Daily Archive: 12/22/2014

Dec 22 2014

Rep. Michael Grimm Will Plead Guilty to Tax Invasion: Up Date

Up Date 6:00 PM ET: Rep/ Grimm announced that he will not resign his House seat despite now being a convicted felon and possibly facing up to 3 years in prison.

Up Date 3:00 PM ET 12/23/14: Rep. Micheal Grimm Brooklyn Federal Court to a count of felony tax fraud. He issued the plea before Judge Pamela K. Chen shortly after 1:30 PM ET.

His status in Congress and whether or not he resigns was not part of the plea deal.

He could face a worst-case scenario of 24 to 30 months in prison.

Sentencing was scheduled for June 8 at 10:30 a.m.

Sources told the press this afternoon that Staten Island’s Repubkican Representative Michael Grimm (NY-11) will plead guilty to a single felony count of tax evasion.

Mr. Grimm, a former Marine and agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who first ran for office as a law-and-order corruption fighter, is scheduled to appear in federal court in Brooklyn at 1 p.m. on Tuesday for a plea hearing, according to the docket sheet in his case, which provides no further detail.

He has said he would immediately resign if he were convicted. “If things don’t go my way, right? And I had to step down in January, then there will be a special election, and at least the people of Staten Island and Brooklyn can then have qualified candidates to choose from,” he told the radio talk-show host Geraldo Rivera in October.

After a lengthy investigation into allegations of campaign finance improprieties, federal prosecutors obtained a 20-count indictment in April charging Mr. Grimm with underreporting wages and revenue while he was running a restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan called Healthalicious.

The charge carries a a penalty of up to three years in prison. However, as a first offender the judge may wave prison. Mr. Grimm has been very careful to couch his statements about stepping down if he was convicted. At his debate with Democratic Challenger Dominic Recchia, he was asked if he would resign if found guilty. He cautiously responded, “”Certainly, if I was not able to serve then of course I would step aside and there would be a special election.” If the judge is lenient, as many expect is likely, it would be up to the Republican led House to expel him.

Just prior to his latest legal predicament, Mr. Grimm displayed his bad temper when he threatened to throw NY-1 reporter, Michael Scotto, off the balcony of the Capitol Rotunda after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. After a lot of negative press he apologized to Mr. Scotto, who said he would not press charges.

From the New York Times article, Mr. Grimm’s troubles are not over. He is still under federal investigation for his campaign finances, the potential mob ties of one of his business associates and the illegal activities of another.

Mr. Grimm continues to be an embarrassment to the Republican Party and people he represents, even though many of them still support him. He should just resign and slink away.

Dec 22 2014

In Memoriam: Joe Cocker (20 May 1944 – 22 December 2014)

Gravel voiced British rocker, Joe Cocker died today at his home in Crawford, Colorado after a battle with small cell lung cancer. He was best known for his memorable Woodstock performance of The Beatles’ With A Little Help from My Friends in 1968 and his duet in 1980 with Jennifer Warnes, “Up Where We Belong,” that appeared in the movie “An Officer and a Gentlemen.” Joe is survived by his wife of 27 years, Pam; his brother, Victor; his step-daughter, Zoey Schroeder; and his two grandchildren, Eva and Simon Schroeder.

Dec 22 2014

What’s Cooking: Crème Brûlée French Toast

Here’s something special for Christmas morning breakfast or brunch, Crème Brûlée French Toast, that can be prepared the night before and tossed in the oven with a pan of bacon at the same time.

Dec 22 2014

War Crimes Charges Filed in Germany Against Bush Gang

In the wake of the release of the Senate’s Summary Report on the CIA torture program, a German human rights organization, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), has filed criminal charges in Germany against the architects of the program and the Bush administration.

17 December 2014 – The ECCHR has today lodged criminal complaints against former CIA head George Tenet, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other members of the administration of former US President George W. Bush. The ECCHR is accusing Tenet, Rumsfeld and a series of other persons of the war crime of torture under paragraph 8 section 1(3) of the German Code of Crimes against International Law (Völkerstrafgesetzbuch). The constituent elements of the crime of torture were most recently established in the case by the US Senate in its report on CIA interrogation methods. “The architects of the torture system – politicians, officials, secret service agents, lawyers and senior army officials – should be brought before the courts,” says ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck, who is appearing today in connection with the issue in front of the German Parliamentary Committee on legal affairs. “By investigating members of the Bush administration, Germany can help to ensure that those responsible for abduction, abuse and illegal detention do not go unpunished.” [..]

ECCHR calls on Federal Prosecutor Harald Range to open investigations into the actions of Tenet, Rumsfeld and other perpetrators and to set up a monitoring process as soon as possible. This would allow the German authorities to act immediately in the event that one of the suspects enters European soil and not have to wait until such point before beginning the complex investigations and legal deliberations. [..]

While criminal complaints against those most responsible for the crimes have been discontinued by the authorities, investigatory proceedings are ongoing in Spain and France in the case of individuals who were detained in Guantánamo. ECCHR is representing German resident Murat Kurnaz in the Spanish proceedings. There is no indication that legal action will be taken by US authorities in relation to torture in Guantánamo and in Iraq. For this reason, recourse will be had to all available legal mechanisms in Europe in order to establish legal liability and to lend support to calls within the US for independent investigations into those responsible at the highest level.

Other criminal complaints have been filed in Spain, Switzerland and France. So far, the only person involved with the CIA torture program who has been charged with a crime is the man who exposed the war crimes, whistleblower John Kiriakou.

Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman and Juan González spoke with Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and chairman of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, and longtime defense attorney Martin Garbus about the charges.

Even the New York Times Editorial Board agreed and, in a scathing editorial, accused President Barack Obama of failing his duty to prosecute the tortures and their bosses.

He did allow his Justice Department to investigate the C.I.A.’s destruction of videotapes of torture sessions and those who may have gone beyond the torture techniques authorized by President George W. Bush. But the investigation did not lead to any charges being filed, or even any accounting of why they were not filed. [..]

These are, simply, crimes. They are prohibited by federal law, which defines torture as the intentional infliction of “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” They are also banned by the Convention Against Torture, the international treaty that the United States ratified in 1994 and that requires prosecution of any acts of torture. [..]

No amount of legal pretzel logic can justify the behavior detailed in the report. Indeed, it is impossible to read it and conclude that no one can be held accountable. At the very least, Mr. Obama needs to authorize a full and independent criminal investigation. [..]

The question everyone will want answered, of course, is: Who should be held accountable? That will depend on what an investigation finds, and as hard as it is to imagine Mr. Obama having the political courage to order a new investigation, it is harder to imagine a criminal probe of the actions of a former president.

Actually, it’s not hard at all. Perhaps the president, after six years, has finely found the courage to do some of the things he promised when first elected, releasing the the innocent men tortured and held illegally at Guantanamo and normalizing diplomatic and some economic relations with Cuba, will find the courage to order his Attorney General to bring them up on charges and put this national disgrace to really behind us.

Dec 22 2014

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

New York Times Editorial Board: Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses

Since the day President Obama took office, he has failed to bring to justice anyone responsible for the torture of terrorism suspects – an official government program conceived and carried out in the years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. [..]

Mr. Obama has said multiple times that “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” as though the two were incompatible. They are not. The nation cannot move forward in any meaningful way without coming to terms, legally and morally, with the abhorrent acts that were authorized, given a false patina of legality, and committed by American men and women from the highest levels of government on down. [..]

Starting a criminal investigation is not about payback; it is about ensuring that this never happens again and regaining the moral credibility to rebuke torture by other governments. Because of the Senate’s report, we now know the distance officials in the executive branch went to rationalize, and conceal, the crimes they wanted to commit. The question is whether the nation will stand by and allow the perpetrators of torture to have perpetual immunity for their actions.

Paul Krugman: Conquest Is for Losers

Putin, Neocons and the Great Illusion

More than a century has passed since Norman Angell, a British journalist and politician, published “The Great Illusion,” a treatise arguing that the age of conquest was or at least should be over. He didn’t predict an end to warfare, but he did argue that aggressive wars no longer made sense – that modern warfare impoverishes the victors as well as the vanquished.

He was right, but it’s apparently a hard lesson to absorb. Certainly Vladimir Putin never got the memo. And neither did our own neocons, whose acute case of Putin envy shows that they learned nothing from the Iraq debacle.

Angell’s case was simple: Plunder isn’t what it used to be. You can’t treat a modern society the way ancient Rome treated a conquered province without destroying the very wealth you’re trying to seize. And meanwhile, war or the threat of war, by disrupting trade and financial connections, inflicts large costs over and above the direct expense of maintaining and deploying armies. War makes you poorer and weaker, even if you win.

Steven W. Thrasher: Two NYPD cops get killed and ‘wartime’ police blame the protesters. Have we learned nothing?

A cop pointing a gun at me as a “joke” and a cop getting a bullet in his head are no parallel, to be sure, but no one – cops included – should have to live even under the threat of violence, which is a form of violence itself.

So we must not let these brutal cop killings stop an honest movement built on affirming justice and peace.

We must not allow more police departments to adopt a ‘wartime’ mentality, just when we thought we were getting somewhere after the War on Terror military reenactments in Ferguson this summer.

We must not let protesters become labeled “domestic enemy combatants”, and we must not allow episodes where the script gets flipped to become an excuse to surveil black man even more.

And we must not give in to our most base anxieties, especially by indulging the fears of those who have guns and who are still, even after everything this year, expected to “serve and protect” us.

All of this violence is connected. We owe it to those taken from us too early – from the woman in Baltimore, to young black men in Ferguson and Ohio and beyond, and certainly to those two NYPD cops in their squad car in Brooklyn and their families – to break the American cycle of violence, even when it starts spinning in reverse.

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush: The False Choice of Protesting for Justice and Supporting Our Police

I’m one of the millions of New Yorkers who woke up heartbroken today thinking of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos who were shot dead yesterday while sitting in their car in Brooklyn by Ismaaiyl Brinsley. [..]

Instead of having the deaths of Liu and Ramos further tear us apart, could this serve as a moment of bringing us together? Liu and Ramos are reminders to any who would demonize the police, that our law enforcement is made up of people of all races and backgrounds, who have families and who feel called to this duty to protect and serve.

The families of Eric Garner and Michael Brown were among the first to condemn the killing of Ramos and Liu last night. The protests around the #BlackLivesMatter movement was never against the police, but it was a call to acknowledge that we can do better as a society that continues to bear the scars of racism.

That effort must continue; we can and must do better as a nation. But it will only be successful if everyone comes together and recognizes one another as human beings, deserving of respect, dignity and life.

Instead of pitting the deaths of Liu and Ramos against Garner and Brown, we can join them together, understanding them as martyrs whose inspire us on both sides of the blue line to work for a more just, safe and united America.

Michael Brenner:

Some political events mark their importance less by their content than by their timing, circumstances and presentation. That is the case for the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture. It contains little new to the attentive observer and none of that is of major consequence. It does, though, bear the imprimatur of the Senate — albeit with the abstention of Republicans. It appears at the culmination of a fierce White House campaign to prevent it from seeing the light of day. President Obama’s last minute “sky-is-falling” warnings that issuing the report would endanger the nation’s security was the exclamation point for a series of progressively more drastic measures that included the unconstitutional hacking of the Committee’s computers by the President and CIA Director John Brennan. [..]

The complicity of the White House in perpetuating the CIA mythology is the most troubling part of the story. President Obama went all the way down the line to prevent its exposure. Even now that the lie has been established between any reasonable doubt, he personally has thrown Brennan et al a life preserver in pronouncing himself neutral on the issue. In his official reaction to the Feinstein release the next day, Obama declared that that he will not take sides in the debate on whether torture worked. This is a striking example of Presidential irrationality — as well as irresponsibility. He is reacting as if a friend had asked him whether the Chicago Cubs should shell out $100 million+ for Jon Lester. That is a policy preference. Whether torture helped capture and kill OBL is a matter of fact — of truth or falsity. Leaving aside the inconvenient fact that he happens to be President of the United States, that that he already conspired with the CIA to block the report’s release and to prevent the ensuing embarrassment of the revelation that the torture program did not work (thereby already taking a position on the issue), one cannot logically abstain on a question of whether the sun rises in the East or the West.

Accountability for the country’s Intelligence agencies begins with the acceptance of responsibility in the White House.

Jim Popkin: Two double agents, a prison swap and the code from outer space: did this spy-v-spy duel save US-Cuban relations?

From a maximum-security prison in Texas, former United States military analyst Ana Montes has been offering up bumper-sticker justifications for why she betrayed her country and spied on behalf of the Cuban government over the course of 17 years. “I believe that the morality of espionage is relative,” Montes wrote in a private letter to a friend last year. “The activity always betrays someone, and some observers will think that it is justified and others not, in every case.”

Montes had no idea how prophetic her words would be. While the 57-year-old American citizen remains locked up as one of the most damaging spies in US history, the Cuban-born spy who led American investigators to Montes was set free to worldwide applause last week, during a landmark thaw in US-Cuban relations. Several news outlets have since identified the Cuban double-agent as Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, and multiple US officials I’ve interviewed this past week have described him as a cryptographer whose code-breaking secrets have been the gift that keeps on giving to the CIA, NSA and FBI.

Dec 22 2014

TBC: Morning Musing 12.22.14

So, I have 2 articles for you this morning and then a quiz my sister and I put together last night!

First, a sliver of hope for justice:

A Startling Admission By The Ferguson Prosecutor Could Restart The Case Against Darren Wilson

In intentionally presenting false testimony to the grand jury, McCulloch may have committed a serious ethical breach. Under the Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct, lawyers are prohibited from offering “evidence that the lawyer knows to be false.”

McCulloch justified his actions by asserting that the grand jury gave no credence at all to McElroy’s testimony. But this is speculation. Under Missouri law, the grand jury deliberations are secret and McCulloch is not allowed to be present.

A Missouri lawmaker, Karla May, called Friday for a legislative investigation of McCulloch’s conduct. May said that there is evidence to suggest that McCulloch “manipulated the grand jury process from the beginning to ensure that Officer Wilson would not be indicted.”

Even before Friday’s interview, many legal experts were highly critical McCulloch’s use of the grand jury. Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, said she believed McCulloch “did not want an indictment” of Darren Wilson and turned the grand jury process on its head, acting as an advocate for the defense.

Jump!

Dec 22 2014

On This Day In History December 22

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.

December 22 is the 356th day of the year (357th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are nine days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1808, Ludwig von Beethoven’s 5th Symphony makes its world premier in Vienna.

Also premiering that day at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna were Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58, and the Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68-the “Pastoral Symphony.” But it was the Fifth Symphony that, despite its shaky premiere, would eventually be recognized as Beethoven’s greatest achievement to that point in his career. Writing in 1810, the critic E.T.A. Hoffman praised Beethoven for having outstripped the great Haydn and Mozart with a piece that “opens the realm of the colossal and immeasurable to us…evokes terror, fright, horror, and pain, and awakens that endless longing that is the essence of Romanticism.”

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That assessment would stand the test of time, and the Fifth Symphony would quickly become a centerpiece of the classical repertoire for orchestras around the world. But beyond its revolutionary qualities as a serious composition, the Fifth Symphony has also proven to be a work with enormous pop-cultural staying power, thanks primarily to its powerful four-note opening motif-three short Gs followed by a long E-flat. Used in World War II-era Britain to open broadcasts of the BBC because it mimicked the Morse-code “V” for “Victory,” and used in the disco-era United States by Walter Murphy as the basis for his unlikely #1 pop hit “A Fifth Of Beethoven,” the opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony have become a kind of instantly recognizable musical shorthand since they were first heard by the public on this day in 1808.

For Pop, Edger and a very special cat.

Dec 22 2014

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: What’s Really Behind US-Cuba Normalization? by MrJayTee

A spectre is haunting the United States–the spectre of normal relations between the United States and communist bugbear Cuba. For the lazy, captured US media, it’s all about the Cold War poses struck by Republicans (and a few Democrats like New Jersey senator Bob Menendez) whose needles are permanently stuck in an anti-Castro groove. Add a few snips about how US corporations can’t wait to get into the Cuban market and you have the domestic version of the story.

But is it really as simple as big business finally tilting the balance away from right wing nuttery? It’s tempting to say yes. The machinations of capital are relentless and there can’t be any doubt that capital wants Cuba back in the worst way, but being slightly smaller in both area and population than Pennsylvania, it’s hard to believe the attraction of the Cuban market finally thawed the ideological iceberg of the Embargo all by itself.

Certainly generational change has helped take the risk of losing Florida’s electoral votes out of the issue. A recent survey of Cuban-American adults for the Miami Hearald showed about equal support for both sides of the issue, with wide support for normalization from respondents under 65. Opposition to the Castro regime just isn’t that potent an issue any more even for Cuban-Americans.

Then there’s the notion that a throwdown over Cuba policy benefits the Democrats in 2016 by encouraging a rift between doctrinaire conservative Republicans and liberal business Republicans while giving Democrats greater appeal among the non-crazy center. This scenario not only doesn’t need Congress to end the Embargo, it benefits from congressional drama. While I have no doubt that resuming relations with Cuba is a sincere goal among the liberal bourgeoisie, they need have no genuine expectation of success to make this argument part of the 2016 political strategy.

Is there more to the story? Let’s look around and see what some on the left are saying.

In Defense of Marxism strikes a triumphalist note, while cautioning that the change in US tactics does not mean the end of America’s efforts to destroy the Cuban revolution. It also rightly notes the history of US terrorism in Cuba; since the US is a major perpetrator of terrorism globally, this is fitting. IDoM also takes note of the Venezuela connection. Targeting Cuba and targeting Venezuela are part of the same Imperialist project.

On Wednesday December 17, the United States admitted that its attempt to bully Cuba into submission had failed. This should be seen as a victory for the Cuban Revolution and its resilience against the relentless onslaught of the most powerful imperialist power on earth only 90 miles away from its shores. However, US imperialism has not given up on its aims: the restoration of the rule of private property and the destruction of the gains of the revolution. It has just changed the means to achieve the same result….

The statement from the White House announcing the change of policy starts with a clear admission of bankruptcy: “A Failed Approach. Decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our objective of empowering Cubans to build an open and democratic country.” Of course, where it says an “open and democratic country” what they really mean is a capitalist country, where “democracy” is just a fig leaf for the rule of big corporations…

The coming to power of the Bolivarian revolution in 1998 threw a new life line to Cuba. On the one hand, it meant the exchange of Venezuelan oil for Cuban medical services on very favourable terms. On the other, it broke the isolation of the Cuban revolution and provided the hope that it could spread even further.

Trotskyist World Socialist Website looks at the potential thaw (after noting that the Obama administration is slapping new sanctions on Venezuela allegedly to punish it for it’s handling of protests earlier this year) as evidence of the Castro regime saving saving what’s left of itself by means of Chinese-style state-controlled capitalism:

No doubt the demands of the Chamber of Commerce and the American Manufacturers Association for access to the Cuba market played a major role in Obama’s decision. So too did the prospect that a massive influx of US dollars would do far more than the economic blockade to unravel what remains of the radical reforms instituted by the Cuban Revolution, while helping to bring to power a more pliant regime in Havana, restoring the kind of neocolonial relationship that prevailed before 1959.

For its part, the Castro regime sees the turn toward its longtime imperialist nemesis as a means of salvaging its rule and pursuing a path similar to that of China, preserving the privileges of the ruling strata through the development of capitalism and at the expense of the Cuban working class.

It’s this view that I find the most suggestive. While the Cuban revolution deservedly enjoys broad from the serious left, that support often comes with criticism of the stratified, ossified, top-down nature of the regime. Is the Castro regime so pressed for money that they have no choice? Is it kidding itself that it can dance with the Beast and not come away unharmed?

Obviously, there are many factors at work here besides the US business community seeing an opportunity to extract value from Cuban workers and Cuba’s natural heritage. What is going on under the surface?

Speculate, anti-Capitalists!