is already set back. Can you say to the 1800s?

  4. Obama to announce $500M manufacturing investment initiative

    President Obama on Friday will announce the launch of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), an initiative that would provide more than $500 million to encourage investments in promising technologies.

    It is the administration’s second initiative in less than a month intended to boost U.S. manufacturing.

    In a speech at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, the president will outline a plan whereby the federal government, industry and universities can work together to better determine needed areas of investment.

    “Today, I’m calling for all of us to come together — private-sector industry, universities and the government — to spark a renaissance in American manufacturing and help our manufacturers develop the cutting-edge tools they need to compete with anyone in the world,” Obama will say, according to prepared remarks.

    “With these key investments, we can ensure that the United States remains a nation that ‘invents it here and manufactures it here’ and creates high-quality, good-paying jobs for American workers,” the president will say.

    The plan would “work together as part of an overall manufacturing agenda,” a senior administration official said.

  5. Ametia says:

  6. rikyrah says:

    Political AnimalBlog
    June 24, 2011 1:25 PM

    Dems demand revenue

    By Steve Benen
    There are basically two ways to reduce a deficit: the government can bring in more money or spend less money. Historically, every deal every struck in Washington has offered some combination of the two.

    Republicans have been cagey lately about how they define “tax increase,” but they’ve said repeatedly that they want a massive debt-reduction plan in place that deals exclusively with one side of the budget ledger. This morning, two leading Democrats said if there’s going to be a deal, it’s going to have to need at least some balance.

    As Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters this morning, “There needs to be revenues in any deal.”

    What kind of revenues? The Democratic plan appears to be taking shape.

    Democrats want to close tax loopholes that benefit oil companies, and eliminate a tax preference that gives corporate aircraft a friendlier depreciation schedule than commercial aircraft. Additionally, Van Hollen said, Democrats were proposing to phase out tax deductions and certain credits for people making more than $500,000 a year. These would be paired with a reduction in the tax burden on lower earners, by eliminating existing limitations on their deductions.

    “Folks with over $500,000, we’re going to phase out your deductions and some of your tax credit,” Van Hollen said.

    Republicans balked.

    “The message Republicans sent was…unless we accept their lopsided approach…they’re prepared to tank the economy,” Van Hollen said.

    Republicans have to hope the debate over details doesn’t reach the public, because the Democratic approach would likely be pretty popular.

    But I just want to emphasize again that the Republican approach, on multiple levels, is like nothing we’ve ever seen. Not only has a major party never threatened to crash the economy on purpose as part of debt talks, but no debt-reduction plan has ever categorically ruled out additional revenue.

    Indeed, the whole point of bipartisan talks is to find a balance — have some more money coming in, less money going out, and arguing over the ratio. Republicans are saying, in all seriousness, that this balanced approach, embraced by policymakers on both sides for generations, is somehow a radical new extreme.

    Their argument is so absurd, the fact that they’re not simply laughed out of the room is itself rather remarkable.

  7. rikyrah says:

    Newt Gingrich and Jim Crow Lite
    by BooMan
    Fri Jun 24th, 2011 at 10:21:06 AM EST

    Newt Gingrich thinks it was a mistake for Sarah Palin and Rudy Guiliani to mock Barack Obama’s experience as a community organizer because it made Obama’s radicalism seem trivial and “Obama is not a trivial person.”

    “Obama is the most serious radical threat to traditional America ever to occupy the White House.” It would have been better if Republican leaders “had gotten up and said, here is what [Obama] was teaching, and they had taken the audience through the five principles of [radical organizer Saul] Alinsky.” Such a discussion “would have sobered the country. It wasn’t a funny thing. It was a profound insight into how radical Obama is.”

    There are a couple of things to unpack in here. First is obviously an examination of what Gingrich really means by “traditional America.” The term calls to mind Sarah Palin’s racially-loaded “real Americans” line, but Gingrich is speaking in the context of Saul Alinsky’s teaching. It’s hard to separate Alinsky for race-issues because the heart of his work was advocacy for the needs of those living in black ghettoes, but Gingrich could be more concerned about Alinsky’s philosophy and methods than his work on the behalf of African-Americans.

    Whatever Gingrich truly means, his seemingly insane comments about the president are consistent with the nationwide movement of Republican governors and legislators to disenfranchise as many people in our ghettoes as possible. This is being done by new laws that require state-issued photo identification cards at polling stations. These laws obviously make it impossible to vote if you don’t have a driver’s license, passport, or ID card, and the highest concentration of such people are young blacks and latinos in our inner cities who do not drive or travel abroad and have no need for a state-issued ID card.

    Nearly everyone I employed during my time at ACORN lacked a state-issued photo ID. Many of them had a photo ID, but they were usually issued by a high school or technical school. One of my biggest problems in hiring people was getting the required documentation, including a Social Security card. This is just how our inner cities are, and if you think poor urban people should have the same right to vote that you enjoy, you should oppose these photo ID laws vigorously.

    There was nothing radical about ACORN when I worked there. We were focused on getting poor urban blacks registered to vote so that their voices would be heard and, hopefully, politicians would be elected that would be sympathetic to their needs and concerns. The Republicans went after and destroyed ACORN because they did not like how successful they were in getting out the urban minority vote. It’s all part of their larger voter suppression effort, first made famous in Florida during the 2000 elections.

    Because Saul Alinsky worked to give voice to the dispossessed, the Republicans see him as a fearsome and radical person. Alinsky certainly embraced the “radical” label, but I don’t think he was any more radical than Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks. In other words, unless you think we should go back to Jim Crow it’s probably time to reassess Alinsky’s radicalism. On racial issues, at least, the country has accepted his wisdom. Except, increasingly, that seems to no longer be true. The Republicans are now pursuing a Jim Crow-lite voter suppression strategy. That used to be mainstream. But in 2012, I think it’s radical.

    So, really, it’s not the president or Alinsky who are radical threats to traditional America. It’s Gingrich and the Republicans who are trying to overturn forty-five years of civil and voting rights. Newt can spout off as much as he likes, but I know what he’s doing and why he’s doing it.

  8. rikyrah says:

    Perry’s Tequila Joke At Latino Conference Falls Flat
    Eric Kleefeld | June 24, 2011, 12:30PM

    Gov. Rick Perry’s (R-TX) attempt to reach out to Hispanic voters for his possible presidential candidacy might not be off to the best start.

    Perry spoke Thursday at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials annual conference in San Antonio. As McClatchy reports, Perry tried to steer clear of his strong opposition to illegal immigration, by speaking instead of his state’s diversity, and how he has created opportunities for Latino-owned businesses, and appointed Latinos to judgeships and important positions in state government:

    Perry said he has made historic strides in naming Hispanics to state boards and commissions, including appointments of the first Latinas to the state’s top two courts — the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals — as well as the secretary of state. He also noted that he named Jose Cuevas as chairman of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, an appointee whose name bears striking similarities to the popular tequila, Jose Cuervo.

    “That is the right job for that man,” Perry said.The Associated Press reports that the joke fell flat.

  9. rikyrah says:

    Nurse inherits £21 million from reclusive copper mining heiress
    A reclusive copper mining heiress who died aged 104 has left $34 million (£21 million) of her estate to a nurse from New York who was randomly assigned to care for her – while her relatives will get nothing

    By Jon Swaine, New York
    9:00PM BST 23 Jun 2011
    Hadassah Peri was sent to look after Huguette Clark by a nursing agency in 1991, and eventually became her “friend and loyal companion,” spending more time with her than anyone else, according to a will filed in a Manhattan court.

    Miss Clark, who inherited an estimated half-billion dollars in 1927, died last month, almost 50 years after she retreated to her sprawling New York townhouse, later moving into city hospitals in secret. No photographs of her, or substantial details of her life, from beyond 1930 are known to exist.

    Mrs Peri, a 61-year-old immigrant from the Philippines, will now receive a large chunk of Miss Clark’s $400 million (£250 million) legacy – as well as her collection of dolls, dolls’ houses and dolls’ clothes.

    Before she died, Miss Clark also bought Mrs Peri at least four properties – a pair of $350,000 (£220,000) flats near Park Avenue for her children to use, a $700,000 (£438,000) house for visitors near her own in Brooklyn, and a $500,000 (£312,000) holiday home in New Jersey.

    In a statement released through her lawyers, Mrs Peri said she was “awed at the generosity Madame Clark has shown me and my family, and eternally grateful”.

    • Ametia says:

      Sometimes, the so-called lowly help comes out a WINNER. Kudos, Mrs. Peri. Don’t spend it all in one place. LOL

  10. rikyrah says:

    In case Orange Julius can’t see it through his alcohol-filled haze..

    Cantor just threw his azzz



    Cantor Gave Boehner No Heads Up On Ditching Debt Talks
    Murmurs that Eric Cantor may be undercutting Speaker John Boehner with his decision to drop out of debt ceiling negotiations are getting louder with the news that Cantor barely tipped his boss off on his plans. Boehner received the news only right before the press did, per the AP, leaving him to face reporters at his weekly press conference having barely processed the gamechanging move.

    The two Republican leaders sent mixed messages that morning, with Cantor suggesting in his initial statements that the talks were progressing well and that he needed Boehner’s approval to work out the toughest issues — i.e. taxes. But Boehner and other GOP leaders quickly retconned that explanation into Cantor quitting because the Republicans won’t raise taxes under any circumstances and Democrats aren’t taking their threats seriously.

    The lack of coordination is fueling speculation that Cantor and Boehner are each trying to tag the other with responsibility for making the call on tax increases that will inevitably be a part of any truly significant bipartisan deal. Some observers noted similar tensions during negotiations over a Continuing Resolution as Cantor disavowed knowledge of even basic details of the impending deal in its final stages, giving him a handy out if it failed to win over the base.

    The White House, for their part, is spinning Cantor’s exit as moving everyone a step closer to a final deal rather than labeling it a tax tantrum, which is the House Democrats’ read.

    “As all of us at the table said at the outset, the goal of these talks was to report our findings back to our respective leaders,” Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement. “The next phase is in the hands of those leaders, who need to determine the scope of an agreement that can tackle the problem and attract bipartisan support. For now the talks are in abeyance as we await that guidance.”

  11. rikyrah says:

    Why Michelle Obama’s Africa Trip Matters
    For young women emerging from apartheid, a highly successful woman is an inspiration.
    By: Charlayne Hunter-Gault | Posted: June 24, 2011 at 12:34 AM

    Some of the women in South Africa whom I communicated with also said it shouldn’t be underestimated that Michelle Obama is a strong female role model visiting a country still ensnarled in a patriarchal culture. South Africa’s levels of gender violence and rape are among the highest in the world, and 45 percent of female-headed households here live below the poverty line. This is a country where, despite the fact that women in Parliament have achieved a level of parity enjoyed by only three other countries, in the private sector, there are only 15 women CEOs at companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, 20 women chairpersons and only 16 percent women in senior management positions.

    And that is surely part of the reason the crowd applauded when Mrs. Obama said, “You can be the generation to ensure that women are no longer second-class citizens, that girls take their rightful places in our schools. You can be the generation that stands up and says that violence against women in any form, in any place, including the home — especially the home — that isn’t just a women’s rights violation. It’s a human rights violation. And it has no place in any society.”

    To date, no one has been able to affect the daunting effect of HIV/AIDS on young women and girls. They are the fasting-growing cohort of new infections, although the rates of new infections appear to have stabilized. Still, with some 5.6 million infections, South Africa has the highest rates of HIV infection in the world. It is not likely that Michelle Obama will succeed where countless others have failed in delivering an effective message of “safe sex.”

    But she addressed the issue head on, drawing even more rousing applause when she told the young women, “You can be the generation that ends HIV/AIDs in our time — the generation that fights not just the disease but the stigma of the disease, the generation that teaches the world that HIV is fully preventable and treatable, and should never be a source of shame.”

    Some critics of U.S. policy argue we should be doing more. But Michelle Obama’s exposure to this area just may give her the kind of firsthand information that will inform in a unique way America’s commitment to helping combat the most challenging epidemic facing the country — and much of the continent, including Botswana, her next stop.,2

    • Ametia says:

      There’s NO doubt Michelle Obama will leave an eternal imprint on the minds and hearts of not only African women but women worldwide.

    • This is really awful but it isn’t just education about safe sex. There still persists a belief among some that raping a virgin will cure a man of AIDS. Rape is rampant in SA and elsewhere in Africa. Often girls and women have no chance to save themselves from unprotected sex.

  12. Sen. John McGee arrested on suspicion of grand theft

    BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Senate Republican Caucus ChairmanJohn McGee was arrested early Sunday after police say he took aFord Excursion and cargo trailer from the Boise home of a “completestranger” and a blood-alcohol test showed the four-term lawmakerhad been drinking.

    The lawyer for the 38-year-old senator, who represents Caldwell and is the head of the Canyon County GOP, says McGee isembarrassed by the situation and intends to handle his legal caseresponsibly.

    McGee was being held in the Ada County Jail pending an arraignment in 4th District Court on Monday afternoon. Authoritiessay he was taken into custody on suspicion of felony grand theftand misdemeanor driving under the influence after a breath testfound he had a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 percent, nearly twicethe legal limit in Idaho.

    “He is embarrassed by this matter. He has never been in thissituation before, but he has great confidence in the criminaljustice system,” said attorney Scott McKay, who met with McGee onSunday. “With the love and support of his family, he will handlethis matter responsibly,” McKay said in a statement.

    So far, police have released only a few details of events preceding McGee’s arrest. But Lt. Kody Aldrich told The AssociatedPress that McGee did not know the owner of the SUV and trailer thathe was driving and later was found by police sleeping inside. Thevehicle and trailer became stuck as McGee tried backing into theyard of a home on southwest Boise. It was also unclear why McGeewas in the Boise area in Ada County.

    “Nobody knows why he was there,” Aldrich said. “It doesn’t sound like he did either.”
    Aldrich said McGee told officers he was on his way to Jackpot, Nev. Police were alerted of McGee’s actions by people wholived inside the home.

  13. Ametia says:

    The House of Representatives on Friday rejected by a 238-to-180 vote a resolution that would have put sharp restrictions on funding the U.S. role in the NATO-led military operation in Libya.
    The bill, which would limit the U.S. role to non-hostile actions such as search and rescue, aerial refueling, operational planning, intelligence gathering and reconnaissance, got a majority of Republican support while Democrats overwhelmingly rejected it. Similar legislation is considered to have little chance of clearing the Democratic-controlled Senate.
    The House earlier Friday voted 295-193 against a resolution supporting U.S. involvement in Libya, with Republicans overwhelmingly rejecting it and a narrow majority voting for it. Both measures are seen as a rebuke of President Obama, who many in Congress believe failed to sufficiently consult with them before committing the United States to the operation.

  14. Ametia says:

    Hat tip to snoopy4eva2 @ TOAITR Thank you, snoopy!
    I Obot?
    by Karoli on June 24, 2011 · 7 comments

    It’s time to address this once and for all. Here are a couple of things about me that you can count on. First, when I criticize the President, I endeavor to do so in a constructive way. Second, I will give this administration the benefit of the doubt. Third, there is never going to be a time where I will grunt and say that Obama is just like Bush. This is because that would be a lie of the highest magnitude.

    I understand that it’s all the rage these days to take anger at Republican obstruction and project it onto the President. I also understand that it’s all the rage, and I do mean rage, to take disappointment that he hasn’t moved whatever heaven and earth he should have moved for your personal pet issues quickly enough.

    Gay rights? Yes, despite his DOJ making the decision that DOMA is unconstitutional and despite signing DADT’s repeal into law last year, despite setting policies for government employees that allow same sex partners to be covered by employees’ health insurance, and despite the fact that this president is undoing much of what our last Democratic president did, it’s not enough for some. It’s not fast enough, it’s not right enough, it’s not enough. Period. Fair enough. It’s your right to be peeved, but don’t project that onto me or suggest I’m some kind of robot-being for not shaking my fist hard enough. I prefer to fight that battle on the state level, thankyouverymuch.

    Guantanamo? Let’s all repeat after me: Congress killed the Guantanamo closure, not the President. But he didn’t fight hard enough, you say? To which I reply, choose your battles. This was one he desperately wanted to win for a number of reasons which transcend the disgruntlement of some of his left-leaning (former) supporters. But alas, he has an intransigent Congress with a bunch of wingnuts in the House. Everything is a battle. And to be fair, there were some conservadems willing to join hands to block that closure, so he was more or less out of ammo before he loaded the gun. Pick your battles, I say. Anyone who has raised kids knows by the time the second one can talk that every disagreement can’t be a battleground, no matter how much you want it to be.

    Tax cuts? Okay, here’s a legitimate gripe. I’ll join in this one. I wanted the tax cuts to expire rather than a deal. On the other hand, it’s difficult for me to toss unemployed folks under the bus when the tradeoff was 13 months of extended UI benefits, which is stimulative to the economy and which makes a huge difference to the long-term unemployed. Still, I hate that the tax cuts were extended to 2012.

    Wars? Going back to the campaign promises, which were also part of the overall Democratic platform. I see where he promised to ramp up Afghanistan, hunt down Bin Laden, and end Iraq (Also see this WaPo article with specific numbers. All but 147 out of Iraq by 12/31 unless Iraq requests otherwise). Check, check and check. And now, just as was promised when he agreed to the troop surge, those troops are being drawn down and the transition to Afghan control planned by 2014. Am I happy that we have a presence in Afghanistan? Hell, no. Do I think he’s doing the best he can to unwind that presence responsibly? Yes, I think I do.

    Libya? Hate that we have any involvement, like that NATO is lead on it, hate Gaddafi with a passion and have for years, hope that it ends soon. I’m not sure there is a graceful way to decline to participate in a NATO action, nor do I have all of the information at my fingertips to know what led to the decision, but honestly, I wish it would have been a different one.

    I could go on and on with this list, but you get the idea. We liberals seem to warm to oppositional positioning and it would appear that we’re not altogether comfortable with having our guy in the Oval office. So when he doesn’t do things exactly the way we think they should be done, the circular firing squad lines up and takes full aim at our side. It happens with every single issue. Forget the fact that we didn’t have the votes in Congress, he should’ve used his bully pulpit! Forget the fact that we have a 100% dysfunctional opposition party; he should just steamroll them and get what he wants however he wants. Like magic, that.

    It amazes me — truly amazes me — that we’re having debates about how this president isn’t liberal enough while Republicans are planning to let the economy go to hell in a handbasket by playing chicken with the debt ceiling. You’d think there would be plenty to criticize with that. You’d think watching them walk away from budget negotiations not because they’re not getting the spending cuts they want, but because Democrats won’t take tax cuts off the table would offer a clue as to who the real enemy is.

    But no. I know people — good, honest, well-meaning, passionate, intelligent people — who will call you a fascist for suggesting that maybe on a political level it’s a bad idea to take aim at our own when we have so many who stand between us and our aspirations. When corporations and Republicans are colluding to keep the economy stagnant, we have bigger problems than Guantanamo Bay, and it’s really time to quit the self-indulgence and get a clue on that.

    Whenever I counter self-immolating arguments with a reminder that President Pawlenty or President Bachmann will surely bow in lockstep to our heart’s desire, scoffs follow, with yet another accusation of Obotics afoot.

    To which I reply: If you are really blind enough not to realize that there is a very real possibility that a GOP victory in 2012 could happen, and if 2010 midterms were not enough to convince you, then please, do continue on but understand this about me: You will not convince me, nor will I join the chorus. To do so truly would be robotic behavior, akin to following an online gangbang on a hedonistic and self-destructive pathway to hell on earth for 8 years or so. I refer anyone who might take issue with this pronouncement to have a look at what Republican governors are doing in Ohio, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Florida. If you remain unconvinced that such goings-on could be a reality in 2013, look again. Harder. I decline to choose that road.

    Like it or not, this guy in the White House right now is the best hope you’ve got. You can batter him or you can back him. I choose the latter. That isn’t OBotic. It’s simply reality.

    I’m done apologizing for my support for this President, who has worked hard since the day he took office, done his best, isn’t a slacker, and can’t please everyone. I support him unapologetically and wholeheartedly. That’s my right, just as it is the right of others not to. I respect that right, but will no longer waste time or give attention to self-indulgent complaints. It’s time to be strategic rather than spewing scattershot criticism. If you can’t do that, then really, I’m probably not going to help your cause anyway because I will assume your goal is to elect a Republican, and I will oppose you with all the might I can muster.

    We have a Senate at risk, a House that’s winnable, and a President who is strong against the current Republican field. I’m aiming for the big battles, which are with Republicans, not those to the left of me.

    Now excuse me while I go make a donation and buy the T-shirt. I’ll see the circular shooters on the other side, hopefully after another win.

    “…don’t hurt your human…”

  15. rikyrah says:

    Tread carefully before selling public assets
    Federal taxpayers must be protected

    By Dick Durbin

    7:06 p.m. CDT, June 23, 2011
    We all know the story of Chicago’s parking meters — for a one-time payment of $1.15 billion, we turned over control of a public asset to a private investor. But now, only two years into a 75-year lease, that money is almost gone and the costs just keep going up for Chicagoans and visitors.

    From parking meters to airports, public assets around the country are now seen as “cash cows” that can be sold or leased by cash-strapped state and local governments for a one-time payment.

    Having billions of dollars immediately available to plug budget holes without raising taxes is very appealing. And to the delight of Wall Street investors, state and local governments often fail to ask the important questions or consider the long-term impact

    In 2006, Indiana struck a deal with foreign investors to lease the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road for 75 years in exchange for a one-time payment of $3.8 billion. Under the deal, the investors own the right to collect tolls, which they plan to increase in the coming weeks. For truckers that fee will rise to $36.20 from $35.20.

    Is it surprising when foreign investors — with no stake in the road other than their interest in turning a profit — continue to raise tolls?

    Whether you agree or disagree with privatization, two things are obvious. First, taxpayers need to be asking more and better questions before handing over control of critical public assets like a highway, an airport or a parking meter concession. And second, Uncle Sam is being played for a sucker.

    In Washington we’re broke, so for every dollar we spend, we borrow 40 cents from China, Saudi Arabia and others. We then give these borrowed funds to state and local governments because they can’t afford to build highways and airports on their own. Now many of these same governments are selling and leasing these assets without any payback to the federal government.

    It is time for the federal taxpayers to have a seat at the table and a return on their investment in these projects. Taxpayers across the U.S. have invested hundreds of billions of dollars building our nation’s infrastructure and that investment should be protected.

    Last week, I introduced legislation that would require state and local governments to take a hard look at the impact these deals are having on the federal taxpayer and the people that use these transportation assets. The Protecting Taxpayers in Transportation Asset Transfers Act would require full disclosure of the terms and conditions of any privatization of an asset that was built with federal tax dollars.

    The bill would attach a lien to existing federally funded major transportation projects that have received more than $25 million in federal funding or have a value over $500 million. The lien would only be removed after state and local governments repay the depreciated value of federal funds used to build and maintain the asset.

    Instead of incentivizing quick, short-term decisions, the federal government should be asking the tough questions when governments turn over publicly funded transportation assets to for-profit operators. This legislation will make sure those questions are answered before we sell our public assets.,0,893392.story

  16. rikyrah says:

    June 23, 2011
    We all miss the clarity
    For any open society, it’s hard to sustain a phantom conflict, since it’s even harder for the nation’s leaders to openly explain the damn thing. Because, again, it’s a phantom, and its phantom angles require a certain obtuse approach, lest its comparatively desirable phantom-ness spill into a decidedly undesirable, acute and open conflict.

    And never were those axiomatic tensions more on display than in MSNBC’s pre- and post-presidential-speech coverage last night.

    For about an hour before the address I listened to Chris Matthews brood about his own incomprehension. He didn’t “get it,” he just didn’t get it: Afghanistan will be the same country in two years or ten as it is today, so why, or so it seems, are we so lethargically withdrawing?

    But at least Matthews’ bewilderment was genuine bewilderment. After the speech Lawrence O’Donnell, for tutorial reasons unknown, invited the international-relations “analysis” of … Rachel Maddow, who, sustaining a broadcast tradition, framed her bewilderment as a kind of superior knowing. For the first time ever, said Maddow, the president failed to provide sufficient information for one to formulate a judgment; thus from this conclusion the audience, implicitly, was to further and rather darkly conclude that the president stood on shaky ground — he offered little because he had so little to offer.

    O’Donnell, as well as Matthews, might have served their audiences better had they offered up for analysis the cogency of the NY Times’ David Sanger:

    Though the president could not say so directly, one of the constraints on America’s retreat from a hard and bloody decade is the recognition that, more than ever, the United States will be relying on Afghanistan’s help to deal with the threats emerging from Pakistan.

    As I noted all too briefly yesterday, Obama’s Afghanistan policy as always been “more Af-Pak than Af,” yet, as Sanger notes, he cannot “say so directly.” As Fareed Zakaria adds over at the Washington Post, Pakistan is degenerating into a cauldron of paranoia and anti-American hysteria: “Islamist ideology is replacing strategy,” the nation “is drifting into a strategic black hole,” and “the evidence is now overwhelming that [Pakistan’s military] has been infiltrated at all levels by violent Islamists, including Taliban and al-Qaeda sympathizers.”

    But about a putative “ally,” this, Obama cannot say.

    Which loops us back to the whole “phantom” thing, which pinions Obama between his hopeful, public proclamations and his dire, secret worries.

    I (and I should think Obama, too) am with the marvelous John Houseman, who, as an aging superspook in an increasingly multipolar world, said in Three Days of the Condor: “I miss the clarity.”

  17. rikyrah says:

    June 23, 2011
    The best of all possible slanders
    The Washington Post’s bio page invests 96 words in describing opinion-writer Jennifer Rubin, of “Right Turn,” as a woman who “provides insight into the conservative movement and the Republican Party,” which she previously did for such insightful publications as The Weekly Standard.

    The Post would be well-advised, as a gracious service to its readers, to shorten its bio to only six: Jennifer Rubin is a witless hack.

    Or, a fair argument could be made that the Post’s editors believe such a revised description would be hugely superfluous, since within seconds of actually reading Rubin, the reader finds that her witless hackdom glistens like Cantor on a tax cut.

    I quote, from her opening insight of last night:

    President Obama gave a speech tonight that was aimed at re-election — not victory in Afghanistan. In doing so, he made clear that he doesn’t much care whether we accomplish our mission (making certain Afghanistan is not a safe haven for terrorists); his mission is ending a war so we can spend more money domestically.

    Obama made clear his indifference to terrorist threats, you see; he only wants to bathe, soak, and rinse in more of his sinisterly socialist schemes at home.

    Yet Rubin, as a conservative public intellectual, prefers that you not merely take her word for it. No, no, oh, no, Rubin substantiates her opinions, as she did last night, quoting from, and I quote, “a confidante of Tom Pawlenty” [sic]: “It was a speech designed to cater to and encourage rising isolationism in this country. The references to nation building in this country clearly indicate that. The president is playing with fire here.” Got it?

    But wait. Maybe I’m the one who has this all wrong. Maybe the Post’s bio description is indeed the best of all possible Panglossian slanders: She “provides insight into the conservative movement and the Republican Party” — no actual insight into affairs of the day, you will note, except that into the incestuous malignancy of the conservative movement.

    My error. Well played, Washington Post.

  18. rikyrah says:

    Political AnimalBlog
    June 23, 2011 4:30 PM

    A head-shaking perspective

    By Steve Benen
    After seeing this quote from the Senate Republican leadership, Michael Cohen concludes, “We’re governed by idiots.” It hardly seems like an unreasonable assessment.

    President Obama needs to decide between his goal of higher taxes, or a bipartisan plan to address our deficit,” Mr. McConnell and Mr. Kyl said in a joint statement. “He can’t have both. But we need to hear from him.”

    It’s hard to even know where to start with such nonsense, though I would love to hear what McConnell and Kyl consider a “bipartisan” plan. If the answer is, “a plan that gives Republicans everything they want and ignores Democratic appeals,” I’d encourage them to reference a dictionary.

    But to me, that wasn’t even the worst McConnell quote from the afternoon. This was.

    Where in the world has the president been for the last month?” Mr. McConnell said. “What does he propose? What is he willing to do to reduce the debt and to avoid this crisis that is building on his watch? He’s the one in charge.”

    Let’s take these one at a time.

    “Where in the world has the president been for the last month?” Well, he’s been leading the executive branch at a time of multiple crises. He doesn’t have time to hold Congress’ hand through the Republican hostage strategy, but he designated the vice president to give it a try. It stands to reason Vice President Biden is authorized to represent President Obama’s interests in these talks, so it’s not as if the White House has taken a hands-off approach. Just the opposite is true — the bipartisan talks was the White House’s idea.

    “What does he propose?” Well, President Obama presented a $4 trillion debt-reduction plan in April. It constitutes what “he proposes,” since it’s what he proposed. If memory serves, Republicans are familiar with the plan, since they whined incessantly for days about Obama hurting their feelings after he presented it.

    “What is he willing to do to reduce the debt and to avoid this crisis that is building on his watch?” Well, we know what he’s willing to do (see the $4 trillion debt-reduction plan mentioned above), but the notion that there’s a debt “crisis” that’s “building on his watch” is completely insane.

    The driving factors of the debt are Republican policies, which incidentally, Mitch McConnell is partially responsible for. That’s not opinion; it’s quantifiable fact. And the only debt “crisis” we have to worry about is the one that would occur if McConnell and congressional Republicans deliberately refuse to raise the debt ceiling and crash the economy on purpose.

    I don’t know Mitch McConnell, and I can’t say with confidence whether he’s dumb or simply pretending to be dumb. But if the U.S. debt had reached a “crisis” level, we’d see the government crowding out private investment and high interest rates. In reality, we see the exact opposite — it’s never been easier for the United States to borrow lots of money, give the American economy a boost, create lots of jobs, etc.

    Put it this way: the yield on 10-year Treasuries is below 3%. How many times has it been this low over last half-century? Zero.

    But since we’re “governed by idiots,” we’re stuck in a conversation about solving a problem that doesn’t exist, while ignoring a problem that does exist. It’s more than a little frustrating.

  19. rikyrah says:

    June 23, 2011
    There’s a word for this
    Eric Cantor, in his own oblivious way, has redefined the art of political compromise:

    I believe that we have identified trillions in spending cuts, and to date, we have established a blueprint that could institute the fiscal reforms needed to start getting our fiscal house in order.

    That said, each side came into these talks with certain orders, and as it stands the Democrats continue to insist that any deal must include tax increases.

    And there you have it. Each side entered negotiations with “certain orders,” yet those from the White House and its Democratic majority in the Senate are illegitimate, and thus obscene, while those from House Republicans are immutable, untouchable, and thus divine.

    How can one earnestly negotiate with a political gangster like Cantor?

    You know, Michele Bachman, once upon a time, may have had a good thought. She once openly mused to Chris Matthews that an investigation into “pro-American” and “anti-American” Members of Congress should be welcome. And what excellent timing, Michele; this debt-ceiling thing.

    There’s not a sober economist or conscious policy wonk who denies that a failure to raise the debt ceiling in a timely way portends anything but global catastrophe and, for our more immediate and self-centered concerns, a domestic economic collapse of unprecedented magnitude. Such an event, they say, would eclipse, even dwarf the Crash of ’29 and its ensuing Great Depression, wreaking savagely unparalleled, immeasurable desolation on the republic.

    Now, the lawmakers of the 1920s could be forgiven their sins, for mostly they knew not what they were doing. But what might one call the acts of contemporary lawmakers who, with full and pre-advised knowledge, understood precisely that their actions would devastate the nation and destroy its credit and severely cripple its economic future and throw millions more into unemployment and despair? What would one call the lawmakers’ intentional betrayal of a national trust? There is a legal term for it.


  20. rikyrah says:

    Would Pot Legalization Destroy The Drug Cartels?
    Sylvia Longmire insists it wouldn’t. Adam Ozimek counters:

    Say the higher end estimate of marijuana revenues from the Rand corporation is correct, and legalizing would reduce cartel revenue by 26%, or that the 60% number is correct and they will make back an implausibly high 50% of their lost revenue in other activities. This means something like a 30% decrease in lost revenues. If this leads to a proportional decrease in long-run drug related murders in Mexico, then based on the 15,273 drug related deaths in 2010, there would be 4,580 fewer deaths each year. That’s a huge gain in welfare even if it falls short of the quixotic goal of “killing the cartels”. The end of alcohol prohibition in the U.S. did not mean an end to the mafia, but it did lead to a significant decline in murders and in their power. Longmire has not presented a convincing case that the same would not be true in Mexico.

  21. rikyrah says:

    Newt Gingrich: Obama Is So Bad, Black People Will Vote Republican
    Newt Gingrich fired up the crowd in this blue state with the promise that President Obama is so bad that he’s made it possible for the Republicans to win over the African American vote in 2012.

    Gingrich stopped off at an airport Marriott near Baltimore Thursday to keynote the Maryland GOP’s annual Red, White & Blue banquet. Before the speech, he assured reporters that his campaign was still going strong. When he took the podium, he offered Republican donors a long, dense speech full of red meat and warnings about the state of the world around us.

    He also said it was time for Republicans to tell African Americans how terrible Obama has been for them.

    He broke out the “Obama is the food stamp president” line that got him in racial trouble earlier in the campaign.

    But this time, he spun the line into a suggestion that the African American vote is ripe for the plucking.

    Here’s how the line works: Obama is the food stamp president, Gingrich says, whereas he wants to be the paycheck president. The difference comes down to creating jobs or not, and Gingrich says he knows how to create them.

    And that’s where the black vote comes in.

    “No administration in modern times has failed younger blacks more than the Obama administration,” Gingrich said.

    He explained that “in May, we had 41% unemployment among black teenagers in America.” That means if Republicans can put on a brave face, they might be able to turn the African American vote their way.

    Think of the social catastrophe of 41% of a community not being able to find a job. But we have to have the courage to walk into that neighborhood, to talk to that preacher, to visit that small business, to talk to that mother. And we have to have a convincing case that we actually know how to create jobs.”The morning they believe that, you’re going to see margins in percents you never dreamed of decide there’s a better future,” Gingrich said. “It takes courage, it takes hard work, it takes discipline and it’s doable.”

    “I will bet you there is not a single precinct in this state in which the majority will pick for their children food stamps over paychecks,” he said.

    Gingrich isn’t the only Republican on the trail talking up Obama’s failures when it comes to minority populations. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) told an audience of Republicans in New Orleans that Obama “has failed the African American community” on jobs. She said that he’s failed the Latino community — which is also suffering from record unemployment — as well.

    Most of Gingrich’s speech wasn’t about wooing minority votes. He spent much of his time on stage talking about a coming “tsunami of violence” from terrorists and warning that Obama’s “vision of the American Constitution is a mortal threat to our freedoms.”


    June 21: Meeting with South African President Jacob Zuma’s wife Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma in Pretoria and visit to the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg

    June 22: Mrs Obama will deliver keynote address to a Young African Women Leaders Forum in Soweto

    June 23: Meeting with U.S. consulate employees in Cape Town, before visit to Robben Island, where former president Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. She will end the day with a speech to young people attending a workshop at the University of Cape Town

    June 24: Meeting with Botswana President Ian Khama and visit to the Botswana Children’s Clinic Center of Excellence Teen Club.

    June 25: Meeting with U.S. Embassy employees in Botswanan capital Gaborone before the family go on safari

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