Friday Morning Reads

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Good Morning!!

I’m quite a bit behind schedule this morning. I’m still in Indiana with my Mom, and we had to have some workmen come by this morning. I’m also trying to get organized for my drive back to Boston over the weekend, so I’m somewhat tired and stressed out.

Anyway, I’m working on a post that I will put up either later today or when I get back home. For now, here’s a TGIF link dump/open thread.

Today’s top stories

The Sony Hack is getting lots of attention.

NYT editorial, Sony and Mr. Kim’s Thugs. Here’s the gist:

Corporations, even large ones like Sony, cannot stand up to a rogue state and shadowy hacker armies all by themselves. That’s why the Obama administration needs to take a strong stand on this and future attacks. Officials said on Thursday that they were considering a “proportional response.”

Retaliation by the Obama administration over this attack would risk escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and between North Korea and Japan, where Sony’s corporate parent is based. However, there are things the United States can do. Although there are already heavy sanctions on North Korea, there may be ways to inflict more economic pain.

Washington could seek an international panel to investigate the attack and demand condemnation by the United Nations Security Council. The United States also needs to work with Japan and South Korea, two other regular targets of North Korean hacking, to improve their defenses and develop common responses like imposing sanctions.

China, North Korea’s main ally and benefactor, remains the best check on the Kim regime; experts say most North Korean hackers are based in China. But China has its own history of hacking American government and industry computers and has resisted Washington’s requests for talks on how to handle hacking attacks and their aftermath.

The international community needs to speed up work on norms on what constitutes a cyberattack and what the response should be. If China and the United States are unable to work together in this critical area, the Internet will become a free-for-all and everyone will pay the price.

The Inteview

CNN, Watch out world: North Korea deep into cyber warfare, defector says.

Jang Se-yul, who defected from North Korea seven years ago, told CNN that he thinks there are 1,800 cyberwarriors in the agency stationed around the world. But he says even the agents themselves don’t know how many others work for the secretive group, called Bureau 121, whose mission is to “conduct cyberattacks against overseas and enemy states.”

The South Korean government thinks Bureau 121 is the agency at the heart of numerous cyberattacks from North Korea against elements in foreign countries, a government official who requested to be anonymous told CNN on Thursday.

North Korea’s hacking capabilities have become a global talking point recently, after a massive hack of Sony Pictures — the studio behind “The Interview,” a comedy depicting the assassination of Pyongyang’s leader, Kim Jong Un. That was followed by warnings that the movie not be shown in theaters…

CNN, Washington outraged over Sony decision.

From Hollywood to Washington, the outrage is spreading over Sony Pictures’ decision to cancel a movie release following a cyber attack and threats from a group of North Korea-backed hackers.

Politicians urged Sony not to back down in the face of threats tied to the release of the controversial comedy “The Interview,” and then began lashing out when the studio made it clear it has no further plans to release the film, which depicts an assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un….

FBI investigators tracked the hackers who broke into Sony’s servers, published private information and threatened moviegoers back to the North Korean regime, U.S. law enforcement officials told CNN on Wednesday. The North Korean regime slammed the movie this summer as “terrorism and a war action.”

And despite the hackers’ threat to attack movie theaters, the Department of Homeland Security has said “there is no credible intelligence” supporting an active plot against movie theaters.

Deadline Hollywood, Hollywood Cowardice: George Clooney Explains Why Sony Stood Alone In North Korean Cyberterror Attack.

EXCLUSIVE: As it begins to dawn on everyone in Hollywood the reality that Sony Pictures was the victim of a cyberterrorist act perpetrated by a hostile foreign nationon American soil, questions will be asked about how and why it happened, ending with Sony cancelling the theatrical release of the satirical comedy The Interviewbecause of its depiction of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. One of those issues will be this: Why didn’t anybody speak out while Sony Pictures chiefs Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton were embarrassed by emails served up by the media, bolstering the credibility of hackers for when they attached as a cover letter to Lynton’s emails a threat to blow up theaters if The Interview was released?

Read the interview with Clooney at the link.

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The Daily Beast, Paramount Bans Showing ‘Team America’.

Three movie theaters say Paramount Pictures has ordered them not to show Team America: World Police one day after Sony Pictures surrendered to cyberterrorists and pulled The Interview. The famous Alamo Drafthouse in Texas, Capitol Theater in Cleveland, and Plaza Atlanta in Atlanta said they would screen the movie instead of The Interview, but Paramount has ordered them to stop. (No reason was apparently given and Paramount hasn’t spoken.)Team America of course features Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, as a singing marionette.

Apparently, both Team America: World Police and The Interview are chock full of racist memes about Asians.

North Korea Is Not Funny. Let’s be clear: The Interview isn’t a courageous act of defiance against a dictator, by Adrien Hong at The Atlantic.

In recent months, the uproar over The Interview, a comedy about assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has triggered an escalating set of reactions: retaliatory threats from North Korean officials; a sophisticated cyberattack on Sony Pictures, reportedly orchestrated by North Korea; a pledge by the hackers to physically attack theaters showing the film; and now, on Wednesday, Sony’s decision to cancel the movie’s December 25 release altogether, as movie-theater chains began backing out of screenings. The latest development is an act of craven self-censorship and appeasement—a troubling precedent by the Free World’s leading culture-makers. But rightful calls to defend freedom of expression and go ahead with the movie are also mixing with a far more dubious strain of thinking: that the film itself is a form of defiance against a dictatorial regime. It is not.

Kim Jong Il puppet from "Team America World Police."

Kim Jong Il puppet from “Team America World Police.”

In The Interview, directed by the Canadian comics Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, a celebrity journalist (James Franco) and his producer (Rogen), tired of producing meaningless content, score a major scoop: an interview with Kim Jong Un (Randall Park). The CIA learns about the trip and recruits the two to kill the leader—a task that, judging from reports and leaked footage, someone eventually succeeds in doing.

This film is not an act of courage. It is not a stand against totalitarianism, concentration camps, mass starvation, or state-sponsored terror. It is, based on what we know of the movie so far, simply a comedy, made by a group of talented actors, writers, and directors, and intended, like most comedies, to make money and earn laughs. The movie would perhaps have been better off with a fictitious dictator and regime; instead, it appears to serve up the latest in a long line of cheap and sometimes racism-tinged jokes, stretching from Team America: World Police to ongoing sketches on Saturday Night Live.

It’s a thoughtful article. I need to go back and give it a careful read.

In other news . . .

Bloomberg View, Hillary Clinton Secretly Pushed Cuba Deal for Years, by Josh Rogin.

Although President Barack Obama is taking the credit for Wednesday’s historic deal to reverse decades of U.S. policy toward Cuba, when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, she was the main architect of the new policy and pushed far harder for a deal than the Obama White House.

From 2009 until her departure in early 2013, Clinton and her top aides took the lead on the sometimes public, often private interactions with the Cuban government. According to current and former White House and State Department officials and several Cuba policy experts who were involved in the discussions, Clinton was also the top advocate inside the government for ending travel and trade restrictions on Cuba and reversing 50 years of U.S. policy to isolate the Communist island nation. Repeatedly, she pressed the White House to move faster and faced opposition from cautious high-ranking White House officials.

After Obama announced the deal Wednesday, which included the release of aid contractor Alan Gross, Clinton issued a supportive statement distributed by the National Security Council press team. “As Secretary of State, I pushed for his release, stayed in touch with Alan’s wife Judy and their daughters, and called for a new direction in Cuba,” she said. “Despite good intentions, our decades-long policy of isolation has only strengthened the Castro regime’s grip on power.”

But according to the progs, Hillary is a triangulating warmonger. Hmmmmm . . .

ABC News, 5 Sweeping Changes Recommended for Secret Service After Fence Jumper Enters WH.

A bipartisan, independent panel scrutinizing the U.S. Secret Service after a man with a small knife in his pocket jumped the perimeter fence and made it deep inside the White House is recommending sweeping changes at the agency.

The Secret Service’s “paramount mission” of protecting the president and other high-ranking officials “allows no tolerance for error,” and a “single miscue, or even a split-second delay, could have disastrous consequences for the nation and the world,” warns the panel’s final report, commissioned by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson after the September breach.

Read the recommendations at the link.

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The New Yorker, The Unidentified Queen of Torture, by Jane Mayer.

The NBC News investigative reporter Matthew Cole has pieced together a remarkable story revealing that a single senior officer, who is still in a position of high authority over counterterrorism at the C.I.A.—a woman who he does not name—appears to have been a source of years’ worth of terrible judgment, with tragic consequences for the United States. Her story runs through the entire report. She dropped the ball when the C.I.A. was given information that might very well have prevented the 9/11 attacks; she gleefully participated in torture sessions afterward; she misinterpreted intelligence in such a way that it sent the C.I.A. on an absurd chase for Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Montana. And then she falsely told congressional overseers that the torture worked.

Had the Senate Intelligence Committee been permitted to use pseudonyms for the central characters in its report, as all previous congressional studies of intelligence failures, including the widely heralded Church Committee report in 1975, have done, it might not have taken a painstaking, and still somewhat cryptic, investigation after the fact in order for the American public to hold this senior official accountable. Many people who have worked with her over the years expressed shock to NBC that she has been entrusted with so much power. A former intelligence officer who worked directly with her is quoted by NBC, on background, as saying that she bears so much responsibility for so many intelligence failures that “she should be put on trial and put in jail for what she has done.”

Instead, however, she has been promoted to the rank of a general in the military, most recently working as the head of the C.I.A.’s global-jihad unit. In that perch, she oversees the targeting of terror suspects around the world. (She was also, in part, the model for the lead character in “Zero Dark Thirty.”)

According to sources in the law-enforcement community who I have interviewed over the years, and who I spoke to again this week, this woman—whose name the C.I.A. has asked the news media to withhold—had supervision over an underling at the agency who failed to share with the F.B.I. the news that two of the future 9/11 hijackers had entered the United States prior to the terrorist attacks. As I recount in my book “The Dark Side,” the C.I.A. got wind that one of these Al Qaeda operatives, Khalid al-Mihdhar, had obtained a multiple-entry visa into the United States eighteen months before 9/11. The agency also learned, months before the attacks, that another Al Qaeda operative, Nawaf al-Hazmi, had flown into Los Angeles. Yet the C.I.A. appears to have done nothing. It never alerted the F.B.I., which had the principle domestic authority for protecting the U.S. from terror attacks. Its agents had, in fact, been on the trail of at least one of the hijackers previously, but had no way of knowing that he had entered the United States. Nor did the C.I.A. alert the State Department, which kept a “TIPOFF” watch list for terror suspects.

KUT.org, Austin TX, Sexist Comment by Austin Police Officer: Isolated Incident or Part of Broader Culture?

Police Chief Art Acevedo suspended two officers in November for making jokes about rape victims. The Austin Police Association said at the time that the respective three-day and five-day suspensions were “fair and appropriate.” The incident took place after a local attorney had released a video in which the two Austin police officers are laughing and one of the officers comments: “Go ahead and call the cops. They can’t un-rape you.

Recently, offensive comments were made to KUT’s reporter Joy Diaz, while she was covering a police-related story….

Just to set the scene, this reporter was at the police union’s building waiting to interview the head of the union. That’s when veteran officer [Andrew] Pietrowski approached me and started talking about the media fall-out over the video tape of NFL running back Ray Rice punching and knocking out his then-fiancé in a hotel elevator. Rice was suspended by the NFL and was released by his team.

Pietrowski says the event was blown out of proportion by the media. That’s when he explained.

“Now, stop and think about this. I don’t care who you are. You think about the women’s movement today, [women say] ‘Oh, we want to go [into] combat,’ and then, ‘We want equal pay, and we want this.’ You want to go fight in combat and sit in a foxhole? You go right ahead, but a man can’t hit you in public here? Bulls–t! You act like a whore, you get treated like one!”

Pietrowski retired from the force after learning that KUT planned to reveal his comments on the air.

S0 . . . . what else is happening? Please post links to the stories that interested you in the comment thread, and Happy Friday!


Thursday Reads: A Historic Agreement Between the U.S. and Cuba

Adrian_Rumbaut_series_Mas_cerca_de_ti_3

 

Good Morning!!

Finally we have some good news to discuss, if Republicans can somehow be prevented from ruining it. The U.S. and Cuba have reached an agreement to normalize relations between the two countries after 50 years of hostilities and sanctions. In celebration of this long-overdue step forward, I’m going to illustrate this post with the work of Cuban artists. You can read about the above painting of Marilyn Monroe superimposed on a photo of Che Guevara and the artist Adrian Rumbaut at the Cuban Art blog. Here’s a bit of background:

In the work, Adrian Rumbaut has reproduced Alberto Korda’s famous 1960 photograph of Che Guevara, and he  inserts his vision of American Richard Avedon’s iconic photo of Marilyn Monroe as well.  In the letters on the side of the painting, Rumbaut gives credit to both Korda and Avedon for their images, and provides the date of his painting.

Interestingly, Korda had worked as a fashion photographer as a young man, and he wanted very  much to be the Richard Avedon of Cuba. He photographed the “beautiful people” of the Batista era before the revolution, and models lined up in front of his studio to have their picture taken. Taken by surprise by the “triumph of the revolution” in 1959, he worked subsequently with Raul Corrales, Castro’s official photographer, to capture the excitement of the revolution. In his image of Che, something survives of his earlier experience with beautiful women.

Korda’s image of Che — snapped in 1960 and also known as Guerrillero Heroico — has been repeatedly reproduced worldwide, serving as both a symbol of protest and as a fashion accessory.

The iconic photo has taken on increasingly exotic forms, each created with different intentions and evoking varied responses. Along with Marilyn Monroe, Jesus Christ, Madonna, and Princess Diana have all had their pictures adapted and inserted under Che’s familiar red star beret. It isn’t an exaggeration to note that Che the icon has overtaken Che the revolutionary.

The original “Che” photograph was taken at a dangerous moment, a time when the new revolutionary government was preparing for imminent US invasion. It was at the start of the Cuban Revolution’s second year, and Castro’s government  had ordered a boatload of weapons and ammunition — mostly rifles and grenades — from Belgium. The armaments were loaded onto a French ship, La Coubre which, unfortunately, exploded upon arrival in Havana Harbor in March 1960. The crew and 75 Cuban dockers were killed. More than 200 were injured.

Here’s a wonderful example of Cuban street art that I found at a Cuban travel site, Insight Cuba.

Cuban-Art-Graffiti

See more examples of Cuban “graffiti” at the link.

Some background on what’s happening from CNN yesterday: Cuba releases American Alan Gross, paves way for historic easing of American sanctions.

Washington (CNN)U.S. contractor Alan Gross, held by the Cuban government since 2009, was freed Wednesday as part of a landmark deal with Cuba that paves the way for a major overhaul in U.S. policy toward the island, senior administration officials tell CNN.

President Barack Obama spoke with Cuban President Raul Castro Tuesday in a phone call that lasted about an hour and reflected the first communication at the presidential level with Cuba since the Cuban revolution, according to White House officials. Obama announced Gross’ release and the new diplomatic stance at noon in Washington. At around the same time, Cuban president Raul Castro was set to speak in Havana.

President Obama announced a major loosening of travel and economic restrictions on the country. And the two nations are set to re-open embassies, with preliminary discussions on that next step in normalizing diplomatic relations beginning in the coming weeks, a senior administration official tells CNN.

Talks between the U.S. and Cuba have been ongoing since June of 2013 and were facilitated by the Canadians and the Vatican in brokering the deal. Pope Francis — the first pope from Latin America — encouraged Obama in a letter and in their meeting this year to renew talks with Cuba on pursuing a closer relationship.

Gross’ “humanitarian” release by Cuba was accompanied by a separate spy swap, the officials said. Cuba also freed a U.S. intelligence source who has been jailed in Cuba for more than 20 years, although authorities did not identify that person for security reasons. The U.S. released three Cuban intelligence agents convicted of espionage in 2001.

The developments constitute what officials called the most sweeping change in U.S. policy toward Cuba since 1961, when the embassy closed and the embargo was imposed.

Read much more at the link. It’s a good article that provides quite a bit of background on the historic agreement.

Marino_The_Raft_La_Patera

More details on the secret negotiations from William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh, authors of the book Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana, published in October of this year.

Secret meetings with Cuba finally pay off.

Presidents frequently conduct sensitive diplomatic dialogues in secret, because the furor of public attention makes it politically impossible to reach the compromises necessary for agreement. These secret talks are often crucial for diplomatic advances — as we learned Wednesday with the stunning revelations about the impending talks between Washington and Havana that have been underway secretly for the past few months. President Barack Obama’s far-reading initiatives are reminiscent of the secret talks Henry Kissinger held with Beijing to lay the groundwork for President Richard M. Nixon’s historic diplomatic opening to China.

When the mere act of talking to an adversary is too politically sensitive, presidents can resort to private emissaries, despite the risks created by relying on amateur diplomats. Obama had help from both Canada and the Vatican in reaching these new agreements.

In our recent book, Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana, we uncovered literally dozens of secret diplomatic contacts and negotiations. Despite what Kissinger called the “perpetual antagonism” between the United States and Cuba, there is a rich and colorful history of dialogue between these two nations over the last 50 years.

There are lessons to be learned from this half-century of back-channel talks about what works and what doesn’t when conducting secret negotiations.

First, a history of animosity makes adversaries wary. Neither wants to appear weak by making concessions too easily. Goodwill gestures may go unrequited and the apparent obstinacy of one side or the other can doom a diplomatic process before it gets off the ground. When Fidel Castro was in power, for example, he worried constantly that any concession to U.S. demands would be read as weakness and lead to a redoubling of U.S. efforts to overthrow him.

Read all about it at the Reuters link.

From the Masters of Cuban Art Image Gallery“La Conga” by Evelio Garcia Mata.

“Garcia Mata plays the rhythm of the conga in the body of the mulatto dancer, who lifts her left arm as she does the kick-step. She wears a sensual typical dress and is accompanied by a group of six musicians. The painting beautifully represents when Afro-Cuban music became main-stream, and a representative of Cuban culture at large.”

- Alfredo Triff, Musician and Art Critic

Cuba_Mata_Conga

Isn’t it amazing that Pope Francis–the first Latin American to lead the Church–was instrumental in making this happen? As a long-lapsed Catholic, I’m truly surprised and pleased. After years of regressive Popes, this guy seems to be a throwback to the days of Pope John the XXIII when it seemed that the Church might move into the 20th century.

From The Atlantic: How the Pope Helped End the Cuba Embargo.

On Wednesday, a senior Obama administration officials spoke of an “extraordinary letter” written by the pope to President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro over the summer in which he urged the two men to mend the relationship between their countries.

As one official noted, the correspondence “gave us greater impetus and momentum for us to move forward.”

In a press conference on Wednesday, which also happens to be the pope’s 78th birthday, President Obama credited Francis for his influential “personal plea” and thanked him for his “moral example.”

In particular, I want to thank his Holiness Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is.

According to officials, Pope Francis brought up Cuba several times during his meeting with the president in March and, given Francis’ significance as the first pope from Latin America, it’s fair to assume that his clout likely helped bring Castro to the table as well.

Vatican officials were also said to have been present during the negotiations between the United States and Cuba, marking them the only other country to directly participate in the talks. While Canada reportedly hosted the majority of the secret meetings of the two sides, according to a Vatican statement, the pope also hosted Cuban and American representatives together earlier this year during the final deal was struck.

Some reactions to Obama’s great achievement.

From the LA Times, Miami reacts to Obama’s Cuba move: Tears of joy, cries of ‘traitor’.

A tale of two restaurants unfolded in South Florida on Wednesday.

In Miami’s Little Havana, Versailles Restaurant hosted hard-line Cuban exiles railing against President Obama’s decision to establish full diplomatic ties with the Cuban government. They waved placards and hurled insults bilingually, putting on the show they’ve been rehearsing and staging for half a century.

The show at Versailles involved megaphones and pickup trucks, national news outlets parked in front of a spot that serves tasty espresso, and a handful of outspoken Cuban Americans who yell loud enough to scare viewers in Nebraska. Whenever major news breaks about Cuba, the media flocks to Versailles to take the pulse of the Cuban community.

Meanwhile in Hialeah, a city with a far larger number of Cubans and Cuban Americans than Little Havana, Tropical Restaurant served cafeteria-style meals to a quieter, more sanguine crowd. Here, many welcomed Obama’s decision.

“It’s going to be better for the Cuban people. It’s going to be better for the United States,” said ReinierOropeza, 33, an accountant who to came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1998.

Many Cubans here are young, or came to the United States more recently, or have closer ties with their families in Cuba.

Oropeza said many older Cubans are stuck in the past.  “They are old and they stand back and blame Castro. They already did what they had to do. So young people have to take over now.”

Once again, read much more at the link.

Read more about this mural by 100 Cuban artists at The New York Times, Feb. 3, 2008: It’s Not Politics. It’s Just Cuba.

Courtesy of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts “Cuba Colectiva,” a 1967 mural by 100 artists for the Salon de Mai exhibition in Havana, on view at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Courtesy of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
“Cuba Colectiva,” a 1967 mural by 100 artists for the Salon de Mai exhibition in Havana, on view at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

 

More reactions from Republican politicians:

Drunken party-pooper John Boehner is not happy. 

(Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker John Boehner sharply criticized President Barack Obama’s policy change toward Cuba, calling it “another in a long line of mindless concessions” to a brutal dictatorship.

“Relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until the Cuban people enjoy freedom – and not one second sooner,” Boehner said in a statement.

Cry me a river, a$$hole. At least Cubans have free health care.

Marco Rubio, who is supposedly a Catholic after transitioning through the Mormon and Southern Baptist churches, had the temerity to “call out the Pope on Cuba” according to Politico.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Catholic, criticized Pope Francis on Wednesday after the pontiff played a key role in helping the United States and Cuba forge an agreement that resulted in the release of American Alan Gross from Cuba.

Rubio said he would “ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy.”

The Florida Republican said he didn’t criticize Francis’ personal appeals to help facilitate Gross’ release, but was speaking in response to the White House’s announcement about talks to normalize relations with Cuba after a nearly 50-year embargo with the country.

Rubio is set to play a major role in Cuba policy as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Western Affairs, and he noted Wednesday some of Congress’ leverage points, such as funding for embassies and nomination of a U.S. ambassador to Cuba.

“I’m committed to doing everything I can to unravel as many of these changes as possible,” Rubio said.

More from Huffington Post: Marco Rubio Fires Back On Cuba: Obama Is The ‘Worst Negotiator’ In My Lifetime.

President Barack Obama will get no money for his Cuba policy, no ambassador will be confirmed and the embargo will never be lifted, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) vowed in a blistering press conference on Wednesday.

In a historic move earlier in the day, Obama announced that the United States will begin talks with Cuba to normalize full diplomatic relations, marking the most significant shift in U.S. policy towards Cuba in 50 years. The president’s remarks followed the release on Wednesday morning of American Alan Gross, who had been held in a Cuban prison for five years. Gross’ release was negotiated in exchange for the freeing of three Cubans who had been jailed in the U.S. for spying.

“This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion, based on a lie,” Rubio, who is the son of Cuban immigrants, told reporters on Capitol Hill. “The White House has conceded everything and gained little.”

“I’m committed to doing everything I can to unravel as many of these changes as possible,” he added.

Why is this moron in the U.S. Senate? Obama will have more battles ahead with the Republican Congress, but he seems determined to move ahead with the changes he wants to make anyway. I’m rooting for him.

What do you think? What other stories are you following today? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread and enjoy your Thursday!


Wednesday Reads: 2014 Going Out With A Bang

165514928Morning All

I really don’t have anything to add to the picture on the left. That is pretty much how things seem to be going lately. Each day another bomb drops, and many of us sit here wondering will it stop? Will there be a moment when some decent shred of humanity will shine through the toxic stew of torture, police brutality, racism, sexism and all the rest of it…

Here are your links for this morning, many reactions to the CIA torture reports will come as no surprise.

I guess John McCain is the one GOP dude who we would expect had some words to say on the matter: McCain on Torture: A Stain on our National Honor, Produces Misleading Info | Informed Comment

“As the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report roiled Capitol Hill Tuesday, Sen. John McCain framed the argument as one of moral clarity, all the while bumping up against his party leaders.

“I rise in support of the release, the long-delayed release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summarized, unclassified review of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that were employed by the previous administration to extract information from captured terrorists,” the Arizona Republican said on the Senate floor. “I believe the American people have a right, indeed responsibility, to know what was done in their name, how these practices did or did not serve our interests, and how they comported with our most important values.”

McCain, who spent five-and-a-half years in a North Vietnamese prison during the Vietnam War and endured unspeakable torture, is virtually unassailable on the issue. His comments put him back in the maverick role, at least in relation to the chamber’s internal politics, that has long defined his congressional career.”

d79002a4d9795d36c23f422431ccbf3dVideo at the link.

In another link from Juan Cole’s blog: Psychologists, who Took mn. to Advise, Practice Torture, betrayed the Profession | Informed Comment

During the War on Terror, the CIA’s operations subjected hundreds of suspected terrorists to harsh interrogation techniques, which were often criticised as constituting torture. Now, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the operation has made it clearer than ever that the CIA used many forms of “enhanced interrogation” to elicit information – very harsh methods indeed that simply did not yield the intended results.

As a leaked State Department memo put it, the report “tells a story of which no American is proud”.

This is a matter of outrage for everyone, but as psychologists, we have a particular obligation to speak out. Many of the approaches the CIA used were developed by our discipline, and by individuals who will have known about the codes of conduct by which US psychologists are bound – which include beneficence and non-maleficence, and respect for rights, dignity and integrity.

It is profoundly disturbing to see that the CIA’s techniques included deprivation of basic needs (warmth, food, water), humiliation, threats and the repeated use of waterboarding.

Ironically, many of the methods adopted were based on psychologists’ previous work directed at training members of the military, intended to assist them in avoiding talking to interrogators should they be captured and tortured. This work was apparently reverse-engineered for use on terrorist suspects.

2a2130ec4f4c50723d90bf520b6784e0There is much more at that link, which is a guest post written by Laurence Alison, from the University of Liverpool.

Fox News…well, you know:

Fox Host: Forget Torture, ‘America Is Awesome’ — NYMag

After reading reports about how the CIA inadvertently killed someone during an interrogation and subjected others to repeated waterboardings, “rectal feedings,” and threats to rape and kill their family members, did you get the feeling that sometimes the United States is less than awesome? That’s exactly what the Obama administration wanted! This afternoon in the alternate reality that is Fox News, the hosts of Outnumbered explained that the report was only released to distract Americans from real problems, like the IRS scandal and Benghazi.

“The Bush administration did what the American public wanted, and that was do whatever it takes to keep us safe,” declared the particularly incensed Andrea Tantaros. “The United States of America is awesome, we are awesome,” she continued. “We’ve closed the book on [torture], and we’ve stopped doing it. And the reason they want to have this discussion is not to show how awesome we are. This administration wants to have this discussion to show us how we’re not awesome” — mainly because they “don’t like this country” and “want us to look bad.”

Fox then returned to its regularly scheduled programming.

Alggpp0100nd Billy Boy: Bill O’Reilly: Torture Is ‘Morally Correct’ | Crooks and Liars

If you thought you heard it all from Bill O’Reilly, think again. Tonight he said that torture was a “morally acceptable” thing to do.

Meanwhile, across the pond: New Statesman | “Torture is always wrong”: David Cameron responds to the CIA report

David Cameron has responded to the alarming US report by Democrat senators on CIA interrogation activities in the wake of 9/11. Commenting on the shocking revelations about “brutal” techniques employed by the CIA on terrorism suspects, the Prime Minister said:

Let us be clear – torture is wrong, torture is always wrong.

For those of us who want to see a safer more secure world who want to see this extremism defeated, we won’t succeed if we lose our moral authority.

Now obviously after 9/11 there were things that happened that were wrong and we should be clear about the fact that they were wrong.

Clearly anticipating any questions emerging from this story that could drag Britain into the controversy, Cameron was keen to emphasise that he believes Britain has “dealt with” its position in relation torture policy. The United Kingdom appears on the list of countries that “facilitated CIA torture”.

Cameron referred to the Intelligence and Security Committee looking into questions raised by the Gibson Inquiry into the treatment of detainees post-9/11, and added that he has, “issued guidance to all of our agents and others working around the world about how they have to handle themselves”.

77374810001_693354346001_ari-origin06-arc-159-1291146682193The report itself has stunned the world following its release yesterday. It suggests America’s spies repeatedly lied to Congress and its foreign allies in an effort to cover up the scale and brutal nature of a secret global programme of torture.

Of course the UN has it’s own response: CIA torture: Calls to prosecute US officials involved in ‘brutal’ interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects – The Independent

The UN has called for the prosecution of those behind a ‘criminal conspiracy’ at the CIA that led to the ‘brutal’ torture of detainees.

Ben Emmerson, United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, said those responsible for planning, sanctioning or carrying out crimes including waterboarding should not escape justice – even senior officials from George W Bush’s administration.

“It is now time to take action,” he said in a statement from Geneva. “The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy … must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes.

“The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the US Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.”

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth also said that the CIA’s actions were criminal “and can never be justified”.

hqdefault“The Senate report summary should forever put to rest CIA denials that it engaged in torture, which is criminal and can never be justified,” he said.

“The report shows the repeated claims that harsh measures were needed to protect Americans are utter fiction.

“Unless this important truth-telling process leads to prosecution of officials, torture will remain a ‘policy option’ for future presidents.”

Now, over at Al Jazeera, they have an article that interviews surviviors:

Survivors of CIA torture, rendition speak out | Al Jazeera America

Survivors of alleged CIA torture and rendition programs praised the release of a damning, if heavily redacted Senate account of the agency’s “brutal” and “ineffective” practices but noted it was only a first step toward accountability — and it certainly wasn’t an apology.

article-0-11CC61E1000005DC-710_634x476“Publishing this shows the other side, that human rights apply to everyone,” said Abdelhakim Balhadj, a Libyan political dissident who the U.S. rendered back to Libya in 2004, where he was allegedly tortured over a six-year period without being charged with a crime. “The U.S. denied us our human rights. We wanted the American people to recognize this.”

After years of delay, the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released a 499-page executive summary of a more than 6,000-word report, which remains classified. It detailed a litany of apparently illegal methods employed by CIA officers to extract information from detainees — death threats, beatings, sleep deprivation, forced rectal feeding and other psychological torment — much of which had long since been leaked.

Significantly, the summary noted that so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques were “brutal and far worse than the CIA represented” and they were not nearly as useful in obtaining information vital to national security as the agency had previously said.

Though ex-detainees like Belhadj welcomed those findings, he was disappointed that his name had not been mentioned specifically. In a phone call from his home in Libya, Belhadj, now a prominent politician and military leader in Libya, told of how he and his pregnant wife Fatima were picked up by U.S. authorities as they were trying to leave China, where they had been living until 2004, to seek political asylum in the U.K.

750px-Castle_Bravo_(black_and_white)As well as the ex-CIA dudes…who have there side of the story: Ex-CIA officials say torture report is one-sided, flawed | Reuters

A group of former top-ranking CIA officials disputed a U.S. Senate committee’s finding that the agency’s interrogation techniques produced no valuable intelligence, saying such work had saved thousands of lives.

Former CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden, along with three ex-deputy directors, wrote in an op-ed article published on Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal that the Senate Intelligence Committee report also was wrong in saying the agency had been deceptive about its work following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The rest of the links for today’s post are in dump format, and they are not pleasant. In fact they are much of the same kind of news we have been seeing the past few weeks.

Orlando, Florida police sergeant shoots unarmed man – World Socialist Web Site

The usual story with the usual players. The men in this case were in a stolen car…that said…read the rest at the link.

 

School Counselor Threatens to Shoot Mike Brown Protestors, Blames Kid

School Counselor Threatens to Shoot Mike Brown Protestors, Blames Kid

 

“He should have to stand trial”: Rep. Keith Ellison sounds off on Eric Garner’s killing and civil rights in America – Salon.com

As the American people continue to debate about — and organize over — the lack of consequences for the police who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown, some commentators (like yours truly) have urged national Democrats to be more directly and unapologetically supportive of their African-American supporters and the #blacklivesmatter movement in general. But while it’s much too soon to tell whether Hillary Clinton or other similarly well-known Democrats will heed the call, it’s clear that one Democratic congressman, Minnesota’s Keith Ellison, is listening. “The fact is, people have to demand [a] sense of justice: people in the streets are going to make the system more responsive,” he said recently on MSNBC.

atomic-bomb3New Statesman | Why Hollywood needs to listen to Chris Rock about its race problems

In a scathing editorial in the Hollywood Reporter, Chris Rock has confronted some issues that though obvious, are being blatantly ignored. He quite rightly points out that Hollywood is an exclusive, white industry that is terrible at giving opportunities to black and Latino people other than as the janitor. You only have to open your eyes to see this, but nobody, whether it be studio executives, producers, directors, other actors or critics, has been proactive in changing things. It’s OK to say it – Hollywood doesn’t care about black people.

In Arkansas, white town is a black mark | Al Jazeera America

Harrison, Arkansas billboard

Residents of Harrison try to fight off their reputation as the small town with the most hate groups in America

Thomas Robb lives 15 miles from downtown Harrison, Arkansas, past churches with signs speaking of God’s righteousness, a goat farm and a slew of rusted trailer homes. His home is a collection of nondescript white cottages that includes an office and a meeting place for the Christian Revival Center, where he serves as pastor. The buildings stretch across several acres — but don’t call the property a compound.

“It’s my home, not a compound,” Robb says, correcting a reporter with a smile. “The word ‘compound’ has such a negative connotation.”

Robb and his wife moved to the area 43 years ago from Tucson, Arizona: “You could see the handwriting on the wall of Arizona being a dumping ground for illegal aliens.” The stronger morals of people in Arkansas, he says, made the state a more attractive home for his Thomas Robb Ministries and the Christian Revival Center, which espouse a white-supremacist, “Christian-identity” theology. For the last 25 years, he’s also been the national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the group founded by prominent Klan leader and former Louisiana politician David Duke. In that role, Robb has attempted to advance the white-nationalist movement by portraying the Klan, in the words of one journalist, as more “gentle, upbeat and friendly” — an approach that’s sometimes frowned upon by other Klan members for being too mainstream.

Protest Against Police Violence

In Georgia, there was an execution last night: Injustice in Robert Wayne Holsey’s Case – NYTimes.com

Even by the abysmal standards of lawyering that defendants in capital trials regularly endure, Robert Wayne Holsey’s case stands out.

In 1997, Mr. Holsey was convicted and sentenced to death for killing a Georgia sheriff’s deputy named Will Robinson, who had pulled him over for robbing a convenience store. Despite evidence that Mr. Holsey was intellectually disabled — which should have barred him from execution under the United States Supreme Court’s earlier rulings — his lawyer neglected to make that argument at trial. Mr. Holsey was executed on Tuesday evening after the Supreme Court declined to stay his execution.

The evidence of Mr. Holsey’s mental deficits included an I.Q. test score of 70 when he was 15. In school, his intellectual functioning did not move past a fourth-grade level. But under Georgia law, a defendant is required to prove his intellectual disability beyond a reasonable doubt — the strictest standard in the country and one unmoored from scientific reality.

Palestinian minister dies after confrontation with Israeli soldiers | Al Jazeera America

A Palestinian minister has died after clashes with Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank. The circumstances of Ziad Abu Ein’s death have yet to be officially confirmed, but sources told Al Jazeera that it occurred after he inhaled large amounts of tear gas and was struck by security forces.

Abu Ein, who was head of the Anti-Wall and Settlement Commission, died in Ramallah Hospital on Wednesday following a protest against the separation barrier near the village of Turmusayya, northeast of Ramallah.

The 55-year-old is thought to have been hit in the chest by Israeli soldiers at the demonstration, according to an Israeli journalist and a Reuters photographer who were at the scene. Other witnesses said he was headbutted and then collapsed.

Activists said they were planting olive trees by the illegal settlement of Adei Ad when the soldiers attacked them and fired large amounts of tear gas at the group.

Pictures of Abu Ein, a member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, knocked out and on the ground quickly circulated on social media sites.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas quickly condemned the death of Abu Ein, calling it a “barbaric act that cannot be tolerated.” He also said “all necessary steps” will be taken after an investigation into Abu Ein’s death is carried out.

More on the olive trees, and the significance here:

BBC News – Israel and the Palestinians: A conflict viewed through olives

Obama had a tough interview: Jorge Ramos Challenges President Obama On Immigration In Testy Interview – BuzzFeed News

Ugh….US Congressional Leaders Reach Accord on 2015 Spending Plan

Hey, this is a surprise: Police officer buys eggs for woman caught shoplifting to feed her family in Tarrant | AL.com

A woman caught shoplifting eggs in Tarrant Saturday didn’t leave with handcuffs and a court date. Thanks to a Tarrant police officer, she left with food for her family.

Officer William Stacy was called to the Dollar General on Pinson Valley Parkway when employees caught the woman trying to steal a dozen eggs, Tarrant Police Chief Dennis Reno said.

The woman had her young children in the car. She told Officer Stacy that she was only stealing because she was trying to feed her children.

Stacy talked with Dollar General, and they said they wouldn’t prosecute. So Stacy made an offer.

“He said, ‘If I give you these eggs, will you promise that you won’t shoplift anymore?'” Reno said. “He knew that she was telling the truth and that’s the reason he went in and bought the eggs.”

Stacy bought the eggs and gave them to her, Reno said. The woman then asked if she could give him a hug.

Sorry if I am cynical…but…

“Police officers do this all the time. Of course, these are the kind of stories that never get told,” Reno said. “Every police officer in Jefferson County has done this at one point in time.”

Reno said this is one way police deal with issues — not every incident ends with someone being hauled off to jail.

No, they don’t get hauled off to jail, they get hauled off to the morgue.

Video of hug at link. It just is…I don’t know. Maybe y’all have a better way of putting it into words than I do?

Sounds a little like staged bullshit to me.

But again, I am a cynical bitch.

I mean, when you have a Sgt with the Tarrant Police Department police stealing evidence and selling it to other cops:

Update: Former Tarrant Police Sgt. turns himself in. – ABC 33/40 – Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

 According to Tarrant Police Chief Dennis Reno, former Tarrant Police Officer, Sgt. Charles Higgins, has turned himself in to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

The Tarrant Police Department is asking a suspected criminal to turn himself in. But this criminal isn’t like the others.

“He was an extraordinary officer,” Police Chief Dennis Reno said.

That’s because Charles Kevin Higgins used to be a Sgt. with the department.

“Myself and every officer here feels betrayed,” Reno said.

Reno says a while back his department noticed items missing out of the evidence room, which is what Sgt. Higgins was in charge of. Higgins was confronted and was told an investigation would be happening.

“Rather than face an investigation, Sgt. Higgins rendered his resignation at that time,” Reno said.

Further investigation would show much more missing from the evidence room than anticipated.

Nine handguns were missing. Reno says Higgins told people he needed money. He sold six of them to citizens. But four of them were sold to closer friends.

“He sold them to some of his fellow police officers here at the station,” Reno said.

The serial numbers on the guns sold to the officers matched the numbers of those missing from the evidence room. Reno believes Higgins made nearly $3,500 on the guns. Reno says the officers who bought the firearms thought they were part of Higgins’s personal collection, as Reno says Higgins is a gun collector.

Reno says he could not comment whether more items were taken from the evidence room.

Or the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office being investigated for racial discrimination: JeffCo Sheriff’s hiring, firing practices under scrutiny for racial discrimiation

A federal judge wants to know what Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale is doing to deal with racial discrimination.

During a status hearing over the county’s consent degree involving hiring and firing practices, U.S District Judge Lynwood Smith said he will now be focusing on the sheriff’s office.

The county’s hiring and firing is currently under the supervision of court appointed receiver Ronald Sims.

During Thursday’s court hearing, plaintiffs in the case said it came to their attention that Sheriff Hale does not have an affirmative action officer to oversee any racial complaints or violations of discrimination law.

Jefferson County has affirmative action officers in place but the question now is whether Sheriff Hale, who is already facing a tight budget, hire another person for the job or use the county’s personnel.

Jefferson County commissioner David Carrington says it’s a matter that has to be studied.

“It would be a little cumbersome for the county’s AA officer to get involved with the sheriff’s office. We have a lot of issues we need to deal with. If the judge says it’s our responsibility we will accept it and go forward,” Carrington said.

Judge Smith told Sheriff Hale’s attorney in court to get more engaged and to research what the sheriff has done to deal with racial discrimination going back to 1982, when the original consent decree was signed by Hale’s predecessor Mel Bailey.

Federal judge turns focus to Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in 32-year-old discrimination order | AL.com

A federal judge, who last year installed a manager to oversee all Jefferson County personnel decisions to prevent discrimination against blacks and women, has now turned his focus onto the county sheriff’s office.

At a hearing this morning U.S. District Court Judge Lynwood Smith asked an attorney for Sheriff Mike Hale to determine what that office has done – or hasn’t – to ensure that it doesn’t discriminate against blacks or women in hiring, firing and promotions since a consent decree was signed by county officials 32 years ago.

Lynwood Smith.jpgFederal Judge Lynwood Smith. (Huntsville Times file)

Smith said he believes “it is past time to focus on the sheriff…  He (the sheriff) is under the same duties and obligations as the county commission.”

The 1982 consent decree was issued as part of lawsuits that contended the county and the City of Birmingham had discriminated against blacks and women. County officials, including former Sheriff Mel Bailey, signed the decree. Birmingham and the Jefferson County Personnel Board were ultimately released from their decrees.

About seven years ago plaintiffs in the lawsuits asked the judge to find the county in contempt for not abiding by the terms of its consent decree. After a lengthy process the judge last year found the county was in contempt and put in place a receiver, Ron Sims, over the county’s human resources department.

At today’s status conference Smith holds once a month to check on the county’s compliance, an attorney for the plaintiff’s, Rowan Wilson, told the judge about an issue that came up.

Hmmmm…go on…

Wilson said that Sims two months ago had appointed an affirmative action officer to review personnel complaints. Recently sheriff’s employees had come to the new officer with issues, which brought up the question as to whether the sheriff had an affirmative action officer, he said.

As part of the consent decree the county was to have an affirmative action officer, but didn’t, Wilson said. The issue came up during testimony in the contempt hearings.

Take a look at the comments….interesting to say the least.

This sounds a lot like Banjoville.

But seriously…to go back to the quote from Reno, the chief at Tarrant PD:

“Police officers do this all the time. Of course, these are the kind of stories that never get told,” Reno said. “Every police officer in Jefferson County has done this at one point in time.”

Oh yeah, I bet they do that act of kindness all the time….

That is it for me, y’all have a good day. So? What are you reading about?


Tuesday Reads: Can The News Get Any Worse? Probably.

 8.15matisse-inattentive-reader-1919

Good Morning!!

It’s difficult to imagine how the news can get any worse . . . and then it does.

Bloomberg: CIA Torture Report Set for Senate Release Over Bush Objections.

Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) — The Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee are preparing to issue their report on the harsh interrogation tactics the CIA used on terrorism suspects, defying the objections of current and former U.S. officials including former President George W. Bush.

The panel plans to release today a summary of a 6,200-page report concluding that the Central Intelligence Agency used extreme interrogation methods at secret prisons more often than legally authorized and failed to disclose all the activities to lawmakers and other officials.

Despite warnings from opponents of the report’s release, including some Republicans on the panel, that Americans would face retaliation overseas, President Barack Obama supports making the conclusions public, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said yesterday.

“The president believes that, on principle, it’s important to release that report, so that people around the world and people here at home understand exactly what transpired,” he said. Earnest said the administration has taken steps to improve security at U.S. facilities around the world.

Read the arguments for and against releasing the report at the link.  A brief summary of the conflict at USA Today: Obama, Bush teams battle over torture report. Of course Dick Cheney felt the need to butt in.

While Obama and aides support release of the report as to way to prevent future abuses, some Bush administration officials call it partisan second-guessing of techniques that proved necessary during the war on terrorism.

“What I keep hearing out there is they portray this as a rogue operation and the agency was way out of bounds and then they lied about it,” former vice president Dick Cheney told The New York Times. “I think that’s all a bunch of hooey. The program was authorized. The agency did not want to proceed without authorization, and it was also reviewed legally by the Justice Department before they undertook the program.” [….]

The dispute between Obama and Bush officials revolves around the legality of the interrogation programs and whether they yielded valuable intelligence as the U.S. raced to block terrorism in the years following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Cheney and other Bush administration officials say the programs yielded actionable intelligence that helped uncover possible terrorist plots.

Congressional Democrats say the report shows that tactics like waterboarding yielded nothing that could not have been obtained by other means.

The two sides agree on one thing: Release of the Senate report, detailing some of the less savory methods used to extract testimony from terrorism suspects, could lead to violent, anti-American protests in some countries.

Matisse woman reading2

Reuters has a minor preview on the contents of the report: Sexual threats, other CIA methods detailed in Senate report.

The report, which Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said would be released on Tuesday, describes how al Qaeda operative Abdel Rahman al Nashiri, suspected mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, was threatened with a buzzing power drill, the sources said. The drill was never actually used on him.

It documents how at least one detainee was sexually threatened with a broomstick, the sources said.

Preparing for a worldwide outcry from the publication of such graphic details, the White House and U.S. intelligence officials said on Monday they had shored up security of U.S. facilities worldwide.

The report, which took years to produce, charts the history of the CIA’s “Rendition, Detention and Interrogation” program, which President George W. Bush authorized after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bush ended many aspects of the program before leaving office, and President Barack Obama swiftly banned “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which critics say are torture, after his 2009 inauguration.

The Christian Science Monitor asks what I think is an irrelevant question: Did torture yield results? I really don’t care; some things are just wrong period.

The 480-page document reveals the results of Senate investigation into the CIA’s use of torture and other techniques that violate international law against prisoners held on terrorism-related charges. Though many details of the Senate’s findings will remain classified – the document is a summary of a 6,000-page report that is not being released – the report is expected to conclude that the methods used by the CIA to interrogate prisoners during the post-9/11 years were more extreme than previously admitted and produced no intelligence that could not have been acquired through legal means….

The Los Angeles Times writes that the report is expected to say that the CIA used methods of “waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques more frequently than was legally authorized at then-secret prisons known as ‘black sites.’ “

The report will also likely state that the intelligence acquired from the use of such techniques was not useful to finding Osama bin Laden or preventing attacks on US interests, and “nearly all the intelligence gleaned through harsh techniques could have been obtained from more traditional intelligence-gathering systems,” the Times adds.

woman-reading-at-a-dressing-table-interieur-nice-1919

We probably should brace for attacks on President Obama for daring to go on BET and talk about racism and then follow that up by joking around with Stephen Colbert.

BET Exclusive: Obama Talks Race, Racism and How Far America Has to Go. Watch the interview at the link. Joyce Jones highlights the main points:

Barack Obama – not the president, but the man – has a dream: his children will be viewed as individuals and judged not by the color of their skin but based on the content of their character, their behavior and their talents and gifts. Sadly, he observed in an exclusive interview with BET Networks, “misguided attitudes” mean that people of color still have less margin for error, particularly if they are male….

Hours before the interview aired, his critics on the right began lashing out at him for, according to Breitbart News, “playing the race card more overtly than ever before.” Others will say it’s about time he spoke up about the series of police-involved deaths of a disproportionate number of African-American men, which he acknowledged. But he also said that “institutionally” he is required to remain silent during the investigations of those incidents, which would be compromised “if it appeared that I was trying to steer to a particular outcome.”

That doesn’t mean he does not empathize with those who’ve expressed their anger and frustration more publically. The president recalled a meeting he had last week that included several young African-American leaders whose experiences of being stopped or treated suspiciously for no reason reminded him of his own. He also said that as long as the protests remain peaceful, they are necessary.

More details from CNN:

“I’m going to stay on this,” the President said Monday in an interview with BET, a network that reaches a predominately young African-American audience. “Not only am I going to stay on it … but hopefully the entire society says, ‘Let’s finally try to make some real progress on this.'”

Once criticized for shying away from the topic of race early on in his presidency, Obama has recently taken a more active role in sharing how his personal experiences help him to empathize with all kinds of people affected by the recent protests on racial tensions — from protesters, to victims, to law enforcement officers, to families, and most importantly, to black youth.

In his interview with BET’s “106 & Park,” the President cited a meeting he had with nonviolent protesters Monday — between ages 18-25. For him, he says, listening to young African-Americans describe their own experiences of being stopped for no reason, or being unjustly labeled as suspicious, strikes a personal chord.

“My mind went back to what it was like for me when I was 17, 18, 20,” the President said. “As I told them, not only do I hear the pain and frustration of being subjected to that kind of constant suspicion, part of the reason I got into politics was to figure out how can I bridge some of those gaps and understandings so that the larger country understands this is not just a black problem or a brown problem, this is an American problem.”

The President also made a point to invoke Attorney General Eric Holder’s race and civil rights record, saying, “He’s got a similar set of stories and experiences he can share.”

reader on black background matisse

The Boston Globe on Obama’s Colbert Report appearance:

Obama kicked off the show sitting in for Colbert to perform a regular feature of the program called ‘‘The Word’’ wherein Colbert’s rants are accompanied by snarky messages to the audience.

So when Obama, as Colbert, declared that there are aspects of ‘‘Obamacare’’ that people from both parties actually like, the text aside to the audience read, ‘‘Everything but the Obama.’’

Later, Colbert observed that the economy had been creating more jobs of late.

‘‘You have employed a lot of people — mostly as secretary of defense,’’ Colbert cracked in a reference to Obama recently nominating his fourth top civilian at the Pentagon.

‘‘That’s boosted our numbers a little bit,’’ Obama replied.

Colbert, whose on-screen persona is that of an insufferable conservative scold, accused Obama of exceeding his authority on immigration. ‘‘When did you decide to burn the Constitution and become emperor?’’ he asked. The question was heard as a joke by many in the audience at George Washington University. But to Obama’s critics, the question had a ring of truth.

Obama dropped the comedy and replied, ‘‘Actually, Steve, everything that we have done is scrupulously within the law and has been done by previous Democratic and Republican presidents.’’

Watch part of the episode at the link.

Matisse the red table

You know how Republicans are constantly claiming that their anti-abortion laws are designed to keep women safe? From Think Progress: Large Study Confirms That Abortion Is Extremely Safe.

After analyzing data from nearly 55,000 women who received abortion care under California’s Medicaid program, researchers at UC San Francisco concluded that hardly any of them had serious complications within six weeks of their procedure. Just 126 cases necessitated follow-up care for surgery, a blood transfusion, or other conditions that require hospital admission.

Other studies, including data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have also confirmed abortion’s safety. We already had some evidence, for instance, that giving birth is about 14 times riskierthan having an abortion. But the new UCSF study goes a bit further than previous research by tracking the complete data on all of the health care used by women who have received abortions. Since many women have to travel long distances to end a pregnancy, the UCSF researchers also examined women’s follow-up care at facilities closer to where they live….

Despite the mounting evidence in this area, the notion that abortion may be dangerous for women is a pervasive assumption that hasbolstered the passage of dozens of state laws tightening restrictions on clinics and doctors. In a press release announcing their findings, the study authors indicated that they hope the new study “will contribute to the national debate over abortion safety.”

“Abortion is very safe as currently performed, which calls into question the need for additional regulations that purportedly aim to improve safety,” said Ushma Upadhyay, an assistant professor at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), a leading research program based at UCSF.

Of course scientific studies won’t move right wing extremists, who do not believe in science in the first place.

The moorish floor

Yesterday I was relieved to see many women writers pushing back against the UVA rape story backlash and asking readers to remember that “Jackie” is a real person with real emotions, and the kinds of memory failures she may have evidenced are comment in human beings. I’m running out of space, so I’ll just provide some links to some of the articles I found.

From Buzzfeed, Annie Clark writes: There Are Too Many Jackies.

Clark and her friend Andrea Pino were students at UC Chapel Hill when they were sexually assaulted. Together they filed a complaint with the Department of Education under Title IX. Their work is what triggered the Obama administration to take a stronger position on sexual assaults on college campuses.

Read about it in Vogue, Campus Sexual Assault: Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino Are Fighting Back—And Shaping the National Debate. Clark and Pino started an organization called End Rape on Campus (EROC).

More important articles:

Roxanne Gay, Our Stories.

TPM, UVA Rape Victim’s Roommate Says Her Story Is Not A ‘Hoax’.

Buzzfeed, How Police And Hospitals Shut Down Rape Victims.

Jessica Valenti, Who is Jackie? Rolling Stone’s rape story is about a person – and I believe her.

Amanda Marcotte, UVA controversy allows woman-haters to get really, really ugly.

Maya Dusenbery, On Rolling Stone, lessons from fact-checking, and the limits of journalism.

Caroline Fairchild, Why the media obsession with Rolling Stone’s UVA rape story is all wrong.

Matisse.Woman-with-a-Veil-cr

Finally, some NBA players have begun wearing “I Can’t Breathe T-Shirts.”

From ESPN, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving address reasons for ‘I can’t breathe’ shirts.

NEW YORK — As he stood amid 70 or so media members inside a cramped Cavaliers locker room Monday night, LeBron James explained the significance of the powerful words that stretched across his torso during pregame warmups.

“If it feels important to me then I respond,” said James, who wore a black t-shirt with the words “I CAN’T BREATHE” prior to the start of his team’s game against the Nets at the Barclays Center. “If it doesn’t, I don’t. There are a lot of issues I have not talked about. For me, it is about knowledge and about a gut feeling that hits home for you. You feel it, and go about it.” [….]

…the story of the night was the activism of a number of NBA players. Before the game, the Cavaliers’ James, Kyrie Irving and the Nets’ Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett among others all wore the same black t-shirts. They are the latest professional athletes to make a personal statement on the death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old Staten Island man who was killed on July 17 after he was wrestled to the ground and choked to death by police officers arresting him for selling untaxed cigarettes. Last week a Staten Island grand jury decided not to bring charges in the police-involved death. That decision has prompted protests around the country, as protesters have mobilized around Garner’s last words: “I can’t breathe.” A video recording of the arrest has been viewed by millions.

Unbeknownst to the players, protesters swarmed Atlantic Avenue outside the Barclays Center during the game, holding a “die-in” to protest the Garner ruling. The hashtag #RoyalShutdown was used by activists on Twitter as a rallying point.

That’s all I have. What stories are you following today? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and enjoy your Tuesday.

 

 

 


Wednesday Reads: Bang the drum, slowly.

d615f40c2c872220010ba12ab5f1cc89Good Late Morning

I have this “thing” set up so that I get an email every time Congress votes…for instance…

Yesterday’s Keystone Vote came through like so:

113 Congress – Session 2

On Passage of the Bill

S.2280
A bill to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Vote Date: November 18, 2014 at 12:55PM
Roll Call Number: 280
Required For Majority: 3/5

Vote Result: Bill Defeated

Vote Counts
59 YES
41 NO
0 Abstentions

2d63249a437314c55c144c987624866eDemocratic Party: 14 YES, 39 NO, 0 Abstentions
Republican Party: 45 YES, 0 NO, 0 Abstentions

via NYT Politics http://ift.tt/Hx3Z2z

Now…it is just a little annoying sometimes…what with the same shit over and over.

Take a look at a few bills from the past couple days:

113 Congress – Session 2

On the Cloture Motion

S.2685
A bill to reform the authorities of the Federal Government to require the production of certain business records, conduct electronic surveillance, use pen registers and trap and trace devices, and use other forms of information gathering for foreign intelligence, counterterrorism, and criminal purposes, and for other purposes.

Vote Date: November 18, 2014 at 02:26PM
Roll Call Number: 282
Required For Majority: 3/5

DM2000072109:SAED:APR1956 - Drum Cover  ( Baileys Archives)Vote Result: Cloture Motion Rejected

Vote Counts
58 YES
42 NO
0 Abstentions

Democratic Party: 52 YES, 1 NO, 0 Abstentions
Republican Party: 4 YES, 41 NO, 0 Abstentions

via NYT Politics http://ift.tt/Hx3Z2z

 

Let me know if you see a trend.

113 Congress – Session 2

On Agreeing to the Amendment

H R 1422
Stewart of Utah Part A Amendment No. 1

DM2000080701:SAED:JAN1952 - Drum CoverVote Date: November 18, 2014 at 12:33PM
Roll Call Number: 523
Required For Majority: YEA-AND-NAY

Vote Result: Agreed to

Vote Counts
232 YES
184 NO
18 Abstentions

Democratic Party: 9 YES, 184 NO, 8 Abstentions
Republican Party: 223 YES, 0 NO, 11 Abstentions

via NYT Politics http://ift.tt/Hx3Z2z

2d654bf4406773286596c8342cf10a9bA couple more…why not?

113 Congress – Session 2

On Motion to Recommit with Instructions

H R 1422
EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act

Vote Date: November 18, 2014 at 12:52PM
Roll Call Number: 524
Required For Majority: RECORDED VOTE

Vote Result: Failed

Vote Counts
195 YES
225 NO
14 Abstentions

Democratic Party: 194 YES, 1 NO, 6 Abstentions
Republican Party: 1 YES, 224 NO, 9 Abstentions

via NYT Politics http://ift.tt/Hx3Z2z

113 Congress – Session 2

On Agreeing to the Resolution

b80902d0fb68076e6590bba5eb63f1afH RES 756
Providing for consideration of the bill (H.R. 1422) EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act; providing for consideration of the bill (H.R. 4012) Secret Science Reform Act; and providing for consideration of the bill (H.R. 4795) Promoting New Manufacturing Act

Vote Date: November 18, 2014 at 08:30AM
Roll Call Number: 522
Required For Majority: RECORDED VOTE

Vote Result: Passed

Vote Counts
227 YES
192 NO
15 Abstentions

Democratic Party: 0 YES, 192 NO, 9 Abstentions
Republican Party: 227 YES, 0 NO, 7 Abstentions

 

266ae38a2c7c71a48f17d62d9ccba459 The beat goes on…

113 Congress – Session 2

On the Nomination

PN1515
Leslie Joyce Abrams, of Georgia, to be United States District Judge for the Middle District of Georgia

Vote Date: November 18, 2014 at 01:28PM
Roll Call Number: 281
Required For Majority: 1/2

Vote Result: Nomination Confirmed

Vote Counts
100 YES
0 NO
0 Abstentions

Democratic Party: 53 YES, 0 NO, 0 Abstentions
Republican Party: 45 YES, 0 NO, 0 Abstentions

via NYT Politics http://ift.tt/Hx3Z2z

0981187fbe709bdf799529ed4e2e5979Holy shit, how did she get through there?

But it isn’t all total opposite when it comes to party breakdown in the voting results.

113 Congress – Session 2

On Motion to Suspend the Rules and Pass

H R 5162
An Act to allow a certain parcel of land in Rockingham County, Virginia, to be used for a child care center

Vote Date: November 17, 2014 at 01:54PM
Roll Call Number: 520
Required For Majority: 2/3 YEA-AND-NAY

Vote Result: Passed

Vote Counts
378 YES
1 NO
55 Abstentions

Democratic Party: 171 YES, 0 NO, 30 Abstentions
Republican Party: 207 YES, 1 NO, 26 Abstentions

via NYT Politics http://ift.tt/Hx3Z2z

1309b4e6df0c0b3b2bc0e452cc126e4aYou know, I don’t really care anymore. When it comes to the next two years…all these emails just tick off a familiar beat. Like a tribal drum banging away, spreading word of the doom ahead.

Mitch McConnell: I’m Not a Scientist—Except on Keystone XL Pipeline | New Republic

Mitch McConnell Is Not A Scientist, Except When He Is | Wonkette

McConnell’s looming apocalypse: GOP conservatives plan budget showdown – Salon.com

But the real article that got me going on all this shit was the headline on this one:

DM2001071603:SAED:COVER:JUN1951- Childen. (© BAHA)Republicans: Keystone pipeline down, but not out | Boston Herald

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is promising the new Republican majority will quickly resurrect Keystone XL pipeline legislation killed by Democrats, potentially setting up an early 2015 veto confrontation with President Barack Obama.

“I look forward to the new Republican majority taking up and passing the Keystone jobs bill early in the new year,” the Kentucky Republican said Tuesday, shortly after the bill fell one vote short of the 60 votes needed to advance. He was joined by incoming Senate Energy Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who said the fight wasn’t over.

46ab8a3cc89a6bd989f09e06a3cadb17Keystone “jobs” bill?

Give me a fucking break…

Republicans are likely to have enough votes to assure the bill’s passage in January, when they will have at least 53 seats — 54 if Cassidy wins the Louisiana runoff.

“If you look at new Congress, you can count four more (GOP seats) right away, and there may be others,” Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, the lead sponsor of the bill, said after the 59-41 vote Tuesday. “You can see we’re well over 60.”

Hoeven acknowledged that Republicans would need 67 votes to override a veto, but said one possibility is to include Keystone in a larger energy package that may not prompt a veto threat.

85ac030586abe19ad48cf7f5f8e6cae5The vote was one of the last acts of this Senate controlled by the Democrats. It is expected to complete its work by mid-December.

Cassidy, Landrieu’s Republican opponent, said Louisiana families “need better jobs, better wages and better benefits,” and the pipeline would provide them.

Democratic divisions were on vivid display in a bill that pitted environmentalists against energy advocates.

While Obama opposes the measure, likely 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton has repeatedly refused to take a position. Most recently, her spokesman did not respond to two requests over the weekend to do so.

Ho hum…

At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said the measure is something “the president doesn’t support because the president believes that this is something that should be determined through the State Department and the regular process that is in place to evaluate projects like this.”

Ugh…You know, if he was still in the senate, I bet Obama would be the only abstention.

e7b7afacd23f608835ca7561648e8fdfThe rest of today’s links in dump format…since this post is so damn late. (And my internet is so damn slow.)

The Grinch Who Taxed the Internet | Commentary : Roll Call Opinion

Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., seems poised to take one last shot at changing how online purchases are taxed. Reid has signaled he’ll bring the unpopular Marketplace Fairness Act up for a vote by tacking it onto the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which is headed for certain renewal.

Passed in 1998 with bipartisan support, the ITFA bars states from taxing access to the Internet and imposing discriminatory Internet-only taxes. The legislation will expire on December 11 and pressure from the tech sector is on for its renewal. While the ITFA has proven enormously popular and indisputably successful, it has little to do with online sales taxes.

326fb5c8e368594019f91a51982eb5a5The 7 Numbers You Need to Make Sense of the 2014 Midterms – NationalJournal.com

Men and women’s politics were further apart in 2014 than they’ve been in any U.S. election in two decades.

That’s one of many hard truths laid bare by the midterms, which generated a huge collection of data—from election returns to exit polls to financial disclosures—to help us make sense of two things: what exactly happened in the November elections and what it means going forward.

The top lines are obvious: Republicans took the Senate, padded their lead in the House, and grabbed contested wins in gubernatorial races. But here are seven numbers that illustrate what was going on beneath the surface.

0fa6447567f97d0c8c0f35fef9f10805Beyond the Stereotyped South – NYTimes.com

Sometimes the hardest place to photograph is in your own backyard: When everything is familiar, it’s a challenge to make things look interesting. Yet, Tamara Reynolds has done just that in “Southern Route,” looking hard at the American South, which she calls home, and offering a searing, honest portrayal of the country’s most stereotyped region.

She knows that for some, the South evokes images of poverty and obesity, memories of racism and slavery, or words like “hillbilly” and “redneck.” The area that divided the country 150 years ago is stuck between pride and progress. Ms. Reynolds looks beyond these generalities to capture the genuine spirit of Southerners.

Although there is evidence of stereotypes, she said in her artist statement, “I have also learned that there is a restrained dignity and a generous affection that Southerners possess intrinsically.”

513a055353ac85270ff8bc12d970c6c2Take a look at those pictures at the link.

Can they do something about all these women coming forward about Bill Cosby raping them? Bill Cosby: Netflix postpones comedy special following Janice Dickinson’s claims star ‘raped me too’ – News – TV & Radio – The Independent

Another woman comes forward to accuse Cosby of rape | theGrio

The Grio story is terribly graphic.

Meanwhile, in news around the world:

03e64b3b9dafe343db093b50c324c339allAfrica.com: Gambia Must Stop Wave of Homophobic Arrests and Torture

The arrest, detention and torture of eight people since the beginning of the month as part of a crackdown on “homosexuality” by the Gambian authorities reveals the shocking scale of state-sponsored homophobia, Amnesty International said.

“These arrests took place amid an intensifying climate of fear for those perceived to have a different sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“This unacceptable crackdown reveals the scale of state-sponsored homophobia in Gambia. Intimidation, harassment, and any arrest based solely on sexual orientation or gender identity is in clear violation of international and regional human rights law. The Gambian authorities must immediately stop this homophobic assault”.

Amnesty International considers people who are arrested and detained solely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity to be prisoners of conscience. They should be released immediately and unconditionally.

74234567ed311d0961ecd9849952de73More at the link.

Japan’s 311 mph super maglev train takes passengers for run

Japan’s magnetically levitating maglev train, faster than Japan’s bullet train, is doing test runs with passengers, members of the public, in central Japan. The world’s fastest maglev train, the 311 mph (500 km/h) Series L0 (pronounced “L zero”) prototype, made its first public run.

The trains will enter service between Tokyo and Nagoya in 2027, barring any setbacks, said Gizmodo. One hundred passengers traveled a 27-mile route between the cities of Uenohara and Fuefuki on the Shinkansen train earlier this month, reaching speeds of up to 311 miles per hour. The train’s use of maglev technology reduces friction. The Central Japan Railway Company is running eight days of testing for the experimental maglev. The Daily Mail said selection of those lucky enough to experience the trial runs will be by lottery. A total of 2,400 people will take the high-speed ride over eight days. Almost 300,000 people had applied for the passes, said the Daily Mail. As the video of a recent trial run indicated, guests saw the stats on monitoring screens and snapped away with their cameras.

When completed in 2027,said Katie Amey in the Daily Mail, “their exceptional speed capacity will cut the travel time by half, linking Tokyo’s Shinagawa Station with Nagoya in about 40 minutes, a journey which currently takes approximately 80 minutes.” The are expected to eventually consist of 16 carriages and carry up to 1,000 passengers at a time, she said.

2ce38884f4d88b3076350cdec7c2a133Geez…no thank you.

Italian police record a mafia oath ceremony for the first time – Europe – World – The Independent

Italian police have released video of recruits for the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate taking a loyalty oath – the first time such a ritual has been recorded, authorities claimed.

The footage was filmed secretly near a farmhouse in northern Italy, although the Carabinieri paramilitary police in Milan did not reveal how they were able to capture the ceremony without being discovered by the syndicate.

Police said the video shows a meeting of suspected mobsters in Castello di Brianza in northern Italy and that one of the recruits was just 17 years old.

The video also shows members taking a loyalty oath where they have to swear “under the splendor of the moon” and are reminded that traitors are expected to kill themselves and thus must keep an extra bullet on them at all times.

As four men huddle, one man repeats the loyalty oath: ”Right in this holy evening, in the silence of the night, under the light of the stars and under the splendour of the moon, I create the holy chain…the holy society.”

But did they get to record the secret handshake? /snark.

And finally…the photos for this post come from the African magazine, Drum.

Apartheid Exposed in Drum Magazine – Slide Show – NYTimes.com

Miriam Makeba posing for Drum Magazine

Miriam Makeba posing for Drum Magazine

Apartheid was an inescapable fact of daily life in 1950s South Africa. But when the staff of Drum magazine got to the Johannesburg offices, the feeling was of having ‘‘walked into a different world, a world outside South Africa,’’ says Jürgen Schadeberg, the art director there in the 1950s. Inspired by the American magazines Life and Look, Drum’s documentary portrayals of black urban life, arts, politics and culture were revolutionary. Some of those images will be part of a major exhibition that opens at the International Center of Photography this month called ‘‘Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life.’’ ‘‘It was dangerous and difficult work,’’ Schadeberg says, recalling how the secret police kept the magazine under surveillance. ‘‘What we tried to show was how unjust apartheid was.’’

405babfdb2772a28da080fc28671ae13

  • YEAR DRUM WAS FIRST PUBLISHED: 1951
  • PEAK CIRCULATION IN SOUTH AFRICA: 100,000
  • COUNTRIES IT HAS BEEN DISTRIBUTED IN OUTSIDE SOUTH AFRICA: NIGERIA, GHANA, TANZANIA, KENYA, UGANDA AND RHODESIA (NOW ZIMBABWE AND ZAMBIA

 

Well, that’s all folks!

 


Sunday Reads: Blackout, Bomb Cyclone and Arctic Blast

5182571535f63fd9c45ce4d920207a6dGood Morning

There is a huge storm in the Bering Sea, this thing has had made itself over more than Madonna…Seriously!

The storm started out as a tropical cyclone, a typhoon named Nuri.

From there it transformed and became a northern bomb cyclone when it made its way into the cold Bering Sea…and this week, it is going to drag it’s big ass down across the Country…evolving into one hell of an arctic blast.

So y’all get ready, we are going to be in for some more images like the ones you see accompanying this post today.

(Most are from the polar vortex of last winter, but they were found on Pinterest.)

 

Polar Vortex winds...

Polar Vortex winds…

 

Yeah, this storm is kicking some ass up Alaska way. Amazing Images of Storm Heading to Alaska – ABC News

 

PHOTO: The storm temperature structure within the eye wall structure region of Typhoon Nuri is seen in this image.

The storm, remnants of Nuri, which was previously categorized as a typhoon, is currently packing hurricane-force winds that reached 180 miles per hour at its peak while barreling through the Bering Sea, and parts of the islands have already sustained winds of 40 miles per hour.

The storm is expected to be far stronger than Hurricane Sandy, which devastated parts of the Northeast in 2012.

 

Day 310: I'm just a little fascinated by the #storm system that's moving into the Bering Sea. #weather #windmap #akwx #alaska #365 #photoaday

A photo posted by Kerynn Fisher (@kerynn) on

 

This is no ordinary storm…Alaska storm becomes strongest in Bering Sea history

 

A massive storm in the Bering Sea, off the western Alaska coast and to the east of Russia, strengthened enough to be considered the strongest storm that the turbulent region has ever seen. It may not be an official record, however, as the minimum central pressure of 924 millibars (mb) was estimated by meteorologists, since the storm is over the open ocean off the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Thermalir

The previous record-lowest sea level pressure in a Bering Sea storm was 925 mb, set in October 1977 in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. This storm also likely sets a record for the strongest storm observed in the North Pacific Ocean, although the relatively sparse data for that region makes it possible that there were some stronger systems that were missed by ships or surface observing stations.

In general, the lower the pressure, the stronger the storm.

Since 5:57am ET *update* Fortunately Weather service: No damage reported in Bering Sea storm | Alaska Dispatch

 

 

f4423608dd480db03f9e37546b11dcd4And it is going to cause problems all over the US: Arctic storm: How bomb cyclone will morph into polar bomb (+video) – CSMonitor.com

The tatters of Super Typhoon Nuri battered the Bering Sea and its Aleutian Islands Saturday with historic winds and rains, as the rest of the US braced for the moment when the so-called bomb cyclone transmogrifies into something more like a polar bomb.

Snow could start falling in Montana and the Great Lakes as early as Wednesday, and New York could easily face temperatures 15 degrees below normal by next weekend as Nuri, now downgraded to a mid-latitude storm, forces a heavy wedge of Arctic air deep into the middle of the country and then across the South and East next week.

c8335c947083d17b74d9c30e2c34ccaf“This strong low pressure system will cause the jet stream to buckle, creating a ridge in the western United States and solidifying a deep trough in the Eastern US,” writes McCall Vrydaghs, a meteorologist for WHIO TV in Dayton, Ohio, predicting highs rising only into the low 30s for many parts of the country. “Keep in mind, if this same weather pattern were to set-up during the heart of winter, we would be looking at temperatures far lower.”

I think you will find this interesting…

ee5d0f968ba091dadc2f37517013817bThe Farmer’s Almanac has called for an early and cold winter for large parts of the country, but research into another early and thick Siberian snowpack suggests that the winter may hang on, as well, deep into next year.

“There’s a theory that the amount of snow covering Eurasia in October is an indication of how much icy air will sweep down from the Arctic in December and January, pouring over parts of North America, Europe and East Asia,” writes Bloomberg’s Brian Sullivan. “Last year, the snow level across Eurasia was the fourth highest for the month in records going back to 1967. In January, frigid temperatures dubbed ‘the polar vortex’ slid out of the Arctic to freeze large portions of the U.S.”

The storm that remained from Typhoon Nuri on Friday had a central pressure of 924 millibars, according to the NOAA Ocean Prediction Center, making it the most intense storm ever in the wind-whipped Bering Sea.

8aca9c18f251be31dbcbc96670f32fdaIn 1977, Dutch Harbor, Alaska, recorded the previous low pressure of 925 millibars during another real howler.

A “bomb” as a meteorological term is a drop in a storm’s central pressure of more than 24 millibars in 24 hours. What remains of Nuri is expected to drop as much as 50 millibars in 24 hours – arguably a “double bomb.” It’s that intense low pressure that’s going to buckle the jet stream as ex-Nuri bulldozes across the Bering Sea.

Let’s move on from Cold Arctic Blast to a new Cold War.

Can you believe it has been 25 years since the Fall of the Berlin Wall?

Seems like yesterday doesn’t it?

50 Things Only ’80s Kids Can Understand

40. The excitement in the air the day the Berlin Wall came down.

e3da676f87dc06eddf2e086f761fb2bb

Fuck! I think this deserves higher than number 40….but the fact that it was even included in this list from Buzzfeed (compared to some of the other items, like say #’s 1 and 7.)

Postcard from Berlin. A woman hiding her Deutsch Marks at Checkpoint Charlie on July 11, 1948.

Postcard from Berlin. A woman hiding her Deutsch Marks at Checkpoint Charlie on July 11, 1948.

Just that the Fall of the Berlin Wall is part of my ’80’s kid culture and history makes me so damn proud.It was a time when we could breathe easier…y’all know what I am talking about.

I do think it was something good that came out of the Reagan era. (I have to admit, I did like Gorbachev better than Reagan. But that was because even back when I was 10 years old during the 1980 Presidential campaign,  I knew Reagan would screwed Carter with that shitty display/take credit for the agreement/whatever to release the Iran Hostages.)

But anyway….back to the issue at hand. The Wall!

Remembering the Berlin Wall – Photos – The Big Picture – Boston.com

1961, Conrad Schumann became one of the most famous defectors from East Germany. Schumann was a 19 year old soldier on duty guarding the construction of the Berlin Wall.

1961, Conrad Schumann became one of the most famous defectors from East Germany. Schumann was a 19 year old soldier on duty guarding the construction of the Berlin Wall.

In 1961, East Germany erected a wall — initially barbed wire, eventually concrete — in the middle of Berlin to prevent its citizens from fleeing the communist country to West Germany during the height of the Cold War.

It has been reported that 136 people died while trying to escape, but the total number is unknown.

The wall finally came down at the beginning of November in 1989, part of the reunification of East and West Germany.

Here are images from this past weekend’s recognition of the construction of the wall 50 years ago, as well as historic images.

 

 

There are 30 photos at that link…

More images here:

The Berlin Wall – Don McCullin’s Lost Negatives – LightBox

Most people can still remember scenes from the wild days and nights of November 1989, when after decades of division, jubilant Germans tore down the Berlin Wall. But fewer can recall how the city looked in the weeks when the wall went up. The bleak undertaking began 50 years ago this month, on Aug. 13, 1961.

In the 12 years before the wall was built, some 2.5 million people fled East Germany to the West, most of them through the divided city of Berlin. The concrete-and-barbed-wire barrier, which eventually stretched 27 miles, separated the Soviet-controlled eastern half of the city from the western sectors administered by Britain, France and the U.S. At least 136 people were killed while trying to cross the border illegally.

One of the people who were there during the grim construction was British photojournalist Don McCullin

89abc9831c6c5707d1f49e44476ee95d

“It could almost have been as if I had wandered into Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin. I met up with the correspondent but we didn’t work together. In the evenings we’d meet and I’d tell him what I’d photographed. I went straight down to Friedrichstrasse and started working with my Rolleicord of course, I was sitting on the biggest story in the world. I saw the East Germans drilling the foundations and building the Wall breeze block by breeze block.

The Americans were facing the East Germans across Friedrichstrasse and there was enormous tension. In places, Berlin looked like the war had finished just the day before. It was turning into the Berlin that John Le Carré was to describe. I watched the international photographers pass through. I was in awe of these professionals. I was like a little camera-club person from north London working with the camera my mother had retrieved from a pawnshop. But fate was waving some magic wand, directing me. It was so exciting. I felt I was in the right place at the right time, I had an almost magnetic emotional sense of direction pulling me to extraordinary places.”

These never before published photographs, made from negatives that were lost for decades, are a powerful record of the disbelieving Germans, witnesses to a wound being opened in world affairs that would take almost 30 years to close.

 

More images…The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall – Photo Essays – TIME

 

Now, as you look at these pictures, read this article from 2009…then continue on to the articles about the “new cold war.”

From June 30, 2009:  Almost 20% of eastern Germans wish the Berlin Wall never fell and preferred living under Communism | Daily Mail Online

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, nearly one out of five eastern Germans wish it had never come down and preferred living under a communist regime.

According to a poll by the Institute for Market Research in Leipzig, 17 per cent of people in the ex-Communist east agreed with the statement: ‘It would have been better if the Wall had never fallen.’

‘In hindsight, the GDR with its socialism was a better state,’ the respondents also said, referring to the former communist regime.

East German guards look on as people from both sides begin hammering away at the Berlin Wall in 1989

Celebrations: East German guards look on as people from both sides begin hammering away at the Berlin Wall in 1989. A poll found that one in five eastern Germans wish it had never fallen

In addition, over half of easterners (52 per cent) said they felt like ‘second-class German citizens’ compared to 41 per cent who felt they were treated equally.

Despite this, 72 per cent of people said they were ‘happy to live in the reunified Germany with its social market economy despite all problems there have been rebuilding the east’.

The poll surveyed 1,001 people in the former East Germany as well as in East Berlin.

East German border guards look through a hole in the Berlin Wall after demonstrators pulled down the segment at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

Slice of history: East German border guards look through a hole in the Berlin Wall after demonstrators pulled down the segment at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

a7755d14c25f509000b89d2b03a3caf5On the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall: Gorbachev says world is on brink of new Cold War | Reuters

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned in a speech in Berlin on Saturday that East-West tensions over the Ukraine crisis were threatening to push the world into a new Cold War, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Gorbachev, who is credited with forging a rapprochement with the West that led to the demise of communist regimes across Eastern Europe, accused the West, and the United States in particular, of not fulfilling their promises after 1989.

“The world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some say that it has already begun,” said Gorbachev, who is feted in Germany for his pivotal role in helping create the conditions for the Berlin Wall’s peaceful opening on Nov. 9, 1989, heralding the end of the Cold War.7fadf0ffb943814e4c0f6bd73d36e01b

“And yet, while the situation is dramatic, we do not see the main international body, the U.N. Security Council, playing any role or taking any concrete action.”

Gorbachev warns of new cold war threat as Berlin marks fall of wall | World news | The Guardian

As Berliners watch 8,000 balloons being released into the night sky this evening, old divisions between east and west will symbolically vanish into thin air with them. Yet the runup to the festivities has already served up plenty of reminders that, 25 years after the fall of the wall that divided the city for three decades, the scars of history are hurting more than ever.

0e6b64302a4fc3d47258f093dc8a85b5Speaking at a symposium near the Brandenburg Gate yesterday morning, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev warned that the world was “on the brink of a new cold war” and strongly criticised the west for having sown the seeds of the current crisis by mishandling the fallout from the collapse of the iron curtain.

“Instead of building new mechanisms and institutions of European security and pursuing a major demilitarisation of European politics … the west, and particularly the United States, declared victory in the cold war,” said the man behind the Soviet Union’s glasnost and perestroika reforms.

“Euphoria and triumphalism went to the heads of western leaders. Taking advantage of Russia’s weakening and the lack of a counterweight, they claimed monopoly leadership and domination in the world.”

The enlargement of Nato, Kosovo, missile defence plans and wars in the Middle East had led to a “collapse of trust”, said Gorbachev, now 83. “To put it metaphorically, a blister has now turned into a bloody, festering wound.”

712784f82e99c13c970f13624ea2a06aAnd even though Gorbachev has been outspoken against Putin before…

… Gorbachev backed the current Russian president’s stance over Ukraine, urging western leaders to “consider carefully” Putin’s recent remarks at the Valdai forum : “Despite the harshness of his criticism of the west, and of the United States in particular, I see in his speech a desire to find a way to lower tensions and ultimately to build a new basis for partnership.”

Such strong words of criticism, voiced by the man still affectionately known as “Gorbi” to many in Germany, came at the end of a week which has seen the value of the rouble tumbling dramatically as a result of western sanctions.

“Gorbi” gave an interview to CNN: Gorbachev: World leaders must work together – CNN.com

49bac25a3987cd19d51b8d9170de8d28Speaking to CNN in Berlin, where he is attending anniversary celebrations, Gorbachev called for efforts to rebuild trust between East and West and for leaders to again work together for the common good.

“A lot depends on America, Europe, Russia — they have to work together more productively,” he said.

“We have to reestablish the cooperation and the trust that has been destroyed. We must start by dialogue — we must meet and not just talk past each other.”

Well, another group of people who are refusing to come together…have a dialogue and work something out…are the chief assholes at Dish Network and the folks at Turner.

Check this latest shitfest out…Turner (CNN) /Dish Network dispute heats up | Radio and TV Talk

CNN for decades has been considered a “must carry” network on cable and satellite carriers since the 1980s.

60efe72c856dfb7ed3785d4bf5366b3eTo Dish Network, that isn’t the case anymore. For the past two weeks, its 14 million subscribers (13 percent of CNN’s audience) hasn’t been able to watch the network, including Election night, when CNN usually pulls in big numbers. Seven other Turner networks, including Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and TruTV, are cut off as well because the two sides have not agreed to a deal. (Turner’s more popular TNT and TBS channels are part of a separate deal.)

“When we take something down, we’re prepared to leave it down forever,” Dish Network chairman Charlie Ergen said during an earnings call yesterday using unusually sharp words. “Things like CNN are not quite the product they used to be.”

He then mocked their Malaysian plane coverage; “Twenty years ago, CNN was a must-have channel, but it’s not a top 10 network anymore … unless they find the plane, the Malaysian plane,” Ergen added.

339981dbe72880fcafb35992cd35f623Typically, a cable or satellite provider pays certain fees to air cable networks. There are also issues now related to airing those networks in the digital space.

 

Okay, I will not take any points with the criticisms on CNN, y’all know my beef is with the blackout of TCM. But the thing that gets me is this little nugget of info, emphasis mine:

Turner responded: “We are disappointed in the aggressive nature of comments from the Dish Network, particularly given the fact that Dish agreed to our rates and carriage proposal weeks ago….While there were clearly deal points to get done, they were not the type you would usually go dark over. So it is still unclear to us exactly what this dispute is about.

 

a885529065303f691cdd8d82dc55ca1dExcuse me? WTF? The bastards at Dish agreed to the terms already? But then poof, pffft….something happened and Dish fucks their customers by blacking out channels that those customers are STILL PAYING FOR!

Sorry, I am pissed and I can’t help the yelling.

What’s more: Dish and Turner Get Heated in Earnings Calls | Media – Advertising Age

Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen was vocal about the satellite giant’s on-going carriage dispute with Turner Broadcasting during the company’s earnings call on Tuesday, saying he is prepared to keep the channels off the service permanently and slamming the performance of channels like CNN.

“When we do take something down, as a company, we’re prepared to leave it down forever,” he said.

Ergen…are you threatening me?

Cause that is what that sounds like…you are talking about the only reason I have your shitty ass service to begin with!

95923850acb18418ff5f487bd3576138Turner Broadcasting fires back at Dish Network – LA Times

Dish’s removal of the Turner channels was perplexing, Martin said. Dish had all but agreed several weeks ago on a new deal — including fee increases — to carry the Turner channels, he said.

Martin said his company, during negotiations, had been agreeable to allowing Dish to package Turner channels in an Internet streaming service that Dish plans to launch by year’s end.

Now, however, such an arrangement is in doubt.

While there were some loose ends with the contract, Turner executives were under the impression the unresolved issues were not major sticking points.

“To us, it is unclear exactly what the dispute with Dish is,” Martin said.

30e9c9d824814c109ac029321e90ceb9Other major pay-TV companies had agreed to the same contract terms that Dish walked away from last month, Martin said.

Turner executives were particularly bewildered, Martin said, because Dish executives told them the channels were removed because Turner wouldn’t agree to extend the deadline for negotiations on a second contract.

That contract, which expires at the end of the year, covers the carriage of Turner’s largest channels TNT and TBS.

The dispute is not inconsequential.  Dish has more than 14 million subscribers, making it one of the largest pay-TV providers in the country.

Wall Street analysts expressed concern the two sides may not be able to resolve their dispute.

Time Warner executives sought to calm investors.

“We still expect we’ll reach a deal,” Howard M. Averill, the company’s chief financial officer said. “We don’t expect this [dispute] is going to impact our long-term guidance.”

Investors? Again I ask, what about the CUSTOMERS!

de98712b372be1f29d90b8d64d7ffe21Variety did note however, regarding those responses by Turner Broadcasting: Turner CEO Calls Dish’s Charlie Ergen ‘Antagonistic and Aggressive’ | Variety

Martin’s comments came after parent company Time Warner reported higher than projected third quarter earnings.

Deadline has the full comments made by the Asshole in Charge, Chairman Charlie Ergen here: Dish Network’s Charlie Ergen Calls Loss Of CNN And Turner Nets A “Non-Event” | Deadline

One more insight about this: Dish Chairman Talks Turner Split, Blasts Comcast-Time Warner Merger – TheWrap

Ergen also took aim at the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner, saying that he’s “openly against” the two companies combining.

[…]

Even so, noting that Turner was an early partner with Dish, Ergen added, “I would bend over backwards for Turner, because they helped us get into” the business.

Discussing the proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger, Ergen struck a far less conciliatory tone, saying that the merger would create an unhealthy amount of control in the hands of a single entity.

“You just don’t want one company to have that kind of power over the internet,” Ergen said. “That’s certainly something that would keep us up at night.”

1d7a4c7690f5f261c0b06c0a40dcfe32I don’t know…but perhaps this blackout is all about a temper tantrum over the merger? Fuck you Ergen, you know what should be keeping you up at night? The big screw over you are giving your paying customers!

For those of you who are new to the blog, and came here looking for information about the Dish Network/Turner Classic Movies blackout…you can find more links about the dispute here:

 

DISH Threatens to Blackout TCM + Turner Networks “Forever” | cinematically insane

Ergen’s “one channel is interchangeable with another” worldview was demonstrated within hours of the blackout when DISH began swapping out Turner networks for replacements with similar programming. TCM with replaced with FXM, formerly the Fox Movie Channel, an advertiser-supported network that programs recent film releases during half its programing day. Not long after I wrote an article condemning DISH for this bait-and-switch, the satcaster began simulcasting MGM HD in TCM’s stead. MGM, which also carries ads, may be a more appropriate substitute than FXM, but it still pales in comparison to TCM’s 24 hours per-day of commercial-free classics.

slide_331920_3300262_freeOh yeah, you got that right Willie!

With an average subscriber fee of $1.33 (second only to ESPN), the loss of TNT alone from 14.1 million homes would have a impact on Turner’s bottom line, both in affiliate fees and ad revenue. When you add TBS and the other Turner networks, the stakes increase. To put the current dispute in perspective, all eight of the currently blacked-out channels on DISH (excluding TNT and TBS) cost subscribers on average $1.57 per month combined, which equates to only pennies per month, per subscriber for TCM. Think about that the next time you pay a gigantic cable bill strictly because you want to keep watching TCM.

Lost in the gamesmanship and focus on the bottom line is the importance TCM plays in the lives of many of its viewers – this one included. Ergen may dismiss it as “easy to take down” and replaceable with other channels, but reader feedback I’ve received tells a very different story.

a98847_BdY-KIGIUAAG8-KGo and check out Will McKinley’s blog to read the comments. Y’all know what my state of depression has gotten down too…without TCM I am lost.

Update: Dish CEO’s “Antagonistic” Comments Damage Negotiations with Turner | cinematically insane

 

And for other links on this story…hitting MSM:

Time Warner Executives Say It Is “Unclear” What Dish Dispute Is About-Hollywood Reporter

a98847_BdUo7XXCMAAOTkA2CNN Parent Company Not Pleased With Dish’s Veiled Threats To Permanently Pull Channels – Consumerist

Time Warner Strikes Back at Dish as Channels Stay Dark – Bloomberg

Dish Pulls CNN, Doesn’t Think Customers Still Paying For It Are Missing Much | Techdirt

But hey…if you think your other channels are safe, think again…Cause according to this: Dish far apart on contract as deadline nears-source | Reuters CBS is next on the chopping block.

CBS Corp and Dish Network Corp are far apart on talks for a new distribution deal, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations, setting up the possibility that the satellite provider’s subscribers could lose access to the most-watched U.S. TV network next month.

a98847_tHOo4gOThe current agreement, signed on January 5, 2012, is set to expire in late November, according to the person. The two sides continue to talk.

CBS and Dish are at odds over the monthly price per subscriber the satellite operator, which has 14 million subscribers, would pay to carry CBS.

According to media consultant SNL Kagan, CBS’s TV stations were averaging 54 cents per subscriber from TV distributors when the Dish deal was signed in 2012. CBS currently averages 89 cents but recent deals have been richer, according to SNL senior research analyst Justin Nielson.

The standoff comes as cable, satellite and telecom video distributors increasingly are playing hard ball with program providers, resisting demands for steep price increases at a time when viewers are being drawn to Netflix and other forms of entertainment.

It is enough to make me want to put up a wall around the TCM headquarters/archives and set up a little commune for all of the Dish’s TCM refugees….

We could turn it into our own little classic movie city…

Who is ready to join me?

Y’all keep up with the weather conditions in your area this coming week!

 


Lazy Saturday Reads: A Little Bit of This and That

l-arlesienne-portrait-of-madame-ginoux-1888-1

Good Morning!!

I have a mixed bag of reads for you this morning–a little bit of politics, education, historical mystery, and science. The paintings and drawings included in this post are by Vincent van Gogh.

Last night President Obama announced that he’s sending 1,500 more troops into Iraq, supposedly  to serve as “advisers” who will train troops to fight the Islamic State. The Independent reports:

Barack Obama has authorised the US military to send up to 1,500 more troops to Iraq on top of the current total of around 1,400 to bolster efforts to combat Isis.

American soldiers would not take a frontline role, the White House said, but conduct “training missions” with Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers around Baghdad and Erbil.

The move comes less than a fortnight after the last British and American troops left Afghanistan and despite international condemnation of Isis’ atrocities, the public are still wary of another interventionist war.

The announcement had nothing to do with Tuesday’s election, according to “White House officials.” From the New York Daily News:

“It was really not driven at all the political calendar,” a senior White House official told reporters.

The official said that the decision to escalate the U.S. mission followed requests “over the last several weeks” by Pentagon officials, and political developments in Iraq.

Administration officials said the new deployment will expand the U.S. mission by placing American military advisors and trainers in western and northern of Iraq, where Iraqi and Kurdish forces are directly fighting ISIS extremists.

Until now, U.S. troops have been mostly confined to Baghdad and the Kurdish city of Erbil.

The White House emphasized that American soldiers will not directly engage ISIS fighters.

And so, the endless war continues.

Old-Man-Reading

Today President Obama will officially announce his nomination of US Attorney Loretta Lynch to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General. From NPR:

Lynch, whom the White House describes as “a strong, independent prosecutor who has twice led one of the most important U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the country,” will be introduced at the White House Saturday, alongside current Attorney General Eric Holder.

The plan comes after NPR’s Carrie Johnson reported Thursday that Lynch, a lead federal prosecutor in New York City, could be nominated within days.

“Lynch, a graduate of Harvard Law School, worked her way up the ladder in Brooklyn,” Carrie said, “a huge office that handles everything from old-school Mafia busts to new forms of cybercrime.”

And from the LA Times, Attorney general pick Loretta Lynch would be first black woman in post.

President Obama will nominate Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, to replace Eric H. Holder Jr. as attorney general, the White House said Friday, a historic choice that would make her the first black woman to hold the post….

Obama will make the official announcement Saturday with Lynch and Holder at the White House before he leaves Sunday on a weeklong trip to Asia. The White House had originally planned to wait until Obama returned to Washington, but apparently changed its plans after numerous news organizations reported she was the likely pick.

The choice of Lynch reflects a typical middle-of-the-road path for Obama; she is a nominee who might be confirmed without great controversy if no fault is found in her resume. Liberals had pushed for Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, but he is unpopular with Republicans. Many in the legal community had hoped for scholarly Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli Jr.

Let’s hope she gets confirmed quickly, while Democrats still hold the majority in the Senate. A little more about her:

Lynch is the rare U.S. attorney who has not sought the limelight in what is normally a high-profile job with political potential. She rarely gives news conferences or interviews and recently ducked a gathering with Justice Department reporters in Washington. Her reputation in liberal legal circles is as someone who is not politically sophisticated.

A relative unknown outside her district, she came to prominence in New York in the late 1990s as the supervisor of the team that successfully prosecuted two police officers for the sexual assault with a broomstick of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. Three other officers were acquitted.

More recently, she has spent time in Washington as chairwoman of the attorney general’s advisory committee of U.S. attorneys, an The Novel Reader Van Goghinfluential job that brought her in close contact with Holder.

Diane Ravitch has an interesting piece at The New York Review of Books, The Myth of Chinese Super Schools. It’s a review of a new book, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World, by Yong Zhao.

On December 3, 2013, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced yet again that American students were doing terribly when tested, in comparison to students in sixty-one other countries and a few cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. Duncan presided over the release of the latest international assessment of student performance in reading, science, and mathematics (called the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA), and Shanghai led the nations of the world in all three categories.

Duncan and other policymakers professed shock and anguish at the results, according to which American students were average at best, nowhere near the top. Duncan said that Americans had to face the brutal fact that the performance of our students was “mediocre” and that our schools were trapped in “educational stagnation.”

He had used virtually the same rhetoric in 2010, when the previous PISA results were released. Despite the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which mandated that every child in every school in grades 3–8 would be proficient in math and reading by 2014, and despite the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, the scores of American fifteen-year-old students on these international tests were nearly unchanged since 2000. Both NCLB and Race to the Top assumed that a steady diet of testing and accountability, of carrots for high scores and sticks for low scores, would provide an incentive for students and teachers to try harder and get higher test scores. But clearly, this strategy was not working. In his public remarks, however, Duncan could not admit that carrots and sticks don’t produce better education or even higher test scores. Instead, he blamed teachers and parents for failing to have high expectations.

Duncan, President Obama, and legislators looked longingly at Shanghai’s stellar results and wondered why American students could not surpass them. Why can’t we be like the Chinese?, they wondered. Why should we be number twenty-nine in the world in mathematics when Shanghai is number one? Why are our scores below those of Estonia, Poland, Ireland, and so many other nations? Duncan was sure that the scores on international tests were proof that we were falling behind the rest of the world and that they predicted economic disaster for the United States. What Duncan could not admit was that, after a dozen years, the Bush–Obama strategy of testing and punishing teachers and schools had failed.

still-life-french-novels

Like many other failed policies, the obsession with testing began under Ronald Reagan.

P0licymakers and legislators are convinced that the best way to raise test scores is to administer more standardized tests and to make them harder to pass. This love affair with testing had its origins in 1983, when a national commission on education released a report called “A Nation at Risk.”

President Ronald Reagan had hoped his commission would recommend vouchers and school prayers, but that did not happen. Instead, the report recommended a stronger curriculum, higher graduation requirements, more teacher pay, and longer school hours, as well as standards and testing at transitional points, like high school graduation. The main effect of the report was caused by its alarmist rhetoric, which launched a three-decade-plus obsession with the idea that American public schools are failing and that the way to fix them is to raise test scores.

And succeeding presidents have continued the “testing mania.” Ravich writes:

At this juncture comes the book that Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, members of Congress, and the nation’s governors and legislators need to read: Yong Zhao’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World. Zhao, born and educated in China, now holds a presidential chair and a professorship at the University of Oregon. He tells us that China has the best education system because it can produce the highest test scores. But, he says, it has the worst education system in the world because those test scores are purchased by sacrificing creativity, divergent thinking, originality, and individualism. The imposition of standardized tests by central authorities, he argues, is a victory for authoritarianism. His book is a timely warning that we should not seek to emulate Shanghai, whose scores reflect a Confucian tradition of rote learning that is thousands of years old. Indeed, the highest-scoring nations on the PISA examinations of fifteen-year-olds are all Asian nations or cities: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Singapore, Korea, Macao (China), and Japan.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Will the book make a difference to U.S. political leaders? Probably not, but Ravich’s long review is well worth reading.

Vanity Fair has a fascinating article by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, authors of a 2011 Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography of Vincent van Gogh. In an appendix to the book, Naifeh and Smith included a summary of their research on the death of the famous painter. After years of study in the van Gogh archives, the authors suspected that the artist did not commit suicide, as is commonly believed, but was very likely killed accidentally by a teenage bully named René Secrétan.

Man reading van gogh

In 1890, René Secrétan was the 16-year-old son of a Paris pharmacist whose family summered in Auvers. In Paris, René’s lycée education admitted him to bourgeois society. In Auvers, it gave him license to bully. He said he modeled his behavior on his hero, Wild Bill Cody, whose Wild West Show René had seen in Paris the year before. He bought a souvenir costume (fringed buckskin, cowboy hat, chaps) and accessorized it with an old, small-caliber pistol that looked menacing but often misfired.

He found an easy target in the strange Dutchman named Vincent. By the time René arrived for the summer, Van Gogh was already the object of rumor and ridicule. He trudged through town with his mangled ear and awkward load, setting himself up to paint anywhere he pleased. He drank. He argued fiercely in an unintelligible tumble of Dutch and French.

Unlike René, whose father was a powerful figure in the summer community, Vincent had no friends. Using his brother Gaston, an aesthete, as his front man, René artfully slipped into the vacuum. He cozied up to the lonely painter at his café conversations with Gaston about art. He paid for another round of drinks. Afterward, René would mock the strange Dutchman to amuse his merry band of mischief-minded summer boys.

René let Vincent eavesdrop on him and his friends when they imported “dancing girls” from Paris. He shared his pornography collection. He even posed for some paintings and a drawing. Meanwhile, he conspired with his followers to play elaborate pranks on the friendless tramp they called Toto. They put hot pepper on his brushes (which he often sucked when deep in thought), salted his tea, and sneaked a snake into his paint box.

There it was, all in the files: the details mostly in a late-life narrative from the cowboy himself, René. But every detail checked out with the other eyewitness accounts from Auvers. And it didn’t say anything new, really. Vincent had faced similar bullying and ridicule in every place he ever painted.

And there was this: a long-neglected account by a woman from a distinguished Auvers family who had broken with the community omertà to say that Van Gogh was far from the wheat field at the time the fatal shot was fired. He was, according to her, on the road that led to the Secrétan family villa.

Of course the “experts” (Naifeh and Smith call them the “Flame Keepers”) came out of the woodwork to denounce the new theory. In response Naifeh and Smith asked a well known forensic expert, Dr. Vincent Di Maio, who testified at the trial of George Zimmerman, to analyze the evidence. Read the article to find out what conclusions he drew.

Finally a couple of science stories:

man-standing-reading-a-book-1882

From Discovery News, 9,300-Year-Old Bison Mummy Found in Siberia.

The still-furry beast is one of the most complete frozen mummies ever found. It literally freezes in time the appearance and anatomy of a steppe bison (Bison priscus), whose species went extinct shortly after the end of the Ice Age.

It’s been named the “Yukagir bison mummy,” after the region where it was found.

“The exceptionally good preservation of the Yukagir bison mummy allows direct anatomical comparisons with modern species of bison and cattle, as well as with extinct species of bison that were gone at the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary,” co-author Evgeny Maschenko from the Paleontological Institute in Moscow was quoted as saying in a press release.

The remarkable specimen still has its complete brain, heart, blood vessels and digestive system. Some of its organs have significantly shrunk over time, but that’s to be expected given its advanced age.

The researchers, led by Natalia Serduk of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, conducted a necropsy on the remains. The investigation determined that the bison showed a relatively normal anatomy. A clue to its demise, however, is a lack of fat around its abdomen. This suggests that the bison died from starvation, but the scientists aren’t sure of that yet.

Compared to today’s bison in America, the Ice Age bison sported much larger horns and a second back hump. Steppe bison like this now-frozen one were commonly featured in Stone Age cave art, often shown being hunted by humans.

The Daily Mail article has a number of photos of the specimen and the researchers.

And from The Atlantic, a brief article on The Resurrection of the Dodo.

Alas, the poor dodo. All that remains of this extinct flightless bird’s legacy are a single complete skeleton and a synonym for “dimwit.”

But from those bones, researchers may now be able to recreate the 3-feet tall bird. Using a 3-D laser, paleontologists from the College of Holy Cross in Massachusetts made the first ever full 3-D dodo scans. The team presented the scans for the first time Thursday at theSociety for Vertebrate Archaeology’s annual conference in Berlin.

The scans showed that dodos had kneecaps, which were previously unknown structures within the dodo, Live Science reported. Leon Claessens, lead author on the scanning mission, told Live Science that information gleaned from the scans will help provide insight into how the bird moved. The team will also look at the bird’s large jaw in order to better understand how it worked and what type of prey it caught.

So . . . what else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great Veteran’s Day weekend!