Sunday Reads: Apollo 13 and Midget Mansion

a2828e0d67a998272aebc61c0f4adb0eGood Morning

It is another year…for me at least…44 of them! I don’t have any plans today, except sit and worry about my Bebe who is off in Chicago. She has a performance today and then the competition tomorrow afternoon before she heads back to Banjoville.

A long ass bus ride back to Banjoville.

l-p15tgzo47f97a6Anyway, before I get to the links just a quick note about the pictures for today’s post. They are all centered around the Apollo 13 mission that took off exactly 44 years ago today.  Links to photo galleries at the end of this thread.

On to the newsy stories.

The latest on that horrific bus crash in California is confusing. Bus crash: Witness says FedEx truck lost control while changing lanes

A witness to Thursday’s deadly tour bus crash said the driver of the FedEx truck appeared to lose control while changing lanes before barreling across the center median of Interstate 5 and colliding head-on with a tour bus filled with high school students.

af13b91b9fd5110c11240fb43c7441d2Ryan Householder told The Times on Saturday that he was mowing his lawn, which faces the southbound lanes of the highway, when he heard screeching tires Thursday. He looked up and watched the crash occur. The drivers of both vehicles were killed as were eight people on board the tour bus.

[...]

Householder, 31, said the FedEx truck, hauling two trailers, was in the slower of two southbound lanes behind a red van, he said. The truck tried to merge into the faster lane, he said, but there were two cars there.

At that point, the truck driver seemed to lose control of his vehicle, Householder said. The truck shot across the grassy median, shearing the tops off bushes that separate the northbound and southbound lanes.

The truck began straightening out, Householder said, but by that time it was already on the northbound lane and it collided with the bus carrying high school students on their way to Humboldt State University.

“When they collided, it was boom!” he said. Both vehicles erupted into fire.

The truck, Householder said, was not on fire before the crash.

c98ce7e19c8423a1c74ae9378b5ad4c8However this is differs from another eyewitness earlier story: ORLAND, Calif: Conflicting accounts emerge about deadly California bus crash |

Bonnie and Joe Duran told TV reporters in Northern California late Friday that their Nissan Altima was sideswiped by the truck before it collided head-on with the bus. They said flames were visible from the big rig as it crossed the median and hit their car.

“It was on fire already,” Bonnie Duran said.

Investigators have not publicly responded to the Durans’ account.

Cameron Birk, the couple’s son-in-law, told The Times Saturday that he has talked to Joe Duran several times since the accident. He said Duran told him the couple were driving northbound on the interstate in the left lane, with Bonnie at the wheel, when they first saw the FedEx truck. Bonnie jerked the wheel to the right to avoid a head-on collision.

“The truck was already on fire when it had crossed the median,” Birk recalled Joe Duran telling him. “They were the first car it hit, so they just jerked the wheel hard and got side-wiped.” They spun out and got thrown into a ditch, Birk said.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/04/12/224252/conflicting-accounts-emerge-about.html#storylink=cpy

World news is buzzing:

5d06c9b5640305ad7f39b74f40457615Thousands in Paris and Rome protest austerity measures | Al Jazeera America

Tens of thousands of people took part in protests in central Paris and Rome, organized by hard-left parties opposed to government economic reform plans and austerity measures.

Police in Rome armed with batons charged members of a large splinter group — many wearing masks and helmets — and also used tear gas to push back the crowd, with protesters fighting back with rocks and firecrackers. One man lost a hand when a firecracker exploded before he could throw it.

There were dozens of lighter injuries among police and protesters, and at least six arrests, police said.

The protest was organized as a challenge to high housing costs and joblessness as a result of Italy’s long economic slowdown. The procession made its way peacefully through central Rome until the more violent element wearing helmets started throwing objects at police near the Labor Ministry.

220c50b4a7a1db8872ce833884cb0318And in a West Virginia water chemical crap spill of epic proportions: China: Water ban for millions after oil spill hits refinery town | Al Jazeera America

A crude oil leak from a pipeline owned by a unit of China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) is to blame for water contamination that has affected more than 2.4 million people in the Chinese city of Lanzhou, in the the landlocked northwest part of the country, according to Chinese media reports Saturday.

The leak poisoned the water source for a water plant, introducing hazardous levels of benzene into the city’s water, according to China’s official news agency Xinhua.

Residents scrambled to buy bottled water after authorities warned against using taps, in scenes reminiscent of a municipal water ban in the United States, following a coal-processing chemical spill that affected 300,000 West Virginians in January.

Xinhau cited Yan Zijiang, Lanzhou’s environmental protection chief, as saying that a leak in a pipeline owned by Lanzhou Petrochemical Co., a unit of CNPC, was to blame for the water contamination.

Read more on the pollution regulations they are trying to reign in over there in China.

Down Under: Tropical Cyclone Hits Australia As ‘One Of The Most Powerful Storms’ In ‘Living Memory’ | ThinkProgress

Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Reads: Killer Typhoon, Failed Talks and a Pop-Up Super Privacy Tent

Book label designed by Josef Váchal

Book label designed by Josef Váchal found on Pinterest

Good Morning

The first half of this post is bad, just a warning there…so as you drink your coffee, tea, chai, beer or Bourbon…we’ll just get through this tough stuff as quickly as possible.

As expected, the death toll from the Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda is in the thousands, from Voice of America: 10,000 Feared Dead in Philippines

Local officials say the death toll in a central province that took the brunt of Typhoon Haiyan could reach as high as 10,000.

Police and provincial officials provided the estimate on Sunday after assessing damage in Leyte province, where they say the destruction was overwhelming. The regional police chief said most of the deaths resulted from drowning and collapsed buildings

Philippine Interior Secretary Mar Roxas says it is difficult to describe the extent of damage in Leyte’s capital, Tacloban.

“The devastation is – I do not have the words for it. It is really horrific. It is a great human tragedy. There is no power. There is no light.”

AP is reporting 400 bodies have been recovered so far.

Reuters has a few images of the devastation at their link, however, there are very few pictures available as of now. Philippine super typhoon kills at least 10,000, official says | Reuters

Haiyan, a category 5 typhoon that churned through the Philippine archipelago in a straight line from east to west, packing wind gusts of around 275 kph (170 mph), weakened significantly before hitting northern Vietnam on Sunday.

Leyte province’s capital of Tacloban, with a population of 220,000, bore the brunt of Haiyan, which was possibly the strongest storm ever to make landfall.

The city and nearby villages as far as one kilometer from shore were flooded by the storm surge, leaving floating bodies and roads choked with debris from fallen trees, tangled power lines and flattened homes. TV footage showed children clinging to rooftops for their lives.

A man stands atop debris as residents salvage belongings from the ruins of their houses after Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city in central Philippines November 10, 2013.

“From a helicopter, you can see the extent of devastation. From the shore and moving a kilometer inland, there are no structures standing. It was like a tsunami,” said Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas, who had been in Tacloban since before the typhoon struck the city, about 580 km (360 miles) southeast of Manila.

[...]

Debris litter a damaged airport after super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city in central Philippines November 9, 2013. REUTERS-Erik De Castro

Debris litter a damaged airport after super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city in central Philippines November 9, 2013.

City officials said they were struggling to retrieve bodies and send relief supplies to survivors. They also reported widespread looting as authorities struggled to restore order and repair shattered communications.

“There is looting in the malls and large supermarkets. They are taking everything even appliances like TV sets, these will be traded later on for food,” said Tecson John Lim, the Tacloban city administrator.

“We don’t have enough manpower. We have 2,000 employees but only about 100 are reporting for work. Everyone is attending to their families.”

[...]

“The dead are on the streets, they are in their houses, they are under the debris, they are everywhere,” he said.

International aid agencies said relief efforts in the Philippines are stretched thin after a 7.2 magnitude quake in central Bohol province last month and displacement caused by a conflict with Muslim rebels in southern Zamboanga province.

The World Food Programme said it was airlifting 40 tons of high energy biscuits, enough to feed 120,000 people for a day, as well as emergency supplies and telecommunications equipment.

Tacloban city airport was all but destroyed as seawaters swept through the city, shattering the glass of the airport tower, leveling the terminal and overturning nearby vehicles.

Huffington Post has a picture on the main page of their website that shows a single dead man, face down. He is blue. His skin is blue.

I saw that picture last night just before going to sleep and it haunted me…it really is an upsetting image.

More pictures here: AP PHOTOS: High death toll feared in typhoon

and BBC News – In pictures: Tacloban in ruins

Meanwhile, the US has offered some aid: U.S. aid on the way to devastated areas of Philippines

Help is on the way to areas of the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development and humanitarian relief groups.

The Obama administration made an initial $100,000 available Saturday to provide basic health care, clean water and sanitation following the Philippines government’s request for international assistance. That figure is likely to grow as damage and humanitarian needs are assessed.

And according to the BBC:  UK commits aid for 500,000 in Philippines

Britain has committed £5m to help up to 500,000 people affected by the typhoon that swept through the Philippines.

The Department for International Development (DfID) said the money would be given to pre-approved organisations to provide “crucial humanitarian aid”.

That 5 million pounds is like 8 million US dollars. Makes that 100,000 bucks seem like a mere single ply, scratchy…dingleberry producing roll of toilet paper.

How to help: Organizations offering relief to Typhoon Haiyan survivors

The organizations listed below are deploying urgent relief efforts on the islands. See how you can help:

The Philippine Red Cross said it has mobilized teams on the ground to help with rescue and relief operations. Click the link to learn more.

The American Red Cross has launched a family tracing service among other aid operations. If you are unable to reach a family member in the Philippines, you can contact your local chapter of the American Red Cross to initiate a tracing case. Click on the link for more.

UNICEF is taking donations to help provide children with shelter, clean water, nutrition and vaccines.

World Food Programme, a United Nations organization, said it will be sending meals to those affected and working with local authorities on restoring communications. Click the link to donate or, if you are in the United States, text the word AID to 27722 to donate $10.

Save the Children is also mounting disaster relief efforts to help children and families in the region with emergency assistance.

World Vision said it will provide food and water to those in evacuation shelters. Click the link to make a donation.

Habitat for Humanity plans to offer shelter repair kits for families who need to re-build their damaged houses.

Operation USA said it will allocate donations directly to relief and recovery efforts.

National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) has created a disaster relief fund for victims in the Philippines.

Google has also launched a person finder.

The storm is now on its way to Vietnam:

AFP: 600,000 evacuated as typhoon nears Vietnam

Philippines reels from catastrophe as Typhoon Haiyan heads to Vietnam – CNN.com

More photos at that CNN link.

In other world news: Talks With Iran Fail to Produce a Nuclear Agreement

Marathon talks between major powers and Iran failed on Sunday to produce a deal to freeze its nuclear program, puncturing days of feverish anticipation and underscoring how hard it will be to forge a lasting solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Emerging from a last-ditch bargaining session that began Saturday and stretched past midnight, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said they had failed to overcome differences. They insisted they had made progress, however, and pledged to return to the table in 10 days to try again, albeit at a lower level.

“A lot of concrete progress has been made, but some differences remain,” Ms. Ashton said at a news conference early Sunday. She appeared alongside Mr. Zarif, who added, “I think it was natural that when we started dealing with the details, there would be differences.”

Iran nuclear talks fail; new talks in 10 days | The Raw Story

They agreed to meet in Geneva again in 10 days to try to make a deal happen.

Talks on a deal to temporarily curb Iran’s nuclear program ran into trouble Saturday when France questioned whether the proposal went far enough, casting doubt an agreement could be reached during the current round of negotiations.

Chances of bridging all differences diminished as the day went on.

A Western diplomat in Geneva said that the French were holding out for conditions on the Iranians tougher than those agreed to by the U.S. and France’s other negotiating partners, diminishing hopes of a done deal Saturday.

It really seems like the French are the ones voicing the most concern and skepticism.

Meeting without Iran

The foreign ministers of the seven delegations discussing Iran convened a meeting late Saturday night, and the Iranian officials were not included.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spoke of “several points that…we’re not satisfied with compared to the initial text,” telling France-InterRadio his nation does not want to be part of a “con game.”

He did not specify, but his comments suggested France thought a final draft of any first-step deal was too favorable to Iran, echoing concerns raised by Israel and several prominent U.S. legislators.

The French position was confirmed by another Western diplomat. Both gave no specifics and demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the diplomatic maneuvering.

Iranian state TV strongly criticized the French position, calling France “Israel’s representatives at the talks.”

Iran’s IRNA news agency cited Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as urging world powers to reach a deal.

“I hope the parties negotiating with Iran in the 5+1 group use the exceptional opportunity that the Iranian nation has provided to the West and the international community so that we achieve a positive result in a reasonable time,” IRNA quoted Rouhani as telling a Japanese foreign minister visiting Tehran Saturday evening.

Rouhani said sanctions and threats don’t benefit anyone.

Iran “has insisted that threats and sanctions have not resolved any problem and further complicate the path forward, and believes that the only solution is talks on the basis of respect and mutual confidence,” IRNA quoted him as saying.

Optimism about an interim agreement had been high when the talks were extended for a third day on Saturday and raised to a ministerial level.

There is a lot more at both the New York Times link above, and this Raw Story link…which goes on a bit more to say:

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal pointed to “rather large cohesion” among the negotiators and said France wanted “the international community to see a serious change in the climate” of talks with Iran.

“There have been years of talks that have led to nothing,” Nadal said, alluding to the need for tough terms on Iran.

Years of talks, yes…but this is the first time that the US is involved face to face with Iran in these talks. I think that gives this round of discussions a sense of urgency and more pressure on the matter with the international community coming together on one page.  But then, it is late…and I am a little overwhelmed by the story out in the Philippines. I will just put a link to an update on Syria’s chemical weapons stash: Katrina vanden Heuvel: A surprising silence on success in Syria – The Washington Post

Last week, buried beneath banner headlines blaring about Obamacare hearings, National Security Agency surveillance revelations and the Boston Red Sox’ World Series win, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) quietly reported that Syria “has completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing/filling plants, rendering them inoperable.”

On the heels of winning the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, the unglamorous but undeniably effective OPCW, using saws, sledgehammers and cutting torches in the middle of a war zone, defied predictions by meeting the Nov. 1 deadline to disable Syria’s chemical weapons program. The bombshell was that there was no bombshell — at least, not of the unconscionable chemical kind.

[...]

But the manner in which we arrived at this moment seems to obscure the legitimate success we ought to celebrate. There remains, of course, difficult work ahead. The OPCW must meet a Nov. 15 deadline to destroy more than 1,000 metric tons of weapons stockpiles, even as fierce fighting continues in many of the parts of Syria where the weapons are located. Syria’s foreign minister requested that some weapons factories be spared , calling into question the country’s genuine commitment to disarmament. And the country’s deadly civil war continues unabated.

Still, even with these caveats, what the OPCW accomplished is no small victory. It’s a meaningful step toward meeting what has long been a major U.S. foreign policy goal – eliminating weapons of mass destruction.

Yes, it’s an op/ed, so go ahead and take it for what it is….read the rest at the link.

Another updated news story for you this morning: Schools chief: Nothing in records indicates Nevada middle school shooter was bullied – The Washington Post

A northwestern Nevada superintendent said there’s no evidence a seventh-grader was bullied before he fatally shot a teacher and wounded two classmates at Sparks Middle School last month.

Jose Reyes, 12, killed math teacher Michael Landsberry with a semi-automatic handgun outside the school on Oct. 21 before taking his own life.

Washoe County School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez told KTVN-TV (http://bit.ly/1eqRcfw) that “there was nothing in our official records about bullying for this child, whether at the elementary school or the middle school. Even the parents recently said there was no indication from what they saw.”

The parents, Jose and Liliana Reyes, earlier this week used the word “teased” to describe what their son faced about a speech problem but said he never showed signs of harboring anger or resentment that could help explain the schoolyard shooting.

Their attorney, Kent Robison, told KTVN that Reyes was teased at school and even saw a counselor.

Some students have said bullying played a role in the shooting, but police said they have no evidence of that and have refused to comment about anything that might have provoked the attack.

The parents of the two 12-year-olds recovering successfully from gunshot wounds have said they don’t believe their children were targeted in the attack on the asphalt basketball court 15 minutes before the morning bell.

I wonder if we will ever know why Reyes did what he did that day.

Remember that nugget of news outta Sanford Florida? Where the police chief was making all neighborhood watch volunteers “gun free” while on “duty.”  Well, Sanford police backtrack on neighborhood watch gun restriction | Al Jazeera America

Police in the Florida city where George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin have backed off a plan to explicitly ban neighborhood watch volunteers from carrying guns while on duty.

Earlier this month, police in Sanford, Florida, announced new rules on how civilian patrols can operate in an attempt to revive the program’s reputation, and was expected to announce Tuesday that neighborhood watch volunteers shouldn’t carry guns or follow suspects.

But now the police department has backtracked on those rules, saying that while it recommends that neighborhood watch volunteers not carry weapons, it won’t formally prevent volunteers from doing so.

[...]

In a phone interview on Wednesday, Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith refused repeated requests to explain the reversal.

“That was the choice of the chief. That was my decision,” Smith said. “What my thought is unimportant.”

Smith introduced the new rules and a new handbook for the town’s neighborhood watch program at a community meeting on Tuesday.

He said anyone who carries a gun can still participate in the neighborhood watch program, and no one will be asked if they have a concealed weapons permit. But block captains will be required to sign a waiver saying the city will relinquish liability if they decide to carry a weapon.

Last week, his spokesman told Reuters the new rules would explicitly state that residents acting under the authority of neighborhood watch may not carry a firearm or pursue someone they deem suspicious.

Smith says his change of rules was not influenced by the gun rights advocacy groups who were pissed off about his earlier decision to ban guns on neighborhood watch. (Bullshit.)

Want some more bullshit? Tom Cruise — My Job’s As Hard As Fighting in Afghanistan | TMZ.com

Tom Cruise not only thinks he trains harder than Olympic athletes, he believes his job as a professional actor is as grueling as fighting the war in Afghanistan — this according to legal docs obtained by TMZ.

As we reported, Cruise recently sat for a deposition in his $50 million libel suit against a magazine publisher that claimed he abandoned daughter Suri — and his quotes are GOLD.

First, the Middle East — Tom says his location shoots are just like serving a tour in Afghanistan, “That’s what it feels like. And certainly on this last movie, it was brutal. It was brutal.”

Oh, I see another South Park episode in Tom’s future.

BTW, if you missed this past weeks episode, you need to see it…Ginger Cow (Season 17, Episode 6) – Full Episode Player – South Park Studios

Okay, since I’ve segued into the Hollywood/movie section of the post, here is another movie oriented link  for you: Hans Zimmer on the Classic Films He’s Scored  Zimmer is one of those composers who has scored so many films…that it really boggles your mind when you see his list of credits: Hans Zimmer – IMDb  The two films that really feature amazing soundtracks and original scores by Hans Zimmer are Thelma and Louise, Rain Man. I think the scores of those films really fit the mood of the story, especially the one he did for Thelma and Louise. But he also was part of the group that started the whole video revolution on MTV:

Hey, I thought this was kind of funny…at least thinking about the logistics of this thing: Obama’s Portable Zone of Secrecy (Some Assembly Required)

Pete Souza/White House

President Obama discussing Libya inside his security tent during a trip to Rio de Janeiro in 2011.

When President Obama travels abroad, his staff packs briefing books, gifts for foreign leaders and something more closely associated with camping than diplomacy: a tent.

Even when Mr. Obama travels to allied nations, aides quickly set up the security tent — which has opaque sides and noise-making devices inside — in a room near his hotel suite. When the president needs to read a classified document or have a sensitive conversation, he ducks into the tent to shield himself from secret video cameras and listening devices.

American security officials demand that their bosses — not just the president, but members of Congress, diplomats, policy makers and military officers — take such precautions when traveling abroad because it is widely acknowledged that their hosts often have no qualms about snooping on their guests.

Yeah, no shit…which makes that whole Merkel spy thing a, “duh?” realization doesn’t it?

The United States has come under withering criticism in recent weeks about revelations that the National Security Agency listened in on allied leaders like Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. A panel created by Mr. Obama in August to review that practice, among other things, is scheduled to submit a preliminary report this week and a final report by the middle of next month. But American officials assume — and can cite evidence — that they get the same treatment when they travel abroad, even from European Union allies.

“No matter where you are, we are a target these days,” said R. James Woolsey Jr., the director of central intelligence during the Clinton administration. “No matter where we go, countries like China, Russia and much of the Arab world have assets and are trying to spy on us so you have to think about that and take as many precautions as possible.”

On a trip to Latin America in 2011, for example, a White House photo showed Mr. Obama talking from a security tent in a Rio de Janeiro hotel suite with Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state, and Robert M. Gates, the defense secretary at the time, about the air war against Libya that had been launched the previous day. Another photo, taken three days later in San Salvador, showed him conferring from the tent with advisers about the attack.

I don’t think any of this matters. I am so sick of the media right now. I just want to see what 60 Minutes does tonight, and if there is any big news follow-up on that Benghazi story.

The rest of today’s links in dump fashion:

Mormon Church to buy nearly 400,000 acres in Florida Panhandle. – Orlando Sentinel

The Mormon church stands to own nearly 2 percent of Florida by completing a deal to buy most of the real estate of the St. Joe Co. for more than a half-billion dollars.

That is more than Disney! But seriously:

According to the announcement, a church entity, AgReserves Inc., will buy 382,834 acres – the majority of St. Joe’s timberlands – in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties for $565 million.

Completion of the deal will leave the Utah-based church with 678,000 acres, an area larger than any other private holding in Florida, according to widely shared but unconfirmed rankings of top landowners.

Kidney damage in first responders linked to 9/11- Science Daily

For the first time, researchers have linked high levels of inhaled particulate matter by first responders at Ground Zero to kidney damage. Researchers from the WTC-CHEST Program, a subset of the World Trade Center Health Program Clinical Center for Excellence at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, presented their new findings at the 2013 American Society of Nephrology meeting on Nov. 9 during National Kidney Week.

BBC News – The loneliness of language difficulties

Imagine listening to a foreign language you are not familiar with all day. It would be tiring and confusing. You would miss important information and you’d have to work very hard to understand what people were saying.

That’s what it’s like to have a specific language impairment in your own language, says Gina Conti-Ramsden, professor of child language and learning from the University of Manchester.

“These children aren’t mute. They can talk – but it’s a hidden disability,” she says.

“They can’t understand what is said all the time and they find it difficult to put words together, and to express themselves.”

Tutankhamun may have spontaneously combusted- Phys.org

Tutankhamun’s body may have spontaneously combusted due to a botched mummification, British scientists claim in a new programme to be broadcast Sunday.

Egyptologist Chris Naunton and a team of performed a “virtual autopsy” on the young pharaoh in the Channel 4 television documentary “Tutankhamun: The Mystery of The Burnt Mummy”.

I wish I could get to see that documentary.

Photos Of Victorian London Show Difficulties Of Life On The Streets -Huffpo Some wonderful pictures to look at…very sad to see.

Nazi anatomy history: The origins of conservatives’ anti-abortion claims that rape can’t cause pregnancy.- Slate That is one interesting article, its a long read but you will find it fascinating and disturbing.

These animations of famous paintings are freaking hilarious- Sploid

Not all of us can stand and stare at artwork and pretend to be impressed and then stare again and then focus in on how the brushstrokes add up to the emotion of what the artist was feeling during his struggle when his father did not approve of his calling. Some of us want more fun when it comes to art. This hilarious animation of famous paintings are that fun.

Cartoon Brew spotted this video made by animators Doug Bayne, Ben Baker and Trudy Cooper and it’s a good one. The short animations were featured in Austrlian sketch comedy show The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting. You can watch them all below, make sure you stay to the end for the epic finish.

Video is at the link above.

It is real late, and at this point I am not sure this post is making much sense. So I will leave it at that and ask you all, what’s up in your neck of the woods. What are you thinking about today?


Tuesday Reads: Liberals, Libertarians, and Concern Trolls

Matisse-Woman-Reading-with-Tea1

Good Morning!!

Between the Red Sox being in the World Series and having to have a root canal on Saturday, I’ve been a little bit disconnected from politics. The Sox won again last night in St. Louis, and they’ll be coming back home to Fenway Park leading the series 3 games to 2; so they could end it tomorrow night. If this post is a little late, my aching jaw and baseball are the reasons why.

We’ve been talking a lot about libertarians lately, because so-called progressives have been aligning with those Ayn Rand fans since libertarian Edward Snowden began leaking top secret documents about the NSA and libertarian Glenn Greenwald began lecturing the world about what a great hero Snowden is for defecting to Russia and revealing the most secret counterintelligence methods of the U.S. and U.K.

The latest shameful episode was Saturday’s “Stop Watching Us” rally in Washington, at which supposedly “progressive” groups joined with anti-woman right-wingers like Justin Amash and neo-confederates like Ron and Rand Paul to protest the NSA doing its job of collecting foreign intelligence.

Before the rally took place, Tom Watson wrote a heartfelt column warning “progressives” that libertarians don’t make good bedfellows. Watson wrote that while he dislikes mass surveillance,

I cannot support this coalition or the rally. It is fatally compromised by the prominent leadership and participation of the Libertarian Party and other libertarian student groups; their hardcore ideology stands in direct opposition to almost everything I believe in as a social democrat.

The Libertarian Party itself — inaccurately described by Stop Watching Us as a “public advocacy organization” — is a right-wing political party that opposes all gun control lawsand public healthcaresupported the government shutdowndismisses public education,opposes organized labor, favors the end of Social Security as we know it, and argues in its formal political manifesto that “we should eliminate the entire social welfare system” while supporting “unrestricted competition among banks and depository institutions of all types.”

Yet my progressive friends would take the stage with the representatives of this political movement? Why? The loss is much greater than the gain. Organizers trade their own good names and reputations to stand alongside — and convey legitimacy to — a party that opposes communitarian participation in liberal society, and rejects the very role of government itself. And their own argument for privacy is weakened by the pollution of an ideology that uses its few positive civil liberties positions as a predator uses candy with a child.

This is an abandonment of core principles, in my view, out of anger over Edward Snowden’s still-recent revelations about the National Security Agency and its spying activity, particularly domestic access to telephone and online networks and metadata. It represents trading long-held beliefs in social and economic justice for a current hot-button issue that — while clearly of concern to all Americans — doesn’t come close to trumping a host of other issues areas that require “the long game” of electoral politics and organizing. Going “all in” with the libertarian purists is a fatal and unnecessary compromise; reform is clearly needed, but the presence of anti-government laissez-faire wingers at the beating heart of the privacy movement will surely sour the very political actors that movement desperately needs to make actual — and not symbolic, link bait — progress in its fight.

But it was to no avail. Watson was attacked for his argument that the anti-surveillance fever is distracting from other important issues. People like Greenwald and Snowden couldn’t possibly care less about alleviating poverty, protecting women’s rights or the right to vote. They’d have no problem with Social Security and Medicare being eliminated, and as for voting, they’re anti-government anyway. Glenn Greenwald–whom some uninformed people believe is a “progressive,” saves his worst attacks for Democrats and in the past has supported Ron Paul and Gary Johnson for president. To Greenwald, sacrificing the entire legacy of FDR and the civil rights and women’s movements is no big deal. Here’s how he characterized the values of liberals who reject Ron Paul in 2011:

Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.

Of course, Greenwald is admitting that he’d sacrifice the social safety net and the rights of millions of Americans in a hopeless effort to defeat the military-industrial complex and its technologies. If you can stand to read the whole piece, you’ll also learn that Greenwald thinks Matt Stoller is a “brilliant” writer. Greenwald is a libertarian purist, with no understanding of how politics actually works. This is the pied piper that many “progressives” are following these days.

I guess I’m getting a little carried away here, so I’ll stop ranting and offer some pertinent links.

Read the rest of this entry »


Tuesday Reads: U.S. Spies on Foreign Countries and Other “Blockbuster” News

woman-by-a-window.matisse

Good Morning!!

In the weeks since Edward Snowden absconded with thousands of top secret National Security Agency (NSA) files and traveled to Hong Kong and then Moscow and handed over the documents to Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras, we’ve learned that the U.S. spies on lots of other countries. Snowden has revealed that NSA has spied on China, Russia, Germany, FranceBrazil, MexicoIsrael, Iran, and the UN. Oddly, we haven’t gotten much new information from Snowden about illegal or abusive NSA spying on Americans, which Snowden initially suggested was his reason for stealing the secret documents.

To most nominally intelligent and informed people, the fact that NSA spies on foreign countires is not particularly surprising; since collecting foreign signals intelligence (SIGINT) is the primary purpose of NSA as stated publicly on their website. Here is NSA’s statement of their “core mission”:

The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) leads the U.S. Government in cryptology that encompasses both Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Information Assurance (IA) products and services, and enables Computer Network Operations (CNO) in order to gain a decision advantage for the Nation and our allies under all circumstances.

The Information Assurance mission confronts the formidable challenge of preventing foreign adversaries from gaining access to sensitive or classified national security information. The Signals Intelligence mission collects, processes, and disseminates intelligence information from foreign signals for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes and to support military operations. This Agency also enables Network Warfare operations to defeat terrorists and their organizations at home and abroad, consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties.

Spying on foreign countries is what NSA does. Why that is perceived as somehow illegal and/or shocking by Greenwald, Poitras, Snowden, and their cult followers, I have no clue. But the fact that a spy agency collects foreign signals intelligence really should not be considered breaking news; and the countries that are complaining about it are well known for spying on the US in return–and in some cases (e.g., China, Russia, and Israel) for famously stealing U.S. secrets and technology.

Today the Washington Post has a new “blockbuster” article that reveals that the U.S. is particularly focused on spying on Pakistan. Now I wonder why that would be? Anyone want to speculate? It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Pakistan concealed the location of Osama bin Laden for years, could it? Or the fact that Taliban and al Quaeda operatives regularly hide in Pakistan? Just a couple of wild guesses…

Here’s an excerpt from the WaPo article:

A 178-page summary of the U.S. intelligence community’s “black budget” shows that the United States has ramped up its surveillance of Pakistan’s nuclear arms, cites previously undisclosed concerns about biological and chemical sites there, and details efforts to assess the loyalties of counter­terrorism sources recruited by the CIA.

Pakistan appears at the top of charts listing critical U.S. intelligence gaps. It is named as a target of newly formed analytic cells. And fears about the security of its nuclear program are so pervasive that a budget section on containing the spread of illicit weapons divides the world into two categories: Pakistan and everybody else.

The disclosures — based on documents provided to The Washington Post by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden — expose broad new levels of U.S. distrust in an already unsteady security partnership with Pakistan, a politically unstable country that faces rising Islamist militancy. They also reveal a more expansive effort to gather intelligence on Pakistan than U.S. officials have disclosed.

The United States has delivered nearly $26 billion in aid to Pakistan over the past 12 years, aimed at stabilizing the country and ensuring its cooperation in counterterrorism efforts. But with Osama bin Laden dead and al-Qaeda degraded, U.S. spy agencies appear to be shifting their attention to dangers that have emerged beyond the patch of Pakistani territory patrolled by CIA drones.

“If the Americans are expanding their surveillance capabilities, it can only mean one thing,” said Husain Haqqani, who until 2011 served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States. “The mistrust now exceeds the trust.”

The stolen files also reveal serious human rights issues in Pakistan and fears about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Raise your hand if you’re shocked by any this. I can certainly see why these revelations would be harmful to U.S. national security and foreign relations, however.

Via The Jerusalem Post, another Snowden leak revealed by the Washington Post showed that members of terrorist organizations have tried to join the CIA.

…individuals with past connections to known terrorist entities such as al-Qaida, Hezbollah and Hamas, have repeatedly attempted to obtain employment within the CIA, The Washington Post reported on Monday.

Among job-seekers that seemed suspicious to the CIA, approximately 20% of that grouping reportedly had “significant terrorist and/or hostile intelligence connections.” The nature of the connections was not described in the document.

“Over the last several years, a small subset of CIA’s total job applicants were flagged due to various problems or issues,” an anonymous CIA official was reported as saying. “During this period, one in five of that small subset were found to have significant connections to hostile intelligence services and or terrorist groups.” [....]

The document also allegedly stated that the CIA re-investigates thousands of employees each year to reduce the possibility that an individual with these connections may compromise sensitive information.

Can anyone explain to me why this should be considered criminal or why the person who revealed it should be called a “whistle-blower?” It seems to me, the only reason for revealing the methods the U.S. uses to collect foreign SIGINT is a desire to harm U.S. Government and damage its foreign policy. Here’s Bob Cesca, who has consistently critiqued libertarians Snowden and Greenwald and their anti-government motives from a liberal, rational point of view: Greenwald Reports NSA Spied on Presidents of Brazil andMexico.

We’re not sure exactly which section of the U.S. Constitution protects the privacy rights of foreign leaders, but Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden appear to believe it’s in there somewhere. The tandem crusaders for the Fourth Amendment have once again extended their reach beyond what was intended to be their mutual goal of igniting a debate in the United States about the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations, and, instead, opted to reveal that, yes, the U.S. spies on foreign leaders. Shocking, I know.

Specifically, on the Globo television show “Fantasico” in Brazil, Greenwald described a July, 2012 document stolen from NSA by Snowden, which describes how NSA had intercepted communications made by the president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, as well as Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff. (Incidentally, the Globo article contains 13 corporate trackers or “web bugs.”)

The goal of revealing this information is clear. Greenwald and Snowden have successfully exploited the “sparking a debate” motive as a Trojan Horse for injecting unrelated information into public view as a means of vindictively damaging the operations of U.S. and U.K. intelligence communities, not to mention the reputation of the United States as a whole, while also pushing the unrealistic message that surveillance is generally impermissible. Yes, we already knew that nations spy on other nations, but to publicly disclose specific instances of international spying — while on the soil of one of the nations being surveilled — confirms these suspicions and sorely embarrasses everyone involved.

But guess what? Both Mexico and Brazil have powerful spy agencies that conduct “active surveillance” on the U.S.

In Brazil, it’s called the Agência Brasileira de Inteligência (ABIN or the Brazilian Intelligence Agency). It deals with external and domestic intelligence gathering: collection and analysis of information that’s intercepted via both signals (SIGINT collects email, phone calls and so forth) and human resources.

In Mexico, it’s called S-2. Like ABIN or NSA, S-2 also collects SIGINT on foreign targets, with a special focus on the military operations of foreign governments. Along with its counterpart, the Centro de Información de Seguridad Nacional (Center for Research on National Security or CISIN), S-2 is tasked with counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism operations.

Has anyone overheard Greenwald mention, even in passing, either of these agencies? Likely not, and don’t hold your breath waiting for Greenwald to attack Brazil’s intelligence community, even knowing that it wiretapped its own Senate and Supreme Court several years ago. Along those lines, we don’t know exactly whether these agencies have attempted to spy on any of our presidents or government officials, but wouldn’t Greenwald, as a U.S. citizen and resident of Brazil, want to find out using the same “Glennzilla” tenacity he’s employed while exposing U.S. spying? If his crusade now involves universal privacy, wouldn’t that include violations by the Brazilian government, especially knowing that Greenwald lives in Rio de Janeiro?

Read more at the link.

In other news….

The civil war in Syria continues to be the top international story, and The New York Times has a couple of helpful articles. The first is an explainer that deals with Key Questions on the Conflict in Syria. I won’t excerpt from it–read it at the NYT if you’re interested. Next, an article that explains how American policy on Syria may affect possible negotiations with Iran: Drawing a Line on Syria, U.S. Eyes Iran Talks.

As the Obama administration makes a case for punitive airstrikes on the Syrian government, its strongest card in the view of some supporters of a military response may be the need to send a message to another country: Iran. If the United States does not enforce its self-imposed “red line” on Syria’s use of chemical weapons, this thinking goes, Iran will smell weakness and press ahead more boldly in its quest for nuclear weapons.

But that message may be clashing with a simultaneous effort by American officials to explore dialogue with Iran’s moderate new president, Hassan Rouhani, in the latest expression of Washington’s long struggle to balance toughness with diplomacy in its relations with a longtime adversary.

Two recent diplomatic ventures have raised speculation about a possible back channel between Washington and Tehran. Last week, Jeffrey Feltman, a high State Department official in President Obama’s first term who is now a senior envoy at the United Nations, visited Iran to meet with the new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and discussed possible reactions to an American airstrike in Syria.

kerry assad

In line with the international beating up on the U.S. that has followed the Snowden-Greenwald-Poitras “revelations” that NSA spies on foreign countries, The Daily Mail has a snarky article with numerous photos about a dinner that John Kerry had with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in 2009.

An astonishing photograph of John Kerry having a cozy and intimate dinner with Bashar al-Assad has emerged at the moment the U.S Secretary of State is making the case to bomb the Syrian dictator’s country and remove him from power.

Kerry, who compared Assad to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein yesterday, is pictured around a small table with his wife Teresa Heinz and the Assads in 2009.

Assad and Kerry, then a Massachusetts senator, lean in towards each other and appear deep in conversation as their spouses look on.

A waiter is pictured at their side with a tray of green drinks, believed to be lemon and crushed mint.

Now, why would Kerry be having dinner with Syria’s president? The Daily Mail tells us:

The picture was likely taken in February 2009 in the Naranj restaurant in Damascus, when Kerry led a delegation to Syria to discuss finding a way forward for peace in the region.

At the time, Kerry was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and what he was doing is called “diplomacy.” But looking back in the age of Snowden, it seems that instead of having a polite dinner, Kerry should have punched Assad in the nose and screamed at him at the top of his lungs to get with the program–or something…

From the Wall Street Journal: Syrian Electronic Army Hacks Marines Website

A collection of pro-Syrian government hackers apparently defaced a Marine Corps recruitment website Monday.

The Syrian Electronic Army, which has hacked a series of websites, posted a letter on the Marines.com website arguing the Syrian government is “fighting a vile common enemy.”

“The Syrian army should be your ally not your enemy,” the letter read. “Refuse your orders and concentrate on the real reason every soldier joins their military, to defend their homeland. You’re more than welcome to fight alongside our army rather than against it.”

See a screen shot at the link. The site is now back up and running normally.

I’ll end there and post my remaining links in the thread below. As always, please post links to the stories you’re following in the comments as well.


Independence Day Reads

4th of July and NSA

Good Morning!!

So Egyptians staged a whole lot of protests and with the help of the army, overthrew the president they elected about a year ago. From the Boston Globe: Egypt’s army ousts Morsi, who calls it a ‘coup’

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s first democratically elected president was overthrown by the military Wednesday, ousted after just one year in office by the same kind of Arab Spring uprising that brought the Islamist leader to power.

The armed forces announced they would install a temporary civilian government to replace Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who denounced the action as a ‘‘full coup’’ by the generals. They also suspended the Islamist-drafted constitution and called for new elections.

Millions of anti-Morsi protesters around the country erupted in celebrations after the televised announcement by the army chief. Fireworks burst over crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where men and women danced, shouting, ‘‘God is great’’ and ‘‘Long live Egypt.’’

That sure sounds like coup. The army overthrows an elected leader and appoints a new one, while suspending the constitution. What else would you call it? And then there’s this:

The army took control of state media and blacked out TV stations operated by the Muslim Brotherhood. The head of the Brotherhood’s political wing was arrested.

It’s like Groundhog Day. A year from now will the whole thing happen all over again?

Morsi Dud by Jeff Darcy

From BBC News: Egypt swears in Mansour as interim leader after Morsi ousted

The top judge of Egypt’s Constitutional Court, Adly Mahmud Mansour, has been sworn in as interim leader, a day after the army ousted President Mohammed Morsi and put him under house arrest.

Mr Mansour said fresh elections were “the only way” forward, but gave no indication of when they would be held.

Mr Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected leader, is under house arrest after what he says was a military coup.

The army said he had “failed to meet the demands of the people”.

So it’s as if the Pentagon overthrew President Obama and installed Chief Justice Roberts as temporary president, while at the same time suspending the Constitution and shutting down the media.

The Dark Side of Egyptian “Revolution”

There’s also another similarity to the previous Egyptian “revolution” an outbreak of sexual assaults and gang rapes targeting women in public. From Human Rights Watch:

Egyptian officials and political leaders across the spectrum should condemn and take immediate steps to address the horrific levels of sexual violence against women in Tahrir Square. Egyptian anti-sexual harassment groups confirmed that mobs sexually assaulted and in some cases raped at least 91 women in Tahrir Square, over four days of protests beginning on June 30, 2013, amid a climate of impunity.

“The rampant sexual attacks during the Tahrir Square protests highlight the failure of the government and all political parties to face up to the violence that women in Egypt experience on a daily basis in public spaces,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These are serious crimes that are holding women back from participating fully in the public life of Egypt at a critical point in the country’s development.”

The Egyptian group Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault, which runs a hotline for victims of sexual assault and seeks to intervene to stop attacks, has received scores of reports of attacks on women in Tahrir Square over the past three days. The group confirmed 46 attacks on June 30, 17 on July 1, and 23 on July 2. The group’s volunteers intervened to protect and evacuate women in 31 cases of sexual assault. Four of the women needed medical assistance, including two who were evacuated by ambulance. The women’s rights group Nazra for Feminist Studies had confirmed another five attacks on June 28.

One woman required surgery after being raped with a “sharp object,” volunteers with the group said. In other cases, women were beaten with metal chains, sticks, and chairs, and attacked with knives. In some cases they were assaulted for as long as 45 minutes before they were able to escape.

Please go read the rest at Human Rights Watch.

At CNN, writer Nina Burleigh puts the sexual violence in Egypt in the historical context of male efforts to control women’s access to the public sphere.

Last week, a 22-year-old Dutch journalist was gang-raped in Tahrir Square and had to undergo surgery for severe injuries. The assault reminds us yet again of an often overlooked aspect of the Egyptian revolution.

When Egyptians overthrew their dictator in 2011, one of the first celebratory acts in Tahrir Square included the gang beating and sexual assault of American journalist Lara Logan, who, like the Dutch journalist, landed in the hospital.

The Logan rape has always been portrayed as another unfortunate byproduct of mob violence. In fact, it was much more than that. It was a warning shot fired by men whose political beliefs are founded on a common pillar: Women must stay out of the public square.

One of the hallmarks of revolutionary victory in Tahrir Square has always been rape and sexual harassment. Mobs of men routinely set upon women, isolating, stripping and groping. No one is ever arrested or held accountable, and elected officials shrug their shoulders and blame the victims….

Egyptian women are the primary victims of sexual violence, and ultimately they are the intended recipients of the message: Stay home, your input in government and politics is not wanted.

Read the rest of Burleigh’s analysis at CNN.

In other news,

Bolivian officials laughing hysterically at the media for buying their tall tale

Bolivian officials laughing hysterically at the media for buying their tall tale

We learned yesterday afternoon that the claims that Bolivian president Evo Morales’ plane was refused permission to fly over France, Italy, and Spain were totally false and that no one forced his plane to land in Austria. See this article at The Atlantic for a complete debunking of the story.

But many so-called progressives are still pushing the false narrative that President Obama somehow was responsible. I was surprised to see Taylor Marsh hyping it this morning, and there has been no correction to Kevin Drum’s nasty claim that Obama behaved like “a Chicago thug.” That was originally in Drum’s headline until commenters told him he was pushing a Tea Party meme and he moved the accusation to the end of his post.

Marsh is also claiming we didn’t know about the extent of NSA spying a year ago. Really? If you agree with her, you might want to check out this detailed article on the NSA spying programs in the Wall Street Journal–dated March 10, 2008. And of course that wasn’t the first time the corporate media covered the story either. All the progs claiming utter shock and awe over Snowden’s revelations should be ashamed of themselves.

I don’t want to completely depress you, so let’s turn to some non-political news. I found a couple interesting science stories on Google this morning.

Here’s some exciting news out of Boston (NYT): After Marrow Transplants, 2 More Patients Appear H.I.V.-Free Without Drugs.

Two H.I.V.-infected patients in Boston who had bone-marrow transplants for blood cancers have apparently been virus-free for weeks since their antiretroviral drugs were stopped, researchers at an international AIDS conference announced Wednesday.

The patients’ success echoes that of Timothy Ray Brown, the famous “Berlin patient,” who has shown no signs of resurgent virus in the five years since he got a bone-marrow transplant from a donor with a rare mutation conferring resistance to H.I.V.

The Boston cases, like Mr. Brown’s, are of no practical use to the 34 million people in the world who have H.I.V. but neither blood cancer nor access to premier cancer-treatment hospitals.

But AIDS experts still find the Boston cases exciting because they are another step in the long and so-far-fruitless search for a cure. They offer encouragement to ambitious future projects to genetically re-engineer infected patients’ cells to be infection-resistant. At least two teams are already experimenting with variants on this idea, said Dr. Steven G. Deeks, an AIDS researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.

It’s real progress, even though the treatment won’t be widely available for a long time.

From BBC News:  Active brain ‘keeps dementia at bay’

A lifetime of mental challenges leads to slower cognitive decline after factoring out dementia’s impact on the brain, US researchers say.

The study, published in Neurology, adds weight to the idea that dementia onset can be delayed by lifestyle factors….

In a US study, 294 people over the age of 55 were given tests that measured memory and thinking, every year for about six years until their deaths.

They also answered a questionnaire about whether they read books, wrote letters and took part in other activities linked to mental stimulation during childhood, adolescence, middle age, and in later life.

After death, their brains were examined for evidence of the physical signs of dementia, such as brain lesions and plaques.

The study found that after factoring out the impact of those signs, those who had a record of keeping the brain busy had a rate of cognitive decline estimated at 15% slower than those who did not.

That’s some impressive empirical evidence for something many of us have long suspected. So maybe we are helping keep our brains young through our obsession with reading and arguing about politics on the internet!

I’ll end with a recommendation that you listen to this NPR story on the history of “The Star Spangled Banner” and how it became our national anthem. It’s only about 8 minutes long. Or you can just read the article. I thought it was really interesting.

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today? If you’re headed out for barbeques and family gatherings instead of surfing the net, have a wonderful time and drop in for a minute if you can.

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY EVERYONE!!