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

woman-by-a-window.matisse

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s an excerpt from the WaPo article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more at the link.

In other news….

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

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

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

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

kerry assad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Evening Catch-Up: Zimmerman and Syria

Good afternoon

Let’s catch up on things, eh?

Syria is really heating up, but of course the situation remains the same.

Syria shows al-Assad, amid speculation on his whereabouts – CNN.com

Amid fierce fighting, Syrian TV on Thursday showed video of President Bashar al-Assad, the first images broadcast of him since a deadly attack on top officials a day earlier.

The development cameas rebels fought government forces in Damascus and its suburbs and made significant attacks on strategic border points, officials said.

[...]

Although al-Assad has not often appeared on television or in public events during the near 17-month crisis gripping his country, it is unusual for a leader not to address a nation in the wake of a major bombing, and as violence rages in the capital.

Wednesday’s blast at a government building in Damascus killed three top officials, one of whom also was the president’s brother-in-law.

Syrian borders in rebel hands, battles in Damascus | Reuters

Syria’s international borders and torched the main police headquarters in the heart of old Damascus, advancing relentlessly after the assassination of Bashar al-Assad’s closest lieutenants.

The battle for parts of the capital raged into the early hours of Friday, with corpses piled in the streets. In some neighborhoods residents said there were signs the government’s presence was diminishing.

Officials in neighboring Iraq confirmed that Syrian rebels were now in control of the Syrian side of the main Abu Kamal border checkpoint on the Euphrates River highway, one of the major trade routes across the Middle East.

Rebels also claimed control of at least two border crossings into Turkey at Bab al-Hawa and Jarablus, in what appeared to have been a coordinated campaign to seize Syria’s frontiers.

In Damascus, a witness in the central old quarter district of Qanawat said the huge headquarters of the Damascus Province Police was black with smoke and abandoned after being torched and looted in a rebel attack.

“Three patrol cars came to the site and were hit by roadside bombs,” said activist Abu Rateb by telephone. “I saw three bodies in one car. Others said dozens of security men and shabbiha (pro-Assad militia) lay dead or wounded along Khaled bin al-Walid street, before ambulances took them away.”

The next few days will be critical in determining whether Assad’s government can recover from the devastating blow of Wednesday’s bombing, which wiped out much of Assad’s command structure and destroyed his circle’s aura of invulnerability.

Streaming live coverage here: Russia, China Veto Syria Resolution at U.N. – WSJ.com

Syria: Bashar al-Assad swears in minister as diplomacy stalls at UN | World news | The Guardian

Hopes for any kind of peaceful resolution of the escalating crisis faded as Russia and China used their vetos at the UN security council to block a western-backed resolution calling for punishment if Assad failed to implement an internationally backed agreement on a ceasefire and political transition with the opposition.

The foreign secretary, William Hague, condemned the UN developments as “inexcusable and indefensible” and warned Assad that his regime was “doomed”. The White House also condemned it as “highly regrettable.”

An estimated 15,000-17,000 have been killed in the 16 months of bloodshed in Syria. Funerals were held in Damascus for Wednesday’s bomb victims as Assad’s sister Bushra and mother Anisa received condolences for the death of Shawkat.

Western diplomatic sources told the Guardian they believed the loss of the highly experienced Shawkat and Dawoud Rajha, the defence minister, would now make it harder for the regime to judge how much force it could use without risking alienating Russia, still Assad’s most influential and supportive ally. In one of the most significant events on a fast-moving day, fighters of the Free Syrian Army took control of the border crossing into Turkey at Bab al Hawa – gateway to Idlib province – and Bab al Salam and Al-Boukamal crossings into Iraq, according to videos posted on the internet. That seems certain to make it easier for the FSA, being financed and armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to step up their fight.

Syria: US condemns UN veto as ‘highly regrettable’ – as it happened | World news | guardian.co.uk

United Nations Security Council meets about Syria

Russia and China vote against a UK drafted resolution at the UN security council. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

5.35pm ET / 10.35pm BST: Here’s the latest summary of today’s events:

The US has condemned Russia and China’s veto of a new draft resolution on Syria as “highly regrettable”. The UK and France were also highly critical of the countries’ third veto, with the French UN ambassador accusing Russia and China of buying time “for the Syrian regime to smash the opposition”.

Russia’s ambassador accused western countries of “attempting to fan the flames of conflict”. Vitaly Churkin said the draft resolution vetoed by Russia and China was “biased”, with threats of sanctions “levelled exclusively at the government of Syria. China’s ambassador said the resolution would have “further aggravated the turmoil”.

On a side note, congratulations to Glenn Greewald: Glenn Greenwald joins Guardian US from Salon | Media | guardian.co.uk

The Guardian has announced the addition of Glenn Greenwald, the renowned political commentator and bestselling author. In his new role, Greenwald will write a daily blog and weekly column appearing in the Guardian’s Comment is Free section.

“The Guardian offers the opportunity to reach a new audience, to further internationalize my readership, and to be re-invigorated by a different environment,” said Greenwald. “Salon has fully supported my work in every possible way, which makes it difficult to leave, but I’m an admirer of the Guardian’s journalism and concluded that it was a great match,” Greenwald added.

Greenwald is a former constitutional and civil rights litigator and current contributing writer at Salon.com. He is the author of three New York Times bestselling books: How Would a Patriot Act?, A Tragic Legacy and With Liberty and Justice for Some. Greenwald was named by The Atlantic as one of the 25 most influential political commentators in the nation and by Newsweek as one of the country’s top 10 online political opinion writers.

“Glenn will be a great fit, and we’re delighted to have him join our provocative line-up of Guardian voices,” said Janine Gibson, Guardian US’s editor-in-chief.

I think it is a good fit too, Home news – Salon.com

After five-and-a-half highly fulfilling years at Salon, I will be leaving to join TheGuardian beginning on August 20. My last day writing on a daily basis for Salon will be August 15. Politico‘s Dylan Byers has an article about the move here. I will write daily at the U.S. edition of TheGuardian, which is based in New York, and will do so exactly the same way as I have here: with full editorial independence and the same type of readership involvement and support upon which I’ve long relied, including a vibrant comment section. In addition to the daily writing, I’ll also write a more traditional once-a-week column there.

And now for the Zimmerman links:

Here is some “class” real class, from George…Zimmerman Posts ‘Thank You’ Video For ‘The Masses,’ Re-Launches Website | Mediaite That website is now a bit more professional looking but what an ass Zimmerman is.

Thursday afternoon, George Zimmerman, the accused killer of Trayvon Martin, posted a video to YouTube entitled “Thank You,” thanking “the masses” for their support during his ongoing situation.

In the video, Zimmerman stands in front of a window and announces the re-launch of “TheRealGeorgeZimmerman.com,” which he describes as a website where “you can personally communicate with me,” and will be the “website to provide facts” as his case unfolds.

This comes as Barbara Waters tells about how she was given conditions by Zimmerman: Barbara Walters Rejects George Zimmerman’s Interview Demands

Barbara Walters revealed on Thursday that she had rejected demands made by Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman in exchange for an interview.

The New York Post reported on Thursday that Walters had traveled down to Florida with the intention of interviewing Zimmerman, but walked away after he requested that ABC get him a hotel room for a month.

Walters was not competing for the first interview with Zimmerman, as he had already granted that privilege to Fox News’ Sean Hannity. Hannity’s interview aired on Wednesday night.

Walters confirmed much of the Post’s story on Thursday’s “View.” She explained that Zimmerman’s lawyer, whom she referred to as “effective,” confirmed Tuesday night that Zimmerman would do an interview. Walters said that Zimmerman was going to tape an interview with Hannity before sitting down with her. Walters said Hannity “had been very supportive to [Zimmerman] in the past and George Zimmerman told me that he was very grateful, and I appreciated his loyalty to Hannity.”

Walters agreed that her interview would tape and air after Zimmerman sat down with Hannity. She said that she had then flown down to Florida for the interview.

When Walters and her team arrived in Florida, she said that Zimmerman came in dressed in a t-shirt, rather than a suit. “That should have been my first clue,” she said.

According to Walters, Zimmerman said that the plans had changed, and he was refusing to do the interview unless ABC granted him one request. Walters refused to confirm that he had requested a month-long stay in a hotel. “It was a condition that, being a member of ABC News, I was unable to grant,” she said.

Money, could be the condition?

Walters described Zimmerman as “desperate for money” and “very worried about his family.” She also said he was “polite, soft-spoken, stubborn.” She said that his lawyers “wanted him to do the interview.”

George then pulled a Trump, calling Walters while the View was being taped live: Zimmerman calls ‘The View’ after Barbara Walters walks away from interview meeting  – NY Daily News

Near the end of Thursday’s show, Walters told viewers that Zimmerman called “The View,” but she refused to put him on the air.

“Mr. Zimmerman, if you could not do the interview yesterday, I don’t think we should do a quick one today,” Walters said.

“In the future if you feel differently, we will consider it,” she snipped.

Zimmerman’s call-in came hours after Martin’s parents made the morning show rounds to slam his claim to Hannity that the deadly confrontation with the teen was “all God’s plan.”

This New York Daily News article says Zimmerman wanted ABC to put him and his wife up in a hotel for a month…ugh.

As far as that interview with Hannity: Trayvon Martin’s Family on Zimmerman Apology: ‘We Must Worship a Different God’ | NewsFeed | TIME.com

George Zimmerman sat down Wednesday night on Fox News’ The Sean Hannity Show, speaking to the press for the first time since the night when he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. (Watch clips from the interview here.)

It looks like evidence to the prosecution. George Zimmerman Prosecution May Use TV Interview as Evidence – ABC News

George Zimmerman’s television interviewin which he said had few regrets about the night he killed teenager Trayvon Martin has been entered as possible evidence in his upcoming murder trial.

In a wide ranging interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity Zimmerman, appearing articulate and calm, said he neither regretted carrying a gun that night nor pursuing the 17-year-old Martin.

“I feel that it was all God’s plan,” he told Hannity. When asked if there was “anything you might do differently,” Zimmerman responded, “No Sir.”

For a good review of the interview: 5 things George Zimmerman told Sean Hannity that may come back to haunt him | theGrio

1. Trayvon wasn’t running. 

Hannity seemed taken aback when Zimmerman repeatedly insisted that Trayvon Martin wasn’t running, since Zimmerman told the police dispatcher that he was. The Fox News host asked Zimmerman to try to “get into the mind-set” of the teen, and questioned whether he might have been running from Zimmerman because he was afraid of him and didn’t know who Zimmerman was. Zimmerman’s one word response to that proposition: “no.”

You don’t think — why do you think that he was running then?” Hannity asked, to which Zimmerman replied that maybe he “said running,” but that Martin was “more … like skipping, going away quickly. But he wasn’t running out of fear.”

You could tell the difference?” Hannity asked, to which Zimmerman replied more emphatically: “He wasn’t running.” Hannity asked again: “So he wasn’t actually running?” And Zimmerman reiterated, “No, sir.”

Hannity, who has been sympathetic to Zimmerman and didn’t cross-examine him forcefully during the interview, eventually gave up on that line of questioning, but not before adding, “OK. Because that’s what you said to the dispatcher, that you thought he was running.”

Meanwhile, Zimmerman said on the 911 tape, as he was describing where he was inside the gated community the Retreat at Twin Lakes on February 26th:

“… you go straight in, don’t turn, and make a left. Sh*t, he’s running.”

The dispatcher asked, “he’s running? Which way is he running?” to which Zimmerman responded, “down towards the other entrance to the neighborhood.” A few seconds later, Zimmerman tells the dispatcher, “he ran,” and then begins trying to give directions to where his truck is parked.

Click that link for the four other “problems” with the interview. Wow…and I thought the skipping thing was the biggest one!

One more update: Court won’t halt execution of Georgia death row inmate  | ajc.com

A state court has declined to halt the execution of a Georgia death row inmate set to die Monday.

Warren Lee Hill is set to die by lethal injection on Monday.

A Butts County Superior Court judge Thursday denied requests filed by Warren Lee Hill’s lawyer. Lawyer Brian Kammer argued Hill is mentally disabled and shouldn’t be executed. Similar requests are pending at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court said Hill has proven an IQ of 70 beyond a reasonable doubt, and he meets the overall criteria for being mentally disabled by a preponderance of the evidence.

This is an open thread…


Tuesday Reads: Crime and Movies, Obama’s Second Term, How the Wisconsin Uprising Got Hijacked, and Other News

Good Morning!!

I’ve got a selection of interesting reads for you today.

Late last night, the top story on Google news was this:

Coroner rules dingo to blame for Australian baby’s death.

A coroner ruled Tuesday that a dingo, a wild dog native to Australia, caused the death of a baby more than 30 years ago.

Azaria Chamberlain was just two months old when she disappeared from a tent during a family holiday to Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, sparking one of the country’s most sensational and enduring murder mysteries.

“The cause of her death was as the result of being attacked and taken by a dingo,” Elizabeth Morris, coroner for Northern Territory, announced to Darwin Magistrates court early Tuesday. “Dingos can and do cause harm to humans.”

The girl’s mother, Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, long maintained that a dingo took her baby, even as she was sentenced to life in jail for daughter’s murder, a conviction that was later quashed.

Meryl Streep played Lindy in a movie about the case, A Cry in the Dark.

The movie was satirized in a Seinfeld episode.

Seriously, though, I’m glad that Lindy has finally received justice.

Another long-ago crime story has been in the news: the mysterious escape from Alcatraz by three convicts 50 years ago yesterday, June 11, 1962.

Fifty years ago, on the night of June 11, 1962, the three convicts were locked down as usual. Guards walking the tier outside their cells saw them at 9:30 and checked on them periodically all night, looking in at the sleeping faces, hearing nothing strange. But by morning, the inmates had vanished, Houdini-like.

Guards found pillows under the bedclothes and lifelike papier-mâché heads with real hair and closed, painted eyes. Federal agents, state and local police officers, Coast Guard boats and military helicopters joined the largest manhunt since the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in 1932, scouring the prison complex on Alcatraz Island, the expanse of San Francisco Bay and the surrounding landscape of Northern California.

A crude raft made of rubber raincoats was found on a nearby island. But the fugitives were never seen again. Federal officials said they almost certainly drowned in the maelstrom of riptides, undertows and turbulent, frigid waters of the 10-mile-wide bay, their bodies probably swept out to sea under the Golden Gate Bridge.

But for aficionados of unsolved mysteries, the fantasy that Frank Lee Morris and the brothers Clarence and John Anglin had successfully escaped from the nation’s most forbidding maximum security prison and are still alive, hiding somewhere, has been a tantalizing if remote possibility for a half-century now.

The escapees would be in their 80s if they are still alive. According to this NPR story, there was a legend that they would meet again at the prison on the 50th anniversary of their escape. Believe it or not, U.S. Marshalls were there to meet them just in case. I haven’t heard of any old men being captured yet, but I’m writing this at 11:30PM, so I guess it could still happen.

Fifty years ago, three men set out into the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay in a raft made out of raincoats. It was one of the most daring prison escapes in U.S. history.

As one newsreel put it: The spoon proved “mightier than the bars at supposedly escape-proof Alcatraz prison.”

“Three bank robbers serving long terms scratched their way through grills covering an air vent, climbed a drainage pipe and disappeared from the forbidding rock in San Francisco Bay,” the report continued.

The men — Frank Morris and two brothers, John and Clarence Anglin — were never seen again. It was a brilliant plan, carried out with meticulous care and patience, but with such an unsatisfying ending. Did they make it? Or are they, as most people assume, at the bottom of the bay?

The legend has always held that if the men are alive, they will return to Alcatraz on the 50th anniversary of their breakout. There’s little chance that’s going to happen. But the anniversary is Monday, and I’m headed to the island to see if they show up. The U.S. Marshals say they will be there, too.

There have been a number of movies made about the daring escape. Clint Eastwood made a good one.

In political news, I’ve got a couple of long reads for you.

Ryan Lizza has a piece in The New Yorker about Obama’s second term: What would Obama do if reelected? In case you don’t want to plow through the whole thing, Atlantic Wire has a Reader’s Digest version: Obama’s Advisers Want You to Know He’ll Be a Lame Lame Duck President

If The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza is right, we might be in for four more years of compromise on things like climate change and nuclear proliferation. Lizza has an article this week forecasting Obama’s second term, or rather, what Obama’s advisers want you to know about the President’s second term.

Don’t expect much. Obama and his team aren’t revealing their cards on the pressing issues like the economy (Lizza mentions there’s time for one big policy change) or inflammatory issues like same-sex marriage. And their lack of specifics about the President’s second term has been a story in itself, especially when contrasted with Mitt Romney who has already imagined his first days in the White House. As Lizza reports, the message that the president’s team wants out there is that Obama will be banking on bipartisan support (a word that’s peppered the president’s first term) to maybe get things done in the short time he has.

It sounds a lot like the first term.

At TomDispatch, Andy Kroll has a lengthy article about how Wisconsin was hijacked.

The results of Tuesday’s elections are being heralded as the death of public-employee unions, if not the death of organized labor itself. Tuesday’s results are also seen as the final chapter in the story of the populist uprising that burst into life last year in the state capital of Madison. The Cheddar Revolution, so the argument goes, was buried in a mountain of ballots.

But that burial ceremony may prove premature. Most of the conclusions of the last few days, left and right, are likely wrong.

The energy of the Wisconsin uprising was never electoral. The movement’s mistake: letting itself be channeled solely into traditional politics, into the usual box of uninspired candidates and the usual line-up of debates, primaries, and general elections. The uprising was too broad and diverse to fit electoral politics comfortably. You can’t play a symphony with a single instrument. Nor can you funnel the energy and outrage of a popular movement into a single race, behind a single well-worn candidate, at a time when all the money in the world from corporate “individuals” and right-wing billionaires is pouring into races like the Walker recall.

Colin Millard, an organizer at the International Brotherhood of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental, and Reinforcing Iron Workers, admitted as much on the eve of the recall. We were standing inside his storefront office in the small town of Horicon, Wisconsin. It was night outside. “The moment you start a recall,” he told me, “you’re playing their game by their rules.”

Check it out. It’s well worth the read.

In other news,

Yesterday the Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from some detainees at Guantanamo. At Mother Jones, Adam Serwer asks: Did the Supreme Court Just Gut Habeas Rights?

The Supreme Court’s decision on Monday not to hear appeals from a group of Gitmo detainees leaves the remaining 169 detainees at the facility with little chance of securing their freedom through US courts.

In the 2008 case Boumediene v. Bush, the Supreme Court ruled detainees at Gitmo could challenge their detention in US courts. That decision was seen as effectively ending the Bush administration’s attempt to carve out a legal black hole for suspected terror detainees. Shortly thereafter, Gitmo detainees began appealing their detentions—and frequently winning in court. But in the years since the decision, conservative judges on the DC Circuit have interpreted the law in a way that assumes many of the government’s claims are true and don’t have to be proven in court. By not taking any of these cases, the Supreme Court has ensured these stricter rules will prevail. Civil-libertarian groups say that essentially leaves detainees at Gitmo with habeas rights in name only, since the rules make it virtually impossible for detainees to win in court. A Seton Hall University School of Law report from May found that, prior to the DC Circuit’s reinterpretation of the rules, detainees won 56 percent of cases. Afterwards, they won 8 percent.

The march toward fascism continues. In other cheery news, a new Federal Reserve report says that the “Great Recession erased nearly 40% of family wealth.”

The Great Recession took such a heavy toll on the economy that the typical American family lost nearly 40% of its wealth from 2007 to 2010, shaving the median net worth to a level not seen since the early 1990s.

The Federal Reserve said in a new report Monday that median family net worth, the point smack in the middle of those richer and poorer, fell to $77,300 in 2010 from $126,400 three years earlier after adjusting for inflation.

The fall came with the collapse in the housing market and massive layoffs that slashed people’s incomes, and the pain was felt by families across the board — young and old, well-educated and less so, with children or not.

But the biggest impact was felt by young middle-age families, those headed by people ages 35 to 44. For this group, the median net worth — total assets minus debts — fell a whopping 54% in the three-year period to $42,100 in 2010. Such was their financial hardships that only 47.6% of these families said they had saved money in 2010; that was the lowest among all age groups, where an overall average of 52% of families saved some money that year.

Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) is “‘worried’ by influx of dark money” in the 2012 election because of the Citizen’s United decision.

“The thing that worries me frankly the most is the huge amount of hidden money which is going to get into — it already is in — the Romney campaign,” he said on Current TV’s War Room.

“The Super PAC money worries me. The fact that Mr. Romney will not disclose who is bundling his money, he is keeping that secret as well… It’s bad enough that we have these unlimited amounts of money that go into Super PACs.”

Levin says that Congress could force SuperPacs to reveal the names of donors, but so far the Republicans have blocked his bill to do that.

At The Daily Beast, Peter Beinart asks why Bashar al-Assad isn’t on President Obama’s “kill list.” After all, he claims the right to kill just about anyone in the name of terrorism. If Assad isn’t a terrorist, who is?

Fine, you say, but there’s an executive order against assassinating heads of state. That’s true, but we don’t exactly abide by it. During the Cold War, the United States helped orchestrate coups that led to the deaths of South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem and Chile’s Salvador Allende. The Bush administration launched the 2003 Iraq War with a decapitation strike aimed at killing Saddam Hussein. And whether or not the United States had a hand in Muammar Gaddafi’s death last fall, it was the predictable—and perhaps desired—result of the war we launched.

But doesn’t assassinating foreign leaders set a worrisome precedent? If we can kill Bashar al-Assad, what’s to stop the Syrian government from trying to kill Barack Obama? We might ask the same question about the sanctions we impose and the wars we launch. The point is that the U.S. violates other countries’ sovereignty in all kinds of ways we wouldn’t appreciate if they did it to us. And the reason they don’t is not because they lack a precedent; it’s because they lack the power.

I’m speechless.

So what is on your reading list today?


Monday Evening News Reads: Only a flesh wound…tis but a scratch

Good Monday Evening

I just love this cartoon from  Mike Luckovich.   GOP focus | Mike Luckovich There is something about seeing the candidates limbs torn apart,  complete with talking heads that makes me laugh out loud.

 mike022112

I could not help thinking of the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail with the Black Knight…”None shall pass.”

It seems like every time I look at the news, or open my reader, the shit just keeps coming. And frothy dick really is good at flinging it.

Santorum: Privacy ruined everything

James Carter digs this up from a speech given by Republican frontrunner Rick Santorum back in 2003:

All the rights in the Constitution, which are individually based rights, according to our founders were not there for the individual’s gain, but the reason we established those rights was for the common good. The right to privacy is not the right to a common good. It’s a me-centered right, that obviously started in the sexual revolution with contraception and obviously quickly evolved to abortion, and now has found its way into the marriage debate. And all those acts that were self-giving acts, self-sacrificing acts, have been polluted by this right to privacy.

No wonder Santorum thinks birth control “is not OK” — your right to it ruined the Constitution.

Also today, from another wack job, this time an Indiana crank…Bob Morris, Indiana Lawmaker, Calls Girl Scouts A ‘Radicalized Organization’

An Indiana lawmaker has decided not to support a resolution celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts because he feels the group is a “radicalized organization” that “sexualizes” young girls and promotes homosexuality.

In a letter sent to Indiana lawmakers obtained by the Journal Gazette, Rep. Bob Morris (R-Fort Wayne) said he plans to pull his two daughters out of their Indiana Girl Scout troop because information he found online about how the organization allegedly operates. One source he mentions is conservative “news” site World Net Daily.

Those of you who have read Charles Pierce’s book Idiot America should be able to spot the prime example of the…

The three Great Premises of Idiot America:
· Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units
· Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough
· Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it

So…Bob Morris has hit the jackpot with the second and third principles. As the Huffpo link states via,

The Associated Press reports:

… Morris said he found online allegations that the Girl Scouts are a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood, encourage sex and allow transgender females to join. He also wrote that the fact that first lady Michelle Obama is honorary president should give lawmakers pause before they endorse the Girl Scouts.

Morris goes on to say those considered role models by the Girl Scouts are all “feminists, lesbians, or Communists” and claims that troops are no longer allowed to pray or sing Christmas Carols. (Read Morris’s full letter to lawmakers here)

Morris is the only Indiana lawmaker who has refused to sign the nonbinding resolution, which aims to honor the “strong positive influence” the group has had on American women.

No way in hell… do the right wing conservative asses want to promote a group that brings about a strong positive influence in young women.

And since we are on the topic of right wing conservative asses, What’s in a name? Southern Baptists to decide

The nation’s largest protestant denomination will definitely remain “Baptist,” but leaders are thinking about whether it will be “Southern” for much longer.

Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright, senior pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, was expected to present the recommendation of a task force assigned to study a name change to the denomination’s executive committee at a meeting Monday night.

Any name change would have to be approved at the SBC’s annual conventions the next two years.

Wright has said he is concerned the name is too regional and hinders efforts to plant new churches outside of the South. Others outside of church leadership say the name has become a liability because it is too often associated with divisive, partisan politics.

Hmmmm…if my attitude was slightly better, I am sure we could come up with some new names for the hate group…I mean religious organization.

While the 16 million member denomination continues to plant new churches in the U.S. and around the world, it has seen a decline in baptisms, church attendance and membership in recent years.

Wright has not revealed whether the task force voted in favor of a new name, but task force members have spoken positively about the idea.

Hey, I don’t think a new name is going to make a difference. What was that thing about lipstick on a pig…you can change the name that has a negative association with it, but it is still a extreme form of religion that carries with it a large dose of hate and intolerance and nonacceptance. (If you think I have taken that description a bit far…remember, I live in the middle of the bible belt. And in my town of Banjoville, I have seen the hate first hand…and of all places, at the funeral of a good friend. )

Back on the GOP’s crusade against women’s health, check this out: 5 sexual health services insurance will cover… for men

The fact of the matter is that health insurance covers all manner of “things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be,” when it comes to men, and no one has any real complaints about insurance coverage that allows men to continue having sex for non-procreative reasons and despite medical conditions that would otherwise prevent it. Most of them are actually far more expensive than hormonal birth control or intrauterine devices, the two methods of contraception that House and Senate Republicans now want all employers to be able to prevent their insurance companies from covering in employee health insurance packages. Five things that health insurers — including, in some cases, the federal government — currently cover for men’s reproductive tracts.

Those five services include:Erectile dysfunction drugs, vacuum erection devices, penile implants, vasectomies and circumcisions. You can click that link up to read more about it.

Stepping away from the war on women, and moving on over to the civil war in Syria. There is a very good and very long article at the Guardian that you should read. Homs, city of torture 

Author Jonathan Littell tells of Assad’s security forces targeting medical personnel and how he was smuggled to the heart of the Syrian conflict

A member of the Free Syrian Army wounded in clashes with government forces. Photograph: Tomas Munita/New York Times/Redux/eyevine

In Bashar al-Assad‘s Syria, it is not just forbidden to speak, demonstrate and protest: it is also forbidden both to give medical treatment, and to receive treatment yourself.

That is just the beginning…take some time and read this article.

Tonight, I started with a crankass who was getting his information from questionable sources, and still passes it off as TRUTH.  I want to end with this…“Wikipedia Is Not Truth” – The Dish | By Andrew Sullivan – The Daily Beast

Timothy Messer-Kruse tried to update the Wiki page on the Haymarket riot of 1886 to correct a long-standing inaccurate claim. Even though he’s written two books and numerous articles on the subject, his changes were instantly rejected:

I had cited the documents that proved my point, including verbatim testimony from the trial published online by the Library of Congress. I also noted one of my own peer-reviewed articles. One of the people who had assumed the role of keeper of this bit of history for Wikipedia quoted the Web site’s “undue weight” policy, which states that “articles should not give minority views as much or as detailed a description as more popular views.” He then scolded me. “You should not delete information supported by the majority of sources to replace it with a minority view.”

[…]

“Explain to me, then, how a ‘minority’ source with facts on its side would ever appear against a wrong ‘majority’ one?” I asked the Wiki-gatekeeper. …  Another editor cheerfully tutored me in what this means: “Wikipedia is not ‘truth,’ Wikipedia is ‘verifiability’ of reliable sources. Hence, if most secondary sources which are taken as reliable happen to repeat a flawed account or description of something, Wikipedia will echo that.”

So what is the response to someone trying to correct information on Wikipedia?

Rebecca J. Rosen offers a limited defense:

If Wikipedia hesitated to change its article ahead of the scholarly consensus, that is an artifact of academia’s own inability to quickly adopt a new consensus, not a failing of Wikipedia.

Alrighty then…on that note we’ll end it here. What are you up to this evening? The Third Man is on TCM later tonight…so until then I’ll see you in the comments.


Wednesday Reads: Two Mormons…and Ron Paul

Good Morning!

I tell you, last night’s top three New Hampshire primary results sound more like the beginning of a joke…two Mormons and a neo-confederate walk into a bar…you see what I mean. (Actually, this post was originally entitled, Two Mormons and A Guy Wearing A Hood…but I thought that was a bit over the top.)

Yes, we all expected Romney to win, I was just amazed at how fast it took the news media to declare Romney the winner.  Just an hour after the polls close. Granted, it looks like the turnout was a bit lower than predicted, which has some on the Right (Fox News) a bit concerned.

Ron Paul came in second, which makes his quote at the NH speech even more ironic: “We are dangerous…”

 “There’s no way to stop the momentum we have,” Rep. Paul told the crowd, admitting that “I sort of have to chuckle when they describe you and me as being dangerous.” “They are telling the truth,” he concluded. “We are dangerous to the status quo.”

I would also add dangerous to women and minorities…but you can read more about that over at Cannonfire.

At this writing, Paul will probably win second place in the New Hampshire primary. I don’t expect much from the Republicans — but is it really too much to ask the party of Lincoln to favor the concept of maintaining the union under any and all circumstances? Apparently so. (As we shall see, some alleged “liberals” also have no problem rationalizing Paul’s treasonous instincts.)

What have we come to? What would Honest Abe think about Paul’s popularity?

Modern conservatives are a contradictory bunch: They continually threaten to upend the very ideals they claim to cherish.

Give this post a bit of your time. We have been talking about Paul for weeks now…as we head to South Carolina, I can’t help but think Paul will do well in the state that started the Secession movement.

Here are a couple more links for you, if you haven’t gotten you fill yet.

Lessons from an Early Night in New Hampshire – Molly Ball – Politics – The Atlantic

Jon Huntsman’s Billionaire Dad Won’t Commit to More Campaign Cash | Mother Jones

Lets move on to world news for a moment. Syria is still a hotbed of violence. The latest word from the UN is very disturbing, Syria conditions dire says U.S. United Nations Abassador Susan Rice.

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice made a statement today strongly condemning the ongoing stream of violence in Syria.

The statement was made following a Tuesday January 10, 2012 UN Security Council briefing on the serious situation in the region lead by Lynn Pascoe, Head of the United Nations Department of Political Affairs.

“The briefing we received was alarming…” says Ambassador Rice during a UN Press communique released on Tuesday covering the UN Security Council briefing.

“The [UN] Under-Secretary-General noted that in the days since the Arab League monitoring mission has been on the ground, in fact an estimated 400 additional people have been killed, an average of 40 a day, a rate much higher than was the case even before their deployment,” Rice continued to tell press following her appearance at the briefing.

Rice points out that activist bloggers are one of the targets in the Assad regime.

Internet freedom has also been curtailed as blogger Ms. Razan Ghazzawi was arrested and released after bail was paid following her days in detention. Other bloggers have also been arrested in a string of crackdowns since April that have been directed at bloggers to prevent them from speaking under restrictions limiting freedom of the press in the region. Ms. Tal Al-Mallohi, who’s twenty-first birthday fell on January 4 this year, has been serving a five year sentence since her arrest in 2009 on charges that were made against her because of her blog posts.

“This [Tal Al-Mallohi] is a deeply disturbing case,” said Kate Allen UK Director for Amnesty International in a September 2010 news release report on Al-Mallohi. “No-one should be detained just for discussing freedom of expression and if this is why Tal al-Mallohi is behind bars then it’s an absolute disgrace.”

More on Syria from Robert Fisk: Assad faces his people’s hatred – but as their anger grows, his excuses are still just the same -

It was the Assad Speech of the Year. There was an international conspiracy against Syria. True. Arab states opposed to Syria were under “outside pressure”. True, up to a point. Nobody could deny the seriousness of these plots. True. After all, the Syrian government itself registers 2,000 dead soldiers, while the UN estimates civilian dead at 5,000. And when Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan warned that the violence in Syria was “heading towards a sectarian, religious war”, there were few supporters of President Assad who would disagree with him.

Fisk goes on to connect Assads control over journalist and media, with the leaks of Youtube videos that find their way out to the world via the internet and Al Jazeera.

Assad’s government, however, has still found itself unable to deal with the news side of the crisis. By allowing few international journalists to enter the country, officials have allowed the stunning YouTube images of the opposition to lead public opinion. When Al Jazeera can broadcast a Muslim imam in a crowded mosque shouting “Assad’s soldiers – God curse them – say Assad is their God; if that doesn’t make you angry, what will?” and then give specific details of protesters’ demonstration tactics in a suburb of Damascus, the Syrian Ministry of Information has a real problem.

The President can say – as he did yesterday – that “according to the law, nobody should open fire – only in self-defence or in a battle with an armed person”, but dozens of YouTube phone videos on Al Jazeera suggest that such laws are widely ignored by the regime.

Of course, Al Jazeera is funded by the Emir of Qatar, and the Qatari royal family’s influence has now reached its zenith in the Arab League – which has threatened to allow the whole bloody business to go to the UN Security Council. It’s not difficult to see how – from a sparse Baathist drawing room – this looks more like conspiracy than coincidence. The League has been boasting of its sense of resolution, while Assad believes it was his idea to bring the League’s monitors to Syria. And that’s exactly what he told us all yesterday. The Kuwaitis, meanwhile, said that two of their League military monitors in Syria had been slightly wounded by “unidentified protesters”. It would be interesting to know whom the protesters were protesting against.

Boston Boomer had a post a couple of days ago that focused on Guantanamo. Well, a new report has been released from Amnesty International: Guantánamo: A decade of damage to human rights | Amnesty International

The failure of the US government to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay is leaving a toxic legacy for human rights, Amnesty International said on the 10th anniversary of the first detainees being transferred to this notorious US prison.

In a report published ahead of the anniversary, Guantánamo: A Decade of Damage to Human Rights, Amnesty International highlights the unlawful treatment of Guantánamo detainees and outlines the reasons why the detention centre continues to represent an attack on human rights.

“Guantánamo has come to symbolize 10 years of a systematic failure by the USA to respect human rights in its response to the 9/11 attacks. The US government disregarded human rights from day one of the Guantánamo detentions. As we move into year 11 in the life of the detention facility, this failure continues,” said Rob Freer, Amnesty International’s researcher on the USA.

Despite President Obama’s pledge to close the Guantánamo detention facility by 22 January 2010, 171 men were being held there in mid-December 2011. At least 12 of those transferred to Guantánamo on 11 January 2002 were still held there. One of them is serving a life sentence after being convicted by a military commission in 2008. None of the other 11 has been charged.

I want to post some updates on a few things we have discussed here on the blog.  This past Sunday, I had posted a link about the ultra-light plane being grounded while it was escorting migratory Whooping Cranes to Florida.

The article I linked to was from MSNBC: ‘Whooping cranes plane’ runs afoul of FAA – US news – Environment – msnbc.com By reading this article, you would assume that the group flying the birds down to Florida have been doing this for 10 years, and all of a sudden there is a problem with the FAA. No where in this article does it mention that this particular trip, the pilot is being paid. See this here: Legal Problem Grounds a Bird Migration – NYTimes.com

For 11 years, conservationists have used ultralights to guide the birds from Michigan to Florida. The birds are essentially orphans, raised in captivity without parents, but if they can be shown the 1,200-mile route once, they will find their way back to Michigan the following fall on their own, and fly unescorted for the rest of their lives.

The idea is a bit weird; the pilots dress up to look like birds so the fledglings will be “imprinted” with them. But everybody seems to like it; this year’s trip is underwritten in part by the Southern Company, a big utility.

But now it turns out that some of these do-gooder flights face a legal challenge.

The Federal Aviation Administration classifies the ultralights as “light sport aircraft,” a category with simplified licensing rules. Such aircraft can carry only one or two people, cannot fly in congested areas and cannot fly for hire, among other restrictions.

The question is, are the pilots flying for hire?

The updated news is that the FAA did grant the exemption. Whooping cranes are cleared for takeoff after getting FAA exemption -

Noting that the flock was stuck in an incorrect location for the past month, the FAA Tuesday green-lighted Operation Migration to continue the journey to the St. Marks and Chassahowitzka national wildlife refuges in Florida.

According to an FAA statement, “Because the operation is in ‘mid-migration,’ the FAA is granting a one-time exemption so the migration can be completed. The FAA will work with Operation Migration to develop a more comprehensive, long-term solution.”

Duff said the FAA has two criteria for issuing a waiver of this regulation: first, that it does not impede safety; and second, that it is a benefit to the American people. Duff believes Operation Migration’s flights meet both criteria, noting their three pilots practice all safety measures and the organization is assisting with the eco-tourism business and reintroducing an endangered species, which he believes does benefit the American people.

The FAA and Operation Migration will work to resolve the situation in the near future, but for now, this year’s new flock continues the journey south for the winter.

You may also remember that police where investigating the Natalie Wood case, Natalie Wood probe yields no new evidence

Nearly two months after they began a controversial new investigation into Natalie Wood‘s death while sailing off Santa Catalina Island in 1981, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department detectives have found no evidence to suggest that the cause was anything but accidental.

Although the case has not been closed, a top Sheriff’s Department official said it’s highly unlikely any new ground will be broken on how the actress died.

“At this point, it is an accidental death,” said William McSweeney, the sheriff’s chief of detectives. “Nothing has been discovered to suggest changing that at this time.”

We learned yesterday, that a Texas Appeals Court is forcing women to adhere to the Abortion law while the case is waiting to be heard. I wanted to give you this link to the RH Reality Check Action Page. Letter to TX Media: Women can make their own reproductive choices | RH Reality Check

This next link caught my eye when I was looking for new info on the Texas Abortion crapola, The Barbie Syndrome: Interchangeable Fundamentalist Wives Easily Replaced by the New Model

It was written prior to the Michelle Duggar miscarriage, just keep that in mind as you give it a read:

…most of the online discussion of how dangerous her playing maternal Russian roulette actually is no one seemed to hit upon my first thought, how quickly would Jim Bob replace her with a newer, younger, prettier model.

I mean, really, it’s like shooting dice, eventually snake eyes is going to come up. Bad things happen if you keep repeating the same risky behavior. Look at the last of her pregnancies. Something did go wrong. It’s just simple statistics that sometimes things go haywire and we can’t do much about them. But why put yourself in those types of risky situations in the first place?

Back when I was with my old church I got to see this numerous times. Lady either gets pregnant that probably shouldn’t be or would contract a very serious illness. They’d start praying, asking for prayer but refusing medical monitoring or intervention by the medical world at all. They say the same things Michelle Duggar does about this is God’s will and God would either deliver her safely or He would heal her.

One of the saddest cases of this was a lady named Christina who contracted breast cancer and refused all medical treatments, saying only God alone would heal her. She wasn’t going to have any surgery, no chemo, no radiation, she would simply rely on God.

Calulu, the author of this post says that everyone at the church supported Christina, except her…being a breast cancer survivor, Calulu writes that…

Not getting health care while you have children in the home to finish raising is just irresponsible.

But the men of the church always had medical intervention, and it never seemed to strike anyone there that was some sort of warped double standard. I never understood why that was so I’m guessing the lack of serious health care was because in the world of Fundy-Gelicals women were without intrinsic value and considered interchangeable.

Christina died after an agonizing torturous 18 months. What did did Mr. Christina do? He did what I’ve witnessed a number of Patriarchal men have done. He collected that big insurance check, bought a sports car and within six months married a much younger, better looking, newer model. And the cycle continued. Even our Pastor did it, boom, wife dies of cancer, 9 months later Pastor has another wife and life goes on as before.

Then and now it struck me as a basic lack of respect for any woman to hold them all so interchangeable. The Barbie Syndrome. The sad part is that we all put up with this behavior at the time and thought we were holding up the image of the Good Christian Woman, never realizing that culture considers us as unique as an assembly line of Barbies.

For my last link today I’m going to bring it from Christian Barbies to this article over at Wall Street Journal. Is Your Personality Making You Put on Pounds?

Losing weight is simple: Eat less and exercise more. Why that’s so difficult for so many people is embedded deep in the human psyche.

A variety of personality traits, such as being a night owl or a multi-tasker, all contribute to weight gain in different ways, Melinda Beck reports on Lunch Break. Photo: Getty Images.

A growing body of research is finding intriguing connections between personality traits and habits that can lead to obesity. The same parts of the brain that control emotions and stress response also govern appetite, several studies have shown. Early life experiences also set the stage for overeating years later, researchers have found.
“If we can understand how personality is contributing to weight gain, we can develop interventions to help people deal with it,” says Angelina R. Sutin, a researcher at the National Institute on Aging who led a study published last year comparing the body mass index, or BMI, and personality traits of nearly 2,000 Baltimore residents over 50 years.
In the study, those who scored high on neuroticism—the tendency to easily experience negative emotions—and low on conscientiousness, or being organized and disciplined, were the most likely to be overweight and obese. Impulsivity was strongly linked to BMI, too: The subjects in the top 10% of impulsivity weighed, on average, 24 pounds more than those in the lowest 10%. People who rated themselves low on “agreeableness” were the most likely to gain weight over the years. The study was published in July in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

It breaks down several personality traits…I am posting them below, click the link to find ways to fix them.

The Night Owl
Unless they have the luxury of sleeping late, night owls are often sleep deprived. That drives down levels of leptin, the hormone that signals fullness, and drives up ghrelin, the hormone that fuels appetite, particularly for high carbohydrate, high calorie food, numerous studies show. Even short-term sleep deprivation can make healthy people process sugar as if they were diabetic, according to research from the University of Chicago.

Night owls also tend to skip, or sleep through, breakfast, missing an important chance to get their metabolism going early, and they often snack far into the night. That sets the stage for “night-eating syndrome,” when people consume a significant portion of their daily intake after dinner, which is associated with obesity and diabetes.

[…]

The Stress Junkie

People who thrive on competition and deadline pressure may seem high-powered, but what powers them internally are adrenaline and cortisol. Those stress hormones supply quick bursts of energy in fight-or-flight situations, but when the alarm is unrelenting, they can they can cause health problems, including obesity.

Cortisol stimulates a brain chemical called neuropeptide Y, which boosts carbohydrate cravings. It also makes the body churn out excess insulin and accumulate fat, particularly in the belly where it raises the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other diseases. People who feel chronically stressed often use food for energy and comfort and rationalize that they’ve earned it.

[…]

The Mindless Multitasker

People who habitually work, read, drive, watch TV or do anything while dining often eat more than they realize. “Anything that takes our focus off the food makes us more likely to overeat without knowing it,” Brian Wansink, an expert on food, marketing and consumer behavior, wrote in his 2006 book, “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.”

He now directs the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University. His research shows that few people overeat because they’re hungry, but because of myriad other subconscious cues, from family and friends to plates and packages.

[…]

The Giver

People who constantly put other people’s needs ahead of their own often become emotionally depleted and seek solace in eating. Eating coach Karen Koenig, author of “Nice Girls Finish Fat,” writes that many of the clients in her Sarasota, Fla., practice are “ultranurturing, self-effacing, unselfish, generous and caring to a fault.” Food works because it’s close, it doesn’t require burdening others, and it signals comfort and love. But because it doesn’t really fill the emotional void that givers have, they keep eating more and more.

Some “givers” also live in fear of disappointing other people or engaging in conflict, so they try to stifle their own feelings with food.

[…]

The Perfectionist

Like givers, people who drive themselves to be perfect often use food to relieve the pressure. And many set themselves up for failure with impossible weight and fitness goals. Bariatric surgeons say they see a high correlation between perfectionism and obesity; experts in eating disorders say perfectionism is often at the root of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. Many perfectionists also engage in all-or-nothing thinking that leads them to get discouraged easily with dieting and seek solace again in food.

That is it for this night owl…catch y’all later in the comments after I sleep in. What are you all reading and blogging about today?


Wednesday Reads: Red, Red, Moon…Nope, it isn’t a Monkey’s Butt!

Good Morning!

Ah…that was quite a title, yes?

Well, I originally had this post called Red, Red, Moon…not Gingrich’s ass, but thought it would be a bit over the top. Of course I am referring to the latest Axelrod comment:

“The higher a monkey climbs on the pole the more you can see his butt.”.

I have personally used a monkey’s ass as an insult…in third grade, I told JoNell Costello that she had a face like a baboon’s ass. (Yes, I changed the name to protect the innocent.) It did not go over well, but it is a great memory for me because I was standing up for myself.

I’m mentioning it now because it ties in with some items I have for your morning news round up…so lets get to it.

Obama has already wimped out on the women’s front this past week…yes, that war reference is on purpose! Well, there are some Democrats in Congress who are really acting like Democrats.

It isn’t every day that 14 Senators aggressively call out their own party’s Health and Human Services Secretary, imply that a major decision made their own party’s adminstration was not based on science, and demand proof to the contrary. But that’s exactly what’s happening right now in the dust up over the Obama administration’s decision not to relax restrictions on access to Plan B.

Fourteen Democratic Senators have just sent this letter to HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelieus, repeatedly insisting that she produce a convincing scientific rationale for the decision:

Dear Secretary Sebelius,

We are writing to express our disappointment with your December 7, 2011 decision to block the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recommendation to make Plan B One-Step available over-the-counter. We feel strongly that FDA regulations should be based on science. We write to you today to ask that you provide us with the rationale for this decision.

As numerous medical societies and patient advocates have argued, improved access to birth control, including emergency contraception, has been proven to reduce unintended pregnancies. Nearly half of all pregnancies that occur in the United States each year are unintended. Keeping Plan B behind the counter makes it harder for all women to obtain a safe and effective product they may need to prevent an unintended pregnancy.

We ask that you share with us your specific rationale and the scientific data you relied on for the decision to overrule the FDA recommendation. On behalf of the millions of women we represent, we want to be assured that this and future decisions affecting women’s health will be based on medical and scientific evidence.

And who are the senators that put there John Hancock on this letter?

Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Carl Levin (Mich.), John Kerry (Mass.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Al Franken (Minn.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Good for them!

This leads us to the next Obama, “will he or won’t he” moment. I am talking of the House passing the Payroll Tax Cut extension with all that Keystone crap stuffed in the bill.

Defying a veto threat from President Obama, the House on Tuesday passed a bill extending a cut in Social Security payroll taxes for 160 million Americans for another year. But the Democratic majority in the Senate vowed to reject the measure because of objections to other provisions, including one to speed construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Threats of veto? From Obama? (I wonder if he really means it…)

In general, the vote followed party lines. Ten Democrats voted for the bill, and 14 Republicans voted against it.

Less than an hour after the vote, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, went to the Senate floor and declared: “The bill passed by House Republicans tonight is a pointless partisan exercise. The bill is dead on arrival in the Senate. It was dead before it got to the Senate.”

Portrayed by House Republican leaders as an engine of job creation, the payroll tax bill became entangled Tuesday with a separate omnibus spending bill to finance much of the government for the remainder of the current fiscal year.

Democrats threatened to delay action on the spending bill to ensure that Republicans would address their concerns about the Keystone XL pipeline and other provisions of the tax measure.

So, what do you think will come of this monkey’s ass? (No derogatory sentiment against monkey asses, or monkeys for that matter, is meant by that statement.)  I wonder what the odds are in Vegas on what action Obama will take…

Speaking of asses, do you think the recent Christine O’Donnell endorsement for Mittens is considered a “welcomed” endorsement or a “thanks but you shouldn’t have” endorsement?

Christine O’Donnell, the former Republican Senate candidate and a tea party favorite during the 2010 election, has officially endorsed Mitt Romney for president.

O’Donnell made her endorsement during an appearance this evening on Fox News’ “Hannity.”

“It was not an easy decision because I too think any of our candidates would make a great president and a great candidate going against Barack Obama,” O’Donnell said. “But I think there are certain tie breakers and I know that in making my decision I might be hurting some people but I think infrastructure and executive experience are important, and for that reason I’m endorsing Mitt Romney.”

“I’m very happy,” she added. “This is not anti-[Newt] Gingrich or anyone else, it’s a pro Gov. Romney endorsement.

Oh, I can hear the commentary from those extremely devout right-wing Christians on the 700 Club now…A former witch endorsing a Mormon? I bet Newt is busting with appreciation of O’Donnell…

Newt is also busting with approval numbers from a recent NBC/WSJ poll…ready for it?

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has taken a commanding lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, hitting the 40 percent mark for the first time in the campaign, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released on Tuesday.

Gingrich is the first choice of 40 percent of Republican primary voters compared with 23 percent support for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the poll found.

Granted, Newt does not have such a high polling percent when paired with Obama, he is 10 points behind Obama, while Romney is just 2 points behind the “O” man.

Here are a few global news links, did you read about the vicious grenade attack in Belgium?

Eyewitness Greg Ienco: “We saw the explosions and the panic, it was quite incredible”

Police in Belgium are trying to determine what motivated a local man to open fire on a busy marketplace in Liege, killing at least four people.

Nearly 125 people were wounded, some critically, when 33-year-old Nordine Amrani fired bullets and hurled grenades before killing himself.

Police have said he was known to them for previous drugs and firearms offences and acted alone in the attack.

Authorities are looking for a motive in this attack:

Amrani, a resident of Liege, had been jailed for 58 months in September 2008 for possessing firearms and drugs, media reports said.

Officials did not confirm this, but said they were aware he had spent some time in prison.

“At no moment in any of the judicial proceedings against him was there a sign of unbalance,” Daniele Reynders, the public prosecutor for Liege, told reporters.

Amrani is reported to have been on parole and on Tuesday, had been asked to attend a police station for an interview in connection with charges against him.Instead, he took an assault rifle, revolver and hand grenades into the busy town centre square, close to the courthouse.

It is horrible…I feel terrible for those families, one of the victims who was killed was a 17–month old little girl.

In Syria, the numbers of people who have been killed in connection with the uprising and protest of the Syrian government has grown…

At least 32 people were killed across Syria on Tuesday, including seven members of the security forces, amid rising sectarian tensions in some places, opposition groups said.

The deaths added to a toll that was estimated by a United Nations official on Monday at more than 5,000 people since the uprising began in March.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 19 people died in the northern province of Idlib, near the Turkish border, when security forces loyal to the government of President Bashar al-Assad fired at them. Five were killed in the province of Homs, in central Syria, and one in the nearby province of Hama.

In addition, seven members of the security forces were killed in an attack on their military vehicle in the Bab al-Hawa area in Idlib Province, according to the observatory, an opposition group based in London. The attack, it said, was in retaliation for the shooting of antigovernment protesters earlier in the day in the province.

It seems like the spilling of Syrian blood is showing no signs of stopping.

The violence came amid the backdrop of worsening sectarian tensions in Homs, which is populated by a Sunni Muslim majority and a minority of Alawites, a heterodox Muslim sect from which Mr. Assad draws much of his leadership. Mohammed Saleh, an activist from Homs, said that two Alawites were kidnapped in Homs on Tuesday, and that one of them was the brother of Yasser Jawhar, an opposition activist who was jailed for 12 years.

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said on Monday that the death toll was now 1,000 higher than the estimate she had released at the beginning of the month. Ms. Pillay said that this number included civilians, army defectors and soldiers who refused to shoot at protesters. It did not, however, include security forces killed by the opposition.

(Sigh)

That is the only response I can muster…

Google Street View explores post-tsunami Japan, the Google camera cars have documented the before and after street views of areas hit by the Japanese tsunami in March. That link will take you to a gallery of photos. (And you thought the images from space of before and after the tsunami were devastating.) This brings the devastation up close and personal.

I know that the recent “American Muslim” ad boycott decision from home improvement, and terrorist super store, Lowe’s has been discussed here on Sky Dancing, but I had to include a link to this video from Jon Stewart.

Lowe’s Boycott Of TLC Muslim Reality Show Leaves Jon Stewart Flabbergasted

Aasif Mandvi, the Daily Show’s senior Muslim correspondent’s report in front of the Denver Lowe’s is fabulous! Take a look at Mediaite link above.

And now I will end with an amazing image of this weekend’s Red Moon, a total lunar eclipse, what a beautiful picture:

This spectacular image by photographer Joseph Brimacombe shows the moon in a startling bl0od-red color this weekend during a total eclipse. The Universe Today explains the coloration this way:

The red tint of the Moon during an eclipse is caused by sunlight passing through Earth’s atmosphere, in effect projecting the colors of all the world’s sunsets onto the Moon’s near face.

Brilliant isn’t it?

We had an overcast night in Banjoville, so the view was obscured…but this picture is magnificent and I am so happy to share it with you!

That is all for me today, catch y’all later in the comments!

What are you reading and blogging about? Get to it!

(Wow, like Elaine, I went a little overboard with my exclamation points! Perhaps I should not use them so haphazardly…)


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

President Obama was on the road yesterday as well as making TV appearances. Suppose that means the campaign days are here again. CBS news reported an exchange between a laid off government worker and the President.

In one of the more personal exchanges from CBS News’ town hall with President Obama, one audience member, a pregnant woman who recently found out she was being laid off from her government job, asked the president for some earnest advice: “What would you do, if you were me?”

Karin Gallo, who jokingly described her job at the National Zoo as “non-essential employee number seven,” said she had taken a job in government “thinking it was a secure job” – but that now, she feared for her family’s future.

“I am seven months pregnant in a high-risk pregnancy, my first pregnancy,” Gallo told Mr. Obama. “My husband and I are in the middle of building a house. We’re not sure if we’re gonna be completely approved. I’m not exactly in a position to waltz right in and do great on interviews, based on my timing with the birth.”

“And so, I’m stressed, I’m worried,” she continued. “I’m scared about what my future holds. I definitely need a job. And, I just wonder what would you do, if you were me?”

More information is coming out on the Republican contenders for President.  This shows yet another Republican that has thrived taking funds and hand-outs from the government.  Who is it?  It’s our  reality star, self-promoting, egoist Donald Trump as reported by the LA Times.

From his first high-profile project in New York City in the 1970s to his recent campaigns to reduce taxes on property he owns around the country, Trump has displayed a consistent pattern. He courted public officials, sought their backing for government tax breaks under extraordinarily beneficial terms and fought any resistance to deals he negotiated.

He has boasted of manipulating government agencies, misleading officials in one case into believing he had an exclusive agreement to develop a property and then retroactively changing the development’s accounting practices to shrink his tax bill. In New York, Trump was the first developer to receive a public subsidy for commercial projects under programs initially reserved for improving slum neighborhoods. Such incentives have now become the norm in the powerful New York real estate community.

Karen Burstein, a former auditor general of New York City, reviewed a major Trump project in the 1980s and concluded he had “cheated” the city out of nearly $2.9 million. Decades later, Burstein said she was still appalled at the way Trump operated.

“It’s extraordinary to me that we elevated someone to this position of public importance who has openly admitted that he has used government’s incompetence as a wedge to increase his private fortune,” she said in a recent interview.

It seems that  al-Jazeera’s Dorothy Parvaz was deportated from Syria to Iran this week after being missing last week.  Her father is reported to be quite worried about her.

Her father, Fred Parvaz, who lives in Vancouver, told the Guardian: “I haven’t heard anything of late. We are in the dark. Syrian officials have made a statement that Dorothy was sent to Tehran on 1 May. But I have yet to receive confirmation from any authority in Iran that this is the case.”

“I am gravely concerned. I have not heard from her for two weeks. No word, no contact, nothing. We are a very close family so this really breaks my heart,” he said.

Parvaz, a 68-year-old physics and computer studies teacher, said al-Jazeera was trying to approach Iranian officials to get confirmation that she was in the country and was also attempting to create a line of communication with her.

Parvaz, who migrated from Tabriz in north-west Iran and has lived in Canada for 26 years, also said that the Canadian foreign ministry was making interventions on his daughter’s behalf. “But all these efforts so far have been fruitless,” he said.

The Guardian also reports that the EU is expected to sanction Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

The EU is expected to agree on personal sanctions against the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and other members of the regime over the continuing killing of protesters, sources said.

The US Senate has also called for the president to be directly targeted but few observers believe the measures will be enough to change the government’s “security first” strategy, which involves suppressing protests and only then opening a “dialogue” with opposition figures.

The regime was on Thursday preparing to quash any upsurge in demonstrations following Friday prayers tomorrow. Tanks have been deployed across the south, particularly in towns around Deraa, the epicentre of the pro-democracy demonstrations.

The US State Department condemned  the Ugandan anti-gay bill as “odious”.

The State Department Thursday condemned a proposed bill in the Ugandan parliament that could make engaging in homosexual acts a capital offense punishable by death. The bill may be debated Friday by the Ugandan parliament.

“No amendments, no changes, would justify the passage of this odious bill,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. “Both (President Barack Obama) and (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) publicly said it is inconsistent with universal human rights standards and obligations.”

The State Department, he said, is joining Uganda’s own human rights commissions in calling for the bill’s rejection.

Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! CBS reports that ‘SEAL helmet cams recorded entire bin Laden raid’. It really looked like they were watching TV in that sit room pic didn’t it?

A new picture emerged Thursday of what really happened the night the Navy SEALs swooped in on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.

CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports the 40 minutes it took to kill bin Laden and scoop his archives into garbage bags were all recorded by tiny helmet cameras worn by each of the 25 SEALs.

Officials reviewing those videos are still reconstructing a more accurate version of what happened. We now know that the only firefight took place in the guest house, where one of bin Laden’s couriers opened fire and was quickly gunned down. No one in the main building got off a shot or was even armed, although there were weapons nearby.

Kadafi appeared on TV and was swiftly attacked by NATO jets shortly thereafter.

News services reported that NATO warplanes struck Kadafi’s fortified complex and several other sites in the capital, the second aerial bombardment of Tripoli in a 48-hour period. Reports from the scene indicated that the target could have been an underground bunker.

A North Atlantic Treaty Organization official said the site was a “disguised” command center for the Libyan military, one of a number of such facilities that Kadafi has tried to conceal amid a punishing aerial assault.

“He’s forced to hide whatever remains of his severely damaged command-and-control network,” said the NATO official, who could not be named under alliance guidelines.

The strikes in Tripoli came after Kadafi appeared on state television for the first time in almost two weeks.

Most of the fighting in the country is centered around Misurata which is now thought to be under rebel control.  There’s some speculation that Kadafi’s days in office may be numbered

Rebel advances in Misurata have opened up the port for renewed deliveries of humanitarian aid and other supplies, officials said, bringing some relief to a city that has come to epitomize resistance to Kadafi’s rule. Rebels seized control of Misurata’s airport this week in a step hailed as a major opposition triumph after weeks of street fighting in Libya’s third-most-populous city.

But it was unclear how much further the opposition could push out from the enclave of Misurata against Kadafi’s superior forces on the city’s eastern and western edges. Experts have also not ruled out the possibility of a government counterattack on Misurata, the only western coastal city that remains in rebel hands.

Nonetheless, the rebel advances in Misurata, combined with the aerial strikes in the capital, have been seized on by the opposition as a sign that Kadafi’s regime is tottering under mounting pressure.

There have also been widely reported accounts of unrest in Tripoli, where the embargo against Kadafi’s regime has led to fuel and food shortages. The opposition has also alleged escalating defections and desertions from Kadafi’s ranks, though the reports remain unconfirmed.

Well, that’s some of the news that’s fit to print.  There’s probably lots more out there!  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?