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

Adrian_Rumbaut_series_Mas_cerca_de_ti_3

 

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cuban-Art-Graffiti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret meetings with Cuba finally pay off.

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

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

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

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

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

Read all about it at the Reuters link.

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

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

- Alfredo Triff, Musician and Art Critic

Cuba_Mata_Conga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some reactions to Obama’s great achievement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once again, read much more at the link.

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

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

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

 

More reactions from Republican politicians:

Drunken party-pooper John Boehner is not happy. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday Reads: History and the Selfie Generation

157481 600 stop and frisk cartoons

Good Morning

I hate that the blog has been in bitchfest mode lately…mainly because it brings the juju down, but dammit…the news is bad and the people are just hateful! For example:

Chinese couple may face jail over hot noodles assault

A Chinese couple who got into a furious row with cabin crew on a flight could find themselves separated for quite some time after the incident escalated when hot noodles were thrown into the face of a hostess.

aa83ebc88a23a189b7a331629f05ae8aThe incident that happened on a Thai AirAsia plane was captured on cellphone footage taken by other passengers that show one of the hostesses touching her face after being scalded when she was hit with a hot dish.

She was reportedly given first aid on board by her colleagues to deal with the burns and was taken to a hospital after the flight turned around and landed back in the Thai capital Bangkok.

The trouble started when the couple boarded the plane and found themselves seated separately on the charter flight from Bangkok to the Chinese city of Nanjing. And even though the seating was rearranged to put the couple together, they were still angry and refused to calm down.

The video clip showing the man shouting at staff members who are trying to restrain him quickly went viral after it was uploaded on Chinese social media network Weibo. A spokesman for the budget airline 08_115970001said that the plane had been forced to turn round so that the angry couple could be arrested.

The spokesman said that the decision to turn around had been made after the man claimed to have a bomb and threatened to blow the plane up.

 

They got what they wanted, and still were belligerent assholes.

What the hell is wrong with people?

And let me take it a step further. These assholes, horrid waste of breathing flesh and bone…half of these people are the ones who go on abusing, committing the assault or killing the innocent; and you can bet your ass that, the other half are the people who are just outside during the said violence, killing or assaults…taking obnoxious grinning selfies while there…in the background…human beings are losing their lives.11_05925884

Sydney siege: Not the moment for a selfie – Comment – Voices – The Independent

Some kind of low point that may even sum up something about the direction of society. “I wonder what has happened to empathy?” asks one Mail Online commenter. And you do wonder. Because it takes a special kind of narcissist to take a selfie while, not 100 feet away, people are cooped up with a gunman with their life in – how do you call it? – oh yes, danger. Their lives are in danger. Not a popcorn moment. Not a movie. Not something that, even if all goes well and the hostages make it out safe, you ought to find pleasing-as-punch.

] A hostage runs towards a police officer outside a cafe, where other hostages are being held in Sydney

 

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Compare the rubbernecker expression – one guy even literally grinning like a Cheshire Cat – with the terror on the face of the café worker who sprints into the arms of a policeman. I guess the rule should be: don’t selfie when there are a bunch of other selfies nearby that will probably be – at the moment you snap – either crying or close to it.

 

Selfie shame of people posing for pictures of themselves at Sydney terror siege | Daily Mail Online

Tourists have always taken selfies of themselves at Sydney’s most iconic landmarks, but on a day that has horrified the city many people are taking macabre snapshots for old times’ sake as well.

All day people were uploading selfies of themselves on Twitter from as close as possible to where the hostage siege was taking place.

Just to make the photos more authentic some even took them with television cameras in the background. Two onlookers even looked like they were taking a ‘celebration selfie’ than one at a hostage siege. Others smiled happily as if they were standing in front of Sydney Opera House instead of a chilling hostage crisis that could yet end in tragedy.

These three men also looked pleased to be in Martin Place despite the chilling circumstances

 

I really don’t think this generation should be called the Millennial Generation, it should be called the Selfie Generation because that is the perfect description of what they are, selfish.

7a00715Now, take those images above and the story about the young couple aboard the airline, and read this post from Gin and Tacos:

UNINTERESTED OBSERVERS | Gin and Tacos

A few weeks ago I had a bad day. This is not unusual; in fact, it would be worth pointing out if I had a good one, which I believe happened last during the Clinton administration. The day in question was specifically a bad day in the classroom, something that in all honesty does not happen terribly often. Having taught at the college level for the better part of a decade, my expectations are so low that it’s nearly impossible to end up disappointed. I have come to accept the fact that the students have no interest in the subject matter and no desire to interact with me or their classmates in any meaningful way. I expect that they will sit there and look bored for an hour-plus, and that’s usually exactly what I get. Expectations met.

30ea5a7e6a2f9df28b4debd7bcf35e0cOn this particular day, my morning class was presented with a very basic exercise I do with material on public opinion. I put up three pictures: Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, QB/Pizza Salesperson Peyton Manning, and chart-topping knucklehead Lil’ Jon, whose megahit “Turn Down for What” has been inescapable for the past six months. I change the celebrities every year or two to ensure that it’s someone relevant – I used Simon Cowell when “American Idol” first became a big hit, and so on. The way this has always worked is that the students of course identify the athlete and celebrity but have no idea who the elected official is. I also ask them some other celebrity-related questions, like who is married to Kanye West and what the couple named their recent child. 18_1267200The point I make is that Americans are indeed capable of retaining information; we know gobs of facts about sports, celebrities, and so on. We know almost nothing about politics because we do not pay much attention to it and we don’t find it interesting. There is no good reason we can’t know who are representatives are the same way we know the starting lineup of our favorite teams or the cast members of Real Housewives of Shreveport. We know the latter because it interests us and ignore the former because it doesn’t.

I am going to quote the rest of the post because it is so good and so damn true:

Lately, say for the past few semesters, I’ve noticed something strange: the students don’t seem to know any of the celebrity BS anymore either. Back in the mid 2000s, I would ask who is married to Tom Cruise (everyone immediately knew) and what they named their child (in unision, “Suri!”). Now, even though I update the “material” to be contemporary, they don’t really know. They still don’t know who the political figures are, of course, and now they don’t know the trashy celebrity gossip either.

f42bb33cf24e5e172779d290a657c802After having this experience in the morning, I went next to an Honors class in which I had reserved the day for discussion. They had assigned readings and some basic questions they were required to answer so that they might have something to talk about in class (as opposed to showing up having read nothing and having never thought about the issue). I don’t even recall the topic, but after about 15 minutes of trying to get blood from a turnip I got exasperated. “OK,” I said, “it is painfully clear that you are not interested in the slightest in this topic. So please tell me, what would you like to talk about? We can talk about anything. Just tell me what interests you. I am serious, I really want to know.”

7a00715I won’t recount the entire unfruitful discussion that follows, but I asked dozens of questions that require no knowledge whatsoever to answer. What do you like? What do you do in your free time? Do you watch (sports, movies, TV series, video games, etc)? When you sneak your phones out in class, what are you doing on them? After about an hour I came to the conclusion, based on what this group of about 18 college freshmen and sophomores told me, that their interests are 1) Tumblr, 2) Netflix, and 3) texting each other. As to what they look at on Tumblr, the answer appeared to be random nonsense – memes, cat pictures, collections of pictures of Bad _____, and the like, so it’s not even like they’re using Tumblr to become acquainted with any topic, even a frivolous one. As for what they text each other about given their apparent lack of definable interests, the answer was that they talk about themselves and one another.

97b99b48e30a8687322e56e2504c2cc2Every generation complains about the ones that follow, and I don’t believe that these kids are any dumber than college kids were 20 or 50 years ago. I simply do not understand, however, their complete lack of interest in anything. I get that they are not interested in news and politics; hell, I rely on that fact to make some important points while teaching them about those topics. I am absolutely baffled, though, at the idea that they are not even interested in any of the kinds of fluff that Americans use as alternatives to learning substantive things about the world – sports, Hollywood celebrity crap, pop music, etc. It is alarming to me that in a moment of frustration and total honesty I asked them – begged them – to tell me what does interest them given that my chosen topics so clearly do not and that the answer seems to be…themselves.

I’m trying not to sound like an old, out-of-it man, but this is baffling to me. And I’d be lying if I claimed not to wonder about the future prospects of a cohort of people who may have no interests of any kind outside of their own lives.

He is right, and I think that those selfie pictures during the hostage situation pretty much illustrate that point…to the extreme perhaps but y’all get the point I am trying to make here.

1c55a0073dd06ae64b81813f85e6c021Anyway, I was happy to find out what interest my daughter’s boyfriend, he is into Mongolian history. Which is fine with me, I am glad. However he doesn’t know what the “Battle of the Bulge” is…yeah, fancy that. I mentioned at dinner last night that Dec. 16th was the anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. I asked if he knew what that was…and his reply was, something with the civil war? Ugh.

But hey, he should have learned that in history last year. Do they not teach that anymore?

Battle of the Bulge: Rare Photos From Hitler’s Last Gamble | LIFE.com

7a00715564a8f9ce4a1bd0bd7b052dcaFrom mid-December 1944 through the end of January 1945, in the heavily forested Ardennes Mountains of Belgium, thousands of American, British, Canadian, Belgian and French forces struggled to turn back the final major German offensive of World War II. While Allied forces ultimately triumphed, it was an absolutely vicious six weeks of fighting, with tens of thousands dead on both sides. Today, the conflict is known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Here, 70 years after the start of the Ardennes Counteroffensive (as the battle is sometimes known), LIFE.com presents a series of photographs made by LIFE photographers throughout the fighting. Many of these pictures never ran in LIFE magazine.

0337887167a83eba1ecfa789f8578a5aFor its final offensive to succeed, Germany needed four factors to work in its favor: catching the Allies off-guard; poor weather that would neutralize air support for Allied troops; the dealing of early, devastating, demoralizing blows against the Allies; and capturing Allied fuel supplies intact. (Indeed, Germany originally intended to attack on November 27, but had to delay its initial assault due to fuel shortages). On December 16, 1944, the German attack began: the Wehrmacht (the Third Reich’s unified armed forces) struck with 250,000 soldiers along an 85-mile stretch of Allied front, stretching from southern Belgium to Luxembourg.

The attack proved stunningly effective, at first, as troops advanced some 50 miles into Allied territory, creating the “bulge” in the American lines that gave the battle its memorable name.

A Belgian woman surveys damage to her home caused by heavy fighting in the nearby Ardennes Forest, Battle of the Bulge.American forces had been feeling triumphant — Paris had just been liberated in August — and there was a sense among some American and other Allied leaders that Germany was all but defeated. The attack in December 1944, officially labeled the “Ardennes-Alsace Campaign” by the U.S. Army, showed that any complacency the Allies might have embraced regarding the Wehrmacht was dangerously misplaced.

(At right: A Belgian woman surveys damage to her home caused by heavy fighting during the Battle of the Bulge.)

Nevertheless, as effective as the initial German efforts were, they failed to achieve the complete and early knockout of Allied forces that German military brass had hoped for, and counted on. (Wehrmacht Field Marshal Walter Model had given the attack only a 10 percent chance of success to begin with. The German name for the operation: Wacht am Rhein, or “Watch on the Rhine.”)

14_00632003One of the most difficult aspects of the Bulge was the weather, as extreme — indeed, historic — cold wreaked havoc and turned relatively simple logistics of travel, shelter, and meals into a daily struggle. January 1945 was the coldest January on record for that part of Europe, and over the course of the battle more than 15,000 Allied troops alone were treated for frostbite and other cold-related injuries.

Many more pictures here: Pinterest- BATTLE OF THE BULGE

The rest of the links in dump format:

Pakistan school attack: Taliban kill 145 – CNN.com

Clinton: ‘U.S. should never condone or practice torture’ | MSNBC

Unless I’m missing something, this is an exceedingly strange opinion – The Washington Post

783849e0cdfc31d2790ea8dc48870d29Ohio Detective Berated Girlfriend of Black Man Shot and Killed by Cops

Addicting Info – Bryan Fischer: Torture Is A Christian Value (VIDEO)

Samuel L Jackson launches Eric Garner anti-racism campaign song – People – News – The Independent

Heartwarming Racial Profiling Story Goes Viral, Solves Racism | The Daily Banter

I don’t know if I would call it “heartwarming.”

Evolution in our national science museum, thanks to David Koch

Turtle that breathes through its bottom is endangered, scientists warn – Science – News – The Independent

‘Benjy’ the gay bull saved by Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon has found love in his new home – Home News – UK – The Independent

‘Benjy’, the gay bull who was saved from the slaughterhouse after The Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon backed a campaign to have the animal transported to a sanctuary, has found love in his new home.

The Irish bull was destined for the butchers after he failed to show any interest in the cows at his previous home on County Mayo farm, where he was instead found to have preferred the company of the other bulls.

But Benjy was saved after a crowd-funding campaign to have him transferred to a sanctuary gathered pace, and animal rights campaigners Peta informed Mr Simon of the bull’s plight and he donated a further £5,000 to the cause.

Benjy the bull 

Within minutes of arriving at his new home on Sunday, Benjy befriended Alex, a one-year-old bullock described as a “handsome little lad” by a spokesperson for the sanctuary.

Benjy the gay bull has found love with a young bullock named Alex at his new home
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Hurray for Benj!

 

I will end with Doug the Pug, cause all he wants for Christmas…is Food!

 


Monday Reads: “Christmas Is At Our Throats Again.”

Matisse woman reading2

Good Morning!!

It’s only 10 days until Christmas, and I really can’t wait until the whole dreadful thing is over and we can go back to normal life. Even though I generally ignore “the holidays,” no one can really avoid being affected by the insanity of it all.

On Sunday, The New York Times published a piece about the empty feeling so many people have at this time of year. The author is Arthur C. Brooks of the {gag!} American Enterprise Institute, but I’m trying to ignore that too for the moment. He opens with a supposed quote from Noel Coward: “Christmas is at our throats again.” I can’t believe I’ve never heard it before.

Abundance Without Attachment

“Christmas is at our throats again.”

That was the cheery yuletide greeting favored by the late English playwright Noël Coward, commemorating the holiday after which he was named. Less contrarian were the words of President Calvin Coolidge: “Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

Which quotation strikes a chord with you? Are you a Coward or a Coolidge?

If you sympathize more with Coward, welcome to the club. There are many more of us out there than one might expect. A 2005 survey by the Pew Research Center found that more than half of Americans were bothered “some” or “a lot” by the commercialization of Christmas. A 2013 follow-up confirmed that materialism is Americans’ least favorite part of the season.

Call it the Christmas Conundrum. We are supposed to revel in gift-giving and generosity, yet the season’s lavishness and commercialization leave many people cold. The underlying contradiction runs throughout modern life. On one hand, we naturally seek and rejoice in prosperity. On the other hand, success in this endeavor is often marred by a materialism we find repellent and alienating.

Read the rest if you’re interested. I have some issues with the author’s point of view; if he’s really into nonattachment, why is he employed by the AEI?

wise men

I also came across this piece from last December 20 in The New Republic. It’s a reprint of an essay from 1990 by James S. Henry.

Why I Hate Christmas

Although for many years Christmas has been justified on the grounds that it is “merry,” rigorous quantitative analysis establishes that the opposite is the case. Despite claims advanced by proponents that the holiday promotes a desirable “spirit,” makes people “jolly,” etc., the data show that the yuletide time period is marked by environmental degradation, hazardous products and travel, andperhaps most importantinefficient uses of key resources. The holiday is an insidious and overlooked factor in America’s dwindling savings rates, slack worth ethic, and high crime rates. Nor does Christmas truly fulfill its purported distributional objective: the transfer of gifts to those who need them. Moreover, the number of people rendered “joyous” by Christmas is probably equaled or excelled by the number made to feel rather blue. In short, as shown below, although Christmas is an important religious observance that provides wintertime fun for children (who would probably be having fun anyway), it fails the test of cost-effectiveness.

Christmas consumes vast resources in the dubious and uncharitable activity of “forced giving.” First, it is necessary to factor in all the time spent searching for “just the right gifts,” writing and mailing cards to people one ignores the rest of the year, decorating trees, attending dreary holiday parties with highly fattening, cholesterol-rich eggnog drinks and false cheer, and returning presents. Assuming conservatively that each U.S. adult spends an average of two days per year on Christmas activities, this represents an investment of nearly one million person-years per season. Just as important is the amount that Americans spend on gratuitous gifts each year$40 billion to $50 billion, according to the U.S. Commerce Department’s monthly retail trade sales. Extra consumer spending is often considered beneficial because it stimulates the economy, but the massive yuletide spike creates numerous harmful externalities.

Mistargeted giving is one indication of this waste. According to New York department stores, each year about 15 percent of all retail dollar purchases at Christmas are returned. Allowing for the fact that many misdirected gifts are retained because people feel obliged to keep them (such as appliances, tablecloths, etc., which must be displayed when the relative who gave them to you comes for a visit), and allowing for the widespread inability of children to return gifts, this indicates that up to a third of purchases may be ill-suited to their recipients. Christmas is really a throwback to all the inefficiencies of the barter economy, in which people have to match other people’s wants to their offerings. Of course, money was invented precisely to solve this “double coincidence of wants” problem. One solution would be to require people to give each other cash as presents, but that would quickly reveal the absurdity of the whole institution.

“Forced giving” also artificially pumps up consumption and reduces savings, since it is unlikely that all the silly and expensive presents given at Christmas would be given at other times of the year. One particularly noxious aspect of Christmas consumption is “conspicuous giving,” which involves luxury gifts such as Tiffany eggs, crystal paperweights, and $15,000 watches that are designed precisely for those who are least in need of any present at all (“the person who has everything”). Most such high-priced gifts are given at Christmas; the fourth quarter, according to a sampling of New York department stores, provides more than half the year’s diamond, watch, and fur sales.

Read the rest at the link. The points are actually more relevant today in the era of the new Robber Barons than it was in 1990.

Xmas-is-evil-1-640x480

Now to the news of the day.

A hostage crisis developed in Sydney Australia yesterday and it is still going on. One armed man was holding as many as 15 hostages inside the Lindt Chocolat Cafe. There appears to be some connection with Islamic terrorism, but it’s not clear yet if this is a lone wolf or or someone actually connected to the Islamic State. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Efforts by police to negotiate a peaceful end to a siege of a cafe in the heart of Sydney’s CBD are continuing well into the night.

Police said they are dealing with an armed man, who has been holding an undisclosed number of hostages at the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Martin Place since about 9.45am.

Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione told an evening media conference that police were in contact with the suspected gunman, adding that “we are only dealing with one location”.

“Our plan, our only goal tonight is to get those people who are currently caught in that building, out of there,” Mr Scipione said. “Rest assured, we are doing all we can to set you free.”

Some hostages have now escaped. There’s lots more information at that link.

More from the LA Times:

Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirmed late Monday that the gunman appeared to have “a political motivation,” and local media reported that the gunman was trying to obtain an Islamic State flag in exchange for some of the hostages.

Two people inside the cafe had been seen pressed up against the window holding a black flag with Arabic writing early in the siege, which began about 9:45 a.m. local time. The flag appeared to say: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

The gunman claimed to have planted four bombs, two inside the cafe, and two elsewhere in Sydney, local media reported. Authorities declined to “speculate” about reports of explosives.

“I can’t speculate on what may or may not be, and that would be very unhelpful at the moment,” Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn said at an evening news conference. “At the moment we know that the person we are dealing with is armed.”

She declined to call the incident a terrorist act. “We still don’t know what the motivation might be,” she said, adding that authorities “want to resolve this peacefully.”

christmas-music

Sony Pictures is warning media outlets not to publish their hacked e-mails. From The Washington Post: 

After days of silence, Sony Pictures Entertainment acknowledged a voluminous, embarrassing leak of internal e-mails and other materials on Sunday, warning numerous media outlets in a strongly worded letter against publishing or using the “stolen” corporate data exposed by unidentified hackers.

The materials, particularly e-mails, provided an extraordinary glimpse inside one of the world’s best-known corporations. The initial stories based on the materials went viral and absorbed days of coverage last week, illuminating the high-powered dealings, petty squabbling and ego that can define Hollywood.

The company threatened legal action against news organizations that failed to heed its request, a strategy some legal scholars say would have a rough time passing muster under the First Amendment, which protects freedom of the press. Though no one has accused any news organization of participating in the theft, the letter appears to be a gambit to stop news outlets from reporting the documents.

Sony’s action came just as the hackers, who call themselves the “Guardians of Peace” reportedly threatened another dump of stolen data. The hackers have demanded the company withdraw an upcoming comedy based on a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

So the rumors that the hackers are from North Korea is true then?

The contents of the leaked data, which some analysts suspect may be linked to a North Korean regime furious over the release of Sony’s movie “The Interview,” included information on Sony’s salaries, business dealings, private health records and executive correspondence. Those letters revealed what’s been described in media reports as a racially insensitive conversation involving President Obama and disparaging remarks about some of Hollywood’s biggest actors, including Angelina Jolie and Leonardo DiCaprio.

There’s much more at the WaPo link.

google-hates-christmas-300x300

After Elizabeth Warren’s speech in the Senate last week, many in the media are stepping up their efforts to get Warren to challenge Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic nomination. It’s truly horrifying–almost an exact repeat of what happened in 2008 when the progs who now hate Obama’s guts–and eventually the Democratic establishment and the meda–handed the nomination to Obama, a candidate with only two years’ experience in the Senate. Obama at least had some political experience as a state legislator; Warren doesn’t even have that. And where would the money come from?

Some links to explore:

Wonkblog: Elizabeth Warren was told to stay quiet, but she didn’t – and it’s paying off.

WBUR Boston (NPR): Sen. Warren Warns That Spending Bill Sets Dangerous Precedent.

Huffington Post: The Speech That Could Make Elizabeth Warren the Next President of the United States.

Don’t get me wrong; I applaud what Warren is doing. But do we really want to nominate another presidential candidate based on one speech?

There’s been another police involved shooting of an unarmed black man–this time in Houston.

From the Houston Chronicle: Police: Man shot during traffic stop in southwest Houston.

Two police officers opened fire on an apparently unarmed man during a traffic stop in southwest Houston Friday night, allegedly shooting him three times for not following commands.

HPD officers pulled over the car the man was a riding in for an illegal lane change around 9:30 p.m. on Buffalo Speedway near West Fuqua.

According to authorities, the male passenger — identified by family as 38-year-old Michael Paul Walker — failed to obey orders and started to reach under his car seat.

“They saw the doors open up, one of the officers gave repeated verbal commands to stay inside the vehicle, then the officer went to brace the door to keep him (the passenger) inside,” said Houston Police Department spokesman Victor Senties. “At one point he had his arm all the way under the seat, right up to the elbow, as if he was trying to grab something … The officer gave him commands to show his hands … at that point the officer was in fear of his life and that of his partner.”

The officer fired at the man. Initial reports suggest that Walker then got out of the car and was walking around the parking lot of a convenience store before he was shot again.

“The suspect got out of the vehicle … he was digging into his pockets and waist band,” said Senties, adding that the second officer also shot the suspect.

Yeah, whatever. I don’t believe anything cops say anymore.

image_5647

Raw Story has a report from a witness to the shooting: Bystanders plead with unarmed black man to ‘lay down’ after Houston police repeatedly shoot him.

Laquesha Spencer told Local 2 that she was yelling at Walker, “‘Lay down, they are going to shoot you. They are going to kill you.’ And I guess he was in shock, he had already been shot three times, because I heard multiple gunshots.”

As Walker was stripping down, the partner of the officer who first shot him opened fire, striking him again. Police then charged and handcuffed Walker, who was taken to the hospital where he is listed in serious, but stable, condition.

Walker’s sister, Laura, said she believes the police used excessive force and is already pursuing legal action. “He didn’t even have a gun,” she said, “he’s never owned a weapon.”

At least this police shooting victim is in the hospital, not dead.

Also from Raw Story, an update on events surrounding the police shooting of John Crawford for holding a toy gun in an Ohio Walmart store: Ohio cop threatens sobbing girlfriend with jail after police gun down man in Walmart.

Police aggressively questioned the tearful girlfriend of a young black man they had just shot dead as he held a BB gun in an Ohio supermarket – accusing her of lying, threatening her with jail, and suggesting her boyfriend had planned to shoot the mother of his children.

Tasha Thomas was reduced to swearing on the lives of her relatives that John Crawford III had not been carrying a firearm when they entered the Walmart in Beavercreek, near Dayton, to buy crackers, marshmallows and chocolate bars on the evening of 5 August.

“You lie to me and you might be on your way to jail,” detective Rodney Curd told Thomas, as she wept and repeatedly offered to take a lie-detector test. After more than an hour and a half of questioning and statement-taking, Curd finally told Thomas that Crawford, 22, had died.

“As a result of his actions, he is gone,” said the detective, as she slumped in her chair and cried.

I’ll end there. I have a few more links for you that I’ll post in comments. What stories are you following today?


Sunday Reads: With a Face Like a Baboon’s…

4909b9572278555f69601692965f7419Good Sunday!

Hey, Dakinikat and Boston Boomer went local the last couple of days, so I am going to take this opportunity to do the same. Only this is not going to be a whole post on the crazy ass happenings of Banjoville. It will only be a few links about a story making world headlines from my hometown of Tampa, Florida. In fact…it is specifically about the parents of my childhood arch nemesis…a girl named “Jonele”…who I once told way back in fourth grade, at Tampa Bay Elementary School, in Mrs. de la Parte’s class…that she had a face like a baboon’s ass. (When you see the picture of her mother…whom she favored especially through the eyes and nose…you will see the resemblance is striking.)

Anyway, I remember when Jonele’s parents completely remodeled their house. It was redecorated in South American style…it looked like a big expensive Mexican style veranda, with the open area and orange-red tile floors. Something the mother had seen while on vacation…I remember it so well…her mother talking about it during Jonele’s birthday party, as she was showing people the little Mayan-like statues she got from her trip.

There is a reason for all this buildup.

I don’t know why Jonele was the bitch she was…or why she seem to pick on me. But she did, and I couldn’t stand it.

450cd893db0aacf541de5557041d02d8I had only spent 2nd and 3rd grade dealing with her shit on a daily basis, that face she would give me…the look. Damn. How she would make me cry. Sometimes I wouldn’t go to school, I would fake being sick, until I got the balls to finally tell her off that day…in the hallway, just outside the door as we were walking into Mrs. de la Parte’s fourth grade class. It was magnificent. And other kids heard me too…from that point on I stood up for myself, and I stood up for other people too…no matter what.

I guess Baboon Face gave me the ability to voice my convictions. I had always been loud and demanding as a kid, but when it came to bullies…that was another matter. Thankfully Jonele empowered me that day…we never became friends. In fact my senior yearbook still has the word bitch written across her face…but the point is that she did have some positive impact on my life, and for that I say…thank you…you bullying  baboon faced shitass bitch.

And now the news story…by the way…it also hits a bitter note because of the BoA business too.

Bank of America ordered to pay Tampa family $1 million for harassing calls | Tampa Bay Times

Joyce and Nelson Coniglio sit with attorney David Mitchell, left, after they won a $1 million judgment against Bank of America.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Joyce and Nelson Coniglio sit with attorney David Mitchell, left, after they won a $1 million judgment against Bank of America.

For four years, Joyce and Nelson Coniglio were haunted by these words:

240d537df7141f1f9e20a6309aef1c91This is Bank of America calling.
Oh…yeah…I’ve heard those same words. So did my parents. Ugh…I fucking can’t stand these people. Still.

The calls started in 2009 when B of A took over the mortgage the Coniglios used to buy a second home in their Tampa Heights neighborhood. They quickly fell behind.

On their second home no less…

The bank called, the family said, while they tried to get the loan modified. B of A called even after the cease-and-desist letters. There were hundreds of robocalls, sometimes five a day.

In July, the Coniglios sued in federal court to stop the harassment. Three months later, they won — by default judgment. B of A missed the deadline to oppose the lawsuit.

Now the bank owes the Coniglios more than $1 million.

1cf0f63d987c7b49ba3bd7d4acd77916One of the family’s attorneys, John Anthony, said he’s trying to collect right now.

“Unlike Bank of America,” he said, “we’re only going to call them once.”

You know, why do some people always seem to “luck” out?

The Coniglios are both 69 and have been married for 45 years.

Joyce Coniglio spent 44 years teaching at Tampa Bay Boulevard Elementary School. Nelson Coniglio was a trucker. In 1999 he pleaded guilty to federal charges for piloting drugs and money for a Tampa ring operating in Colombia.

The couple live in Tampa Heights, on a block surrounded by relatives. In 2006, the Conigilios bought a second home in the neighborhood for $180,000, according to records.

They didn’t have a plan for the house. Maybe another relative could use it. Maybe they would downsize. All the Coniglios knew was, they could afford it.

Then the recession hit, and so did B of A .

I don’t know, seems like they are well connected to me…

You can read the rest of the story at the link. But the thing that gets me is Nelson plead guilty for trafficking drugs and money, and here he is…winner of a million dollar lawsuit from Bank of America. There is a quote from Nelson in the article that reads:

When the bank took over the mortgage, the family said it imposed a more expensive homeowner’s insurance policy on them, doubling their payments to $2,800 a month.

“Everything changed,” Nelson Coniglio said. “Our incomes go down, our bills go up. It’s the American way.”

Uh, well…you fly in drugs and money for the mob, you get charged with a federal crime, and then you wind up winning a million dollars. (If you are white.) Then yes…it is the American Way.

Yes, I am a bitter bitch about this story and these people who got to stick it to BoA. Of all the poor people who have been through the same thing as the Coniglios, and that includes me and my family, why couldn’t the big win go to a more deserving set of BoA customers.

On with the rest of today’s links, starting with the connection to the images you will see (Not baboons):

The delicate material that takes months to weave by hand

Bangladesh is often associated with cheap clothes produced for the mass market, but the delicate and much more expensive jamdani fabric is also made here. The people who weave the material are highly sought-after employees.

Bangladeshi weaver designs a Jamdani Sari

On the banks of the River Lakshya – just outside Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital – the sun is heating the tiny corrugated iron factory I am standing in to oven-like temperatures.

Inside, under a string of bare light bulbs, six master weavers sit in pairs, barely breaking a sweat at their bamboo looms.

The men are shirtless. The women wear neon-coloured salwar kameez – a traditional South Asian garment. All of them rest their arms on cheap white cotton, protecting the delicate muslin they are working on.

This dirt-floor workshop might not hint at luxury, but the special jamdani fabric made here is highly coveted and incredibly expensive.

The factory owner, Anwar Hossain, walks me past the looms. Whiplash thin and just over 5ft (1.5m) tall, he doesn’t disturb the workers as he pauses to let me admire the work of one young woman who sits below us.

Inside the factory

 

Her hands, spinning like furious atoms, interlace silky gold thread into a sheer muslin cloth the colour of oxblood.

“Jamdani is expensive since it requires dedicated work and special skills,” Hossain says, flicking a bejewelled hand over the peacock feather motif that the young woman works on. “My weavers don’t use patterns, they create only from memory.”

0003819_white_n_red_garod_jamdani_15_offPlease take the time to read the rest of that piece over at BBC, then at the end of this post I will have a few other links on the jamdani weave structure and development.

Back to the real world: Senate passes five-day budget extension, averting shutdown | Al Jazeera America

The Senate passed a five-day extension of federal funding on Saturday, staving off a government shutdown and buying lawmakers more time to resolve the fight over a $1.1 trillion spending bill led by Tea Party firebrand Ted Cruz.

It was the second time in a little over a year that Cruz, a Texas Republican freshman with presidential aspirations, has attempted to stop a key Obama administration initiative by denying government funds. In this case, Cruz was targeting Obama’s executive order that offered millions of undocumented immigrants relief from the threat of deportation.

Cruz was a central figure in a 16-day government shutdown in October 2013, when he persuaded Republicans to try to withhold funds from Obamacare, President Barack Obama’s landmark health care reform law.

In the end, Cruz got none of what he wanted and Republicans were left with little but voter anger.

What an ass, and a hypocrite. His father is a immigrant from Cuba via Canada, right?

Cruz and senators Mike Lee of Utah and Jeff Sessions of Alabama were demanding permission to offer an amendment that would deny the DHS any funds for carrying out Obama’s November immigration order. Critics of the order have called it an amnesty for lawbreakers.

Senators from both parties complained on Saturday that Cruz’s strategy was counterproductive and aimed at grabbing attention.

“This reminds me very much of the shutdown last year, where the strategy made absolutely no sense and was counterproductive,” Republican Senator Susan Collins said.

[…]

805792685_75cfb3110dAs reporters tried to interview Cruz as he entered the Senate chamber in the Capitol, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill shouted: “Quit giving him so much attention, that’s exactly what’s causing the problem!”

That is the first piece of sense I have heard from the Hill in ages.

In #BlackLivesMatter news:

Mothers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice Unite

The mothers of four slain black men and boys, three of whom were killed by police sat down with CNN’s Anderson Cooper for a heart-wrenching interview where they made one thing absolutely clear: their sons would be alive if they were white.

Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, Lesley McSpadden, mother of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice‘s mother Samaria Rice, and Eric Garner‘s mother Gwen Carr came together and spoke about their losses as well as the role of race.

[…]

All of these women have suffered immense pain, and it’s maddening that they have to justify their pain and the injustice they feel as mothers of unarmed black victims. When Cooper asked if they thought things would have turned out differently if their sons were white, he framed it as a “hard question to ask.” But for these four mothers, it was the easiest one to answer.

DSC03614More at that link.

Speaking of Anderson Cooper: Addicting Info – Anderson Cooper’s Amazing Reaction To Finding Out A Slave Killed His Ancestor With A Farm Hoe (VIDEO)

Meanwhile, Effigies of black people found hanging on UC Berkeley campus – NY Daily News

Amid national protests decrying police brutality, three effigies of black people were discovered hanging by a noose on the Berkeley campus at the University of California.

Police and students took the cardboard cutouts depicting lynching victims down Saturday afternoon from two locations on campus as demonstrations broke out to the theme of “#blacklivesmatter.”

“We’re uncertain of the intention of this. It could be related to the protests, but it could be racially motivated,” Claire Holmes told the Daily News. “We’d like to get to the bottom of it.”

The disturbing figures hanging from iconic landmarks on the Berkeley campus were reported to police just after 9 a.m., but a third effigy found through social media disappeared before police got to it.

Two of the photo effigies were labeled “I can’t breathe,” Eric Garner’s last words as NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a fatal chokehold.8019493276_b0dc005215_z

The campus is investigating it as a hate crime.

And yet, just earlier in the week over at Berkley: CA Police Chief Joins ‘Black Lives Matter’ Protest, Scolded by Police Union | Mediaite

Richmond, California police chief made quite the statement this week by standing with protesters and holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign:

#richmondca Chief of Police Chris Magnus joins peaceful demonstration along Macdonald Avenue. Richmond rocks.

A photo posted by Mindy Pines (@messageframer) on

And you’ll notice, Chief Chris Magnus is very noticeably wearing his police uniform.

That in particular was the issue taken by the Richmond Police Officers Association, which released a statement criticizing Magnus by citing the state government code’s explicit ban on police officers participating in political activity while in uniform.

One union attorney said they’re “disappointed the chief felt free to flaunt those laws by wearing his uniform during the protest.”

 

jamdaniThe protest are still going on all over the country:

Orange Is the New Black Cast at Million March NYC Protest | Mediaite

Thousands of protesters hit the streets in New York City on Saturday to protest police violence after the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island in what came to be known as the #MillionMarchNYC demonstration. Among them were several members of the cast of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black.

Vicky Jeudy, who plays Janae Watson, posted this dramatic photo of the group holding “I Can’t Breathe” signs and doing the “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” gesture.

In Washington DC: ‘A Movement, Not Just a Moment:’ Thousands March in D.C. Protesting Police Violence – The Root -Read some interviews with people walking in the protest.

b97d74c9f7aada825cc3881f9a0ef85eFrom BAR: It’s Not the Law, But Prosecutors, That Give Immunity to Killer Cops | Black Agenda Report

“In refusing to prosecute, Obama and Holder demonstrate their own profound disregard for the collective rights of Black Americans as a people.”

Black Americans know all about “law and order”: the term, itself, is code for the state-wielded hammer that is relentlessly deployed against us. No people on earth are more conditioned to concentrated bludgeoning under “color of law” than African Americans, who account for one out of out eight of the world’s prison inmates. Black males are 21 times more likely than their white peers to be killed by U.S. lawmen, and make up a clear majority of young police shooting victims under the most draconian law and order regime on the planet. Of all the world’s peoples, none have been so unremittingly inculcated with the lessons of crime and punishment – especially punishment, whether merited or not.

For a people so acculturated, justice demands retribution – even for Pharaoh and his army. Thus, the simple and near-universal Black American demand that President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder prosecute killer cops.

But, this they will not do.

The Obama administration has no intention of pursuing prosecution of Darren Wilson, or Trayvon Martin’s vigilante killer George Zimmerman, or the whole crew of New York City homicidal and/or depravedly indifferent first-responders in the Eric Garner case. Obama and Holder have nothing worthwhile to say to the nine grieving Black mothersnow visiting Washington demanding justice for their murdered loved ones, other than empty assurances that they feel the families’ pain.

27175339bed8e94a319f2bb4edaeb030The U.S. Justice Department, which marshals unlimited resources to pursue long and sometimes fruitless prosecutions of whistleblowers and other “national security” targets, claims it is helpless to confront police impunity in the murder of Black Americans. The law, Holder and his apologists claim, requires that federal criminal prosecutions under the civil rights statute must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers “acted willfully” for the specific purpose of violating the victim’s 4th Amendment constitutional right to life. Making that case, they say, is near-impossible, requiring that prosecutors “get inside the officer’s head” to divine his intentions at the moment the trigger was pulled. Therefore, despite Holder and Obama’s public statements of concern, no good faith attempt is made to mount prosecutions.

“Police immunity from prosecution begins with the prosecutors.”

You go and read the whole thing.

Especially when you consider: Addicting Info – White Protestors Threaten to Lynch President – No Cops, Arrests Or Tear Gas (VIDEO)

I thought this was an interesting article, it looks at words and their usage: How We Lost Our “Freedom” » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

In the wave of protests sparked by Grand Jury acquittals of the policemen who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the word “freedom” is seldom heard.

It was different in the Civil Rights era. Then “freedom” was the watchword of the entire movement.

Meanwhile, in his campaign to retain his Senate seat in Kentucky – and ultimately to become Majority Leader of the Senate – Mitch McConnell’s handlers put out a bumper sticker that read: “Coal. Guns. Freedom. Team Mitch.”

Michael Tomasky, who wrote about this in the New York Review of Books, also pointed out that Team Mitch campaigned tooth and nail against the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.   The local version,“Kynect,” the state exchange established under the Affordable Care Act, has been unusually successful in signing up uninsured Kentuckians, and is widely popular.

Early in the campaign, it looked like McConnell would have a hard time defeating his Democratic rival, Alison Grimes. Grimes was careful to keep Obama at a distance, and she had nothing good to say about Obamacare. But she wasn’t careful enough; McConnell won handily.

In view of Kynect’s popularity, how could Team Mitch have gotten so much mileage out of running against it? The explanation speaks volumes about the Republican base. According to Tomasky, in an NBC News-Marist College poll conducted last spring, only 22% of white Kentuckians said that they opposed Kynect, while 60% said they opposed Obamacare. Shades of the Tea Party demand that the government keep its hands off Medicare!

In making Obamacare repeal their main war cry, was Team Mitch cynically exploiting the ignorance and befuddlement of Republican voters? “You betcha,” as Sarah Palin would say.

On that bumper sticker, where space was a priority, “freedom” functioned, at least in part, as a code word useful for conjuring up that ignorance and befuddlement. The thought, if it can be called that, is that because the Affordable Care Act exacts fines on people who do not purchase health insurance, it makes them less free. In other words, Obamacare commodifies health care, but it doesn’t commodify it quite enough.

64d1ede29fd285e24a9c26d321544865So understood (or misunderstood), “freedom” fits nicely with “coal” and “guns,” when they too are used as code words — for the economic and cultural anxieties of the people whose votes McConnell sought.

Bravo for Team Mitch. They came up with a brilliant slogan; brilliantly slick. American political discourse has become so degraded in recent years that “freedom” is now fits in nicely with “coal” (or “drill, baby drill” in oil states) and “guns.” Team Mitch was on top of this development, and took full advantage of it.

It wasn’t always so; “freedom” used to belong to us. It was the watchword of the Civil Rights movement and of the black power (or black liberation) movement that followed.   On the left, “freedom” – or “liberty,” the words are synonymous – was prominently and rightly paired alongside equality and fraternity (solidarity, community).

So much more to read at the link.

52de8ed807a539f1afc4ebf8beef6bedAnother long read, that looks at film, silent film: moviemorlocks.com – Slapstick While Black

Apologies: this week’s post is about racially insensitive jokes in silent comedy (Yes, Ben Martin, this one’s for you), and so I’ve got some unpleasant screen grabs, illustrating some gags most of us probably wish hadn’t been filmed, and then to make matters worse I’m going to speak clumsily and awkwardly about these things while analyzing jokes. None of which is really all that great an idea.

As recent history has tragically shown, we’ve got a lot of work do to repair race relations in America. But that’s not to say it’s on no one’s short list of priorities to pick at the scabs of ninety-year-old silent comedies.

Why am I doing this, then? Well, despite these festering wounds I love silent comedy, and I fear it’s slipping into cultural irrelevancy. The only way to keep these films and these comedians even marginally, passingly, culturally relevant is to keep bringing new audiences to them—and these racist gags are a significant barrier to that.

 

Check it out.

But y’all know those red “skinned” people are getting screwed too: Congress Screws Native Americans With Fine Print – Truthdig

Somehow U.S. lawmakers have used a defense spending bill to sell Native American burial ground to mining giant Rio Tinto. Yay, capitalism!

But seriously, here’s what happened: The Senate on Fridaypassed a defense spending bill. Like a Christmas tree dressed with ornaments, lawmakers attached a host of riders and provisions to the bill, including number of land swaps. One such swap sees the transfer of Arizona forest land considered sacred by multiple native tribes, the Apache in particular, to Rio Tinto. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because the mining concern is very unpopular with environmentalists, labor organizers, human rights activists and the government of Norway.

5144b559589e83d5bec34efd1510989aCrazy innit?

I am just glad that this is not Kim Kardashian: Time Magazine Names Ebola Fighters as 2014 ‘Person of the Year’

That is all on the news links, here’s the rest of the information on the Jamdani weaving:

From the UNESCO Culture Sector – Intangible Heritage – 2003 Convention : Traditional art of Jamdani weaving

Jamdani is a vividly patterned, sheer cotton fabric, traditionally woven on a handloom by craftspeople and apprentices around Dhaka. Jamdani textiles combine intricacy of design with muted or vibrant colours, and the finished garments are highly breathable. Jamdani is a time-consuming and labour-intensive form of weaving because of the richness of its motifs, which are created directly on the loom 25e1214b5d8ca7b307b9552babab3670using the discontinuous weft technique. Weaving is thriving today due to the fabric’s popularity for making saris, the principal dress of Bengali women at home and abroad. The Jamdani sari is a symbol of identity, dignity and self-recognition and provides wearers with a sense of cultural identity and social cohesion. The weavers develop an occupational identity and take great pride in their heritage; they enjoy social recognition and are highly respected for their skills. A few master weavers are recognized as bearers of the traditional Jamdani motifs and weaving techniques, and transmit the knowledge and skills to disciples. However, Jamdani weaving is principally transmitted by parents to children in home workshops. Weavers – together with spinners, dyers, loom-dressers and practitioners of a number of other supporting crafts – form a closely knit community with a strong sense of unity, identity and continuity.

You can see a slideshow here.

Or watch a video:

2565d2d6fc95eb4918a3a8fd85259c09From Frontline: The glory of jamdani

KALNA, a subdivision in West Bengal’s Bardhaman district, is known for its temples and hand-woven saris, particularly the jamdani weave. However, over the years, the delicate art of making jamdani with homespun yarn has practically disappeared, with mill-made yarn replacing khadi. Handloom purists can easily discern the difference between a traditional handwoven fabric and a mill-made one by the texture of the fabric. Much as anyone would want to possess the whole six yards of khadi jamdani, producing an authentic jamdani with traditional motifs is time consuming.

The Crafts Council of West Bengal, a non-profit organisation affiliated to the Crafts Council of India, has stepped in to encourage this skill. Ruby Palchoudhuri, honorary general secretary and executive director of the council, has taken up the challenge of reviving the traditional form of jamdani weaving. Designs and motifs from old saris (some even three generations old) are replicated with some variations. One of the main factors behind the decline of this traditional art of making jamdani is the time required to weave it. Though weaving is usually done by men, practically everything else, from spinning the yarn to spooling, is carried out by women.

The softness of the cotton fabric and the exquisite designs lend an enchanting quality to the saris. This magic in weave is the result of tireless work which brings meagre financial returns. Unknown and cac926555af07d49ae5af9d30a668e86unrecognised, a small group of weavers continue with this line of work, primarily because it is the only thing they have been taught to do.

This is something that is taught and passed down from generation to generation.

Hemanta Nandi and his family have been weavers for three generations. For a combined effort of 14 hours a day, he and his wife earn a measly Rs.5,000 a month. “We would be better off working in the paddy fields, where we would be earning Rs.140 for four hours of work. But we are not able to do that kind of work because this is all we have learnt to do. We somehow eke out a living because we live in the village and not in a town,” he toldFrontline.

The process of making khadi jamdani is broadly divided into two parts—the making of the yarn and the weaving at the loom. The crucial pre-loom stage is usually handled entirely by women, from the spinning of the yarn to the point when it is placed on the warping drum before it goes to the loom. According to master weaver Jyotish Debnath, in whose Kalna factory the jamdani revival project is struggling to take off, the process of producing the yarn involves very delicate work, which only a woman’s hands can accomplish.

There are three other full pages at the link. Along with lots of pictures too.

From a another person’s perspective: woven air | Bangladesh textile residency

We discovered the weaving! And not just any weaving, yesterday morning we went to visit the village Vargaon Dargabari, a region near Dhaka where they produce Jamdani fabrics, the most beautiful woven textiles found in Bangladesh.

The technique resembles a tapestry technique where individual threads are woven as supplementary wefts to form geometric and floral motifs. The ground is very fine unbleached cotton, set in open density to form a gauze textile background. Jamdani fabrics are woven on a pit loom by 2 weavers working together. It is a very laborious process and a sari length (6 yards of woven fabric) can take more than 2 0d616a1f3206c757b54a1de49e5d1171months to complete. See the videos below to appreciate the speed at which the weavers are working and how slowly the fabric grows!

I love this part, what the needle is made out of…

We were greeted by Abdul Jabbar Khan, one of the head weavers of the village and we visited a number of weaving set ups. Soon we had a following of inquisitive villagers and children! I explained I am a weaver too and I was invited to sit at the loom and try my hand at this technique. MrKhan very patiently showed me how to loop the thread over the kandu, a bone tool used for the extra thread weaving(we were told it is elephant tooth?!) and soon I knew just how time consuming the weaving process is. The most beautiful jamdani cloths we saw were dyed with natural pigments (see the last pictures in the series below).

Go to that link to see all the images. They are amazing.

Finally, the technique and stylistic designs used in jamdani weaving: Sari-Tangil & Jamdani | Parul Bhatnagar – Academia.edu

The Jamdani is a type of woven figured muslin sari, and in this type of weave special skill of the craftsman can be seen, by using a bamboo splinter like a needle, he can combine weaving, embroidery and ornamentation, the motifs of flowers and buds being sewn down as the pattern is formed between the meeting places of the warp and the weft. The Jamdanis are therefore like fragile tapestry and were usually woven in soft shade of fine grey cotton, decorated either in bluish grey design or sometimes with creamy white with gold or silver threads producing fine sari’s with full embellishment on the entire material and its border and pallav (top end) patterns comprising flowers set all over in sprays butidar, or run diagonally tircha, or formed a sort of crisscross Jal or lay scattered at even distance on the surface toradar.

Jamdani or “figured muslin”, traditionally woven in Dacca, (now Dhaka inBangladesh), West Bengal and Tanda in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, refers to cotton fabric brocaded with cotton and sometimes with zari threads.

 

I think you all will find those reads fascinating. Have a wonderful day, and enjoy yourselves.


Lazy Saturday Reads: Serious and Silly Boston News

Harbor view of Boston

Harbor view of Boston

Good Morning!!

I’m going to imitate Dakinikat and “go local” today. I’m so sick and tired of the national news–school shootings, the campus rape problem, big banks controlling Congress, and “journalists” trying to force Elizabeth Warren to run for president so they can spend the next two years humiliating Hillary Clinton. Oh, and calling Warren the “Ted Cruz of the left”?!

Maybe you heard about this already, but I just think it’s so cool. The old Massachusetts State House in Boston (built in 1713) has been undergoing renovations recently. In October, workers found a time capsule dating from 1901 inside the head of a copper lion statue that, along with a statue of a unicorn was perched on top of the old building.

From CNN: 113-year-old time capsule found in Boston.

The Bostonian Society didn’t — or couldn’t — fully divulge the 113-year-old time capsule’s contents, explaining that “the process of extracting documents that are old and probably fragile will need to be slow and careful.” But a Boston Globe article from February 24, 1901, detailed what went into the box, which the story predicted would “prove interesting when the box is opened many years hence.”

According to the Globe, the box included the photographs and autographs of local statesmen such as Massachusetts Gov. Winthrop M. Crane and Boston Mayor Thomas Norton Hart, as well as news clippings of the day from several city newspapers and even a “letter to posterity from the reporters of the Boston Daily newspapers assigned to City Hall.”

It also included a photograph of the “5th Massachusetts Regiment on its way to Framingham to be mustered in as U.S. volunteers for service in the war against Spain,” as well as “campaign buttons for McKinley, Roosevelt and John D. Long for vice president.”

The box was sealed inside the lion’s head by Samuel Rogers, a local coppersmith who was part of the crew renovating the nearly 200-year-old State House. Although the occasion was detailed in the city’s largest newspaper, the Bostonian Society said its current staff was unaware of the time capsule until they received a letter from a descendent [sic] of Rogers alerting them to it.

The lion and unicorn statues, now freshly coated in gold and palladium, were returned to their posts of more than 100 years. Pictured: The unicorn statue. (h/t The Boston Globe)

The lion and unicorn statues, now freshly coated in gold and palladium, were returned to their posts of more than 100 years. Pictured: The unicorn statue. (h/t The Boston Globe)

The lion and unicorn statues were restored and returned to the top of the old State House in November.

On Thursday, another time capsule was unearthed in Boston–this at the new State House–and it was put there more than 200 years ago.

From The Boston Globe:  Revere-Era Time Capsule Uncovered at The State House.

The 219-year-old capsule— a green box believed to contain Revere-era items— was concealed by Governor Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and William Scollay when the building was constructed in 1795….

Museum of Fine Arts Conservator Pam Hatchfield was chipping away at the stone block concealing the capsule this morning when the coins fell from the cornerstone. Reporters at the site described one of the coins as “silver-colored” but “not legible.” The box, which was discovered during building maintenance, is expected to be completely unearthed by Thursday afternoon.

But this isn’t the first time the capsule has surfaced. The Boston Globe reported that the box was discovered amidst emergency repairs to the building in 1855, and was returned to its spot following the construction, remaining unopened.

Massachusetts officials worked to remove a time capsule in the cornerstone of the State House in Boston, on Dec. 11, 2014 (h/t The Boston Globe).

Massachusetts officials worked to remove a time capsule in the cornerstone of the State House in Boston, on Dec. 11, 2014 (h/t The Boston Globe).

More details from another Globe article from Thursday:

After a full day spent lying on her back on a muddy wooden plank, chipping with painstaking care at the underside of a stone block to free the time capsule hidden within, Museum of Fine Arts conservator Pam Hatchfield sat up in front of the State House to a round of applause, a green box held delicately in her hands.

“I feel happy and relieved. And excited. And really interested to see what’s in this box,” she said Thursday night, after posing for a selfie with the capsule for her mom. The extrication took more than seven hours and involved about a dozen workers….

“Hopefully there will be no damage and we will be able to observe the artifacts that trace us back to the history not only just of this building, but of our Commonwealth and our country,” said Secretary of State William Galvin, who was on hand for the capsule’s first appearance in more than 150 years.

The capsule is believed to include a collection of silver and copper coins dating from between 1652 and 1855; an engraved silver plate; newspapers; the seal of the Commonwealth; cards; and a title page from the Massachusetts Colony Records, according to Meghan Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Administration and Finance.

Hatchfield, who is head of Objects Conservation at the Museum of Fine Arts, said the corroded copper alloy box that holds the collection was undamaged by the removal process, and appeared to be in good shape. It was a little smaller than a cigar box and, she said, heavier than she expected.

The box was taken by State Police escort to the Museum of Fine Arts, where Hatchfield said it will be X-rayed to determine the contents.

There’s much more at the link if you’re interested. We should learn more about what is in the box next week. The box will eventually be reburied, perhaps with a few items from 2014 included.

See lots more photos at The Daily Mail: America’s oldest time capsule unearthed at Boston statehouse after being buried in 1795 by Sam Adams and Paul Revere. Below is a photo of Pam Hatchfield holding the box after she unearthed it.

1795 Time Capsule

 

A few more Boston stories–hope I’m not boring you too much.

Here’s why only rich people can afford to live in downtown Boston these days: Boston real estate assessments eclipse $100 billion for first time.

It’s official. Boston is a $100 billion city.

With the real estate market surging, the total estimated value of its residential and commercial property jumped over that threshold for the first time and has climbed to a total of $110 billion, according to a new city assessment.

The increase will mean significantly higher tax bills for many property owners next year, although the extent of those increases will not be known until tax rates are set in the coming days….

In total, the assessed value of the city’s real estate has more than doubled in 12 years.

Although Boston has some of the highest-priced property in the country, its total value remains much lower than larger cities such as New York, where assessors tabulated more than $900 billion in property last year.

Still, Boston is growing at a rapid clip, with millions of square feet of buildings under construction. Commercial and residential real estate markets have come alive. More than $10 billion in commercial buildings changed hands during the first nine months of the year, according to the real estate firm JLL. That’s already more than double the $4.7 billion sold last year.

A similar pattern has occurred in the residential market, with prices rising sharply in many neighborhoods. The average selling price of condominiums in the downtown Boston area rose to $830,000 this fall, a 16 percent increase from a year earlier.

So for the superrich, the economy is surging in Boston, but it will be difficult for small businesses to keep paying their rising property tax bills.

Prof. Ben Edelman, Harvard Business School

Prof. Ben Edelman, Harvard Business School

Here’s really silly Boston story–so ridiculous that it made the national news.

From USA Today: Harvard prof flips over $4 Chinese food overcharge.

A Boston-area Chinese restaurant charging $1 more per plate than it advertises on its online menu may have served the wrong guy — a Harvard Business School professor specializing in online advertising fraud who wasted no time in pulling out the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Statute and threatening legal action. According to a lengthy e-mail exchange published by the Boston Globe, Ben Edelman is seriously agitated, and though the mom-and-pop shop only overcharged him $4, he says it’s the principle….

The restaurant, Sichuan Garden, appears to have thus far complied with Ben Edelman’s requests, including refunding him $12 (three times what he was overcharged) and updating the online menu to reflect actual prices. Ran Duan, who tends bar at the restaurant for his parents, recently told Boston.com:

“I personally respond to every complaint and try to handle every situation personally. … I have worked so hard to make my family proud and to elevate our business. [This exchange] just broke my heart.”

This battle actually escalated to the point where Edelman threatened a lawsuit against the restaurant unless they refund three times the amount they had overcharged him.

Ran Duan at Sichuan Garden II

Ran Duan at Sichuan Garden II

Globe columnist Hilary Sargent published the exchange of e-mails between Edelman and Duan in this article: Ben Edelman, Harvard Business School Professor, Goes to War Over $4 Worth of Chinese Food. Next, Sargent found out that Edelman “Did This Before, And Worse.”

Boston.com received a tip from a “former manager” of a “Back Bay sushi restaurant,” who stated that he had read the Edelman email exchange published on this site, and that when “it sounded familiar” he realized he had seen a similar email exchange several years prior.

The restaurant manager declined to give his name or the name of the restaurant, but described both emails and phone calls with Ben Edelman over a dispute related to the use of a Groupon promotion.

We were then sent copies of several emails exchanged in August 2010 between Ben Edelman and Osushi Restaurant management.

Boston.com confirmed the authenticity of these emails with Tim Panagopoulos, one of three partners who owned and operated Osushi, which has since closed.

Check out those e-mails at the above link.

Edelman has now apologized to Ran Duan for his snit fit and Duan says he’s ready to “forgive and move on.”

Next, Hilary Sargent ran into trouble. From BostInno on Thursday: The HBS Professor Chinese Food Saga Took a Weird Turn Last Night.

Harvard Business School Professor Ben Edelman may have gone way, way too far over a $4 billing mistake at Brookline Chinese restaurant Sichuan Garden. But on Wednesday evening, Boston.com posted an article claiming it appeared that Edelman—after apologizing for his actions on his website—may have taken things into far more shameful territory by sending a message to the restaurant containing a racial slur.

boston-coms-hilary-sargent-is-suspended-for-harvard-t-shirt-incident

Ooops! Turns out Sargent hadn’t actually confirmed that the slur came from Edelman. On top of that Sargent (who is somewhat young and inexperienced) had a T-shirt made that mocked the HBS prof. That was apparently too much for the Globe, and Sargent has been suspended for a week.

Boston.com deputy editor Hilary Sargent has been suspended for one week in connection with a T-shirt she designed—and then tweeted about—that mocked a Harvard Business School professor at the center of an ongoing story she was covering.

That’s the word from multiple sources familiar with the decision.

Word is that the suspension isn’t related to an article that Sargent retracted on Wednesday with an acknowledgment that its facts couldn’t be verified. Details weren’t immediately available about whether the suspension comes with pay or not.

Both the retracted article and the T-shirt pertained to Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman and his long-winded reaction to a billing mix-up at a Brookline restaurant, Sichuan Garden. Sargent posted the initial story on the incident as well as a series of follow-up articles, which have had wide readership.

One more silly Boston story and then I’m done. Actress Amy Poehler, who grew up in the Boston area, told Buzzfeed that she thinks Boston accents are “just disgusting.”  Well, they are kind of grating, but after living here for close to 50 years, I’ve developed an affection for them. I think it’s interesting how each people in different sections of the city have slightly different accents. The same is true of people in the various cities and towns in Massachusetts. There is a distinctive Cambridge accent that differs slightly from the accents found in Somerville, Medford, or Malden.

According to The Boston Globe (via Medium), the Boston accent also won a “worst accent” competition at Gawker. 

I’ll be honest. I never heard of Amy Poehler until I read about this; and I don’t think I’d like her that much, because she also hates Halloween. She’s dead to me now.

I know there’s plenty of horrible news out there. Feel free to link to your favorite horror stories, and I’ll share a few of my own in the comment thread.

Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers!!

 

 


Friday Reads: Congress and its Sisyphus Heydays

tumblr_mtyp65iZcW1qbnjcwo1_500Good Morning!

I have to keep it short today because I’ve got a lot of work to finish up within a week and I’m just about to collapse.  Well, I actually I have a few times.  I fell asleep mid-day for two days in a row now.  

Still, I’ve kept a jaundiced eye on a lame duck congress who still hasn’t dealt with the financial obligations of the country.  The same guys that vote for crap for their political sponsors and for world wide war just can’t seem to come up with the balls to pay their bills. Republican voters have condemned us to rolling rocks up mountains and just waiting for the inevitable crush.  How can you hate your own country that much?

House Republican leaders are skating on thin ice with the government funding bill, facing stiff opposition from the left and the right that threatens passage just hours before a midnight deadline to avert a shutdown.
GOP leaders temporarily recessed the House and postponed a final vote scheduled for the afternoon, while informing members to be ready to vote.

“Leadership teams are still talking to their respective Members. A vote is still planned for this afternoon,” a House Republican leadership aide said.

Republicans long expected some opposition from their right flank due to the fact that the $1.1 trillion spending bill doesn’t block President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration. What has thrown the plan into chaos is that numerous House Democrats are defecting over extraneous policy provisions that would weaken derivative trading rules on big banks and loosen campaign finance laws. The bill likely will need significant Democratic support to pass.

The Democratic opposition is being led by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA), who call the bank provision a giveaway to Wall Street.

According to multiple sources, the legislation was negotiated by GOP and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. House Democratic leaders stress that they don’t support all the provisions in the bill but want to keep the government open. They say they are not whipping against the bill.

The White House came out for the bill after it cleared a test vote in the House by a narrow 214-212 margin earlier on Thursday. It said it objects to the weakening of Wall Street reform but signaled Obama would sign the bill anyway.

Republicans just won’t pay the bills unless Democrats agree to blow something up.  It’s ridiculous.  We’ve got a new political term for the lexicon.  It’s a “Cromnibus” bill. It tries to tear apart what little Wall Street oversight regulation we’ve put through 1165988_525_350_wsince the global financial crisis on Wall Street and Banks.  It also increases the amount of money that an individual can give to a political party.  So, we can either destroy our country now by not funding its debt and by not running our government or we can destroy it with more incentives to the financial gambling industry and to billionaire party sponsors.

The $1.014 trillion spending measure has been criticized for easing rules on campaign finance and the banking industry. But its supporters say it’s also a bipartisan deal that would fund most of the U.S. government until next October.

Disagreement over the bill forced the final vote to be delayed for hours Thursday. It also created unlikely alliances: The White House joined with House Speaker John Boehner to rally support for the measure, most House Democrats agreed with a small group of Republicans – including Rep. Michele Bachmann – that the bill should be rejected.

As we noted when the bill was agreed upon and published on Tuesday, the House was slated to hold the first vote on the spending bill Thursday, with the Senate to follow.

You can read the bill, broken down by government agency, on the House Appropriations Committee site.

The legislation was nicknamed “cromnibus” because it combines the traditional sweeping scope of an omnibus spending bill with a continuing resolution (CR). While it would fund most of the government until the next financial year, the Department of Homeland Security would only be funded through February, in a move that seeks to limit President Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration.

Another part of the measure would vastly increase the maximum amount of money a contributor can give to a political party.

“Right now a person can give just under $100,000 a year to a party through its various committees,” NPR’s Ailsa Chang reports on All Things Considered. “And under this bill, that cap goes up to almost $800,000.”

Shortly after noon Thursday, the bill squeezed by in the rules vote, 214-212, after Republican leaders including Speaker John Boehner and Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry, walked the floor to bolster support, NPR’s Juana Summers reports.

After no Democrats voted in favor and more than a dozen Republicans defected to vote against, the House was adjourned so Boehner could organize his support.

Stei100222So, as of yesterday afternoon, here were the poison pills.  This bill had Elizabeth Warren hopping mad.  Please go check that they were basically a Grinch to the poor while giving the rich enough presents that elephants should be blushing.

In addition to spending appropriations, the bill includes changes to various laws that are known as “policy riders.” One of these is drawing sharp criticism from Democrats and financial industry watchdogs. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform package passed in 2010 on how banks that receive taxpayer backing can use high-risk financial instruments known as a swaps, which were a key driver of the last financial crisis. Banks and other financial companies the “swaps pushout rule,” which has been praised as a crucial component of the reform law by the White House, Sen. (D-MA), and Bush-era banking regulator .

In addition to spending appropriations, the bill includes changes to various laws that are known as “policy riders.” One of these is drawing sharp criticism from Democrats and financial industry watchdogs. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform package passed in 2010 put new limits on how banks that receive taxpayer backing can use high-risk financial instruments known as a swaps, which were a key driver of the last financial crisis. Banks and other financial companies hate the “swaps pushout rule,” which has been praised as a crucial component of the reform law by the White House, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Bush-era banking regulator Sheila Bair.

The cromnibus repeals the swaps pushout rule. Americans for Financial Reform and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights blasted the move as “a backroom deal buried deep in a stopgap government funding measure” that will increase the risks taxpayers and the economy face. Former Rep. Barney Frank called it “a terrible violation of the procedure that should be followed on this complex and important subject, and a frightening precedent that provides a road map for further attacks on our protection against financial instability.”

Compared to repealing the swaps rule, Congress’ second gift to the financial industry is a mere stocking stuffer. But it will have long-term consequences for public oversight of risky Wall Street behavior. The bill gives the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) a $250 million budget, which is $65 million less than what the White House asked for and $30 million less than the maximum CFTC budget that would have been allowed under last year’s long-term budget deal. While the CFTC number is an increase over previous years, the bill requires the agency to spend $50 million of the budget on information technology. The agency needs to upgrade its systems to perform its vast new responsibilities under Dodd-Frank reform, so the tech money is welcome in a sense. But it also needs way more money for staff than is allowed under the cromnibus budget. The bill won’t require layoffs at the CFTC, but it will prevent the agency from staffing up in the coming year to keep up with its growing role in regulating the financial industry, a Democratic staffer close to the negotiations told ThinkProgress. Departing CFTC commissioners have been saying for years that the agency is understaffed, and employee morale is dangerously low at the agency already according to press reports.

la-tot-cartoons-pg-061 Yes, yes … it removes regulation  on exotic derivatives that got us into the horrible financial crisis.

While several controversial policy riders were quickly discovered, it was the change to Dodd-Frank that generated the loudest outcry.

The provision would no longer require that big banks separate trades in financial derivatives from traditional bank accounts, which are backed by the government through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The derivatives played a key role in the financial collapse.

Critics argue the change would leave taxpayers on the hook if trades explode. Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) called it a “stealth attack” on his namesake achievement.

Still, it’s unclear whether the opposition from Warren, Frank and others will persuade House Democrats to risk a government shutdown by voting against the bill.

Even vocal critics in the Senate of the provision, such as Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), stopped short of promising to oppose it.

The White House, similarly, is not saying whether President Obama would sign the cromnibus, though White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he was “pleased” to see a bill produced.

The change to the Dodd-Frank law has enjoyed bipartisan support in the past.

Republicans and 70 House Democrats voted for a version of the tweak in 2013, with most arguing it would boost economic growth and lessen the regulatory burdens on banks.

“There’s huge misunderstandings about what this thing says,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), who was an early sponsor of the original House bill.

Himes argued that the most dangerous derivatives would still be kept away from government-backed banks under the provision, and that banks would only be allowed to trade “plain vanilla” interest rate swaps.

But that was yesterday afternoon, about last night ….cartoon_wall_street_theft

The House on Thursday approved a $1.1 trillion bill funding most of the government through September despite an outcry from Democrats and significant defections in both parties.

By a vote of 219-216, the House sent the bill to the Senate, where a similar debate may break out between liberal Democrats and the White House.

The vote split Democratic leaders, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) opposing the bill and criticizing the White House, but Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) backing it. Fifty-seven Democrats voted for the bill, while 139 opposed it.

Hoyer said it was “better to pass it than to defeat it.”

Democrats objected to changes to the Wall Street reform bill that were included in the 1,600-page bill, and many were unswayed by a last-ditch White House lobbying push.

Conservative Republicans, meanwhile, opposed the bill for not doing more to curtail President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. While 162 Republicans voted for the bill, 67 rejected it.

For much of the afternoon and evening, the bill looked to be at death’s door as a government shutdown loomed at midnight.

The bill’s passage, as a result, was a remarkable victory for both Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Obama, who were able to cobble together the votes for passage.

The so-called “cromnibus” included an omnibus of 11 appropriations bills funding most of the government through September, and a continuing resolution funding the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 27.

“This plan was put together after consultation with our members,” Boehner told reporters Thursday morning. “And we worked through this process in a bipartisan, bicameral way.”

He implored his members to back it: “Listen, if we don’t get finished today, we’re going to be here until Christmas.”

GOP leaders suspended debate on the floor for hours as the White House made a push to win over Democrats.

House Democrats have long-been agitated with the White House and its outreach efforts, but they’ve largely kept the grumbling behind closed doors and off the record.

With the arrival of the “cromnibus” debate — and Obama’s backing of the package — the frustrations spilled over.

Pelosi, rarely a public critic of the president, minced no words in denouncing the “cromnibus” — and Obama’s support for it.

Yes, you read that right.  The President supported and also lobbied for the cromnibus despite it containing some really really awful things.  Pelosi  turned on the President.  It passed by 1 voted.  Yup, that’s right ONE VOTE.  The Senate just gave itself 2 days to pass the monster.  Oh, btw, the part about giving more money to political parties?  That’s the REID-Boehner Bill.  You won’t believe what got slipped into this 1600 page budget bill.

If anything, Thursday’s tumult highlighted the disconnect between Obama and congressional Democrats. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, came out in strong opposition to the measure even as Obama was pressing her members to back it.

Democrats aligned with Pelosi took issue with policy provisions added to the bill addressing campaign finance reform and a key provision of the financial overhaul.

“This bill puts a big bow on a holiday gift for the Wall Street contributors who get special treatment in the provisions of this bill,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said ahead of the vote. “It’s all about stuffing the silk stockings, and these people want to gamble with our money.”

Conservative Republicans, meanwhile, fought the bill because they were angry that it didn’t combat Obama’s executive action on immigration.

We are so screwed.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads: Did Nepotism at The Washington Post Contribute to Irresponsible Reporting on the UVA Rape Story?

Matisse-Woman-Reading-with-Tea1

Good Morning!!

Have you ever wondered how extremely young men are able to get jobs at elite newspapers like The Washington Post right out of college?

Take for example T. Rees Shapiro, who has led the charge to not only discredit the Rolling Stone story on the problem of rape on the University of Virginia campus but also efforts to dismiss and humiliate Jackie, one of the women interviewed by Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdley .

However flawed the Rolling Stone article may have been, it was about much more than Jackie’s story. It illustrated a culture of minimization of rape that had existed had UVA for at least 30 years, in which women who reported being sexually assaulted were discouraged from going to the police, their complaints were not treated seriously, and accused perpetrators were not seriously investigated or punished.

Shapiro’s career has been greatly enhanced by his dismantling of Jackie’s story about a violent rape that allegedly took place in 2012. As a consequence of his efforts to dismantle Jackie’s story, T. Rees Shapiro has appeared on numerous television programs and received praise from many quarters. Most likely his youth enabled Shapiro to con Jackie into trusting him enough to talk to him “several times.”

Last night, I decided to take a quick look at young Mr. Shapiro and his career development path. How did he get such an elite journalism job at the young age of 27?

T. Rees Shapiro

In 2009, Shapiro graduated from Virginia Tech, where he wrote for the student newspaper. In 2010, he was hired by the Washington Post as a copy boy. He soon graduated to writing obituaries, and in 2010 became an education reporter for the Post.

Clearly T. Rees (Nicknamed “Trees,” get it?) is a real go-getter, but he also has connections. His father Leonard Shapiro was a sportswriter for The Washington Post for 38 years, and his mother Vicky Moon is a writer and photographer who is apparently a fixture in Virginia society. Would Shapiro have gotten the Washington Post job without those connections? Maybe, but I doubt it.

When he wrote about Jackie, Shapiro emphasized several times that she was using her “real nickname,” thus enabling trolls like Chuck C. Johnson to find her and try to publicly out her. Shapiro was also able to locate Jackie’s so-called “friends” and get their after-the-fact critiques of Jackie’s story. Shapiro doesn’t say whether Jackie told him she still considers these people to be her friends.

In his critiques of the Rolling Stone article and specifically of Jackie’s story, Shapiro chose not to write about the other women who were interviewed by author Sabrina Rubin Erdley or to get input from experts on rape and traumatic memory. Would a more mature reporter have done so, rather than simply picking apart Jackie’s story? Would a female education reporter have thought to do that?

Leonard Shapiro, former WaPo sportswriter and father of T. Rees Shapiro

Leonard Shapiro, former WaPo sportswriter and father of T. Rees Shapiro

Despite the Post’s attacks on Jackie, the University of Virginia does in fact have a rape problem. UVA is one of 86 schools being investigated by the Department of Education for mishandling rape complaints. Four Virginia schools are on the DEA list.

From Huffington Post in July: For Years, Students Have Accused Virginia Universities Of Botching Sexual Assault Cases.

Four universities in Virginia are currently being  investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for possible Title IX violations specifically related to sexual violence — JMU, the University of Virginia, the College of William & Mary and the University of Richmond. Two other schools in the state, the Virginia Military Institute and Virginia Commonwealth University, faced Title IX reviews that concluded this spring….

Each of the investigations at the Virginia schools, like that at JMU, was sparked by federal complaints.

UVA’s investigation is unusual in that it started in 2011, but remains open. The Education Department declined to say why the investigation was so long-running, and noted “that some cases take longer than others due to the nature and complexity of the issues involved.”

(Emphasis added).

In fact, UVA is one of only 12 schools that that the Department of Education has “flagged for a total compliance review.”

Another Washington Post reporter, Nick Anderson, writes that the inconsistencies in Jackie’s story will not end the federal investigation of UVA.

The University of Virginia was under the microscope for its handling of sexual assault cases long before Rolling Stone magazine weighed in with the account of a student who said she was gang-raped at a fraternity house.

The emergence of fresh questions about that account — including the fraternity issuing a rebuttal, doubts voiced by some who know the woman, and a statement from Rolling Stone’s managing editor on Friday acknowledging “discrepancies” in her version of events — will not suddenly cancel that scrutiny.

A federal investigation of U-Va.’s response to sexual violence, begun in June 2011, continues. It is one of the longest-running active probes of its kind in the nation. U-Va. remains one of the most prominent of about 90 colleges and universities facing such investigations by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Student and faculty activists for sexual assault prevention, given a national platform in recent days, are unlikely to let the issue fade away. Skeptics will still wonder why the university has not expelled anyone for sexual misconduct in the past decade. Parents of prospective applicants, also mindful of the slaying of sophomore Hannah Graham after she disappeared in September, still want assurances that the Charlottesville campus is safe.

Perhaps most important, University President Teresa A. Sullivan laid out a detailed road map this week for a comprehensive review of the campus culture, touching on sexual assault, alcohol, Greek life and university oversight.

Francesca Bessey

Francesca Bessey

Since rape on campus is such a huge issue, shouldn’t education reporters like T. Rees Shapiro be more knowledgeable about sexual assault and its traumatic effects? One journalist, Francesca Bessey thinks so.

From Huffington Post: Thought the Rolling Stone Article Was Bad? Try Other Rape Journalism. Here’s her assessment of the Washington Post coverage:

The actual discrepancies introduced by the Washington Post are few: one, the individual whom Jackie claimed brought her to the fraternity was apparently a member of a different fraternity; and, two, a student who allegedly came to Jackie’s aid claimed she initially gave a different account of what happened that night. The fraternity also released a statement denying knowledge of the assault, or that there was a social function the night Jackie believes she was assaulted.

For someone who knows little to nothing about rape, fraternities, or the contemporary college party scene — which unfortunately seems to characterize a lot of the coverage thus far — these discrepancies might initially seem like gaping holes in Jackie’s story.

However, as any medical professional or victim advocate will tell you, trauma-related memory inconsistencies are extraordinarily common in cases of sexual assault, often manifesting in the survivor describing the incident to first responders as less severe than it actually was. Such plasticity of memory is not unique to rape cases; the FBI, for example, notes that “there can be a wide range of after effects to a trauma,” which can impact on a victim of a violent crime or the victim’s family members. A list of these effects includes confusion, disorientation, memory loss and slowed thinking. Psychological research has long demonstrated that humans reconstruct, rather than recall, memory, which is why eyewitness testimony is considered one of the most dubious forms of evidence in a court of law.

Why have journalists covering this story given more credence to statements by the fraternity and friends who were portrayed very negatively in the Rolling Stone article than to Jackie’s version of events?

…it is important to note that the so-called “inconsistencies” in Jackie’s story don’t necessarily invalidate her version of events. The fraternity’s statement is in no way more credible than Jackie’s own word — in fact, I would argue less so, given the sheer prevalence of fraternity rape. It would be foolish to assume that a fraternity’s formal denial of “knowledge of these alleged acts” means that they did not occur (with or without current leadership’s knowledge), as it would be foolish to rule out that the “date function” Jackie thought she was invited to wasn’t pure pretense in the first place. It is also within the realm of possibility that Jackie was brought to the party by a man who didn’t necessarily belong to the fraternity, even that he misled her about his membership in the frat. It is also possible that the student who gave a different version of how he found Jackie that night, lacks credibility or is himself having trouble recalling events.

Ultimately, these are all details significant to a police or journalistic investigation, upon which the responsibility is on law enforcement and journalists to figure out. For Jackie, however, it doesn’t change much. It doesn’t change her experience of violent assault, or those of countless students like her, many of whose stories are also featured in the article in question. It does not change the majority of the material in the original article: not the debasing lyrics of the UVA fight song; not the person who hurled a bottle at Jackie’s face the first time she tried to speak out; not the 38 students who appeared in Dean Nicole Eramo’s office in just one academic year to discuss incidents of sexual assault, despite the fact that not one student has ever been expelled from UVA for a sexual offense.

In light of these facts, in light of my own rape and the rapes of too many of my friends at the hands of their peers, I do wonder: Whose credibility is really to be doubted here? Jackie’s or the public peanut gallery that has diluted sexual assault down to a number and a date?

Again, I don’t want to personally denigrate T. Rees Shapiro. He writes well, and he has done a fine job of locating sources at the University of Virginia–both in this case and in his previous reporting on  in writing on the Hannah Graham murder case–probably because his youth helps him connect with college students only a few years younger than he is. But his analysis of a survivor’s story has suffered from his lack of knowledge and experience about campus sexual assault and rape in general.

I want to share two more articles that offer a more sophisticated take on these subjects–written by women with long journalistic experience.

Sally Kohn

Sally Kohn

From CNN, Rape culture? It’s too real, by Sally Kohn.

We don’t yet know all the facts behind the now-infamous, poorly fact-checked story in Rolling Stone about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. What we do know: Rolling Stone at first blamed the alleged victim, “Jackie” — rather than its own journalistic sloppiness — for so-called “discrepancies” (before changing its callous statement).

And new reporting by the Washington Post does reveal that Jackie’s friends, cited in the story, say they are skeptical about some of the details. Still, they all believe that Jackie experienced something “horrific” that night, in the words of one, and we do know that Jackie stands by her story. Most of the doubts about it were apparently raised by those she’s accusing, including the fraternity and main alleged assailant — whom, I guess, we’re supposed to believe instead. But one other thing we do know is that gang rapes just like what Jackie is alleging do happen — too often, and all over America.

While Rolling Stone’s reporting was clearly shoddy, some writers who initially poked holes in Jackie’s story did so for ideological motives. For instance, even before the reporting lapses were revealed, conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg called Jackie’s story unbelievable. “It is not credible,” Goldberg wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t believe it.”

Instead, Goldberg insisted, Jackie’s account was “a convenient conversation for an exposé of rape culture,” something, incidentally, Goldberg also doubts to be real. “‘Rape culture’ suggests that there is a large and obvious belief system that condones and enables rape as an end in itself in America,” Goldberg later wrote in National Review. It’s all hogwash, says Goldberg, alleging that the very idea of “rape culture” is just “an elaborate political lie intended to strengthen the hand of activists.”

In other words, whatever the reality of what happened to Jackie, Goldberg and others were skeptical because they simply don’t believe rapes like that happen with the participation of groups of assailants, let alone the complicity of bystanders. This is where they’re mistaken.

Kohn then lists several extreme examples of gang rapes that resemble Jackie’s description–most of which we have covered here.

burleigh

Also from CNN, In 2014, rape rage drove feminism’s ‘third wave’, by Nina Burleigh.

Historians could look back on this year as the beginning of feminism’s third wave.

The year was momentous for feminism. For the first time, rape victims and their supporters emerged from the shadows in significant numbers and started naming names — to significant effect. Women, their voices amplified by social media and with the support of a small but growing cohort of men, have been exposing and shaming venerable American institutions such as the NFL, Ivy League and non-Ivy League colleges, and the entertainment icon Bill Cosby.

First wave feminists won the right to vote. The second wave got us the right to work. But even with those advances, women have remained fundamentally restricted by the threat and terrible secret of sexual assault.

This year, emboldened and connected by social media, college women formed a powerful grassroots movement that led to universities such as Harvard being publicly named and shamed for not addressing women’s rape reports. They brought the issue of campus sexual assault into the White House, where Barack Obama became the first President to use the words “sexual violence.” The Department of Education released a list of universities under investigation for mishandling sexual violence cases, often letting even repeat predators off with barely a slap on the wrist.

These young women had been silent until social media enabled them to come together, even though thousands of miles apart, share debilitating secrets and then act with the confidence that safety in numbers provided.

I hope you’ll read the rest at the link.

I only hope that irresponsible journalism perpetrated by Rolling Stone and the even more irresponsible reaction to it have not set back the cause of protecting young women on college campuses from sexual violence.