Thursday, April 18, 2013

Crowdsourcing - Boston Bombing - Current

Jim Walsh, a terrorism expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Security Studies Program, joins Michael Shure inside “The War Room” to talk about how investigators are crowdsourcing for photos and videos of the Boston Marathon bombings. “What’s different about this [crowdsourcing] effort by law enforcement is the amount of data, as much as 3 terabytes,” Walsh says in explaining the sheer amount of information law enforcement may be able to use in the investigation.

Responding to Terror

Boston terrorism
These days, it is difficult to find common ground on almost anything among Democrats and Republicans, as President Obama has seen time and time again. Partisan wrangling is especially intense around issues of national security. Indeed, President Obama famously (and I believe, erroneously) opposed any official effort to examine the abuses of detainees after 9/11 out of concern that it would devolve into partisan bickering that would derail other items on his agenda. Yet on this task force, Republicans and Democrats agreed—unanimously—that the United States’s most senior officials are responsible for war crimes and abuses of fundamental human rights—torture, enforced disappearances and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
The task force report comes at a propitious time. Since 9/11, many have asked how the United States would respond to “the next attack,” with most predicting a devolving spiral of human rights violations and overreactions. But such a response is far from inevitable. Common Dreams

Doublethink - Orwell's term for inconvenient facts ignored

Boston bombing
“doublethink,” which George Orwell described as willingness “to forget any fact that has become inconvenient.”
In sync with media outlets across the country, the New York Times put a chilling headline on Wednesday’s front page: “Boston Bombs Were Loaded to Maim, Officials Say.” The story reported that nails and ball bearings were stuffed into pressure cookers, “rigged to shoot sharp bits of shrapnel into anyone within reach of their blast.”
Much less crude and weighing in at 1,000 pounds, CBU-87/B warheads were in the category of “combined effects munitions” when put to use 14 years ago by a bomber named Uncle Sam. The U.S. media coverage was brief and fleeting.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"No more killing people - Peace" - Martin Richard

No More hurting people. Peace": 8-year old Martin Richard was killed in yesterday's bombing in Boston.

The New Confederacy

A widely-held and useful definition for confederacy is: A group of people who have united for unlawful practices; a conspiracy. Though, like the word terrorist, which the US government assigns liberally to foreigners - especially those of color who dare stand in the way of power - the words confederacy and conspiracy are not terms the US chooses to use in describing itself.

Venezuela: Disputed Chavism Win in Close Vote

Candidate Nicolás Maduro, designated by Hugo Chávez as his successor, won the elections of April 14, 2013, with 50.66% of the votes. Only 230 thousand votes separated him from his opponent Henrique Capriles Radonski, who disputed the result and called for a recount and street protests.
Read more on Global  Voices »

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

So why are Israelis so damn happy, anyway?

Israeli Families Expecting their imminent demise are fearless,  They have feelings of belonging and importance.
Posted: 15 Apr 2013 11:00 AM PDT
Tiffanie Wen at Open Zion is perplexed:
Elder of Zion

By now everyone in Israel has read the results of the study published earlier this month that showed Israelis ranked among the happiest people among the Western nations, despite an extensive laundry list of problems in their country.

Israel ranked low in terms of income, housing, education and security for example—all things we would typical associate with contentment. As an Asian-American who hails from San Francisco, I could add a few of my own complaints to the list: lack of ethnic food, the outrageous cost of imported goods, the raging summer heat, the marginalization of minorities and refugees, and the famous Israeli frankness that has me constantly fielding questions about why I pay so much for my apartment and my (ever so subtle) fluctuation in weight (Up or down? Eating cakes or working out?), chief among them.

So then why—if they probably can't find a job or afford the apartment that they live in—are Israelis so damn happy?

War has quite a bit to do with it.
The fact is that Israel has been in a perpetual state of war—or under the threat of war—since David Ben-Gurion declared independence in May 1948, the only Western country in the world in which this is the case.

Even during periods of "peace," there still seems to exist, at a minimum, a potential intifada brewing in the West Bank, or chemical weapons making their way into the hands of Hezbollah, or rockets being lobbed into the country from Gaza.

And this has created a fascinating psychological paradox, one that has been studied extensively by Professor Zahava Solomon of Tel Aviv University. On one hand, as she told me in a recent phone interview, the culture of conflict has made Israelis constantly aware of their potential demise; on the other it has made them virtually fearless.
Think about it. How would you act if you woke up every morning thinking that this day could be your last? Or at least took a moment to imagine how you would be eulogized at your funeral? (An exercise that Stephen Covey recommended in his wildly popular “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” although admittedly “live in a war zone” did not make the list.)

The point is this: you'd enjoy the day you had.
And if you continued to survive until the next morning, this daily exercise might develop into a mantra for how you lived your life. And you might bother to take that beach day, or spend more time with your family. You might grow a pair and launch that startup you've been thinking about (Boom: Silicon Wadi) or stop a beautiful woman on the street and insist that she have lunch with you, or park on the sidewalk if there was no other parking within a five-block radius. You might climb a mountain, or go scuba diving or backpack in South America for a year. All things that Israelis do in droves, and that, in my opinion, probably lead to a more fulfilling existence.

If constant war or threat of war makes people happy, then people in Iraq and Lebanon must be ecstatic!

Ms. Wen and her TAU professor) is completely clueless.

Haaretz was even more flummoxed:
It’s not clear why Israelis are so happy, despite a relatively poor showing on measures such as housing, income, job security, community support and education. It could be that what makes the average Norwegian happy doesn’t do the trick in Israel. Or maybe Israelis try to appear happy even when they’re not and respond to pollsters accordingly.

Yeah, they are just pretending to be happy to pollsters!

The answer is not such a mystery, and it sheds more light that you might expect.

Happiness comes from many sources, but a critical one is a sense of belonging.

Israelis don't just think of themselves as citizens of a state, of a random set of people with nothing in common except an accident of where they were born. They think of themselves as a family. (This mostly applies to Jews, but not exclusively.)

This is why they can be rude to each other - because there is a knowledge that, just like in your family underneath that rudeness is love. That's why bumping into someone in the store is a lot less likely to escalate into a gunfight. You can yell and threaten and curse - but deep down you know that you are all one people.

There is a second criteria for happiness, especially obvious in the workplace. It is that one must has a sense of accomplishment, of doing something important, and of fulfilling one's responsibility.

Here, again, Israeli Jews share that idea. Just by living in Israel they are making a statement to the world that they are in their home. By sharing the burden of serving in the IDF they know they are defending their people from those who want to kill them. They aren't just anonymous citizens of a state. Everyone is important, because everyone depends on each other.

This is why Ms. Wen doesn't get it. She lives in Israel but only as an outside observer, not as an Israeli. She cannot fathom the sense of fulfillment that comes from these twin senses of belonging and of accomplishment at fulfilling your responsibilities towards those you love.

Ha'aretz, the TAU professor and many of those who live in the Tel Aviv "bubble" are also clueless - because to them Israel is just an abstraction, a land to be analyzed and criticized but not one to be viscerally involved with. To them, the emotional ties of Jews to the land of their forefathers is a silly superstitious myth - and they cannot fathom how it is the source of Israeli happiness and contentment.

This survey, unwittingly, reveals more about Israel's critics than it does about the subjects of the survey itself.

(h/t Ian)

Egypt- Review of movie filmed on cell phone

Posted: 15 Apr 2013 07:17 AM PDT
I'm sitting in the beautiful old Radio movie theatre in Downtown Cairo, watching a black and white movie filmed on a cell phone. On screen, people (all so familiar I feel I crossed them once in the street) are complaining, arguing, not listening to each other while charging forward in endless linguistic loops. The dialogues, as one audience member suggest afterwards, are as frusrating as unresolved mathematical equations. They are also captivating, the way overheard snatches of intense conversation often are, full of urgenty invoked cliches and naked self-assertion and self-righteousness.
We laugh, out of both the pleasure and the discomfort of recognition. Humour, I would venture to say, is rare in contemporary art films, which is another reason that Egyptian artist Hassan Khan's "Blind Ambition" is worth seeking out (although I do wonder how much of this very verbal film is lost to non-Arabic speakers). I saw it last night, as part of the ongoing D-Caf cultural festival. As Khan explained after the screening, it is based on "daily, personal observations" but also elaborated through a painstaking directing/acting process (which as far as I understand toes the line between scripted and improvised) and clever formal choices meant to undercut the exchanges' seeming naturalism. When people aren't speaking, for example, the film is silent. It is as if the characters' voices make them "come into being," says Khan -- the space of single, memorable moments.
Here's a good write up in Egypt Independent, too.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Has the USA Become a Low Grade Paranoid State?

America Has Turned a World Without Serious Enemies into the Most Threatening Place in the Universe

The U.S. is in less danger from external enemies than at any moment in the last century. So our security state demands we invent some. here.
The communist enemy, with the “ world’s fourth largest military,” has been  trundling missiles around and threatening the United States with nuclear obliteration.   Guam, HawaiiWashington: all, it claims, are targetable.  The coverage in the media has been hair-raising.  The U.S. is  rushing an untested missile defense system to Guam, deploying missile-interceptor ships off the South Korean coast,  sending “nuclear capable” B-2 Stealth bombers thousands of miles on mock bombing runs,  pressuring China, and conducting large-scale  war games with its South Korean ally.

Right Wing Congressmen Now Represent a Wholly Different Country

There exist many outrages for which both major parties deserve our opprobrium. Financial deregulation, trade agreements penned by corporate lobbyists that have helped hollow out the middle class, deficit hysteria and nonsense about the dangers of “entitlements,” the excesses of the so-called “war on terror” and the cruel futility of the war on drugs – all of these things can rightly be laid at the feet of both parties.
But contrary to the views of Fred Hiatt or Bill Keller or 1,000 other wounded “centrists” desperate to see liberals trade away what little economic security Americans still have for a few more dollars in tax revenues, nothing anyone says or does is going to change the rational, anti-democratic political calculus of the House Republicans.
Joshua Holland

POTUS caves to GOP with SS cuts while keeping tax loopholes

Republicans Have Drooled Over the Idea of Slashing Social Security for Years, and They've Found Their Ideal Partner in Obama

The public wants nothing to do with Obama's idea of bipartisanship.
Photo Credit: © Jim Barber/
John Boehner, Speaker of the House, revealed why it's politically naive for the president to offer up cuts in Social Security in the hope of getting Republicans to close some tax loopholes for the rich. "If the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there's no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes," Boehner said in a  statement released Friday.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor agreed. He  said on CNBC he didn't understand "why we just don't see the White House come forward and do the things that we agree on" such as cutting Social Security, without additional tax increases.
Get it? The Republican leadership is already salivating over the president's proposed Social Security cut. They've been wanting to cut Social Security for years.
But they won't agree to close tax loopholes for the rich.
They're already characterizing the president's plan as a way to "save" Social Security -- even though the cuts would undermine it -- and they're embracing it as an act of "bi-partisanship."
"I'm encouraged by any steps that President Obama is taking to save and preserve Social Security,"  cooed Texas Republican firebrand Ted Cruz. "I think it should be a bipartisan priority to strengthen Social Security and Medicare to preserve the benefits for existing seniors."
Oh, please. Social Security hasn't contributed to the budget deficit. And it's solvent for the next two decades. (If we want to insure its solvency beyond that, the best fix is to lift the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes -- now $113,700.)
And the day Ted Cruz agrees to raise taxes on the wealthy or even close a tax loophole will be when Texas freezes over.
The president is scheduled to dine with a dozen Senate Republicans Wednesday night. Among those attending will be John Boozman of Arkansas, who has already  praised Obama for "starting to throw things on the table," like the Social Security cuts.
That's exactly the problem. The president throws things on the table before the Republicans have even sat down for dinner.
The president's predilection for negotiating with himself is not new. But his willingness to do it with Social Security, the government's most popular program -- which Democrats have protected from Republican assaults for almost eighty years -- doesn't bode well.
The president desperately wants a "grand bargain" on the deficit. Republicans know he does. Watch your wallets.
Robert B. Reich

Gloriously Ballooning Bailout Bedlam Of Cyprus

April 13, 2013
Bailouts start out small. At first, Cyprus just had a funding crisis; the markets had gotten smart, after years of dousing the country with cheap euros. Not that the risks weren’t there before. But markets opened their eyes. So Cyprus went begging to Russia, and got €2.5 billion in November 2011. That money evaporated without a trace. Then last June, the two largest banks were deemed to need €2.3 billion – €500 million for the Bank of Cyprus and €1.8 billion for Laiki Bank – to fill a void in their regulatory capital, the story went. No big deal.
But the banks had been eviscerated by mismanagement and corruption, and their balance sheets were loaded with deteriorating Greek corporate debt; Greek government bonds that had received a 70% haircut; loans to developers extended during the real-estate bubble that had blown up; loans on developments that were never finished or were built so shoddily that they’ve been declared uninhabitable; loans to politicians that were written off as gifts; and mortgages extended to homeowners who were tangled up in a title-deed scandal that the banks themselves had aided and abetted, leaving 130,000 properties (in a country with 838,000 souls) without title deeds, with disputed ownership, and often worthless mortgages.
So by the end of June, as bailout talks with the Troika took off, “sources” mumbled something about €10 billion, including a government bailout, that hadn’t been on the table before. People gasped. But it was just the beginning. In August, Central Bank Governor Panicos Demetriades told parliament that the banks alone would need €12 billion! Plus a government bailout. Rumor consensus settled on €15 billion total. Then in September Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov upped the ante: Cyprus would indeed need €15 billion from the Troika, plus €5 billion from Russia, for a total of €20 billion.
Every time someone looked at the cesspool that these banks were, the bailout amount jumped. By March 25, the Troika’s number had risen to €17 billion. But it would be a new way of doing bank bailouts. The EU would contribute €9 billion, the IMF €1 billion, and €7 billion would be extracted from Cypriot uninsured depositors, bank bondholders, public sector workers, pensioners, corporate taxpayers, and others. Laiki Bank would be dismantled. The alternative would have been the collapse of the banks and the default of the government. It was an elegant, finely tuned instrument designed to keep the Eurozone intact – regardless of the price.
The havoc was immediate. So it was tweaked while banks were closed for over a week and draconian capital controls were imposed. The economy froze. But the deal stuck. Until late Wednesday.
That’s when the draft report, “Assessment of the actual or potential financing needs of Cyprus,” was leaked. Someone had given the banking cesspool, the governmental black hole, and the collapsing economy another look. “Debt sustainability analysis” it was called. And the bailout amount jumped to €23 billion – a dizzying 125% of GDP –ten times the bailout estimate of last June.
The additional €6 billion? The Cypriot government would have to extract them from people, businesses, and institutions. The Central Bank would have to sell €400 million worth of gold. Holders of Cypriot government bonds would get an appointment at the Eurozone barbershop for a crew cut. And so on. Bedlam broke out.
The Troika “served poison,” summarized President of Parliament Yannakis Omirou. “We will resist,” said Giorgos Doulouka, spokesman of the main opposition Akel party. “They are eating us alive,” he added. President Nikos Anastasiades asked for “extra assistance” from the Troika. He was immediately shot down by Luxembourg Finance Minister Luc Frieden – the “volume will remain at €10 billion” – and by German government spokesman Steffen Seibert – “The contribution from international creditors will not change.”
Two members of the governing council of the Central Bank – Haris Achniotis and Andreas Matsis – resigned and in their letter to President Anastasiades complained that the council served only for “decorative” purposes. A third member – Luis Christofides – resigned for the same reason.
The two sums weren’t “strictly comparable,” explained EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn, trying to brush off the jump from €17 billion to €23 billion. “People have been comparing apples with pears and coming up with oranges.” One was “related to net financing needs” and the other was “a gross financing concept” that included buffers for a weaker fiscal development and more losses at the banks.
So at their meeting in Dublin Friday evening, the Eurozone finance ministers approved the €9 billion for Cyprus, noting “with satisfaction that the Cypriot authorities have implemented decisive bank resolution, restructuring, and recapitalization measures to address the fragile and unique situation of Cyprus’ financial sector....” Parliaments in Germany, Finland and other countries will rubber-stamp the deal. And by mid-May, the first few billions might start winding their way toward Cyprus.
But that too is just the beginning. The financial sector with its offshore services and foreign money, the core of the Cypriot economy, has been gutted. Whatever foreign money hadn’t left already would flee as soon as possible. People would no longer be able to get rich off corruption, money laundering, tax evasion, and other financial services, or off a real estate bubble.
But they did get rich off them: The average Cypriot household, according to a Eurozone-wide survey, the largest ever in Europe, had a phenomenal net worth of €670,900 ($872,000!). Over three times that of German or Dutch households, and just shy of Luxembourg’s €710,100. Wealth achievable only by small countries with huge, murky banking centers. Or oil. Few countries in the world are in that elite club. The results were so explosive that publication was delayed until after the Cyprus bailout had been decided. But the power structure had known the results for weeks [read... Total Fiasco: Germans are the Poorest, Cypriots the Second Richest in The Eurozone].
That wealth had been sucked out of the banks and the government until neither had a drop of lifeblood left. Now the party was over. And those households would be asked to foot a big part of the bailout costs. You can almost hear the snickering among European politicians.
But with financial services and real estate eliminated as a major economic activity, the country will have to refocus. Tourism is hard; it’s handicapped by the high euro and tough competition from Turkey. There is also offshore natural gas, but it will take years before the money starts flowing. The economy, deprived of its traditional activities, might perform a double-digit dive this year, and more bailout costs already appear on the horizon. What has the euro wrought?
Eurozone countries are falling like dominos. Taxpayer bailouts keep banks from collapsing, governments from defaulting, and investors from incurring well-deserved losses. In the US, President Obama’s budget, with its new taxes, is causing heart palpitations left and right. But how do countries really stack up? Read.... From Tax Hell to Tax Haven.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

We have met the enemy and he is us - Pogo

They were indeed manipulative men, but before they influenced other Americans they assumedly underwent something like a process of collective auto-hypnotism in which they convinced one another of the dangers they needed the American people to believe in.  There is evidence that a similar process took place in the aftermath of 9/11.  From the flustered look on George W. Bush’s face as his plane took him not toward but away from Washington on September 11, 2001, to the image of Dick Cheney, in those early months, being chauffeured around Washington in an armored motorcade with a “gas mask and a biochemical survival suit" in the backseat, you could sense that the enemy loomed large and omnipresent for them.  They were, that is, genuinely scared, even if they were also ready to make use of that fear for their own ends.

Friday, April 12, 2013

On income disparity consult the prophetic Dr. King

Poor People’s Campaign, a “multi-racial army” that would come to Washington, build an encampment and demand from Congress an “Economic Bill of Rights” for all Americans — black, white, or brown. He had long known that the fight for racial equality could not be separated from the need for economic equity — fairness for all, including working people and the poor.

On the News With Thom Hartmann: Immigration Reform Rallies Spread From Coast to Coast, and More

On the News With Thom Hartmann: Immigration Reform Rallies Spread From Coast to Coast, and More

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Democracy is ill-suited for a libertarian state - Patri Friedman

Patri Friedman

Libertarianism in Honduras

13 Oct My friend Greg Grandin writes on Facebook:
One of the stranger fallouts from the 2009 Honduran coup has been the scheme hatched by an NYU economist, Paul Romer, along with free-market libertarians—including Milton Friedman’s grandson, Patri; you can’t make this shit up—to start a bunch of “year-zero” cities in the country, free-market utopias with their own laws, etc. It’s like Empire’s Workshop meets The Shock Doctrine meets Fordlandia (except Henry Ford at least had his year-zero city provide free health care). If they were to come to fruition, they would be little more than free-trade maquila zones, like the kind that run along the US-Mexican border, except more savage.
In any case, the plan has hit a snag in that a committee of the Honduran Supreme Court has declared them unconstitutional, though that ruling could be reversed by the full court. Recently, a lawyer who argued for their unconstitutionality was gunned down, joining the long list of decent people killed as a result of the US-endorsed coup.
By the way, related to the discussion Corey Robin had on his blog about whether Hayek’s and Friedman’s support for dictatorships were inherent to their thought or just situational, Patri Friedman has cleared that point up, saying, in relation to these kind of start-up cities, that “Democracy is the current industry standard political system, but unfortunately it is ill-suited for a libertarian state.” Peter Thiel, founder of Paypall and bankroller of FB and another supporter of the Honduran scheme, wrote: “Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” Glad that particular contradiction has gotten resolved. Adelante.

Time to Bell the Corporate [Obama] Cat

The story goes that some mice became very upset about the cat in the house and convened an emergency meeting. They finally came up with the idea of tying a bell around the cat’s neck, so the dangerous feline could no longer catch victims unawares. The plan gained a lot of enthusiastic praise, until one mouse piped up with a question that preceded a long silence: “Who’s going to bell the cat?

UN: Clean Energy Could Save Millions of Lives

Air pollution, one of the "greatest hazards to human health,” is killing millions while causing climate change

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer, Common Dreams
The UN has warned that air pollution is one of “the greatest hazards to human health.” (UN Photo/Kibae Park)A global shift to clean energy could save millions of lives while also helping to rein in runaway greenhouse gases, which have set the planet on a path of disastrous warming, UN officials stated Tuesday.
The shift would bring about a dramatic reduction in air pollution, which the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) warned was one of “the greatest hazards to human health.”

Top Secret Intel Docs Betray Obama Claims on Drone Targeting

US drone war kills all kinds of people beyond Al Qaeda

- Jon Queally, staff writer, Common Dreams
Based on their review of leaked top-secret intelligence reports, McClatchy is reporting that the Obama Administration has long been guilty of misrepresenting the kind of groups and individuals it has targeted with its fleet of armed Predator and Reaper drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pakistani soldiers stand guard at the Shamsi Airbase located some 320 kilometers southwest of Quetta in southwest Pakistan, on December 11, 2011. (Yslb Pak Zhang Qi/Xinhua/MCT) Though critics of Obama's targeting killing have long-believed that so-called signature strikes—where targets are chosen for their behavior rather than confirmed intelligence on who they are—would be illegal under US and international law, the White House has long defended the manner in which it targets specific groups and individuals. It has done so, however, without releasing the trail of documents that track the program's decision-making.
But as McClatchy reports, the top-secret U.S. intelligence reports it reviewed "show that drone strikes in Pakistan over a four-year period didn’t adhere" to the standards put fourth in public statements and press interviews by White House officials.

Oklahoma grandma shames Keystone XL while POTUS waffles

Oklahoma grandmother Nancy Zorn, 79, locked herself to a piece of heavy machinery Tuesday morning in protest of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline construction, halting work on a construction site of the tar sands harbinger for several hours.
Starting early in the morning, Zorn locked herself to the large 'excavator', latching a bike lock around her neck to the machine.
“Right now our neighbors in Arkansas are feeling the toxic affect of tar sands on their community. Will Oklahoma neighborhoods be next?” Zorn asked, referring to the thousands of barrels of tar sands oil which spilled out of an Arkansas pipeline last week. “I can no longer sit by idly while toxic tar sands are pumped down from Canada and into our communities. It is time to rise up and defend our home. It is my hope that this one small action today will inspire many to protect this land and our water.”
“In the last two weeks alone there have been at least six different inland oil spills across the country,” said Eric Wheeler, an Oklahoma native and spokesperson for Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance. “It’s time to stop referring to pipeline spills as accidents, it’s now abundantly clear that leaks are just part of business as usual. Tar sands hurt everyone they touch, from the indigenous communities in Alberta whose water is being poisoned, to the Gulf Coast communities that are forced to breathe toxic refinery emissions. We’re not going to allow this toxic stuff in our beautiful state.”
Zorn was eventually removed from the equipment by local police and taken into custody.
Zorn is the second Oklahoma grandmother this year risking arrest to stop construction of the pipeline, Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance said Tuesday. The action is part of a series of civil disobedience actions against the pipeline construction led by the group.
A decision to approve the cross border Keystone pipeline route, from tar sands oil fields in Canada to the Gulf Coast, is expected soon from the Obama administration.
While Obama waffles over the subject, and other oil friendly lawmakers attempt to force the pipeline in Congress
Common Dreams

POTUS Caves Before Negotiation Begins

Bi-Partisanship We Don’t Need: The President Offers to Cut Social Security and Republicans Agree

John Boehner, Speaker of the House, revealed why it’s politically naive for the President to offer up cuts in Social Security in the hope of getting Republicans to close some tax loopholes for the rich. “If the President believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there’s no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes,” Boehner said in a statement released Friday.

Reproductive Freedom is the Key to Liberty

Katrina vanden Heuvel
Women know that our reproductive freedom is the key to our autonomy, and that we are better mothers, citizens, and professionals when we are able to make our own decisions about our own destinies.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Carter Conflict Resolution

Shame on Cardozo

Japan: deploys Patriot Missiles to defend Tokyo

Posted: 09 Apr 2013 02:03 AM PDT
JAPAN has announced it is deploying Patriot missile interceptors around Tokyo as a precaution against North Korea's nuclear threats. The Patriot missiles - an advanced version of the interceptor of Gulf War fame - are being moved to key locations around Japan's capital city, including the defense ministry headquarters. Other key military bases on the Japanese mainland are also taking similar precautionary measures, reports indicate. Japan's defense minister has also reportedly put destroyers with missile interception systems on alert in the Sea of Japan.

Korea: US war footing at highest level in 50 years

U.S. defenses could intercept a ballistic missile launched by North Korea, the top U.S. military commander in the Pacific said Tuesday, as the relationship between the West and the communist government hit its lowest ebb since the end of the Korean War.
Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Kim Jong Un, the country’s young and still relatively untested new leader, has used the past year to consolidate his power.
The admiral said Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles represents a clear threat to the United States and its allies in the region.
During an exchange with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Locklear said the U.S. military has the capability to thwart a North Korean strike, but he said a decision on whether a missile should be intercepted should be based on where it is aimed and expected to land.
“I believe we have the ability to defend the homeland, Guam, Hawaii, and defend our allies,” said Locklear, who added that it wouldn’t take long to determine where a missile would strike.
Locklear concurred with McCain’s assessment that the tension between North Korea and the West was the worst since the end of the Korean War in the early 1950s. But the admiral insisted the U.S. military and its allies would be ready if North Korea tried to strike.
“We’re ready,” Locklear said.
He said North Korea is keeping a large percentage of its combat forces along the demilitarized zone with South Korea, a position that allows the North to threaten the United States and South Korean civilian and military personnel.

Risk of Unrest Rises in EU

With unemployement at unprecedented levels in the EU, the risk of social unrest is rising, says the UN’s International Labour Organization. The ILO is warning politicians to abandon austerity and embrace job creation.
“When unemployment is as high as it is right now – as poverty and welfare protection become worse – then the danger of social unrest grows along with it,” says Miguel Angel Malo.
Malo is a professor of economics in Salamanca, Spain – a country where youth unemployment is at 56 percent. Additionally he’s an economics expert at the International Labour Organization (ILO), a UN agency seeking to promote labor rights.
It was for the ILO that Malo co-authored a paper with an unsettling thesis: the likelihood of social unrest is increasing. Or at least, it’s becoming far more likely in certain areas of Europe.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Germany owes Greece billions in WWII reparations

The headline on Sunday's issue of the Greek newspaper To Vima made it clear what is at stake: "What Germany Owes Us," it read. The article below outlined possible reparations payments Athens might demand from Germany resulting from World War II. A panel of experts, commissioned by the Greek Finance Ministry, spent months working on the report -- an 80-page file classified as "top secret."
Now, though, the first details of the report have been leaked to the public. According to To Vima, the commission arrived at a clear conclusion: "Greece never received any compensation, either for the loans it was forced to provide to Germany or for the damages it suffered during the war."
The research is based on 761 volumes of archival material, including documents, agreements, court decisions and legal texts. Panagiotis Karakousis, who heads the group of experts, told To Vima that the researchers examined 190,000 pages of documents, which had been scattered across public archives, often stored in sacks thrown in the basements of public buildings.
The newspaper offered no concrete figure regarding the possible extent of reparation demands outlined in the report. But earlier calculations from Greek organizations have set the total owed by Germany at €108 billion for reconstruction of the country's destroyed infrastructure and a further €54 billion resulting from forced loans paid by Greece to Nazi Germany between 1942 and 1944. The loans were issued by the Bank of Greece and were used to pay for supplies and wages for the German occupation force.
Bad Time to 'Pick a Fight'
The total sum of €162 billion is the equivalent of almost 80 percent of Greece's current annual gross domestic product. Were Germany to pay the full amount, it would go a long way toward solving the debt problems faced by Athens. Berlin, however, has shown no willingness to revisit the question of reparations to Greece.

Gays Hanged Under Sharia Law

Spain: Valley of the Fallen

The Valley of the Fallen is perhaps the biggest symbol of Francoism and the biggest mass grave in Spain, where many victims of the Civil War were laid to rest alongside their executioner. A documentary aired on Catalan TV recently, called "I'll get you out of here, grandpa!", set off reactions on social networks.
Global Voices

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Corporate Betrayal of America

Multinational corporations have built their businesses on the backs of American taxpayers. They've depended on government research, national defense, the legal and educational systems, and our infrastructure.
Yet they've turned around and mocked us with declining tax payments. They've cut workers. They've refused to invest their massive profits in job-producing research and development. And they've insulted existing employees with low wages and dwindling retirement support.(Photo: Lindsay/flickr)
As a final disdainful act, many of them have tried to convince us that they LOSE money in the U.S. while only making profits overseas.

Haiti: David battles Goliath Monsanto

One of the rejections of Monsanto occurred in the small village of Hinche, Haiti in June, 2010. There, thousands of farmers burned Monsanto seeds. The Haitian Ministry of Agriculture had given Monsanto permission to import and ‘donate’ 505 tons of hybrid corn and vegetable seeds. “It’s a declaration of war,” said Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, director of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP). The importation of massive amounts of hybrid seed threatens the traditional, regionally adapted seed stock of Haiti, as it does in many other countries. Hybrid seeds also cause a cycle of dependence, with farmers buying them from Monsanto each year rather than relying on local markets or their own saved seed. In an open letter, Jean-Baptiste called the entry of the seeds “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds…, and on what is left of our environment in Haiti.”[iii]

Power Trumps Human Rights

Chris Hedges, Common Dreams

Is this the résumé of a human rights advocate in the United States? Are human rights organizations supposed to further the agenda of the state rather than defend its victims? Are the ideas of “humanitarian interventionists” compatible with human rights? Are writers and artists no longer concerned with the plight of all dissidents, freedom of expression and the excesses of state power? Are we nothing more than puppets of the elite? Aren’t we supposed to be in perpetual, voluntary alienation from all forms of power? Isn’t power, from a human rights perspective, the problem?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Will Keystone XL Pipeline Return DC to a Swamp?

Bill McKibben
Still, let’s put things in perspective: Stonewall took place in 1969, and as of last week the Supreme Court was still trying to decide if gay people should be allowed to marry each other. If the climate movement takes that long, we’ll be rallying in scuba masks. (I’m not kidding. The section of the Washington Mall where we rallied against the pipeline this winter already has a big construction project underway: a flood barrier to keep the rising Potomac River out of downtown DC.)

GV Condemns Assault on Bangladesh Bloggers

Hamas accuses everyone of being a spy. Paranoid much?

Posted: 06 Apr 2013 08:59 PM PDT
From AFP:
Hamas accused Western and Arab spy agencies on Saturday of operating in the Gaza Strip and said it had a list of alleged collaborators.

The Gaza Strip is swarming with Western intelligence agencies, such as the American, British, French and German services,” said Mohammed Lafi, an internal security chief, quoted on the Hamas interior ministry website.

“They all target Gaza and Hamas,” he said, while also pointing a finger at unnamed Arab intelligence services.

The Hamas official, whose Islamist movement rules Gaza, said the security services had “a list of collaborators who will be arrested once the time for them to repent has run out.”

Some have already been arrested and “half of them have confessed to being collaborators,” said Lafi, who also cautioned against Palestinian journalists feeding information to foreign correspondents and institutions.
Pssst, Hamas: Here's a photo of the top two Mossad agents in Gaza, during a meeting with their handlers, hiding in plain sight and laughing at how they have not yet been caught:

Conservatives Morph into Doomsday Preppers

from The Nation
If left unchecked, this brand of political nihilism does more than just wreck Congress’s job approval numbers; it effectively undermines all our public institutions until they, like Congress, start to fail. Then when they do, these same doomsday conservatives can conveniently cite these breakdowns as vindication. To be sure, right-wing, anti-government agitating has a long, sordid history in our country. But today an alarmingly broad swath of mainstream conservatism also buys into and acts out these catastrophic, self-fulfilling prophecies.
To accept this as our near-term fate may be daunting, but it need not be defeating; the folks on Doomsday Preppersat least offer that valuable lesson. Eighty years ago, President Roosevelt understood this point as well. Thus, his inaugural address invoked “the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of the national unity.” He recognized that a nation of atomized individuals invested only in filling one’s bank account or stockpiling one’s basement shelves isn’t really much of a nation worth believing in. “We do not distrust the future of essential democracy,” Roosevelt confidently stated in conclusion, once again embracing the power of the collective spirit to remind his audience, “the people of the United States have not failed.” The same holds true today. If we let it, fear itself can indeed divide one person from the next, but bound together as one people, fear alone cannot defeat us.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Hammami may be key in Somalia. Why kill him?

Omar Hammami                                                                                    

But Hammami tells Danger Room in an extremely rare and exclusive interview that he’s staying put. From an undisclosed location in Somalia, he grows vegetables, helps his wives around the house, and trolls his one-time colleagues in al-Shebab on Twitter, his newfound passion. As @abumamerican, he’s tweeting his ongoing jihad in 140-character installments, and is happy to debate it with U.S. national security professionals. Uniquely among jihadis, Hammami shoots the breeze with the people whose job it is to study and even hunt people like him.
That’s caused a cognitive and emotional dissonance within U.S. counterterrorism circles. Several openly say they like the charismatic Hammami, who’s quick with a joke and a touch of irony. Their Twitter interactions with him have led to a worry about his well-being, and a dim hope that maybe, just maybe, they can convince Hammami to give up a path that seems to promise a violent and imminent end. “It’s just a process of talking about what it is he believes and trying to understand it,” says J.M. Berger, Hammami’s main interlocutor, “and seeing if there’s an escape hatch for him from this life.”
That natural, human affection for Hammami risks obscuring something basic: Hammami isn’t looking for an escape hatch. He’s broken with al-Shebab, not jihad. “I believe in attacking u.s. Interests everywhere,” he tells me, through Twitter’s direct message function, the only means through which he consented to a week-long running interview. “No 2nd thoughts and no turning back.” Sentiments like that make it likely that Hammami will be the next American killed in a U.S. drone strike.
Hammami is a complex figure. He’s never attacked his fellow Americans. He reflects on his time in America with fondness. He jokes about porn and barbecue on Twitter with his unlikely buddies. And he’s chipping away at the legitimacy of America’s top adversary in east Africa one Tweet at the time, all while sunnily proclaiming his undying antagonism for his homeland. “A walking contradiction from massively different backgrounds” is how Hammami once described himself, “who is seriously passionate about what he believes in, but feels he has to go about doing it while laughing at almost everything along the way.”
Ackerman, Wired

British Virgin Islands Exposed as Largest Tax Haven [$20Tn]

Lauren McCauley, Guardian
The Guardian newspaper has announced an exclusive scoop on roughly two million internal records that have leaked from Britain's offshore financial industry, primarily from the UK-controlled offshore haven of the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Economists estimate that over $20 trillion could lie in offshore accounts, with the BVI being among the most successful of the "mushrooming secrecy havens."
The records promise to expose the identities of thousands,"from presidents to plutocrats," who burrow their anonymous wealth in havens free of tax or public scrutiny.
Behind the leak is the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists [ICIJ], who have unearthed the names in collaboration with The Guardian and other international media outlets, who are jointly publishing the bulk of the results later this week.

Sustainable Development Begins at Home

It is becoming even more clear that sustainable development in the world's poorest countries should not be based on external wealth or redistribution, but must instead be generated at home. Commissioned Global Voices bloggers are livetweeting the OECD Global Forum on Development in Paris at #OECDgfd.
Read more on Global Voices »

Muslims have withdrawn from the future

The question must be asked widely: Why are Muslims no longer capable of creativity in philosophy, literature and art? Why are we no longer offering something new in the field of empirical experimental sciences? I'm talking about a billion and a half Muslims occupying 57 countries in the world. A huge figure representing a quarter of the world. Yet the number of Nobel prizes received by Muslims is only 9 before adding Tawakul Karman. Only two of them are in the sciences. While Jews, who represent only one country, whose numbers in the whole world are tiny, not more than 14 million, received 200 prizes! Over 50 prizes in physics and a similar number in medicine and physiology. Each Jew's accomplishments is the equivalent of 2,000 Muslims!
Mohammad Dwiek, Al Wafd

Offshore accounts hold equivalent of US plus Japanese economies combined

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Great Central Bankers of China

Lucky Yuan

China Builds Great Central Bankers?

By Staff Report
The Trillion-Dollar Bureaucrat ... He may be the most important central banker in the world. But is China's Zhou Xiaochuan really in charge? The longest-serving leader of a central bank of a major world economy is not to be found in Europe, or North America, or Japan. It is a 65-year-old man named Zhou Xiaochuan who was recently reappointed to the job he has already held for a decade, namely governor of the People's Bank of China (PBOC). The surprise reappointment gives him a chance to finish the immense task on which he has labored for his adult life: no less than creating a modern financial system that can power China's booming economy forward without the crises, bubbles, and busts that have become all-too-regular features. And while he's at it, he will try to make the Chinese currency, the renminbi, as central to global commerce as the dollar is now and the pound was a century ago. – Foreign Policy
Dominant Social Theme: The Chinese have it right when it comes to economic stimulation.
Free-Market Analysis: Around the world, Western-style monetary recipes are failing. But this article attempts to convince us that the Chinese have somehow managed to implement miraculous growth using ingredients that are notably dysfunctional elsewhere.
How is that possible? We would submit it is not. What is going on is a kind of campaign to convince people that as capital and power flow east, such a reality is reasonable and inevitable. Seen from this standpoint, the profile of this Chinese central banking genius – and it drones on and on – is part and parcel of a larger attempt at explaining the inexplicable.
We are being instructed that the East, inscrutable and "cool," is better at perfecting a monetary recipe that has soured drastically in the West. There is no doubt this is what is what we are supposed to internalize. Here is more from the article:
Zhou's tenure at the PBOC has coincided nicely with China's emergence as an economic power. When he took the helm of the central bank in 2002, China produced $1,135 worth of goods and services per person, in present-day dollars. By 2011, that figure had reached $5,445. Behind those numbers were hundreds of millions of people who could suddenly feed themselves reliably, endure less backbreaking work, and enjoy more of the comforts of the modern age than their parents' generation could have imagined. China passed Japan to become the world's second largest economy in 2010; it will almost certainly become the world's largest within a generation.
The work of the country's central bank, led by Zhou, has been a crucial if often overlooked part of that story, as it has helped maintain steady growth in a nation buffeted by global forces. But he has had less success in creating a financial system that can lay the ground for the next generation of growth, one in which capital flows to the businesses and projects that have the best prospects, not the best political connections. To maintain China's breakneck growth, Zhou and his successors must wrest power and influence away from the country's political leaders to build a financial system that takes full advantage of all the lessons Western central bankers have learned over the centuries. Yet they must ensure that the system they build suits a Chinese culture and economy that are quite different from those of the United States and Western Europe ...
Zhou's term as governor for the PBOC was set to expire in December 2012, after a decade in office. China economy watchers spent the better part of the year trying to read the tea leaves as to whether he would enjoy a comfortable retirement or be promoted to a higher office in the new government coming in, with the conventional wisdom on this question going back and forth several times over the course of the year. The answer turned out to be "neither." The new government of Xi Jinping instead elected to leave him in place, choosing continuity in an institution that is crucial to the future of finance in a country of 1.3 billion people. In his first decade as governor, Zhou shaped the course of modern China, despite limited authority. He helped avert a deep economic downturn. He helped persuade his political overlords to reverse easy money policies as a bank lending bubble emerged. He made great strides in encouraging the development of China's financial markets and the freer flow of capital across his country's borders. At a time when the Western economies were flailing, their entire philosophical underpinnings coming into question, China was an unlikely source of strength for the global economy. And that success, at least through 2012, was vindication for Zhou and his band of haigui technocrats.
We just don't believe any of this hagiography ... least of all that Zhou has "led" China through anything that will conclude on a positive note. The country is dotted with empty cities and hollow skyscrapers. People have few investment options and thus have put their money in empty apartments to the point where Chinese officials are now beginning to ban such investments.
On every level, when you look at China you see price fixing, corruption and vast inflationary money flows. This is not to denigrate the Chinese "miracle" – only to say that the same monetary tools used in the West have been applied in the East. And there is no reason to think over the long term they will have any better result.
China's miraculous growth surely resulted from a central bank policy of easy money buttressed by intensive Western investment. Please bear in mind that what has resulted in increasing catastrophe – joblessness and currency degradation – will not provide immunity in the East.
Conclusion: Why do we expect a different result?

Euro Tumbles as a Reserve Currency

Euro Erosion
Developing World: Euro Loses Attraction as Reserve Currency ... Countries in the developing world are drastically reducing their euro holdings as economic instability in Europe leads them elsewhere to stock their currency reserves. Euro holdings are at their lowest level in a decade, according to the International Monetary Fund. When the euro was first launched on Jan. 1, 1999, there were hopes in Europe that it might soon rival the US dollar as the world's premier reserve currency. And initially, it seemed that dream was not unrealistic, as countries around the world began filling their coffers with the European common currency. ... [Now] countries are beginning to look elsewhere for their reserve currency needs --and have spent the last year and a half shedding euros. − Der Spiegel
Dominant Social Theme: The euro is eroding.
Free-Market Analysis: In our continued effort to explain why the shift from East to West is not entirely coincidental, we bring you this report from Der Spiegel. It continues, generally, with the dominant social theme (already identified in these pages) of Asian might, and in particular, increasing Chinese dominance via the yuan.
A continued torrent of articles and news from numerous sources charts this shift in gravity. And thus, one can conclude that all of this is necessary and unavoidable. Or maybe not ..
Daily Bell, Staff Report

Monday, April 1, 2013

Nora Ephron’s last work comes to Broadway.

Tabloid Man

Michael Daly, Newsweek
There he was up on stage, Mike McAlary, brought back to life by Tom Hanks with uncanny accuracy, a moustache making him even look like the New York newspaper columnist who fought a losing battle with cancer as he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for breaking one of a series of police scandals.

Tom Hanks plays newspaper reporter Mike McAlary in Lucky Guy.
Tom Hanks plays newspaper reporter Mike McAlary in Lucky Guy. (Joan Marcus)
Another actor was playing Police Officer Brian O’Regan, who shot himself back in 1986 rather than go to jail on corruption charges. A third actor was playing me, the only one of the three alive to sit in a theater and marvel at the wild improbability that O’Regan’s meeting with us in a Rockaway diner on a stormy night nearly three decades ago was now being re-created on Broadway in the play Lucky Guy.
I might have marveled aloud to the playwright—the celebrated essayist, author, screenwriter, and movie director Nora Ephron—but she herself had died just last June.
Ephron also had cancer, though I am told she had been drawn to the McAlary story before she fell ill. She sent me an early draft of the play several years ago and asked for my thoughts. My first one was, Why had she written it?
I knew she had started out as a reporter with the New York Post. I also knew from her subsequent work that, along with being hugely talented and bright and funny, she was a romantic.
To Ephron, being a shoe-leather newspaper guy in New York was a rollicking, hard-charging, this-round’s-on-me romance that was fading into nostalgia just as McAlary hit the scene in the 1980s. He was hardly alone in wanting to be the next Jimmy Breslin, who was to New York columnists what Babe Ruth was to the New York Yankees.
Breslin had once been proclaimed “a stationhouse genius.” He was from, and of, the city, and he made everyday life bigger than you imagined, magnifying himself along with it. He became “Jimmy Breslin,” the one and only, who wrote about people often overlooked. He was the guy who had famously covered President Kennedy’s funeral by interviewing the gravedigger. A whole generation of aspiring columnists, particularly of the Irish-American persuasion, spoke of “the gravedigger column.”
But first, McAlary had to get a city column, and that seemed a long way off when he arrived from his native New Hampshire to work for New York Newsday, which was once termed a “tabloid in a tutu.” The paper was an effort by Long Island–based Newsday to venture into the New York City newspaper market, which had long been dominated by the New York Daily News.
McAlary had big ambitions as a columnist.
McAlary had big ambitions as a columnist. (Pat Carroll/NY Daily News/Getty)
The News was the voice of working New Yorkers, the inscription over the door to its headquarters drawn from the famous saying, “God must have loved the common people, He made so many of them.” It was a paper for people whose lives were directly affected by the day-to-day events it covered. And, until it lost a sense of itself, it was dedicated to the notion that a tabloid had to be smarter, not dumber, than a broadsheet. The New York Times was dismissed by one of the News’s more illustrious rewrite men as “a small English-language daily headquartered on Manhattan’s west side.” The other tabloid, the New York Post of Ephron’s time there, was of a liberal bent and seemed hardly a rival.
Then, in 1976, Rupert Murdoch bought the Post and changed everything. He made it a morning paper and a tabloid in the British sense. The new Post’s immediate goal was just to sell papers by manipulating rather than enlightening the customers, no differently than if it were selling widgets. The ultimate aim was to advance the interests of Rupert Murdoch. The inscription over this paper’s door might as well have said, “God must know media moguls are special, He made so few of them.”
New York being New York, the Post was and remains a huge money loser. An enduring mystery is why the News started viewing it as a serious rival. It was like Muhammad Ali getting into a bar fight; all it did was elevate the other guy. Even more mysterious is why the News began further elevating the Post by copying it. The result was that the News enabled Murdoch to acquire the influence he never could have attained by just trying to peddle papers by the British model.
Mike McAlary interviews Abner Louima
Just after a chemo round, McAlary broke the Abner Louima story. (Thomas Monaster/NY Daily News/Getty)
With the News sucker-punching itself and the Post losing millions, New York Newsday entered the fray, and with it came young McAlary, fresh out of Syracuse University. He married the wonderful Alice at St. Patrick’s Cathedral as if he were already a big shot. You had to admire his audacity.
McAlary made his first step toward getting a column and actually becoming a big shot with the assistance of a profoundly crooked cop named Henry Winter, who had been nabbed by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office and turned into an informant. Winter was apparently seeking to feel less like a rat in a trap when he began telephoning McAlary, then delighting at the D.A.’s consternation as details of the investigation hit the front page.
Winter was a great informant for both the D.A. and McAlary because he was also the ringleader and prime instigator of a whole crew of crooked cops in Brooklyn’s 77th Precinct. Where he had once prodded other cops into joining him in crimes, he now got them to incriminate themselves on tape. Those he ensnared included Brian O’Regan, who was less a thief than a follower by nature and was filled with a desperate need to explain himself the night before he was due to surrender on multiple felony charges. He set up a meeting with McAlary, who asked me to come with him. I was then writing a novel and working at New York magazine between stints as a Daily News columnist.
The guy who would later be played by Hanks and the guy who would later be played by Peter Scolari sat down in the Ram’s Horn Diner on Beach 116th Street for four hours with the cop who would later be played by Brian Dykstra. The moment that I most clearly remember was when O’Regan looked across the table at us with reddened blue eyes and asked in a raspy voice, “You tell me why I did this.”
He had already largely answered his own question, describing how, at a time when the city was witnessing nearly 2,000 murders a year and should have been putting its best cops in a high-crime area such as the 77th Precinct, the NYPD had instead used it as a dumping ground for misfits and boss fighters and cops not quite crooked enough to fire, thereby signaling surrender and indifference. O’Regan was one of the unfortunates who had just happened to be assigned there after the death of his father caused him to give up a job as a cop in Florida that he had taken after being laid off from the NYPD. He said he had been blissfully content down south and had been collecting thank-you letters from grateful citizens he had helped, but then had to move back New York to take care of his mother. He had rejoined the NYPD and landed in what he termed a sewer.
“I can’t swim in a sewer, can you?” he asked.
But all that was not in the play, for Lucky Guy was about McAlary, not O’Regan. Ephron does have McAlary describe how O’Regan offered us his uniform when the meeting ended and we walked with him out to his car, but it would have been too complicated to say that it had been the Florida uniform shirt he had worn when he was so happy.
Ephron was very kind to McAlary and myself in not underscoring that we should have recognized that giving things way is a classic prelude to suicide. Had we been as street smart as we imagined ourselves to be, we would have grabbed him and called for help instead letting him just drive off into the rain and shoot himself.
The detail I remember is that among the mementos O’Regan sealed in a cardboard box before taking his own life, rather than face charges of robbing drug dealers, was a birthday card he had received from his grandfather years before. It still contained the $10 bill that had been tucked inside.
That also was not in the play, again because this was not the story of O’Regan or even of New York in the bad old days. It was the McAlary story, and O’Regan was important because his death and the funeral that followed, along with the accompanying scandal, provided big moments that made the guy who reported them nearly as big as his ambitions. McAlary was the one to get the vacated spot when Breslin left the Daily News for New York Newsday.
Jimmy Breslin
The original: Jimmy Breslin inspired a generation of columnists. (Michael Brennan/Hulton/Getty)
McAlary would have done fine as McAlary, but he was so blindly infatuated with Breslin as to copy some of his idol’s writing mannerisms and claim them as his own, even though the truth was apparent to everyone save perhaps himself. Or maybe it just did not matter, so long as he could be a Breslin on the page the way Hanks was now a McAlary on the stage. McAlary embraced it as a role and felt it his own, just as an actor might.
As the play depicts, his “Breslin-itis” reached an unseemly extreme when some hangers-on nudged him into attacking his idol in print. The guy who wanted so desperately to be a big name lowered himself to name-calling.
By that time, McAlary had gone to the Post for a huge sum brokered by Eddie Hayes, a former Bronx homicide prosecutor, who had appeared first in my column, then served as the model for the lawyer in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities (the book is dedicated to him) and now was McAlary’s attorney-agent. McAlary subsequently returned to the News only to announce he was returning to the Post, for ever bigger sums.
Then came the night of McAlary’s car accident. I have always figured that McAlary must have been checking his messages on his cellphone. I drove his wife, Alice, to the hospital and noted that nobody wanted to look at her when we arrived at the emergency room. This is never a good sign.
He survived, but his injuries were so severe that he had to concentrate on becoming Mike McAlary again. He did so with the untiring assistance and determination of a wife who was always wonderfully genuine and had never wanted him to be anybody but himself.
Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman had visited McAlary at the hospital whereas the owner of the Post had not. McAlary remained at the News, and a police commander who was looking to help him columnwise gave him a tip about a rape case that proved to be wrong. The resulting furor led McAlary to figure that some physical ailments he began experiencing were just the result of stress. They proved to be symptoms of advancing cancer.
On a day when he had just received chemotherapy, McAlary got a telephone tip about a Brooklyn man, Abner Louima, who had been sodomized in a stationhouse bathroom. McAlary went on the story at his wife’s urging and stayed on it, winning the Pulitzer Prize shortly before his death.
He also won the admiration of Ephron, who became all the more determined to get Lucky Guy produced after she herself became ill with cancer. Her son, Jacob Bernstein, has said that she came to view McAlary as a role model not so much for how to live as for how to die.
Mike McAlary (L) hugs Daily News Editor-in-Chief Debby Krenek
McAlary celebrates his Pulitzer win at the Daily News. (Reuters Photographer/Reuters)
Hanks had played fictional characters swept up in romantic love in Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. He now signed up to play on stage a real-life character who was able to make his luck, even as his luck was running out. Hanks is so true to the actual character that when Alice saw a rehearsal, she is said to have told a producer, “That’s Mike!”
I have to figure that Hanks’s willingness to undertake this very different role and the energy he brings to the performance are a testament to Ephron, who was herself a role model for both how to live and how to die. The posthumous production of Lucky Guy, along with the rest of her work, make her also a role model for how to live on after death.
Much of her writing is animated by the larger romance of the City of New York. It could be said that Lucky Guy has an added act that commences after the curtain comes up and the audience leaves the theater, dispersing into a Times Square that was the domain of thieves and drug dealers and pimps back in the time when McAlary was writing of corrupt cops. It is now a realm of families and tourists.
The person most responsible for the transformation was NYPD Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple, who also died much too young of cancer. Maple was the Babe Ruth of cops, and at his funeral Rudolph Giuliani credited him with having made New York the safest big city in America. Maple himself would have credited all the good cops who proved ever ready to risk their lives for the sake of others.
As I left the previews of Lucky Guy a little amazed from seeing Hanks play McAlary and still haunted by the memory of Brian O’Regan gazing across the table with those reddened eyes, I passed a young cop who stood on post in the transformed Times Square. His eyes were clear and bright and confident. Here was the gaze of somebody on a winning team that was keeping crime across the city at historic lows, even in the 77th Precinct.
Later in the week, I paid Breslin a visit at his apartment just uptown from the theater district. He lamented the state of newspapers, but he was not ready to say the romance was over; it was just different. He knew there was a whole new generation of guys—and gals—looking to make their luck in digital outlets that were so different from newspapers except for in the most important ways.
“They’re young and they’re looking for things to write about,” he said of the up-and-coming reporters. “What more do you need than that? They have two feet and two eyes.”
He paused.
“I’m not sure how much they drink.”