Monday Morning News and Views

Good Morning Conflucians!!!!!

The big story in the mainstream media is President Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget. From the LA Times:

President Obama today will propose a $3.8-trillion federal budget that includes a $100-billion jobs package, more education spending and higher taxes on families earning more than $250,000 a year.

The budgetary blueprint for fiscal 2011, which starts Oct. 1, is 3% more than the government is spending this year, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

The White House envisions a $1.267-trillion deficit in fiscal year 2011, smaller than this year’s projected $1.56 trillion. That would be 8.3% of the gross domestic product, down from 10.6% this year. The White House Budget Office forecasts that it could be trimmed to less than 4% of the GDP by 2015.

The “jobs package” consists of:

$100 billion for investments in small-business tax cuts, infrastructure and clean energy, all designed to create jobs. This includes a new Small Business Jobs and Wages Tax Cut to spur small-business hiring and wage increases, at a cost of $33 billion.

I’ll defer to Dakinikat on this, but it doesn’t sound that dramatic to me. And how do we know those jobs that are created will go to Americans anyway? Isn’t it about time for something a little more FDR-like?

The budget also include $270 million to buy and renovate Thompson Prison in Illinois:

The administration hopes to house detainees from Guantanamo there, as part of its effort to close the controversial camp in Cuba. But the purchase of Thomson “would be warranted in any case to house maximum security prisoners,” according to Orszag. The federal Bureau of Prisons will require additional space, he said.

That’s a lot of money just to move the prisoners from Cuba to Illinois. I suppose there will be jobs involved in renovating the prison, and of course jobs for prison guards. Will those jobs go to Americans? And will anything be done about the fact that many of those prisoners may not be guilty of anything? They have already been held for years without being charged.

Meanwhile, President Obama’s good buddy Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, who helped crash our economy and put millions of Americans out of their jobs and homes is “expecting a $100 million bonus” this year.

Goldman Sachs, the world’s richest investment bank, could be about to pay its chief executive a bumper bonus of up to $100 million in defiance of moves by President Obama to take action against such payouts.

Bankers in Davos for the World Economic Forum (WEF) told The Times yesterday they understood that Lloyd Blankfein and other top Goldman bankers outside Britain were set to receive some of the bank’s biggest-ever payouts. “This is Lloyd thumbing his nose at Obama,” said a banker at one of Goldman’s rivals.

Thumbing his nose? {wink, wink, nudge, nudge} I’m not sure. Goldman Sachs was Obama number one donor in 2008 and former Goldman executives are pretty much running our government. And Blankfein wouldn’t be getting that bonus without the money they raked in from the bailout and AIG.

The Illinois primary is tomorrow, and President Obama’s basketball buddy and campaign donor and bundler Alexi Giannoulias is still leading in the Democratic race for the Senate seat briefly held by Obama.

One of Giannoulias’ rivals for the Senate nomination, Jacob Meister, has dropped out and endorsed Giannoulias. Giannoulias’ main rival, David Hoffman, claims that Meister was only in the race in the first place to help Giannoulias and that this was all planned ahead of time. Hoffman has been attacking Giannoulias for his role in running the Broadway Bank, owned by the Giannoulias family.

“This is something we knew all along, that he was in the race to help the treasurer. That being said, he was only pulling 1 percent at best. So I think it was inconsequential.”

Meister dismissed as “preposterous” any suggestion that he was a Giannoulias plant.

Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor and city of Chicago inspector general, started the day with a news conference challenging Giannoulias to answer more questions about his four years as vice president and chief loan officer at Broadway [Bank].

Citing a New York Times column, Hoffman said that under Giannoulias, the bank saw a six-fold increase in the granting of risky loans and a 400 percent increase in brokered deposits, during a time in which the average community bank would have seen an increase of about 36 percent.

“Mr. Giannoulias is still refusing to answer questions about the extent of his role in the decisions that look like they will lead to the bank’s collapse.

If Giannoulias does get the nomination, as appears likely, will Illinois see a repeat of what happened in Massachusetts?

Public opinion polls ahead of Tuesday’s party primaries in Illinois show five-term U.S. Representative Mark Kirk likely to win the Republican nomination easily.

Favored to win the Democratic primary and face off Kirk for the vacant seat is Alexi Giannoulias, Illinois treasurer and Obama’s basketball-playing buddy.

“The Democratic candidates are second-tier. They’re not particularly exciting, not particularly experienced,” DePaul University political analyst Michael Mezey said.

Kirk has lent his own twist to Brown’s best-known line in the campaign, saying: “This is not Obama’s seat, it’s the people’s seat.”

One poll showed Kirk trailing Giannoulias if the two face off — but only narrowly. That’s a far cry from the 62 percent of Illinois voters who cast ballots for Obama against 37 percent for the Republican John McCain in November 2008.

I want to call attention to a couple of stories the the mainstream media is soft-pedaling.

Jeremy Scahill interviewed the father of “Blackwater’s Youngest Victim,” 9-year-old Ali Kinani who was shot in the head in Bagdad’s Nisour Square on September 16, 2007, by Blackwater thugs who had left the Green Zone against orders and for no reason whatsoever murdered 16 and wounded 20 innocent Iraqis that day. I broke down sobbing while reading this story yesterday, and had to take a break before finishing it. All I can says is that Ali’s father, Mohammed Kitani is a true hero. He may yet succeed in holding the murders and their employer Eric Prince accountable for their disgusting actions.

Mohammed’s American lawyers contend, as did federal prosecutors, that the Blackwater men disobeyed orders from superiors not to leave the Green Zone, which ultimately led to the shooting at Nisour Square, and that they did not follow proper State Department guidelines for the use of force, instead shooting unprovoked at Mohammed’s car and the other civilians in the square. They also allege that Blackwater was not guarding any US official at the time of the shooting and that the Nisour Square killings amounted to an offensive operation against unarmed civilians. “Blackwater was where it shouldn’t have been, doing something it was not supposed to do,” says Mohammed’s lawyer Gary Mauney. They “weren’t even supposed to be in Nisour Square, and if they hadn’t have been, no shootings would have occurred.”

Unlike the other civil suits against Blackwater, which were settled in federal court in January, Mohammed’s case was filed in state court in North Carolina. It is also different because Mohammed is directly suing the six Blackwater men he believes were responsible for the shooting that day. The suit also argues that Prince and his network of Blackwater companies and affiliates are ultimately responsible for the conduct of the men at Nisour Square. The Blackwater shooters “weren’t doing anything related to their work for the government,” Mauney says. “After the events happened, Blackwater came out and said, ‘We support what they did. We think it was justified.’ They ratified the conduct of their employees.”

Moreover, Mohammed’s lawyers contend that the evidence that was ruled inadmissible in the criminal Nisour Square case because it was obtained in exchange for a promise of immunity and reportedly under threat of termination is valid evidence in their civil case. Several statements by Blackwater guards who were at the square that day directly bolster Mohammed and other Iraqis’ claim that it was an unprovoked shooting.

Remember that “break-in” in Senator Mary Landrieu’s offices in Louisiana last week? Much of the focus in the media has been on James O’Keefe, a young conservative “activist” and independent filmmaker who was involved in a sting on Acorn awhile back. But Raw Story learned that the two other men arrested with O’Keefe “have links to” the CIA.

Two of the three men arrested on Monday along with “ACORN pimp” James O’Keefe for “maliciously tampering” with Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) phones in her New Orleans office have ties to the United States intelligence community.

The three accused by the FBI of “aiding and abetting” O’Keefe are Stan Dai, Robert Flanagan and Joseph Basel. O’Keefe is 25, and the other three are 24.

Dai’s links to the intelligence community appear to be particularly strong. He was a speaker at Georgetown University’s Central Intelligence Agency summer school program in June 2009, and is also listed as an Assistant Director at the Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence at Trinity in D.C.

The university’s president Patricia McGuire told The Associated Press that it promoted careers in intelligence but denied that it trains students to be spies.

The Trinity program received a “$250,000 renewable grant from the U.S. Intelligence Community” upon launching in 2004, according to its Web site.

The article goes on to detail Dai’s intelligence connections at length.

The CIA and Office of Director of National Intelligence have both told Politico that despite Dai’s evident connections to the intelligence community, he never officially worked for them. Then it discusses the intelligence connections of Dai’s “co-conspirator,” Robert Flanagan.

Dai’s co-conspirator Robert Flanagan is currently seeking a Master of Science degree from the Missouri State University’s (Fairfax, Virginia) Defense and Strategic Studies program, according to his LinkedIn profile (which was captured by Beyerstein before it was taken down Tuesday.)

The DSS Web site description affirms its connections to “the intelligence community”

Curiouser and curiouser.

So what are you all reading this morning? As always, please post your own links in the comments.

HAVE A MARVELOUS MONDAY!!!!!!!!!!!

Federal Judge Dismisses All Charges Against Blackwater Guards in 2007 Shootings of 17 Iraquis

Blackwater plainclothes contractors

Just a short time ago, Federal Judge Ricard Urbina dismissed all charges against five Blackwater contractors who opened fire in a crowded square in Bagdad on September 16, 2007.

From the BBC News service:

District Judge Ricardo Urbina said the US justice department had used evidence prosecutors were not supposed to have.

The five had all pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. A sixth guard admitted killing at least one Iraqi.

The killings, which took place in Nisoor Square, Baghdad, strained Iraq’s relationship with the US and raised questions about US contractors operating in war zones.

The disputed evidence consisted of statements the five men gave to State Department investigators shortly after the shootings.

Judge Urbina said prosecutors should not have used those statements in the case, and that the US government’s explanation for this was “unbelievable”.

The five guards were Donald Ball, Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nick Slatten and Paul Slough – all of whom are decorated military veterans.

As well as the 14 counts of manslaughter, they had faced 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and one count of using a machine gun to commit a crime of violence, a charge that carries a 30-year minimum sentence.

Jeremy Scahill is an investigative reporter who has done more than any other writer to reveal the activities of Blackwater (aka Xe) head Erik Prince and his mercenaries in their roles as contractors for the U.S. government. He is the author of the book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. In October, 2007, Scahill appeared on Bill Moyers Journal to discuss the killings in Bagdad. You can listen to the interview here.

Here is Scahill’s blog post on today’s outrageous dismissal of the case against the five Blackwater guards.

A federal judge in Washington DC has given Erik Prince’s Blackwater mercenaries a huge New Year’s gift. Judge Ricardo Urbina dismissed all charges against the five Blackwater operatives accused of gunning down 14 innocent Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in September 2007. Judge Urbina’s order, issued late in the afternoon on New Year’s Eve is a stunning blow for the Iraqi victims’ families and sends a clear message that US-funded mercenaries are above all systems of law—US and international.

In a memo defending his opinion, Urbina cited a similar rationale used in the dismissal of charges against Iran-Contra figure Oliver North—namely that the government violated the rights of the Blackwater men by using statements they made to investigators in the immediate aftermath of the shooting to build a case against the guards, which Urbina said qualified for “derivative use immunity.”

Scahill provides links to the decision a the Judge’s 90-page memo explaining it.

In this recent post, Scahill provides statistics for the government’s use of private contractors in Afghanistan alone. As of December 17, 2009, according to Scahill, there were “189,000 personnel on the ground in Afghanistan right now—and that number is quickly rising.” Other Blackwater employees are deployed in Iraq and have been used by the CIA in Pakistan. They are representing us and are being paid with our tax dollars.

I for one do not want these men representing me. I think it is disgraceful that Blackwater “contractors” are allowed to get away with committing murders in the name of the people of the United States of America.

Friday Mid-Morning News and Views

For me the biggest news of the day comes from Jeremy Scahill’s revelations about the relationship between Blackwater (aka Xe) head Eric Prince and the CIA. According to Scahill Prince has been working as a CIA asset for years, and that Blackwater contractors with U.S. backing are effectively engaging in a covert war in Pakistan.

In addition, Scahill revealed that there are more than 100,000 contractors in Afghanistan now in addition to the 100,000 U.S. military troops who will be there after Obama’s latest troop “surge.” Scahill wrote the cover story for this week’s The Nation. Unfortunately the story is not yet available on-line to non-subscribers. However Scahill did appear on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC program last night. Here is the video.

A few days ago, Scahill also talked about his latest Blackwater research in an interview with Laura Flanders:

There is also a major story on Eric Prince in the January issue of Vanity Fair.

I put myself and my company at the C.I.A.’s disposal for some very risky missions,” says Erik Prince as he surveys his heavily fortified, 7,000-acre compound in rural Moyock, North Carolina. “But when it became politically expedient to do so, someone threw me under the bus.” Prince—the founder of Blackwater, the world’s most notorious private military contractor—is royally steamed. He wants to vent. And he wants you to hear him vent.

I haven’t had time to read the full interview yet. I hope to get to it over the weekend.


In other news….

Top Congressional Researcher on Afghanistan Fired

The top congressional official who oversees research on foreign policy and defense issues, including the war in Afghanistan, has been fired from his job after publishing a newspaper op-ed criticizing the Obama administration’s recent decision about bringing Guantánamo detainees to trial.

Morris Davis, the assistant director of the Congressional Research Service’s foreign policy and defense division and the former chief prosecutor of the U.S. military commissions, says that the American Civil Liberties Union plans to challenge his dismissal in a letter to CRS’s longtime director, Daniel Mulhollan, on Friday. The letter will contend that Mulhollan violated Davis’s First Amendment rights to free speech by firing him and will threaten the service with a lawsuit if he is not reinstated, says an ACLU spokeswoman.

Politico thinks the Massachusetts Senate Race is boring Could that be because a woman–Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley–is leading the race by double digits? Politico seems disappointed that there are no Kennedys in the race. Massachusetts citizens are more interested in electing a Senator who will be responsive to their needs than having a celebrity studded primary.

Get this–according to Politico, Michael Capuano, Coakley’s nearest rival, is terrified of a “Rick Lazio moment.”

“We all learned from his mistake,” Capuano said in an interview of the former New York congressman’s debate badgering of Hillary Clinton, which has become political shorthand for what male candidates ought not to do against female opponents. “There are certain rules of engagement.”

It’s not just debates where the gender issue has surfaced — it hangs over the campaign because of the otherwise liberal state’s not-so-progressive history when it comes to women candidates….

…in last year’s historic Democratic presidential primary, much of the state’s political establishment — including the governor and both senators — rallied behind the man over the woman.

“That left a bad taste in women’s mouths,” said Marsh, adding that it seems to be playing out again this year, with nearly all of the men in the House delegation backing their colleague.

Oh really? Izzat so. Poor Mikey C., getting beat up by woman because of the “rules of engagement.”

Also from Politico, a number of opinion leaders weigh in on whether Ben Bernacke should get four more years as head of the Fed.

President Obama is running some PR operation and calling it a “jobs summit,” but The New York Times reports that there won’t be any money to speak of to back up any job creation effort by the administration. That’s as to be expected–unlimited funds for bankers and war, while middle-class, working-class, and poor Americans can go f**k themselves.

Mr. Obama said he would entertain “every demonstrably good idea” for creating jobs, but he cautioned that “our resources are limited.”

The president said he would announce some new ideas of his own next week. One of those, he indicated when he participated in a discussion group on clean energy, would be a program of weatherization incentives for homeowners and small businesses modeled on the popular “cash for clunkers” program.

What about the people who have lost their houses Mr. President–and the people who were already homeless? What kind of weatherization program will you recommend for them. I can’t wait for the big speech!

The Wall Street Journal reports that Allentown, PA workers and business people may not welcome President Obama’s “Main Street tour” with open arms.


Main Street Tour Faces Frosty Greeting

When President Barack Obama launches a multicity tour Friday to take Main Street’s temperature, he will likely get a cool reception from business leaders and workers here who say he hasn’t delivered.

Swing voters in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley helped Mr. Obama win this pivotal, populous state. But the region’s jobless rate inched up another half percentage point in October to 9.8%. About 41,000 people are out of work, the highest number since 1984.

Finally, here’s a “just for fun” story:


Cat Cams: What DO Cats Do Home Alone?

Fifty house cats were given collar cameras that took a photo every 15 minutes. The results put a digital dent in some human theories about catnapping.

Based on the photos, about 22 percent of the cats’ time was spent looking out of windows, 12 percent was used to interact with other family pets and 8 percent was spent climbing on chairs or kitty condos. Just 6 percent of their hours were spent sleeping.

What are you reading this morning? Please post links in the comments.


HAVE A FABULOUS FRIDAY!!!!

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