10/09/2014 archive


Well, the situation is very confused and it’s difficult to say with confidence what’s really happening because almost all the reporting is either biased or sketchy.

Kobani is a Kurdish town in Syria surrounded on 3 sides by the forces of the Islamic State and on the 4th by the Turkish border, which is closed.  There have been Kurdish protests in Turkey in favor of opening the border (at least) or having Turkish troops relieve the siege, in which over a dozen people have died at the hands of Turkish police.  Turkey has a history of Kurdish secessionism which has used this area in the past as a safe haven to launch attacks.

The United States has increased the level of airstrikes hoping to blunt the Islamic State offensive and they’ve been either devastatingly effective or utterly useless depending on who you listen to.  Juan Cole suggests that this is due to U.S. reluctance to release laser target designators to outside control.

The Islamic State is headed toward a humiliating defeat or on the verge of total victory (again depending).  As it has been since the beginning the key questions are why are we involving ourselves at all, what do we hope to achieve, and how close are we to achieving it.

Otherwise we are quite literally just pounding sand.

Fall of Kobani Reveals Failure of U.S. Bombing Campaign


Why US Airstrikes Won’t Defeat ISIS


Turkey Joins the War Campaign against the Islamic State


Why did the US help the Kurds in Iraq but leave Isis to massacre them in Syria?

Cale Salih, The Guardian

Tuesday 7 October 2014 11.34 EDT

Observing fighters for the Islamic State (Isis) march closer and closer toward the key Syrian town of Kobani over the past week has felt like watching a bitterly suspenseful action movie unfold. Unlike other central Syrian towns that have been pounded to the ground mostly out of sight, Kobani’s looming collapse sits in full view of anyone paying attention – journalists, refugees and Turkish military tanks planted over the border, just a couple of miles away. That very border, carelessly drawn a century ago, now determines life or death for the thousands of people on either side. Every day, Isis marches closer to the heart of Kobani, and every day, Kurds across the region grow more exasperated that everyone seems to know what scene comes next – “a terrible slaughter”, with “5,000 dead within 24 or 36 hours”.

With Kobani in hand, Isis will control a strategic stretch of territory linking its self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa to its positions in Aleppo along the border with Turkey, a Nato country. And yet no one seems to be lifting a finger to stop it.

The divergent US policy toward Kurds in Iraq and Syria is reflective of Washington’s general mistaken tendency to presume distinctions between the two countries that do not actually exist. According to US officials quoted this week in the Wall Street Journal, for instance, US airstrikes in Iraq are designed to help Iraqi forces beat back Isis, whereas in Syria, “We’re not trying to take ground away from them. We’re trying to take capability away from them.” A policy that decisively targets Isis in Iraq but half-heartedly in Syria is doomed to fail. It will, at best, only briefly postpone the immediate threat Isis poses to American interests in the region. And the new air strikes aren’t even really working.

A key difference between the new US war strategy in Kurdish-majority parts of the region was Washington’s decision to bolster its Kurdish partners on the ground in Iraq but not in Syria. In Iraq, the US not only carried out air strikes but also armed the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga and sent military “advisors”. As a result, the peshmerga were able to provide ground intelligence to guide US air strikes, and, in conjunction with Kurdish fighters from Turkey and Syria, they followed up on the ground to retake important territories lost to Isis.

In Syria, the US has been more hesitant to develop such a bold Kurdish partnership. At first glance, the Kurdish fighting force in Syria – the People’s Defence Units (YPG), linked to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which the US designates as a terrorist group due to its decades-long war with Turkey – is a less natural partner than the widely recognized Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq. Yet it was YPG and PKK forces that provided the decisive support on the ground to the Iraqi Kurds, allowing KRG peshmerga to regain territory lost to Isis in Iraq. The US in great part owes the limited success of its airstrikes in north Iraq to the PKK and YPG.

The lesson the US should learn from its experience in north Iraq is that you can’t win a war in the air alone. Iraq showed that air strikes against Isis can work – but only when combined with efforts to arm and advise a reliable local force capable of following up to actually retake and hold territory on the ground. The YPG is that force in Syria, and any air strikes without the kind of support sent to the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga will be futile. US collaboration with the YPG will be tricky, as tensions between the PKK and Turkey, a US ally, have recently intensified. The PKK, angered by what it perceives to be Turkey’s efforts to back Isis, threatened to end a fledgling peace process if Isis takes Kobani (also known as Ayn al-Arab). The existing peace process is not only Turkey’s best chance at peace, but also the Obama administration’s best cover for collaboration with the YPG. The US should urgently act to save both Kobani and the peace process, by offering extensive support to the YPG in Syria on the condition that the PKK reaffirms its commitment to the peace process with Turkey.

The repercussions of the fall of Kobani – and it is falling – will be felt far beyond Syrian borders. The genocidal group will have free rein to carry out a staggering massacre within walking distance of Turkish military positions. Kurds across the region will lose faith in Turkey and the Western powers that desperately need them to step in.

U.S. Faces “Massive Military Failure” as ISIS Advances on Syrian Border Town of Kobani

Two months after the United States began airstrikes in Iraq that then expanded to Syria, the Islamic State remains in control of most of the territory it has seized – and now threatens to capture the Syrian town of Kobani, just six miles from the Turkish border. If Kobani were to fall to the Islamic State, the group would be in control of more than half of Syria’s border with Turkey. “If Kobani does fall, this will be a symptom of a massive military failure,” says Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for The Independent. “And it’s not just in Syria that this is happening, [but] in Iraq as well.”


Iraqi Journalist Who Embedded with Shia Militias on Fighting ISIS & Why US Strategy is Bound to Fail

As ISIS continues to make advances in the face of U.S.-led airstrikes, we are joined by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, an Iraqi journalist working with The Guardian who recently embedded with Shia militias around Baghdad fighting the Sunnis. “The war that ISIS is raging on the Iraqi government is a coalition of many different tiny little wars,” Abdul-Ahad says. “Everyone has his own grievances against the central government of Iraq, yet ISIS has managed to include them all under a single umbrella.” Abdul-Ahad argues that any attempt by the United States and its allies to fight the Islamic State as a monolithic organization is bound to fail. “By sending more weapons, sending more money, you’re just adding to the fuel of the war. You need a social contract with the Sunnis of Iraq.”


Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Trevor Timm: The most important national-security secrets case you’ve never heard of

Your phone records, your credit-card bills, your internet trail – the government has the power to summon it all on-demand, without telling you. Until now

The most consequential civil liberties case in years is being argued before three judges in California on Wednesday, and it has little to do with the NSA but everything to do with taking away your privacy in the name of vague and unsubstantiated “national security” claims.

The landmark case revolves around National Security Letters (NSLs), the pernicious tool for surveillance-on-demand that the FBI has used with reckless abandon since 9/11 – almost completely hidden from public view, even though they’re used to view the public’s private information. To wit, NSLs allow the FBI to demand all sorts of your stuff from internet, telephone, banking and credit-card companies without any prior sign-off from a judge or their unwitting customers. Worse, companies are served a gag order, making it illegal for them not only to tell you which of your info is being pulled – but to tell the public they’ve received such a request at all.

Which is why the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is in court on Wednesday, why Twitter is now suing the US government, and the reason that anyone who cares about his or her privacy should be just as aware of the three letters “NSL” as everyone has no doubt already become with the acronym NSA.

Timothy Egan: Why Do We Re-elect Them?

When you buy a new car, you dodge the sketchy salesman, read up on consumer ratings, get a feel for the ride. When you get married, you think about growing old with a person, love beyond lust, do a life gut check. And when you elect a federal lawmaker next month, you go against everything you believe in to reward the worst Congress ever.

How else to explain the confit of conventional wisdom showing that voters are poised to give Republicans control of the Senate, and increase their hold on the House, even though a majority of Americans oppose nearly everything the G.O.P. stands for?

The message is: We hate you for your inaction, your partisanship, your nut-job conspiracy theories; now do more of the same. Democracy – nobody ever said it made sense. Of course, November’s election will be a protest vote against the man who isn’t on the ballot, a way to make a lame duck president even lamer in his final two years.

Reza Aslan: Bill Maher Isn’t the Only One Who Misunderstands Religion

BILL MAHER’s recent rant against Islam has set off a fierce debate about the problem of religious violence, particularly when it comes to Islam.

Mr. Maher, who has argued that Islam is unlike other religions (he thinks it’s more “like the Mafia“), recently took umbrage with President Obama’s assertion that the terrorist group known as the Islamic State, or ISIS, does not represent Islam. In Mr. Maher’s view, Islam has “too much in common with ISIS.” [..]

His comments have led to a flurry of responses, perhaps none so passionate as that of the actor Ben Affleck, who lambasted Mr. Maher, on Mr. Maher’s own HBO show, for “gross” and “racist” generalizations about Muslims.

Yet there is a real lack of sophistication on both sides of the argument when it comes to discussing religion and violence.

Amy Goodman: Texas Strips Women of Their Health and Rights

In Texas, how far women have come can be measured by how far they have to go. Scores of medical facilities have been shuttered in Texas, stranding almost a million women hundreds of miles from a health-care facility that they might need. The reason? These facilities provide, among other services, safe, legal abortions. Last week, the U.S. Appeals Court for the 5th Circuit affirmed Texas state restrictions on abortion access, closing 13 more clinics overnight. Overall, 80 percent of Texas abortion clinics have closed since the law went into effect.

Imagine the headline: “A Federal appeals court in Texas has ruled that 80 percent of gun stores in Texas must close.” Self-proclaimed patriots in Texas would be up in arms. But in the Lone Star State, not all rights are created equal. A woman’s right to choose, her right to terminate a pregnancy, her right to privacy, was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973, more than 40 years ago, in its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.

The Texas Legislature, along with Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General (and current Republican candidate for governor) Greg Abbott, imposed laws in 2013 creating two significant barriers to the operation of clinics in Texas that perform abortions: First, doctors in the clinics were required to have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals. Second, a series of architectural standards were devised, applicable only to abortion clinics, mandating massive renovations to facilities in order to stay open.

Michael T. Klare: Obama’s New Oil Wars

Washington Takes on ISIS, Iran, and Russia

It was heinous. It was underhanded.  It was beyond the bounds of international morality. It was an attack on the American way of life.  It was what you might expect from unscrupulous Arabs.  It was “the oil weapon” — and back in 1973, it was directed at the United States. Skip ahead four decades and it’s smart, it’s effective, and it’s the American way.  The Obama administration has appropriated it as a major tool of foreign policy, a new way to go to war with nations it considers hostile without relying on planes, missiles, and troops.  It is, of course, that very same oil weapon. [..]

After suffering enormously from that embargo, Washington took a number of steps to disarm the oil weapon and prevent its reuse. These included an increased emphasis on domestic oil production and the establishment of a mutual aid arrangement overseen by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that obliged participating nations to share their oil with any member state subjected to an embargo.

So consider it a surprising reversal that, having tested out the oil weapon against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq with devastating effect back in the 1990s, Washington is now the key country brandishing that same weapon, using trade sanctions and other means to curb the exports of energy-producing states it categorizes as hostile.  The Obama administration has taken this aggressive path even at the risk of curtailing global energy supplies.

Josh Horwitz: The Racial Double Standard on Gun Violence

One week ago, in an op-ed for the far right wing website World Net Daily, National Rifle Association (NRA) Board Member Ted Nugent commented on the violence that has made national headlines in Ferguson, Missouri, and stated, “The overwhelming majority of violent crime across America is conducted by young, black males who, sadly, are on the self-inflicted expressway to prison or an early grave-or more often than not, both.”

Where to begin… For starters, Nugent has blatantly misstated the facts. In truth, more whites are arrested for violent crime in the United States than blacks (even though African Americans are arrested for such crimes at a higher rate than whites). There are multiple socioeconomic and structural causes that increase an individual’s propensity for violent behavior. Pigmentation is simply not a factor.

But reading Nugent’s column brought an equally important point home for me. The way we talk about incidents of gun violence in this country — and the solutions we propose to stem future acts of violence — seems to be dramatically different depending on the race of those involved.

Cheating Education

The Plot Against Public Education

By BOB HERBERT, Politico

October 06, 2014

When a multibillionaire gets an idea, just about everybody leans in to listen. And when that idea has to do with matters of important public policy and the billionaire is willing to back it up with hard cash, public officials tend to reach for the money with one hand and their marching orders with the other. Gates backed his small-schools initiative with enormous amounts of cash. So, without a great deal of thought, one school district after another signed on to the notion that large public high schools should be broken up and new, smaller schools should be created.

This was an inherently messy process. The smaller schools-proponents sometimes called them academies-would often be shoehorned into the premises of the larger schools, so you’d end up with two, three or more schools competing for space and resources in one building. That caused all sorts of headaches: Which schools would get to use the science labs, or the gyms? How would the cafeterias be utilized? And who was responsible for policing the brawls among students from rival schools?

That was Bill Gates’s grand idea. From 2000 to 2009, he spent $2 billion and disrupted 8 percent of the nation’s public high schools before acknowledging that his experiment was a flop. The size of a high school proved to have little or no effect on the achievement of its students. At the same time, fewer students made it more difficult to field athletic teams. Extracurricular activities withered. And the number of electives offered dwindled.

Gates said it himself in the fall of 2008, “Simply breaking up existing schools into smaller units often did not generate the gains we were hoping for.”

But Gates was by no means finished. He and his foundation quickly turned to the task of trying to fix the nation’s teachers.

Although he and his foundation were committed to the idea of putting a great teacher into every classroom, Gates acknowledged that there was not much of a road map for doing that. “Unfortunately,” he said, “it seems that the field doesn’t have a clear view on the characteristics of great teaching. Is it using one curriculum over another? Is it extra time after school? We don’t really know.”

This hit-or-miss attitude-let’s try this, let’s try that-has been a hallmark of school reform efforts in recent years. The experiments trotted out by the big-money crowd have been all over the map. But if there is one broad approach (in addition to the importance of testing) that the corporate-style reformers and privatization advocates have united around, it’s the efficacy of charter schools. Charter schools were supposed to prove beyond a doubt that poverty didn’t matter, that all you had to do was free up schools from the rigidities of the traditional public system and the kids would flourish, no matter how poor they were or how chaotic their home environments.

Corporate leaders, hedge fund managers and foundations with fabulous sums of money at their disposal lined up in support of charter schools, and politicians were quick to follow. They argued that charters would not only boost test scores and close achievement gaps but also make headway on the vexing problem of racial isolation in schools.

None of it was true. Charters never came close to living up to the hype. After several years of experimentation and the expenditure of billions of dollars, charter schools and their teachers proved, on the whole, to be no more effective than traditional schools. In many cases, the charters produced worse outcomes. And the levels of racial segregation and isolation in charter schools were often scandalous. While originally conceived a way for teachers to seek new ways to reach the kids who were having the most difficult time, the charter school system instead ended up leaving behind the most disadvantaged youngsters.

Shockingly Widespread Standardized Test Cheating in Schools in 39 States

By Elizabeth Hines, Alternet

October 6, 2014

This week in Atlanta, the trial of a dozen former educators and administrators charged with conspiring to manipulate test scores in Atlanta’s public schools got underway in Fulton County Superior Court. Characterized by the prosecuting district attorney, Fani Willis, as “a widespread, cleverly disguised conspiracy to illegally inflate test scores and create a false impression of academic success for many students in the Atlanta Public Schools system,” the case could earn its defendants as many as 35 years behind bars, should they be found guilty of the charges against them.

The Atlanta case has gained national attention in large part because of the scope of the cheating documented and the number of educators implicated (initially, more than 180 educators at 44 schools were involved, according to the Atlantic). But is Atlanta the singular case of a school system gone awry in a sea of otherwise compliant districts? Or is the systemic cheating alleged in this case shockingly prevalent in America’s schools – far beyond what most of us can imagine?

According to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), it’s time to prepare to be shocked. The organization has recently compiled data indicating that the scandal in Atlanta is “just the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to cheating on standardized tests in our nation’s schools. Specifically, FairTest has found documented cases of cheating, and in some cases, systematic manipulation of scores, in 39 states and the District of Columbia, over the last five years alone. The organization has also identified more than 60 methods administrators and teachers have used to alter student scores on these tests, from urging low-scorers to be absent the day of the test, to shouting out and otherwise indicating correct answers during testing.

The great charter school rip-off: Finally, the truth catches up to education “reform” phonies

by Jeff Bryant, Salon

Thursday, Oct 2, 2014 05:25 PM EST

Last week when former President Bill Clinton meandered onto the topic of charter schools, he mentioned something about an “original bargain” that charters were, according to the reporter for The Huffington Post, “supposed to do a better job of educating students.”

A writer at Salon called the remark “stunning” because it brought to light the fact that the overwhelming majority of charter schools do no better than traditional public schools. Yet, as the Huffington reporter reminded us, charter schools are rarely shuttered for low academic performance.

But what’s most remarkable about what Clinton said is how little his statement resembles the truth about how charters have become a reality in so many American communities.

In a real “bargaining process,” those who bear the consequences of the deal have some say-so on the terms, the deal-makers have to represent themselves honestly (or the deal is off and the negotiating ends), and there are measures in place to ensure everyone involved is held accountable after the deal has been struck.

But that’s not what’s happening in the great charter industry rollout transpiring across the country. Rather than a negotiation over terms, charters are being imposed on communities – either by legislative fiat or well-engineered public policy campaigns. Many charter school operators keep their practices hidden or have been found to be blatantly corrupt. And no one seems to be doing anything to ensure real accountability for these rapidly expanding school operations.

Instead of the “bargain” political leaders may have thought they struck with seemingly well-intentioned charter entrepreneurs, what has transpired instead looks more like a raw deal for millions of students, their families, and their communities. And what political leaders ought to be doing – rather than spouting unfounded platitudes, as Clinton did, about “what works” – is putting the brakes on a deal gone bad, ensuring those most affected by charter school rollouts are brought to the bargaining table, and completely renegotiating the terms for governing these schools.

Startling examples of charter school financial malfeasance revealed by the authors -just in Pennsylvania - include an administrator who diverted $2.6 million in school funds to a church property he also operated. Another charter school chief was caught spending millions in school funds to bail out other nonprofits associated with the school. A pair of charter school operators stole more than $900,000 from the school by using fraudulent invoices, and a cyber school entrepreneur diverted $8 million of school funds for houses, a Florida condominium, and an airplane.

What’s even more alarming is that none of these crimes were detected by state agencies overseeing the schools. As the report clearly documents, every year virtually all of the state’s charter schools are found to be financially sound. The vast majority of fraud was uncovered by whistleblowers and media coverage and not by state auditors who have a history of not effectively detecting or preventing fraud.

Pennsylvania spends over a billion dollars a year on charter schools, and the $30 million lost to fraud documented in this study is likely the minimum possible amount. The report authors recommend a moratorium on new charter schools in the state and call on the Attorney General to launch an investigation.

Pedro Noguera, explained, “Charter schools are frequently not accountable. Indeed, they are stunningly opaque, more black boxes than transparent laboratories for education.”

Rather than having to show their books, as public schools do, Noguera contended, “Most charters lack financial transparency.” As an example, he offered a study of KIPP charter schools, which found that they receive “‘an estimated $6,500 more per pupil in revenues from public or private sources’ compared to local school districts.” But only a scant portion of that disproportionate funding – just $457 in spending per pupil – could accurately be accounted for “because KIPP does not disclose how it uses money received from private sources.

In addition to the difficulties in following the money,” Noguero continued, “there is evidence that many charters seek to accept only the least difficult (and therefore the least expensive) students. Even though charter schools are required by law to admit students through lotteries, in many cities, the charters under-enroll the most disadvantaged children.”

This tendency of charter schools operations provides a double bonus as their student test scores get pushed to higher levels and the public schools surrounding them have to take on disproportionate percentages of high needs students who push their test score results lower. Noguera cited a study showing that traditional schools serving the largest percentages of high-needs students are frequently the first to be branded with the “failure” label.

These new guidelines are intended to address numerous examples of charter school failure to disclose essential information about their operations, including financial information, school discipline policies, student enrollment processes, and efforts to collaborate with public schools.

For instance, the report notes that the director of the state Office of Open Records in Pennsylvania, “testified that her office had received 239 appeals in cases where charter schools either rejected or failed to answer requests from the public for information on budgets, payrolls, or student rosters.” In Ohio, a charter chain operated by for-profit White Hat Management Company, “takes in more than $60 million in public funding annually … yet has refused to comply with requests from the governing boards of its own schools for detailed financial reports.” In Philadelphia, the report authors found a charter school that made applications for enrollment available “only one day a year, and only to families who attend an open house at a golf club in the Philadelphia suburbs.” In New York City, where charter schools are co-located in public school buildings, “public school parents have complained that their students have shorter recess, fewer library hours, and earlier lunch schedules to better accommodate students enrolled at the co-located charter school.” The report quotes a lawsuit filed by the NAACP, which documented public school classrooms “with peeling paint and insufficient resources” made to co-locate with charters that have “new computers, brand-new desks, and up-to-date textbooks.”

Unsurprisingly, the report got an immediate response from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, arguing against any regulation on charters. That organization’s response cites “remarkable results” as an excuse for why charters should continue to be allowed to skirt public accountability despite the fact they get public money. However, whenever there is close scrutiny of the remarkable results the charter industry loves to crow about, the facts are those results really aren’t there.

There’s little doubt now that the grand bargain Bill Clinton and other leaders thought they were making with charter schools proponents was a raw deal.

Reading, Writing, Ransacking

By Charles P. Pierce, Esquire

October 7, 2014

These are tough times for education “reformers,” those well-meaning, usually wealthy dilettantes who are only making their comfortable living working “for the kids.” Michelle Rhee, their warrior queen, has been exposed as an intellectual three-card monte dealer, and has been forced to hand over her sword and buckler to Campbell Brown, a forgettable former CNN anchor Muppet whose dedication to democracy and “transparency” is, well, eccentric at best, as she crusades against teacher tenure so that local school boards — like the one presently embarrassing itself in Colorado — can make sure no inconvenient thinking manages to leach into the subject population being experimented upon by the people who pay Brown her salary. Whoever they are. The charter school movement increasingly looks like a Trojan Horse for the corporate education complex — demanding a complete lack of accountability and ending up, in many cases, as the pedagogical equivalent of a Texas fertilizer plant. This barely concealed strain of authoritarianism — the lack of accountability, the delicately eliminationist rhetoric aimed at public school teachers, the shadowy donors whom people like Brown decline to reveal, the kleptocratic reliance on corporate money — is more than sufficiently similar to the way corporations generally have looted the commonwealth to make you wonder if public education isn’t headed the way of the country’s manufacturing base.

In a closed-door session that lasted 17 minutes and that included a single public comment, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission — more about them later — unilaterally blew up the contract under which the Philadelphia teachers union had been operating. In addition to socking the city’s teachers for their own health care, the commission also cut off the benefits being paid to retired teachers, most of them elderly, and all of them having worked for years to earn these benefits that yesterday vanished without even the pretense of debate. If this reminds you  of what happened to the pensions of firemen in New Jersey, and public workers in Wisconsin, and manufacturing grunts almost everywhere in the private sector, you are unusually sharp this morning and do not need that second cup of coffee.

The politics of the move are as simple as they are grotesque. Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has the approval rating of malaria right now and, if nothing changes, he’s on his way to a historic drubbing in November. Picking this fight may be Corbett’s last chance. However, he has picked the fight right in the middle of an ongoing scandal regarding the state’s system of charter schools which, because of the same lack of transparency that surrounds Campbell Brown’s financial angels and that surrounded the meeting in Philadelphia yesterday, has become a target-rich environment for the accountability-free grifters of the “reform” movement.

(T)he charter school movement has come to (this) in Philadelphia — a “flip this school” real-estate scheme. Lovely. And that’s not even to get into the scandal around the state’s “Cyber Charter,” an Internet-based school the founder of which is currently on trial for funneling millions of dollars away from the school and into his pockets,  with which he allegedly bought himself a plane, and condos for his mother and girlfriend.

They all have so very much to answer for, the people who have decided to enrich themselves by bashing public school teachers and, in doing so, putting the entire philosophy of public education, one of the lasting contributions to society of the American political commonwealth, at serious risk. No wonder they operate secretly, and in the shadows, and beyond the reach of public accountability. They are burglarizing the future for their own profit.

Perp Walks? Don’t Hold Your Breath.

My emphasis- ek hornbeck

Big Banks Face Another Round of U.S. Charges

By Ben Protess and Jessica Silver-Greenberg

October 6, 2014 9:30 pm

With evidence mounting that a number of foreign and American banks colluded to alter the price of foreign currencies, the largest and least regulated financial market, prosecutors are aiming to file charges against at least one bank by the end of the year, according to interviews with lawyers briefed on the matter. Ultimately, several banks are expected to plead guilty.

Interviews with more than a dozen lawyers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations open a window onto previously undisclosed aspects of an investigation that is unnerving Wall Street and the defense bar. While cases stemming from the financial crisis were aimed at institutions, prosecutors are planning to eventually indict individual bank employees over currency manipulation, using their instant messages as incriminating evidence.

The charges will most likely focus on traders and their bosses rather than chief executives. As a result, critics of the Justice Department might view the cases as little more than an exercise in public relations, a final push to shape the legacy of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who was blamed for a lack of criminal cases against Wall Street executives.

The public lust for charges is at odds with the view on Wall Street, where bankers and lawyers report fatigue with what seems like unrelenting investigations. With each inquiry, the fines have multiplied, stretching to nearly $17 billion for Bank of America.

And the scrutiny could drag on for years. The Justice Department, lawyers said, has widened its focus to include a criminal investigation into banks that set an important benchmark for interest rate derivatives, a previously unreported development that coincides with international regulators’ proposing overhauls to the rate-setting process.

The flurry of activity strikes at the heart of Wall Street’s role in setting benchmarks across the globe. The investigations suggest that banks, seeking to benefit their own trades, have compromised the sanctity of rates like Libor and the “4 p.m. London fix” for currencies, which investors use to value their positions.

At their core, the investigations into Libor and currency trading center on suspicions that banks manipulated the benchmarks for their own gain. In Libor, a measure of how much banks charge one another for loans, several banks submitted false rates to benefit their trading positions.

The foreign exchange inquiry has pointed to a more complex scheme to fix currency prices and game the market. Authorities suspect that banks, using information gleaned from their clients, collaborated to flood the market with orders just seconds before the so-called 4 p.m. fix, which serves as the benchmark for foreign exchange rates. The aim in part, authorities suspect, was to drive up the price of, say, euros before selling them to clients at an inflated price.

Traders at competing banks met in private chat rooms. Some traders became so cozy that they earned the nickname “the cartel” and “the bandits club.”

The Breakfast Club (Trolling, trolling, trolling)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgScience and Tech

Last week I was surfing my Tech sites when I ran across an article celebrating the demise of Windows 7 OEM pre-installation packages which HP and Dell (among others) buy in bulk and re-sell at a reasonable price to roll-your-own and custom builders.

The author’s expressed hope was that this would finally force consumers to adopt the “clearly superior in every way” Windows 8 OS and help out “poor beleaguered” Microsoft who shouldn’t be forced to support antiquated and obsolete systems,

Well, you know me.  There were no replies yet and I wanted to show my appreciation of the writer’s effort, so I posted what I considered a rather mild response

Windows 8 (and 8.1 for that matter) is a failure on par with Vista, not because it’s inherently unstable the way Vista is, but because it’s useless in a business environment which is Microsoft’s meat and potatoes and they should never forget it.

Why should I waste a month or two to train all my users a new interface?  Why should I switch to expensive touch screens that get greasy and smeary instantly, often require reconfiguring office space, fail incessantly, and are expensive to purchase and replace?

Windows 9 may have a chance if they find a easy way to configure for a simple (but fully featured) NT style desktop where workers see their document drafts and templates and the approved productivity applications that they require frequently and a Start Menu for those less used…

And that’s it!

Some applications benefit from touch screens (Point of Sale), some do not (document creation and processing, arguably spreadsheets).  Tablets and phones are field toy substitutes useful for enterprise communication and navigation (phone) and client presentations (tablets).  Otherwise they are huge black holes of productivity where your employees play games and update their personal social media (phones), and watch streaming video (tablets).

I will admit the Surface has the right idea with a real, though inferior, keyboard.

If Microsoft does not address those concerns I will continue to purchase Windows 7 as long as I can find an available copy and when I do switch my enterprise to a different Operating System it will be to Linux which provides my IT department with the necessary tools for easy installation, upgrade, maintenance, and control; and my workers with a consistent interface that requires minimal training to be productive.

Business computers need to be easy to use, not a colossal waste of time (which is money) and money (which is also money).

Alas, once a troll always a troll.  To their credit the dialog was more polite (if less creative) than I have been trained to expect from my involvement with political sites.  I wasn’t called a no-good Naderite more materially responsible for the demise of the Republic than corporately corrupt, moronically myopic, lesser evil legislators, but the attacks seemed faint-hearted and lacking in the glittering venom that the shills, toadies, and bullies bring.  Oh, for a foe worthy of my rapier wit.

And of course 2 days later Microsoft announces Windows 10 which validates my every criticism.  I’m sure they will apologize profusely.

Windows 10 is ‘Windows for the masses’

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, ZDNet

October 7, 2014 — 12:48 GMT (05:48 PDT)

Let’s get one thing straight. I’m convinced that the purpose of this Technical Preview is to convince all those Windows 7 enterprise users that Windows 10 puts behind it all that Windows 8 nonsense. Windows 8 put far too much focus on features that businesses saw at best as irrelevant because most of their PCs don’t have touch, and at worse expensive because it meant lots of costly retraining, downtime, and inefficiencies.

Mission accomplished. Windows 10 proves that Microsoft is brave enough to admit that the Windows 8 experiment was a failure and that it’s now time to get back to the serious business of building a platform that people want, not one that they are told they need.

Now I’m certain that there are going to be people who are distressed by Microsoft’s decision to resurrect the Start Menu and put it and the Windows Desktop back in the limelight. I don’t blame them. They’ve put a lot of effort into morphing their workflows to fit in around Windows 8, and then changed that again once to accommodate changes bought about by Windows 8.1. Some even went as far as evangelizing the changes, claiming that they represented the future, and that everyone is just going to have to get used to it.

Yeah, about that…

The important thing to appreciate about Windows 10 is that Microsoft isn’t building an operating system specifically for you or me. Microsoft is building it to cater for the billion or so people out there using PCs that aren’t touch-enabled. These are the people who have invested billions and billions of worker-days in creating effective workflows that utilize the Windows paradigms they have come to know (and perhaps love), and for Microsoft to come along and make drastic fundamental changes to this is a risky maneuver.

Windows 10 is a clear signal to all the uneasy enterprise customers that those crazy days are over. Windows 10 isn’t for those people who want to live on the cutting edge. Windows 10 is Windows for the masses.

Windows 8 was undoubtedly a brave move. I think Microsoft thought that if it made Windows a touch-first platform, it would revive flagging PC sales by fostering new PC form factors. But it didn’t work. Partly because people are getting out of the habit of buying new PCs every few years, partly because Windows 8 user interface was an incoherent muddle, and partly because Microsoft and the OEMs didn’t do a good job of communicating the benefits of the new platform.

And now it’s equally brave that Microsoft is moving on.

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

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On This Day In History October 8

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

October 9 is the 282nd day of the year (283rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 83 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1967, socialist revolutionary and guerilla leader Che Guevara, age 39, is killed by the Bolivian army. The U.S.-military-backed Bolivian forces captured Guevara on October 8 while battling his band of guerillas in Bolivia and assassinated him the following day. His hands were cut off as proof of death and his body was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1997, Guevara’s remains were found and sent back to Cuba, where they were reburied in a ceremony attended by President Fidel Castro and thousands of Cubans.

Ernesto “Che” Guevara (June 14, 1928 – October 9, 1967), commonly known as El Che or simply Che, was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, intellectual, guerrilla leader, diplomat, military theorist, and major figure of the Cuban Revolution. Since his death, his stylized visage has become a ubiquitous countercultural symbol and global insignia within popular culture.

As a medical student, Guevara traveled throughout Latin America and was transformed by the endemic poverty he witnessed. His experiences and observations during these trips led him to conclude that the region’s ingrained economic inequalities were an intrinsic result of capitalism, monopolism, neocolonialism, and imperialism, with the only remedy being world revolution. This belief prompted his involvement in Guatemala’s social reforms under President Jacobo Arbenz, whose eventual CIA-assisted overthrow solidified Guevara’s radical ideology. Later, while living in Mexico City, he met Raul and Fidel Castro, joined their 26th of July Movement, and travelled to Cuba aboard the yacht, Granma, with the intention of overthrowing U.S.-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Guevara soon rose to prominence among the insurgents, was promoted to second-in-command, and played a pivotal role in the successful two year guerrilla campaign that deposed the Batista regime.

Following the Cuban Revolution, Guevara performed a number of key roles in the new government. These included instituting agrarian reform as minister of industries, serving as both national bank president and instructional director for Cuba’s armed forces, reviewing the appeals and firing squads for those convicted as war criminals during the revolutionary tribunals, and traversing the globe as a diplomat on behalf of Cuban socialism. Such positions allowed him to play a central role in training the militia forces who repelled the Bay of Pigs Invasion and bringing to Cuba the Soviet nuclear-armed ballistic missiles which precipitated the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Additionally, he was a prolific writer and diarist, composing a seminal manual on guerrilla warfare, along with a best-selling memoir about his youthful motorcycle journey across South America. Guevara left Cuba in 1965 to foment revolution abroad, first unsuccessfully in Congo-Kinshasa and later in Bolivia, where he was captured by CIA-assisted Bolivian forces and executed.

Guevara remains both a revered and reviled historical figure, polarized in the collective imagination in a multitude of biographies, memoirs, essays, documentaries, songs, and films. Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, while an Alberto Korda photograph of him entitled “Guerrillero Heroico”, was declared “the most famous photograph in the world.”

TDS/TCR (As God Is My Witness, I’ll Never Wear Drapes Again!)


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Dispatches From Hellpeckersville-Sick

Well, my dear friends, the sewing project with the kid did not happen. Instead, what happened was this: I got sick. And not just any sick, gut-wrenchingly, pain approaching childbirth levels sick. It was not pretty.