Friday Reads

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Good Morning!

Many of you might be stuck in your homes today with all that weather so here are some things to keep you busy. First, Richard Engle’s Diary of his kidnapping in Syria has been published in Vanity Fair.

A group of about 15 armed men were fanning out around us. Three or four of them stood in the middle of the road blocking our vehicles. The others went for the doors. They wore black jackets, black boots, and black ski masks. They were professionals and used hand signals to communicate. A balled fist meant stop. A pointed finger meant advance. Each man carried an AK-47. Several of the gunmen began hitting the windows of our car and minivan with the stocks of their weapons. When they got the doors open, they leveled their guns at our chests.

Time was slowing down as if I’d been hit in the head. Time was slowing down as if I were drowning.

This can’t be happening. I know what this is. This can’t be happening. These are the shabiha. They’re fucking kidnapping us.

“Get out!” a gunman was yelling as he dragged Aziz from the car.

Then I saw the container truck. It wasn’t far away, parked off the road and hidden among olive trees. The metal doors at its rear stood open, flanked by gunmen.

That’s where they are going to put us. That’s here for us. We’re going into that truck.

I got out of the car. Two of the gunmen were already marching Aziz to the truck. He had his hands up, his shoulders back, his head tilted forward to protect against blows from behind.

Maybe I should run. Maybe I should run right now. But the road is flat and open. The only cover is by the trees near the truck. Maybe I should run. But where?

I saw John standing by the minivan. Gunmen were taking Ian toward the truck. It was his turn. Like me, John hadn’t been touched yet.

Maybe they’ve forgotten us? Maybe they don’t want us?

Our eyes made contact. John shrugged and opened his hands in disbelief. Time was going very slowly now, but my mind was racing like a panicked heart in a body that can’t move.

“Get going!” a gunman yelled at me in Arabic, pointing his weapon at my chest.

I looked at him blankly, pretending not to understand. Foreigners who speak Arabic in the Middle East are often assumed to be working for the C.I.A. or Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad. The gunman took me by the finger, holding on to it by the very tip. I could have pulled it away with the smallest tug.

But then what? Then go where?

John was the next to join us in the back of the truck. He walked slowly, as if being escorted to a waiting limo. John is a New Yorker and was dressed entirely in black. He has long white hair and a devilish smile, and his nickname is the Silver Fox. He and I had been in a lot of rough places—Libya, Iraq, Gaza. John, Ghazi, and Aziz were among my closest friends in the world.

At least I’ll die with my friends.

This will let you know how tough it is out here: “To Place Graduates, Law Schools Are Opening Firms”.

The plan is one of a dozen efforts across the country to address two acute — and seemingly contradictory — problems: heavily indebted law graduates with no clients and a vast number of Americans unable to afford a lawyer.

This paradox, fed by the growth of Internet-based legal research and services, is at the heart of a crisis looming over the legal profession after decades of relentless growth and accumulated wealth. It is evident in the sharp drop in law school applications and the increasing numbers of Americans showing up in court without a lawyer.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Stacy Caplow, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who focuses on clinical education. “The longstanding concerns over access to justice for most Americans and a lack of skills among law graduates are now combined with the problems faced by all law schools. It’s creating conditions for change.”

Remember  John Yoo.  He was the lawyer/author of those Bush legal memos justifying torture.  He thinks that Obama is “getting too much grief over targeted killing”.

And he wants Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)—who filibustered Obama’s nominee to head the CIA for 13 hours on Wednesday—to lay off.

“I admire libertarians but I think Rand Paul’s filibuster in many ways is very much what libertarians do, they make these very symbolic gestures, standing for some extreme position,” said Yoo, now a UC Berkeley law professor, who once suggested it was okay for the president to order a child’s testicles be crushed. Referring to Paul’s marathon filibuster, an attempt to force the Obama administration to clarify its views on the use of military force against terror suspects in the United States, Yoo said “It sort of reminds me of young kids when they first read The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged and they suddenly think that federal taxation equals slavery and they’re not going to pay any federal taxes anymore.” Yoo’s statements were made on a conference call Thursday held by the Federalist Society, an influential conservative legal organization.

Paul’s conservative colleagues also pushed back on him on Thursday: On the Senate floor, John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) mocked Paul’s objections as “ridiculous.”

Yoo said that he thought the administration’s problems stemmed from its belief that it needed to provide “due process” to terror suspects abroad—or even in the United States, referring to a recently leaked white paper outlining the Obama administration’s legal views on targeted killings of US citizen terror suspects.

So, here’s an interesting study.  It seems that the “States With Most Gun Laws Have Fewest Gun Deaths”.

“It seems pretty clear: If you want to know which of the states have the lowest gun-mortality rates just look for those with the greatest number of gun laws,” said Dr. Eric W. Fleegler of Boston Children’s Hospital who, with colleagues, analyzed firearm-related deaths reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2007 through 2010.

By scoring individual states simply by the sheer volume of gun laws they have on the books, the researchers noted that in states with the highest number of firearms measures, their rate of gun deaths is collectively 42 percent lower when compared to states that have passed the fewest number of gun rules. The study was published online in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

 As proof, Fleegler pointed to the firearm-fatality rates in law-laden states such as Massachusetts (where there were 3.4 gun deaths per 100,000 individuals), New Jersey (4.9 per 100,000) and Connecticut (5.1 per 100,000). In states with sparser firearms laws, researchers reported that gun-mortality rates were higher: Louisiana (18.0 per 100,000), Alaska (17.5 per 100,000) and Arizona (13.6 per 100,000).

Speaking of working to end violence, today is Intentional Women’s Day. This year’s theme  is “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women” Here’s some headlines for that celebration. First off, here’s French economist and head of the IMF Christine BEys8WOCIAAO8YI.jpg largeLeguarde.  You can watch her speak at this IMF Link. 

Here’s some suggested readings for you.

From the UK Guardian: “International Women’s Day: school is ‘the new front line of feminism’

Surveys and anecdotal evidence may suggest that few young women identify with the word feminism, fearing it sits at odds with a desire to wear makeup or heels. Yet there are increasing signs of an interest in gender equality issues among these same young women, who are now turning to social media such as blogs, Twitter and Facebook to reach out to fellow activists or just to share experiences and seek advice about what can be done.

Laura Bates, the founder of the #everydaysexism campaign, says that 10% of its more than 20,000 entries detailing harassment come from under-16s, with many more from colleges.

Campaign group UK Feminista has been so inundated with requests to speak to schools around the country that it has now launched a two-year programme of workshops and campaigns aimed at secondary pupils. Called Generation F: Young Feminists in Action, it comes as the government considers a cross-party bid to make sex and relationship education compulsory in schools.

From World News Australia, we read that  “International Women’s Day 2013: Gender inequality ‘still rife’”.

Australian women make up just over half of the total Australian population.

In some areas, equality has been achieved, but in others there is clearly a long way to go.

The boards of both private and public organisations are still dominated by men.

For instance, only about 10 per cent of the executives of companies listed in the Australian Stock Exchange Market are female.

And according to federal government figures, average weekly earnings for women are $250 less than men.

United Nations Women director for Australia, Julie McKay, thinks a combination of socio-economic factors contribute to this situation.

“I think there’s a huge issue about unconscious bias, that we sometimes don’t even realise that we have, about the roles that women should play and the sort of characteristics that make different people leaders. But I think we also got other issues around accessibility and affordability of child care, which prevent many women being able to access work and particularly full time work.”

Many migrant and refugee women in Australia can be prevented from working in the field in which they’re experienced, due to lack of English skills or problems with qualification recognition.

But Chin Wong, from the Australian Migrant and Refugee Women’s Alliance, says that doesn’t mean they don’t get into the workforce.

She argues that female newcomers can be preferred by employers because they are more likely to ignore their rights, and tend to argue less than men about working conditions.

“Sometimes the women can find jobs easier than men and therefore a lot of times the man become the homemaker, and the woman has to go to work. But that doesn’t mean that when they come home they don’t still have to make sure that the houses are maintained, because that’s culture. Some of the cultures mean that the women have to do most of the work.”

Here’s two suggested reads on racism in America by Ed Kilgore with a link to Ta-Nehisi’s Coates’ guest column in the New York Time.

If you are a white person who has on occasion felt aggrieved at the persistence of allegations of white racism in America, do yourself and your conscience a favor and read Ta-Nehisi’s Coates’ guest column today in the New York Times.

His point of departure is the humiliating frisking of the very famous and distinguished actor Forest Whitaker by an employee of a deli in Coates’ own Manhattan neighborhood. But he uses this incident to make the very important point that if we disclaim the possibility of racist behavior on the part of “good” or “moral” people, we may well wind up excusing racism almost altogether.

The idea that racism lives in the heart of particularly evil individuals, as opposed to the heart of a democratic society, is reinforcing to anyone who might, from time to time, find their tongue sprinting ahead of their discretion. We can forgive Whitaker’s assailant. Much harder to forgive is all that makes Whitaker stand out in the first place. New York is a city, like most in America, that bears the scars of redlining, blockbusting and urban renewal. The ghost of those policies haunts us in a wealth gap between blacks and whites that has actually gotten worse over the past 20 years.

But much worse, it haunts black people with a kind of invisible violence that is given tell only when the victim happens to be an Oscar winner. The promise of America is that those who play by the rules, who observe the norms of the “middle class,” will be treated as such. But this injunction is only half-enforced when it comes to black people, in large part because we were never meant to be part of the American story. Forest Whitaker fits that bill, and he was addressed as such.

I am trying to imagine a white president forced to show his papers at a national news conference, and coming up blank. I am trying to a imagine a prominent white Harvard professor arrested for breaking into his own home, and coming up with nothing. I am trying to see Sean Penn or Nicolas Cage being frisked at an upscale deli, and I find myself laughing in the dark. It is worth considering the messaging here. It says to black kids: “Don’t leave home. They don’t want you around.” It is messaging propagated by moral people.

The thing is, this has always been more or less true. My extended family (thought not, mercifully, my nuclear family) when I was growing up in the Jim Crow South was loaded with racists. None of them were members of the Ku Klux Klan, perpetrators of violence, or “bad people” by any general measure. Most of them were very regular church-goers. One of the sweetest people I ever knew was a great aunt who after MLK’s assassination allowed as how she wished she could take in the assassin and feed him and protect him for his great act in defending Christian civilization. That wouldn’t have been surprising to Dr. King himself, whose classic Letter From a Birmingham Jail was addressed to the good Christian clergy of that city who by their silence and calls for an unjust “peace” were defending segregation more effectively than the hooded riffraff of the Klan.

So, there are my suggestions today.  Please be careful if the weather around you is “lionly”.  What’s on your reading and blogging list?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

This week’s New Yorker has a fascinating article by Jill Lepore about guns in America that I think everyone should read: Battleground America: One nation, under the gun. It’s long, but well worth reading. Here’s just a tiny excerpt:

The United States is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. (The second highest is Yemen, where the rate is nevertheless only half that of the U.S.) No civilian population is more powerfully armed. Most Americans do not, however, own guns, because three-quarters of people with guns own two or more. According to the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of gun ownership has declined steadily in the past few decades. In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households in the United States; in 2010, one in three. In 1980, nearly one in three Americans owned a gun; in 2010, that figure had dropped to one in five.

Men are far more likely to own guns than women are, but the rate of gun ownership among men fell from one in two in 1980 to one in three in 2010, while, in that same stretch of time, the rate among women remained one in ten. What may have held that rate steady in an age of decline was the aggressive marketing of handguns to women for self-defense, which is how a great many guns are marketed. Gun ownership is higher among whites than among blacks, higher in the country than in the city, and higher among older people than among younger people. One reason that gun ownership is declining, nationwide, might be that high-school shooting clubs and rifle ranges at summer camps are no longer common.

Although rates of gun ownership, like rates of violent crime, are falling, the power of the gun lobby is not. Since 1980, forty-four states have passed some form of law that allows gun owners to carry concealed weapons outside their homes for personal protection. (Five additional states had these laws before 1980. Illinois is the sole holdout.) A federal ban on the possession, transfer, or manufacture of semiautomatic assault weapons, passed in 1994, was allowed to expire in 2004. In 2005, Florida passed the Stand Your Ground law, an extension of the so-called castle doctrine, exonerating from prosecution citizens who use deadly force when confronted by an assailant, even if they could have retreated safely; Stand Your Ground laws expand that protection outside the home to any place that an individual “has a right to be.” Twenty-four states have passed similar laws.

I hadn’t realized that George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin just one day before the school shootings at Chardon High School near Cleveland, Ohio. Isn’t it amazing that we heard all about that shooting right away and it was old news by the time the corporate media began reporting on Trayvon’s death?

Tuesday was the fifth anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre, and it seems America has changed very little, probably largely because of NRA lobbying as well as ALEC’s “model legislation” writing services.

Of course no one could help hearing about the crude and tasteless behavior on display at the NRA convention last weekend. Executive VP Wayne LaPierre even had the gall to complain about media coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting. At HuffPo, Dean Obeidallah asks why.

Did Mr. LaPierre offer any sympathy to Trayvon Martin’s family? No.

Instead, he chose to denounce the media for their coverage of the case, alleging that the media’s: “… dishonesty, duplicity, and moral irresponsibility is directly contributing to the collapse of American freedom in our country.”

What makes Mr. La Pierre’s comments especially callous is that they were made at the annual NRA convention which was being held this weekend in St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis has the unenviable distinction of being the city with the second highest rate in the country for youth being killed by guns. Indeed, the gunshot murder rate for 10 to 19 years old in St. Louis is more than three times the average for larger cities according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yesterday the LA Times published photos of American troops in Afghanistan posing with body parts of dead suicide bombers.

Two photos of incidents from a 2010 deployment were published Wednesday by the Los Angeles Times. In one, the hand of a corpse is propped on the shoulder of a paratrooper. In another, the disembodied legs of a suicide bomber are displayed by grinning soldiers and Afghan police.

These are the “hero” troops that we are constantly told we have to support and be grateful to. Have these young people been warped by America’s immoral wars? Or are they products of America’s vicious gun culture? I don’t know the answer, just asking.

American officials weren’t happy with the LA Times for publishing the photos and tried to stop them from doing it. Although the Obama administration and military leaders fell over themselves condemning the actions of these troops,

At the same time, Pentagon and White House officials expressed disappointment that the photos had been made public. The Pentagon had asked The Times not to publish the photos, citing fears that they would trigger a backlash against U.S. forces.

Speaking to reporters during a meeting of NATO allies in Brussels, Panetta said:

“This is war. And I know that war is ugly and violent. And I know that young people sometimes caught up in the moment make some very foolish decisions. I am not excusing that behavior. But neither do I want these images to bring further injury to our people or to our relationship with the Afghan people.”

Tough shit. Haven’t we seen enough war crimes by now? This war and the war in Iraq are just plain evil. Get these kids out of Afghanistan, and let’s hope we can prevent a majority of them from acting out violently or joining the growing number of military suicides when they get back home.

Mother Jones reports that ALEC is begging right wing bloggers to rescue them from mean old Common Cause, Color of Change, and other liberal groups who have been convincing ALEC’s donors to withdraw their support.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, the once-obscure organization that pairs corporations with state lawmakers to draft pro-business and often anti-union legislation for the state level, is in damage control mode. Corporate members such as McDonald’s, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Mars, Inc. have cut ties with ALEC after taking heat from a coalition of progressive groups angry over ALEC’s “discriminatory” voter ID bills and controversial “Stand Your Ground” self-defense legislation that figures into the Trayvon Martin shooting in central Florida.

To push back, ALEC has turned to the conservative blogosphere for help. As PR Watch reported, Caitlyn Korb, ALEC’s director of external relations, told attendees at a Heritage Foundation “Bloggers Briefing” on Tuesday that the campaign against ALEC was “part of a wider effort to shut all of us down.” She asked the bloggers for “any and all institutional support” in ALEC’s fight against progressive groups, especially when it came to social media. “We’re getting absolutely killed in social media venues—Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest,” she said. “Any and all new media support you guys can provide would be so helpful, not just to us but to average people who don’t know much about this fight but are seeing us really get heavily attacked with very little opposition.”

Korb educated the bloggers with a handout listing ALEC’s positions on a range of issues. PR Watch, one of ALEC’s loudest critics, described the handout as “riddled with errors.”

Check out the list at the above link.

Joshua Holland has an excellent piece at Alternet: Freedom from a Dead-End Life: True Liberty Means Defeating the Right-Wing’s Nightmare Vision for America.

Last week, Mitt Romney summed up the Right’s rhetorical fluff as well as anyone when he told the National Rifle Association that “freedom is the victim of unbounded government appetite.” It was an unremarkable comment, so accustomed are we to hearing the Right – a movement that historically opposed women’s sufferage and black civil rights and still seeks to quash workers’ right to organize and gay and lesbian Americans’ right to marry– claim to be defenders of our liberties….

Dig a little deeper, and it becomes clear that “freedom” for the Right offers most of us anything but. It’s the freedom for companies to screw their workers, pollute, and otherwise operate free of any meaningful regulations to protect the public interest. It’s about the wealthiest among us being free from the burden of paying a fair share of the taxes that help finance a smoothly functioning society.

The flip side is that programs that assure working Americans a decent existence are painted as a form of tyranny approaching fascism. The reality is that they impinge only on our God-given right to live without a secure social safety net. It’s the freedom to go bankrupt if you can’t afford to treat an illness; the liberty to spend your golden years eating cat food if you couldn’t sock away enough for a decent retirement.

It’s another long read, but well worth the time.

At FDL, Kevin Gosztola writes about yesterday’s unanimous SCOTUS that multinational corporations can’t be sued for torturing and/or killing people.

The US Supreme Court unanimously decided that foreign political organizations and multinational corporations cannot be sued for the torture or extrajudicial killing of persons abroad under an anti-torture law passed in 1992. The law only gives people the right to sue “an individual,” “who acted under the authority of a foreign nation,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

The decision came in a lawsuit filed by the family of a US citizen, Azzam Rahim, who was tortured and killed in the Palestinian Territory by Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) intelligence officers. It was Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who President Barack Obama appointed to the Supreme Court, that spoke for the decision. She explained the text of the Torture Victims Protection Act of 1991 “convinces us that Congress did not extend liability to organizations, sovereign or not. There are no doubt valid arguments for such an extension. But Congress has seen fit to proceed in more modest steps in the Act, and it is not the province of this branch to do otherwise.”

Apparently, corporations are only “people” for purposes of corrupting electoral politics, but when they commit crimes they are no longer considered “individuals.” Gosztola also calls attention to the fact that Chief Justice Roberts actually laughed at the arguments of the Rahim family’s attorney Jeffrey Fisher.

Mr. Fisher did what he could with what the justices seemed to think was an exceptionally weak hand.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. summarized Mr. Fisher’s position: “You are saying, ‘Well, we want a term that is going to include individual persons and organizations but not state organizations.’ And the only term that fits perfectly is ‘individual.’ ”

“Exactly,” Mr. Fisher said. “That’s our argument.”

Chief Justice Roberts was incredulous. “Really?” he asked, to laughter in the courtroom, which the chief justice joined.

Finally, Dakinikat sent me this from The New York Times: Vatican orders crackdown on American nuns

The Vatican has launched a crackdown on the umbrella group that represents most of America’s 55,000 Catholic nuns, saying that the group was not speaking out strongly enough against gay marriage, abortion and women’s ordination.

Rome also chided the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) for sponsoring conferences that featured “a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”

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