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Dec 20 2014

The Breakfast Club (Nutcracking)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgWelcome to my childhood trauma.  I have to be the only person in the world who doesn’t like The Nutcracker Suite.

When I was quite young my Mom and Dad took my sister and I to New York to see The Nutcracker Suite, I think they thought it would be ‘cultural’.

I do love the City and it was, overall, a quite enjoyable experience.  We saw all the animated windows on 5th Av., went to F.A.O. Schwarz, looked at the big tree (always feel kinda sad for those trees) and watched the skating (Mom and Dad wanted to do it, but I put my foot down because I had no desire to wait in a cold Disneyesque line for 5 minutes of skating I could easily do on a pond or rink at home).  We had an early Haunukka dinner with my Aunt and Uncle (the Bank VP with the carrel from which you could see the window if you gave it a good squint) and headed off for the show.

Now my Dad thinks that the reason I had a bad experience is our nosebleed seats and I’ll admit I have Acrophobia (no, it’s not crippling, I can stand heights if I need to but I’d much prefer otherwise and you daredevils who like to dance on the edge of a long fall and a short stop both make me nervous and annoy me because I might feel impelled to do something really stupid on the spur of the moment to save your sorry ass- I’d be much happier if I were just willing to mop up after).

Alas the real reason is more fundamental and does me less credit.  I’m not very graceful.

Rhythm has nothing to do with it.  I have a poor sense of kinesthesia, or more properly proprioception since my vestibular system works just fine thank you, even at height.

Even aesthetically the Terpsichorean muse and I hardly get along at all.

I have an intellectual appreciation of the athleticism and drill that goes into it, but the subtleties and symbolism are lost on me.  Now this may seem strange since my favorite interpreter of me is Gene Kelly who was known to cut quite a rug, but the choreography of Musical Theater is intended to appeal to low brow philistines like I am.

Ballet is too much.  The outlandish costumes, exaggerated gestures, difficult to follow plots with no dialog (I hate mimes too).  I can understand why some people like it (athletic men in codpiece tights!  women in revealing catsuits!) but I’d rather spend a day watching Noh (confused by most people with Kabuki which is actually more free form and Avant Garde), than an hour watching ballet.

But if you like that sort of thing and the cliched music of what even Pyotr Ilyich admitted was not his best work (he liked Sleeping Beauty better) here’s an interesting and high quality production by the Kirov (Mariinsky) Ballet-

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.

Obligatories

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

I would never make fun of LaEscapee or blame PhilJD.  And I am highly organized.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

This Day in History

News

Panel to Advise Against Penalty for C.I.A.’s Computer Search

By MATT APUZZO and MARK MAZZETTI, The New York Times

DEC. 19, 2014

A panel investigating the Central Intelligence Agency’s search of a computer network used by staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who were looking into the C.I.A.’s use of torture will recommend against punishing anyone involved in the episode, according to current and former government officials.

The panel will make that recommendation after the five C.I.A. officials who were singled out by the agency’s inspector general this year for improperly ordering and carrying out the computer searches staunchly defended their actions, saying that they were lawful and in some cases done at the behest of John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director.



When the controversy over the search erupted, Mr. Brennan offered a vigorous defense of his agency. He later apologized after the C.I.A.’s inspector general concluded that the agency had improperly monitored the committee’s activities. The inspector general also found that C.I.A. officers had read the emails of agency investigators and sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department based on false information.

Ferguson prosecutor says witnesses in Darren Wilson case lied under oath

Nicky Woolfin, The Guardian

Friday 19 December 2014 15.43 EST

Some witnesses who appeared before the grand jury investigating the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown were “clearly not telling the truth,” according to the St Louis county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch.



The admission came just days after The Smoking Gun, an investigative site which publishes government, police and other documents, claimed to have identified a key grand jury witness and raised serious questions about the credibility of her testimony.



“This is a lady who clearly wasn’t present when this occurred, and she recounted this statement that was right out of the newspaper about Wilson’s actions, right down the line,” said McCulloch, “even though I’m sure she was nowhere near the place.”

“The thing that changed in her story several times was the reason she had to be in Canfield that day,” he continued.

The Smoking Gun alleged that McElroy’s testimony to the grand jury was also fabricated. “I believe there is a clear preponderance of evidence,” William Bastone, the editor of The Smoking Gun, told the Guardian. “We’d never have posted a story accusing her of perjury – and identifying her – if we weren’t 100% certain.”

This, too, appeared to be corroborated by McCulloch. “There are people who came in and, yes, absolutely lied under oath. Some lied to the FBI – even though they aren’t under oath, that’s another potential federal offence.” He added that he had allowed them to testify anyway because he had felt “it was much more important to present the entire picture”.

He said his department was not planning to pursue perjury charges.



The Smoking Gun also reported that McElroy had previously been accused of lying about her involvement with a high-profile kidnapping case in St Louis. In that case, McElroy gave statements to the police in which she said that she had seen kidnapper Michael Devlin with victim Shawn Hornbeck months after his disappearance, and that she had known Devlin for 20 years. Police later declared those statements to be “a complete fabrication”.

F.B.I. Evidence Is Often Mishandled, an Internal Inquiry Finds

By MATT APUZZO and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, The New York Times

DEC. 19, 2014

F.B.I. agents in every region of the country have mishandled, mislabeled and lost evidence, according to a highly critical internal investigation that discovered errors with nearly half the pieces of evidence it reviewed.



The report’s findings, based on a review of more than 41,000 pieces of evidence in F.B.I. offices around the country, could have consequences for criminal investigations and prosecutions. Lawyers can use even minor record-keeping discrepancies to get evidence thrown out of court, and the F.B.I. was alerting prosecutors around the country on Friday that they may need to disclose the errors to defendants.



“A majority of the errors identified were due in large part to human error, attributable to a lack of training and program management oversight,” auditors wrote in the report, which was obtained by The New York Times.



The investigation found that federal agents had removed 1,600 pieces of evidence from storage and had not returned them for more than four months. One piece of evidence in a drug case has been signed out since 2003. Another piece of evidence has been out since 2006, the report found.

Because the audit was based on a sample, the actual number of items that have been checked out and not returned is probably much higher.

Enough with the Sony hack. Can we all calm down about cyberwar with North Korea already?

Trevor Timm, The Guardian

Friday 19 December 2014 17.11 EST

Unfortunately, acting rational seems out of the question at this point. In between making a lot of sense about Sony’s cowardly “mistake” to pull a film based on a childish, unsubstantiated threat, Obama indicated the US planned to respond in some as-yet-unknown way, which sounds a lot like a cyberattack of our own.

“We will respond, we will respond proportionally, and in a place and time that we choose,” Obama said at his year-end news conference. Why should we be responding offensively at all? As the Wall Street Journal’s Danny Yadron reported, a movie studio doesn’t reach the US government’s definition of “critical infrastructure” that would allow its military to respond under existing rules, but that didn’t stop the White House from calling the Sony hack a “national security issue” just a day later.

Let’s put aside for a moment that many security experts haven’t exactly been rushing to agree with the FBI’s cut-and-dry conclusion that “the North Korean government is responsible” for the hack. Wired’s Kim Zetter wrote a detailed analysis about why the evidence accusing North Korea is really flimsy, while other security professionals have weighed in with similar research.

But whoever the hackers are, can we stop calling them “cyber-terrorists,” like Motion Picture Association of America chairman Chris Dodd did on Friday? They may be sadistic pranksters, extortionists and assholes, but anonymously posting a juvenile and vague word jumble incorporating “9/11” that has no connection to reality does not make them terrorist masterminds. That’s giving whoever did it way too much credit.



The rhetoric surrounding Sony’s entirely voluntary decision to cancel a shitty movie based on a barely legible “threat” has been quite amazing, even for a US Congress that only does one thing well: hyperbole. John McCain, for example, called the Sony hack an “act of war” on Friday – and that was before he called cancelling the movie “the greatest blow to free speech that I’ve seen in my lifetime probably”. Really? As security expert Peter Singer explained earlier this week, “having your scripts posted online does not constitute a terrorist act”.



Some of the very politicians vacillating between war-mongering and freedom-of-speechifying have wanted to pass ambiguous “cybersecurity” bills in the past that do hardly anything to increase any single company’s defenses and would have done nothing to stop the Sony attack. But what this kind of legislation would do is promote “information-sharing” – a euphemism for cutting a giant hole in our privacy laws that allow companies like Sony or 20th Century Fox (or Google or Facebook) to hand over all sorts of our personal information to the government with no legal process whatsoever.

The reason oil could drop as low as $20 per barrel

By Anatole Kaletsky, Reuters

December 19, 2014

Low oil prices will last long enough for one of two events to happen. The first possibility, the one most traders and analysts seem to expect, is that Saudi Arabia will re-establish OPEC’s monopoly power once it achieves the true geopolitical or economic objectives that spurred it to trigger the slump. The second possibility, one I wrote about two weeks ago, is that the global oil market will move toward normal competitive conditions in which prices are set by the marginal production costs, rather than Saudi or OPEC monopoly power. This may seem like a far-fetched scenario, but it is more or less how the oil market worked for two decades from 1986 to 2004.

Whichever outcome finally puts a floor under prices, we can be confident that the process will take a long time to unfold. It is inconceivable that just a few months of falling prices will be enough time for the Saudis to either break the Iranian-Russian axis or reverse the growth of shale oil production in the United States. It is equally inconceivable that the oil market could quickly transition from OPEC domination to a normal competitive one. The many bullish oil investors who still expect prices to rebound quickly to their pre-slump trading range are likely to be disappointed. The best that oil bulls can hope for is that a new, and substantially lower, trading range may be established as the multi-year battles over Middle East dominance and oil-market share play out.



There are several reasons to expect a new trading range as low as $20 to $50, as in the period from 1986 to 2004. Technological and environmental pressures are reducing long-term oil demand and threatening to turn much of the high-cost oil outside the Middle East into a “stranded asset” similar to the earth’s vast unwanted coal reserves. Additional pressures for low oil prices in the long term include the possible lifting of sanctions on Iran and Russia and the ending of civil wars in Iraq and Libya, which between them would release additional oil reserves bigger than Saudi Arabia’s on to the world markets.

The U.S. shale revolution is perhaps the strongest argument for a return to competitive pricing instead of the OPEC-dominated monopoly regimes of 1974-85 and 2005-14. Although shale oil is relatively costly, production can be turned on and off much more easily – and cheaply – than from conventional oilfields. This means that shale prospectors should now be the “swing producers” in global oil markets instead of the Saudis. In a truly competitive market, the Saudis and other low-cost producers would always be pumping at maximum output, while shale shuts off when demand is weak and ramps up when demand is strong. This competitive logic suggests that marginal costs of U.S. shale oil, generally estimated at $40 to $50, should in the future be a ceiling for global oil prices, not a floor.

Labor board attorney backs up claims McDonald’s violated labor rights

by Ned Resnikoff, Al Jazeera

December 19, 2014 4:26PM ET

Fast-food chain McDonald’s illegally retaliated against workers who participated in union organizing activities, the general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleged Friday.

The labor board attorney said the fast food company engaged in practices such as “threats, surveillance, interrogation, promises of benefit, and overbroad restrictions on communicating with union representatives or with other employees about unions” in restaurants across the country.



Crucially, the general counsel argues that the McDonald’s Corporation is responsible for the alleged mistreatment of employees at franchised restaurants. In labor complaints filed with the NLRB back in March, workers alleged that the corporation was a “joint employer” with the proprietors of individual McDonald’s franchises, making both McDonald’s and its franchisees responsible for any labor law violations that may occur within those franchised restaurants.

McDonald’s – along with powerful industry groups such as the International Franchise Association (IFA) – has typically asserted that franchisees are the sole employers of workers at such restaurants, and that parent companies are not liable for how those workers are treated. But the NLRB rejected that logic in its finding on Friday, saying that McDonald’s “engages in sufficient control over its franchisees’ operations, beyond protection of the brand, to make it a putative joint employer with its franchisees.”

That determination, if affirmed in federal court, could open the door for many more franchising corporations to be considered joint employers with their franchisees. As such, they would be responsible for ensuring compliance with labor law, and potentially embroil them directly in unionization battles at franchisee workplaces.

Better bananas: Chiquita settles lawsuit over green marketing, but the legal battle isn’t over

Sarah Shemkus, The Guardian

Friday 19 December 2014 16.10 EST

Wash sued the Chiquita at the end of last year, saying that the North Carolina-based fruit distributor’s partner farms in southern Guatemala have contaminated drinking water with fertilizers and fungicides – and have air-dropped pesticides perilously close to schools and homes.



The allegations raised in these lawsuits come at a moment when it is growing more difficult for companies to get away with making false environmental claims, a practice known as “greenwashing.”

Consumers have grown more discerning when faced with marketing that promotes a product as environmentally friendly, and legal authorities are more likely to take action against false claims, said Richard J Sobelsohn, an attorney who works for LexisNexis in New York City and has taught and written about sustainability law.

EPA announces first national regulations over coal ash storage

by Renee Lewis, Al Jazeera

December 19, 2014 4:35PM ET

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday announced the first-ever national regulations for the safe disposal of coal ash from coal-fired power plants, a move meant to protect the public from disasters like the 2008 Tennessee breach that spilled more than 5 million cubic yards of toxic ash that contaminated a nearby river and surrounding communities.



“This is a huge step forward,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Friday in a conference call with reporters. “This is the first time we have had federal standards in place to ensure coal ash is properly disposed of and managed.”

There were previously no national standards in place to regulate the disposal of coal ash, but a 2012 lawsuit by environmental groups and a Native American tribe against the EPA changed that. That lawsuit was settled in January, and gave the government a deadline of Dec. 19 to finalize new federal regulations.

Judge rules to keep gray wolves on endangered species list

Associated Press

Friday 19 December 2014 17.24 EST

A federal judge on Friday threw out an Obama administration decision to remove the gray wolf population in the western Great Lakes region from the endangered species list – a decision that will ban further wolf hunting and trapping in three states.

The order affects wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The US Fish and Wildlife Service dropped federal protections from those wolves in 2012 and handed over management to the states.



Unless overturned, his decision will prohibit further wolf hunting and trapping in the three states, all of which have had at least one hunting season since protections were removed. More than 1,500 Great Lakes wolves have been killed since federal protections were removed, said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States. The group filed a lawsuit that prompted Howell’s ruling.

FIFA Agrees to Release Redacted Ethics Report

By SAM BORDEN, The New York Times

DEC. 19, 2014

FIFA said on Friday that it would release a redacted version of the 430-page report compiled by Michael J. Garcia, the former chief investigator for the governing body of soccer’s ethics committee, who spent more than a year digging into allegations of corruption in the World Cup bidding process.

Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, announced the decision at a news conference in Morocco, at which he also said that the 2018 World Cup would take place in Russia as planned and that the 2022 event would remain in Qatar because there were no legal grounds for a revote.



If there is anything connecting Blatter to inappropriate behavior in the Garcia report, it will have little consequence if the report is not seen until after Blatter has won another term.

Michel Platini, the head of UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, and an outspoken opponent of Blatter’s on a number of issues, called for a quick release of the report, saying: “I have always battled for transparency, and this is a step in the right direction. Let us hope that the report can now be published as quickly as possible. The credibility of FIFA depends on it.”



Blatter said the investigation had inspired key changes in the way FIFA would approach the bidding process. However, there will be no revote – “the report is about history, and I am focused on the future,” Blatter said.

Hmmm…

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