It’s the last week of August, and the dog days of summer have supposedly passed; but the Boston area is supposed to hit ninety degrees today and tomorrow. I’m actually looking forward to it, because it has been so cool here lately–in the sixites and low seventies in the daytime and the fifties at night. Yesterday it got into the high eighties, and it felt wonderful.
The Boston Globe has a story today about Peter Theo Curtis, the writer who was just released from captivity in Syria. His mother lives in Cambridge. I had never heard of Curtis before; apparently his kidnapping was kept secret. The Globe reports: Militants free US writer with Mass. ties who was held in Syria.
Peter Theo Curtis, a writer and scholar with ties to the Boston area who was held captive for nearly two years by one of the Islamic militant groups operating in Syria, was released Sunday after emissaries from the government of Qatar won his freedom on humanitarian grounds, in a stark contrast to the brutal murder of fellow war correspondent James W. Foley .
Curtis’s 22 months in captivity were kept from the public at his family’s request since he was nabbed near the Syrian border in October 2012 by Al Nusra Front, one of the groups seeking to topple President Bashir Assad of Syria. Al Nusra Front has ties to the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
Curtis, 45, who wrote dispatches under the name Theo Padnos and previously chronicled disaffected young Muslims in Yemen in a book titled “Undercover Muslim,” had studied Arabic in Syria.
He was handed over to United Nations peacekeepers in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Sunday evening, a UN spokesman in New York said. After it was determined he was in good medical condition, he was transferred to representatives of the US government, according to the UN.
“We are so relieved that Theo is healthy and safe and that he is finally headed home after his ordeal,” his mother, Nancy Curtis, who lives in Cambridge, said in a statement, “but we are also deeply saddened by the terrible, unjustified killing last week of his fellow journalist, Jim Foley, at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS.”
Foley was from New Hampshire, and the two families have gotten to know each other well, according to Curtis.
Syria and Iraq
President Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria, according to BBC News.
Correspondents say the move could mark the first step towards US air strikes inside Syria, where the jihadist group controls vast swathes of territory.
The US is already carrying out strikes against IS in neighbouring Iraq.
On Monday, the Syrian government said it would work with the international community in the fight against IS.
Western governments have so far rejected suggestions that they collaborate with President Bashar al-Assad in an attempt to counter the growing regional threat posed by IS….
On Monday evening, US officials said Mr Obama had approved over the weekend reconnaissance flights by unmanned and manned aircraft, including drones and possibly U2 spy planes.
The US military has been carrying out aerial surveillance of IS – an al-Qaeda breakaway formerly known as Isis – in Iraq for months and launched air strikes on 8 August.
From The Boston Globe, citing “AP sources,” U.S. planes have already begun flying over Syria.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. has begun surveillance flights over Syria after President Barack Obama gave the OK, U.S. officials said, a move that could pave the way for airstrikes against Islamic State militant targets there.
While the White House says Obama has not approved military action inside Syria, additional intelligence on the militants would likely be necessary before he could take that step. Pentagon officials have been drafting potential options for the president, including airstrikes.
One official said the administration has a need for reliable intelligence from Syria and called the surveillance flights an important avenue for obtaining data.
Two U.S. officials said Monday that Obama had approved the flights, while another U.S. official said early Tuesday that they had begun. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter by name, and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Jim Michaels of USA Today spoke to Gen. Dempsey on Sunday about what is being done to deal with ISIS in Iraq.
ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT — U.S. airstrikes on Islamic militants in Iraq have blunted their momentum, but defeating them will require a broad regional approach that draws support from Iraq’s neighbors and includes political and diplomatic efforts, the top U.S. military officer said.
The long-term strategy for defeating the militants includes having the United States and its allies reach out to Iraq’s neighbors, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday….
Dempsey is working with Central Command to prepare “options to address [the Islamic State] both in Iraq and Syria with a variety of military tools including airstrikes,” said Col. Ed Thomas, Dempsey’s spokesman, in a statement.
The militant group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has shown itself to be so brutal that Iraq and the U.S. should be able to find “willing partners” to join efforts to defeat the militants, Dempsey said.
But military power won’t be enough, Dempsey said. The strategy must take a comprehensive approach that includes political and diplomatic efforts to address the grievances of millions of Sunnis who have felt disenfranchised by Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government, he said.
I get the feeling that we’re never going to escape involvement in the endless Middle East conflicts, thanks to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the rest of the neocon gang. What a horrible mess! We have our own messes to deal with here, but foreign wars always seem to trump the needs of the American people.
John Cassidy speculates at The New Yorker: What’s Next in Iraq and Syria?
On his first full day back from vacation, President Barack Obama could be forgiven for wishing he were still on Martha’s Vineyard. With confirmation that ISIS fighters have just captured another military base from the government forces of President Assad, and that Qatar has engineered the release of an American freelance journalist who was being held by a non-ISIS jihadist group, Obama has two formidable challenges to deal with.
The immediate task for Obama is deciding whether to launch American bombing raids on ISIS positions inside Syria, while simultaneously preparing his Administration, and the country at large, for the possibility of another video showing an American hostage being butchered. The ISIS militants, having carefully orchestrated the beheading of James Foley following the launch of U.S. strikes inside Iraq, will surely seek to exploit the fate of its remaining American hostages for maximum effect. Any U.S. decision to expand its air campaign is almost certain to be met with the release of more snuff films.
No President—no American—could take such a prospect lightly. At the same time, Obama has to guard against allowing emotion and wishful thinking to take over U.S. policy. That’s what happened after 9/11, and some of the chaos that we now see in the Middle East can be traced back to that historic blunder. What’s needed is calm cost-benefit analysis of the options open to the United States, taking account of its strategic interests, its values, and its capabilities. In short, we need what Danny Kahneman, the Princeton psychologist who pioneered behavioral economics, would refer to as some Type 2 thinking: a disciplined weighing of the likely consequences of our actions. If we give into our Type 1 reaction—horror, outrage, anger—we will be playing into the hands of the jihadists.
One place to start is by acknowledging two errors in thinking that have blighted U.S. policy in the past decade: the conservative delusion that the United States could, more or less single-handedly, use its military power to reinvent the Middle East, and the liberal illusion that we could simply walk away from the mess that Bush, Cheney & Co. created. Without the political willingness and the financial capability to garrison the region in the manner of postwar Germany and Japan, U.S. influence has to be exercised through air power, political proxies, economic inducements, and regional alliances. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that the United States and other Western countries have vital interests at stake, one of which is preventing the emergence of a rogue Islamic state that would provide a rallying point, and a safe haven, for anti-Western jihadists the world over.
Read the whole thing at the link.
The Economies of the U.S. and Europe
There has been so much breaking news for the past couple of months that we haven’t talked much about the economies of the U.S. and Europe. But today the European Central Bank is topping the headlines, and last week Fed Chairperson Janet Yellen spoke at Jackson Hole, so I thought I’d post a few economics stories.
Here’s CNN Money’s report on Yellen’s speech, Janet Yellen: Job market not recovered.
That was Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s main message Friday in a much anticipated speech.
“It speaks to the depth of the damage that, five years after the end of the recession, the labor market has yet to fully recover,” she said.
The debate now is whether the job situation in America is healthy enough for the Federal Reserve to start raising interest rates, which have been at historic lows in recent years in an effort to jump start the economy. Yellen, however, said little new on Friday, and U.S. stock markets stayed flat.
Yellen is chair of the committee that sets interest rates, but she only gets one vote. Other members have differing views. The Fed board and other top economists are spending the weekend in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, debating these key issues.
Though the unemployment rate “has fallen considerably and at a surprisingly rapid pace,” Yellen said problems remain.
Yellen called attention to what Americans in the job market already know–though the employment numbers look better, many people have stopped looking for work, and most of the new jobs are part-time and pay low wages.
A few more U.S. economy stories to check out:
The Wall Street Journal: Fed’s Yellen Remains Mum on Timing of Rate Change.
Bloomberg Businessweek: Yellen Job-Slack View Muddied by Pent-Up Wage Deflation.
If you think the economy is struggling here, you should take a look at Europe, where austerity thinking has ruled since the economic crisis hit. Yesterday the French government collapsed. From The New York Times, French Cabinet Is Dissolved, a Victim of Austerity Battles.
PARIS — The collapse of the French government on Monday exposed widening divisions both within France’s leadership, and Europe more broadly, over austerity policies that many now fault for threatening to tip the eurozone back into recession.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced that he would dissolve his government after a rancorous battle in his cabinet over whether the belt-tightening measures taken by President François Hollande — at the urging of Germany and European Union officials in Brussels — were impeding France’s recovery.
The dispute broke into the open when Mr. Vall’s outspoken economy minister, Arnaud Montebourg, insisted in an interview over the weekend that austerity had gone too far. “The priority must be exiting the crisis, and the dogmatic reduction of deficits should come after,” he told the newspaper Le Monde.
He also took direct aim at the policies of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. “Germany is caught in a trap of austerity that it is imposing across Europe,” he said.
Even the formerly strong German economy is struggling now, according to Reuters (via NYT), Crisis in Ukraine Drags Economy in Germany.
The eurozone’s flatlining economy took another hit on Monday when data showed German business sentiment sagging for the fourth consecutive month. Chancellor Angela Merkel attributed some of her own country’s decline in the second quarter to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, over which tit-for-tat sanctions threaten trade. The Munich-based Ifo, a research firm, echoed some of those sentiments as it reported its business climate index, based on a monthly survey of some 7,000 companies, fell to a worse-than-expected 106.3 from 108, the lowest level in more than a year. The findings agreed with data earlier in the month on the second-quarter contraction in Germany, the bloc’s biggest economy. Klaus Wohlrabe, an Ifo economist, said his institute expected growth in Germany to be “close to zero” in the third quarter.
A few more headlines on the European economic situation:
Bloomberg Businessweek on the European Central Bank, Draghi May Again Find Bazooka Words Beat Action With QE, and an editorial from The Financial Times, Central banks at the crossroads.
Yesterday, on the day of Michael Brown’s funeral, The New York Times published a story that got a great deal of attention because of its insensitive characterization of the dead teenager. Here the paragraph that attracted the angry reaction:
Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.
Would the authors have written a similar paragraph about a white homicide victim? From Vox, The New York Times called Michael Brown “no angel.” Here’s how it described serial killers.
“It comes out of the opening scene,” says Mitchell, who notes that “like many teenagers,” Brown was indeed “no angel.” Okay, but would the New York Times have chosen this term — which is commonly used to describe miscreants and thugs — if the victim had been white? Mitchell: “I think, actually, we have a nuanced story about the young man and if it had been a white young man in the same exact situation, if that’s where our reporting took us, we would have written it in the same way.” When asked whether she thought that “no angel” was a loaded term in this context, Mitchell said she didn’t believe it was. “The story … talks about both problems and promise,” she notes.
The Times’s response has done little to calm the storm. Sean McElwee, research assistant at Demos, dug into the archives to compare the Times’s description of Brown to the newspaper’s previous descriptions of serial killers and terrorists. Of course, comparing articles produced decades apart by different writers and editors isn’t an exact science. But it does lend context to the widespread frustration over how young black men are portrayed in the media.
A series of McElwee’s tweets are posted at the link, and are well worth reading.
One more from Salon by Joan Walsh, Ferguson’s booming white grievance industry: Fox News, Darren Wilson and friends. Check it out at Salon.
How did this post get so long?! I’d better wrap it up. Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great Tuesday!
Tuesday Reads: Syria, Ukraine, and Venezuela; Robot Police; Republican Stupidity; Harold Ramis; and Women of “True Detective”Posted: February 25, 2014
There is so much foreign news these days, and I have to admit ignorance when it comes to discussing the situations in Ukraine, Venezuela, and Syria. I don’t even know where to begin to understand the issues, and to be honest I just don’t have the time to try to do it. But here are some articles from sources I trust that struck me as important.
I’ll begin with something I can easily understand and care about: the fate of children in these conflicts. From The Independent, ‘No one cares': The tragic truth of Syria’s 500,000 refugee children. The article is about British photojournalist Ed Thompson and an art student from Lebanon, Sammy Hamze, who went to Lebanon to put a spotlight on what is happening to Syrian refugee families.
We have heard the stories. Children at risk of dying from the cold in refugee camps; vulnerable to trafficking; begging on the side of the road; left orphaned and out of school; girls sold into marriage. But what shook Thompson most was that the children, although appearing older than their years, were still so young. “They are innocent, completely innocent,” he says now. “One father told me to look at his family; he could barely feed his son. They had been through hell, walked through hell and got to hell. All they want to do is go home.”
The conflict that has torn Syria apart has raged for almost three years, left more than 100,000 people dead in its wake and driven nine-and-a-half million from their homes. It took intense political pressure to get the British Government to agree to offer hundreds of the “most needy people” in Syrian refugee camps a home in this country. “We live in the modern age – we can read what’s going on in Syria; we’ve never had more information at our fingertips,” says Thompson – “but no one cares.”
If anything can break through the apathy, it is his pictures.
Read more and see some of Thompson’s photos at the link.
On Ukraine, I posted this article by Mark Ames in the comments yesterday, but I’ll link it again here: Everything you now about Ukraine is wrong.
I haven’t lived in that part of the world since the Kremlin ran me out of town, so I’m not going to pretend that I know as much as those on the ground there. Still, I’ve been driven nuts by the avalanche of overconfident ignorance that stands for analysis or commentary on the wild events there. A lethal ignorance, a virtuous ignorance….
Nearly everyone here in the US tries to frame and reify Ukraine’s dynamic to fit America-centric spats. As such, Ukraine’s problems are little more than a propaganda proxy war where our own political fights are transferred to Ukraine’s and Russia’s context, warping the truth to score domestic spat points. That’s nothing new, of course, but it’s still jarring to watch how the “new media” counter-consensus is warping and misrepresenting reality in Ukraine about as crudely as the neocons and neoliberals used to warp and Americanize the political realities there back when I first started my Moscow newspaper, The eXile.
Read about what Ames calls the “simplifications/misconceptions” that are driving Ames crazy at Pando Daily.
And then there’s Venezuela. At The Washington Post, Adam Tayor asks, Amid the coverage of Ukraine, is a crisis in Venezuela being ignored? It’s an interesting question. And what about Syria, which has pretty much disappeared in all the coverage of Ukraine? Is American media simply incapable of covering more than one foreign conflict at a time? Read all about it at the link.
One more story on Venezuela from Peter Weber at The Week: Venezuela isn’t going to be another Ukraine.
Venezuela is not Ukraine, and beneath the similarities in the protest movements are significant differences.
The first is time: The Kiev protesters started their demonstration in November after Yanukovych reneged on a European Union trade pact, and they gradually built up a tent fortress in the central Maidan Square. In Venezuela, the protests started on Feb. 4 at the university in San Cristóbal, with students showing their anger over the lack of police response to an attempted rape and crime in general.
The “brutal police crackdown” on the student protesters in San Cristóbal led to similar protests at other universities, which were also violently suppressed, says Francisco Toro in The New York Times. “As the cycle of protests, repression, and protests-against-repression spread, the focus of protest began to morph. What was at stake, the students realized, was the right to free assembly.” Toro continues:
It’s this intolerance of opposing views, and violent repression, that Venezuela’s students are now mobilized against. Today, after 13 deaths, 18 alleged cases of torture and over 500 student arrests, the protest movement has snowballed into a nationwide paroxysm of anger that puts the government’s stability in question. The protests’ lack of structure has given them resilience, but also an anarchic edge. There is no single leader in a position to give the movement strategic direction. [The New York Times]
Read more comparisons at the link.
In Other News . . .
If you think the prospect of being spied on by NSA is frightening, you need to read this article by James Robinson at Pando Daily: Knightscope’s new robotic law enforcer is like staring at the demise of humanity.
Knightscope’s autonomous, crime fighting robot has the complexion of a washing machine. In pictures it looks cute, the size of a penguin maybe. In person it is five feet tall with intimidating breadth. It moves steadily and with insistence. If you stare at it long enough, the twin panels of lights about two-thirds of the way up its body start to take on the appearance of shifty, judgmental eyes. It sees what you’re doing and wants you to cut it out.
The full name of the Knightscope robot on display at the Launch Festival this morning was the K5 beta prototype. Former Ford Motor Company executive and Knightscope CEO William Santana Li describes it to MC and festival organizer Jason Calacanis onstage as a “crime fighting autonomous data machine.” But that doesn’t come close to doing it justice….
As Santana Li outlines proudly, the beast before him on stage takes in 360-degree video through four cameras, is capable of thermal imaging, registers gestures, recognizes faces and can run 300 license plates in a single minute. It works off proximity GPS and scans its environment every 25 milliseconds. It runs off nearly identical technology to Google’s self-driving cars. He boasts that it can see, feel, hear and smell. It is autonomous, will roam outdoors, can take video, decide when it needs to return and charge its batteries and can detect biological and chemical pathogens and radiation.
The Knightscope will get put out in the field gathering data, Santana Li says. The owner can log in to a security panel and get a read of what is going on in the area. The robot can scan license plates and report back on stolen cars. Its facial recognition capabilities can alert its owner to any registered sex offender in the area. The sample dashboard Santana Li logs in to, shows that the robot can report back about things as specific as how many people are lying horizontal and how many are gesturing with their hands. The company is working on giving it a 3M graffiti proof sheen, it emits a piercing sound if someone tries to tip it over and the machines will often work in pairs so they can protect each other.
How would you like to live in a world where one of those things is checking up on you wherever you go?
From Laura Bassett at Huffington Post, here’s the latest from the land of Republican misogyny and stupidity: Virginia Republican Says A Pregnant Woman Is Just A ‘Host,’ Though ‘Some Refer To Them As Mothers.’ Yes, someone really said that.
A pregnant woman is just a “host” that should not have the right to end her pregnancy, Virginia State Sen. Steve Martin (R) wrote in a Facebook rant defending his anti-abortion views.
Martin, the former chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee, wrote a lengthy post about his opinions on women’s bodies on his Facebook walllast week in response to a critical Valentine’s Day card he received from reproductive rights advocates.
“I don’t expect to be in the room or will I do anything to prevent you from obtaining a contraceptive,” Martin wrote. “However, once a child does exist in your womb, I’m not going to assume a right to kill it just because the child’s host (some refer to them as mothers) doesn’t want it.” Martin then changed his post on Monday afternoon to refer to the woman as the “bearer of the child” instead of the “host.”
Martin explained that he edited his post because “people took it the wrong way.” Read his original post at the link.
And then there’s good old Bobby Jindal, who still thinks he has a chance to be POTUS: Jindal Breaches White House Protocol To Take Shots At Obama.
The National Governors Association is supposed to bring Democrats and Republicans together to discuss policy and share ideas for mutual success, but after a meeting at the White House Monday, all pretense at bipartisan comity was shattered as a press conference with lawmakers descended into a partisan fracas.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal launched into a repeated assault on President Barack Obama’s leadership in the shadow of the West Wing, in defiance of established bipartisan protocol. Speaking after a meeting of the NGA at the White House, Jindal, the vice chair of the Republican Governors Association, said Obama is “waving a white flag” by focusing on executive actions with three years left in his term. “The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy,” Jindal added….
Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy rose to challenge Jindal immediately after he spoke to reporters, calling his remarks on Obama waving a white flag “the most insane statement I’ve ever heard.”
Jindal then returned to the microphones to continue his barrage against the Obama administration, saying as Malloy walked off, “I want to make sure he hears a more partisan statement,” and saying Obama should delay the Affordable Care Act mandates. It wasn’t the first time Jindal had used the microphones outside the White House to attack the president, having done the same at last year’s meeting.
Fortunately, Bobby Jindal will never be president. What a horrible excuse for a human being.
As everyone knows by now, we lost a great comedy writer, director, and performer yesterday. From The Chicago Tribune: Harold Ramis, Chicago actor, writer and director, dead at 69.
Harold Ramis not only may be the most successful comedy writer-director that Chicago has produced, but some wouldn’t even confine that statement to Chicago.
“Harold was clearly the most successful comedy writer-director of all time,” said Tim Kazurinsky, who followed Ramis at Second City and later became his friend. “The number of films that he has made that were successful, that were blockbusters, nobody comes close. Even in light in of that, he was more successful as a human being.”
Ramis’ career was still thriving in 1996, with “Groundhog Day” acquiring almost instant classic status upon its 1993 release and 1984’s “Ghostbusters” ranking among the highest-grossing comedies of all time, when he decided to move his family back to the Chicago area, where he grew up and had launched his career.
On Monday, Ramis was surrounded by family in his North Shore home when he died at 12:53 a.m. of complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease that involves swelling of the blood vessels, said his wife, Erica Mann Ramis. He was 69.
Read The New York Times obituary here: Harold Ramis, Alchemist of Comedy, Dies at 69.
Finally, a little True Detective news. Dakinikat posted this in the comments yesterday, but if you didn’t go to the link you might have missed something really revelatory.
A number of writers have noted that the hit HBO series focuses almost exclusively on the male characters and that women and children are only seen and heard in terms of their effect on the men–for example, see this article at The New Yorker by Emily Nussbaum: The shallow deep talk of “True Detective.”
Yesterday two feminist writers took a different point of view. At Slate, Willa Paskin argues that the way the men of True Detective treat women is actually at the heart of the narrative–that by not listening to women, Detectives Marty Hart and Rust Cohle miss the very clues that would help them solve their 17-year case.
Ignoring women may be the show’s blind spot, but it is also one of its major themes. True Detective is explicitly about the horrible things that men do to women, things that usually go unseen and uninvestigated. No one missed Dora Lange. Marie Fontenot disappeared, and the police let a rumor stop them from following up. Another little girl was abducted, and a report was never even filed. “Women and children are disappearing, nobody hears about it, nobody puts it together,” Rust told his boss Sunday night, outlining what he believes is a vast conspiracy in the Bayou. Rust is haunted by women who aren’t there—his ex-wife and his dead daughter—while Marty cannot deal appropriately with the women who are.
I’m inclined to agree with Paskin. In fact, I’m going to take it a step further and argue that I think, whatever else happens, this inability of the main characters to really see women is going to be their downfall. Over and over again, the show obsesses about the gap between self-serving delusions and narratives and what’s really going on. Marty repeatedly talks about how detectives frequently overlook what should have been most obvious, what was right under their noses. He calls it the “detective’s curse”. “Solution was right under my nose, but I was paying attention to the wrong clues.”
I am going to offer this prediction, then: The solution will be right under their noses, but they missed it because they don’t really see women.
Indeed, the internet sleuths are already on it. Remember that all-important yearbook photo that they found one of the victims in? Well, guess what? Other female characters that Marty and Rust have interacted with are in the picture. Here’s the picture with the women helpfully numbered.
On the far right of the front row is a girl who grew up to be the woman who killed her three children because of Munchhausen by proxy syndrome–the woman whom Rust got to confess and then told her to kill herself. Was she traumatized at that school? Could she have given him some valuable information? Why didn’t Rust follow up on those photos?
Something to think about while we wait for Sunday night to roll around.
Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today? Please share your links in the comment thread.
Today’s post will be brought to you by the color purple. Why? I don’t know, maybe because of the color’s significance…maybe it is because I felt like it…maybe it is because I wanted to put up some of my saved images of women wearing purple hats. Who the hell knows.
Anyway, the links will be a mixture of this and that…mostly news stuff at first.
The Taliban confirmed publicly on Sunday that they had been in talks with the United States over the release of an American soldier, but said the talks had now been suspended.
The unusual Taliban statement, which was emailed to journalists, said that the talks had taken place “recently” with the mediation of Qatar, suggesting that meetings took place in Qatar, where the Taliban have an unofficial political office.
The talks had previously been rumored, but this is the first time the insurgents have publicly confirmed them. They are aimed at reviving a longstanding offer by the American government to release Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, into custody in Qatar, in exchange for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of the United States Army, the only American being held by insurgents in Afghanistan.
Talks confirmed and suspended in the same emailed statement. Prior to this message, news of a Taliban attack also hit the MSM:
The Afghan Taliban attacked an army outpost in eastern Kunar province early on Sunday, the Afghan government said, killing 19 soldiers in what appeared to be the most deadly assault on security forces in months.
Defence Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi, in a posting on his Twitter feed, said 19 soldiers were killed, and two wounded, in Kunar’s Ghaziabad district.
Abdul Ghani Musamem, spokesman for the provincial governor, said seven soldiers were captured by the Taliban in the attack in a remote, mountainous area near the border with Pakistan.
He said Afghan forces had launched an operation to try to free the captured soldiers. The Defence Ministry did not immediately confirm the report of captured soldiers.
In a statement provided to media organizations, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
My head gets dizzy with this news of violence, but it is not the only mess in the world that seems to be never-ending.
Of course, you have Syria: Car bomb kills nine people in Syrian town of Atmeh: activists | Reuters
At least nine people were killed in a car bomb attack on Sunday near a field hospital in the Syrian town of Atmeh near the border with Turkey, activists said.
The hospital is owned by Ghassan Aboud, a Gulf-based businessman who runs Orient Television, which said at least 10 people were killed.
That was filed at 4:55 am EST…yeah, I know it is that late/early. (What can I say, Treasure of Sierra Madre is on TCM and I have to make the Sicilian pizza today which I will need to start soon anyway.)
In Ukraine, Fox News is reporting via AP: Where’s the President? Yanukovych’s whereabouts unknown
Nearly a full day after Ukrainian President Viktor Yankovych departed his country’s capital, Kiev, leaving it to the protesters who have called for his removal for three months and the parliament that voted to do just that Saturday, no one seems to know where he is.
A plane with Yanukovych onboard was denied permission to take off Saturday evening from Donetsk, a city in eastern Ukraine that is the president’s base of support, en route to Russia, the State Border Guard Service said. Oleh Slobodyan of the State Border Guard service told the Associated Press Sunday that the plane did not have the proper documentation. The president was driven off in a car from the airport.
Yanukovych did speak on television Saturday in Kharkiv, accusing his opponents of trying to overthrow the government.
“Everything that is happening today is, to a greater degree, vandalism and banditry and a coup d’etat,” he said. “I will do everything to protect my country from breakup, to stop bloodshed.”
However, Yanukovych’s movements have not been accounted for since, and even his spokesman told the Associated Press Sunday morning that he does not know where his boss is.
Protestors have taken the city of Kiev for now and protestors have flocked into the empty presidential compound. But during the height of chaos this week, one news outlet managed to capture stunning footage of Kiev from above with the help of a drone.
The drone, utilized by the German news agency Ruptly, captured some pretty unsettling footage showing parts of the city up in flames after days and days of protests. Thursday was the bloodiest day of the conflict thus far, with dozens killed and hundreds more injured as protestors faced off with Ukraine police forces.
Video at the link.
Hey, but Europe/Eastern Europe/Central Asia etc, aren’t the only places having it out, down in South America: Venezuela death toll reaches 11 as protests continue – latimes.com
Opponents and supporters of President Nicolas Maduro held massive demonstrations Saturday in central Caracas and other Venezuelan cities as the unofficial death toll rose to 11 in more than a week of unrest.
Leading the opposition demonstration in eastern Caracas was Liliana Tintori, wife of Leopoldo Lopez, the former Caracas borough mayor who was arrested this week and charged with inciting violence that has erupted during protests.
Lopez and other opposition leaders say armed pro-government vigilantes have been responsible for the deaths and that the opposition has demonstrated peacefully to protest rising crime and shortages. Speaking at a rally attended by tens of thousands of mostly white-shirted opposition members, Tintori said her husband has been jailed unjustly.
“No one can tell me this is not a dictatorship. This is a dictatorship,” said Tintori who shared the platform with opposition leaders Maria Corina Machado and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles. “No one can tell me we are divided. We are united. Leopoldo will do what is necessary so that Venezuelans unite in peace, and can walk the streets in safety.”
Now, back to the USA…Y’all heard about the shit Ted Nugent said about Obama, calling him a ‘subhuman mongrel.’ Take a look at this: The GOP, Race and Ted Nugent: If you won’t Denounce Nazi Insults, What does that Say about You? | Informed Comment
On Friday, Nugent “apologized” (though “not to president Obama”) for using the language insofar as it embarrassed other Republicans associated with him. That is, he did not actually apologize at all.
Sarah Palin said of Abbott, “if he’s good enough for Ted Nugent, he’s good enough for me!” Sen. Ted Cruz, quizzed on Nugent’s language, replied that he was sure that President Obama’s Hollywood friends had also said some extreme things.
Really, Ted? This comment is just “extreme”? And which liberal in the film industry has said anything like that?
The fact is that the Republican Party today has a problem with race. Not across the board, but it is there. The Party is is disproportionately made up of self-conceived white southerners with some white Midwesterners and westerners, allied with Wall Street big money. It has even lost the majority of Asian-Americans and Arab-Americans, and can’t get even a plurality of Latinos or more than a handful of African-Americans (traditionally Republicans before the 1970s) to vote for it. The Tea Party and other currents in the party often express white male rage about the rise of the minorities, and the party’s refusal to consider immigration reform is rooted in that rage.
Of course you can read more at the link.
There was also some news about asshole cops:
That is quality top notch policing if you ask me. /snark
More ridiculous crap to get you worked up here…I got this petition notice in my email yesterday.
In an article in The Nation by Jessica Valenti, TED content director and TEDWomen co-host Kelly Stoetzel said that abortion does not fit into the focus on “wider issues of justice, inequality and human rights.” She said that “Abortion is more of a topical issue we wouldn’t take a position on, any more than we’d take a position on a state tax bill.”
But that’s just it – access to abortion IS an issue of justice, inequality, and human rights. As NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue noted in her letter, last year the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, issued a report declaring that denying women access to abortion amounts to torture. If families cannot care for, feed, or plan their families adequately, they are more likely to remain in poverty. That’s inequality. As Tara Culp-Ressler points out, 47,000 women die from unsafe abortions every year. Not talking about abortion has many consequences. It leads to inadequate support for people who have abortions, lack of insurance coverage of abortion, and even unsafe abortions.
Statistics show that 1 in 3 women will have an abortion by the time they turn 45, but because of silence and stigma, they often don’t feel safe enough to talk about their abortion. I know this from experience. I felt ashamed and isolated for six years. I had no one to talk to. The people I meet who’ve had abortions feel it too. Abortion stigma hurts. Can we talk about it?
By talking openly about abortion, TED Talks will reach out to millions of people with abortion experiences and tell us that we matter. Our stories matter.
What if TED spread a great new idea – how to listen to people’s experience with compassion, love, and without judgment?
Those of us who have had abortions, and our loved ones, hear you. We are watching you. Will you take a moment to listen to us? Will you help share our stories?
TED Talks have the power to shift abortion stigma. They have the power to create a space within TED where people can hear nuanced, honest abortion stories. Our voices need to be heard. TED Talks: Lift Your Ban on Abortion!
If you can go on TED Talks and listen to the
shit talks they have by Jesus freaks Rick Warren, Billy Graham, A.J. Jacobs, then I think they have enough space to hold talks on women’s issues as important as rights to safe legal abortion.
Look at this interesting map, I wonder what Dak has to say about it: Income Inequality Is Even Worse In Big Cities: Study
As for something fun: 15 Made-Up Words That You Should Start Using Right Now
Ever heard of “nurdeling”? You know, the act of sticking your cold feet under someone’s butt on the couch. How about a “woolly-doop-doop”? That thing, when you’re driving and you go fast over a bump in the road, and that it makes your stomach jump a little. Not ringing any bells?
Well, that’s because these are made-up words, courtesy of “The Made-Up Words Project.” The hilarious illustration series is the brainchild of designer Rinee Shah, a San Francisco-based artist who sketches out the meanings of comically nonsensical terms. Particularly, words that are commonplace amongst certain groups of friends and family members that, for one reason or another, just stuck.
You can see Shah artwork here: The Made-Up Words Project
I am thinking of sending her my daughter’s phrase “Coochie Day” you know, what she calls those days when only beings with “coochies” go out and do something special. No “dingys” aloud!
Okay, on to news out of the NFL:
John Wooten, head of the Fritz Pollard Alliance that monitors diversity in the NFL, said he expects the league’s competition committee to enact a rule at the owner’s meeting next month making it an automatic 15-yard penalty if a player uses the N-word on the field, with a second infraction meriting an ejection.
I wonder when the use of the word “Redskins” will get the same kind of racial allocation?
Michael Sam stepped onto stage and looked into what might have been the largest media gathering in the history of the NFL scouting combine. Hundreds of reporters clustered in, and there were three rows of TV and video cameras.
“I just wish you guys would just see me as Michael Sam the football player,” the Missouri defensive end said, “instead of Michael Sam the gay football player.”
Then again, it was Sam who generated the story with his announcement two weeks ago he is homosexual, telling his story to the New York Times and ESPN. He is on track to become the first openly gay professional athlete in a major American team sport, and he acknowledges the significance of his place in history.
“Everything that my Mizzou family has done for me has been amazing,” he said, wearing a small, rainbow-colored “Stand With Sam” button on his NFL-issued sweatsuit. “I walk around campus and dozens of students and faculty give me hugs or kisses, start crying in my arms. It’s unbelievable.”
I think it is wonderful and brave of Sam to come out like he did. It should not be such a big deal, but believe me it is. I know in all these years of NFL there have been gay players on the field. It would be crazy to think that the NFL has been “gay free,” just as it is to think Sochi is “gay free.”
And even though I could usually care less about the draft, I am paying attention to it this time.
Tennis great Billie Jean King arrived for Sunday’s closing of the 2014 Winter Olympics with a message for Russia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community: Hang in, hang on, and you’re not alone.
“Having the Winter Olympics here, the situation here in Russia, has opened up dialogue,” King said Saturday. “I’m always big on love over hate, and I think it’s important that everyone’s treated equally and good to each other. Hopefully, the LGBT community here in Russia knows that they’re not alone and we’ll learn from them.”
King, who is gay, is part of the official U.S. delegation that will witness the end of the 23-day international sports festival. Her presence represents the United States’ objection to a so-called “anti-propaganda” law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed last June.
In other Olympic news, did you see the racist comments from Ashley Wagner Blasts Olympic Figure Skating Judging, Calls For An End To Anonymous Judging
Well, for a little more analysis on that statement of Wagner: Why Ashley Wagner Is Wrong About Figure Skating
The American skater who ended up in seventh place yesterday is all over the news this morning saying she feels cheated — actually, “gypped” is the word she unfortunately used. Wagner is already known for the face she made when she got a low score during the team competition earlier in the games. Now she’s publicly questioning the sport’s judging system.
Before the scores even came in commentator Tara Lipinski noted, “To the audience it may look perfect, but when the judges go back and examine those landings she’s going to lose a lot of points.”
“A few shaky landings, a few issues here and there, landing on two feet,” said Johnny Weir. “But it wasn’t a flying endorsement of Ashley Wagner.”
Weir used the word endorsement because her selection for the U.S. Olympic team was surprising after a poor performance at Nationals — an unofficial qualifying event for the American team — where she finished fourth and fell twice. But the skating association sent Wagner to the Olympics because she has more experience in the international competitive circuit than skater who finished ahead of her, Mirai Nagasu.
Wagner’s skates at the Olympics are certainly a huge personal victory after all that doubt and pressure. Taking her bows after the long program, she was celebrating like she had the skate of her life. And her performances were fun to watch and both good ones — but just because she didn’t fall doesn’t mean they were great. And it doesn’t mean, as she is suggesting, that she deserves to place higher than other skaters who did fall, especially when those other skaters landed more difficult jumps more beautifully than she did. Her remarks are poor sportsmanship — and seem to be a campaign to change the sport to favor those who don’t take risks.
Enough of that shit, now for some interesting and pretty links.
With its steep, forested mountains set against blue skies, Romania’s central Pojarna Valley once looked like a postcard landscape but illegal logging has turned the site into an ugly scar.
“The guys who did this used excavators. They even destroyed the young trees,” said Gheorghe Ridichie, an official at Romania’s forestry ministry, pointing to thousands of stumps poking out of the valley’s now-barren slopes.
Barren slopes to bare naked bodies: Photos Of Nude Dancers Show A Very Different Side Of The Human Body (NSFW)
Ludovic Florent‘s series “Poussières d’étoiles” (Stardust). In it, the French photographer captures the fluid movements of nude dancers, their bodies partially covered by clouds of dust that both obscure and accentuate the curves and lines of their muscles. The images provide a very different perspective of the human body, emphasizing the dynamic potential of bare forms.
More than 750 sharks, tarpon, tuna and billfish, fitted with satellite-linked tags, are providing scientists with data on temperature and salinity at various depths in the Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean. It’s information they hope could someday be used to improve hurricane forecasts, since a storm’s strength largely depends on how much warm water it will encounter.
“What the fish are providing is a profile of the ocean’s heat structure,” said Jerald Ault, a marine biology professor at the University of Miami. “You get a picture of what the upper layers of the ocean look like.”
Ault and other scientists at UM’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science started tagging tarpon in 2001 and sharks in 2010 to learn more about migration, feeding and reproduction. About three years ago, they discovered a remarkable pattern: the fish remained in waters that were about 79 degrees, the minimum required for tropical systems to develop.
In addition, many swam into the waters around tropical systems, which churned up nutrients and made hunting for food easier.
That’s when scientists realized that fish could provide accurate ocean temperatures, which could be fed into the computer models that forecasters use to develop tropical predictions.
Funny how animals can predict things like weather, storms, earthquake and tsunamis? Some can even tell when people are about to have epileptic seizures. I don’t know, something to think about on this Sunday Morning isn’t it?
Share your links with us today!
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.
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
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.
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.
Google has also launched a person finder.
The storm is now on its way to Vietnam:
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.”
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:
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.
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’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 forensic scientists 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.
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?
The issue of what to do with Syria, its civil war, and its brutal dictator’s gas attacks on its innocent citizens is on the US agenda tonight as President Obama takes the case for “narrow” attacks on specific Syrian targets. Can he persuade a war weary nation who has heard this type of case once before? The speech will be carried on TV and the internet live tonight at 9 pm EST.
Some suggested before Speech Reads:
President Obama’s big national address on Syria tonight isn’t aimed just at a deeply skeptical American public. It’s also targeted to the members of Congress who could decide the fate of the Obama administration’s actions on Syria, including the request for an authorization of force, if that route is still open.
What those actions could look like is totally in flux as of Tuesday afternoon, with a new report fromThe Wall Street Journal that Syria is not only acknowledging it has chemical weapons for the first time, but also saying it would tell the “United Nations, Russia, and others” where they are located. This development comes a day after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared to an American audience that his country has never used such weapons and refused to comment on whether Syria had a stockpile.
With the White House privately starting to believe it may not have the votes for an authorization of force, the administration has spent some of the last day trying to win Republican Senate support for getting a new agreement through Congress, reports National Review‘s Robert Costa. That agreement could be pegged to the diplomatic progress made over the last day, and it could be something we all hear more about tonight.
So far, Obama has given many of his usual staunch opponents a good deal of face time to discuss the possibilities on Syria. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden hosted a group of Republican senators—including Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, and Saxby Chambliss—for dinner (Italian was served) at the Naval Observatory on Sunday. And a half-dozen Republican lawmakers were granted the attention of White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough this week.
Obama’s speech will likely be about more than just missiles—specifically, the whirlwind of diplomacy that we’ve seen over the past 24 hours. But how members of Congress take tonight’s speech will go a long way toward deciding just how much room the administration will have to act.
Russian Times: Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Syria’s chemical arms handover will only work if the US and its allies renounce the use of force against Damascus.
“Of course, all of this will only mean anything if the United States and other nations supporting it tell us that they’re giving up their plan to use force against Syria. You can’t really ask Syria, or any other country, to disarm unilaterally while military action against it is being contemplated,” President Putin said on Tuesday.
President Putin said that the matter of bringing Syria’s chemical weapons under international control has long been a subject of discussion by experts and politicians.
Putin confirmed that he and President Barack Obama had “indeed discussed” such a possibility on the sidelines of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg last week.
It was agreed, Putin said, “to instruct Secretary of State [John Kerry] and Foreign Minister [Sergey Lavrov]to work together and see if they can achieve some progress in this regard.”
President Putin’s comments came shortly after the Syrian government said it would agree to place its chemical weapons arsenal under international control.
Think about what will happen if the Russian initiative starts to fly.
Chemical weapons are relatively easy to make and store (and fire), but much harder to dismantle safely. The chemicals themselves are fiendishly dangerous and need to be destroyed with specialist equipment without creating environmental hazards. Plus the explosive part of the delivery shell needs careful handling. Destroying CW stocks is therefore a complex and expensive operation, even under calm conditions. Both the United States and Russia have both heavily failed to meet internationally agreed deadlines for destroying their massive Cold War legacy chemical weapons stocks.
There is no precedent for attempting anything like this in a country wracked by civil war. It just can’t happen. No Syrian chemical weapons will be destroyed or “handed over” quickly.
Meanwhile any new process of setting up an international monitoring and destruction regime will require painstaking UN and wider negotiation with the Assad regime, thereby giving Assad and his state apparatus a massive boost of renewed confidence and legitimacy. Before long Washington may find itself locked on to implicitly or even explicitly supporting Assad in his civil war as the best chance to get some sort of internationally agreed CW destruction programme delivered in Syria.
1. Is Kerry a national-security genius, or a guy who says whatever half-baked idea comes to mind, or both?
2. Why are the Russians seemingly so ready to aid Kerry and President Barack Obama by helping relieve Syria of its chemical weapons? Since when is Russia interested in helping the U.S. out of a jam, even if it burnishes its own reputation in the process?
3. Do these early signs that Russia might be interested in making a deal to avert an attack prove that threatening to attack was the right thing to do?
4. Who is making American policy on Syria? Kerry or Obama?
5. Why would Assad give up his chemical weapons? He saw what happened when Libya’s late dictator Muammar Qaddafi gave up his weapons of mass destruction program, which is to say, he lost some of his deterrent power.
6. How do you possibly verify that Assad has given up all of his chemical weapons? The Syrian regime possesses hundreds of tons of these munitions.
7. Does Syria get to keep its biological weapons under this still nonexistent deal?
8. If the U.S. gives up the idea of an attack, would the remaining moderate rebels, so dispirited, start moving toward the al-Qaeda column?
9. How do you secure and transport all of these chemical-weapons components in the midst of a horrifically violent civil war?
10. Even if the theoretical strike was intended to be “unbelievably small,” why would the U.S. tell Syria this?
11. A related question: Who goes to war not to win?
12. Let’s just say that Assad gives up his chemical weapons. Does that mean he gets to kill civilians in more prosaic ways indefinitely? Is that it?
13. If Assad’s behavior is even somewhat analogous to Hitler’s, as administration officials (and surrogates like Senator Harry Reid) are suggesting, then how is it possible to argue for anything other than Assad’s total defeat?
14. At a certain point in this drama, will any of the various Arab countries that want the U.S. to bomb Syria then go do it themselves?
15. How did the U.S. get so bollixed-up by the tin-pot dictator of a second-tier Middle East country?
Tonight at 9:00 PM ET, President Obama will address the nation from the East Room of the White House.
The President will be speaking about the United States’ response to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons that killed more than 1,400 civilians — including more than 400 children.
You can watch the President’s speech live on WhiteHouse.gov/Syria.
I have to believe that we’re all going to have some different thoughts on all of this. I am still torn.
Obama hatred has really reached a crescendo today, and I’m not talking about hatred spewed by the Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, or Rush Limbaugh. I’m talking about people who identify themselves as “progressives.” Twitter is mobbed emoprogs making a concerted effort to ensure that if there is a deal with Russia and Syria to prevent military action over Syria’s use of chemical weapons, President Obama will get zero credit for it.
Meanwhile supposedly “left-wing” pundits Robert Dreyfuss and Robert Scheer are praising Russia’s anti-gay, ex-KGB agent President Vladimir Putin for leading the way to peace.
Check this out from Dreyfuss at The Nation:
It’s tempting to enjoy the moment, that is, the humiliation of President Obama and the short-circuiting of his war push by a brilliant coup conducted by Vladimir Putin, that sly old dog and ju-jitsu expert, along with Russia’s ally, Syria. President Obama might as well not bother giving his Oval Office speech tonight, because the chances that Congress will approve Obama’s Authorization to Use Military Force are zero, and the possibility that the United States will go to war against Syria without congressional support are now less than zero.
You know, I really don’t take pleasure in seeing the President of my country humiliated; and I have to wonder about the judgement of a “journalist” who does–especially a journalist who probably doesn’t want to see a President Ted Cruz elected in 2016.
Dreyfuss can’t imagine a scenario in which Obama doesn’t particularly want to bomb Syria but threatens to do so in order to pressure Russia to respond with a diplomatic alternative. However he can picture Putin doing something clever and sneaky. Dreyfuss even quotes Tucker Carlson and Fox News–of all people!–in support of his belief that Obama is utterly incompetent and incapable of guile.
Ask yourself–if instead of threatening military strikes, Obama had simply asked Assad in a nice way to give up his chemical weapons, what would have happened?
Robert Scheer also wrote a snide piece at Truthdig that isn’t quite as in-your-face nasty as Dreyfuss’s but it’s pretty bad, and Scheer also quotes a right-wing pudit–Peggy Noonan! Scheer writes:
…there was a moment Monday when the odds for sanity seemed to finally stand a chance of prevailing. It came when President Obama acknowledged the Russian proposal for Syria to avert war by agreeing to destroy its chemical weapons stock as “a potentially positive development.” It was quintessentially an un-Bush moment when suddenly this presidential “decider” seemed possessed of a brain capable of reversing his disastrous course.
Because Obama has, until now, been completely intractable and inflexible, with a Bush-like brain?
The bipartisan rejection of the inevitability of a military response has been stunning in its geographical reach, and as Peggy Noonan, a leading Republican intellectual as well as a former top speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, observed in her Wall Street Journal column Saturday: “The American people do not support military action… . Widespread public opposition is in itself reason not to go forward.” Although underscoring the need to “rebuke those who used the weapons, condemn their use, and shun the users … a military strike is not the way, and not the way for America,” she wrote.
She is right. The use of chemical weapons cannot be ignored, even though the U.S. did just that decades ago when then-Mideast special envoy Donald Rumsfeld embraced Saddam Hussein after he deployed those heinous weapons on his own people and in his war with Iran. A strong response to the use of those weapons is in order, but instead of more violence that would inevitably kill innocent people, why not give peace a chance? At the very least, even if the Syrian government continues to deny responsibility for the chemical attacks, it must abandon its arsenal of these weapons that are inherently inhuman.
So what would that response be? Scheer credits Russian foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov with a sudden brainstorm in response to a supposedly off-handed remark from John Kerry.
Lavrov seized upon Secretary of State John Kerry’s purely rhetorical point that Syria could abandon its chemical weapons supply and asked, why not? It was a serious plan, given that it had been previewed in a phone conversation between Lavrov and Kerry and that Syria’s foreign minister, who was in Moscow at the time, welcomed the sentiment.
Except if Kerry and Lavrov had discussed the idea previously, then Kerry’s remark wasn’t an off-handed gaffe that destroyed Obama’s dream of war, was it? Scheer truly wants to describe events in such a way that Obama comes out looking like a stupid, incompetent war monger.
Since Dreyfuss’ and Scheer’s diatribes were posted, we’ve learned that Obama and Putin have been discussing diplomatic solutions to deal with Syria’s chemical weapons for months. Laura Rozen of Foreign Policy writes at The Back Channel:
U.S. and Russian officials confirmed Tuesday that they have had discussions about removing Syria’s chemical arms going back months before the August 21st alleged chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, and that the idea was not born out of a stray comment made by US Secretary of State John Kerry at a London press conference Monday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that he and President Obama had “indeed discussed” the idea during a meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia last week.
He and Obama agreed “to instruct Secretary of State [John Kerry] and Foreign Minister [Sergey Lavrov] to get in touch” and “try to move this idea forward,” Putin told Russia Today in an interview Tuesday.
According to Rozen, Obama and Putin discussed the issue a year ago when the two met at the G-20 summit in Mexico and John Kerry talked about it further with Putin when he was in Moscow in April of this year. I guess in the time of Wikileaks, Snowden, and Greenwald, it’s now assumed that government are permitted no secrets and diplomacy must be carried out in the glare of TV cameras. Well, folks, that really isn’t how it works.
And now, as Sam Stein noted on Twitter, emoprogs are “this close” to hoping for a failure of the diplomatic solution so that Obama can be further mocked and humiliated.
I’m not sure where all the Obama hatred is coming from, but it’s really ugly; and the more I see of it, the more I want to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. I really like Bob Cesca’s take on this: A Deal to Prevent an Attack on Syria Reveals Obama as JFK, Not GWB.
Is anyone else here old enough to recall the Cuban missile crisis? Kennedy had learned that Russia had installed missiles in Cuba. His advisers urged him to attack Cuba and take out the missiles, but that would have forced the Russians to retaliate and likely led to World War III. Instead Kennedy set up a blockade around Cuba, and gave both sides some breathing room. From Wikipedia:
in secret back-channel communications the President and Premier initiated a proposal to resolve the crisis. While this was taking place, several Soviet ships attempted to run the blockade, increasing tensions to the point that orders were sent out to US Navy ships to fire warning shots and then open fire. On October 27, a U-2 plane was shot down by a Soviet missile crew, an action that could have resulted in immediate retaliation from the Kennedy crisis cabinet, according to Secretary of Defense McNamara’s later testimony. Kennedy stayed his hand and the negotiations continued.
The confrontation ended on October 28, 1962, when Kennedy and United Nations Secretary-General U Thant reached an agreement with Khrushchev. Publicly, the Soviets would dismantle their offensive weapons in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union, subject to United Nations verification, in exchange for a US public declaration and agreement never to invade Cuba. Secretly, the US also agreed that it would dismantle all US-built Jupiter IRBMs, armed with nuclear warheads, which were deployed in Turkey and Italy against the Soviet Union.
Now that we know that the US and Russia have been engaging in “back-channel” negotiations over Syria, isn’t that a better comparison to the current situation than Bush and Cheney lying us into Iraq?