Tuesday Reads: Drink More Coffee–It’s Good for You!* And Other News

winter coffee book

Good Morning!!

There’s a supposedly huge drama being carried on in Washington DC, but I just can’t get excited about it. Republicans are holding funding for the Department of Homeland Security hostage in an effort to block President Obama’s executive order on immigration.

I really haven’t been following this story, not only because I assumed it would end like all the other idiotic Republican efforts to shut down the government–a huge bluff that ends one side caving–but also because I don’t particularly care about the Department of Homeland Security.

I don’t want ordinary workers there to lose their jobs, but “homeland security” gives me the creeps. Isn’t it mostly about investigating Americans and harassing them in airports and other public places? I read the list of DHS activities at their website (see previous link) and I could find anything that I could get worked up about–maybe disaster preparedness.

Boston is going through a horrendous slow-moving disaster right now, and there’s been no help coming from DHS as far as I know. I’m sure elderly people must be going hungry because they can’t get out of their homes and poor people are probably freezing because they can’t afford to pay for heat. I don’t know for sure, because the media doesn’t seem to be asking questions about these marginalized people.

I do know that working people here are losing their jobs and may eventually lose their homes because they can’t get to work. In addition to the problem of getting out of your house and getting around with after more than 100 inches of snow have been dumped on us, Boston’s public transportation system is crippled. This morning when I woke up it was -11 degrees outside, and more snow is expected tonight.

winter-coffee

But getting back to the Homeland Security/Immigration fight, the truth is that it’s really a Republican thing. Semi-normal Republicans think DHS is really important and other, completely insane Republicans are more obsessed with keeping any more brown people from becoming U.S. citizens. At Forbes, Stan Collender writes:

Up to now I’ve been relatively convinced that House and Senate Republicans somehow would find a way to avoid shutting down the Department of Homeland Securitywhen its current appropriation expires in four days.

But it has become increasingly obvious over the past week that the reason for the stalemate between House and Senate Republicans over the DHS appropriation (as I said in this post, this is an almost purely GOP vs. GOP fight) has less to do with the publicly stated reason – stopping the president’s executive orders on immigration – and far more to do with the 2016 congressional election.

That makes coming up with a solution that will satisfy the House and Senate Republican majorities AND can pass each house of Congress far more difficult and makes a DHS shutdown more likely.

The militant wing of the House Republican caucus doesn’t fear a potentially negative impact on the coming election. To the contrary, it sees shutting down the Department of Homeland Security as a boon to their reelection chances. A shutdown will demonstrate a take-no-prisoners attitude to the militantly conservative, very anti-Democrat and overwhelmingly anti-Obama constituents who vote in the primary or whose support will make a primary unnecessary. To these GOP House members, a shutdown is not something to be avoided; it’s one of the first scheduled events in their 2016 reelection campaigns.

By contrast, the 24 Senate Republicans up for reelection in 2016 not only have to pay attention to a larger and (relatively at least) more moderate base, they also have to consider the Democrats in their state who will be voting. And given that 10-12 of the 24 Republican senators who will be up for reelection next year are from blue states, they cannot afford to ignore or even give short shrift to the political impact of a shutdown on their Democratic voters.

Coffee books snow

Good. Let the Republican assholes fight it out. Mitch McConnell has a new plan to separate the immigration fight from the DHS funding, but it’s hard to see how that will work because it will take away the wingnuts’ leverage. USA Today reports:

McConnell, R-Ky., announced that he is essentially breaking off controversial immigration amendments from the bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security. Those amendments have been at the center of the impasse over a $40 billion spending bill for the agency.

McConnell is offering a bill that would bar federal funds from being used to carry out President Obama’s executive actions to protect about 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to work legally in the USA.

That move should allow a separate DHS funding bill to move forward without the immigration provisions that have caused a stalemate in Congress and led to the looming shutdown at the agency.

{{yawn…}} I doubt if this will work, but we’ll see . . . . What I don’t get is, since a judge has already stopped Obama’s immigration plan for the moment, what is the GOP fight really about? If anyone can explain it to me, please do.

coffee books snow2

Meanwhile, various Republican state legislators continue to demonstrate their ignorance about female bodies. The latest example comes from Idaho state Rep. Vito Barbieri. From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: Idaho lawmaker asks if woman can swallow camera for gynecological exam before medical abortion.

BOISE, Idaho — An Idaho lawmaker received a brief lesson on female anatomy after asking if a woman can swallow a small camera for doctors to conduct a remote gynecological exam.

The question Monday from Republican state Rep. Vito Barbieri came as the House State Affairs Committee heard nearly three hours of testimony on a bill that would ban doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication through telemedicine….

Dr. Julie Madsen, a physician who said she has provided various telemedicine services in Idaho, was testifying in opposition to the bill. She said some colonoscopy patients may swallow a small device to give doctors a closer look at parts of their colon.

“Can this same procedure then be done in a pregnancy? Swallowing a camera and helping the doctor determine what the situation is?” Barbieri asked.

Madsen replied that would be impossible because swallowed pills do not end up in the vagina.

“Fascinating. That makes sense,” Barbieri said, amid the crowd’s laughter.

Barbieri later claimed he was just “trying to make a point.” What that point was is unclear. Here’s what he told the press:

I was being rhetorical, because I was trying to make the point that equalizing a colonoscopy to this particular procedure was apples and oranges,” he said. “So I was asking a rhetorical question that was designed to make her say that they weren’t the same thing, and she did so. It was the response I wanted.”

BTW, doctors in Idaho do not prescribe morning after pills through telemedicine, so it’s also unclear why the bill is deemed necessary by Idaho wingnut Republicans.

winter_coffee__by_agnsun-d4o7h7e

Remember James O’Keefe? He’s baaaaaack. On Sunday, a right-wing website that I won’t link to (you can find the link at Memeorandum) reported that O’Keefe had tweeted that he has a new blockbuster video coming out and he “fears for [his] life” after it goes public. This morning, the big scoop was revealed in the New York Post. O’Keefe is targeting Al Sharpton with claims that he doesn’t really care about the families of victims like Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner.

Al Sharpton is all about the Benjamins, a daughter of police chokehold victim Eric Garner claims in a bombshell videotape.

Erica Snipes tees off on the reverend as interested primarily in money during a conversation secretly recorded by controversial conservative activist James O’Keefe’s group, Project Veritas.

One of O’Keefe’s investigators with a hidden camera posed as a Garner supporter during a protest last month at the St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island.

“You think Al Sharpton is kind of like a crook in a sense?” the investigator is heard asking Garner’s oldest daughter.

“He’s about this,” Snipes replies, rubbing her fingers together.

“He’s about money with you?” the undercover asks.

“Yeah,” Snipes responds.

You can watch the video at the NY Post link.

Joseph Cannon is all over this story, and I hope he’ll write more about it. For now, he has a post up with plenty of background on James O’Keefe.

heart-healthy-coffee

O’Keefe’s story isn’t likely to get much mainstream attention, because the media is already wallowing a scandal in Obama’s cabinet. From Huffington Post yesterday: VA Secretary Robert McDonald Falsely Claimed He Served In Special Forces.

Robert McDonald, the secretary of veterans affairs, wrongly claimed in a videotaped comment earlier this year that he served in special operations forces, the most elite units in the armed forces, when his military service of five years was spent almost entirely with the 82nd Airborne Division during the late 1970s….

McDonald, a retired corporate executive who took over the VA last June as the agency was sinking in scandal, made the claim in late January as he was touring a rundown Los Angeles neighborhood during a nationwide count of homeless veterans. He was accompanied by a CBS-TV news crew, which recorded an exchange between McDonald and a homeless man who told McDonald he had served in special forces.

“Special forces? What years? I was in special forces!” McDonald told the homeless man. That exchange was broadcast in a Jan. 30 CBS News story about the VA’s efforts to find and house homeless veterans.

In fact, McDonald never served in special forces. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1975, completed Army Ranger training and took courses in jungle, arctic and desert warfare. He qualified as a senior parachutist and airborne jumpmaster, and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division until he retired from military service in 1980. While he earned a Ranger tab designating him as a graduate of Ranger School, he never served in a Ranger battalion or any other special operations unit.

“I have no excuse,” McDonald told The Huffington Post, when contacted to explain his claim. “I was not in special forces.”

Today the story is at the top of Google News. There’s no way this guy is going to be able to continue in his job. Should we form a pool and guess how long it will take for him to “resign” in disgrace. Why do people do this? Spending five years in the 82 Airborne Division and graduating from Ranger School should have been enough. the Ranger training is what he must have been referring to in the video, but it doesn’t matter. He’s gone.

original

Here’s a fascinating piece about a fake story that went viral last week. I looked for local reports about this a couple of days ago and couldn’t find anything; so I figured the story couldn’t be true, since it was reported to have happened in Boston.

From Digg: Anatomy Of A Fake, Viral Story: The Priest Who Met A Female God In His Near-Death Experience.

On February 4 World News Daily Report published a story about a Massachusetts priest who made a miraculous medical recovery, and discovery:

A Catholic priest from Massachussetts [sic] was officially dead for more than 48 minutes before medics were able to miraculously re-start his heart. During that time, Father John Micheal O’neal claims he went to heaven and met God, which he describes as a warm and comforting motherly figure.

The story reported that Boston Archbishop Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley explained away O’Neal’s revelation as nothing more than “hallucinations linked to a near-death experience,” and added that “God clearly isn’t a female.”

This remarkable report of a Catholic priest claiming that the Holy Father is in fact a mother went unnoticed by other media until a newspaper in Uganda, the Daily Monitor, picked it up word-for-word. That set off a cascade of articles on other websites around the world, which together have racked up tens of thousands of shares and social interactions, primarily on Facebook.

The Daily Monitor’s motto is “Truth Everyday,” but in this case its plagiarism helped propagate a hoax. World News Daily Report looks and reads like a real news website, but everything it publishes is completely fake. It’s one of several fake news websites that pump out hoax content with the goal of generating shares and links that they can monetize with ads.

Many of these sites have legitimate sounding names, such as The Daily Currant or National Report. They not only monetize peoples’ gullibility, but also their hopes and fears, their political and religious beliefs.

Read much more about these fake news sites and how their stories go viral at the link.

* Finally, here’s a story that sounds fake, but it actually isn’t.  And it’s way more interesting to me than the DHS funding fight.

Coffee_1_The-Good-News

From the Washington Post’s Wonkblog: It’s official: Americans should drink more coffee.

When the nation’s top nutrition panel released its latest dietary recommendations on Thursday, the group did something it had never done before: weigh in on whether people should be drinking coffee. What it had to say is pretty surprising.

Not only can people stop worrying about whether drinking coffee is bad for them, according to the panel, they might even want to consider drinking a bit more.

The panel cited minimal health risks associated with drinking between three and five cups per day. It also said that consuming as many as five cups of coffee each day (400 mg) is tied to several health benefits, including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

“We saw that coffee has a lot of health benefits,” said Miriam Nelson, a professor at Tufts University and one of the committee’s members. “Specifically when you’re drinking more than a couple cups per day.”

health-benefits-of-coffee

And from Bloomberg Business: Coffee’s Great, U.S. Panel Says in Official Diet Recommendations.

“Coffee’s good stuff,” Tom Brenna, a member of the committee and a nutritionist at Cornell University, said in a telephone interview. “I don’t want to get into implying coffee cures cancer — nobody thinks that,” he said. “But there is no evidence for increased risk, if anything, the other way around.”

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a nonpartisan panel of academics and scientists, gives suggestions to U.S. agencies including the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture. Subsequent government guidelines influence federal food programs and local issues such as school lunches. Previous guidelines have not addressed caffeine’s health effects….

Research since the advisory body last met in 2010 was critical to the decision on coffee, Brenna said. “There’s been a heck of a lot of work on coffee.”

coffee-health-body

 

So . . . what stories are you following today? Let us know in the comment thread and have a great Tuesday!


Fat Tuesday Reads

Revelers toss confetti at float of Momus, patron god of Mardi Gras, in New Orleans in 1960.

Revelers toss confetti at float of Momus, patron god of Mardi Gras, in New Orleans in 1960.

Good Morning!!

Today is Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras in French, the last day to celebrate before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday fall on different days every year, depending on the date of Easter Sunday. It begins 46 days before Easter (Sundays aren’t counted). Lent in the Catholic Church was meant to be symbolic of the 40 days and 40 nights Jesus spent fasting in the desert while enduring temptations from the Devil. Traditionally Christians gave up meat during lent and spent time in prayer and meditation. As kids, we gave up candy or chose some activity to perform during the Lenten season.

So how is the date of Easter determined each year? You guessed it, it depends on the date of the Vernal Equinox–one more example of how Christians absorbed Pagan holidays into their calendar. Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is the culmination of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, beginning on The Epiphany, January 6–the day of the supposed arrival of Three Kings (or Wise Men) bearing gifts of frankincense and myrrh for the newborn child. This year Easter falls on April 5.

From IB Times:

The time between Epiphany and Mardi Gras is commonly referred to as Carnival, during which parades take place in Catholic strongholds like Brazil, Venice, Uruguay, Trinidad and Tobago, and New Orleans.

Like many Catholic holidays, Mardi Gras bears resemblances to ancient pagan rituals, particularly Saturnalia and Lupercalia. The former honored the god Saturn, an agricultural deity, and was marked by gift-giving, revelry and gambling. The latter was conducted in mid-February to honor Faunus, the god of fertility, which involved feasting, drinking and debauched behavior.

When Rome was Christianized, the Catholic Church adapted popular pagan holidays into the new faith. Mardi Gras season became a time to celebrate before the 40 days of Lent marked by prayer, repentance and atonement. As Christianity spread throughout Europe and the New World, so did Mardi Gras traditions. The pre-Lenten festivals continue to be marked by drinking, dancing and feasting on fatty foods containing meat, eggs, milk and cheese – ingredients that are restricted during Lent.

Shrove Tuesday falls on the same day as Fat Tuesday. It is the day before Ash Wednesday when Christians are reminded they will soon enter a season of penance. “Shrove” comes from the word “shrive,” which means to confess. In the Middle Ages, Catholics began marking Shrove Tuesday as a time to confess their sins before Lent.

Rasberry pakzi

Rasberry pakzi

In places where many Polish immigrants settled in the U.S. Fat Tuesday is celebrated as “Pakzi Day.” From Michigan Live, Fat Tuesday means paczki: One generation prepares the next for the biggest day of the year at Davison Home Bakery.

DAVISON, MI — Lydia Herron is a bit nervous. And excited.

After about five months of working at Davison Home Bakery, she’s preparing for the biggest day of the year: Fat Tuesday.

“They tell me it’s going to be pretty insane,” she said, standing in the bakery the morning of Monday, Feb. 16, wearing a white baker’s apron.

Fat Tuesday is the day before the Christian tradition of Lent, when practitioners give up something for 40 days and 40 nights. Sweets are a common thing to give up, and for many, Fat Tuesday is one last chance to splurge. And the favorite way to splurge on Fat Tuesday?

Paczki.

Paczki are like doughnuts, if you’re the kind of person who thinks there just aren’t enough calories in cream- or jelly-filled doughnuts as it is.

Diane Henson, a baker at Davison Home Bakery, has been making paczki since 1972. The morning of Feb. 16, she and baker Mitch French had already made 200 dozen, having been there since 9 p.m. the night before. They plan on having 600 dozen baked by the time Fat Tuesday rolls around.

She said to make paczki,they use their doughnut batter but add more sugar, butter, and eggs.

Of course the biggest celebration of Mardi Gras is in New Orleans. Here’s a schedule of activities for today that includes links to watch video of the parade. I’m sure Dakinikat can also fill us in on what’s happening down there.

Time Magazine has an interesting article about how Mardi Gras was liberated from being a celebration only for the rich and influential people in New Orleans.

A float in the Krewe of Proteus passes down Napoleon Avenue during their Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, Monday, Feb. 16, 2015.

A float in the Krewe of Proteus passes down Napoleon Avenue during their Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, Monday, Feb. 16, 2015.

These days, Mardi Gras in New Orleans — which falls on Feb. 17 this year — is a party for all. But, not that long ago, Mardi Gras celebrations were more exclusive affairs.

As TIME reported in the Feb. 9, 1948, issue, balls and “krewes” were for the city’s elites only, and that situation lasted for decades after the first Mardi Gras parade was held in the 1850s. In the 20th century, however, the celebration expanded:

For half a century, New Orleans’ fantastic Mardi Gras balls were strictly for the upper crust. Nobody without money, blue blood, or both gained membership in the secret men’s clubs or “krewes” which staged them. Before 1900 there were only five clubs: Comus, Momus, Twelfth Night, Rex and Proteus. They culled guest lists with pernickety care, asked only the fairest of debutantes to serve as carnival queens. But times changed. The socially ambitious began forming their own krewes.

In 1928 New Orleans had 16 Mardi Gras balls. In 1946 there were 36. This year, a record-breaking total of 49 are being held. Last week, with Carnival Day (Shrove Tuesday) fast approaching, New Orleans’ social whirl had assumed the proportions of a maelstrom.

By the 1940s, there were krewe options galore. “Italian krewes, Irish krewes, German krewes… krewes for college men, businessmen, professional men,” TIME wrote. “To the horror of New Orleans’ old guard, there are even krewes for women.”

But that didn’t mean Mardi Gras was an all-inclusive celebration. The krewes may have multiplied, but they were still separated along racial and gender lines.

As recently as 1991, the relative exclusivity of the Mardi Gras krewes was a source of controversy in New Orleans. That December, the city council voted to require the krewes to integrate by 1994, or else lose the right to hold parades. (The krewes are private clubs, but the city controls the streets.)

Read more history at the link. The photo at the top of this post is from Time in 1960.

In winter weather news . . .

The latest winter storm hit the South hard yesterday. NBC News reportsIce Storm Coats South from Oklahoma to Carolinas, Heads to Northeast.

A band of snow and ice sliced across the South on Monday from Oklahoma to the Carolinas, cutting off power for more than a quarter of a million customers and threatening to paralyze major cities on its way to the Northeast.

For once, Boston wasn’t the center of the winter weather. Instead, New England-like snow fell on parts of Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia: 17 inches near Coleman, Kentucky; 15 inches in Logan, West Virginia; 14½ inches near Oceana, West Virginia; and 12 inches in Dickenson County, Virginia.

 At 3:45 a.m. ET, The Weather Channel reported that 26 million Americans were under winter storm warnings — with three million in Tennessee and South Carolina under an ice storm warning.

Ice coated power lines in Georgia where 174,000 customers were without power early Tuesday.

I sure hope JJ, RalphB, and Mouse are doing OK. Beata too–my sister reports that southern Indiana has been hit hard for the past couple of days.

At least 55,000 customers were without power in Tennessee, the state Emergency Management Agency said late Monday. It also declared a state of emergency late Monday.

Trees and power lines came down in Arkansas, where Entergy Corp. said about 17,000 customers were without power, and in Mississippi, where the state Emergency Operations Center said 10,000 customers were in the dark.

Power failures were affecting nearly 62,000 early Tuesday in South Carolina and an additional 19,000 in North Carolina.

The hardest hit areas, according to NBC today:

About 22 million people across parts of the South and the Mid-Atlantic are under winter storm warnings as a band of ice and snow continues its assault. More than 330,000 people across 13 states and Washington, D.C., are without power, according to The Weather Channel. Parts of Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia got the brunt of the snow Monday, including more than a foot in several areas. Now, as the system starts to pull away, forecasters say D.C. could see about 8 inches of snow, New York could get 3 inches and parts of New Jersey, 7 inches.

Take care, Janicen, Delphyne and Joanelle. For once, it wasn’t Boston in the eye of the storm. A man came to my door last night and offered to shovel my car out and clear off my sidewalk for $40, and I took him up on it. I don’t know if I can actually get out. He didn’t shovel down to the pavement, but at least I don’t have to deal with that wall the plows left at the end of my driveway. I’ll go out and look at it later on.

More news links

Judge Andrew S. Hanen

Judge Andrew S. Hanen

NYT, Obama Immigration Policy Halted by Federal Judge in Texas.  Sigh . . .

The White House responded with a statement explaining why the policy is constitutional.

The Supreme Court and Congress have made clear that the federal government can set priorities in enforcing our immigration laws—which is exactly what the President did when he announced commonsense policies to help fix our broken immigration system. Those policies are consistent with the laws passed by Congress and decisions of the Supreme Court, as well as five decades of precedent by presidents of both parties who have used their authority to set priorities in enforcing our immigration laws.

The Department of Justice, legal scholars, immigration experts, and the district court in Washington, D.C. have determined that the President’s actions are well within his legal authority. Top law enforcement officials, along with state and local leaders across the country, have emphasized that these policies will also benefit the economy and help keep communities safe. The district court’s decision wrongly prevents these lawful, commonsense policies from taking effect and the Department of Justice has indicated that it will appeal that decision.

IB Times, via Raw Story, Who is the Texas judge obstructing Obama’s immigration plan?

CNN, Poll: Most disapprove of Obama handling of ISIS.

Frankly, I doubt that “most” Americans have the slightest idea of what is going on with “ISIS” or a clue about how Obama his “handling” the “threat.”

Karoli at Crooks and Liars, The Islamophobia Fear Factory And The Billionaires Who Pay For It.

NBC News, The Chapel Hill shooter, Craig Hicks, has been indicted for murder.

Outspoken atheists Penn Gillette, Neill Degrasse Tyson,  Bill Maher,  Lawrence Krauss, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins,    Ricky Gervais, Aayan Hirsi Ali

Outspoken atheists Penn Gillette, Neill Degrasse Tyson, Bill Maher, Lawrence Krauss, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Ricky Gervais, Aayan Hirsi Ali

And speaking of Islamophobia, what’s with the supposedly intellectual “movement atheists” who are so obsessed with Islam? Amanda Marcotte, an atheist herself, writes: Time for atheists to take a hard look at ourselves.

One of the reasons that I was attracted to movement atheism was I believed that, by rejecting the gods-and-masters idea, it was inoculated against that knee-jerk tribalism that characterizes so many religions. Without a supernatural cover story for why we’re the chosen people/the righteous/the holy ones, I thought, we would have to rationally accept that we are nothing special. I thought it was protection against the special pleading you often see from people who are wed to conservative movements and institutions and identities. That hope of mine is being sorely tested in the light of Craig Hicks shooting, execution-style, his three Muslim neighbors that witnesses say he had an ongoing bug up his ass about. Hicks was an outspoken and aggressive New Atheist sort, but that’s all we really know about him, alongside his apparent gun-loving tendencies.

Yes, yes, I know we don’t know if it was over religion or a parking space, but it’s clear as hell that many in the atheist world are hoping—dare I say praying—that there’s some kind of exonerating evidence to show that he barely even noticed the headscarfs on the heads of two of his victims. To which I say, why? If we are, as we purport to be, rational people who are above the knee-jerk tribalism of our religious brethren, then we should be open, without any defensiveness, to an open and honest discussion about how the rhetoric of some of the big names in atheism—Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Bill Maher—treads past the ordinary criticisms of faith and turns into ugly and demonstrably silly arguments about how Islam is somehow uniquely poisonous as a religion. While claiming to oppose Christianity, these men have allowed themselves to be useful idiots for the cause of the Christian right, giving them an “even the atheists agree!” cover for their desire to stoke religious animosity and drumming up support for even more unnecessary wars in the Middle East.

Read the rest at the link.

Furthermore, what about the misogyny among these (mostly) male atheist obsessives? Here’s an earlier post by Marcotte: Atheism’s shocking woman problem: What’s behind the misogyny of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris?

At first blush, it would seem that an atheist movement would be exactly the sort of thing that would attract many women. After all, much of the oppression of women—from forced veiling to restricting abortion rights—is a direct result of religion. Unsurprisingly, then, feminism has a long tradition of outspoken atheists and religious skeptics within its ranks.Suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton preferred “rational ideas based on scientific facts” to “religious superstition.” Major feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir argued that belief in God exists in part to “repress any impulse toward revolt in the downtrodden female.” Modern feminist writer Katha Pollitt received the “Emperor Has No Clothes” award from the Freedom From Religion Foundation in 2001, where she said that religion is dangerous because “it connects with very terrible social energies that have lain in civilization for a very long time.”

But despite the natural and cozy fit of atheism and feminism, the much-ballyhooed “New Atheism” that was supposed to be a more aggressive, political form of atheism has instead been surprisingly male-dominated. The reason has, in recent years, become quite apparent: Many of the most prominent leaders of the New Atheism are quick to express deeply sexist ideas. Despite their supposed love of science and rationality, many of them are nearly as quick as their religious counterparts to abandon reason in order to justify regressive views about women.

Atheism needs some new spokespeople. These guys are nearly as ugly and nasty as their fundamentalist christian counterparts. I nominate Dakinikat.

So . . . what stories are you following today? Please share your links and storm updates in the comment thread, and have a great Fat Tuesday!!


Extra Lazy Saturday Afternoon Reads: Bobby Jindal’s Crusade

 

Crusade - Before Battle, Kaye Miller-Dewing

Crusade – Before Battle, Kaye Miller-Dewing

Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday, Dakinikat wrote a very good post about the right wing’s hysterical response to President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast about violence in the name of religion. And predictably, her nemesis Gov. Bobby Jindal released a statement chiding the President later in the day.

Here’s what Jindal had to say, from the WaPo:

“It was nice of the President to give us a history lesson at the Prayer breakfast,” Jindal said. “Today, however, the issue right in front of his nose, in the here and now, is the terrorism of Radical Islam, the assassination of journalists, the beheading and burning alive of captives. We will be happy to keep an eye out for runaway Christians, but it would be nice if he would face the reality of the situation today. The Medieval Christian threat is under control, Mr. President. Please deal with the Radical Islamic threat today.”

If Jindal really wants to “keep an eye out for runaway Christians,” maybe he ought to take a look in the mirror. I could go on and and on about modern right wing Christian terrorism, but I won’t–I’ll just give you a few examples below.

Battle of Antioch

Battle of Antioch

Apparently Jindal and the rest of his fellow “conservative” whiners have managed to ignore the Ku Klux Klan–a self-proclaimed [Protestant] Christian organization that is still active today–along with the Christian Identity Movement; abortion clinic bombings and murders of abortion doctors by “God-fearing” Christians; and mass-murders by self-proclaimed Christians like Andres Brevik and Timothy McVeigh, (a Catholic). Again, I could go on and on, but I’ll just offer this top-ten list from Raw Story: America’s 10 worst terror attacks by Christian fundamentalists and far-right extremists.

From Fox News to the Weekly Standard, neoconservatives have tried to paint terrorism as a largely or exclusively Islamic phenomenon. Their message of Islamophobia has been repeated many times since the George W. Bush era: Islam is inherently violent, Christianity is inherently peaceful, and there is no such thing as a Christian terrorist or a white male terrorist. But the facts don’t bear that out. Far-right white male radicals and extreme Christianists are every bit as capable of acts of terrorism as radical Islamists, and to pretend that such terrorists don’t exist does the public a huge disservice. Dzhokhar Anzorovich Tsarnaev and the late Tamerlan Anzorovich Tsarnaev (the Chechen brothers suspected in the Boston Marathon bombing of April 15, 2013) are both considered white and appear to have been motivated in part by radical Islam. And many terrorist attacks in the United States have been carried out by people who were neither Muslims nor dark-skinned.

When white males of the far right carry out violent attacks, neocons and Republicans typically describe them as lone-wolf extremists rather than people who are part of terrorist networks or well-organized terrorist movements. Yet many of the terrorist attacks in the United States have been carried out by people who had long histories of networking with other terrorists. In fact, most of the terrorist activity occurring in the United States in recent years has not come from Muslims, but from a combination of radical Christianists, white supremacists and far-right militia groups.

crusades

I’ll just list the incidents listed in the article, and you can read more about them at the link.

1. Wisconsin Sikh Temple massacre, Aug. 5, 2012.

2. The murder of Dr. George Tiller, May 31, 2009.

3. Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Church shooting, July 27, 2008.

4. The murder of Dr. John Britton, July 29, 1994.

5. The Centennial Olympic Park bombing, July 27, 1996.

6. The murder of Barnett Slepian by James Charles Kopp, Oct. 23, 1998.

7. Planned Parenthood bombing, Brookline, Massachusetts, 1994.

8. Suicide attack on IRS building in Austin, Texas, Feb. 18, 2010.

9. The murder of Alan Berg, June 18, 1984.

10. Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing, April 19, 1995.

Can anyone make a similar list of atheist terrorist attacks?

Read more below the fold . . .

Read the rest of this entry »


Thursday Reads: Obama KOs Perry, and Other News

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Good Morning!!

Yesterday President Obama met with Texas Governor Rick Perry to discuss the so-called “immigration crisis.” Perry had initially refused to shake hands with the President as Obama disembarked from Airforce One, but Perry ended up doing it anyway.

From Mediaite: Rick Perry Admits Defeat, Shakes President Obama’s Hand.

Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) was determined not to shake President Barack Obama’s hand when he arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth airport on Wednesday. But in the end, it appears he just couldn’t help himself.

As CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said while Obama was descending the steps of Air Force One, “I’m anxious to see if the governor Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, is there at the bottom of the stairs to receive the president of the United States.”

The anchor betrayed some surprise when Perry walked across the tarmac to greet Obama, shaking his hand and walking side by side to Marine One, where they would have a private meeting about the current crisis at the border.

It’s been ages since I’ve watched CNN, but it sounds like Wolf and his network are practically outdoing Fox News. Do they not see the racial implications of a Republican Governor resisting shaking hands with an African-American President?

On Monday, the Austin American-Statesman reported: Rick Perry declines Obama offer for ‘quick handshake’ at Austin airport.

Gov. Rick Perry Monday turned down what he characterized as President Barack Obama’s offer for a “quick handshake on the tarmac” at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Wednesday, but said he would juggle his schedule to accommodate a “substantive meeting” with the president on the border crisis any time during his two-day visit to Texas.

In a letter to the president, Perry wrote, “I appreciate the offer to greet you at Austin-Bergstrom Airport, but a quick handshake on the tarmac will not allow for a thoughtful discussion regarding the humanitarian and national security crises enveloping the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. I would instead offer to meet with you at any time during your visit to Texas for a substantive meeting to discuss this critical issue. With the appropriate notice, I am willing to change my schedule to facilitate this request.”

“At any point while you are here, I am available to sit down privately so we can talk and you may directly gain my state’s perspective on the effects of an unsecured border and what is necessary to make it secure,” Perry wrote the president.

In addition, Perry actually said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday:

“I don’t believe he particularly cares whether or not the border of the United States is secure,” Perry said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” charging the president was either “inept” or had an “ulterior motive” in failing to secure the border.

Perry Obama

Back to the Mediaite story:

Following Perry’s letter, the Obama administration decided to invite the governor to join Obama at a previously scheduled meeting with faith leaders and elected officials in Dallas. Following that concession, Perry decided he would be comfortable greeting Obama on the tarmac, though he did not indicate whether he would deign to shake the president’s hand.

If Perry was wary of the type of photo-op that has haunted Republicans like Governor Chris Christie(R-NJ), and former Republicans like Charlie Crist, he can at least be thankful that the president did not try to hug him. Though, he did give him a few friendly pats on the back.

Mediaite thinks the photos will doom Perry’s chances for the 2016 Republican nomination; but after his performance in 2012, it seems pretty obvious that Perry himself will destroy his presidential hopes all by himself.

So what happened when the two men met? The New York Times reports: Obama Presses Perry to Rally Support for Border Funds. According to the authors, Jackie Calmes and Ashley Parker, Obama “directly challenged” Perry to convince Congressional Republicans to support $3.7 billion in emergency funds to deal with what Perry has called “a humanitarian crisis” — “thousands of Central American children who have crossed the Mexican border.”

Perry frown

And from The Wire: Rick Perry’s Immigration Meeting With Obama Produces Photo for the Ages.

So, how did President Obama’s meeting with Republican Governor Rick Perry go today? In a statement on Wednesday, Obama described the meeting as “constructive,” but, well, this photo also exists. It’s not immediately clear what the context of this photo was — Is Perry sad? Uncomfortable? Telling a funny story? Happy, but trying to look serious? Hmm. Perhaps someone made a joke at Perry’s expense? Or maybe Perry just makes the Robert De Niro shrug face a lot for no reason.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter right now. Until we know more about the context, the photo will be a Rorschach test. In the future, there will be Midrash about this photo.

A couple more links on the border crisis:

The Washington Post: Dana Milbank: In border crisis, Obama is accused of ‘lawlessness’ for following law.

A querulous quartet of conservatives took to the Senate floor Wednesday….to criticize the president for failing to visit the border during his visit to Texas this week, was coordinated by Sen. John McCain and included fellow Arizonan Jeff Flake and both of the chamber’s Texans, Sen. John Cornyn and the man McCain once dubbed a “wacko bird,” Sen. Ted Cruz.

“President Obama today is down in the state of Texas, but sadly he’s not visiting the border,” said Cruz, in a rare collaboration with McCain. “. . . He’s visiting Democratic fat cats to collect checks, and apparently there’s no time to look at the disaster, at the devastation that’s being caused by his policies. . . . It is a disaster that is the direct consequence of President Obama’s lawlessness.” ….

But this border crisis, sowed years ago and building for months, is neither a high crime nor a misdemeanor. It’s a humanitarian nightmare in which children, some as young as 4, can face physical and sexual abuse, injury and death in their lonely journeys. What’s upside-down about the Cruz-Palin argument is that this crisis has actually been brought about by Obama following the law.

The most obvious and direct cause of the flood of children from Central America is the 2008 human trafficking law that ended the rapid deportation of unaccompanied minors who come illegally from countries other than Mexico and Canada. The law essentially guarantees long stays for these immigrants by promising them a deportation process that can take 18 months, during which time they are often placed with family members who have little incentive to have the kids show up for hearings.

Lindsay Graham disagrees with his good buddy McCain, according to The Hill:

Republicans will take the political fall if they don’t provide emergency funds to address the immigrant crisis at the southern border, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warned Wednesday.

A number of conservatives on Capitol Hill are pushing back hard against President Obama’s request for almost $4 billion to manage the spike of immigrants — thousands of them unaccompanied minors — that’s hit the Texas-Mexico border in recent months.

But Graham, a long-time supporter of an immigration system overhaul, said a failure to provide the funds will exacerbate the crisis while handing Obama and the Democrats a political victory ahead of November’s midterm elections.

“If we do that, then we’re going to get blamed for perpetuating the problem,” Graham told reporters on Wednesday.

Well, it wouldn’t be the first time that right wing Republicans acted against their political best interest.

In other news,

Mike Pence

Mike Pence

Another Republican Governor has made an ass of himself  (not for the first time). Indiana Governor Mike Pence has told state agencies to not to honor the hundreds of gay marriages that took place after a federal court in Indianapolis invalidated as unconstitutional Indiana’s law banning same-sex marriages.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s office is telling state agencies act as if no gay marriages had been performed during three days following a federal court order.

The memo from the governor’s chief counsel tells executive branch agencies to execute their functions as though the June 25 court order had not been issued.

Pence defended the memo Wednesday and the sentiment expressed in it Wednesday afternoon. He said it was his job as governor to carry out the laws of the State of Indiana.

“The State of Indiana must operate in a manner with the laws of Indiana. So we have directed our state agencies earlier this week to conduct themselves in a way that respects current Indiana law, pending this matter’s process through the courts,” Pence said.

A “disappointed” Beth White responded to Pence’s order:

“As Clerk of Marion County, I was proud our office was able to issue these licenses and officiate over 450 weddings for couples, many of whom have been in loving committed relationships for decades. Governor Pence owes these couples an explanation on why he continues to deem them as second class citizens. They legally obtained their license, paid the requisite fee and should be entitled to the same rights and privileges the rest of us enjoy.

It is time for our state leaders to put the issue behind us so that we can focus on strengthening the middle-class, investing in quality education and rebuilding Indiana’s economy. Hoosier businesses depend on the best and brightest employees to compete in the global economy. Indiana is rolling up the welcome mat with this regressive stance on this issue. Although my opponent has a long history of opposing marriage equality, I call on Mrs. Lawson to reject Governor Pence’s ruling today. The Office of the Secretary of State should be welcoming to all employers choosing to invest or reinvest in Indiana. And that includes their prospective employees and their families. Hoosiers deserve common sense leadership that is focused on moving Indiana forward.”

Greenwald

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released an official statement in response to the latest article and statements by Glenn Greenwald that suggest without any supporting evidence that U.S. intelligence agencies are essentially duplicating the illegal actions of COINTELPRO from 1956-1971.

Joint Statement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice on Court-ordered Legal Surveillance of U.S. Persons.

It is entirely false that U.S. intelligence agencies conduct electronic surveillance of political, religious or activist figures solely because they disagree with public policies or criticize the government, or for exercising constitutional rights.

Unlike some other nations, the United States does not monitor anyone’s communications in order to suppress criticism or to put people at a disadvantage based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

Our intelligence agencies help protect America by collecting communications when they have a legitimate foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose.

With limited exceptions (for example, in an emergency), our intelligence agencies must have a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to target any U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident for electronic surveillance.

These court orders are issued by an independent federal judge only if probable cause, based on specific facts, are established that the person is an agent of a foreign power, a terrorist, a spy, or someone who takes orders from a foreign power.

No U.S. person can be the subject of surveillance based solely on First Amendment activities, such as staging public rallies, organizing campaigns, writing critical essays, or expressing personal beliefs.

On the other hand, a person who the court finds is an agent of a foreign power under this rigorous standard is not exempted just because of his or her occupation.

The United States is as committed to protecting privacy rights and individual freedom as we are to defending our national security.

Take from that what you will. The Greenwald cultists simply dismiss statements coming that from the Government as lies, and assume the worst. My tendency is to base my opinions on evidence. So far I haven’t seen evidence in anything coming from the Snowden leaks that NSA is specifically targeting people because of their political and/or religious beliefs. In my opinion the FBI has done this, but Greenwald’s latest article doesn’t even present valid evidence against the FBI.

On the other hand, I’d like to see Congress do a serious investigation of what NSA and other intelligence agencies are actually doing, and particularly I’d like the government to address the issue of whether the five Americans named in Greenwald’s article were actually targeted and why. The supposed targeting happened before 2008, so perhaps it wouldn’t hurt if more information were released about the reasons.

For further reactions to the latest claims from The Intercept and The Washington Post–and to the DNI/DOJ statement, check out  to the following links.

Bob Cesca at The Daily Banter, Greenwald’s Latest NSA Bombshell is an Incomplete Mess, Lacking Any Evidence of Wrongdoing. Here’s the lede:

Glenn Greenwald’s “grand finale fireworks display” finally appeared online early Wednesday and, indeed, there were fireworks but not the “spectacular multicolored hues” he predicted. The fireworks instead came in the form of a bombshell that exploded in a mushroom cloud of shoddy reporting and the usual hyperbolic, misleading accusations that have been the centerpiece of his brand of journalism for more than a year.

You need to read the entire article to understand Cesca’s article, so please go over there if you’re interested in this issue.

Driftglass,  Beware the Tingler: Glenn Greenwald, The Phantom Menace, and The Present Progressive Tense.

Marc Ambinder at The Week analyzes the IC official statement, What you need to know about the latest NSA revelations.

Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare: On Glenn Greenwald’s Latest.

That’s all the news I have room for today. What stories are you following? Please post your links in the comment thread, and have a terrific Thursday!


Monday Reads

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Good Morning!!

 

Things are not going well in Iraq, to put it mildly. John Kerry arrived in Iraq this morning and is currently meeting with Iraqi leaders, according to CNN: John Kerry holds talks in Iraq as more cities fall to ISIS militants.

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) — As radical Sunni militants snatch city after city in their march toward Baghdad, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Iraq on Monday during the country’s tensest time since the U.S. withdrawal of troops in 2011.

Kerry is meeting with Iraqi leaders. He met Monday with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the man who some observers say needs to step down.

With al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government losing more ground to militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, Kerry has implored the leader to rise above “sectarian motivations” to become more inclusive and make the government more representative of Iraq’s population.

“I’m here to convey to you President Obama’s and the American people’s commitment to help Iraq,” Kerry said when greeting Iraq’s speaker of parliament, Osama al-Nujayfi. “The principal concern is the integrity of the country, its borders, its sovereignty,” he said. ISIS “is a threat to all of us.”

Kerry will also meet with Iraq’s foreign minister as well as Shiite and Sunni leaders.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US Secretary of State John Kerry meet at the Prime Minister's Office in Baghdad. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US Secretary of State John Kerry meet at the Prime Minister’s Office in Baghdad. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The discussions with the Maliki government are not likely to be particularly congenial. According to NPR:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Baghdad on Monday to personally urge the Shiite-led government to give more power to political opponents before a Sunni insurgency seizes more control across the country and sweeps away hopes for lasting peace.

The meeting scheduled between Kerry and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was not expected to be friendly, given that officials in Washington have floated suggestions that the Iraqi premier should resign as a necessary first step toward quelling the vicious uprising. Nor will it likely bring any immediate, tangible results, as al-Maliki has shown no sign of leaving and Iraqi officials have long listened to — but ultimately ignored — U.S. advice to avoid appearing controlled by the decade-old specter of an American occupation in Baghdad.

Still, having suffered together through more than eight years of war — which killed nearly 4,500 American troops and more than 100,000 Iraqis — the two wary allies are unwilling to turn away from the very real prospect of the Mideast nation falling into a fresh bout of sectarian strife.

“This is a critical moment where, together, we must urge Iraq’s leaders to rise above sectarian motivations and form a government that is united in its determination to meet the needs and speak to the demands of all of their people,” Kerry said a day earlier in Cairo. He was there in part to meet with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to and discuss a regional solution to end the bloodshed by the insurgent Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

Good luck with that. I wish Hillary were still in charge at State.

From Jay Solomon at The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Faces Opposing Regional Interests in Bid to Blunt Insurgency in Iraq.

AMMAN, Jordan—As the Obama administration’s top diplomat arrived in the Middle East to gather support to blunt a Sunni insurgency in Iraq, the U.S. was colliding with the region’s ethnic, tribal and sectarian divisions.

Deep gaps between U.S. and Arab views over the crisis have grown more obvious in recent days, say American and regional officials, hampering Washington’s response to the onslaught by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, which this month seized control of territories straddling Iraq and Syria.

The task gained new urgency on Sunday when ISIS swept through new Iraq towns and overran two border crossings with Jordan and Syria, blocking the Iraqi government’s access to its western frontier, security officials said.

President Barack Obama raised the stakes on Sunday, telling CBS News that ISIS threatens American interests if it turns to global terrorism, two days after he announced plans to send U.S. military advisers and supplies to Iraq and called for a new, more inclusive government in Baghdad.

The crisis in Iraq has exposed contradictions in traditional Mideast alliances, in some ways placing the U.S. alongside its sworn enemy, Shiite-ruled Iran, in a joint effort to halt ISIS, while in other ways putting Washington at odds with longtime Sunni allies in the Persian Gulf, who want to weaken Iran’s sway over Iraq.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei in 2009

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei in 2009

Meanwhile, yesterday, according to Reuters:

Iran’s supreme leader accused the United States on Sunday of trying to retake control of Iraq by exploiting sectarian rivalries, as Sunni insurgents drove towards Baghdad from new strongholds along the Syrian border.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s condemnation of U.S. action came three days after President Barack Obama offered to send 300 military advisers to help the Iraqi government. Khamenei may want to block any U.S. choice of a new prime minister after grumbling in Washington about Shi’ite premier Nuri al-Maliki.

The supreme leader did not mention the Iranian president’s recent suggestion of cooperation with Shi’ite Tehran’s old U.S. adversary in defense of their mutual ally in Baghdad.

On Sunday, militants overran a second frontier post on the Syrian border, extending two weeks of swift territorial gains as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) pursues the goal of its own power base, a “caliphate” straddling both countries that has raised alarm across the Middle East and in the West.

“We are strongly opposed to U.S. and other intervention in Iraq,” IRNA news agency quoted Khamenei as saying. “We don’t approve of it as we believe the Iraqi government, nation and religious authorities are capable of ending the sedition.”

Will we ever be rid of these insane wars started by Dick Cheney and his puppet George W. Bush? At least Bush has the decency to keep quiet, but Cheney just won’t shut up even though he has no answers for the current crisis. From Raw Story: Dick Cheney doesn’t ‘intend any disrespect’ by suggesting Obama ‘guilty of treason’

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday insisted that he did not “intend any disrespect” when he suggested that President Barack Obama was guilty of treason by trying to undermine the United States before leaving office.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, Cheney — and his daughter Liz — said that the president was “determined to leave office ensuring he has taken America down a notch.”

He went on to suggest that Obama was a “fool” if he intended to work with Iran to prevent violence in Iraq.

“In this op-ed, you suggest the president is a fool,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl pointed out during a Sunday interview with Cheney. “That is the word you used, ‘only a fool would take the approach he’s taking in Iraq right now.’”

“It almost seems like you’re accusing the president of treason, that he’s intentionally bringing America ‘down a notch,’” Karl noted.

Cheney did not deny that he had accused the commander-in-chief of the United States of treason, but he insisted that he had not just called Obama a “fool” over the violence in Iraq.

“It referred to the fact that we’ve left a big vacuum in the Middle East by our withdrawal from Iraq with a no stay-behind agreement,” the former vice president said. “By the commitment that he made just a few weeks ago, that we are going to completely withdraw from Afghanistan with a no stay-behind agreement.”

See also, Dick Cheney’s amazing chutzpah on Iraq, by Paul Waldman (CNN)

Cheney needs to STFU and go on a hunting trip or something. Maybe he could take Tony Scalia with him.

 

In other news . . .

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Right wing nut and birther Ed Klein has a new Hillary hate book out, and the New York Post has been publishing laughable excerpts. The trouble is, the wingnuts will believe the lies and the media won’t counter them. Be sure to read what Joseph Cannon has to say about the De-KLEIN of journalism.

Why does anyone still print or read right-wing pseudojournalist Edward Klein?

A while back, this fictioneer published a book alleging a lesbian relationship between Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin — a work which one critic called “the sleaziest, most derivative, most despicable political biography ever.” Klein’s revelations always come from anonymous “informants” — one of whom, I’ve heard, is Slender Man.

Klein has a new book out and the NY Post is pushing it, even though the folks running the NY Post must know that they’re peddling garbage….

Anyone who takes this nonsense seriously must also believe that wrestling is real. Nevertheless, the right-wing propagandists are pretending to accept Klein’s work at face value. (See also here, especially the telling piece of “Hildebeest” research.)

This is a horrible story from the AP via Fox News: Researchers discover mass graves with bodies of immigrants in South Texas cemetery.

Volunteer researchers have uncovered mass graves in a South Texas cemetery that they believe contain the bodies of immigrants who died crossing into the U.S. illegally, according to published reports Saturday.

The discovery at Sacred Heart Burial Park in Falfurrias came in the last two weeks, as Baylor University anthropologist Lori Baker and Krista Latham, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Indianapolis, and their students worked as part of a multi-year effort to identify immigrants who’ve died in the area near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Teams unearthed remains in trash bags, shopping bags, body bags or without a container at all, according to the Corpus Christi Caller Times (http://bit.ly/1qqH7CZ ). In one burial, bones of three bodies were inside one body bag. In another, at least five people in body bags and smaller plastic bags were piled on top of each other. Skulls also were found in biohazard bags placed between coffins.

They exhumed 110 unidentified people from the cemetery in 2013. This summer, researchers have performed 52 exhumations, but because some remains were stored together, further study will be needed to determine exactly how many bodies have been recovered, Baker said.

These people just suddenly dropped dead as they crossed the border? Apparently this is the work of a local funeral home, Funeraria del Angel Howard-Williams, which the state has been paying $450 each to deal with bodies of immigrants that have been discovered all over Texas. The funeral home has been paid for this service for at least 16 and as long as 22 years! Were there any autopsies? Did anyone determine whether any of these deaths were homicides?

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We haven’t heard much about Bowe Bergdhal lately. Via The Boston Globe, the AP reports this morning that he has been “Shifted to Outpatient Care.”

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been a prisoner of war in Afghanistan for five years, has been shifted to outpatient care at a Texas military base, the U.S. Army said in a statement Sunday.

Bergdahl, 28, had been receiving inpatient treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston. He is now receiving outpatient care on the base in San Antonio, according to the statement. The Army said his ‘‘reintegration process’’ is proceeding with exposure to more people and a gradual increase in social interaction.

He arrived at the Texas medical center on June 13 after nearly two weeks recuperating at a U.S. military hospital in Germany. Army officials said then that Bergdahl was in stable condition and was working daily with health care providers to regain a sense of normalcy and move forward with his life.

The Army statement Sunday said Bergdahl is receiving counseling from ‘‘Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape’’ psychologists’’ to ‘‘continue to ensure he progresses to the point where he can return to duty.’’

The Army said specifics of Bergdahl’s location would not be made public.

That’s it for me for today, except that I’ve become a World cup fan and I might even watch some of the games the US team isn’t participating in. Ralph’s enthusiasm has sucked me in!

What stories are you following today? Please let us know in the comment thread.

 

 


Tuesday Reads

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Good Morning!!

I have a mixture of links for you today, with no overall theme whatsoever. There is news happening out there, but somehow it still feels like a slow news month so far. Maybe it’s just because it feels like nothing is really happening that will change the “malaise” in the country, to use Jimmy Carter’s term. The economy doesn’t really seem to be improving for 90 percent of us, and the bottleneck in Congress feels unbreakable. So here are some stories that caught my eye.

From The New York Times: Scientists Warn of Rising Oceans From Polar Melt.

A large section of the mighty West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable, two groups of scientists reported on Monday. If the findings hold up, they suggest that the melting could destabilize neighboring parts of the ice sheet and a rise in sea level of 10 feet or more may be unavoidable in coming centuries.

Global warming caused by the human-driven release of greenhouse gases has helped to destabilize the ice sheet, though other factors may also be involved, the scientists said.

The rise of the sea is likely to continue to be relatively slow for the rest of the 21st century, the scientists added, but in the more distant future it may accelerate markedly, potentially throwing society into crisis.

“This is really happening,” Thomas P. Wagner, who runs NASA’s programs on polar ice and helped oversee some of the research, said in an interview. “There’s nothing to stop it now. But you are still limited by the physics of how fast the ice can flow.”

Read details about the two studies at the NYT link. Richard B. Alley, scientist not involved in the studies noted that what’s happening in Antarctica is only one source of future climate change disasters.

He added that while a large rise of the sea may now be inevitable from West Antarctica, continued release of greenhouse gases will almost certainly make the situation worse. The heat-trapping gases could destabilize other parts of Antarctica as well as the Greenland ice sheet, potentially causing enough sea-level rise that many of the world’s coastal cities would eventually have to be abandoned.

“If we have indeed lit the fuse on West Antarctica, it’s very hard to imagine putting the fuse out,” Dr. Alley said. “But there’s a bunch more fuses, and there’s a bunch more matches, and we have a decision now: Do we light those?”

So it’s not as if we actually have the rest of the century to deal with the problem. Maybe the right wing nuts should start building an ark.

Childe Hassam - Two Women Reading

From Politico: Chamber of Commerce gives ultimatum to GOP.

The GOP shouldn’t even field a presidential candidate in 2016 unless Congress passes immigration reform this year, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue said Monday.

“If the Republicans don’t do it, they shouldn’t bother to run a candidate in 2016,” Donohue joked at an event on infrastructure investment in D.C. “Think about that. Think about who the voters are. I just did that to get everybody’s attention.”

Republicans have focused on an immigration overhaul as a way to woo Hispanic voters, who have increasingly drifted to Democrats over the past two election cycles. Growing Hispanic populations in Nevada, Texas and elsewhere could make those states more amenable to Democrats in the future.

Apparently, Donohue still thinks he can light a fire under the asses of the Tea Party nuts in the House. Good luck with that.

Politico also reports that John Boehner may be tiring of the frustrating job of Speaker of the dysfunctional House of Representatives: John Boehner can’t promise another 2 years as speaker.

The Ohio Republican, speaking to a luncheon here [San Antonio, TX] sponsored by a group of local chambers of commerce, said he can’t “predict what’s going to happen” and stopped short of fully committing to serving another full two-year term.

“Listen, I’m going to be 65 years old in November,” Boehner said. “I never thought I’d live to be 60. So I’m living on borrowed time.”

It’s extraordinarily rare for Boehner to sit down for an open-ended, live interview, but he did so here with the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith, a mainstay of the Lone Star State’s journalism scene. He touched on issues ranging from immigration to Benghazi to his quiet campaign to persuade Jeb Bush to run for president….

Boehner’s noncommittal response about his future will reverberate from here all the way back to Capitol Hill and K Street. His future has been a topic of constant chatter among political types. Even people inside his orbit privately wonder why the Ohio Republican would want to serve another term wielding the speaker’s gavel, given the tumultuous political climate in Washington. Last week, Boehner beat back two primary opponents to ensure his House reelection.

Much more interesting Boehner news at the link.

childe-hassam-french tea garden 1910

Texas plans to execute death row prisoner Robert James Campbell today, and they aren’t the least bit concerned about the recent horrifically botched execution in Oklahoma. From the NYT: Confronted on Execution, Texas Proudly Says It Kills Efficiently.

HUNTSVILLE, Tex. — If Texas executes Robert James Campbell as planned on Tuesday, for raping and murdering a woman, it will be the nation’s first execution since Oklahoma’s bungled attempt at lethal injection two weeks ago left a convicted murderer writhing and moaning before he died.

Lawyers for Mr. Campbell are trying to use the Oklahoma debacle to stop the execution here. But many in this state and in this East Texas town north of Houston, where hundreds have been executed in the nation’s busiest death chamber, like to say they do things right.

For two years now, Texas has used a single drug, the barbiturate pentobarbital, instead of the three-drug regimen used in neighboring Oklahoma. Prison administrators from other states often travel here to learn how Texas performs lethal injections and to observe executions. Texas officials have provided guidance and, on at least a few occasions, carried out executions for other states.

Even the protesters and television cameras that used to accompany executions here have, in most cases, dissipated. “It’s kind of business as usual,” said Tommy Oates, 62, a longtime resident who was eating lunch last week at McKenzie’s Barbeque, about one mile from the prison known as the Walls Unit. “That sounds cold, I know. But they’re not in prison for singing too loud at church.”

That’s Texas’ claim to fame now, I guess–efficient executions. Practice makes perfect.

The LA Times broke some news this morning about deceased alleged Boston Bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The paper has learned that the gun Tsarnaev use in a shootout with police in Watertown, Massachusetts a few days after the Marathon bombing was linked to a drug gang in Portland, Maine. 

When police confronted Tamerlan Tsarnaev four nights after the Boston Marathon bombing last year, he leaped from his car with a 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol and opened fire….

The tale of that handgun, a black Ruger P95, Serial Number 317-87693, offers new insights into the Boston tragedy and holds warnings of other potential dangers.

Its journey from a street gang that peddled crack cocaine in Portland, Maine, to the grisly shootout in a Boston suburb tells much about illicit drug and gun trafficking in New England, and perhaps more about Tsarnaev.

Authorities believe Tsarnaev’s ties to the illicit drug trade in Maine helped finance his six-month trip to the southern Russian republics of Chechnya and Dagestan in early 2012, where he became radicalized. Drug money, they say, also may have helped him buy components of the bomb that killed three people and injured more than 260 on April 15, 2013.

The Times learned about this from records “obtained” from the Justice Department records. The gun had originally been purchased legally by an LA man named Danny Sun, Jr. living in Portland, Maine. It’s not clear exactly how Tsarnaev got the gun, but the serial numbers had been fined down. Police were able to “raise” the serial number using with “forensic techniques.”

Curiouser and curiouser. Last June, I wrote a post in which I argued for a drug connection to the Tsarnaev brothers and a horrific September 11, 2011 triple murder in Waltham, Massachusetts; but I suspected a connection with an international drug ring centered in Watertown, Waltham, and Newton. I have continued following this story closely for the past year. Now this. I don’t know what to think. I only know that this background of the Boston Marathon bombings is incredibly complex and mysterious.

woman-reading Childe Hassam 1885

I don’t know how many people have been following the latest discussions about net neutrality. This is going to be an important week in the fight between internet users and the Cable giants. Here’s the latest  from Radio survivor: FCC Chair Wheeler Shuffles Open Internet Deck Ahead of Meeting.

This is a tough week to be Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC. This Thursday he has an open meeting where he plans to present his Open Internet proposal to the full Commission. As details have come to light a very broad coalition of companies, organizations and legislators–from 150 tech firms like Netflix and Google to the ACLU and NOW–have expressed strong criticisms of it.

At issue are proposed rules that would permit some companies to pay internet service providers for a so-called fast-lane into consumers’ homes. No matter how much Wheeler has tried to assure everyone that the Commission will seriously police for instances where an ISP degrades content from competitors or sources that haven’t paid for an express lane, critics remain unconvinced. That’s because Wheeler’s proposed standard says “commercially reasonable” discrimination of internet traffic is OK, but “commercially reasonable” is a vague and ill-defined standard that seems to have loopholes big enough to drive a truck through.

Because of the backlash even two of his fellow Commissioners, Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican Ajit Pai, have called for a delay of Thursdays vote on the proposal. There is no indication that Wheeler is heeding their call.

Wheeler is actually talking about regulating the internet like a “common carrier,” like it does phone companies. In other words, internet provider would be treated like public utilities. I’m not holding my breath though. From Politico: Tom Wheeler scrambles to salvage net neutrality plan.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is on the clock and scrambling to salvage his controversial net neutrality plan as the commission counts down to a crucial vote on Thursday.

According to FCC officials, he circulated his latest revisions Monday — trying to pick up the two votes he needs to pass the notice of proposed rule-making to ensure an open Internet.

In the most significant change, Wheeler will seek public comment on whether the FCC should reclassify broadband as a communications utility, giving the agency authority to regulate Internet rates and services as it does with telephone companies, according to commission officials. Net neutrality advocates favor that option as more robust, but it’s opposed by telecoms that fear it will give the government too much power over their business.

Wheeler’s original plan sparked outrage after details emerged that it would allow Internet-service providers, such as AT&T and Verizon, to charge companies like Netflix, Amazon and Google for faster delivery of content. The revised proposal keeps that basic approach but would seek comment on whether a “fast lane” should be banned. It also proposes a new ombudsman position at the FCC to act as a net neutrality advocate for startups and consumers.

So the “fast lane” is still included in the plan. I can’t see how that would be a benefit to ordinary internet users. I guess we should enjoy what we have for now, because the internet as we know it is in serious danger. This is an important story!

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

 


Friday Reads

PostcardOldAbsintheHouse

Good Morning!

So, I am trying to get with it again.  Seems like it’s always something.  Grades to get in.  Issues with my elderly father.  Daughters so busy that I seemed to have slipped their minds.  Doctor’s appointments. I am going to try to take this weekend to catch up with reality.  I should also make a point of going out and enjoying my home city which is one of the great places of this country.

Speaking of reality, there is so much weirdness around the issue of immigration these days that I thought I’d post on it.  I live in what can only be described as the melting pot of all the melting pots in the country.  It is what makes us unique in the world.  We’ve got a unique cuisine, culture, and music because we just soaked it all in from every one else and put it out there to grow.  But, there’s a lot of people that are scared of that kind of thing.  Just smell that Gumbo!  Listen to that Jazz!  Embrace the dancers of a second line!  None of that would exist without the blending of Africans, Caribbeans, Americans, and all kinds of Europeans!

In the land of tabloid terrors, immigrants loom large. Flick through the pages or online comments of some of the racier newspapers, and you’ll see immigrants being accused of stealing jobs or, if not that, of being workshy and “scrounging benefits”.

Such views may be at the extreme end of the spectrum, but they do seem to reflect a degree of public ambivalence, and even hostility, towards immigrants in a number of OECD countries. Anecdotal evidence is not hard to find. A columnist from The Economist reported this encounter between a British legislator and one of his constituents, Phil: “‘I’m not a racist,’ says Phil, an unemployed resident of the tough Greenwich estate in Ipswich. ‘But we’ve got to do something about them.’”

Surveys offer further evidence: For example, a 2011 study in five European countries and the United States found that at least 40% of respondents in each country regarded immigration as “more of a problem than an opportunity”. More than half the respondents in each country also agreed with the proposition that immigrants were a burden on social services. This sense that immigrants are living off the state appears to be widespread. But is it true?

New research from the OECD indicates that it’s not. In general across OECD countries, the amount that immigrants pay to the state in the form of taxes is more or less balanced by what they get back in benefits. Even where immigrants do have an impact on the public purse – a “fiscal impact” – it amounts to more than 0.5% of GDP in only ten OECD countries, and in those it’s more likely to be positive than negative. In sum, says the report, when it comes to their fiscal impact, “immigrants are pretty much like the rest of the population”.

The extent to which this finding holds true across OECD countries is striking, although there are naturally some variations. Where these exist, they largely reflect the nature of the immigrants who arrive in each country. For example, countries like Australia and New Zealand rely heavily on selective entry, and so attract a lot of relatively young and well-educated immigrants. Other countries, such as in northern Europe, have higher levels of humanitarian immigration, such as refugees and asylum-seekers.

That said, there’s been a general push in many countries in recent years to attract better educated immigrants, in part because of the economic value of their skills but also because such policies attract less public resistance. For example, a survey in the United Kingdom, where resistance to immigration is relatively high, reported that 64% of respondents wanted to reduce immigration of low-skilled workers but only 32% wanted fewer high-skilled immigrants. Indeed, one objection that’s regularly raised to lower-skilled immigrants is the fear that they will live off state benefits.

But, here again, the OECD report offers some perhaps surprising insights. It indicates that low-skilled migrants – like migrants in general – are neither a major drain nor gain on the public purse. Indeed, low-skilled immigrants are less likely to have a negative impact than equivalent locals.

So what connects homophobia, Marco Rubio and US immigration Policy?  Basically, the connection is outright discrimination for any GLBT who wants to be an American.  Rubio has threatened to leave negotiations on immigration if any GBLT rights are included.  He also says it should be legal to fire any one for their sexual orientation.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a co-author and key proponent of the Senate immigration bill, said he will revoke his support if an amendment is added that allows gay Americans to petition for same-sex spouses living abroad to secure a green card.

“If this bill has in it something that gives gay couples immigration rights and so forth, it kills the bill. I’m done,” Rubio said Thursday during an interview on the Andrea Tantaros Show. “I’m off it, and I’ve said that repeatedly. I don’t think that’s going to happen and it shouldn’t happen. This is already a difficult enough issue as it is.”

The amendment, introduced by Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, would grant green cards to foreign partners of gay Americans. Leahy originally introduced the measure during the Senate Judiciary Committee markup of the bill, but he withdrew it under pressure from Republican lawmakers who said it would reduce the chance of the bill passing.

Why does he think that firing any one for sexual orientation is also on target?

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is touted as a top GOP presidential prospect in 2016, thinks it should be legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation.

ThinkProgress spoke with the Florida Senator at the opening luncheon of the annual Faith and Freedom Forum on Thursday and asked him about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill to make discrimination against LGBT individuals illegal across the country.

Though Rubio bristles at the notion of being called a “bigot,” he showed no willingness to help protect LGBT workers from discrimination. “I’m not for any special protections based on orientation,” Rubio told ThinkProgress.

KEYES: The Senate this summer is going to be taking up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which makes it illegal to fire someone for being gay. Do you know if you’ll be supporting that?

RUBIO: I haven’t read the legislation. By and large I think all Americans should be protected but I’m not for any special protections based on orientation.

KEYES: What about on race or gender?

RUBIO: Well that’s established law.

KEYES: But not for sexual orientation?

Watch the video at the link for his astoundingly bigoted answer.

The US Congress has just been told that Syria has used chemical weapons on its rebels.  What does this mean for the US and for our allies?courtyard new orleans

The Obama administration, concluding that the troops of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria have used chemical weapons against rebel forces in his country’s civil war, has decided to begin supplying the rebels for the first time with small arms and ammunition, according to American officials.

The officials held out the possibility that the assistance, coordinated by the Central Intelligence Agency, could include antitank weapons, but they said that for now supplying the antiaircraft weapons that rebel commanders have said they sorely need is not under consideration.

Supplying weapons to the rebels has been a long-sought goal of advocates of a more aggressive American response to the Syrian civil war. A proposal made last year by David H. Petraeus, then the director of the C.I.A., and backed by the State Department and the Pentagon to supply weapons was rejected by the White House because of President Obama’s deep reluctance to be drawn into another war in the Middle East.

But even with the decision to supply lethal aid, the Obama administration remains deeply divided about whether to take more forceful action to try to quell the fighting, which has killed more than 90,000 people over more than two years. Many in the American government believe that the military balance has tilted so far against the rebels in recent months that American shipments of arms to select groups may be too little, too late.

Some senior State Department officials have been pushing for a more aggressive military response, including airstrikes to hit the primary landing strips that they said the Assad government uses to launch the chemical weapons attacks, ferry troops around the country and receive shipments of arms from Iran.

But White House officials remain wary, and on Thursday Benjamin J. Rhodes, one of Mr. Obama’s top foreign policy advisers, all but ruled out the imposition of a no-fly zone and indicated that no decision had been made on other military actions.

Mr. Obama declared last August that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would cross a “red line” that would prompt a more resolute American response.

cafe du monde vintageSo what does the latest Supreme Court Decision on free speech mean?  Oddly enough, it means no protests in their front yard!

The Supreme Court has come up with a new regulation banning demonstrations on its grounds.

The rule approved Thursday comes two days after a broader anti-demonstration law was declared unconstitutional.

The new rule bans activities such as picketing, speech-making, marching or vigils. It says “casual use” by visitors or tourists is not banned.

That may be a way of addressing the concern posed by a federal judge who threw out the law barring processions and expressive banners on the Supreme Court grounds.

The judge said the law was so broad that it could criminalize preschool students parading on their first field trip to the high court.

The president of the Rutherford Institute, which challenged the law on a protester’s behalf, calls the new rule “repugnant” to the Constitution.

What on earth ?

The Supreme Court on Thursday issued a new regulation barring most demonstrations on the plaza in front of the courthouse.

The regulation did not significantly alter the court’s longstanding restrictions on protests on its plaza. It appeared, rather, to be a reaction to a decision issued Tuesday by a federal judge, which narrowed the applicability of a 1949 federal law barring “processions or assemblages” or the display of “a flag, banner or device designed or adapted to bring into public notice a party, organization or movement” in the Supreme Court building or on its grounds.

The law was challenged by Harold Hodge Jr., a student from Maryland who was arrested in 2011 on the Supreme Court plaza for wearing a large sign protesting police mistreatment of blacks and Hispanics.

Lawyers representing the Supreme Court’s marshal told the judge hearing Mr. Hodge’s case that the law was needed to allow “unimpeded ingress and egress of visitors to the court” and to preserve “the appearance of the court as a body not swayed by external influence.”

But Judge Beryl A. Howell of Federal District Court in Washington ruled for Mr. Hodge. “The absolute prohibition on expressive activity in the statute is unreasonable, substantially overbroad and irreconcilable with the First Amendment,” she wrote, adding that the law was “unconstitutional and void as applied to the Supreme Court plaza.”

The Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of the law in 1983, in United States v. Grace, saying it could not be applied to demonstrations on the public sidewalks around the court.

On the grand plaza in front of the courthouse, however, Supreme Court police have been known to order visitors to remove buttons making political statements.

The regulation issued Thursday, which the court said was “approved by the chief justice of the United States,” requires visitors to “maintain suitable order and decorum within the Supreme Court building and grounds.” It bars demonstrations, which it defines as “picketing, speech making, marching, holding vigils or religious services and all other like forms of conduct that involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which is reasonably likely to draw a crowd or onlookers.”

So, that is my offering this morning.  I’m headed to the doctor but will be around later!  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?