What is going on with the Secret Service? There has been one scandal after another involving the agency during Obama’s presidency. In the past couple of days The Washington Post broke the news that not only did Omar Gonzalez, the Iraq war veteran who jumped over the fence and got into the White House on Friday, September 19 actually get deep into the White House before being apprehended, but also the Secret Service apparently lied about that and a previous White House breach.
Carol D. Leonnig reports: White House fence-jumper made it far deeper into building than previously known.
The man who jumped the White House fence this month and sprinted through the front door made it much farther into the building than previously known, overpowering one Secret Service officer and running through much of the main floor, according to three people familiar with the incident.
An alarm box near the front entrance of the White House designed to alert guards to an intruder had been muted at what officers believed was a request of the usher’s office, said a Secret Service official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The officer posted inside the front door appeared to be delayed in learning that the intruder, Omar Gonzalez, was about to burst through. Officers are trained that, upon learning of an intruder on the grounds — often through the alarm boxes posted around the property — they must immediately lock the front door.
After barreling past the guard immediately inside the door, Gonzalez, who was carrying a knife, dashed past the stairway leading a half-flight up to the first family’s living quarters. He then ran into the 80-foot-long East Room, an ornate space often used for receptions or presidential addresses.
Gonzalez was tackled by a counterassault agent at the far southern end of the East Room. The intruder reached the doorway to the Green Room, a parlor overlooking the South Lawn with artwork and antique furniture, according to three people familiar with the incident.
Below is a diagram of Gonzolez’ pathway through the White House, from The Daily Telegraph.
Leonnig also reported a few days ago on a 2011 incident in which a gunman shot at the White House with a semiautomatic rifle: Secret Service fumbled response after gunman hit White House residence in 2011.
The gunman parked his black Honda directly south of the White House, in the dark of a November night, in a closed lane of Constitution Avenue. He pointed his semiautomatic rifle out of the passenger window, aimed directly at the home of the president of the United States, and pulled the trigger.
A bullet smashed a window on the second floor, just steps from the first family’s formal living room. Another lodged in a window frame, and more pinged off the roof, sending bits of wood and concrete to the ground. At least seven bullets struck the upstairs residence of the White House, flying some 700 yards across the South Lawn.
President Obama and his wife were out of town on that evening of Nov. 11, 2011, but their younger daughter, Sasha, and Michelle Obama’s mother,Marian Robinson, were inside, while older daughter Malia was expected back any moment from an outing with friends.
Secret Service officers initially rushed to respond. One, stationed directly under the second-floor terrace where the bullets struck, drew her .357 handgun and prepared to crack open an emergency gun box. Snipers on the roof, standing just 20 feet from where one bullet struck, scanned the South Lawn through their rifle scopes for signs of an attack. With little camera surveillance on the White House perimeter, it was up to the Secret Service officers on duty to figure out what was going on.
Then came an order that surprised some of the officers. “No shots have been fired. . . . Stand down,” a supervisor called over his radio. He said the noise was the backfire from a nearby construction vehicle.
That was just the beginning of the “fumbled response.”
That command was the first of a string of security lapses, never previously reported, as the Secret Service failed to identify and properly investigate a serious attack on the White House. While the shooting and eventual arrest of the gunman, Oscar R. Ortega-Hernandez, received attention at the time, neither the bungled internal response nor the potential danger to the Obama daughters has been publicly known. This is the first full account of the Secret Service’s confusion and the missed clues in the incident — and the anger the president and first lady expressed as a result.
By the end of that Friday night, the agency had confirmed a shooting had occurred but wrongly insisted the gunfire was never aimed at the White House. Instead, Secret Service supervisors theorized, gang members in separate cars got in a gunfight near the White House’s front lawn — an unlikely scenario in a relatively quiet, touristy part of the nation’s capital.
It took the Secret Service four days to realize that shots had hit the White House residence, a discovery that came about only because a housekeeper noticed broken glass and a chunk of cement on the floor.
Four days to figure out that bullets had struck inside the White House?! Unbelievable! And yet the White House came to the defense of the agency after Leonig’s report on the 2011 incident. From the LA Times:
“The men and women of the Secret Service put their lives on the line for the president of the United States, his family and folks working in the White House every single day, 24 hours a day,” deputy national security advisor Tony Blinken said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “Their task is incredible and the burden that they bear is incredible.”
Blinken spoke in the wake of the publication of a story in The Washington Post about the Secret Service’s slow and confused response to the 2011 shooting. The gunman, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, was arrested for firing rifle shots at the White House from a nearby street.
Are officials afraid that Secret Service agents will be even more careless about the President’s safety if they are criticized? (Privately, the WaPo reported, President Obama and his wife Michelle were extremely angry after the shooting incident.) As for the “burden that they bear,” I guess that’s why agents have a history of drinking, carousing, and hiring prostitutes–to deal with all that stress? What if Obama or a member of his family had been wounded or killed during one of these security breaches?
At least some in Congress are taking the problem seriously. NPR reports, Secret Service Chief Faces Questions Over Breaches At White House.
The head of the U.S. Secret Service is in for a likely grilling from lawmakers today when she appears before a House committee to answer questions about the Sept. 19 security breach at the White House in which a man with a knife jumped a fence and made it inside the executive mansion before agents intercepted him.
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson will appear opposite members of the House Oversight Committee just as new information has come to light about the incident: The Washington Post reports that after jumping the fence, Omar Gonzalez made it past the front doors, overpowered a guard and then ran across the East Room before being tackled at the doorway to the Green Room.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that the president and first family, who were not in the executive mansion at the time of the breach, are “obviously concerned” but have confidence in the Secret Service.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a member of the House Oversight Committee on Monday told The Associated Press that he’s “worried” that “over the last several years, security has gotten worse, not better.”
NPR’s Giles Snyder says while the fence jumper incident is likely to dominate the hearing, Pierson, who took over as Secret Service chief last year, is also expected to be questioned about a 2011 incident in which shots were fired at the White House.
The Daily Telegraph summarizes previous Secret Service screw-ups under Obama:
The American public first learned the phrase “wheels up party” in 2012. The term refers to agents’ often-drunken celebrations in a foreign country after a successful overseas trip by the President.
But during Mr Obama’s visit to Cartegena, Colombia, his bodyguards didn’t wait until the President had left town. Eleven agents were sent home after some allegedly drank and slept with prostitutes in the week leading up to Mr Obama’s visit. The Secret Service promised reform but a similar incident unfolded in Amsterdam in March when one agent was so drunk they passed out in a hotel hallway.
Less than a year after Mr Obama took office in 2009, he hosted a lavish state dinner for the Indian prime minister, inviting many of Washington’s most notable figures to attend.
But among the dignitaries were Michaele and Tareq Salahi, a Virginia couple who had dressed up for the event but had no invitation. They passed easily through the Secret Service cordon and photos later showed them smiling alongside Mr Obama and his top aides.
The ease with which the “party crashers” entered the White House exposed the Secret Service to ridicule but also raised serious questions about security.
Mr Obama is said to face an unprecedented level of death threats – both from right-wing extremists and Islamist militants – and the misfires by the Secret Service have dented the agency’s projection of invincibility.
Not that any of this irresponsible behavior by Secret Service agents is really all that surprising for those who remember history. There have been numerous reports of similar behavior before and during the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Russ Baker wrote about it at his blog “Who What Why” after the Colombia incidents in 2012.
Go back almost half a century, and look at the most shocking dereliction of duty ever—the failures that made it easy for someone (or someones) to assassinate John F Kennedy. The failings are endless, from not insisting that the bubble top go on Kennedy’s car, to having too few Secret Service agents protecting the president, to authorizing a particularly dangerous route that slowed the car way down, to allowing it to go through a canyon of windows—and then not checking or securing the windows or installing spotters or sharpshooters. A grade school kid could have done a more serious job of protecting the president….
And yet we continue to let this agency off the hook. We forgot that even LBJ, a direct beneficiary of the agency’s sloppiness with his former boss, trusted the outfit so little himself that he inquired at one point whether he could have the FBI protect him instead.
The history of racist attitudes in the Secret Service is also concerning, as Baker argues:
It is foolish to ignore the worldviews and attitudes of people expected to protect presidents. Former Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden has described rampant racism and widespread contempt for Kennedy and his policies among Bolden’s fellow officers.
Now, here are a few salient details about the Secret Service today that go beyond trying to get a little “R&R”: When Washington Post reporters visited the Virginia home of Texas native David R. Chaney, one of the Secret Service supervisors on the Colombia trip, they found a silver pickup truck parked in front. On the vehicle they spotted a bumper sticker with an outline of the state of Texas, and the word “secede.”
It is interesting to note that Chaney’s father served in the Secret Service when Kennedy was in office. As assistant agent in charge of personnel, he was friends with many of the agents who were in Dallas in November, 1963.
There’s much more at the link. Please read the whole thing.
There were also reports of drinking and carousing by Secret Service agents in Dallas the night before the assassination. Vince Palamara has spent years researching the Secret Service and the JFK assassination, and he published a book about it last year, Survivors’ Guilt: The Secret Service and the Failure to Protect President Kennedy.
I know there is lots of other news, but I thought this story was worth a full post. So . . . what other stories are you following today? Let us know in the comment thread, and have a terrific Tuesday.
Good Morning Sky Dancers!!
Today is 2014’s autumnal equinox, when day and night are equal in length. From now on, the days will get shorter and the nights longer, as we approach winter. Actually, autumn officially began in the Northern Hemisphere last night at 10:29 Eastern time.
Astronomically speaking…the fall season…comes to the Northern Hemisphere on Tuesday, September 23rd at 2:29 Universal Time (10:29 p.m. EDT on Monday, the 22nd). At that moment, the Sun shines directly on Earth’s equator, heading south as seen in the sky. For us northerners, this event is called the autumnal equinox….
The apparent position of the Sun in our sky is farther north or farther south depending on the time of year due to the globe’s axial tilt. Earth’s rotational axis does not point straight up and down, like the handle of a perfectly spinning top, but is slanted about 23½° with respect to our orbit around the Sun.
Another way to think of this is that the plane defined by Earth’s orbit around the Sun (called the ecliptic) is tilted with respect to the planet’s equator. From our perspective, the Sun follows the ecliptic in its path through the sky throughout the year. Each day the Sun’s daily arc moves northward or southward, depending on the time of the year. To observers at northern latitudes (in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, for example), the Sun appears to sneak higher in the sky from late December to late June, only to drop down again from late June through late December. The equinox occurs when the Sun is halfway through each journey.
This axial tilt also produces our seasons. When Earth is on one side of its orbit, the Northern Hemisphere is tipped toward the Sun and receives more direct solar rays (and more daylight hours) that produce the familiar climes of summer. Six months later, when Earth is on the opposite side of its orbit, the Northern Hemisphere is tipped away from the Sun. The slanting solar rays heat the ground less and daylight is shorter, producing the colder winter season.
What else happens at the equinox?
Day and night are nearly the same length; the word “equinox” comes from the Latin aequinoctium, meaning “equal night,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. However, a poke around your almanac will show that day and night are not precisely 12 hours each, for two reasons: first, sunrise and sunset are defined as when the Sun’s top edge — not its center— crosses the horizon. Second, Earth’s thick atmosphere refracts the Sun’s apparent position slightly when the solar disk sits very low on the horizon.
The Sun rises due east and sets due west, as seen from everywhere on Earth; the equinoxes are the only times of the year when this occurs.Should you be standing on the equator, the Sun would pass exactly overhead at midday.
Were you standing at the North Pole or South Pole, the Sun would skim completely around the horizon.
Mabon is a harvest festival, the second of three, that encourages pagans to “reap what they sow,” both literally and figuratively. It is the time when night and day stand equal in duration; thus is it a time to express gratitude, complete projects and honor a moment of balance.
“Mabon is a time to reflect on the previous year, when we can celebrate our successes (likened to bringing in the harvest) and assess which crops, projects, or dreams didn’t come to fruition,” the Los Angeles-based pagan leader Laurie Lovekraft told HuffPost.
The pagan website The White Goddess explains:
This is the time to look back not just on the past year, but also your life, and to plan for the future. In the rhythm of the year, Mabon is a time of rest and celebration, after the hard work of gathering the crops. Warm autumn days are followed by chill nights, as the Old Sun God returns to the embrace of the Goddess.
The holiday is named after the Welsh God, Mabon, son of Earth Mother goddess Modron.
Endless War News
The US (and some Arab allies) have carried out airstrikes in Syria. From The Guardian, US confirms 14 air strikes against Isis in Syria.
The most intensive barrage of air strikes launched against Islamic State (Isis) since the US fight against the terror group began last month thundered into northern Syria until after dawn on Tuesday, heralding a new phase of a war that Sunni regional powers have vowed to help lead.
Large explosions were reported in the group’s stronghold of Raqqa, in eastern Syria, as well as in Idlib province. There were unconfirmed reports that attacks had also taken place near Deir Azzor and western Aleppo.
A Pentagon statement said the 14 strikes against Isis targets were carried out with Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Jordan confirmed it its airforce had “destroyed a number of targets that belong to some terrorist groups that sought to commit terror acts inside Jordan” without making explicit reference to Syria.
The Pentagon said warplanes, drones and Tomahawk missiles were used in the attacks, which targeted several areas including IS stronghold Raqqa.
Syria’s foreign ministry said its UN envoy was informed about the strikes against IS, which controls large swathes of Syria and Iraq.
Activists say at least 70 IS militants were killed in the strikes….
It said a total of 14 strikes destroyed or damaged IS training compounds, command and control facilities, vehicles and storage sites.
The US military will continue to conduct air strikes against IS targets in Iraq and Syria, it added.
US Gen Martin Dempsey, America’s highest-ranking uniformed military officer, said the strikes were conducted to show IS militants they had no safe haven. “We certainly achieved that,” he told reporters.
Separately, Centcom said US forces also attacked a network of al-Qaeda veterans named Khorasan who had established a safe haven west of Aleppo and were plotting imminent attacks against the West.
Experts say members of the secretive group are believed to co-operate with al-Nusra Front – Syria’s al-Qaeda-affiliate – using its training bases and resources.
President Obama plans to speak about the Syrian strikes this morning at 10AM.
The U.S. Treasury Department has issued a new tax rules designed to prevent companies from moving operations out of the U.S. Bloomberg Businessweek reports, Lew Tries to Limit Tax-Cut Deals With Inversion Crackdown.
Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew’s crackdown on inversions will get an immediate test as eight U.S. companies with pending deals decide whether to proceed — and other companies contemplating a foreign address now have to think twice.
That’s exactly what Lew had in mind.
“This action will significantly diminish the ability of inverted companies to escape U.S. taxation,” Lew told reporters on a conference call yesterday. “For some companies considering deals, today’s action will mean that inversions no longer make economic sense.”
The Treasury announcement heightened the tension between the government and companies considering obtaining a foreign address to lower their tax bills. Lew and President Barack Obama made clear that they were prepared to use rule-making authority to try stop some deals, even at the risk of a backlash from the companies and from Republicans, who already complained that Lew’s moves went too far.
A wave of inversions caught lawmakers’ attention this year when large companies such as Pfizer Inc. (PFE) andWalgreen Co. (WAG) explored transactions andMedtronic Inc. (MDT), AbbVie Inc. and Burger King Worldwide Inc. (BKW) moved forward with deals.
Treasury officials took action under five sections of the U.S. tax code to make inversions harder and less profitable, removing some of the appeal that has made the transactions more common in recent years, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry.
In an inversion, an American company reincorporates for tax purposes in a tax-friendlier country such as the U.K. or Ireland, typically while maintaining much of their operations in the U.S. Most recent inversions sprang from mergers of a U.S. firm with a smaller foreign firm after regulatory steps taken during President Barack Obama’s first term curbed other types of inversions.
The Treasury rules will make it harder for companies that invert to use cash accumulating abroad—a big draw in recent deals. In addition, the government has made it more difficult to complete these overseas mergers.
The tax changes took effect immediately, officials said, and applied to all deals that hadn’t closed by Monday.
And from the AP via Bloomberg, Ahead of the Bell: Inversion rules sting stocks.
Shares of several companies stumbled Tuesday before markets opened and a day after the Treasury Department announced new regulations that aim to make it tougher to pull off overseas mergers and acquisitions that trim U.S. corporate tax bills.
The new measures attempt to keep companies from finding ways to access earnings from a foreign subsidiary without paying U.S. taxes, including “hopscotch” loans, in which companies shift earnings by lending money to the new foreign parent company while skipping over the U.S.-based company. Another rule change would make it harder for merged or acquired companies to benefit from lower foreign taxes by tightening the application of a law that says the American company’s shareholders must own less than 80 percent of the new, combined company.
About 50 U.S. companies have carried out moves known as inversions in the past decade, and more are considering it, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
An inversion happens when a U.S. corporation and a foreign company combine, with the new parent company based in the foreign country. For tax purposes, the U.S. company becomes foreign-owned, even if all the executives and most of its operations remain in the U.S. Inversions can help companies generate significant tax savings over time in part because the United States has the highest corporate income tax rate in the industrialized world, at 35 percent.
Awwwwwwww . . . too bad corporate bigwigs. I so don’t feel sorry for you.
I have a few offbeat stories for you. The first one is especially for JJ. ABC News reports, ‘Little People, Big World’ Star Jeremy Roloff Is Married.
“Little People, Big World” star Jeremy Roloff, 24, married Audrey Mirabella Botti Saturday afternoon in Oregon.
Jeremy’s twin brother, Zach, was his best man, while the bride wore a gown designed by Lauren Graebner of Eva’s by Reclamation, People magazine reports.
The bridesmaids wore flower crowns and Botti, 23, wore a larger crown designed by Vanessa Schmidt. Roloff wore a suit from ProperSuit, which he shared on social media.
More details, photos, and tweets at the link.
From the Leicester Mercury (UK), Pictures released of two 1,000-year-old skeletons holding hands found in Leicestershire.
Pictures were released today by the University of Leicester, showing two 1,000-year-old skeletons holding hands, which have been discovered.
The pair of skeletons, which are centuries-old and holding hands have been uncovered at a ‘lost’ chapel by archaeologists.
The Mercury reported last week that the remains, of a man and a woman, were found at the Chapel of St Morrell, an ancient site of pilgrimage in Hallaton.
It is believed the pair holding hands are of a similar age.
Whoever they were, the man and woman must have died at the same time.
Leading the project is professional archaeologist Vicky Score, of the University of Leicester, who works on the project during her holidays.
She said carbon-dating on nine skeletons uncovered since the dig began had revealed them to be from the 14th century.
“’We have seen similar skeletons before from Leicester where a couple has been buried together in a single grave. The main question we find ourselves asking is why were they buried up there?” she added.
“There is a perfectly good church in Hallaton. This leads us to wonder if the chapel could have served as some sort of special place of burial at the time.”
See more photos at ABC News.
I found earlier articles about skeletons of couples embracing each other. From NBC News, Prehistoric Romeo and Juliet Discovered.
ROME, Feb. 7, 2007 — They died young and, by the looks of it, in love. Two 5,000-year-old skeletons found locked in an embrace near the city where Shakespeare set the star-crossed tale “Romeo and Juliet” have sparked theories the remains of a far more ancient love story have been found.
Archaeologists unearthed the skeletons dating back to the late Neolithic period outside Mantua, 25 miles south of Verona, the city of Shakespeare’s story of doomed love.
Buried between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, the prehistoric pair are believed to have been a man and a woman and are thought to have died young, because their teeth were found intact, said Elena Menotti, the archaeologist who led the dig.
“As far as we know, it’s unique,” Menotti told The Associated Press by telephone from Milan. “Double burials from the Neolithic are unheard of, and these are even hugging.”
Another one from HuffPo, Skeletons ‘Embracing’ In Death May Represent Gruesome Ancient Siberian Custom.
For years researchers in the Novosibirsk region of Siberia have puzzled over dozens of ancient grave sites containing bodies buried face to face, some seemingly with hands clasped as if in an eternal embrace.
But soon DNA tests may help provide an answer to the key question: Are these the graves of star-crossed lovers, or could the remains be evidence of a gruesome ancient custom?
The bodies are part of a massive burial ground located in the Siberian village of Staryi Tartas, the Siberian Times reported. Altogether, close to 600 tombs have been discovered in the area, dozens of which contain the so-called “embracing” couples.
The graves are believed to belong to the Andronovo culture, which existed in the area during the second and first millennia B.C.E., according to Britannica. Yet many of the bodies in the graves are believed to be from the 15th, 16th and 17th Centuries B.C.E., the Siberian Times reported….
“We can fantasize a lot about all this,” Vyacheslav Molodin, an archaeology and ethnography expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told the Siberian Times. “We can allege that husband died and the wife was killed to be interred with him as we see in some Scythian burials, or maybe the grave stood open for some time and they buried the other person or persons later, or maybe it was really simultaneous death.”
What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread.
Did you hear about the speech John Boehner gave on Tuesday? He was talking to the International Franchise Association. He warned owners of McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and other franchise businesses that Obama’s NLRB is out to destroy them. My goodness! If these one-percenters were forced to pay their employees something approaching a living wage, it would be a nightmare! From The Hill, Boehner warns biz: NLRB is ‘coming right at you’.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), lamenting the rise of “arrogant agencies” he said is threatening the American dream, warned the franchise industry on Tuesday that a politically motivated National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is intent on unionizing its workers.
In brief but forceful remarks to the International Franchise Association, Boehner called the NLRB a “political horse,” controlled by Republicans when they occupy the White House and by unions when a Democrat is president.
“They’re going to do everything they can to try to change the rules and try to find a way to organize your businesses,” Boehner told the group.
He cited the NLRB’s recent finding that the McDonald’s corporation has joint-employer status, along with its franchises, over the chain’s thousands of workers.
The designation, if upheld, could force corporate managers to the table in collective bargaining discussions and expose them to claims of labor rights violations from workers at chain stores and businesses.
Horrors! Because everyone knows the American Dream is about a few rich assholes getting richer on the backs of millions of minimum wage workers who can barely feed their families.
But here’s the good part. During his remarks, Boehner complained about the Republican “knuckleheads” he has to deal with as Speaker of the House. The Hill reports:
“On any given day, 16 of my members decide they’re going to go this way, and all the sudden I have nothing,” he said. “You might notice I have a few knuckleheads in my conference.”
As a result, Boehner claims he only has a “paper majority.”
A group of the most conservative Republicans has frequently plagued the Speaker and upended plans for votes, most recently in July when GOP leaders were forced to pull a vote on their bill responding to thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the southern border.
In April, Boehner mocked some members of his conference for being reluctant to vote on immigration reform. “Here’s the attitude: ‘Ohhhh. Don’t make me do this. Ohhhh. This is too hard,’ ” he said.
Boehner added in his comments on Tuesday that “dealing with Democrats is one thing, dealing with the knuckleheads is another.”
A specialized sort of barometric collapse hit Washington, D.C., last night: a sudden knowledge that the capital’s stocks of Merlot and unfiltered cigarettes had been depleted, and Speaker John Boehner was turning surly. And the target of his abuse, yet again, were the very specimens over whom he attempts to leverage power: the House Republicans conference.
Boehner, speaking to the International Franchise Association (read: people who don’t want to pay their fast-food workers more), described the House majority over which he lords as a “paper majority,” and then went on to label a dissident faction within his conference as “knuckleheads.” ….
Newell mentions Boehner’s complaint about House Republicans who are afraid to vote for an immigration bill (see above in The Hill piece), and an earlier rant by the Speaker from 2012.
“We got some of the smartest people in the country who serve here, and some of the dumbest. We got some of the best people you’d ever meet, and some of the raunchiest. We’ve got ‘em all.”
Why don’t Democrats pull together a bunch of these Boehner quotes and use them in the Midterm campaigns, Newell asks. As for Speaker Boehner,
Why was Boehner insulting members of the House GOP less than two months ahead of an election? Because he’s a strange dude, for starters. Gets his Irish up sometimes, as Paul Ryan would say. But Boehner’s comments were also part of an elaborate pitch to the assembled franchisees to elect more House Republicans this November. He has a “paper majority” in which a few wiseacres can separate themselves from the herd and force the House leadership to pull legislation from the floor. Pity the speaker.
It’s a midterm election cycle in the sixth year of the Obama administration, so the odds are that any new members added to the speaker’s Republican roster this November will be natural fits for the Knucklehead Caucus. The problems Boehner has had (not) moving pieces of legislation these past four years won’t go away, because they’re problems with Boehner’s leadership style. He’s too tentative to threaten the knuckleheads’ committee assignments and access to party campaign cash. He’s abandoned earmarks. And his members know that, except in a handful of cases, his threats to pass legislation with Democratic votes are bluffs. The new knuckleheads will find him just as easy to roll as the previous ones have.
We’ve talked many times here about the differences between liberals and conservatives, and how hard it is for us to understand right-wingers’ thought processes. Well, did you know that liberals and conservatives even smell different?
From The Washington Post, Study: Liberals and conservatives sniff out like-minded mates by body odor.
According to a study published this month in the American Journal of Political Science, people can literally sniff out ideology — and this may explain why so many couples share political beliefs. Or, as the study’s title says, “Assortative Mating on Ideology Could Operate Through Olfactory Cues.”
Researchers led by Brown University political scientist Rose McDermott found that, to a small but significant degree, people prefer the body odor of those who vote as they do.
Previous studies showed long-term mates are more similar when it comes to politics than anything else besides religion. Researchers set out to determine whether this is a purely socially driven phenomenon, or whether biology plays a role.
To test the link between smell and party affiliation, researchers rounded up 146 people aged 18 to 40 from “a large city in the northeast United States.” They used a seven-point scale to determine where they fell on the political spectrum. They sent 21 of these —10 liberals and 11 conservatives — home with fragrance-free soap and shampoo and a gauze pad taped to their armpit. The subjects were told not to smoke, drink, use deodorant or perfume, have sex, eat fragrant foods, sleep with people or pets or linger near strong odors.
They returned the stinky armpit pads 24 hours later. Then 125 participants sniffed the stinky pads, taking a break between whiffs to cleanse their nasal palate with the aroma of peppermint oil. The sniffers, who never saw the people whose smells they were evaluating, then rated the attractiveness of each armpit sample on a 1 to 5 scale.
The subjects found the smell of those more ideologically similar to themselves more attractive than those with opposing views.
Read about the conclusions researchers drew from these results at the WaPo.
How about some archaeology news? German archaeologists have discovered a “long lost Roman fort.” dating to the 1st Century. From Science Daily:
In the course of an educational dig in Gernsheim in the Hessian Ried, archaeologists from Frankfurt University have discovered a long lost Roman fort: A troop unit made up out of approximately 500 soldiers (known as a cohort) was stationed there between 70/80 and 110/120 AD. Over the past weeks, the archaeologists found two V-shaped ditches, typical of this type of fort, and the post holes of a wooden defensive tower as well as other evidence from the time after the fort was abandoned.
An unusually large number of finds were made. This is because the Roman troops dismantled the fort and filled in the ditches when they left. In the process they disposed of a lot of waste, especially in the inner ditch. “A bonanza for us,” according to Prof. Dr. Hans-Markus von Kaenel from the Goethe University Institute of Archaeology. “We filled box after box with shards of fine, coarse and transport ceramics; dating them will allow us to determine when the fort was abandoned with greater accuracy than was possible before.”
Up until now, little was known about Roman Gernsheim, even though findings from the Roman era have been cropping up here since the 19th century. “Previously, the only thing that seemed certain based on the finds was that an important village-like settlement, or “vicus,” must have been located here from the 1st to the 3rd century, comparable with similar villages which have already been shown to have existed in Groß-Gerau, Dieburg or Ladenburg,” explained dig leader Dr. Thomas Maurer. He has been travelling from Frankfurt to South Hessia for years and has published his findings in a large publication about the North Hessian Ried during Roman imperial times.
“It was assumed,” continued Maurer, “that this settlement had to have been based on a fort, since it was customary for the families of the soldiers to live outside the fort in a village-like settlement.” “We really hit the jackpot with this excavation campaign,” said a delighted Prof. Dr. Hans-Markus von Kaenel. “The results are a milestone in reconstructing the history of the Hessian Ried during Roman times.” For almost 20 years now, von Kaenel has been studying this area with the help of his colleagues and students using surveys, digs, material processing and analyses. The results have been published in over 50 articles.
Read the rest at the link.
There was more bad new for the NFL yesterday. Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer (pictured in cuffs at right) was arrested for two domestic violence incidents that happened in July. Dwyer reportedly attacked his wife and caused a bone fracture in one incident, and in the other he threw a shoe at his 18-month old son. He is also charged with preventing his Kayla from calling 911 for help. Fortunately, Kayla immediately took the child and left the state. The New York Daily News reports, Arizona Cardinals shut down running back Jonathan Dwyer over domestic violence charges.
Police said Dwyer hit his wife, causing a fracture. It was not immediately clear if the shoe hit their baby, Jonathan Jr.
Officers went to Dwyer’s home on July 21 after neighbors reported a domestic disturbance. His wife brushed cops off, but later told detectives Dwyer was there when authorities were looking for him, but hid in a bathroom until police left.
The following day, Dwyer snatched a cell phone from his wife’s hand and threw it from the second floor of their home to prevent her from calling the cops, Crump said.
Dwyer is also accused of sending his wife text messages threatening to harm himself if she reported the assaults.
The Cardinals immediately deactivated Dwyer. They really had no choice after what happened with the Vikings and Adrian Peterson.
“We became aware of these allegations this afternoon when notified by Phoenix police and are cooperating fully,” the Cardinals said in a statement. “Given the serious nature of the allegations we have taken the immediate step to deactivate Jonathan from all team activities.”
One local Boston sports station has nominated Dwyer for “biggest asshole in the NFL.” I’ve been listening to the two Boston sports stations and ESPN radio quite a bit, and I’ve been really heartened by the reactions of the male program hosts and callers. One host said yesterday that he had read a parenting book over the weekend. He has never hit his kids, but he was so shocked by Adrian Peterson’s reported behavior that he wanted to know more about good parenting. Another host said that he had been beaten as a child, and for the first time he has begun to understand that his parents abused him.
Also yesterday, attorney Gloria Allred held a press conference in Atlanta with the best friend and the father of Rasheeda Watley, a survivor of abuse by Chicago Bears player Brandon Marshall and called for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to step down. WSB TV Atlanta:
At a news conference Wednesday, Allred detailed the case of Rasheeda Watley, who claimed then-boyfriend Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos had physically abused her….
Allred was joined by Watley’s father and best friend, who both said they reported the abuse to the NFL and Goodell but nothing was done.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of family violence issues has come under fire in recent weeks after a video was released showing former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice hitting his then-fiancee Janay Palmer twice inside the elevator of an Atlantic City casino in February.
Allred said the investigation process is flawed within the NFL organization and it needs to change.
“Our focus is on the process and we want the process to be fair. We want the investigation that is conducted in the future, investigations, of NFL players to afford due process to victims as well as NFL players,” Allred said. “The present process is obviously not fair.”
According to Watley’s father, no one from the NFL even talked to himself, his daughter, or any witnesses of the abuse.
I need to wrap this up, but I want to mention one more article from Bloomberg Businessweek, Roger Goodell at the 50-50 Yard Line. It’s a fairly long read that explains why Goodell’s job is not yet on the line. He has made tons of money for NFL owners, and–let’s face it–money is all they really care about.
So . . . what else is happening? Let us know in the comment thread, and have a great Thursday!
Here are are on the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the never-ending war in the Middle East continues onward. Last night President Obama promised not to send ground troops back to Iraq or into Syria, but it’s very difficult to trust that promise, even though I do think Obama is sincere in his wish to keep the battle against the Islamic State extremists circumscribed.
Reactions to Obama’s speech
From The Washington Post, Countering Islamic State will be hard in Iraq and harder in Syria, officials say.
President Obama’s strategy to beat back Islamic State militants spread across Iraq and Syria will depend on far more than U.S. bombs and missiles hitting their intended targets.
In Iraq, dissolved elements of the army will have to regroup and fight with conviction. Political leaders will have to reach compromises on the allocation of power and money in ways that have eluded them for years. Disenfranchised Sunni tribesmen will have to muster the will to join the government’s battle. European and Arab allies will have to hang together, Washington will have to tolerate the resurgence of Iranian-backed Shiite militias it once fought, and U.S. commanders will have to orchestrate an air war without ground-level guidance from American combat forces.
“Harder than anything we’ve tried to do thus far in Iraq or Afghanistan” is how one U.S. general involved in war planning described the challenges ahead on one side of the border that splits the so-called Islamic State.
But defeating the group in neighboring Syria will be even more difficult, according to U.S. military and diplomatic officials. The strategy imagines weakening the Islamic State without indirectly strengthening the ruthless government led by Bashar al-Assad or a rival network of al-Qaeda affiliated rebels — while simultaneously trying to build up a moderate Syrian opposition.
All that “makes Iraq seem easy,” the general said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share views on policy. “This is the most complex problem we’ve faced since 9/11. We don’t have a precedent for this.”
The Wall Street Journal, Obama Pushes U.S. Deeper Into Middle East to Fight Islamic State.
In asking Americans to support another military incursion in the Middle East, Mr. Obama said his strategy to combat Islamic State, also called ISIS and ISIL, would be bolstered by a coalition of Arab and European nations. His plan builds on his authorization in August of airstrikes in Iraq to protect American personnel threatened by Islamic State and to provide humanitarian assistance to besieged Iraqis.
Mr. Obama said the U.S. goal now is to help Iraqis reclaim large swaths of territory the group has rapidly overtaken in recent months since spilling over from its stronghold in neighboring Syria. His speech paves the way for the first U.S. strikes at the group’s bases and havens in Syria.
“America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat,” Mr. Obama said in remarks from the White House. “I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”
The president gave no timetable for the new, U.S.-led fight against what he described as “a terrorist organization” with members “unique in their brutality.”
In addition to launching airstrikes against the militants in Syria, Mr. Obama pledged a new dose of support for moderate Syrian fighters also battling the extremist group. Taken together, the steps draw the U.S. closer toward the volatile Syrian civil war and open a new front for American efforts in the region.
Saudi Arabia has offered to host a U.S.-run training facility for moderate Syrian rebels, U.S. and Arab officials said. The facility is expected to be able to handle as many as 10,000 fighters, but details are still being worked out, the officials said.
According to the article, John McCain and Lindsey Graham are on board with the plan. That gives me the creeps, frankly.
Geoff Dyer at The Financial Times, Obama’s bold ambition at odds with strategic caution.
Faced with the rapid advances of Isis in both Iraq and Syria, the approach described by Mr Obama attempts to meet the political realities that the president faces, both in the Middle East and at home.
In spite of the technological superiority of US forces, Mr Obama believes a durable military victory against Isis can only be achieved by soldiers from the region, especially Sunni forces from the areas to which Isis is laying claim. Otherwise a similar group could reappear once the US has left.
At the same time, it gives him some political protection at home. Recent polls have shown that Americans are alarmed about Isis after the filmed beheadings of two US citizens, but that does not mean they will support another long ground war that leads to hundreds more US casualties.
Yet the problem with Mr Obama’s latest strategy is that it risks being a series of half-measures that establish incredibly ambitious goals while lacking the means to achieve them.
It’s an interesting article. It spells out my fear that this campaign against ISIL is going to expand more and more–just like Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
A couple more interesting stories to check out:
Ian Black at The Guardian, Obama puts Isis firmly in US sights but peace in Syria looks harder than before.
Violence Against Women News
I haven’t followed the trial of Oscar Pistorius in South Africa, but from what I know about the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, I was surprised to see the headlines this morning saying that he has been found not guilty of murder. Here’s the latest from The Washington Post, Judge: Oscar Pistorius not guilty of premeditated murder, but ‘it is clear his conduct was negligent’.
The prosecution has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Oscar Pistorius committed premeditated murder, Judge Thokozile Masipa said this morning. However, the judge added that it “is clear that his conduct was negligent.”
Pistorius’s negligence pertains to a lesser charge the athlete faces, “culpable homicide,” or manslaughter. The judge applied “the test of a reasonable man” to this charge.
In other words, the judge examined whether it was reasonable for Pistorius to fire four shots through his bathroom door at what he believed was an intruder. In her judgement, Pistorius did not pass this test.
“All the accused had to do was pick up phone and ring security,” Masipa said of Pistorius’s reaction. She added that Pistorius could have also “run to balcony and call for help.” Masipa added that she was “not persuaded that a reasonable person with the accused disabilities,” she said, “would have fired four shots” into the home’s bathroom.
She said that while she thought Pistorius was an “evasive” witness, that does not make him guilty. She said the prosecution has not demonstrated that he “reasonably could have foreseen” that his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was behind the bathroom door into which he fired four shots, killing her.
On the Ray Rice story, yesterday the AP reported that law enforcement sources in NJ told them that the NFL had received a copy of the tape of Rice knocking out Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City casino elevator in February. Following that unsurprising revelation, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell went deeper into damage control mode, asking former FBI director Robert Mueller to head an independent investigation into the NFL’s handling of the case. The Washington Post reports, AP story prompts NFL to investigate its handling of the Ray Rice case.
The NFL appointed an independent investigator to look into its handling of the Ray Rice case Wednesday night, hours after a new report contradicted the league’s insistence no one in the league office saw video until Monday that depicted Rice striking his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City hotel.
That report by the Associated Press came as several people familiar with the inner workings of the league said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has no plans to heed the calls for him to resign over his handling of the case.
The league announced Wednesday night that Robert S. Mueller III, former director of the FBI, will “conduct an independent investigation into the NFL’s pursuit and handling of evidence in the Ray Rice domestic violence incident.”
Owners John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney II of the Pittsburgh Steelers are to oversee the investigation, according to the league.
The final report resulting from the investigation will be released to the public, the NFL said.
I found a couple more disturbing reports about what actually happened at the casino that night in February. Security officers from the casino said that Rice spat in Palmer’s face twice and claimed that she was unconscious from drinking too much.
ESPN reports, Sources: Ray Rice spat at fiancee.
Three current or former security staffers, who spoke with “Outside the Lines” this week on the condition of anonymity, described additional details of the ugly scene captured on video. Two of the men were on duty the night of the assault, while a third had full access to the security video, which he said he has watched dozens of times. TMZSports.com released a video this week that showed Rice punching Palmer in the face, appearing to knock her unconscious. Revel security workers watched the incident from the operations room through a security camera of the elevator.
One former staffer said Rice, the former Baltimore Ravens running back, spat in his then-fiancée’s face twice, “once outside the elevator and once inside,” prompting her to retaliate with movements that were ultimately countered with a knockout punch. According to the men, as Rice punched Palmer, the elevator the couple rode was rapidly approaching the hotel lobby just two floors above the casino floor. A security staffer, dispatched from his lobby post, saw Rice starting to drag his fiancée, who appeared to still be unconscious, out of the elevator.
“Get him away from her! Get him away from her!” the first responder was told by another security officer over a radio, one former security staffer told “Outside the Lines.” The staffer had full access to the security footage.
The security staffers said they did not see any sign of injury on Palmer’s face or head but added that her hair was covering much of her face, making it hard to determine her condition. They also said they didn’t see any blood in the elevator or on the hip-level railing that Palmer’s head appeared to strike as she fell to the elevator floor.
“The first thing he [Rice] said is, ‘She’s intoxicated. She drank too much. I’m just trying to get her to the room,'” one staffer said.
“When she regained consciousness she said, ‘How could you do this to me? I’m the mother of your kid,'” that same staffer told “Outside the Lines.”
There’s much more at the link, and it only makes the entire sorry episode and the NFL’s failure to deal adequately with it more sickening.
A few more links:
NBC Sports, Did Ray Rice Lie to Roger Goodell?
Other News, Links Only
The Washington Post, Richard Kiel, who played lovable giant ‘Jaws’ in ‘James Bond’ films, is dead at 74.
Wall Street Journal, EU agrees to implement more sanctions against Russia Friday.
Time Magazine, Ozone layer shows signs of recovery, study finds.
That’s all I’ve got. What stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have terrific Thursday.