The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Fast on the heels of giving the US Military props for their funding, R&D and real-time application of alternative energy sources, I’m reminded that in all things involving humans, the good, the bad and the ugly principle applies.  Chalk this up to a gentle knock on the noggin, a serious reminder that our military’s purpose is to defend the country, develop defense and wartime strategies [alternative energy works into this] and support all things weapon-related with gusto.

In this case, the subject is drones, aka UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles], a new generation that is sure to amaze.  And disturb.

An article I recently read made my jaw drop with awe and an undeniable sense of foreboding.  We could call this the nascent I Robot stage of drone development.   I’ve written to the subject of drones before.  The science is incredible but I find the use of drones, war and peace applications alike, incredibly creepy.

The X47B, however, a fully-automated drone being tested by the Navy is in a class of its own.

Fully automated.  Meaning no one in Omaha is joy-sticking the X47B remotely, guiding its maneuvers, reconnaissance or defensive/offensive usage.  This drone will be dependent on onboard computers, perceiving threats through highly attuned sensors, and then acting, accordingly.

How sophisticated is this drone?  X47B has been designed to land on an aircraft carrier at sea.  My husband served in the Navy and lived on a carrier [a floating city] of approximately 5000 personnel.  Though not a pilot, he’d be the first to say that landing an aircraft on any carrier is incredibly challenging.

X47B is that advanced, that sophisticated.

The speed with which robotic aircraft is developing is frankly . . . stunning.  On 9/11, the US military had few drones in its arsenal.  Reportedly, 1 in 3 US aircraft are now robotic, primarily because of the cost effectiveness in comparison to traditional planes and reduced casualties to military personnel.  As aerospace pioneer Simon Ramo stated in his book “Let Robots Do the Dying:”

More aggressive robotry development could lead to deploying far fewer U.S. military personnel to other countries, achieving greater national security at a much lower cost and most importantly, greatly reduced casualties.

But as has been pointed out in numerous articles, we aren’t fighting Robot against Robot wars.  At least not yet.  Israel’s R&D drone technology is said to have started as early as 1992. Russia, Pakistan, even Iran are funding and developing their own drone programs. In fact, according to ABI Research, 65 countries are utilizing or developing drone programs. We’ve seen and read of the carnage when drones miss their target or targets are just plain wrong.  We’re talking Robots vs. Humans and the question of accountability cannot be dismissed.

X47B is a new generation, a next step.  As startling as its capabilities sound, the X47B will not be alone in the expanding robotic landscape.  We have robotic ground vehicles, mapping robots, IED detecting devices [that look like oversized Tonka toys] in the field, as well as robotic submarines and tanks to small, insect-like drones, complete with micro-cameras, in development.Small Fry Drones Utilizing Micro-Cameras

Ready or not, we’re approaching a Brave New World of robotics and weapon development.  The US military sees robotic vehicles, surveillance equipment and weapon systems replacing manned missions to handle the Three Big D’s—dull, dirty and dangerous. Defenders of autonomous systems insist that on-ground personnel will have the ability to abort missions and on-board computer-driven directives.  Still, the question lingers–if on-board computers are making split second computations would a manual ‘abort’ order have any relevance?

But what sets the X47B apart from its predecessors?

The GPS-based navigation and landing system is state-of-the-art, making the carrier landings feasible for this fighter-sized vehicle.  In addition, the program will allow the drone to conduct aerial refueling.  Missions would be preprogrammed, making remote guidance unnecessary. The X47B provides a far larger payload, allowing it to attack larger targets and perform multiple back-to-back missions, many of which would be beyond human endurance.  And it has stealth capabilities.

Robotic technology is racing forward.  What has not proceeded with equal speed or ease is the conversation about the ethics and morality involved in using these systems, particularly as relates to the chain of accountability.

As Noel Sharkey, computer scientist and robotics expert, recently stated in the LA Times:

Lethal actions should have a clear chain of accountability. This is difficult with a robot weapon. The robot cannot be held accountable. So is it the commander who used it? The politician who authorized it? The military’s acquisition process? The manufacturer, for faulty equipment?

The LA Times further states:

Sharkey and others believe that autonomous armed robots should force the kind of dialogue that followed the introduction of mustard gas in World War I and the development of atomic weapons in World War II. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the group tasked by the Geneva Conventions to protect victims in armed conflict, is already examining the issue.

There is no denying that we’re entering a far different world in the way wars, international tensions, border protection, even domestic policing will be handled in the near future.  Let’s hope the right questions are asked and adequate answers provided before we slide down a very slippery slope.

Is there oversight? you may ask.  If the Congressional Unmanned Vehicle Caucus is an example, not much.  Though the caucus likes to advertise itself as a watchdog it has become little more than a booster club for all things drone.  For instance, instead of questioning the enormous amount of money, the cost-effectiveness of domestic drones used for border surveillance—illegal drug smuggling and illegal immigration—or even the success rate of the domestic drone fleet [which is anything but spectacular], the Department of Homeland Security actively supports the acquisition of ever-expanding systems.  As is so often the case, it’s a ‘follow the money’ love affair. Alternet reports that:

In the 2010 election cycle, political action committees associated with companies that produce drones donated more than $1.7 million to 42 congressional members who were members of the congressional drone caucus.

Yup, it’s always the same formula, working the cheap seats with suitcases of ready cash.

X47B will be testing its carrier landing capabilities in 2013, aerial refueling in 2014, and if all goes as planned the drone will be operational by 2016-17.

There’s still time for Americans to demand a serious Q&A.  But not much time.


Frank Rizzo and a Militarized Police Force

While I grew into my young adulthood, Frank Rizzo was the Police Commissioner and then later served as mayor of Philadelphia, Pa. Rizzo died in 1991 but I suspect somewhere in the Great Unknown, the man wails with disappointment, bemoaning the fact he lived before his time.  Rizzo once said that if necessary he would roll tanks down Market Street to preserve the peace.

My parents loved Rizzo’s blustery, make-my-day style.  I thought he was nuts.  As it turns out?  The man was a visionary.

One of the overlooked or rarely mentioned contributions of the Occupy Wall Street Movement has been the public eyeballing of today’s military style, domestic police force.  Many were surprised, even appalled by the military-style uniforms, the aggressive force, the ‘shock and awe’ approach of smoke and sound cannons caught on video.

Let me start off by saying I enjoy safe environments, appreciate the fact that children walk our streets without the fear of immediate abduction, that little old ladies are not routinely bashed over the head for their social security checks or that drug cartels have yet to murder mayors and judges in turf wars [eg., Mexico].

Crime is down in America.  That’s a good thing.

But the push for overkill security measures from our national police forces, fueled by the residual shock of 9/11, defense contractors recognizing small but reliable profit centers and Federal grants under the Homeland Security Department has shot into hyper-drive.  This transformation has occurred not simply in urban settings, where drug-related crime is often a legitimate concern, the source of violence against innocent citizens and police alike. No, the rise of military-style SWAT teams has come to small town America. And numerous Federal Agencies.

Why should we, ordinary citizens, be concerned?  Surely, there is a parallel between the military and police—the hierarchal structure, the use of weaponry and force.  However, the main difference is a soldier is expected to kill the enemy, break the place up in times of war.  In contrast, police departments are expected to protect the peace and citizenry, as well as respect our Constitutional rights.  Situations quickly grow hairy when these roles [soldier/policeman] begin to morph into one another.

A case in point, actually several cases were laid bare by Radley Balko, who as early as 2007 testified before Congress, warning of the growing number of SWAT Teams in America and/or the militarization of our police departments.  This did not happen overnight.  In fact the swing to military-style policing has been growing steadily since the 1980’s when Congressional legislation made military surplus available to police departments.

Here are a few examples that Balko has described:

Dress cops up as soldiers, give them military equipment, train them in military tactics, tell them they’re fighting a “war,” and the consequences are predictable. These policies have taken a toll. Among the victims of increasingly aggressive and militaristic police tactics: Cheye Calvo, the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Md., whose dogs were killed when Prince George’s County police mistakenly raided his home; 92-year-old Katherine Johnston, who was gunned down by narcotics cops in Atlanta in 2006; 11-year-old Alberto Sepulveda, who was killed by Modesto, Calif. police, during a drug raid 2000; 80-year-old Isaac Singletary, who was shot by undercover narcotics police in 2007 who were attempting to sell drugs from his yard; Jonathan Ayers, a Georgia pastor shot as he tried to flee a gang of narcotics cops who jumped him at a gas station in 2009; Clayton Helriggle, a 23-year-old college student killed during a marijuana raid in Ohio in 2002; and Alberta Spruill, who died of a heart attack after police deployed a flash grenade during a mistaken raid on her Harlem apartment in 2003.

As well as:

. . . paramilitary creep has also spread well beyond the drug war. In recent years, SWAT teams have been used to break up neighborhood poker games, including one at an American Legion Hall in Dallas. In 2006, Virginia optometrist Sal Culosi was killed when the Fairfax County Police Department sent a SWAT team to arrest him for gambling on football games. SWAT teams are also now used to arrest people suspected of downloading child pornography. Last year, an Austin, Texas, SWAT team broke down a man’s door because he was suspected of stealing koi fish from a botanical garden.

Btw, the case of child pornography?  Turned out the man raided had a password-free wifi connection.  It was his next-door neighbor who was into kiddie porn.

On SWAT teams employed specifically by Federal Agencies:

In 2007, a federal SWAT team raided the studio of an Atlanta DJ suspected of violating copyright law. And in June, the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General sent its SWAT team into the home of Kenneth Wright in Stockton, Calif., rousing him and his three young daughters from their beds at gunpoint. Initial reports indicated the raid was because Wright’s estranged wife had defaulted on her student loans. The Department of Education issued a press release stating that the investigation was related to embezzlement and fraud — though why embezzlement and fraud necessitate a SWAT team isn’t clear, not to mention that the woman hadn’t lived at the house that was raided for more than a year. Ignoring these details, however, still leaves the question of why the Department of Education needs a SWAT team in the first place.

The Department of the Interior also has one [SWAT team], as does the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Last August, gun-toting federal marshals raided the Gibson Guitar factory in Nashville, Tenn. The reason? The company is under investigation for importing wood that wasn’t properly treated.

In 2006, a group of Tibetan monks inadvertently overstayed their visas while touring the U.S. on a peace mission. Naturally, immigration officials sent a SWAT Team to apprehend them.

Concerned yet?

According to Andrew Becker and GW Schulz from the Center for Investigative Reporting, Federal funds deluged America after 9/11 with little oversight.  And so, a place like Fargo, ND though an unlikely target for jihadist terrorism, has received 34 billion dollars over the last decade, resulting in a wild spending spree.

In recent years, they [Fargo’s PD] have bought bomb-detection robots, digital communications equipment and Kevlar helmets, like those used by soldiers in foreign wars. For local siege situations requiring real firepower, police there can use a new $256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret. Until that day, however, the menacing truck is mostly used for training runs and appearances at the annual Fargo picnic, where it’s been displayed near a children’s bounce house.

And,

No one can say exactly what has been purchased in total across the country or how it’s being used, because the Federal government doesn’t keep close track. State and local governments don’t maintain uniform records. But a review of records from 41 states obtained through open-government requests, and interviews with more than two-dozen current and former police officials and terrorism experts, shows police departments around the U.S. have transformed into small army-like forces.

Last month, I wrote a post for Sky Dancing on the growing popularity of drones for domestic applications, Eyes in the Sky.  Yes, it is true police departments have routinely employed helicopters for apprehension purposes but a drone can be kept in the air for 20+ hours, employ cameras to spy on citizens in their own homes.  There’s been no public discussion or debate on using drones in American airspace.  For good reason, I would argue.  The public identifies the drone to our recent wars in the Middle East, an effective killing machine.  On its face, remote aircraft application takes the issue of surveillance to another level, one that many citizens would reject.

Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that with all the money spent on military weaponry and hardware over the last decade+, it’s reported that local municipalities have pinched costs when it comes to basic training, the how to’s, the when and wherefores for their personnel.  Basic safety and procedural training protects not only the innocent citizen bystander but police officers as well.

The tragedy we witnessed in Oakland during the Occupy protests where Scott Olsen, an Iraqi vet, was nearly killed was a preventable action.  The pepper-spraying and crackdown of peaceful protestors in NYC and elsewhere by overzealous police is a chilling development, as is the routine use of stun guns on the elderly, on children, even pregnant women, and/or the multiple shooting of family pets in warrantless house raids [an alarming number of which have been mistakes].  These are steps too far, steps we will surely regret as a society.  This is particularly true at a moment when authoritative incursions are being made on our basic civil rights, eg., the recent sign off on indefinite detention; the kill order on and ultimate assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, a bad guy but an American citizen nonetheless; a continuing war against whistleblowers; the veil of secrecy in an ever-expanding state of war and surveillance; the deliberate fear-mongering and scapegoating used by our politicians; the disturbing rise and spread of corporatism, etc.

The slide into tyranny is an easy hop, skip and jump from where we find ourselves right now.  We’re deluding ourselves by pretending our democratic principles cannot be/have not been eroded.  This should not be a partisan issue because all parties have been responsible and all parties will be injured if the trend continues.

Frank Rizzo may be smiling in the afterlife.  But Benjamin Franklin leans over his shoulder, reminding us all:

‘Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither. ‘

Sorry, Frank.  Ben was the far wiser man.


Wednesday Reads: History…War on Christmas, War in Iraq, and the Fog of War

Peace River Citrus...tasty orange juice, freshly squeezed.

Good Morning!

Ooof, that is quite a lot of war in the title for today’s post…lots of things to share with you this morning. It’s been raining pretty steady and the wind is whipping up the cows in the pasture down here in Banjoland.

Today’s post is going to focus on a theme that revolves around History…but first, a quick article about  something meteorological.

This weather link is so damn cool!

I saw this article when it was first published earlier this week, and planned on using it for today…Weird Kelvin-Helmholtz Wave Clouds over Birmingham and let me tell you, it is freaky!

While driving through Birmingham, Alabama, Redditor alison_bee couldn’t help but notice the bizarre, repetitive wave shapes appearing in the clouds near the horizon. While these strange cloud formations look otherworldly, they’re an example of what’s called Kelvin-Helmholtz instability — which is a pretty awesome name for a spectacular phenomenon.

What did I tell you?

Heres what Redditor and meteorologist zensunnioracle had to say:

Meteorologist here. These are indeed Kelvin-Helmholtz waves. What is happening is that the nocturnal near-surface layers (lowest 50-100m) of the atmosphere are much more stable than the layers above it in the mornings. Until the ground heats up due to daytime heating, the surface layers stay more stable than the air over it. Kelvin-Helmholtz waves occur when the wind shear between the layers destabilizes the topmost portion of that stable layer, and entrains the air into the unstable layer. What you see is stable air being lifted, cooled, and condensed so that this process becomes visible, though this commonly happens many places without being visible.

As spectacular as these waves are here on Earth, the same forces create similar patters on the gas giant planets like Saturn and Jupiter. While those are some truly enormous waves, these pictures from alison_bee should show that the Earthbound variety aren’t to be sneezed at either.

Video of these clouds as they roll over the city at the link…

Do you remember that hostage situation in a Russian cinema back in 2002? European Court Orders Russia to Pay Victims of 2002 Theater Siege

The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Russia to pay more than $1.3 million to victims of the government’s mishandled attempt to end the siege of a Moscow theater in 2002.

The Strasbourg-based court ruled Tuesday that Russia had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by a lack of planning and poor execution of the rescue operation.

Chechen militants refused to surrender after a standoff at the Dubrovka theater lasting several days, leading Russian security forces to launch a raid on the theater, where the militants were holding more than 800 people hostage. The troops fired an unidentified gas into the theater to try to knock out the militants, but nearly 130 hostages died in the attempt.

In addition, the report stated that Russia did not provide adequate medical aid to the hostages after its rescue effort and failed to conduct an effective investigation of the tragedy.

This comes at a time when tensions are running high in Russia, as Peggy Sue described it in a post last week, The Russian Winter.

Well, the Arab Spring is still ongoing, I thought this next post was interesting because it discusses British History in the Middle East, and the lessons that should be learned. The ‘Arab spring’ and the west: seven lessons from history

talat harb 1956/2011

October 2011: Egyptians in Talat Harb square, Cairo, protest against military rule; October 1956: Egyptians demonstrate in the same square against British-French invasion. Photograph: Getty/Associated Press

There’s a real sense in which, more than any other part of the former colonial world, the Middle East has never been fully decolonised. Sitting on top of the bulk of the globe’s oil reserves, the Arab world has been the target of continual interference and intervention ever since it became formally independent.

Carved into artificial states after the first world war, it’s been bombed and occupied – by the US, Israel, Britain and France – and locked down with US bases and western-backed tyrannies. As the Palestinian blogger Lina Al-Sharif tweeted on Armistice Day this year, the “reason World War One isn’t over yet is because we in the Middle East are still living the consequences”.

Just a side note, I think the comparison of those two photos is a perfect introduction to this article.

The Arab uprisings that erupted in Tunisia a year ago have focused on corruption, poverty and lack of freedom, rather than western domination or Israeli occupation. But the fact that they kicked off against western-backed dictatorships meant they posed an immediate threat to the strategic order.

Since the day Hosni Mubarak fell in Egypt, there has been a relentless counter-drive by the western powers and their Gulf allies to buy off, crush or hijack the Arab revolutions. And they’ve got a deep well of experience to draw on: every centre of the Arab uprisings, from Egypt to Yemen, has lived through decades of imperial domination. All the main Nato states that bombed Libya, for example – the US, Britain, France and Italy – have had troops occupying the country well within living memory.

If the Arab revolutions are going to take control of their future, then, they’ll need to have to keep an eye on their recent past. So here are seven lessons from the history of western Middle East meddling, courtesy of the archive of Pathé News, colonial-era voice of Perfidious Albion itself.

Please go to the link to read about the seven lessons, the first one is a big lesson that we will probably never learn…there are also embedded videos to support the article, some go back to Libya and Jerusalem in the 1930’s.

And for another History Lesson, there is a lengthy timeline here at this link to MoJo: Lie by Lie: A Timeline of How We Got Into Iraq

George Bush Dr. Strangelove

At A congressional hearing examining the march to war in Iraq, Republican congressman Walter Jones posed “a very simple question” about the administration’s manipulation of intelligence: “How could the professionals see what was happening and nobody speak out?”

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, responded with an equally simple answer: “The vice president.”

Oh… this is extremely detailed, so just go read the entire thing! Perhaps it will make you remember some of the events listed, as it made me recall them, in my mind’s vivid memory.

History has yet to write the story of Bradley Manning, however, Amy Goodman has done a good job of reporting on his case. Amy Goodman: Bradley Manning and the Fog of War

Accused whistle-blower Pvt. Bradley Manning turned 24 Saturday. He spent his birthday in a pretrial military hearing that could ultimately lead to a sentence of life … or death. Manning stands accused of causing the largest leak of government secrets in United States history.

Goodman explains the reasons for his “imprisonment” and gives a summary of what his outlook may be:

Back in the Fort Meade, Md., hearing room, defense attorneys painted a picture of a chaotic forward operating base with little to no supervision, no controls whatsoever on soldiers’ access to classified data, and a young man in uniform struggling with his sexual identity in the era of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Manning repeatedly flew into rages, throwing furniture and once even punching a superior in the face, without punishment. His peers at the base said he should not be in a war zone. Yet he stayed, until his arrest 18 months ago.

Since his arrest, Manning has been in solitary confinement, for much of the time in Quantico, Va., under conditions so harsh that the U.N. special rapporteur on torture is investigating. Many believe the U.S. government is trying to break Manning in order to use him in its expected case of espionage against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. It also sends a dramatic message to any potential whistle-blower: “We will destroy you.”

For now, Manning sits attentively, reports say, facing possible death for “aiding the enemy.” The prosecution offered words Manning allegedly wrote to Assange as evidence of his guilt. In the email, Manning described the leak as “one of the more significant documents of our time, removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st century asymmetrical warfare.” History will no doubt use the same words as irrefutable proof of Manning’s courage.

There are so many things going on these days that indicate a change in the rights and liberties of American citizens. We are in the process of losing these rights in this Bush/Obama Administration.

I love this history theme for today’s post…here is another article from Truthdig: William Pfaff: History Tells Us Not to Dismiss a Democratic Challenge to Obama

A week ago, in the Providence Journal newspaper (in Rhode Island), the publisher of Harper’s Magazine, John R. MacArthur, wrote that President Barack Obama, through expedient political compromises, has lost the moral authority that an American president must command, and therefore has lost his right to a second presidential term. Mr. MacArthur quotes in support of his argument the veteran journalist Bill Moyers, who was a member of President Lyndon Johnson’s staff from 1965 to 1967, and since has become a prominent commentator on public television and in liberal and Democratic Party circles.

Just click the link to read the rest…and there is a note at the end of the post you may find interesting too. (Especially those following the Euro/EU economic news.)

And for the last link, we’re going Medieval…on the Right and Left’s perceptions of the “War on Christmas.”  Illuminating the “The War on Christmas” — Got Medieval

No snark today, just a few pretty medieval pictures interspersed with thoughts on this whole War on Christmas thing that you hear so much about these days.

At heart, I think, the War is a matter of incompatible perception. One camp looks at Christmas and sees this:

British Library MS Additional 52539, f. 2 (click-expandable)

And the other, this:

British Library MS Egerton 2045, f. 95 (click to expand)

Behold, a pair of “Adoration of the Magi”.* Neither version looks very much like the medieval marginalia this series typically features** but they both muck about with the page’s margins, nevertheless, so they’re fair game.

The second adoration is actually the most properly called “marginalia”; look closely, and you’ll see there’s a tiny rectangle of text there in the middle of the page, barely a half line of scripture.  Everything else–Jesus and Mary, the three magi and their retainers, the gifts, the castle, even the camel–is located fully within the page’s sumptuously decorated margin, a margin that has expanded so as to nearly blot out the page’s text.

Likewise with the first; it’s marginal, if only just.  While it’s technically a “historiated initial,” if you squint at the lower left quadrant, you’ll see that the kneeling cup-bearing servant is slipping out into the margin.  Everyone else is crowded in so that there’s no room left for him to stand in the main image.

Which one is the metaphor for the Christmas War-Uponers, and which the Christmas Defense Squad?

There is so much one can learn about the attitudes and thought process of the Medieval mind through the art of page decorations.

As the above blog post analyzes the pictures of Christmas, that include the Savior, an occasional Christmas “Beasty” and all the other familiar characters, i.e. the Three Wise Men, I wonder what the three idiots on the curvy couch would have to say about all this marginalization going on.

So this is your History Lesson for the day, what else are you reading and thinking about? See y’all later in the comments.

Hmmm…that makes me think of the phrase, See You in the Funny Papers.


Eyes in the Sky

For anyone who is not persuaded that this country has made a significant U-turn in terms of privacy, civil liberties and what we used to quaintly refer to as ‘freedom,’ this You Tube report is for you.  Hat tip to Democratic Underground on this particular find.

Personally, these drones scare the bejesus out of me.  But any public official saying that ‘nothing is ruled out’ when it comes to drone application in the domestic arena is even more frightening. It should also remind us that this is what perpetual war and disaster capitalism creates–a security industry for profit wrapped in secrecy and the American flag.

The Eyes in the Sky will be watching.  All of us.


You can’t win… Late Night Open Thread

Mama bird protecting her kids...

Good Evening Y’all!

Hey, I have some links for you tonight, to make up for the lame evening reads post earlier today.

The first link is something from last week, and I completely missed it. H/T to Taylor Marsh: President Obama learns perils of roiling Maxine Waters – Joseph Williams – POLITICO.com

Obama responded in a high-profile speech urging black lawmakers to “stop grumbling”and fight alongside him. Waters responded with five TV hits in one day, delivering a blunt message: “I don’t know who he was talking to.”

Administration officials called Waters’s office to complain, discounted her as a perennial malcontent, and reminded reporters that Obama’s speech, which laid out accomplishments like tax credits for working families and protections from predatory lenders, drew a standing ovation from the majority-black audience. At the same time, White House surrogate Rev. Al Sharpton, an MSNBC host, publicly took Waters to task for being too hard on Obama.

Yeah the Obama admin called Waters…but Obama has never personally talked to Waters. (Can you believe it?)

Her aides say Obama, however, has not personally reached out to the congresswoman since taking office. The president’s distaste for the flesh-pressing aspect of politics that Waters is used to, is well known.

“I don’t have a relationship with the White House,” Water said, quickly adding that the president is cordial to her when they meet at a ceremony or reception. Still, “I’ve never had a conversation with the president.”

WTF? That is ridiculous. It’s been almost a day since I saw this article and it still bothers me!

The article ends with an assumption that Waters will suck it up and do whatever she can to ensure Obama gets re-elected. I’m not so sure she will break her neck getting out there like some barker for a Obama 2nd term carousel. What do you all think?

Let’s get to some global news…In Libya, the new government is promising strict adherence to Islamic law. One of the current laws they are overturning from Gaddafi’s rule regards the ban on polygamy.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the chairman of the NTC…attempted to reassure the NTC’s Western backers that the country would be a “moderate” Muslim nation, amid concern over its plans to introduce Islamic law. He appeared to soften his position less than 24 hours after using the liberation ceremony to declare that Sharia law would be the basis of all legislation.

His attempt at conciliation hinted at the difficulty the NTC is having in balancing the demands of secularists and influential Islamist factions who played a strong role in the uprising.

France and the EU warned the NTC to respect human rights after Mr Jalil’s speech on Sunday in which he singled out a ban on polygamy as legislation which would have to be swept aside.

Yup, get rid of the ban on polygamy…way to move forward there. I guess the Arab Spring is not for all Arabs…particularly the female kind.

So far the Obama Administration is staying silent on the direction the NTC in Libya is heading…Let’s see if Hillary Clinton will make any statements about the future of Libyan women’s rights.

In Kenya, some recent violence seems to stem from the Kenyan military action into Somalia targeting the terrorist group al-Shabab. Two Explosions in Kenya’s Capital; 1 Dead

Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, has been rocked by two explosions in crowded downtown areas that have killed one person and wounded more than 20 others.

Officials say someone hurled a grenade Monday evening at a Nairobi bus stop. One person died and eight others were rushed to the hospital after the attack.

Earlier Monday, an unidentified assailant threw a grenade into a downtown Nairobi bar, wounding at least 13 people.

Police are investigating both attacks, which followed warnings from the Somali militant group al-Shabab that it would launch attacks inside Kenya.

There is some very disturbing reports about teenagers raping old women out of Nigeria, and the mass rapes of the Congo-Kinishasa are continuing to make news in the African Press.

http://allafrica.com/img/csi/00150822_1088300cf963f8c21d541b50c38d8aca/w430.jpg

You can read more at the All Africa website: allAfrica.com: Sustainable Africa: Women and Gender

The Occupy protest is causing Faux news to take it to another level…as if they could go any lower.  Fox & Friends: Protesting Mom ‘More Disgusting Than Any of the Filth Down on Wall Street’ | Video Cafe

The Fox & Friends kids’ reaction to the Stacey Hessler story was the same sort of predictable nonsense you’d expect from people paid primarily to get outraged over the latest liberal/marxist attack on America. The weekend edition though just might be outdoing their weekday counterparts in hysteria.

According to them, Hessler is (a) an unfit mother of four young kids for leaving them behind in Florida as she lives on the street in Manhattan; (b) who probably wasn’t ‘putting out’ for her banker husband anyway (hmm…oh, nevermind); and is now (c) shacked up with some young waiter from Brooklyn.

Get a load of the load of B.S., just check out the link for the video, there is also a transcript of the banter between the weekend version of Fox & Friends.

Rachel Maddow has the picture below featured in one of her blog’s post…

This sign — and commentary — is hanging outside a food pantry in Manhattan’s East Village. Maybe it’s time we did something about the economy.

This week marks 10 years since the PATRIOT Act was signed into law…and now there is a new proposed change in the Freedom of Information Act. Rule Change Would Allow Government to Lie About Whether Records Exist

A proposed rule to the Freedom of Information Act would allow federal agencies to tell people requesting certain law-enforcement or national security documents that records don’t exist—even when they do.

Under current FOIA practice, the government may withhold information and issue what’s known as a Glomar denial that says it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of records.

The new proposal—part of a lengthy rule revisionby the Department of Justice—would direct government agencies to “respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist.”

Open-government groups object.

No kidding…when we are in an age that is actually considering immunity for banks…what else do you expect.

On to immigration reform…Obama style.

Democrats consider new immigration reform push

Democratic sources tell CNN that it’s likely that Democrats on Capitol Hill –with the approval of the White House– will re-introduce some form of immigration reform, possibly as early as December. At this point, the details of any plan are unclear. But what is clear is that Democrats are interested in using their version of reform as a “contrast issue” to Republicans, who largely emphasize border security.

Sources say there are ongoing discussions among Democrats ranging from re-introducing comprehensive reform to bringing up the Dream Act again, which would allow the children of illegal immigrants who go to college or serve in the military to become citizens. The Dream Act was defeated last year.

Another possibility being considered is to combine a tough border security plan introduced by Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl with a form of the Dream Act. “Nothing has been decided,” says one Senate Democratic leadership aide. But, he adds, “there’s a lot of interest.”

Well, let’s see what comes of this new immigration reform, considering Obama’s administration has had a record number of deportations…three years in a row…I am sure it will be something to appease and insure Obama gets the Latino vote.

Obama has a way to go to get approval from Latino voters, check out the civil right statements being made in Alabama…Civil rights groups charge Obama with hypocrisy over Alabama immigration law

The Obama administration is facing charges of hypocrisy for fighting a controversial Alabama immigration law while using the measure to arrest and deport illegal immigrants in the state.

Civil rights and Latino advocacy groups laud the Justice Department’s (DOJ) lawsuit challenging Alabama over its newly enacted immigration law, which allows state law enforcement officials to require suspected criminals to show proof of their immigration status.

But the groups blasted the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) continued use in Alabama of the Secure Communities program, which transmits the immigration status records of people arrested in the state to federal authorities. The new state law subjects the Latino community to racial profiling and the Secure Communities program places illegal immigrants who are arrested in line to be deported by DHS, the groups said.

“You have two agencies that are pursuing courses that are inconsistent with each other,” said Joanne Lin, a legislative council for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in an interview.

When you read this post about the hypocrisy…of do as I say, not as I do…this next article about a speech Attorney General Holder gave at a memorial for civil rights advocate Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who passed away earlier this month, is kind of ironic…in a pathetic way.  Holder: Alabama ignoring its past

Attorney General Eric Holder says too many in Alabama “are willing to turn their backs on our immigrant past.”

Referring to Alabama’s recently enacted immigration law, Holder told the audience gathered at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church on Sunday that he “was not going to let that happen.”

And then you have the bat-shit crazy electrified fence idea from the GOP idiot de jour, Herman Cain…but what about the GOP stance on immigration as a whole:

Why Republican Candidates Skirt the Real Immigration Issue

If you’re a restrictionist (personally, I’d like to see more folks allowed to come here legally), the test to gauge whether Republicans are actually intent on substantially decreasing illegal immigration, or just pandering, should be their position on workplace enforcement. It’s common to hear them decry birthright citizenship and in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants as “magnets” that exacerbate unlawful border crossings. But jobs are the draw that ultimately matters. GOP candidates benefit from obscuring that reality, because they are determined to win the support of the business community, which is understandably averse to increased workplace enforcement. It would disrupt many industries, impose extra human resources costs on companies wary of breaking the law, and result in fines and other penalties for lawbreaking companies.

Thus the awful status quo wherein someone can rise to temporary front-runner status in a GOP primary joking about the death by electrocution of Mexicans, but wouldn’t dare to joke about arresting CEOs who deliberately hire illegal immigrants or prosecuting upper-middle-class homeowners who do the same. At GOP fundraisers, bad ideas like that are no laughing matter. Unlike restrictionists, I don’t think illegal immigrants who are employed and law-abiding are hurting America so much as contributing to it, so until they’re made citizens, which I’d like to see happen, I’d rather focus enforcement efforts on human smugglers, gang members, and other criminals. Another option would be to grant amnesty to any illegal immigrant who came forward to show that he’d been hired sans documents, fine his employer, and give him a green card. That would end the hiring of undocumented labor quickly, but is totally politically unrealistic.

I think Conor Friedersdorf makes some valid points. I agree with making legal immigration more accessible, and the unrealistic option about granting amnesty to immigrants that have been hired by American employers seems like a good idea to me.

Alright, I have a few cool links to end this post. The world’s population is supposed to hit 7 billion soon…

How big was the world’s population when you were born?

The Guardian has this cool thing at the link above, you type in the date you were born and poof, it gives you a bit of statistical info…check it out.

Over a MoJo there is an article about Bluegrass Music and Chinese Folk songs, which I thought went kind of well with Boston Boomers post last night. Abigail Washburn Brings Bluegrass to the Silk Road

And lastly to connect you with the real Silk Road…I found this cool group of pictures from a carnival round up on the blog She-Wolf: Welcome to the Medieval Carnival!

It’s my pleasure to host this month’s edition of Carnivalesque, showcasing the best in recent blogging on ancient and medieval history.

There are lots of cool links at She-Wolf’s carnival, but this last one is fantastic.

I thought this Flickr collection was worth a mention. Juliana Lees has been collecting images of pre-1200 Eastern textiles found in Western churches and cathedrals, with a particular interest in Silk Road influences.

Ancient textiles from the East in Western churches and museums -

Ancient textiles from the East have often been conserved in Western churches and cathedrals. They were sometimes used as shrouds and subsequently venerated as holy relics, the source of lucrative pilgrimages. They were also brought back from the East by crusaders and pilgrims, or given to established abbeys and cathedrals by great lords and princes. Some of these Sassanian, Byzantine, Egyptian and Moorish textiles are still in religious edifices, in their treasuries or episcopal museums. Others can be found in museums all over the world. There is no doubt that they have been of the greatest importance in disseminating the styles and cultural influences of the Silk Routes into Western Europe and many motifs familiar to us on Romanesque capitals and artefacts have their origin in the imported silks and especially the Sassanian images.

Well, that should be more than enough for you all to ponder.

I’ll leave you all with a song that has been in my head all day…have a great evening!


Saturday Reads: Why Should We Trust the FBI?

It has been more than ten years since September 11, 2001. Ever since that day, our elected selected leaders have chosen to trash the U.S. Constitution, attack several other countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and more), build secret military bases and prisons around the world, and spy on and even assassinate American citizens.

For a concise summary of many of the Constitutional abuses that have taken place since that awful day ten years ago, I highly recommend reading this essay by Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Here’s a sample:

In response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, George W. Bush shredded the U.S. Constitution, trampled on the Bill of Rights, discarded the Geneva Conventions, and heaped scorn on the domestic torture statute and the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

As we mark the 10th anniversary of the terrible events of September 11, 2001, none of us has any desire to play down the horrors of that day, but two wrongs do not make a right, and, in response to the attacks, the Bush administration engineered and presided over the most sustained period of constitutional decay in our history.

Moreover, although George W. Bush entered the first decade of the 21st century by dismantling the rights that are fundamental to the identity of the United States and the security of its people, Barack Obama ended the decade by failing to fully reinstate those rights. Through his own indecision, or through ferocious opposition in Congress, he has been unable to close the infamous prison at Guantánamo Bay, as promised, and has also refused to even contemplate holding anyone in the Bush administration accountable for their crimes.

As a result, the democratic principles which we hold dear have suffered a massive blow in the first ten years of the 21st century, although that is not the main problem. The deep erosion of our civil liberties is to be lamented, and should be resisted, however difficult the political climate, but the most painful truth about the last decade is that it marks an undoing of democracy so severe that without concerted and deliberate action by the people in this country — and, one hopes, by their elected leaders — the values which defined us, before the events of 9/11 allowed the Bush administration to reshape our perception of executive power, may never be regained.

The Bush and Obama administrations and Congress by supporting and passing the Patriot Act and other clearly unconstitutional laws, have also given free rein to the FBI to spy on and persecute American citizens–usually peace activists or Muslim-Americans.

Today I want to focus on the FBI’s “investigations” of “homegrown terrorism.” I use those quotes because I don’t consider sting operations in which the FBI seeks out vuknerable Muslim-Americans and suggests methods by which they could attack the U.S., provides weapons and funds, and then arrests people who haven’t yet taken any action to be real “investigations.”

Rezwan Ferdaus

I’m really getting sick and tired of reading stories like the one that broke on Wednesday about a young Ashland, MA man named Rezwan Ferdaus. Ferdaus is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston. He was indicted yesterday for

attempting to damage and destroy a federal building by means of an explosive, attempting to damage and destroy national defense premises, receiving firearms and explosive materials, and attempting to provide material support to terrorists and a terrorist organization.

“With the goal of terrorizing the United States, decapitating its ‘military center,’ and killing as many ‘kafirs’ [an Arabic term meaning nonbelievers] as possible, Ferdaus extensively planned and took substantial steps to bomb the United States Pentagon and United State Capitol Building using remote controlled aircraft filled with explosives,”

Read the indictment here (PDF).

Please keep in mind that the “investigation” of Ferdaus was done by the FBI. This is the same FBI that can’t get their 80-year-old definition of rape changed without being pressured for years, after which they finally decide to form a committee to consider proposed changes. This is the same FBI that couldn’t catch Whitey Bulger for 16 years even though he hiding in plain sight. Never mind that, this is the same FBI that tried to use Whitey Bulger as an “informant” while he was murdering people right and left. This is the same FBI whose agents enabled Bulger to go on the lam instead of being prosecuted. By 1994, the FBI was “considered compromised” and so the DEA joined with Massachusetts law enforcement to investigate Bulger, and chose not to inform the FBI of their task force.

This is just a bit of the history of FBI incompetence in the Boston area. Imagine if we looked at the agency’s failures in every major city and state!

I want to begin my recommended reads on the Ferdaus case with a piece by a Boston writer who knows the local background of FBI “investigations” well. Here’s Charlie Pierce, writing at Esquire Magazine. He suggests that the FBI is “busting its own conspiracies.”

Up until now, “homegrown terrorism” has been a phrase reserved for people like Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the Murrah building in Oklahoma City, and Kevin Harpham, who tried to do the same to the Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane last January. In other words, “homegrown terrorism” meant rightwing violence either in fact, or in actual attempt…Now…what is being called “homegrown terrorism” is being applied to Ferdaus, an America citizen who is a Muslim. And certainly, if the FBI is to be believed — which is always a very big if, especially in Boston, as history has taught us — Ferdaus had it in him to be a very bad actor. If the FBI is to be believed, he had every intention of carrying out his plans. If the FBI is to be believed, he spouted off extensively to FBI agents whom Ferdaus believed were recruiters for Al Qaeda. He bought cellphones to be used as detonators. On Wednesday, he took delivery of what he believed to be weapons and explosives, which is when the FBI busted him. The Justice Department even helpfully supplied a photo of a model of a Sabre jet of the type it says Ferdaus planned to use to deliver his explosives.

If the FBI is to be believed, that is.

But why should we believe them? Look at their history. Just think about what the FBI did back in the ’60s and ’70s–spying on the Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Vietnam Veterans who spoke out against the war, and of course peace activists of every stripe. This is their history: enabling criminals and persecuting anyone who questions the government. And since 9/11, they have almost no brakes on their activities. Back to Charlie Pierce:

Ferdaus is only the latest person arrested by the FBI for being part of what they believed to be an enterprise — terrorist or otherwise — in which his “partners” actually were FBI agents themselves. (There is no evidence yet presented that Ferdaus did anything except run his mouth prior to meeting the two counterfeit jihadis who worked for Uncle Sam.) The pattern is now familiar. There is an announcement at maximum volume. The suspect is usually described as being fully dedicated — and fully capable — of carrying out the plans he is charged with making. And, as a bonus, all the psychological alarms that the country has been carrying around since 9/11 begin to rattle to life again. The problems arise when the cases fall part, as several of them have, or when the question arises as to whether or not the FBI is simply busting its own conspiracies. When the cases fall apart, or when they turn out to be rather less serious than the original blare of publicity would have had the nation believe, the news is often buried, but the fear and the political utility of the original announcement remain.

Again, why should we believe them this time? Will Ferdaus get a fair trial? Will he be tortured? Who knows? But I do not trust these people. Anyway, I’ve collected some interesting reads on this subject to share with you today. Please feel free to discuss any other stories you wish in the comments.

First, Mother Jones had a great series awhile back on the FBI, and they have posted an update on the Ferdaus case.

UPDATE: On September 28, Rezwan Ferdaus, a 26-year-old graduate of Northeastern University, was arrested and charged with providing resources to a foreign terrorist organization and attempting to destroy national defense premises. Ferdaus, according to the FBI, planned to blow up both the Pentagon and Capitol Building with a “large remote controlled aircraft filled with C-4 plastic explosives.”

The case was part of a nearly ten-month investigation led by the FBI. Not surprisingly, Ferdaus’ case fits a pattern detailed by Trevor Aaronson in his article below: the FBI provided Ferdaus with the explosives and materials needed to pull off the plot. In this case, two undercover FBI employees, who Ferdaus believed were al Qaeda members, gave Ferdaus $7,500 to purchase an F-86 Sabre model airplane that Ferdaus hoped to fill with explosives. Right before his arrest, the FBI employees gave Ferdaus, who lived at home with his parents, the explosives he requested to pull off his attack. And just how did the FBI come to meet Ferdaus? An informant with a criminal record introduced Ferdaus to the supposed al Qaeda members.

From the Aaronson article on the FBI’s use of informants:

Ever since 9/11, counterterrorism has been the FBI’s No. 1 priority, consuming the lion’s share of its budget—$3.3 billion, compared to $2.6 billion for organized crime—and much of the attention of field agents and a massive, nationwide network of informants. After years of emphasizing informant recruiting as a key task for its agents, the bureau now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies—many of them tasked, as Hussain was, with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States. In addition, for every informant officially listed in the bureau’s records, there are as many as three unofficial ones, according to one former high-level FBI official, known in bureau parlance as “hip pockets.”

The informants could be doctors, clerks, imams. Some might not even consider themselves informants. But the FBI regularly taps all of them as part of a domestic intelligence apparatus whose only historical peer might be COINTELPRO, the program the bureau ran from the ’50s to the ’70s to discredit and marginalize organizations ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to civil-rights and protest groups.

Throughout the FBI’s history, informant numbers have been closely guarded secrets. Periodically, however, the bureau has released those figures. A Senate oversight committee in 1975 found the FBI had 1,500 informants. In 1980, officials disclosed there were 2,800. Six years later, following the FBI’s push into drugs and organized crime, the number of bureau informants ballooned to 6,000, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1986. And according to the FBI, the number grew significantly after 9/11. In its fiscal year 2008 budget authorization request, the FBI disclosed that it it had been been working under a November 2004 presidential directive demanding an increase in “human source development and management,” and that it needed $12.7 million for a program to keep tabs on its spy network and create software to track and manage informants.

I find that very frightening. Please read the whole article if you can find the time. Talking Points Memo has more information on the supposed “plot,” along with photos provided by the FBI. But check this out: a guy who knows a lot about the model planes in question says the plan wouldn’t work.

As hobbyist Bill DiRenzo warms up the real jet engine of his remote control airplane, he said the alleged plot to use jets like his to blow up the U.S. Capitol or the Pentagon sounds a little far-fetched.

[....]

DiRenzo said the suspect most likely didn’t even have the skills needed to make his alleged plot succeed.

“If you’ve never flown one, there’s no way, especially these turbine powered ones where there are the safety issues. I mean there’s so many things in the sophistication in the electronics in it. You have to be in the hobby to even think about doing what that kid did,” DiRenzo said.

DiRenzo also said from what he’s seen and read, the planes the suspect allegedly tried to use in his plot were simply not large enough to carry the explosives and the guidance system needed to be successful.

“They’re pretty close to their wing load when they take off, so to put 40 pounds of explosives on it, even some of these huge jets I have seen, they wouldn’t fly,” DiRenzo said.

The FBI is clearly targeting young Muslim-American men for their terror sting operations, so I’d like to call your attention to this scary story by Spencer Ackerman at Wired’s Danger Room blog about the FBI’s blatantly bigoted attitudes toward Muslim-Americans.

The FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that “main stream” [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader”; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a “funding mechanism for combat.”

At the Bureau’s training ground in Quantico, Virginia, agents are shown a chart contending that the more “devout” a Muslim, the more likely he is to be “violent.” Those destructive tendencies cannot be reversed, an FBI instructional presentation adds: “Any war against non-believers is justified” under Muslim law; a “moderating process cannot happen if the Koran continues to be regarded as the unalterable word of Allah.”

These are excerpts from dozens of pages of recent FBI training material on Islam that Danger Room has acquired. In them, the Constitutionally protected religious faith of millions of Americans is portrayed as an indicator of terrorist activity.

“There may not be a ‘radical’ threat as much as it is simply a normal assertion of the orthodox ideology,” one FBI presentation notes. “The strategic themes animating these Islamic values are not fringe; they are main stream.”

The FBI isn’t just treading on thin legal ice by portraying ordinary, observant Americans as terrorists-in-waiting, former counterterrorism agents say. It’s also playing into al-Qaida’s hands.

Read it and weep. This is what we’ve come to as a country. At the UK Guardian, there are some questions being asked: FBI faces entrapment questions over Rezwan Ferdaus bomb plot arrest

The dramatic arrest of a man in Massachusetts accused of plotting to crash explosive-filled miniature airplanes into the US Capitol and the Pentagon has sparked fresh concerns that the FBI might be using entrapment techniques aimed at Muslims in America.

[....]

some legal organisations and Muslim groups have questioned whether Ferdaus, whose activities were carried out with two undercover FBI agents posing as terrorists, would have been able to carry out such a sophisticated plot if left to his own devices. In numerous previous cases in the US, the FBI has been accused of over-zealousness in its investigations and of entrapping people into terror plots who might otherwise not have carried out an attack.

“It deeply concerns us. It is another in a pattern of high-profile cases. Would this person have conceived or executed this plot without the influence of the FBI?” said Heidi Boghosian, president of the National Lawyers Guild.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations also expressed its concern and wondered if more details would later emerge at trial that showed the full scale of the FBI involvement in setting up the sting. “There is a big, big difference between a plot initiated by the FBI and a plot initiated by a suspect, and it seems this might have been initiated by the FBI,” said Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s director of communications.

There lots more in the article. Finally, here’s an excellent blog post by Stephen Lendman, “Entrapping Muslims in America,” and a scare story in the Christian Science Monitor about how we’re going to be attacked by terrorists with drones. In actuality, it is the U.S. who is attacking other countries (and U.S. citizens abroad) with drones. Talk about projection!

Those are my offerings for today. What are you reading and blogging about?


SDB Evening News Reads for 092611: Baby, Baby, Baby…

Good evening!

I have a basket full of links for you today, with so much discussion going on, it seems fitting to catch you up on things.

There is still a protest going on in the Financial District of Manhattan. I especially like the image that is used on this post from FDL.

Obama’s speech to the CBC is getting plenty notice in the left leaning blogosphere. Blue Texan has a little round up on what is being said here.

Over at C&L, Susie Madrak points out that a recent Washington Post/ABC News Poll shows Obama’s numbers of approval are dropping among the black community.  Perhaps the tone of his speech on Saturday was the wrong tack to take?

And as for the questions of racism, this is what Madrak has to say:

Once again, a member of the media/academic Village misses the obvious: We didn’t have all these people struggling to find work during the Clinton administration. In fact, unemployment was at 4.7 percent – not like the double-digit, long-term unemployment we have now. Not this sense of hopelessness.

It’s still the economy. Racism didn’t magically disappear, but the economy still matters more than anything else.

Also on C&L, this from Jon Perr: Cherry-Picked Patriotism or Only Hating the Wrong Kind of Americans 

Liberals, as the tired conservative slander goes, hate America. This, of course, is nonsense. Liberals simply want to deliver on the national promise of a more perfect union, to shorten the distance, as Bruce Springsteen aptly put it, “between American ideals and American reality.”

But if the past three Republican presidential debates are any indicator, it would appear that conservatives hate Americans. Or more precisely, some Americans. As audiences of the faithful booed an active duty U.S. soldier because he is gay and cheered the deaths of executed prisoners and the uninsured alike, the GOP White House hopefuls on stage remained silent. All because, it seems, they had to. Sadly, that complicity is apparently now a requirement to lead a Republican Party in which demonizing gays, minorities, immigrants and Muslims – that is, hating Americans – is increasingly a centerpiece of its politics.

It is a rather long piece, so give it a quick once over.

The news from FEMA is not very encouraging: FEMA says disaster fund will run dry on Tuesday or Wednesday 

With the House and Senate at odds over a stopgap spending bill that includes more money for natural disaster relief, the agency that needs the money says it can hold out for a few more days.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has $175 million in its disaster relief fund and the balance could reach zero by Tuesday or Wednesday, an agency spokeswoman said.

The timing is key because the Senate is not expected to vote until late Monday afternoon on an amendment to a House-passed spending bill that includes funding to replenish the FEMA coffers. Republican and Democratic leaders were arguing on Friday about the bill and when exactly the agency will run out of money.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had warned on Thursday night that FEMA would run dry as early as Monday, but the next morning, he said he talked to the agency’s director and been told that FEMA was not running out that early.

GOP leaders took up the call, however, and on Friday they repeated warnings that the agency’s funding expired on Monday.

“If Congress does allow the balance of the Disaster Relief Fund to reach zero, there are laws that govern federal agency operations in the absence of funding,” FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen said. “Under law, FEMA would be forced to temporarily shut down disaster recovery and assistance operations, including financial assistance to individuals until Congress appropriated more funds.  This would include all past and current FEMA recovery operations.”

To imagine that elected officials will bicker over emergency funding is outrageous. I am completely disgusted with all of them swamp critters.

This from Major Garrett, Congress Is Failing …

Remember the time when being a political junkie meant you had an insatiable curiosity about the twists and turns in the policies, personalities, ideas, debates, and outcomes in Washington?

Now it means you just sift junk.

Today’s daggers-drawn standoff over disaster funding and keeping the government open is but the latest tragic-comedy manifestation of a legislative and political system mired in madness.

By all accounts, the Disaster Relief Fund within the Federal Emergency Management Agency will run out of money as early as Monday. It may stay afloat until Wednesday. That means by the middle of next week, the world’s most powerful economy, sickened and weakened by declining consumer confidence and persistent unemployment, will consciously decide not to help its citizens and businesses recover from natural disasters–thereby prolonging economic and emotional misery in dozens of states. What’s more, this same government appears headed for another shutdown or, at minimum, a period of insecurity about a shutdown that will only intensify economic jitters.

There are, of course, legislative and political reasons behind this stalemate. The question, though, is do they make any sense outside of the 202 area code?

Ah…the idea that any of the idiots in DC actually pay attention to the people back home? It is nice to think so isn’t it?

Does anyone honestly believe a victim of Hurricane Irene floodwaters cares whether or not House and Senate Democrats have found unity in their fight with Republicans over disaster funding? Washington tends toward insularity and always has. It always feels a bit alien and characterized by inordinate navel-gazing, partisan high-fiving, and slow-moving legislative chess matches. But even by these standards, this week’s stalemate appears to have reached a new low of cloakroom craziness–where something that seems justified in the cloakroom (building party unity, scoring legislative points, shielding sacred cows) looks like malpractice to the average taxpayer.

[…]

Everyone is to blame: The administration was slow to move on disaster funding, ignoring House GOP demands to engage on the question as the House drafted and passed in June a Homeland Security spending bill that boosted disaster aid over Obama’s request by $2 billion. Senate Democrats did almost nothing to move a Homeland Security spending bill in response to the House bill. House Republicans chose to offset some of its disaster funding by cutting funding to a program it knew the administration valued–the Advanced Vehicle Manufacturing Loan program that seeks to fund the development of fuel-efficient vehicles. The House GOP didn’t cut any of its favored programs, only one it knew the administration wanted to protect.

[…]

…this debate is no longer about how much money to give the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It’s about the parties wanting to lay down markers about unity, their ability to defend turf, and their willingness to fight over the smallest issues–even if it means threatening for the second time this year a government shutdown and leaving penniless the Disaster Relief Fund and the victims it serves.

That may make sense in the House and Senate cloakrooms. It may make for tight sound-bites at the microphones. But it looks and sounds like a Beltway culture that’s lost sight of the people it is meant to serve and the rudimentary tasks of governing it is obligated to carry out.

I want to move on to some items about woman’s issues now.

First, today the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Price has died.  Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dies at 71 – NYTimes.com

Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist who began a movement to reforest her country by paying poor women a few shillings to plant trees and who went on to become the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, died here on Sunday. She was 71.

[…]

Dr. Maathai, one of the most widely respected women on the continent, played many roles — environmentalist, feminist, politician, professor, rabble-rouser, human rights advocate and head of the Green Belt Movement, which she founded in 1977. Its mission was to plant trees across Kenya to fight erosion and to create firewood for fuel and jobs for women.

Dr. Maathai was as comfortable in the gritty streets of Nairobi’s slums or the muddy hillsides of central Kenya as she was hobnobbing with heads of state. She won the Peace Prize in 2004 for what the Nobel committee called “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” It was a moment of immense pride in Kenya and across Africa.

Hillary Clinton had this to say, via the State Department Blog Dipnote: The Passing of Dr. Wangari Maathai | U.S. Department of State Blog

Wangari Maathai on stage at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo on December 11, 2004. [AP File Photo]

“I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Wangari Maathai. The world has lost a powerful force for peace, democracy and women’s rights.

“From early on, Dr. Maathai was a tireless advocate for the environment, for women and for all those in the developing world who are unable to realize their potential. She founded the Green Belt Movement that has planted millions of trees and helped women throughout Africa improve their lives and the futures of their families and their communities. She understood the deep connection between local and global problems, and she helped give ordinary citizens a voice. Her death has left a gaping hole among the ranks of women leaders, but she leaves behind a solid foundation for others to build upon. I was inspired by her story and proud to call her my friend.

“My thoughts and prayers are with her three children, Waweru, Wanjira and Muta, and her granddaughter, Ruth Wangari.”

This next two articles over at RH Reality Check caught my eye, first Give Planned Parenthood Funds To Churches!

We’ve been hearing the argument for months now that Planned Parenthood shouldn’t receive federal funds. Women never need abortions (not that Planned Parenthood could use federal funds for that, anyway), doctors can work out payment plans with patients, “pregnancy centers” can give women all the support they need to give birth, contraception isn’t a necessity anyway, etc.

Normally, the reasons rattled off all lead to “defund reproductive health, give money to crisis pregnancy centers.”  Not this time, though.

Via the Concord Monitor:

I would like to see a budget from Planned Parenthood. How much money goes into the pocket of policy advisers and how much to the abortion provider? How much really goes to the “poor” women?

I find it contradictory that we are in New Hampshire, one with the lowest poverty rate, yet we need $1 million to cover poor women.

In the name of “help” do any people volunteer at Planned Parenthood like Care Net [Pregnancy Center]?

I raised five sons well as a “poor” woman with hard work and budgeting and found Care Net to be there to help with clothing and education. Also, the churches were a wealth of resources. Let’s give them $1 million!

Federally funded churches?  Now, how did no one ever think of that?

And this next one: My How Things Change! President Bush Praises Family Planning… 

If you thought the whole “he was for it before he was against it” thing was an artifact of the John Kerry campaign, think again.  As United States Ambassador to the United Nations under the Nixon Administration, President George H.W. Bush (the first President Bush) wrote a letter to Alan Guttmacher (founder of the Guttmacher Institute) congratulating him on creation of a “family planning” stamp commemorating (gasp!!) Margaret Sanger.

This was in the good ol’ days: Republicans were for it before they were against it.  The Bush family sat on the board of Planned Parenthood and in numerous and sundry other ways supported global efforts to promote access to family planning services.

While women’s rights have always been political, this was before it became fashionable and politically expedient to quite obviously sacrifice both evidence and women’s bodies openly on the altar of electoral gains.

The letter is from March 28, 1972…

This just gets me giggling…how things change.

On to some “progressive” men, and their misogynistic approach to feminist talking points, so succinctly discussed by Historiann.  So-called “progressive” Michael Moore shows how to shut down a feminist critique 

I clicked on this link because RealClearPolitics has it headlined “Jane Harman Calls Out Bill Maher’s Sexism.”  Unfortunately, it’s more effective as an object lesson in how so-called “progressive” men like Maher and Moore maneuver to shut down feminist viewpoints and conversations.  Former Congresswoman Jane Harman gives up on her challenge to Maher’s sexist description of a “blonde twink” on Fox News Channel, and her observation that she’s one of one women invited to last week’s show.  She does this even after noting that the dynamic is identical to that described in “the book of the month” by Ron Suskind, with its description of the gender politics in the Obama White HouseCheck it out, with permission to shut down the conversation about sexism granted by Bill Maher and an assist by John Avlon.

Be sure to play it through to the end, where Moore accuses Maher of being “secretly attracted to” the “blonde twink” referenced earlier in the conversation, and the two joke around about Maher’s horndoggery with conservative women.  Awesome!!!  Of course, sex bias isn’t operative here, because Moore loves his wife, and Maher loves him his “blonde twinks.”  Move along, sweeties, nothing to see here. . .

This weekend, the Saudi King made news by suggesting women will get the right to vote some day in Saudi Arabia…but today, this is the kind of news coming from a Saudi lawyer and rights advocate. Trial of Saudi woman for violating ban on female drivers reveals limits of king’s reform drive 

…authorities will bring a Saudi activist to trial for defying the kingdom’s female driving ban.

The attorney, Waleed Aboul Khair, says Najalaa Harrir was summoned for questioning by the prosecutor general in the port city of Jeddah on Sunday, the same day that Saudi King Abdullah introduced reforms giving women the right to vote and run in local elections four years from now.

Harrir is one of dozens of Saudi female activists behind a campaign called “My Right, My Dignity” that is aimed at ending discrimination against women, including the driving ban, in the ultraconservative Islamic country.

Whoa…that was a few amusing and disturbing items wasn’t it?

I am going to veer away from the heavy stuff and indulge in a few different bits of interest…

The recent changes on Facebook are getting annoying…and now I read this and wonder if the PATRIOT Act is not the only thing stepping all over our privacy rights.  Facebook Cookies are Tracking You Even When You Log Out | Geekosystem

If the frictionless (read: permission-less) sharing involved with the new Facebook Timeline weirds you out a little, blogger Nik Cubrilovic has some more unsettling news for you. As it turns out, Facebook has cookies that will track the website you go to for its own purposes in addition to purposes that could arguably be for “sharing.” If you log out, the cookies are not deleted, but instead modified and will still able to track letting Facebook keep an eye on the websites you visit.

Cubrilovic had been working on a project involving fake Facebook accounts when he was tipped off to the situation. Despite the fact that his fake Facebook accounts were unconnected to his real account and that none of them were ever signed in simultaneously, Facebook started listing his real account as a suggested friend for his fake accounts. Facebook was keeping track of who was logging in and from where.

This isn’t the first time that people have started to get concerned about Facebook’s ability to track user activity, logged in or not. In fact, the German state Schleswig-Holstein outlawed embedded “like” buttons on its state websites for exactly that reason; they send information about the user on the site back to Facebook. The discovery that this behavior does not only apply to sites with Facebook functionality but just sites in general plus browser information is a little worrisome.

[…]

There’s no telling how Facebook will respond to the issue, if it ever does, but in the meantime users are stuck with the choice of letting Facebook see their information or getting in the habit of performing a meticulous clean-up ritual. With any luck, maybe all this will inspire a nice, up-to-date, 3rd party Facebook client with an emphasis on user security. Either way, for now, just be aware that you’re being watched.

(via Sydney Morning Herald)

Ah, being watched by Facebook…creeps me out something fierce!

The next couple of links are personal in nature, in that they bring about excited anticipation…and one hell of a good laugh.

When I was a kid, I absolutely loved Dark Shadows and the main character Barnabas Collins, played by Jonathan Frid. (Those remakes during the 80’s and 90’s where crap…with a capital CRAP.)  I never saw the show live, but they had syndicated re-runs on the local Tampa station channel 44…the same place to check out the old “Creature Feature’s with Dr. Paul Bearer.”  I used to hold my old tape recorder up to the TV to get the opening sequence theme music…made up goofy lyrics to the song “Betty Davis Eyes” with the obvious changes referring to “Julia Hoffman Eyes.”  That included the stuttering way the great Grayson Hall pronounced B…bbbbbb….b…Barnabas.

Yes, I had pictures of Jonathan Frid hanging up on my wall above my bed, while everyone else was crazy for the big hair bands, Michael Jackson and Tom Cruise…I was nuts for a dark character portrayed by an aging Canadian actor. Even when I was in college, I had a pet cockatiel that could sing that opening theme song I used to record on the old tape recorder perfectly…weird in a pathetic sort of way isn’t it?

So it was so thrilling for me to see this article about the 2012 release of Dark Shadows directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp:  Johnny Depp’s ‘Dark Shadows’ vampire revealed! | Inside Movies | EW.com

Photo by Leah Gallo

Behold the real visage of Johnny Depp’s vampire from Dark Shadows!

Last week, long-range paparazzi shots of the actor wearing ghostly white makeup, large sunglasses and a pulled down fedora made fans of the original 1966-71 supernatural soap opera bristle nervously, with complaints he looked simply too strange.

Nevermind that he’s playing a 200-year-old vampire, which is strange enough.

As you can see from this cast shot, Depp’s bloodsucking pater familias Barnabas Collins actually borrows heavily from the aged-little boy look of original Dark Shadows star Jonathan Frid — not that anyone would be happy to see this guy show up as your prom date either.

Still, this official First Look may reassure those die-hard fans of the original series, memorably offbeat ABC daytime drama about a vampire whose extended family are bedeviled by ghosts, witches, and other gothic woes.

Depp, who fought for years to make this movie, is one of those fans. “I do remember, very vividly, practically sprinting home from school in the afternoon to see Jonathan Frid play Barnabas Collins,” the actor says. “Even then, at that age, I knew — this has got to be weird.”

Weird certainly sums up this particular family portrait — a shot director Tim Burton, who also obsessed over Dark Shadows as a boy, staged in the early days of production.

“I remember seeing a group photograph of the cast of the original series,” he tells EW. “For me it captured the weird Dark Shadows vibe in a single image. I had a brief window of opportunity to have our cast present at the same time, the day before principle photography began. We decided to stage a similar picture instead of rehearsing, to see if we captured the Dark Shadows feeling.”

Here’s who those family members are, one by one.

Click that link up top to read the little bits of commentary on each character. I can’t wait to see it!

I am going to end with this tribute from South Park to Justin Bieber.  It made me laugh to think of my own Barnabas fantasies, when compared with the young fantasies of today’s tweens.  This clip is hilarious, I hope you enjoy it…

Well, that is what I have for you this evening.  Catch y’all later in the comments, until then…”Ooooooo Baby, Baby, Baby….Oooooooo!”