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Longwood Gardens Orchid Extravaganza 2012
Longwood Gardens. March, 2012. Photo credit: joanneleon
What this world needs is a new kind of army - the army of the kind.  

~Cleveland Amory


March Jobs Report: We're Treading Dangerous Waters

The jobs data released this morning is a clear disappointment: only 120,000 jobs were added, which is less than what analysts predicted and barely enough to keep up with population growth. The unemployment rate went down slightly, to 8.2 percent, but only because the labor force shrank as people stopped looking for work.

In January and February, the economy added 243,000 and 227,000 jobs respectively. A strong recovery would feature something like 250,000 to 300,000 jobs added per month, at least, and it looked as if perhaps we were flirting with that sort of momentum. Apparently not.              

One shouldn’t put too much stock in one month’s numbers, but that applies to the recent positive signs too. The bottom line is that the recovery is going forward sluggishly, if at all, and it needs a push. If it wasn’t already clear—and really, it was—the government needs to enact some serious stimulative measures.

Celebrating dropping out
by digby

Someone sent me an email asking why I wasn't trumpeting the lower unemployment rate. The fact is that I'd really like to. More people being unemployed would be very welcome. Unfortunately, that's not what's happening:

The U.S. job market slowed in March as companies hit the brakes on hiring amid uncertainty about the economy's growth prospects. The unemployment rate dipped, but mostly because more Americans stopped looking for work. [ ... ]
The Art of the Filthy Rich

The fat cat is greed personified, but only thanks to the work of top-notch artists like these.

This Week in Dark Money

For the first installment of a new weekly feature, here's a quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money

Gigantic headline on HuffPo: "SITTIN' PRETTY IN SIN CITY
EXCLUSIVE VIDEOS: GSA's Lavish $820,000 Conference Caught On Tape"
GSA Conference Video Shows Lavish Vegas Spending: EXCLUSIVE

WASHINGTON -- Potentially problematic and certainly embarrassing video of the General Services Administration's infamous $820,000 Las Vegas conference has been obtained by The Huffington Post, showing well-dressed employees singing Frank Sinatra, downing margaritas and making light of lavish spending.

Video of the 2010 party, provided by an administration official on Friday, shows GSA employees in colorful tuxedos, putting on magic shows and enjoying mock Vegas-style entertainment -- all in the name of team-building.

The footage follows the release of a video clip featuring a GSA employee named Hank Terlaje at the same convention strumming a ukulele and belting out an ode to high-spending office culture. That video, like the new batch, was part of an awards ceremony meant to be light-hearted and satirical, but clearly at odds with the President Barack Obama administration's message of fiscal belt-tightening. Several GSA officials have already lost their jobs because of the convention.


Obama Invokes Republican Icons While Painting Mitt Romney As Extreme
Obama has cited Reagan more than 40 times in speeches and public events since 2009, according to an analysis of public statements and transcripts by the AP. But Eisenhower is Obama's favorite Republican for name-dropping – the president has referenced him more than 90 times. Lincoln is right behind, with 80 mentions in public comments covered by the transcripts.

Among Democrats, Obama has cited Bill Clinton more than 60 times and Franklin Delano Roosevelt 45 times at public events. Jimmy Carter? Four times.

Another Day, Another Dollar, Another Lobbying Campaign

What’s going on here is very familiar in Washington. Some lobbying or public-relations firm convinces some fool of a client that action on some issue is urgent urgent urgent. The client panics and starts writing checks.

We often deplore the deplorable influence of corporate money in Washington. But often the corporations that pay former high officials and other big shots to con politicians and the public are themselves being conned. It’s less like bribery and more like a protection racket. This one is especially bizarre because electronic payments are quickly replacing both coins and bills. Talk about fighting the last war.

Usually the name of a group gives you a hint about its purpose, if not its identity. If it calls itself Americans United for Responsible Tiddlywinks Regulation, it is against Tiddlywinks regulation. If it’s the National Coalition of Mothers for Broccoli, the “mothers” are probably mothers of broccoli farmers.

Colbert Scores Awesome Video Of Dude Doing Wheelies In Lincoln Tunnel
Our favorite part is when the biker realizes Colbert is taping and gives him a thumbs up—then asks him to text a copy of the video. Unfortunately, Colbert forgot the area code. "I didn't write it down," he explains, "because I was driving and videotaping, and writing would have made it dangerous. So I hope broadcasting will be acceptable instead! Oh, and by the way, my name is Stephen Colbert, and I have a television show."


Flaming Pie?!  
Beer, Bread & Flaming Pie: Landbrot Opens In West Village & LES

The Village location is the bakery's flagship, boasting an impressive display of pastries, brezeln (fancy-looking soft pretzels) and breads, including the namesake Landbrot, a rye loaf that's been baked twice for an extra-intense crust. They're also serving a selection of savory Bavarian-flavored open-faced sandwiches, sausages, and bacon-topped flammkuchen, or flaming pies, a flatbread-esque Alsatian dish baked in a wood-fired oven. Oh, and there's beer, too (this is a German bakery, after all), from Bavarian breweries Höss, Hopf, Reutberger and Schonramer, available on tap or to take out in growler form.

Cleveland Revs Up for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Festivities

For a Midwestern city that has been hit hard by the country's economic recession, mortgage crisis, and, of course, the departure of LeBron James, it is difficult to overstate the positive impact such a celebration has on the economy, culture, and morale of Cleveland, with inductees like the Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns N' Roses, The Faces, and many other celebrities coming to town.

Putting on a show of this magnitude requires a citywide team effort. Even Cleveland's airport workers, taxicab drivers and downtown trolley conductors are participating in the festivities. The moment travelers step off their airplanes at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, they "won't take five steps without being reminded that they are coming to a city that loves rock & roll, has a rich history of rock & roll, and is extremely excited to host the induction ceremony," says Cleveland's director of port control Ricky Smith.

No comment!
China's Internet Censors Decide Comments Are Dangerous
A day later, Wu Qiao, a columnist for the Beijing Times, an influential paper recently under the direct control of the Beijing Propaganda Department, was broadly supportive of a legal crackdown on rumor-mongers. He wrote:
A well-ordered society won’t permit the existence of rumors. With the aid of new technologies like Weibo, rumors can do severe harm. The better educated our society is, the more tolerant it is to different opinions and voices, and the less willing it is to tolerate rumors. Therefore, as new means of information dissemination are deployed, we should punish the rumor mongers by the law, so as to reduce rumors in society.
[ ... ] in one of his rare posts to Sina Weibo, timed to appear shortly after the comment moratorium was lifted on April 3. He wrote:


[The blackout] has nothing to do with cleaning up rumors, it’s about showing off state power and serving a warning: If I can make comments disappear for three days, I can also make you lose your little Weibos altogether.
In just a few hours, this post received 60,000 comments. Soon after, censors deleted every trace of them.
New Bush-Era Torture Memo Released, Raises Questions About What Has Changed And What Hasn't

The Bush White House tried to destroy every copy of the memo, written by then-State Department counselor Philip Zelikow. Zelikow examined tactics like waterboarding -- which simulates drowning -- and concluded that there was no way they were legal, domestically or internationally.

“We are unaware of any precedent in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or any subsequent conflict for authorized, systematic interrogation practices similar to those in question here," Zelikow wrote. The memo has been obtained by George Washington University's National Security Archive and Wired's Spencer Ackerman.

On his second full day in office, President Barack Obama formally disavowed torture, banning the types of techniques Zelikow had objected to so strongly in his memo.

But while Democrats are using the memo as evidence of a new post-torture era under Obama, human rights activists, civil libertarians and opponents of excessive secrecy say they see many ways in which the country's moral compass is still askew -- and in some ways even more so than before.

I've been waiting for an article on the situation in Iran by Sy Hersh.
Our Men in Iran?

Despite the growing ties, and a much-intensified lobbying effort organized by its advocates, M.E.K. has remained on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations—which meant that secrecy was essential in the Nevada training. “We did train them here, and washed them through the Energy Department because the D.O.E. owns all this land in southern Nevada,” a former senior American intelligence official told me. “We were deploying them over long distances in the desert and mountains, and building their capacity in communications—coördinating commo is a big deal.” (A spokesman for J.S.O.C. said that “U.S. Special Operations Forces were neither aware of nor involved in the training of M.E.K. members.”)

[ ... ]

It was the ad-hoc training that provoked the worried telephone calls to him, the former general said. “I told one of the guys who called me that they were all in over their heads, and all of them could end up trouble unless they got something in writing. The Iranians are very, very good at counterintelligence, and stuff like this is just too hard to contain.” The site in Nevada was being utilized at the same time, he said, for advanced training of élite Iraqi combat units. (The retired general said he only knew of the one M.E.K.-affiliated group that went though the training course; the former senior intelligence official said that he was aware of training that went on through 2007.)

Thinking the Unthinkable on Iran
As Tom Engelhardt has pointed out at, Obama is an even purer exponent of this policy than was Bush. For whereas Bush was at pains, however implausibly, to trace a connection between the offending country (in his case, Iraq) and the direct defense of the United States (even resorting to the outlandish claim that Iraqi drones might attack American soil), Obama summons up no such immediate threats and relies unreservedly on the overall nonproliferation argument as his basis for war. We can hear him striking this note in a recent interview he gave Goldberg, who asked the president whether it would be necessary to make war on Iran even if Israel weren’t in the picture. Obama’s answer was affirmative: nonproliferation objectives alone were sufficient. In his AIPAC speech he explained, “A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the nonproliferation regime that we’ve done so much to build.”

Bush accompanied his policy on Iraq with a great deal of neo-imperialist rhetoric that is absent from Obama’s statements, but the fundamentals have been the same—a militarization of disarmament leading to a policy of what could be called disarmament wars. Disarmament wars threaten or occur when force becomes the chosen instrument for preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Afghanistan agrees to re-join TAPI pipeline
Islamabad—With a positive signal from Asian Development Bank the ministers from Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan are now scheduled to meet on May 24, in Ashgabat and make some real progress on long awaited pipeline project.

Recently there were reports that Afghanistan had opted to come out of the project but on April 4, 2012 the Afghanistan minister has indicated that his country was ready to go ahead with the project.

[ ... ]

The 1,680 kilometres long TAPI pipeline which will stretch from Turkmenistan’s Dauletabad gas field though Afghanistan’s Helmand and Kandahar provinces will reach Pakistan’s city of Multan and end at the northwestern Indian town of Fazilka.

Hundreds rally in Benghazi against Libyan militias

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - Hundreds of people, including police and soldiers, protested in Libya's second biggest city on Friday, calling on militias to lay down their weapons as the government tries to impose its authority on a myriad of armed groups months after the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi.

Chanting "Army and police, we want nothing else" and "No militias, no brigades, one army, one flag", about 300 people took to the streets of Benghazi, including soldiers driving a convoy of about 50 military and police vehicles.

Does it ever end?
NATO nations must help restore order in Mali

THE UNITED STATES and its NATO allies took a big risk in Libya last year — not by supporting the rebellion against dictator Moammar Gaddafi but by doing little to help the victorious rebels with security after the war. Libya is now struggling to hold itself together as its various tribes and militia factions resist central authority; meanwhile, former Gaddafi fighters and weapons are spilling into neighboring countries.

The most severe trouble has erupted not in Libya but in neighboring Mali, a poor desert nation that had sustained a fragile democracy for more than two decades. Ethnic Tuareg fighters, many of whom were employed as mercenaries by the Gaddafi regime, streamed back across the border this year with abundant supplies of weapons. Sweeping across northern Mali, they have taken several large towns, including Timbuktu, and have declared their own republic — in effect partitioning the country.

Fugitive Iraqi VP Hashemi 'will return to Iraq'

He also accused Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, of waging a systematic campaign against Sunni Arabs in Iraq.

[ ... ]

The Saudi official had said Hashemi "will remain in Saudi Arabia for the time being," adding that he might stay until Maliki is pushed out of office "by democratic means."

He also lashed out at Maliki, describing him as "an extension of Iran in the region."

[ ... ]

In his Al-Jazeera interview, he said the accusations against him "have a sectarian dimension" that are part of what he said was a systematic campaign against Sunni Arabs.

He said he is the "fifth Sunni figure to be targeted" by the government, and that "more than 90 percent of the detainees in Iraq are Sunnis."

War crime.
Videos Show Blackwater Guards Running Down Woman in Iraq

Harper’s Magazine has posted online a number of videos purportedly showing Blackwater guards in action in Iraq. One video dated April 1, 2006, shows an armored vehicle swerving to run over a woman in a black full-length burka as she attempted to cross the street. None of the vehicles in the armed convoy stopped after she was run over.

There's an ad on this video, but I think it's worth waiting for.

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