Thursday Reads


Good Morning!!

Pope Francis is currently visiting Washington DC, and he will address Congress this morning. Yesterday he said a mass and canonized a questionable new saint. From NPR:

Pope Francis celebrated the Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra at Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., today. You can watch the proceedings in The Washington Post video above.

Serra, the first Hispanic American saint and the first saint to be canonized in the U.S., helped Spain colonize California in the late 1700s, converting tens of thousands of Native Americans to Catholicism in the process. Some Native American groups objected to the canonization of a priest who converted indigenous people to Christianity using force.

The pontiff addressed Serra’s history in his homily.

“Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it. Mistreatment and wrongs which today still trouble us, especially because of the hurt which they cause in the lives of many people.”

After the mass, Francis met with Native Americans at the basilica to speak with them privately about the controversy.

At the link, you can read tweets from people who noticed that Francis fell asleep at one point during the mass.

CIRCA 1930: Fray Junipero Serra Postcard. ca. 1915-1925, Fray Junipero Serra Postcard (Photo by LCDM Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

CIRCA 1930: Fray Junipero Serra Postcard. ca. 1915-1925, Fray Junipero Serra Postcard (Photo by LCDM Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

NPR tried to soft-pedal the controversy over Serra’s canonization. NBC has more details:

Saint or Sinner? Pope Courts Controversy With Canonization of Junipero Serra.

…to some Native Americans, Serra’s achievements are nothing to celebrate. They say he created a military-backed mission system that thrived on brutality and resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.

“It is very offensive to canonize the person who actually enslaved, whipped, tortured and separated families and destroyed our cultural and spiritual beliefs,” said Valentin Lopez, chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. “How can that behavior be recognized as saintly behavior?” ….

Robert Senkewicz, a professor of history at Santa Clara University who has written a book about Serra, said it’s probably no accident that a pope who hails from Latin America, where the missionaries were seen as protectors, would support Serra.

He said he understands both sides of the debate: there’s evidence that Serra supported the flogging of the California Indians as punishment; he had women and girls locked away at night to keep them safe from rapists; and the crowded missions helped breed the disease that killed many.

“Serra, by his own right, really loved the Indians,” Senkewicz said. “But he thought of them as children. Like 99 percent of the people of the day, he thought Europeans were superior to the native people.”

Lopez said he was stunned by the pope’s elevation of Serra given that the pontiff has championed the downtrodden and even apologized in July for the church’s “grave sins” against the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Statue of Junipero Serra on Highway 280 south of San Francisco

Statue of Junipero Serra on Highway 280 south of San Francisco

Like most of what the Vatican does, conferring sainthood is a political process. Frankly, to me it’s meaningless; but I can certainly understand why many Catholics would be up in arms about it.

The Washington Post on Francis’ speech to Congress this morning:

Pope Francis, a symbol of unity for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, will address Congress Thursday morning, marking the first time a pope has bridged the church-state divide to speak to America’s elected representatives.

The pope is scheduled to arrive on Capitol Hill at 9:20 a.m. Hours earlier, hundreds people began lining up outside the Capitol grounds, waiting to pass through security checkpoints and stake out a place to see him….

At 10:01 a.m., the House sergeant-at-arms is scheduled to announce: “Mr. Speaker, the pope of the Holy See.” His words will formally launch an event that would have been politically impossible through much of American history, when Catholics — especially waves of immigrants from Italy, Ireland and central Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — suffered widespread discrimination.

That began to change with the election of John F. Kennedy to the presidency in 1960, according to the article.

In speaking before Congress, the pope was to take the central position in a tableau reflecting a wholesale shift in Catholics’ place in the United States. Vice President Joe Biden (D), who is also Catholic, will sit behind him, next to Boehner. In front of him will be four justices of the Supreme Court — including three of the six Catholics who currently sit on the nine-member court.

There are 164 Catholics in this Congress, or 31 percent of the members. That’s a higher proportion than in the overall U.S. population, which is 22 percent Catholic. Despite those numbers, it seems doubtful that even a pope who has admonished world leaders to argue less and accomplish more can break the bitter, years-long political paralysis in the U.S. legislature.

Pope Francis meets with John Boehner before the historic speech to Congress.

Pope Francis meets with John Boehner before the historic speech to Congress.

Unfortunately, many of the “Catholics” in this Congress and the Supreme Court do not subscribe to actual Catholic values such as humility, helping the poor, protecting the environment, and making peace, not war.

Pope Francis also held a meeting with the Little Sisters of the Poor to “quietly” support their battle against birth control being covered by Obamacare. USA Today:

WASHINGTON — Pope Francis made an unscheduled stop to visit the Little Sisters of the Poor Wednesday, a move that Vatican officials said was intended to send a message of support in the nuns’ battle against Obamacare.

The religious order of Catholic sisters is suing theObama administration over a provision of the Affordable Care Act that the administration has interpreted as requiring the sisters to purchase health insurance with birth control coverage.

Catholic teaching opposes the use of birth control. The sisters can request a waiver, but their lawsuit argues that requiring that paperwork infringes on their religious freedom. The sisters are suing under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a Clinton-era law that prohibits the government from placing a “substantial burden” on the free exercise of religion.

Last August, an appeals court sided with the government, but an unusual dissent by five judges this month called that decision “clearly and gravely wrong — on an issue that has little to do with contraception and a great deal to do with religious liberty.” The question now goes to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sigh . . .

News From the Clown Car

Donald Trump is once again feuding with Fox News.

From Politico: Trump says he won’t appear on Fox News. The Republican front-runner says Fox has been treating him unfairly, while Fox says it dumped Trump first.

Donald Trump and Bill O'Reilly before the feud

Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly before the feud

Citing unfair treatment, Donald Trump said Wednesday that he is not going to appear on any Fox News shows “for the forseeable future,” reigniting a feud that has heated up and cooled throughout the summer.

“.@FoxNews has been treating me very unfairly & I have therefore decided that I won’t be doing any more Fox shows for the foreseeable future,” Trump tweeted at mid-day on Wednesday.

Fox News fired back a couple hours later, saying Trump had it all wrong, and that it was Fox who dumped Trump. A spokesman issued a statement, condeming Trump’s attacks on Fox’s journalists.

“At 11:45am today, we canceled Donald Trump’s scheduled appearance on The O’Reilly Factor on Thursday, which resulted in Mr. Trump’s subsequent tweet about his ‘boycott’ of FOX News,” the statement reads. “The press predictably jumped to cover his tweet, creating yet another distraction from any real issues that Mr. Trump might be questioned about. When coverage doesn’t go his way, he engages in personal attacks on our anchors and hosts, which has grown stale and tiresome. He doesn’t seem to grasp that candidates telling journalists what to ask is not how the media works in this country.”

The Republican presidential candidate had devoted Monday and Tuesday nights this week to blasting the network’s coverage of him on Twitter, tweeting and retweeting criticism.

More details at the link. Ugh.

Donald Trump at the South Carolina Freedom Summit

Donald Trump at the South Carolina Freedom Summit

Also from Politico: Trump: I’m so tired of this politically correct crap.

A seemingly exasperated Donald Trump announced on Wednesday, “I’m so tired of this politically correct crap,” telling a crowd of South Carolina business leaders that he’s still the straight-talking, shoot-from-the-hip kind of guy that surged to the top of the polls this summer.

The Republican presidential candidate is suffering a bit of a slump, due to some slippage in the polls, a lackluster debate performance, and another round of negative headlines due to his refusal to apologize for not correcting a questioner at a New Hampshire town hall who insisted President Obama is a Muslim and not an American.

On Wednesday, he tried to reclaim his mojo,  launching another Twitter-based attack on Fox News before taking the stage in South Carolina to blast his rivals. In the case of Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, Trump remarked that both candidates “hate each other … but they can’t say it.” Rubio was state senator while Bush was governor of Florida.

Trump, addressing the Greater Charleston Business Association and the South Carolina African American Chamber of Commerce, detailed his grievances with the way politicians act.

“This is what bothers me about politicians. He announces he’s gonna run and they go to Jeb, ‘what do you think of Marco Rubio?’ ‘He’s my dear, dear friend, he’s wonderful, he’s a wonderful person, I’m so happy that he’s running.’ Give me a break,” Trump said. “That’s called politicians’ speak. Then they go to Marco, what do you think of Jeb Bush? ‘Ohh, he’s great, he’s brought me along.”

Rubio and Bush “hate each other,” Trump said, blasting Rubio as “overly ambitious, too young, and I have better hair than he does, right?”

What Donald Trump refers to “political correctness” is behavior that normal people call common courtesy.

Jeb Bush had another stumble a couple of days ago.

CNN reports: Jeb Bush weighs in on ‘multiculturalism.’

Jeb Bush in Cedar Falls, Iowa

Jeb Bush in Cedar Falls, Iowa

Jeb Bush argued Tuesday that the United States is “creeping toward multiculturalism” and described it as “the wrong approach.”

His answer came in response to a question at an Iowa diner Tuesday from a woman who wanted to know how the former Florida governor would help refugees and immigrants integrate into U.S. society and “empower them to become Americans.”

“We should not have a multicultural society,” the Republican presidential candidate responded.

But Bush, who’s a self-admitted policy wonk and tends to use nuanced language, was referring to “multicultural” in the literal sense — a social model in which cultures live in “isolated pockets,” as he described them, rather than assimilating into society.

“America is so much better than every other country because of the values that people share — it defines our national identity. Not race or ethnicity, not where you come from,” he said. “When you create pockets of isolation — and in some cases the assimilation process is retarded because it’s slowed down — it’s wrong. It limits peoples’ aspirations.”

He added that people who aren’t “fully engaged” in a broader community will struggle to get the best education and argued that learning English would better accelerate access to opportunities.

Personally, I think it’s entirely possible for ethnic groups in the U.S. to hold onto their languages and cultures, while at the same time fitting in to American society. The children of immigrants usually assimilate; at the same time, I think they should be encouraged to understand their ethnic and cultural history and be able to speak their native language with older family members.

In The News

BBC News: Hajj stampede: At least 717 killed in Saudi Arabia.

Quora discussion: Why do Americans think helping even the less fortunate next-door neighbour is ‘socialism’?

The Boston Globe: Apple bans walk-in purchases of the new iPhone 6s in New Hampshire, three other states.

ABC News: Texas HS Football Assistant Coach Admits to Telling Players to Hit Referee, Principal Says.

ABC News: Pope Francis Cites Victims From Church’s ‘Difficult Moments.’

The Telegraph: Angela Merkel’s ministers ‘ignored warning over Volkswagen emissions rigging.’

The New York Times: Hackers Took Fingerprints of 5.6 Million U.S. Workers, Government Says.

Some Interesting Longer Reads

Foreign Policy: ‘Close Your Eyes and Pretend to Be Dead’ What really happened two years ago in the bloody attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall.

Scientific American: Why the Human Brain Project Went Wrong–and How to Fix It.

The New Republic: Down the Rabbit Hole. The rise, and rise, of literary annotation.

Slate: Yogi Berra Wasn’t Trying to Be Witty. And he wasn’t dumb either. How did the narrative of the wise buffoon come to dominate his life?

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?




Thursday Reads: Upcoming Supreme Court Decisions and Other News

The Tea Party, Matisse Forman

The Tea Party, Matisse Forman

Good Morning!!

The Supreme Court justices will convene this morning at 10AM. No one knows which rulings they plan to release. Will we learn their decision on same sex marriage? I hope so. I’m guessing they will leave the announcement of their decision on the Affordable Care Act for last. But who knows?

ABC News reports: Supreme Court Has Seven Final Cases to Decide, Including Gay Marriage and Obamacare.

The high court is saving the high drama for the end of its term.

As June dwindles, seven cases are left for the Supreme Court to decide — including one that could legalize same-sex marriage across the country and one that will significantly affect the future of Obamacare.

The court is scheduled to announce decisions Thursday, Friday and Monday, and it could add days beyond that. There’s no indication which decisions will be released on which days.

Mad Hatter tea party

The seven cases are summarized at the link. On the two most prominent cases:

Same Sex Marriage

In a landmark decision, the court will confront two questions. The first is whether states can ban same-sex marriage. The second is whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states.

All eyes are on Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote three of the court’s most important opinions on gay rights. At an oral argument in April, Kennedy asked tough questions of both sides, and at one point he said “it’s very difficult for the court to say, oh, well, we know better” what defines marriage than centuries of tradition limiting it to the union of a man and a woman.

Affordable Care Act

The justices could deal a potentially crippling, if not fatal, blow to President Barack Obama’s signature health law.

The challenge centers on whether the federal government is violating the act by offering subsidies to lower- and middle-income people who live in states that haven’t set up their own health care insurance “exchanges.”

Sixteen states have exchanges up and running. The remaining 34 rely on the federal exchange. The law says the subsidies can be made available only to people living where exchanges have been “established by the state.”

The plaintiffs argue that the subsidies are illegal because the federal government isn’t a state. The federal government argues that it was always clear that the subsidies would be available to anyone who bought insurance on an exchange. The insurance industry argues that if the federal subsidies are struck down, Obamacare itself would enter a “death spiral,” with costs rising for a shrinking number of participants, eventually causing the system to collapse.

Read about the other cases at the link.

The Tea, Mary Cassatt

The Tea, Mary Cassatt

Possible Outcomes on Same Sex Marriage

Although no one can really know what’s going on in Anthony Kennedy’s confused mind, most pundits expect the Supremes to decide that states cannot ban same sex marriage. I hope they’re right.

Richard Wolf at USA Today: Anticipating high court’s blessing, same-sex couples plan weddings.

Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes have sent out “Save the Date” cards and plunked down thousands of dollars for their November wedding, which promises to be Texas-style big.

Brittany Rowell and Jessica Harbuck are busy laying plans for a January wedding in Mississippi, with traditional white dresses and all the trimmings.

Tim Love and Larry Ysunza have reserved their church for an October wedding in Kentucky, about the time of their 35th anniversary together.

Liz Neidlinger and Erika Doty have their sights set on an outdoor sculpture garden in Michigan next May.

Jon Coffee and Keith Swafford were engaged last October in Tennessee and decided to marry in a year, regardless of court action. If it had to be merely symbolic, that would be sufficient.

What sets the five couples apart from your average wedding planners is a small impediment: They can’t get married in their home states — not yet, anyway. But they’re so confident the Supreme Court will change that in the coming days that they already are making plans for the big day.

Tea, Henri Matisse

Tea, Henri Matisse

Chicago Tribune: Coming gay marriage ruling triggers anticipation, anxiety in gay couples.

Chantel and Marcela Gatica-Haynes, who live in Arizona, were married in a garden ceremony at an Ojai, Calif. bed-and-breakfast on Sept. 7, 2013. The wedding came less than three months after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling ended Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. They returned home to Flagstaff and were married again last October after a federal judge ruled Arizona’s ban on the marriages was unconstitutional.

Though many observers predict the coming ruling will open the door wider to same-sex marriage, Chantel Gatica-Haynes worries her marriage could be impacted by a ruling against the unions. She worries more that a ruling upholding state bans could affect Marcela’s attempt to adopt Chantel’s 1-year-old daughter, Aspen.

“We’re just in this holding pattern,” she said. “The things that are hanging out there will affect our daughter’s future even when we’re gone.”

More at the link.

Summer Afternoon Tea in the Garden, Theo van Rysselberghe

Summer Afternoon Tea in the Garden, Theo van Rysselberghe

The Boston Globe: Supreme Court same-sex marriage decision still in question.

When it comes to same-sex marriage, the justices have considered two principal questions:

1) Does the Constitution require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?

2) If same-sex couples marry in one state, where it’s legal, must other states recognize their marriages?

If the justices say yes on the first question, then same-sex couples in all states will be able to marry. If the justices say no to the first question, but yes to the second, then same-sex marriages will be recognized in every state, but states will not have the duty to marry same-sex couples.

If the justices say no to both questions, then states without same-sex marriage will be neither required to perform same-sex unions, nor to recognize unions performed out of state.

At oral arguments earlier this year, Justice Anthony Kennedy, widely viewed as the swing vote on the case, asked the petitioners early on about the role of the court in changing a definition of marriage that has been used for “millennia,” instead of allowing citizens to engage with the issue through the states.

But Kennedy, who spoke only 17 times during the hearing — the least of any justice barring famously silent Clarence Thomas — also spoke of the ability of same-sex couples to recognize the “nobility and sacredness” of marriage.

Read the rest at the Globe.

TEA PARTY painting

NPR: Maps: What The Supreme Court’s Ruling On Same-Sex Marriage Could Mean.

It’s always tough to predict how the court will rule but, broadly speaking, there are three main possibilities: the simplest is that the court declares state marriage bans unconstitutional, meaning states will all perform and recognize same-sex marriage. That’s a pretty simple outcome, but things get much trickier in the other two cases.

One other possibility is that the court decides to uphold bans. That means states that currently have bans could continue having theirs. But it also leaves 20 states up in the air legally. That group includes states where federal action struck down state bans. If the Supreme Court says bans are constitutional, those states could go back to having bans in place.

And there’s also the possibility of the court saying bans are constitutional, but that all states must all recognize marriages performed in other states. This option retains the messiness of the above possibility, but it does mean that couples would be recognized equally nationwide.

While you can break the decisions down into three neatly color-coded maps, there is a complicated web of state laws at work, and it means outcomes could vary widely by state if the court decides bansare constitutional. Adam Romero, senior counsel at UCLA’s Williams Institute, says the states where federal action struck down state bans are where things could get really complicated.

Read more and check out the maps at the NPR link.

The Affordable Care Act Ruling

Afternoon Tea, Susan Rinehart

Afternoon Tea, Susan Rinehart

From New York Magazine: Chief Justice Roberts’s Big Health-Care Moment, by Cristian Farias.

Chief Justice John Roberts has big plans after the end of the current Supreme Court term. He will be hopping on a plane to Japan, half a world away from any fallout that may result in the aftermath of King v. Burwell, the closely watched challenge to the Affordable Care Act. According to SCOTUSblog, that decision could come as early as this Friday.

Three years ago, when Roberts first saved President Obama’s signature law, he headed for the other side of the globe, to Malta — a CBS Newsscoop about a vote switch and internal “arm-twisting” by Roberts aroused such conservative wrath, the Mediterranean island seemed like a good place for him to teach some law and weather the controversy. “After ruling, Roberts makes a getaway from the scorn,” said the Times.

No one knows where the chief justice stands in King, but there are real-world, pragmatic reasons for him to side with the government again — even more so than with NFIB v. Sebelius, which threatened a law still in its infancy and not yet fully implemented. Now the prospects of unraveling insurance markets and millions losing health-care subsidies with an adverse ruling are real, and Roberts more than any of the justices cares about these things because the court bears his name and anything the court does, whether he had something to do with it or not, falls under his legacy. He’s the most accountable member of the least accountable branch.

But consider also that by the time a decision is announced, Roberts will have finished his tenth year on the Supreme Court — a milestone legal scholars and commentators will seize on to discuss that legacy, his jurisprudence, and whether he has delivered on his promise to be the kind of chief justice who merely “calls balls and strikes,” as he famously said during his confirmation hearings. Just yesterday, the Upshot suggested the court is leaning leftward more than any other time in recent history. And other retrospectives have begun to roll out: the Constitutional Accountability Center, a legal advocacy group, has published a series of reports on Roberts’s first decade and his record — on civil rights, campaign finance, access to justice, the environment, equality. The kinds of cases the public cares about. And yes, that includes health care.

Much more interesting analysis at the link.

Tea Party, Martha Walter

Tea Party, Martha Walter

Washington Post: Supreme Court ruling could push health industry agenda to back burner — again, by Catherine Ho.

The health care industry was hoping this would be the year it could move beyond the Obamacare fight in Washington and on to new priorities, such as improving drug development and patient care.

But the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling in King v. Burwell threatens to derail those ambitions.

Industry advocates are concerned that no matter how the court rules on the legality of certain insurance subsidies provided under the law, the health care debate in Congress will once again become dominated by the political divisions over the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“It has the potential for serious chaos and disruption,” said health care lobbyist Ilisa Halpern Paul, who represents hospital systems and health advocacy groups.

The court is expected to rule as early as Thursday on whether to strike down a critical part of the law by invalidating subsidies to 6.4 million Americans in the 34 states that have federally run health insurance exchanges.

If the court rules against the subsidies, Republicans will be scrambling to figure out whether they should find a way to keep them in place until after the 2016 election when they hope a Republican president and GOP-controlled Congress can repeal the law in its entirety. The concern for Republicans is that if they don’t find a way to keep the subsidies in place until a new plan is ready, they will face backlash from constituents who currently use them to offset the cost of their health insurance. The legislative focus on the subsidies would mean all other health-related legislative initiatives that have gained traction recently are likely to come to a halt, at least temporarily.

More at the WaPo.

And some maps of the possible results of the decision at Slate: These Maps Show How Radically the Supreme Court Could Upend the Health Care System.

Once again the fate of the Affordable Care Act rests in the hands of the Supreme Court. In King v. Burwell, the court is weighing whether the federal government can legally provide insurance subsidies to people who have purchased their health care through one of the federally run exchanges in 34 states. Whatever the court decides could also theoretically extend to three other exchanges—in Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon—that are state-based but federally supported. Altogether, roughly $1.7 billion in tax credits and the health insurance of more than six million people is at stake. It’s arguably the biggest existential challenge to Obama’s signature health care reform since the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate in 2012.

The crux of the case is a perilous clause buried in the ACA’s hundreds of pages. According to the law’s exact wording, people become eligible for federal insurance subsidies if they’ve purchased care through “an Exchange established by the State.” Because of those last four words, the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell argue that federal subsidies can only be available on state-based exchanges, and not on the federally facilitated ones in most of the country. The Obama administration has countered that the purpose of the law is to make health care accessible, and that “established by the State” should be read with that in mind. Several of the people who helped pen the legislation have dismissed the clause as a drafting error.

 Check out the maps at Slate.
The Tea Party, Jules Cayron

The Tea Party, Jules Cayron

Other News, Links Only

#NotOneMore: Undocumented Transgender Woman Who Interrupted President At White House Pride Event Calls to End Deportation.

CNN: Obama shuts down White House heckler: ‘You’re in my house!’

Buzzfeed News: Bobby Jindal’s Plan To Stop Being A Punchline And Actually Win. [Good luck with that.]

Christian Science Monitor: Bobby Jindal was supposed to be the ‘next Reagan.’ What happened? (+video).

Slate: Bernie Sanders, Gun Nut. He supported the most reprehensible pro-gun legislation in recent memory.

NYT: Ex-Advisers Warn Obama that Iran Nuclear Deal “May Fall Short of Standards.”

AP via ABC News: Funeral Plans for South Carolina Church Shooting Victims.

Daily Mail: Harvard professor who covered up Ben Affleck’s slave roots could be dropped from PBS after he is slammed by broadcaster for ‘breaching standards.’

CNN: 2nd prison worker charged in connection with inmates’ escape.

TPM: Lindsey Graham: Charleston Shooter Showed ‘Mideast Hate’ (VIDEO). [WTF?!!] Chilling letters from ‘The Watcher’ force NJ family to flee $1.3M dream home.

ABC News: Small Ohio Town Is Focus of FBI Probe After Strange Deaths and Disappearances. NYC: Whole Foods mislabels prepackaged items, overcharges.

WaPo: Whole Foods under investigation for overcharging in NYC.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread and enjoy your Thursday.

Tuesday Reads: Netanyahu Speech, Hillary-Hate, and Nonsensical SCOTUS Case that could Hurt 8 Million Americans


Good Afternoon!!

I wanted to touch on a couple of issues this afternoon: the latest Hillary Clinton “scandal,” and the upcoming Supreme Court case that could doom Obamacare once and for all.

But before I get to those stories, I want to share this good article by James Fallows on the possible motivations behind Netanyahu’s speech to Congress this morning.

The Mystery of the Netanyahu Disaster, and a Possible Explanation.

Fallows enumerates the possible motivations for the Netanyahu slap in the face to President Obama:

“Was it simple tin ear on his side, and Ambassador Ron Dermer’s?” Fallows asks? That’s not likely according to Fallows, because Netanyahu is far too sophisticated and knowledgeable about U.S. politics. Fallows also discounts the theory that it was only about “election-year politicking” in Israel. Perhaps that’s part of it. Is it because Netanyahu has so often been right in his previous predictions?

Hardly. I can’t believe that he’s fooled even himself into thinking that his egging-on of war with Iraq looks good in retrospect. And for nearly two decades Netanyahu has been arguing that Iran was on the verge of developing nuclear weapons. When you’re proven right, you trumpet that fact—and when you’re proven wrong, you usually have the sense to change the topic. Usually.

Was it because Netanyahu “has a better plan?”

No. His alternative plan for Iran is like the Republican critics’ alternative to the Obama healthcare or immigration policies. That is: It’s not a plan, it’s dislike of what Obama is doing. And if the current negotiations break down, Iran could move more quickly toward nuclear capacity than it is doing now—barring the fantasy of a preemptive military strike by Israel or the U.S.

Fallows also doesn’t buy the argument that Netanyahu actually believes that Iran “faces an “existential threat” if Iran develops a nuclear weapon?

Let me explain. No person, nation, or community can define what some other person (etc) “should” consider threatening….But from the U.S. perspective I can say that the “existential” concept rests on two utterly unsupportable premises. One is that Iran is fundamentally like Nazi Germany, and the world situation of 2015 is fundamentally like that of 1938. Emotionally you can say “never forget!” Rationally these situations have nothing in common—apart from the anti-Semitic rhetoric. (To begin with: Nazi Germany had a world-beating military and unarmed Jewish minorities within its immediate control. Iran is far away and militarily no match for Israel.) The other premise is that Iran’s leaders are literally suicidal. That is, they care more about destroying Israel than they care about their country’s survival. Remember, Israel has bombs of its own with which to retaliate, so that any attack on Israel would ensure countless more Iranian deaths.


What then? Fallows refers to an article at The National Interest by Paul Pillar.

Pillar’s assessment is that the ramped-up “existential” rhetoric is a screen for the real issue, which is a flat contradiction between long-term U.S. and Israeli national interests as regards Iran. It is in American interests (as I have argued) to find some way to end Iran’s excluded status and re-integrate it with the world, as happened with China in the 1970s. And it is in Israel’s interests, at least as defined by Netanyahu for regional-power reasons, that this not occur. As Pillar writes:

The prime objective that Netanyahu is pursuing, and that is quite consistent with his lobbying and other behavior, is not the prevention of an Iranian nuclear weapon but instead the prevention of any agreement with Iran. It is not the specific terms of an agreement that are most important to him, but instead whether there is to be any agreement at all. Netanyahu’s defense minister recently made the nature of the objective explicit when he denounced in advance “every deal” that could be made between the West and Tehran. As accompaniments to an absence of any agreements between the West and Iran, the Israeli government’s objective includes permanent pariah status for Iran and in particular an absence of any business being done, on any subject, between Washington and Tehran.

That is, as long as Netanyahu keeps the attention on nukes and “existential” threats, he’s talking about an area where the U.S. and Israel might differ on tactics but agree on ultimate goals. Inflammatory as that topic is, it’s safer than talking about re-integrating Iran as a legitimate power, where U.S. and Israeli interests may ultimately differ.

I thought that was pretty good food for thought.

Before I get to the Clinton e-mails issue, here’s an interesting piece at the Washington Post on Hillary’s relationship with Netanyahu.

The phone call between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lasted 45 minutes. For 43 of them, she talked and he listened.

The U.S. secretary of state lectured the Israeli leader, accusing him of trying to do an end run around American opposition to settlement-building and embarrassing Vice President Biden during a visit to Israel, according to interviews with people present during the 2010 call or who were briefed on it afterward. She read from a script for part of the lecture, so as not to miss any key points.

“The word ‘humiliation’ appeared very prominently,” recalled Michael Oren, then the Israeli ambassador in Washington. “As in ‘You have humiliated the United States of America.’ ”

There probably aren’t many times in Netanyahu’s professional life when he has listened to anyone for 43 minutes. Netanyahu prefers to do the lecturing….And there aren’t many people who could make Netanyahu sit still for a tongue-lashing. Clinton is one of them.


The story of the phone call comes from Clinton’s book on her time as Secretary of State, Hard Choices. Read more about it at the link. It would seem that experiences like this would stand Clinton and the U.S. in good stead if she ends up in the White House.

On the latest “scandal” about Hillary using a private e-mail as Secretary of State, I’m not sure what to think. It certainly does give ammunition to Republicans and to potential Democratic opponents like Martin O’Malley.

Here’s the NYT Story that started the fuss: Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules. You’ll need to read it at the link, because the Times has fixed their website so that I, at least, can’t copy and paste any excerpts. Here are some reactions to the story. First, the debunkers:

From USA Today, Clinton aide: State Department e-mails preserved.

A spokesman for Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that while she used a personal e-mail account during her years as secretary of State, those records have been maintained pursuant to federal rules.

“Both the letter and spirit of the rules permitted State Department officials to use non-government email, as long as appropriate records were preserved,” said Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill. “As a result of State’s request for our help to make sure they in fact were, that is what happened here.”

Merrill responded to a New York Times story saying that Clinton, a prospective presidential candidate in 2016, used a personal e-mail account during her four years at the State Department and “may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record.”

The Times reported that Clinton’s “expansive use of the private account was alarming to current and former National Archives and Records Administration officials and government watchdogs, who called it a serious breach.”

From Media Matters, The New York Times‘ Deceptive Suggestion That Hillary Clinton May Have Violated Federal Records Law: It Was Only After Clinton Left The State Department That The Law Concerning Private Emails Was Changed.

Yes, the president signed the new law two years after Clinton left the State Department. The NYT wants to punish her retroactively. Not surprising, considering the Times’ longstanding hatred for and sliming of the the Clintons. Please go read the whole Media Matters post. It won’t stop the Clinton haters from using this, but it’s the truth. Arm yourself.

Coffee, Leon Zernitzky

Coffee, Leon Zernitzky

Bob Cesca at The Daily Banter: That Story About Hillary Clinton’s Private Email Account Isn’t as Awful as It Seems.

Again, please go read the whole thing, and prepare yourself for the coming onslaught. This is only the beginning.

A few more links to folks who either don’t know or don’t care about the time of the law and the fact that Clinton preseved all her emails.

A fairly Hillary-friendly post from Charles Pierce, Hillary Finds A Rake To Step On: The First Clinton Bombshell.

LA Times, Hillary Clinton used personal email while serving as secretary of state.

Mashable, Clinton email revelation: You did what, Hillary?

Incidentally, I was shocked to see this from Joseph Cannon:

Hillary’s secret email account. Let’s be honest: If a Republican did this, we’d be worried. Actually, Republicans have done exactly that.

The most important point here is sub-textual: If the NYT has turned against Hillary Clinton, then we should suspect that she has privately revealed to her closest aides that, if elected, she will do things that she cannot now state out loud. Of course, nothing is truly private these days.

“If the times as turned against Hillary Clinton”??!!! Joseph, why aren’t you aware that the NYT –brave champion of Dubya’s Iraq war–has always loathed the Clintons and has published innumerable attacks on them?

Finally a few links to prepare you for tomorrow’s SCOTUS hearing on King v. Burwell, during which the justices will consider whether to throw about 8 million Americans off their health care plans.

Charles Pierce, The Tell: What This Week’s Attack On Obamacare Is Really About.

…the Nine Wise Souls on Tuesday will hear King v. Burwell, the highly imaginative, if constitutionally laughable, attack on the grammar and punctuation in the Affordable Care Act, which the NWS should have laughed off months ago….

It is the Universal String Theory Of Wingnut Conjuring Words in full view, the complete text of one of the spells. A fake scandal being used to excuse the shabby underpinning of a fake lawsuit that will have real and devastating consequences to thousands of people.


That’s it in a nutshell. But here are more links to check out for more details.

Slate: Exchanges No One Can Use? We rely on courts to interpret laws impartially. When it comes to Obamacare, they don’t always oblige.

Politico: No easy fix if Supreme Court halts Obamacare cash. (No sh$t Sherlock.)

Republicans are getting nervous about what will happen if they get their wish. From The Hill: GOP fears grow over ObamaCare challenge.

Ezra Klein at Vox: Republicans say they have a plan if the Supreme Court rules against Obamacare. They don’t.

Stephen Brill at Reuters: The Supreme Court hears an Obamacare fairytale.

US News (not known for liberal views): The Silliest Obamacare Challenge Yet. The King v. Burwell case could cause 8 million to lose health insurance.

SCOTUS should never have agreed to hear this case, but they did. Is John Roberts okay with going down in history as a buffoon? We’ll find out in June.

Please share your views along with the stories you’re following today in the comment thread.


Tuesday Reads: So Many Racists, A**holes, Morons, and Lunatics; So Little Patience

Obama and daughters books

Good Morning!!

Just look at those awful teenage girls wearing coats in a bookstore! How shocking! And the President in jeans and casual jacket! Impeach him immediately!

As everyone knows by now, GOP aide to Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) Elizabeth Lauten learned the hard way that when you attack the President’s family on Facebook, lots of people see it; and then your ugly words go viral on Twitter and other social media sites.

Addressing her comments directly to the Obama girls, Lauten wrote that they should ‘‘respect the part you play,’’ and added: ‘‘Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department.’’

Lauten also urged the Obama girls to ‘‘dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar.’’

Lauten later apologized for the comments and deleted the original post, which drew harsh criticism across social media.

In her pathetic “apology,” as Eugene Robinson noted on Rachel Maddow’s show last night, Lauten failed to say she was sorry for insulting any of the  members of the Obama family.

‘‘When I first posted on Facebook I reacted to an article and I quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager,’’ Lauten told The Commercial Appeal of Memphis in an email. ‘‘Please know, those judgmental feelings truly have no place in my heart. Furthermore, I’d like to apologize to all of those who I have hurt and offended with my words.’’

Whatever, lady. I’m glad you’re out of a job. Instant Karma is so satisfying.

Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson

Speaking of f**king a**holes, I’ve managed for a long time now to avoid seeing or hearing anything about MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” or its moronic hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. Unfortunately, this morning I accidentally clicked on a link to Mediaite and read something about their asinine TV show.

This morning the above-mentioned Eugene Robinson was on the program and dared to say that Michael Brown might have had his hands up when he was shot and killed by Darren Wilson. Robinson’s reasoning? A number of eyewitnesses said so and there’s nothing in the evidence that proves Brown wasn’t surrendering.

According to Mediaite’s Evan McMurry, things “got awkward.”

“I don’t believe there’s anything in the record, certainly not in the forensic evidence, that precludes the possibility that he had his hands up at some point when he was approaching the officer,” Robinson said.

“That’s an awfully low standard,” cohost Joe Scarborough replied. “There’s also no evidence that doesn’t suggest a flying saucer from Venus swooped over all of them. There’s no evidence that it’s precluded, Gene. I’m not being difficult. I’m just saying the truth actually does matter.”

“I think it’s a very uncomfortable question for you, Gene,” Brzezinski said. “Because if you say no, there’s no evidence his hands up, you’re probably insulting a lot of people. Do you feel uncomfortable with the question?”

Now what do you suppose Brzezinski meant by that? Oh yeah, Robinson is black and so Mika thinks he must have to lie in order to pacify other black people. Are you lying to please your puppet master Joe Scarborough and the racist audience to your show, Mika?

You can watch the video at the Mediaite link above.


The racists are also up in arms about the five St. Louis Rams players (all black) who had the nerve to express solidarity with Ferguson protesters by standing with their hands up before their football game on Sunday. St. Louis police officers were enraged by this mild display of support, and complained loudly in the media.

St. Louis police chief Jon Belmar then publicly claimed that the Rams organization had apologized for the players actions. A battle of words followed, in which the Rams denied apologizing and Belmar kept insisting they had. From the NY Daily News:

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the St. Louis Rams apologized to local law enforcement officials Monday after five players walked onto the field Sunday with their arms raised high in solidarity with the Ferguson protesters, a claim the team denied in a bizarre war of words that erupted overnight between the team and cops.

Police immediately cried foul at the act during the Rams’ Week 13 home blowout of the Oakland Raiders, but the NFL sacked the cops’ request and chose not to discipline the players.

There was still fallout to manage and Rams COO Kevin Demoff tried to satisfy the outcry by local cops when he called Belmar on Monday and apologized for the players’ unsanctioned actions, according to the chief.

“Mr. Demoff clearly regretted that any members of the Ram’s (sic) organization would act in a way that minimized the outstanding work that police officers and departments carry out each and every day,” Belmar said in an email to the department, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. “My impression of the call was that it was heartfelt and I assured him that I would share it with my staff.” ….

But CNN’s Rachel Nichols said Rams spokesman Artis Twyman told CNN the team “did not apologize” to St. Louis police.

And Demoff backed up that claim when reached by the Post-Dispatch late Monday. “In none of these conversations did I apologize for our players’ actions,” Demoff told the Post-Dispatch. “I did say in each conversation that I regretted any offense their officers may have taken. We do believe it is possible to both support our players’ First Amendment rights and support the efforts of local law enforcement as our community begins the process of healing.”

My advice to Belmar and police departments all over the country: Get over it and stop killing innocent citizens.

John Boehner swears in Florida's Ted Yoho.

John Boehner swears in Florida’s Ted Yoho.

And speaking of moronic a**holes, John Boehner is set to do battle with the crazy caucus today. Reuters: Boehner to seek support for plan to avoid government shutdown.

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner will try to sell fellow Republicans this week on a government spending bill that avoids a shutdown fight but allows the party to strike back at President Barack Obama’s immigration order.

Republicans have a lot riding on their handling of must-pass government funding. Having scored huge wins in Nov. 4 voting that handed them a majority in the Senate and gave them a bigger majority in the House, Republican leaders want to demonstrate that they can govern responsibly next year.

But many are still outraged that Obama bypassed Congress and is moving ahead unilaterally on immigration, granting what they claim is “amnesty” to people who came to the United States illegally.

House Republicans will meet on Tuesday after a 10-day Thanksgiving break to discuss their response, including a leading option for Boehner that would fund most government agencies through September 2015, with only a short-term extension for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

House Republican lawmakers and aides say this would give them a chance to use their stronger House and Senate majorities next year to pass explicit spending restrictions on some DHS agencies, to try to stop Obama’s immigration overhaul.

More details from Bloomberg Politics:

House Speaker John Boehner and his fellow Republican leaders are turning to large-animal veterinarian and Tea Party darling Ted Yoho to help avoid a second government shutdown in as many years.

The freshman Florida Republican has proposed a bill that aims to remove the president’s executive power when it comes to deportations. It’s a symbolic measure that would have essentially zero chance of passing in the last days of a Democratic-controlled Senate. But Boehner and his crew hope it’s enough to pacify a Republican caucus seething over President Barack Obama’s immigration actions last month.

Boehner and other Republican leaders have vowed to avoid a repeat of the 16-day shutdown last year. Their best shot may be coupling Yoho’s bill with a measure that would temporarily fund immigration agencies and provide longer-term financing for the rest of the federal government. The deadline is Dec. 11, when current funding ends.

Yoho, whose opposition to Obamacare contributed to the last shutdown, was an unlikely star of the 2012 election cycle, knocking off 12-term incumbent Cliff Stearns in a Republican primary for a North Florida district after selling his veterinary practice to run. Since being sworn in, the 59-year-old Republican has voted against Boehner for speaker, said an Obamacare tax on indoor tanning was “racist,” and suggested that a government shutdown could stabilize markets.

Yoho sounds like a lunatic. How on earth do people like this get elected?

Bill Cassidy tries to smile and fails miserably.

Bill Cassidy tries to smile and fails miserably.

Speaking of lunatics, last night I watched the final debate between Louisiana Senate candidates Bill Cassidy and Mary Landrieu. If the result of the runoff election on Saturday weren’t so important, the “debate” would have been a laugh riot. The main topics were abortion, guns, Obamacare, Cassidy’s double dipping at the expense of taxpayers and Landrieu’s weak support of the hated black President.

It was difficult to listen to what Cassidy was saying, because he is so strange-looking, and when he forces a smile, he looks like something out of a vampire movie. Even though Mary Landrieu is a pretty conservative Democrat, I couldn’t help liking her when I noticed she had a hard time not laughing out loud when Cassidy was talking.


The gloves came off during the testy final U.S. Senate debate Monday night between Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu and Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy. Controversies dominated the discussion, including assertions that  Cassidyfalsified time sheets and Landrieu used taxpayer money to take charter airplane flights to campaign events.

Landrieu worked her main allegation, that Cassidy billed Louisiana State University for work he didn’t perform, into answers throughout the debate. She said it’s an issue that should follow him beyond Saturday’s election.

“If he wins, he will be fighting more than President Obama. He will be fighting subpoenas because he padded his time sheet,” Landrieu said. “He’ll talk about everyone else’s record but his own.”

Cassidy denied the allegations and defended his record. “These charges are absolutely false. The Landrieu campaign takes these charges, and they twist them anyway they can. I’m proud of the work I’ve done at LSU,” Cassidy said.

A physician, Cassidy said his work at LSU hospitals helped people, while Landrieu’s charter flights helped only her. Landrieu countered that she had taken responsibility for the flights, which she attributed to a bookkeeping error, and paid back the Treasury.

Read more at the link.

During their extended argument over abortion, I was surprised to hear Cassidy state as fact that a 20-month fetus is viable and capable of feeling pain. I was also shocked when Landrieu said she is against all abortions and thinks they are immoral, but that the government shouldn’t be making those decisions. At least she’s “pro-choice.”

After watching that debate, I thanked my lucky stars that my Senators are Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.

That’s about all the news I could dredge up this morning. I’ll be so glad when the holidays come to an end. What stories are you following today?

Lazy Saturday Reads: Escape into Minecraft, Ferguson Updates, and Other News

cow reading

Good Day!!

I’m taking it slow this morning, so I’m glad JJ posted all those great cartoons last night. It’s been a long couple of weeks for news junkies, and I’m tired. I’ve been doing so much reading on line that reading books as a distraction isn’t that appealing.

Lately I’ve been  by escaping by playing Minecraft for hours at a time. I’m really glad now that I started playing it with my nephews a couple of years ago. Lots of people think it’s just a game for kids, but I really enjoy it.

When I play by myself, I like to just explore a world, go mining, and build houses in different environments. The possibilities are endless. The game is completely open-ended. When I first bought the game, I thought it was pretty expensive–I think it was $29. But once you buy it, you never have to pay for anything else. There are continuous updates, and the game keeps getting more interesting, sophisticated, and challenging.

Here’s a bit of recent Minecraft news to give you a sense of what it’s all about.

From CNet: Minecraft players build working hard drives.

Players of the popular open-world building game Minecraft, created by Markus “Notch” Persson in 2009, continue to push the game beyond any reasonable realm of everyday understanding. These players have built working components of computers within simulations running on computers.

Two such users have now revealed functioning hard drives built inside Minecraft that can read and write data. The first, created by Reddit and Imgur user smellystring can store 1KB of data, while a second, larger unit created by The0JJcan store 4KB of data.

That means it’s only a matter of time before things start going the way of “Terminator” or “The Matrix,” or at least to the point where we’re building virtual simulations of fully functioning computers that obey the laws of the physical world.

Read how they did it at the link. You can watch a video about it at Polygon.

Teachers have tapped into the popularity of Minecraft with kids and are using it in the classroom. Wired reports: New Minecraft Mod Teaches You Code as You Play.

Like many nine-year-olds, Stanley Strum spends a lot of time building things inMinecraft, the immersive game that lets your create your own mini-universe. The game has many tools. But Stanley is one of many players taking the game a step further by building entirely new features into the game. And, more than that, he’s also learning how to code.

He’s doing this with a tweak to the Minecraft game, called LearnToMod. Modifications like this, called “mods,” are a big part of the game’s runaway success. But this particular mod helps kids learn to create their own mods. For example, Strum built a teleporter that whisks him to a random location within the game world. Another lesson teaches kids to write the code to create a special bow that shoots arrows that become “portals” between different locations in the game, allowing them to reach spaces that would otherwise be quite difficult to access. It’s like being able to create your own cheat codes.

Strum is one of 150 students who are now tinkering with LearnToMod, an educational add-on teaches you the basics of programming while creating tricks and tools that you can use within the Minecraft. The mod will be available to the general public in October, and its creators hope it will help turn Minecraft into a kind of gateway drug for computer programming.

“Kids are already spending ridiculous amounts of hours on Minecraft,” says Stephen Foster, the co-founder of ThoughtSTEM, the company that’s built the LearnToMod module. “So we thought this would be a good way to help them learn skills.”

Fully functioning hard drive built inside Minecraft world

Fully functioning hard drive built inside Minecraft world

That’s great. I just hope adults don’t ruin the best part of Minecraft, which is that you can use it to express your own individuality and imagination.

Here’s a story from Fortune from Aug. 1: The new way to learn? Brick by brick.

“Minecraft is often referred to as ‘what LEGO should have done online,’” said Peter Warman, video game analyst at research firm Newzoo. “Now Minecraft has become a LEGO set itself, drawing so much time from kids and youngsters that it is seriously competing with the physical LEGO bricks. And it’s not just kids and young teens that play the game. Of the millions of Minecraft Pocket Edition players, 60% is older than 20 and one-third is female.”

“The game’s success can be attributed to the freedom of expression and the ability to build anything you can imagine,” said Carl Manneh, CEO of Mojang. “It gives people a way to visualize anything they can imagine. When you have a creative software like that, people tend to want to share it with friends. That’s really helped us in spreading the word about the game.”

When New York City teacher Joel Levin saw this explosion of popularity among his students, he decided to blog about the game. After all, kids weren’t just playing this game across multiple platforms, they were also spending countless hours perusing the 50 million-plus Minecraft videos on YouTube.

The educator had spent the past decade trying to incorporate video games into his classroom curriculum as a way to engage students and make learning more relevant to today’s generation. Levin said he was blown away at the range of possibilities that Minecraft offered, from building challenges, to having kids do research online and report back on what they learned, to exploring digital citizenship by building communities in the game that serves as virtual microcosms to high school.

“Teachers from all over the world started contacting me,” said Levin. Eventually, Levin was put in touch with Mojang. “I was able to open a dialogue with teachers and programmers in Finland, which is at the forefront of the world in education.” Levin partnered with Santeri Koivisto, a teacher in Finland, to formalize a company, TeacherGaming.

cow reading2

Back to the real world (reluctantly) for some Ferguson updates.

Last night The New York Times posted a piece on how police shootings are judged to be justified or not, Key Factor in Police Shootings: ‘Reasonable Fear’.

Each time police officers draw their weapons, they step out of everyday law enforcement and into a rigidly defined world where written rules, hours of training and Supreme Court decisions dictate not merely when a gun can be fired, but where it is aimed, how many rounds should be squeezed off and when the shooting should stop.

The Ferguson, Mo., police officer who fatally shot an unarmed African-American teenager two weeks ago, setting off protest and riots, was bound by 12 pages of police department regulations, known as General Order 410.00, that govern officers’ use of force. Whether he followed them will play a central role in deliberations by a St. Louis County grand jury over whether the officer, Darren Wilson, should be charged with a crime in the shooting.

But as sweeping as restrictions on the use of weapons may be, deciding whether an officer acted correctly in firing at a suspect is not cut and dried. A host of outside factors, from the officer’s perception of a threat to the suspect’s behavior and even his size, can emerge as mitigating or damning.

Read the rest at the link. It’s really troubling to me that police shootings are evaluated based on the officers emotional reactions–whether he (or she) was in fear of his life. That’s far too subjective and there’s no way to prove what the cop was thinking at the time.

The other problem I’m having with all this justification of Wilson’s actions is that he didn’t really need to stop Mike Brown and Dorian Johnson in the first place. The stop was pure harassment–part of a demonstrable pattern of targeting of Ferguson’s Black citizens in order to fill the city’s coffers.

Once Wilson had made the mistake of aggressively engaging with Brown and Brown and Johnson began running away, Wilson should have remained in his car and called for backup. Presumably the Justice Department will be looking carefully at these aspects of the case.

hamster reading

For the past couple of couple of days, there’s been a lot of attention to a crowdfunding campaign established to raise money for Darren Wilson–even though he hasn’t been arrested or charged with anything. The site has been called out for posting ugly racist comments from the people who are donating; yesterday the site began deleting the worst of those comments, and now they have shut off comments completely. I guess it was too much work to keep deleting them one at a time. From NBC News, 

Created on Monday on the site GoFundMe, the campaign had raised over $225,000 as of midday Friday in support of Wilson, who shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9. More than 5,600 people have pledged toward a goal of $250,000. Many donors added remarks while making their donations, some of which were incendiary. GoFundMe responded early Friday on Twitter saying the “comments posted in violation of GoFundMe’s terms have been removed.”

 According to the page, it was “created to support Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department. We stand behind Officer Darren Wilson and his family during this trying time in their lives. All proceeds will be sent directly to Darren Wilson and his family for any financial needs they may have including legal fees.”

Please note that Wilson is still receiving his full paycheck of more than $45,000 a year. Little Green Footballs has been following the story closely, and blogger Lawhawk decided to find out who is really behind the Wilson GoFundMe campaign. He found that “the funds going to a 501(c)(3) charity, meaning donations are tax exempt.” And guess who’s behind the “charity?” From The Wire: Non-Profit Run by a Missouri Police Union Is Now Handling Fundraising for Darren Wilson.

The GoFundMe crowdsourcing fundraiser for the Ferguson police officer who killed Michael Brown has been taken over by Shield of Hope, a charity run by the local police union. Since Shield of Hope is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, all donations from here on out will now be tax deductible. The original fundraiser had raised over $235,000 before passing on the torch to Shield of Hope. The new Shield of Hope-run page has raised over $11,000 on its own.

Originally called the Fraternal Order Of Police Lodge 15 Charitable Foundation, Shield of Hope was founded in late 2011. (The name was changed shortly after.) According to a filing with the Missouri Secretary of State’s office, the charity’s board of directors include the Ferguson Police Department’s Public Relations Officer Timothy Zoll, Missouri State Rep. Jeffrey Roorda (a former police officer), and Florissant City Council member Joe Eagan.

brazilian pig reading

So quite a few of those now-excised racist comments must have been coming from law-enforcement types in Missouri {{shudder}} Read more about these folks at the LGF link.

The Washington Post has another interesting article on segregation in St. Louis, In St. Louis, Delmar Boulevard is the line that divides a city by race and perspective.

To get a sense of the fracture that cuts this city in two, drive along Delmar Boulevard, a major four-lane road that runs east to west. Hit the brakes when you see an Aldi grocery store and put your finger on the blinker. Decide which world to enter.

In the blocks to the immediate south: Tudor homes, wine bars, a racquet club, a furniture store selling sofas for $6,000. The neighborhood, according to U.S. Census data, is 70 percent white.

In the blocks to the immediate north: knocked-over street signs, collapsing houses, fluttering trash, tree-bare streets with weeds blooming from the sidewalk. The neighborhood is 99 percent black.

The geography of almost every U.S. city reveals at least some degree of segregation, but in St. Louis, the break between races — and privilege — is particularly drastic, so defined that those on both sides speak often about a precise boundary. The Delmar Divide, they call it, and it stands as a symbol of the disconnect that for years has bred grievances and frustrations, emotions that exploded into public view on the streets of the majority-black suburb of Ferguson after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager. Ferguson is north of Delmar; the suburb of Crestwood, where the officer lives, is south.

As for how St. Louis residents see the Michael Brown shooting,

Even the way people perceive the Aug. 9 shooting and the street protests that have followed is influenced by geography.

“I’m one of those people that feels sorry for the officer,” said Paul Ruppel, 41, a white business owner who lives just to the south of the divide. “For the most part, I believe the police of St. Louis are doing a great job.”

Said Alvonia Crayton, an African American woman who lives just to the north of Delmar: “My reaction is, what took them so long? Michael Brown was basically the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

The article is well worth a read.

Links to some interesting stories that are mostly positive

LA Times, Ferguson protests prove transformative for many, by Matt Pearce.

Huffington Post, Ferguson: The Untold Story, by Arianna Huffington.

Poynter, HuffPost’s Ferguson Fellow: ‘This is huge for me’, by Benjamin Mullin.

NPR, Is There Such A Thing As A ‘Good Psychopath’? by Linton Weeks.

The Atlantic, What an Introvert Sounds Like, by Olga Khazan.

The Atlantic, Your Gut Bacteria Want You to Eat a Cupcake.

The Paris Review, Mocha Dick, and Other News.

More on Mocha Dick from The Atlantic, The Whale That Inspired Moby Dick Swims Again.

Feministing, Fatal Hypothesis: How Belief in a Just World is Killing Us, by Katherine Cross.

Want some schadenfreude? Read this from TPM, Cubs Cut Workers’ Hours Too Avoid O-Care Mandate, Then Disaster Struck.


Bonus Cat Video

Hot Water. Simon’s Cat


What stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great weekend!

Tuesday Reads

Henri Matisse, Woman Reading with Tea

Henri Matisse, Woman Reading with Tea

 Good Morning!!

 I need to begin with some local Massachusetts stories that may have national repercussions.

First there is an update to the story of Ibragim Todashev, who was allegedly a friend of accused Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Both men are deceased. As you may recall, Todashev was shot and killed in his home in Orlando by an agent from the Boston FBI office on May 22, 2013.

The agent, along with an agent from the Orlando FBI office and two Massachusetts state troopers, had been questioning Todashev about his possible involvement with Tamerlan in the murders of three men in Waltham, MA on September 11, 2011.

According to the agent and the trooper who was there with him, Todashev attacked the agent with a table and the agent had shot him in self defense. Todashev had supposedly been writing a confession to his involvement in the murders when he suddenly attacked. The agent who shot Todashev was later absolved of any wrongdoing by reports by the Florida State Attorney’s office, the DOJ, and the FBI. The FBI report has not been released; and in the other two reports, much information, include the names of the agents and troopers, some portions of photos of the crime scene were redacted.

Now to the latest news (which so far has gone unnoticed by the corporate media). A couple of days ago, a blogger named B. Blake revealed that he/she had succeeded in downloading a version of the Florida Attorney’s report that was not properly redacted. The unredacted photos and the names of the agent who shot Todashev along with the two Mass. state troopers have been published on B. Blake’s blog “The Boston Marathon Bombings:What Happened?” The post includes an explanation of how the unredacted materials were obtained and authenticated. I’m not going to post the photos or names of law enforcement personnel; but you can see them at the above link. In another blog post, B. Blake reports some background information on the FBI agent involved.

So far I’ve seen nothing reported about this in the mainstream press, but it is all over Twitter. I don’t know if this will get out into the mainstream, but the FBI must have noticed it by now. I don’t know what will happen next, but when Twitter gets hold of a story, it generally gets noticed by the media eventually. I hope no harm will come to the three men whose names have been kept quiet until now. Stay tuned . . .

The other Massachusetts story will probably be blown up way out of proportion by the GOP Obamacare haters. From The Boston Globe, Mass. scrapping flawed health insurance website: Next steps have uncertainties for users, insurers.

Massachusetts plans to scrap the state’s dysfunctional online health insurance website, after deciding it would be too expensive and time-consuming to fix, and replace it with a system used by several other states to enroll residents in plans.

Simultaneously, the state is preparing to temporarily join the federal insurance marketplace in case the replacement system is not ready by the fall.

As late as March, the state had considered rebuilding the balky Health Connector site, which has left thousands of consumers frustrated and many without coverage for months. But Sarah Iselin, the insurance executive whom Governor Deval Patrick tapped to oversee repairs to the site, said that approach turned out to be far too risky.

The state’s online insurance system must be ready by Nov. 15 for consumers to enroll in new health plans for 2015, and Massachusetts is one of several states under pressure from the Obama administration to make sure it meets the deadline.

The change mostly involves adopting a new software program and getting it up to speed by the deadline, which is set by law and has no flexibility.

Another unknown is whether the transition will create disruption for consumers. Eric Linzer, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, said some insurers may not be able to afford to remain in the program, meaning consumers could end up having to switch coverage.

“I can’t overstate the complexity and technical issues that come with not having to develop just one but two separate systems,’’ he said. “Given the time frame in which all this has to be implemented, this is going to be a significant undertaking for plans.’’

Massachusetts also provides more generous subsidies than the federal health insurance program for residents with incomes below 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Iselin said whether the state can retain those unique aspects of its program if it connects to the federal site is still under discussion with the Obama administration. According to the state’s plan, use of the federal website, if necessary, would be for no more than a year…

On the other hand, there is positive news long-term for Obamacare from a study of the effects of Massachusetts’ adopting universal health care in 2006. From the NYT: Mortality Drop Seen to Follow ’06 Health Law.

BOSTON — The death rate in Massachusetts dropped significantly after it adopted mandatory health care coverage in 2006, a study released Monday found, offering evidence that the country’s first experiment with universal coverage — and the model for crucial parts of President Obama’s health care law — has saved lives, health economists say.

The study tallied deaths in Massachusetts from 2001 to 2010 and found that the mortality rate — the number of deaths per 100,000 people — fell by about 3 percent in the four years after the law went into effect. The decline was steepest in counties with the highest proportions of poor and previously uninsured people. In contrast, the mortality rate in a control group of counties similar to Massachusetts in other states was largely unchanged.

A national 3 percent decline in mortality among adults under 65 would mean about 17,000 fewer deaths a year.

“It’s big,” said Samuel Preston, a demographer at the University of Pennsylvania and an authority on life expectancy. Professor Preston, who was not involved in the study, called the study “careful and thoughtful,” and said it added to a growing body of evidence that people with health insurance could reap the ultimate benefit — longer life.

Experts said the study, which was published online Monday in theAnnals of Internal Medicine, will not settle the long-debated question of whether being insured prolongs life, but it provides the most credible evidence yet that it might. Still, health improvements can take years to surface in mortality data, and some researchers were skeptical of the magnitude and suddenness of the decline.

Read more at the link.

In national news . . .


NYT writer Adam Liptak has an interesting analysis of Supreme Court “in-group bias” in decisions involving “free speech.”

Justice Antonin Scalia is known as a consistent and principled defender of free speech rights.

It pained him, he has said, when he voted to strike down a law making flag burning a crime. “If it was up to me, if I were king,” he said, “I would take scruffy, bearded, sandal-wearing idiots who burn the flag, and I would put them in jail.” But the First Amendment stopped him.

That is a powerful example of constitutional principles overcoming personal preferences. But it turns out to be an outlier. In cases raising First Amendment claims, a new study found, Justice Scalia voted to uphold the free speech rights of conservative speakers at more than triple the rate of liberal ones. In 161 cases from 1986, when he joined the court, to 2011, he voted in favor of conservative speakers 65 percent of the time and liberal ones 21 percent.

He is not alone. “While liberal justices are over all more supportive of free speech claims than conservative justices,” the study found, “the votes of both liberal and conservative justices tend to reflect their preferences toward the ideological groupings of the speaker.”

Social science calls this kind of thing “in-group bias.” The impact of such bias on judicial behavior has not been explored in much detail, though earlierstudies have found that female appeals court judges are more likely to vote for plaintiffs in sexual harassment and sex discrimination suits.

Lee Epstein, a political scientist and law professor who conducted the new study with two colleagues, said it showed the justices to be “opportunistic free speech advocates.”

Much more–with chart–at the link.

There’s quite a bit of discussion today of Lara Logan and whether or not she will ever return to CBS’ 60 Minutes. The uproar is in reaction to a lengthy article at New York Magazine by Joe Hagen, Benghazi and the Bombshell: Is Lara Logan too Toxic to Return to 60 Minutes? I haven’t had time to read the article yet, but Talking Points Memo summarizes the main points: Lara Logan’s Return To CBS Up In The Air.


A lengthy New York magazine report published Sunday suggests that Logan’s return is far from certain. In the piece contributing editor Joe Hagan explores the tensions that simmered within CBS News, where his sources in the network described the current atmosphere as “toxic,” since Logan was forced to apologize last November for a flawed report on the Benghazi attacks.

The report that led to Logan’s suspension centered around a British security contractor, Dylan Davies, who gave a heroic first-person account of the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi. The contractor’s credibility was called into question after the segment aired, when it was reported that Davies may not have been present on the night of the attacks at the compound.

TPM quotes some of Logan’s CBS co-workers:

“It’s not an accident that Lara Logan fucked up,” one of Logan’s colleagues told the magazine. “It was inevitable. Everybody saw this coming.”

During the fallout from the report, a founding member of “60 Minutes,” Morley Safer, reportedly marched into executive producer Jeff Fager’s office and demanded that Logan be fired, but to no avail. Another unnamed source suggested to the magazine that CBS President Les Moonves has since “soured” on Logan, whom he previously treated as a favorite.

Think Progress reports that CBS was so embarrassed by Logan’s reporting that they “asked Nexis-Lexis to delete [the] transcript.”

In international news . . .

There’s an extremely disturbing story from Nigeria. BBC News: Boko Haram ‘to sell’ Nigeria girls abducted from Chibok

Abubakar Shekau, leader  of Boko Haram

Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram

Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram has threatened to “sell” the hundreds of schoolgirls it abducted three weeks ago.

Militant leader Abubakar Shekau sent a video obtained by the AFP news agency, in which he said for the first time that his group had taken the girls.

About 230 girls are still believed to be missing, prompting widespread criticism of the Nigerian government.

The Boko Haram insurgency has left thousands dead since 2009.

The girls were taken from their boarding school in Chibok, in the northern state of Borno, on the night of 14 April.

Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden”, has attacked numerous educational institutions in northern Nigeria.

In the video, Abubakar Shekau said the girls should not have been in school in the first place, but rather should get married.

“God instructed me to sell them, they are his properties and I will carry out his instructions,” he said.

I wonder why it is that “God” give so many widely varying “instructions” to people of different “religions.”

More from CNN: ‘I will sell them,’ Boko Haram leader says of kidnapped Nigerian girls.

“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,” a man claiming to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in a video first obtained by Agence France-Presse.

“There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women,” he continued, according to a CNN translation from the local Hausa language….”Girls, you should go and get married,” he said.

Not surprisingly, there has been much criticism of the government’s response to the kidnappings.

Weeks after the girls’ April 14 kidnapping, Africa’s most populous country seems to be no closer to finding them, triggering complaints of ineptitude — some of which are expressed on Twitter with the globally trending hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Nigeria’s finance minister said Monday that her country’s government remains committed to finding the girls, but should have done a better job explaining the situation to the public.

“Have we communicated what is being done properly? The answer is no, that people did not have enough information,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told CNN’s Richard Quest.

Revealing details about the investigation is tricky, she said, “because you are dealing with people that you don’t know, and you don’t know…what they might do to these girls.”

There is much more information about the Boko Haram group at the CNN link.

Those are my offerings for today. What stories are you following? Please share your links in the comment thread and have a lovely spring Tuesday!

Lazy Saturday Reads

Panoramic view of Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA

Panoramic view of Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA


Happy Saturday!!

Recently Dakinikat wrote about how gentrification has affected her adopted hometown, New Orleans, since Katrina. Well this morning I read some surprising news about Harvard Square–a place I’m very attached to because I either lived nearby, worked, or hung out there for so many years. I’ve written about it before of course. I moved here from Indiana in 1967. It was the “Summer of Love,” and Harvard Square was the center of local hippie-dom, plus there were endless bookstores to feed my addiction to reading and possessing books.

So this morning I read in the The Boston Globe that Chinese billionaire Gerald L. Chan has been quietly buying up prime real estate in Harvard Square, and he now has “enough clout to influence the square’s look and character for years to come.” Harvard Square has already changed a great deal since the late 1960s, of course, so I don’t know why this should shock me. But the Square is still unique–a special place, with a traditional look and feel. What will happen to it now? From the Globe article:

First he grabbed an apartment and retail building in the heart of Harvard Square. Months later, he bought another apartment and retail complex on the other side of John F. Kennedy Street. Then came the deal for a building known as the American Express travel office, quickly followed by the purchase of apartments behind the Harvard Lampoon office.

Over the course of 18 months — and without calling attention to himself — billionaire businessman Gerald L. Chan spent about $120 million to amass an impressive portfolio of Harvard Square real estate that includes nearly a dozen properties….

“Take Harvard University out of the equation, and I don’t know of anyone who owns more real estate in Harvard Square than he does,” said Peter Bekarian, executive vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate firm in Boston.

Chan and his brother, Ronald, control the Hang Lung Group, a leading Hong Kong real estate development and management company that has made them billionaires. Forbes pegs their combined wealth at nearly $3 billion.

Chan is a Harvard graduate who now lives in Newton, MA. He says he loves the place and he’s just investing in “properties that have the potential to generate a good return.” He says he doesn’t have a plan to remake the Harvard Square area according to his own vision, but some local business people have expressed concern–and some have abruptly been put out of business. In their places, Chan has installed business owned by his children.

Some tenants in Chan’s newly acquired buildings, including local landmarks such as UpStairs on the Square and nearby Leo’s Place diner, did not have leases renewed and shut down earlier this year.

Chan paid $6.8 million for 93 Winthrop St., where he is replacing UpStairs on the Square with another restaurant, Parsnip. His daughter, Ashley Chan, is listed in corporate documents as one of the managers of the Morningside-controlled entity that operates the restaurant. UpStairs co-owner Mary-Catherine Deibel said, “It was time to wind down the business after 31 years.”

New restaurants — the Noodle Project and Night Market, a Japanese eatery — will replace Leo’s Place, a haunt of movie actor Ben Affleck, and Indian bistro Tamarind Bay, on JFK Street. Ash Chan, Gerald’s son, is operating both. He’s a West Coast restaurateur known here for Churn2, a Harvard Square stand that services liquid-nitrogen-chilled ice cream.

I guess we local peons will just have to wait and see what happens…

Speaking of billionaires, Brian Beutler has written a response to the views on the Affordable Care Act expressed by Charles Koch in his truly strange op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that I wrote about on Thursday. From Salon, Greediest family on earth: Proof Koch brothers have just one political principle.

David and Charles Koch

David and Charles Koch

Beutler argues that the Kochs opposition to “Obamacare” is less about ideology than selfishness, greed, and desire for power.

Would you believe me if I told you that the Koch brothers actively participate in, and benefit from, a healthcare system in which the government subsidizes private insurance; carriers are prohibited from discriminating against the sick; the young cross-subsidize the old; and qualified beneficiaries who opt out suffer a big financial hit?

Well, they do. Not Obamacare, of course — they want to repeal that. But as employers, they can and do compensate their employees with tax-exempt health insurance benefits, their employees are all part of one risk pool, and everyone contributes the same amount for equal coverage….

despite the fact that employer-sponsored health insurance resembles Obamacare in many ways, the Koch network is not actively trying to repeal ERISA — the law that regulates employer-sponsored health plans — or to repeal the tax expenditure that allows them to advantageously provide the benefits they claim they’re working so hard to maintain.

So why do they so vehemently oppose the Obama health care plan?

To the Koch brothers, there’s apparently a big difference between government subsidizing and regulating health insurance for their employees and government subsidizing and regulating insurance for the self-employed, individuals whose employers don’t provide health benefits, and the unemployed.

This might seem strangely contradictory, unless you stop and consider what the existence of a universal right to health insurance coverage means for employers and the people who work for them. When the Congressional Budget Office updated its analysis of the Affordable Care Act’s labor market effects, it concluded that the existence of a coverage guarantee for all, and subsidies for many, would reduce employment by more than 2 million people over the coming decade. Opponents of the law pounced on this as proof that Obamacare would be a job killer, but for the most part what CBO actually meant was that Obamacare would shift the center of power between workers and employers a bit closer to the workers.

For some of those workers, that shift will mean the freedom to quit — hence the “job killing” canard. But for other workers — current and prospective — it will mean the freedom to ask for more money. All thanks to a program that’s financed largely by taxing people like Charles and David Koch. And I think therein lies the key to understanding why they’re devoting so much time and so many resources to destroying Obamacare.

That’s a very interesting argument, one I never thought about. Read the rest at the link.


Jose Rodriguez

Jose Rodriguez

At The Washington Post, the former head of the CIA interrogation program Jose A. Rodriguez Jr. defends the Bush policy on torture. I ran the CIA interrogation program. No matter what the Senate report says, I know it worked.

On Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to declassify and release hundreds of pages of its report on U.S. terrorist interrogation practices. Certain senators have proclaimed how devastating the findings are, saying the CIA’s program was unproductive, badly managed and misleadingly sold. Unlike the committee’s staff, I don’t have to examine the program through a rearview mirror. I was responsible for administering it, and I know that it produced critical intelligence that helped decimate al-Qaeda and save American lives.

Rodriguez says the committee never questioned him or other CIA leaders and they were not permitted to review the report. He says the committee began with conclusions about the program and simply looked for evidence to support those conclusions. On the “harsh” interrogation methods the CIA used, he writes that they were approved “the highest levels of the government,” were declared legal by the Justice Department, and were subject to Congressional oversight, and most of all they were effective.

When we captured high-ranking al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida in 2002, we knew he could help us track down other terrorists and might provide information to allow us to stop another attack. Those who suggest we should have questioned him more gently have never felt the burden of protecting innocent lives.

Second is effectiveness. I don’t know what the committee thinks it found in the files, but I know what I saw in real time: a program that provided critical information about the operations and leadership of al-Qaeda. Intelligence work is like doing a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box top and with millions of extra pieces. The committee staff started with the box top, the pieces in place, and pronounced the puzzle a snap.

Perhaps so, but Rodrigues seems to be ignoring the primary point about torture: it is immoral. Sometimes a civilized people must choose to accept some risks to safety in order to remain civilized. As for the government officials, Congressional committees, and the Bush Justice Department, they too should be subject to criticism and even prosecution. Unfortunately the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress took those options off the table.

There’s a new AP report (via the Christian Science Monitor) on the Air Force nuke team cheating scandal: Did report on nuclear Air Force overlook signs of trouble?

Service leaders took an assessment last year of the nuclear Air Force as an encouraging thumbs-up. Yet, in the months that followed, signs emerged that the nuclear missile corps was suffering from breakdowns in discipline, morale, training and leadership.

The former Air Force chief of staff who signed off on the 2013 report is now being asked to dig for root causes of problems that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says threaten to undermine public trust in the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

The Air Force may have taken an overly rosy view of the report — it was not uniformly positive — by a Pentagon advisory group headed by retired Gen. Larry Welch. The study described the nuclear Air Force as “thoroughly professional, disciplined” and performing effectively.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, right, and Tech. Sgt. Justin Richie riding in a work cage at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, right, and Tech. Sgt. Justin Richie riding in a work cage at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.

It sure sounds like it.

The inquiry itself may have missed signs of the kinds of trouble documented in recent months in a series ofAssociated Press reports. In April 2013, the month the Welch report came out, an Air Force officer wrote that the nuclear missile unit at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., was suffering from “rot,” including lax attitudes and a poor performance by launch officers on a March 2013 inspection.

An exam-cheating scandal at a nuclear missile base prompted the Air Force to remove nine midlevel commanders and accept the resignation of the base’s top commander. Dozens of officers implicated in the cheating face disciplinary action, and some might be kicked out, the Air Force said last week.

Welch began the new Hagel-directed review in early March, teaming with retired Navy Adm. John C. Harvey, who was not involved in the earlier reviews but has extensive nuclear experience. Much rides on what they find, not least because Hagel and the White House want to remove any doubt about the safety and security of the U.S. arsenal and the men and women entrusted with it.

Lots more to read at the link.

A little science news . . .

Apparently, there have been some videos floating around of terrified bison stampeding out of Yellowstone Park. Since there was a small earthquake there recently, some people have been asking if these are signs the “supervolcano” is coming soon? From Discovery News:

Recent videos of animals fleeing Yellowstone Park have many tourists and local residents concerned that a volcanic eruption may be imminent.

After earthquakes and tsunamis, stories often circulate of animals acting strangely or seeming to know of the disaster long before humans. Animals that detect impending earthquakes don’t have more senses than humans; they just have much higher sensitivity. Dogs have a remarkable sense of smell, birds can migrate using celestial cues, and bats can locate food with echoes. Elephants can detect faint vibrations and tremors from fantastic distances.

It’s not some unexplainable gift: Animals may sense unusual vibrations or changes in air pressure coming from one direction that suggest they should move in the opposite direction.

If a herd of animals are seen fleeing before an earthquake, all that is needed is for one or two of them to skittishly sense danger; the rest will follow — not necessarily due to some supernatural earthquake-detecting sense, but simple herd instinct.

Bison on the road in Yellowstone

Bison on the road in Yellowstone

Scientists pooh pooh these paranoid fantasies. From The Week: Don’t Sweat the Supervolcanoes:

Beneath the pine forests and hot springs of Yellowstone National Park is a huge chamber of magma, which by some measures makes the park’s volcano the world’s largest. The last three eruptions at Yellowstone occurred 2.1 million, 1.3 million, and 640,000 years ago, respectively.

Scientists estimate that another mega-eruption — which would send billions of cubic meters of choking ash up to 15 miles in the air, blackening the skies and drastically changing the climate — could possibly occur in the next 100,000 years. Such an event would present a huge danger to human civilization — killing millions in the initial blast, and then disrupting agriculture, infrastructure, and the global economy for many years to come.

But although the recent earthquake was the strongest in the area since 1980, experts say there’s nothing to fear. So what signs would indicate the supervolcano is imminent? And what could be do about it anyway?

If we were moving toward a massive geological event, then we should see massive geological signs of change. We could expect large earthquakes as opposed to the small rumble we saw last week, which registered a humble 4.9 on the Richter scale. We should also see the earth around the volcano swelling by tens or hundreds of meters, as opposed to the centimeters of uplift we see regularly.

But for the sake of it, let’s assume Yellowstone will erupt tomorrow. Could we do anything about it? Although some scientists are experimenting with the idea, to date there have been no successful efforts to stop or reduce a volcanic eruption. These kinds of geological events remain stubbornly outside human control even on the smallest scale — and Yellowstone is absolutely the largest scale.

If Yellowstone blows in 10,000 or 50,000 years, maybe technology will have been developed to mitigate or contain its effects. But if it unexpectedly blows tomorrow, we can do nothing whatever to stop it. At best, with warning signs, we could conduct an evacuation from the surrounding area.

Read more at the link.

Those are the stories that caught my eye today? What’s on your mind? Please share your thoughts and links in the comments