You are browsing the archive for 2015 January 23.

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Saudi Arabia: New Leader, Same Medieval State

January 23, 2015 in Economics

By Emma Ashford

Emma Ashford

The death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, though not unexpected, caused a spike in oil prices, and a frenzied interest in the succession process and the future rulers of Saudi Arabia, owing much to the state’s outsized role in global markets and Middle Eastern affairs. The succession was in fact painless. But the process highlights the archaic nature of the Saudi regime, and should prompt us to think more closely about why the United States still regards Saudi Arabia as one of its closest allies, despite the nation’s objectionable domestic politics and its foreign meddling.

The succession itself was smooth, elevating Crown Prince Salman to King, and Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin to replace him. Though Salman’s health has been regularly questioned by western commentators – it has even been suggested that he has Alzheimer’s or dementia — he seemed relatively healthy in his first broadcast to the nation. Regardless, he is 79, and the appointment of his half-brother Muqrin, who is ten years younger, as Crown Prince, was key for longer term stability.

The succession will bring no major policy changes, a fact Salman was at painsto point out in his first television address. This is also unsurprising: although Saudi Arabia is nominally an absolute monarchy, in fact most decisions are made by a consensus among a number of senior princes. As King Abdullah’s health worsened in recent months, Salman appears to have been increasingly involved in policy decisions. Saudi policies on a number of key issues, including Syria, Iran and OPEC production levels, are therefore likely to remain entirely unchanged.

The most interesting development is the appointment of Muhammed bin Nayef to deputy Crown Prince, the first third-generation Saudi prince to be placed in the direct line of succession. As the date when the crown will pass to the third generation approaches, internal family politics play an increasing role:  Muhammed is Salman’s full-blood nephew, son of his brother Nayef. Salman and Nayef were members of the Sudairi Seven, the largest group of full brothers born to King Abdulaziz. As such, while they all lived, they formed a powerful bloc within the ruling family. The appointment by Salman of his nephew within the line of succession is likely not due only to Muhammed’s experience as head of the powerful Interior Ministry, but also to a desire to keep the crown within the Sudairi branch of the family. It remains to be seen whether …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Kentucky Republican Says 1891 Law Lets Him Drive Drunk While He’s in Office

January 23, 2015 in Blogs

By Arturo Garcia, Raw Story

State Sen. Brandon Smith's lawyer argued his client shouldn't have been arrested to begin with.

Kentucky state Sen. Brandon Smith’s (R) lawyer argued in court on Wednesday that he should not be charged with driving under the influence because of a provision in the state constitution, WKYT-TV reported.

Smith was arrested on Jan. 6, the opening day of the legislature, and charged with speeding and a DUI after allegedly blowing a .088 on a preliminary breath test. He was also reportedly caught driving at 65 miles per hour in a 45 mph zone.

But attorney Bill Johnson filed a motion to drop the charges saying that, according to Section 43 of the state constitution, Smith should not have been arrested in the first place.

“The members of the General Assembly shall, in all cases except treason, felony, breach or surety of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance on the sessions of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House they shall not be questioned in any other place,” the section reads.

Johnson told the Associated Press that the provision was added to state law in 1891 to “keep legislators from being bothered by people who would arrest them during sessions.”

As the Frankfort State-Journal reported,authorities said that Smith refused to take an official breath test after being taken to jail.

However, Johnson said that his client was “told that he had ‘refused’” after trying to reach him on the jail’s phone for 15 minutes and failing because the phone did not work.

Under state law, Smith’s driver’s license would be revoked if he refused to take a test. But Johnson requested that Smith keep his license until a decision is reached on his motion to dismiss the charges. The senator’s next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 12.

Watch WKYT’s report, as aired on Thursday, below.


[h/t Countercurrent News]

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What an Attempted Mass Murderer's Scary Words Tell Us About Our Sexual Culture

January 23, 2015 in Blogs

By Tracy Clark-Flory, Salon

Ben Moynihan stabbed three women apparently because he couldn't get laid.

“When women won’t talk to you, it’s heart breaking. Why are they fussy with men now days?” Who do you think wrote that sentence? Maybe an angst-ridden teenage boy who just hasn’t yet figured out the opposite sex — or perhaps even a lonely young adult frustrated with his dating life. These are the type of sentiments you hear all the time from frustrated single men. No big deal, right? But here is another sentence written by the same person: “All women needs to die and hopefully next time I can gauge their eyeballs out.”

Oh, OK, gotcha.

The young man behind these messages is 18-year-old Ben Moynihan of Portsmouth, Hampshire. This week, he was found guilty of attempted murder. Over the summer, he stabbed three women, all complete strangers who were unlucky enough to become targets of his rage toward the entire female species. His victims survived, but as he later told police, he fully intended to murder them. This wasn’t because he was a “psychopath,” he wrote in a letter, but because women.

In a self-recorded video, Moynihan said, “I think every girl is a type of slut, they are fussy with men nowadays, they do not give boys like us a chance.” He continued, “I am still a virgin, everyone is losing it before me, that’s why you are my chosen target.” While waving a knife at the camera, he asked, “Shall I stab you in the neck or in the heart, shall I slash your throat or should I just cigarette lighter you or just fire you. I do not know where I could get petrol from but how hard can it be to come by.”

He ended with this warning: ”So I hope you learn a lesson not to bully guys like us, we deserve dignity, for your own generations, remember.”

It’s shades of Isla Vista all over again. Just under a year ago, 22-year-old virgin Elliot Rodger went on a shooting spree near the University of California, Santa Barbara. He killed seven people, including himself. In several Internet postings, …read more


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US Is a World Leader in Dysfunctional Democracy

January 23, 2015 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

The United States barely ranks as a “full” democracy.

Almost half the world’s 167 countries claim to be democratic, but according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest global Democracy Index that is a mirage because popular discontent with democratic governments is growing worldwide.

“Europe is home to the most ‘full democracies,’ but it is here that popular discontent with dempcracy is most evident,” the Economist reported. “Only 12.5 percent of the world’s population live in a full democracy… More than one-third of the world’s population (some 2.6 billion people) still live under authoritarian rule.”

The United States is at the bottom of the barrel of “full democracies,” ranking 19 out of the 24 countries, just below the Pacific Island country of Mauritius and South America’s Uraguay. Northern Europe is still tops, led by Norway. Canada is seventh.

The survey’s scores are based on “five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture.” The biggest overall trend is that across the globe people who governments claim to be democracies are increasingly frustrated, the Economist found.

“Despite the fact that the world economy is growing and six years have passed since the 2008 economic and financial crash, discontent with democracy is on the rise,” said Joan Hoey, editor of the 2014 report. “Popular dissatisfaction with democracy is being expressed in the growth of populist and protest parties, which, in some places, have come to pose an increasing challenge to the established political order. The tendency to dismiss the upsurge of populism in Europe as a protest vote or an anti-austerity backlash is a way of evading some uncomfortable truths about the state of democracy in Europe.”

The Economist didn’t mince words about American democracy, either.

“The U.S. remains at the bottom end of the full democracy category,” it said. “U.S. democracy has been adversely affected by a deepening polarization of the political scene, political brinkmanship and paralysis. Popular discontent with the workings of democracy is deep-seated here too.”

Globally, the worst countries are North Korea, Central African Republic and Chad. The least-democratic regions are the Middle East and …read more


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Why the Toxic Myths Rich People Believe About the Poor Are So Dangerous

January 23, 2015 in Blogs

By David Sirota, AlterNet

Inequality and regressive tax policies hurt everyone, even rich people.

American politics are dominated by those with money. As such, America's tax debate is dominated by voices that insist the rich are unduly persecuted by high taxes and that low-income folks are living the high life. Indeed, a new survey by the Pew Research Center recently found that the most financially secure Americans believe “poor people today have it easy.”The rich are certainly entitled to their own opinions — but, as the old saying goes, nobody is entitled to their own facts. With that in mind, here's a set of tax facts that's worth considering: Middle- and low-income Americans are facing far higher state and local tax rates than the wealthy. In all, a comprehensive analysis by the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy finds that the poorest 20 percent of households pay on average more than twice the effective state and local tax rate (10.9 percent) as the richest 1 percent of taxpayers (5.4 percent). ITEP researchers say the incongruity derives from state and local governments' reliance on sales, excise and property taxes rather than on more progressively structured income taxes that increase rates on higher earnings. They argue that the tax disconnect is helping create the largest wealth gap between the rich and middle class in American history.”In recent years, multiple studies have revealed the growing chasm between the wealthy and everyone else,” Matt Gardner, executive director of ITEP, said. “Upside-down state tax systems didn't cause the growing income divide, but they certainly exacerbate the problem. State policymakers shouldn't wring their hands or ignore the problem. They should thoroughly explore and enact tax reform policies that will make their tax systems fairer.”The 10 states with the largest gap between tax rates on the rich and poor are a politically and geographically diverse group — from traditional Republican bastions such as Texas and Arizona to Democratic strongholds such as Illinois and Washington. The latter state, reports ITEP, is the most regressive of all. Four years after billionaire moguls such as Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Microsoft's Steve Ballmer funded …read more


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Is Women's Pubic Hair So Shocking It Needs to Be Censored?

January 23, 2015 in Blogs

By Jessica Valenti, The Guardian

It's supposedly the year of the bush!

Shaved, trimmed, left alone, waxed out of existence or Vajazzled, we are both fascinated and utterly repelled by what women do and don’t do with their hair “down there”. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion about pubic hair – and it’s always that what someone else is doing is a little weird.

Earlier this week, Instagram deleted the account of Australian magazine Sticks and Stones after it posted a picture of two women in bathing suits with (apparently natural) pubic hair sticking out on the sides. In 2013, the social media platform did the same thing to Canadian photographer Petra Collins when she put up a photo of her unaltered bikini line. (Neither photograph displayed anything approaching actual nudity – just pubes poking out the edges of underwear.)

“I did nothing that violated the terms of use. No nudity, violence, pornography, unlawful, hateful or infringing imagery,” Collins wrote at the time. “What I did have was an image of MY body that didn’t meet society’s standard of ‘femininity.’”

Instagram is hardly alone. The television show The Bachelor has been accused of putting a black bar over a woman’s pubic hair, and earlier this year a painting was removed from a London exhibition because it was deemed “pornographic” for displaying a woman’s pubic hair.

So when did the hair at the high tide line become more shocking than a nipple?

Even as social media sites, television shows and museums are censoring any minute display of women’s pubic hair, a natural look is making a comeback. Last year American Apparel featured mannequins with full bushes in a store windowand The New York Times Style section claimed “a fuller look is creeping back”. The Guardian even called 2014 “the year of the bush!”.

Lest you worry that bikini waxers will be going out of business …read more


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Washington and the World According to Mac Thornberry

January 23, 2015 in Economics

By Christopher A. Preble

Christopher A. Preble

The newly installed chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), discussed the role of Congress in national security during a recent speech at theAmerican Enterprise Institute. There were no big surprises. For example, few would dispute Thornberry’s assertion that the federal government’s first responsibility is to defend the homeland; and most agree that Congress has a vital role in making national security decisions.

But while it’s oddly refreshing to hear a congressional leader defend the legislature’s role in national defense, the chairman’s frame is unduly narrow. He defines Congress’ responsibility for determining the “size, shape, and soul of the military,” but omits Congress’ equally crucial role in authorizing or sustaining military operations abroad. Indeed, Thornberry suggests that the president was essentially free to use the military that the Congress hands to him, which turns the Constitution on its head. At a minimum, Chairman Thornberry might have spelled out his views on the need for a new Authorization to Use Military Force to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The other point that stood out from the speech is Thornberry’s view of the world, and America’s role in it. Thornberry, echoing many of his colleagues, believes that the world is dangerous, and getting more so. He contends that none of his “predecessors [as HASC committee chairman] had to face such a wide array of serious, complex threats to our security as we do today.”

The just-departed HASC chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) might agree with that assessment, but former Rep. Carl Vinson (D-Ga. and HASC chair 1949-1953; 1955-1965) or former Rep. Charles Melvin Price (D-Ill. and HASC chair 1975-1985), were they still alive, probably would not.

Thornberry, like many of his colleagues, would be well advised to question the assumptions that drive his views on national security issues.”

For example, Thornberry incredibly claims that “the thought of the Capitol burning as in 1812 was inconceivable for two centuries” and that “only the courage of passengers on United Flight 93 stopped it from happening again on 9/11.” To be clear, no one should doubt the bravery of the Flight 93 passengers, and the role that they played in stopping a genuine disaster. But it is curiously myopic to claim that the very thought of direct attacks on Washington, DC had disappeared from the nation’s collective consciousness for more than 200 years. Tell that to those …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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America's Frightening "Policing for Profit" Nightmare

January 23, 2015 in Economics

By Roger Pilon

Roger Pilon

In a move to check certain abuses inherent in the nation’s asset forfeiture law, Attorney General Eric Holder announced last Friday that the Justice Department would limit its practice of “adopting” state and local law-enforcement seizures of property for subsequent forfeiture to the government. Under the practice, to circumvent state laws that limit forfeitures or direct forfeited proceeds to the state’s general treasury, state or local officials who seize property suspected of being “involved” in crime ask the Justice Department to adopt the seizure, after which the proceeds, once forfeited pursuant to federal law, are then split between the two agencies, with 20 percent usually kept by Justice and 80 percent returned to the local police department that initiated the seizure.

If that sounds like “policing for profit,” that’s because it is. And the abuses engendered by this law’s perverse incentives are stunning. In Volusia County, Florida, police stop motorists going south on I-95 and seize amounts of cash in excess of $100 on suspicion that it’s money to buy drugs. New York City police make DUI arrests and then seize drivers’ cars. District of Columbia police seized a grandmother’s home after her grandson comes from next door and makes a call from the home to consummate a drug deal. Officials seized a home used for prostitution and the previous owner, who took back a second mortgage when he sold the home, loses the mortgage. In each case, the property is seized for forfeiture to the government not because the owner has been found guilty of a crime — charges are rarely even brought — but because it’s said to “facilitate” a crime. And if the owner does try to get his property back, the cost of litigation, to say nothing of the threat of a criminal prosecution, often puts an end to that.

So bizarre is this area of our law — when lawyers first stumble on a forfeiture case they’re often heard to say “This can’t be right” — that a little background is necessary to understand how it ever came to be. American asset-forfeiture lawhas two branches. One, criminal asset forfeiture, is usually fairly straightforward, whether it concerns contraband, which as such may be seized and forfeited to the government, or ill-gotten gain, instrumentalities or statutorily determined forfeitures. Pursuant to a criminal prosecution, any proceeds or instrumentalities of the alleged crime are subject to seizure and, …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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WATCH: Jon Stewart Nails the Absurd Corporate Elite Whiners at Davos

January 23, 2015 in Blogs

By Janet Allon, AlterNet

1700 private jets were flown to a conference discussing climate change and inequality.

Poor world's economic elites. It's getting so difficult for them to fly under the radar and fly their (1700) private jets to their annual backslapping confab in the Swiss mountain town of Davos.

Jon Stewart took on the ostentatious absurdity that is Davos on his Thursday night show, and he found plenty of totally absurd hypocrisy to mock there. A top item on the agenda for this large but rarefied pool of private jet travellers is climate change, Stewart suggests, “that they are causing.” Oh yes, they are deeply concerned. But not deeply concerned enough to fly commercial, or, say, “jetpool.”

Second on the to-discuss list, global inequality. This at an event that Stewart suggests might better be called, “Wealthstock,” attended by every kind of one percenter and financial totan in the world, many of whom love to whine about how mean the government has been to them after they crashed the economy in 2008. No doubt, JP Morgan's Jamie Dimon will be full of innovative ideas for addressing global inequality and financial regulation. The chairman of  AIG made the wonderfully tonedeaf comment that, now that his once imploding company that was rescued by the feds, has those same feds “looking over our shoulder . . . we couldn't do and 0-8 if we wanted to.”

“Why would you want do?” Stewart asks, incredulously. The man is basically saying, 'we couldn't crash the economy if we wanted to.' Echoing Stewart, why the fuck would you want to? And how did 'doing an 0-8' become a part of the lexicon?

The latest corporate whiner is MetLife, the gigantic insurance company under pressure to be more financially responsible by the government, which plans to take on the federal government, but simultaneously claim it is just a little guy trying to make a buck that 's being picked on by the government.

It goes on and on.



<Img align="left" border="0" …read more


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What You Absolutely Must Understand About How Poverty Impacts Education

January 23, 2015 in Blogs

By Teacherken, Daily Kos

The real issue is not teachers, but concentrated poverty.

“For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.

That is the opening paragraph of a Washington Post story on the new report released by the Southern Education Foundation, which found 51% of our nation's school children in 2013 were from low-income families. Allow me to offer three early paragraphs from that report:

In 40 of the 50 states, low income students comprised no less than 40 percent of all public schoolchildren. In 21 states, children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches were a majority of the students in 2013.

Most of the states with a majority of low income students are found in the South and the West. Thirteen of the 21 states with a majority of low income students in 2013 were located in the South, and six of the other 21 states were in the West.

Mississippi led the nation with the highest rate: ­71 percent, almost three out of every four public school children in Mississippi, were low-income. The nation’s second highest rate was found in New Mexico, where 68 percent of all public school students were low income in 2013.

This should have major implications for policies on education at both the national and state levels, because it highlights this truth: the real educational issue in the United States is not and never has been about poor quality among teachers. Rather, it's about the concentration of poverty.

Let me offer some data from recent international comparisons to underscore the point: Finland, the highest scoring nation in recent years, has less than 4% of its children in poverty. Even using somewhat out of date statistics from OECD, which sponsors the PISA tests used to bash US schools in comparison with international competitors, US schools with less than 25% of their children in poverty perform as well as an nation, and those with 10% or less of their children in poverty …read more