Thursday Reads

War, Pablo Picasso

War, Pablo Picasso

Good Morning!!

Here are are on the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the never-ending war in the Middle East continues onward. Last night President Obama promised not to send ground troops back to Iraq or into Syria, but it’s very difficult to trust that promise, even though I do think Obama is sincere in his wish to keep the battle against the Islamic State extremists circumscribed.

 

Reactions to Obama’s speech

From The Washington Post, Countering Islamic State will be hard in Iraq and harder in Syria, officials say.

President Obama’s strategy to beat back Islamic State militants spread across Iraq and Syria will depend on far more than U.S. bombs and missiles hitting their intended targets.

In Iraq, dissolved elements of the army will have to regroup and fight with conviction. Political leaders will have to reach compromises on the allocation of power and money in ways that have eluded them for years. Disenfranchised Sunni tribesmen will have to muster the will to join the government’s battle. European and Arab allies will have to hang together, Washington will have to tolerate the resurgence of Iranian-backed Shiite militias it once fought, and U.S. commanders will have to orchestrate an air war without ground-level guidance from American combat forces.

“Harder than anything we’ve tried to do thus far in Iraq or Afghanistan” is how one U.S. general involved in war planning described the challenges ahead on one side of the border that splits the so-called Islamic State.

But defeating the group in neighboring Syria will be even more difficult, according to U.S. military and diplomatic officials. The strategy imagines weakening the Islamic State without indirectly strengthening the ruthless government led by Bashar al-Assad or a rival network of al-Qaeda affiliated rebels — while simultaneously trying to build up a moderate Syrian opposition.

All that “makes Iraq seem easy,” the general said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share views on policy. “This is the most complex problem we’ve faced since 9/11. We don’t have a precedent for this.”

Guernica, Pablo Picasso

Guernica, Pablo Picasso

The Wall Street Journal, Obama Pushes U.S. Deeper Into Middle East to Fight Islamic State.

In asking Americans to support another military incursion in the Middle East, Mr. Obama said his strategy to combat Islamic State, also called ISIS and ISIL, would be bolstered by a coalition of Arab and European nations. His plan builds on his authorization in August of airstrikes in Iraq to protect American personnel threatened by Islamic State and to provide humanitarian assistance to besieged Iraqis.

Mr. Obama said the U.S. goal now is to help Iraqis reclaim large swaths of territory the group has rapidly overtaken in recent months since spilling over from its stronghold in neighboring Syria. His speech paves the way for the first U.S. strikes at the group’s bases and havens in Syria.

“America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat,” Mr. Obama said in remarks from the White House. “I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

The president gave no timetable for the new, U.S.-led fight against what he described as “a terrorist organization” with members “unique in their brutality.”

In addition to launching airstrikes against the militants in Syria, Mr. Obama pledged a new dose of support for moderate Syrian fighters also battling the extremist group. Taken together, the steps draw the U.S. closer toward the volatile Syrian civil war and open a new front for American efforts in the region.

Saudi Arabia has offered to host a U.S.-run training facility for moderate Syrian rebels, U.S. and Arab officials said. The facility is expected to be able to handle as many as 10,000 fighters, but details are still being worked out, the officials said.

According to the article, John McCain and Lindsey Graham are on board with the plan. That gives me the creeps, frankly.

Guernica 2: Hommage to Picasso's Guernica, Jose Garcia y Mas

Guernica 2: Hommage to Picasso’s Guernica, Jose Garcia y Mas

Geoff Dyer at The Financial Times, Obama’s bold ambition at odds with strategic caution.

Faced with the rapid advances of Isis in both Iraq and Syria, the approach described by Mr Obama attempts to meet the political realities that the president faces, both in the Middle East and at home.

In spite of the technological superiority of US forces, Mr Obama believes a durable military victory against Isis can only be achieved by soldiers from the region, especially Sunni forces from the areas to which Isis is laying claim. Otherwise a similar group could reappear once the US has left.

At the same time, it gives him some political protection at home. Recent polls have shown that Americans are alarmed about Isis after the filmed beheadings of two US citizens, but that does not mean they will support another long ground war that leads to hundreds more US casualties.

Yet the problem with Mr Obama’s latest strategy is that it risks being a series of half-measures that establish incredibly ambitious goals while lacking the means to achieve them.

 

It’s an interesting article. It spells out my fear that this campaign against ISIL is going to expand more and more–just like Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

A couple more interesting stories to check out:

Imran Kahn at Aljazira, Iraq and the Obama plan: Officials and experts broadly welcome US president’s plan to destroy the Islamic State group, but with crucial caveats.

Ian Black at The Guardian, Obama puts Isis firmly in US sights but peace in Syria looks harder than before.

 

Violence Against Women News

From Picasso's War, a commentary on race hatred

From Picasso’s War, a commentary on race hatred

I haven’t followed the trial of Oscar Pistorius in South Africa, but from what I know about the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, I was surprised to see the headlines this morning saying that he has been found not guilty of murder. Here’s the latest from The Washington Post, Judge: Oscar Pistorius not guilty of premeditated murder, but ‘it is clear his conduct was negligent’.

The prosecution has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Oscar Pistorius committed premeditated murder, Judge Thokozile Masipa said this morning. However, the judge added that it “is clear that his conduct was negligent.”

Pistorius’s negligence pertains to a lesser charge the athlete faces, “culpable homicide,” or manslaughter.  The judge applied “the test of a reasonable man” to this charge.

In other words, the judge examined whether it was reasonable for Pistorius to fire four shots through his bathroom door at what he believed was an intruder. In her judgement, Pistorius did not pass this test.

“All the accused had to do was pick up phone and ring security,” Masipa said of Pistorius’s reaction. She added that Pistorius could have also “run to balcony and call for help.” Masipa added that she was “not persuaded that a reasonable person with the accused disabilities,” she said, “would have fired four shots” into the home’s bathroom.

She said that while she thought Pistorius was an “evasive” witness, that does not make him guilty. She said the prosecution has not demonstrated that he “reasonably could have foreseen” that his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was behind the bathroom door into which he fired four shots, killing her.

On the Ray Rice story, yesterday the AP reported that law enforcement sources in NJ told them that the NFL had received a copy of the tape of Rice knocking out Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City casino elevator in February. Following that unsurprising revelation, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell went deeper into damage control mode, asking former FBI director Robert Mueller to head an independent investigation into the NFL’s handling of the case. The Washington Post reports, AP story prompts NFL to investigate its handling of the Ray Rice case.

The NFL appointed an independent investigator to look into its handling of the Ray Rice case Wednesday night, hours after a new report contradicted the league’s insistence no one in the league office saw video until Monday that depicted Rice striking his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City hotel.

That report by the Associated Press came as several people familiar with the inner workings of the league said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has no plans to heed the calls for him to resign over his handling of the case.

The league announced Wednesday night that Robert S. Mueller III, former director of the FBI, will “conduct an independent investigation into the NFL’s pursuit and handling of evidence in the Ray Rice domestic violence incident.”

Owners John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney II of the Pittsburgh Steelers are to oversee the investigation, according to the league.

The final report resulting from the investigation will be released to the public, the NFL said.

Brooding Woman, Pablo Picasso

Brooding Woman, Pablo Picasso

I found a couple more disturbing reports about what actually happened at the casino that night in February. Security officers from the casino said that Rice spat in Palmer’s face twice and claimed that she was unconscious from drinking too much.

ESPN reports, Sources: Ray Rice spat at fiancee.

Three current or former security staffers, who spoke with “Outside the Lines” this week on the condition of anonymity, described additional details of the ugly scene captured on video. Two of the men were on duty the night of the assault, while a third had full access to the security video, which he said he has watched dozens of times. TMZSports.com released a video this week that showed Rice punching Palmer in the face, appearing to knock her unconscious. Revel security workers watched the incident from the operations room through a security camera of the elevator.

One former staffer said Rice, the former Baltimore Ravens running back, spat in his then-fiancée’s face twice, “once outside the elevator and once inside,” prompting her to retaliate with movements that were ultimately countered with a knockout punch. According to the men, as Rice punched Palmer, the elevator the couple rode was rapidly approaching the hotel lobby just two floors above the casino floor. A security staffer, dispatched from his lobby post, saw Rice starting to drag his fiancée, who appeared to still be unconscious, out of the elevator.

“Get him away from her! Get him away from her!” the first responder was told by another security officer over a radio, one former security staffer told “Outside the Lines.” The staffer had full access to the security footage.

The security staffers said they did not see any sign of injury on Palmer’s face or head but added that her hair was covering much of her face, making it hard to determine her condition. They also said they didn’t see any blood in the elevator or on the hip-level railing that Palmer’s head appeared to strike as she fell to the elevator floor.

“The first thing he [Rice] said is, ‘She’s intoxicated. She drank too much. I’m just trying to get her to the room,'” one staffer said.

“When she regained consciousness she said, ‘How could you do this to me? I’m the mother of your kid,'” that same staffer told “Outside the Lines.”

There’s much more at the link, and it only makes the entire sorry episode and the NFL’s failure to deal adequately with it more sickening.

A few more links:

NBC Sports, Did Ray Rice Lie to Roger Goodell?

SB Nation, Ray Rice speaks out for the first time since his release.

CBS Sports, Ray Rice’s wife: How could you do this to me? I’m the mother of your kid.

NYT, In Ray Rice cast, NFL sees only what it wants to see.

 

Cat with bird, Pablo Picasso

Cat with bird, Pablo Picasso

Other News, Links Only

AP, USIS, the contractor that handled Edward Snowden’s security clearance loses federal contract.

BBC News, Michael Brown death: Ferguson highway protest blocked.

The Guardian, Ferguson reform to courts system could leave residents paying more.

The Washington Post, Richard Kiel, who played lovable giant ‘Jaws’ in ‘James Bond’ films, is dead at 74.

ABC News, Five things that may happen if Scotland votes for independence.

Wall Street Journal, EU agrees to implement more sanctions against Russia Friday.

Time Magazine, Ozone layer shows signs of recovery, study finds.

HNGN, Baboons With Closer Friends Have Longer Lives Than Loners.

Forbes, Scientists find gene that may delay aging of whole body.

That’s all I’ve got. What stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have terrific Thursday.

 

Peace, Pablo Picasso

Peace, Pablo Picasso

 

 


Tuesday Reads: Art as Therapy to Help Deal With Depressing News

Still Life with a Red Rug, Henri Matisse (1906)

Still Life with a Red Rug, Henri Matisse (1906)

Good Morning!!

 

I decided I needed to look at some Matisse paintings this morning, and I’m going to include a few in this post to provide contrast to the news of the day, which is filled with violence, hate, and despair. According to the WebMuseum, Matisse was “a man of anxious temperament.”

Matisse’s art has an astonishing force and lives by innate right in a paradise world into which Matisse draws all his viewers. He gravitated to the beautiful and produced some of the most powerful beauty ever painted. He was a man of anxious temperament, just as Picasso, who saw him as his only rival, was a man of peasant fears, well concealed. Both artists, in their own fashion, dealt with these disturbances through the sublimation of painting: Picasso destroyed his fear of women in his art, while Matisse coaxed his nervous tension into serenity. He spoke of his art as being like “a good armchair”– a ludicrously inept comparison for such a brilliant man– but his art was a respite, a reprieve, a comfort to him.

Can art be therapy? I think so. So can reading literature or listening to music. From a review of Art as Therapy at Brain Pickings, 

The question of what art is has occupied humanity since the dawn of recorded history. For Tolstoy, the purpose of art was to providea bridge of empathy between us and others, and for Anaïs Nin, a way to exorcise our emotional excess. But the highest achievement of art might be something that reconciles the two: a channel of empathy into our own psychology that lets us both exorcise and better understand our emotions — in other words, a form of therapy.

In Art as Therapy, philosopher Alain de Botton — who has previously examined such diverse and provocative subjects as why work doesn’t work,what education and the arts can learn from religion, and how to think more about sex — teams up with art historian John Armstrong to examine art’s most intimate purpose: its ability to mediate our psychological shortcomings and assuage our anxieties about imperfection. Their basic proposition is that, far more than mere aesthetic indulgence, art is a tool — a tool that serves a rather complex yet straightforwardly important purpose in our existence:

Like other tools, art has the power to extend our capacities beyond those that nature has originally endowed us with. Art compensates us for certain inborn weaknesses, in this case of the mind rather than the body, weaknesses that we can refer to as psychological frailties.

Read about “the seven core functions of art” at the Brain Pickings link. And now, regrettably, I must turn to today’s news.

Tea in the Garden, Henri Matisse (1919)

Tea in the Garden, Henri Matisse (1919)

Ray Rice Domestic Violence News.

Yesterday’s news was dominated by reactions to gossip site TMZ’s release of the video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice hitting his then fiance–now wife–Janay Palmer and knocking her unconscious in an Atlantic city casino elevator in February.

Suddenly, the Ravens went into ass-covering mode. The Ravens released Rice and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. But why did it take so long? At the time, a video had been released showing Rice dragging Palmer from the elevator like a sack of potatoes.

Here’s a timeline of the Rice case from SB Nation. On Feb. 15th, after the beating, Rice and Palmer were both arrested and charged with simple assault (the charges against Palmer were later dropped). On the 19th a video was released that showed Rice coldly dragging an unconscious Palmer from the elevator like a sack of potatoes–her dress pulled up, her legs spread open to the camera. Rice makes shows no apparent concern for her well-being.

Those of us with any experience with domestic violence could easily surmise what had taken place inside the elevator. But the men of the NFL somehow assumed (or wanted to believe) that Palmer had viciously attacked Rice, and that he had only defended himself by knocking her unconscious!

On March 27 Rice was indicted for aggravated assault, and the next day the couple married. Did Rice marry her to shut her up? Rice ended up getting a slap on the wrist from Prosecutor James McClain (who, like Rice graduated from Rutgers). Rice was allowed to enter a one-year diversion program with counseling instead of getting jail time. And btw, McClain is still defending his decision.

On May 23, Ray Rice game a non-apology “apology” for his disgusting actions in which he apologized to everyone under the sun except his wife Janay. Rice acted as if the two were equally responsible for “the incident.”

From SB Nation, May 23: Ray Rice is an asshole and the Ravens couldn’t care less.

Ray Rice is sorry. He wants you to know how sorry he is for knocking out his fiancée Janay, who is now his wife. He would like to sincerely apologize for dragging her out of an Atlantic City hotel elevator. We know this because Rice told us so. He told the world in a televised public apology broadcast Friday afternoon from Baltimore.

“I apologize for the situation my wife and I were in,” the Baltimore Ravens running back said….

Rice’s apology is special because he really believes it; a shocking portion of Rice’s press conference was devoted to Successories-style affirmations about how he will recover from and get past this … situation that … occurred. Stranger still, Rice somehow managed to get his wife Janay — whom he married right before he was supposed to go to trial for a more serious version of domestic assault — to accept an equal share of blame for the incident. She apologized, too.

Those of us familiar with the dynamics of domestic violence know that Palmer’s behavior was typical of victims–blaming themselves and trying to protect their emotional and economic security.

Finally, in July NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice for two games. NFL and Ravens officials implied to journalists that there was some kind of mitigating evidence that showed Palmer to be at fault. Public outrage was immediate.  I recall JJ posting about it at that time. On Aug. 28, realizing he had made a terrible public relations blunder, Goodell announced a new NFL policy on “domestic violence.” 

Finally, on Sept. 8, TMZ released video of what actually transpired inside the elevator: Rice spitting in Palmer’s face, and decking her with a “crushing” left hook. Not long afterward, the Ravens and the NFL finally too action, claiming they had never seen this video footage that they could have gotten easily from the casino or law enforcement.

But guess what? Rice will still receive $25 million from his contract with the Ravens. If Roger Goodell keeps his job after this, the NFL will be permanently damaged. After all, half of the people who follow football are women? Why do you think the NFL make their players wear pink (ugh!) once a year in honor of breast cancer awareness?

The Red Madras Headdress, Henri Matisse

The Red Madras Headdress, Henri Matisse

Here are some links to other stories on this horrible and shameful debacle:

Dan Shaughnessy at The Boston Globe: In Ray Rice case, one failure after another.

Mike Wise at The Washington Post: Ray Rice finally must answer for his actions; when will NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Baltimore Sun: Janay Rice breaks her silence, describes situation as ‘horrible nightmare’ (She blames the media, not her husband).

SB Nation: White House on Ray Rice: ‘Hitting a woman is not something a real man does’.

TMZ: NFL Commish in the Dark by Choice?

President Obama to Lay out Case for Stepping Up Campaign Against Islamic State

From The Washington Post, As Obama Makes Case, Congress Is Divided on Campaign Against Militants.

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Tuesday will begin laying out his case for an expanded military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria when he faces congressional leaders who are averse to taking an election-year stand but are being pushed by lawmakers who want a say in matters of war.

Mr. Obama’s meeting with Republican and Democratic leaders on Tuesday in the Oval Office will be the first of several between White House officials and lawmakers as the administration tries to persuade Congress to embrace the president’s plan to halt the momentum of the Sunni militant group known as ISIS.

A year after opposition in Congress thwarted plans for missile strikes in Syria, the White House is again putting the issue of military force in the Middle East before a skeptical Congress and a war-weary public.

But what about Congress?

Democratic leaders in the Senate and Republican leaders in the House want to avoid a public vote to authorize force, fearing the unknown political consequences eight weeks before the midterm elections on Nov. 4.

“A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, ‘Just bomb the place and tell us about it later,’ ” said Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, who supports having an authorization vote. “It’s an election year. A lot of Democrats don’t know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don’t want to change anything. We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long.”

Other lawmakers, especially some Democrats, are arguing that as long as the president keeps the operation limited to airstrikes, he does not need to get congressional approval.

Benjy Sarlin at MSNBC: The Politics of ISIS

Ahead of a Wednesday public address from President Obama where he’s set to lay out a “game plan” for military action in Iraq and as the right mocks Democrats as weak-willed appeasers, former Vice President Dick Cheney is heading to Capitol Hill to deliver a pep talk to House Republicans.

Is it the 2002 election all over again? Not exactly. But the escalating conflict against ISIS is starting to show up on the trail as Republican candidates seem eager to put major past differences on foreign policy aside and join together in criticizing the White House’s response to the Islamic State.

A number of candidates and GOP officials have gone out of their way to attack Obama over his remark at a press conference that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for confronting ISIS. Republican Senate nominees including Scott Brown in New Hampshire, David Perdue in Georgia, and Thom Tillis in North Carolina, among others, have highlighted the quote while demanding action to turn back the Islamist group’s gains. Joni Ernst in Iowa and Tom Cotton in Arkansas, both of whom served in the Middle East during the Iraq War, have also called for a clearer plan to tackle ISIS.

Read the rest at the link.

Odalique with a Turkish Chair, Henri Matisse

Odalique with a Turkish Chair, Henri Matisse

Ferguson Updates

St. Louis Business Journal: Ferguson to reform municipal courts, add police review board.

As national attention mounts on the way St. Louis municipalities use court fine revenuefor city operations and on police use of force in the area, the Ferguson City Council has announced the proposal of three major reforms.

The city will hold ward meetings for public input on the reforms, with some of the proposals on the agenda for Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. It will be held at 7 p.m. at Greater Grace Church, 3690 Pershall Road.

Here’s the breakdown of the proposed reforms:

  1. Establishing a Citizen Review Board to work with the police department to review their actions.
  2. I ntroducing an ordinance that will keep court fine revenues at or below 15 percent of Ferguson’s revenue. Any excess will be earmarked for special community projects, not general revenue.
  3. Reforming the way Ferguson’s municipal court works by repealing the “failure to appear” offense, abolishing some administrative fees which may impact low-income persons to a greater extent and the creation of a special docket for defendants having trouble making monthly payments.

Likewise, the council announced, the municipal judge has called for a warrant recall to run from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. Those who have outstanding warrants are encouraged to call the municipal court cler k for information on the recall.

Woman in a Purple Coat, Henri Matisse (1937)

Woman in a Purple Coat, Henri Matisse (1937)

Truthout: St. Louis Police Shot 16 Before Michael Brown in 2014

By the time of Michael Brown’s murder, St. Louis area police had already shot at least 16 people in 2014, the vast majority of whom were black.

Truthout obtained this figure by examining news reports from January 1 to August 6 of 2014. On August 10, protests opposing the police killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown began.

Read the list of victims at the link.

In the vast majority of incidents where the race of an individual shot by police was known, the individuals were black. Truthout was not able to determine how many (if any) of these police shootings were “justified” because data concerning police shootings is so limited.

Police shootings, along with other uses of force by the St. Louis area police, are not a new development. In Ferguson, seven active or former officers have now been named in civil lawsuits for excessive use of force; and in March 2014, two officers with the St. Louis Police Department severely beat a man with disabilities. In another recentcivil case, an amount of over $800,000 was awarded to a victim of excessive force by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Force.

In 2012, US District Judge Carol Jackson stated that the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners may be “deliberately indifferent” or even tacitly approving of a “widespread persistent pattern of unconstitutional conduct.” In a separate 2010 federal civil lawsuit, which accused the St. Louis police of excessive force, the victim’s lawyer cited statistics showing that the St. Louis internal affairs investigators sustained only one of 322 citizens’ physical abuse complaints against police from 1997 to 2002.

Read the rest at Truthout. It’s a good article.

Matthew Keys at The Blot: Ferguson Police Chief Lied About Michael Brown Surveillance Tape.

The chief of police for the Ferguson Police Department misled members of the media and the public when he asserted that his hand was forced in releasing surveillance footage that purported to show 18-year-old resident Michael Brown engaged in a strong-arm robbery at a convenience store minutes before he was fatally shot by a police officer.

Chief Thomas Jackson distributed copies of the surveillance tape at a press conference on Aug. 15 in tandem with the public release of the identity of the officer who was responsible for shooting Brown.

When questioned by members of the press about the tape — which apparently had nothing to do with the fatal shooting of the unarmed teenager — Jackson told reporters that he was legally obligated to release the tape because members of the media had submitted an open records requests for it.

“We’ve had this tape for a while, and we had to diligently review the information that was in the tape, determine if there was any other reason to keep it,” Jackson said at the press event. “We got a lot of Freedom of Information requests for this tape, and at some point it was just determined we had to release it. We didn’t have good cause, any other reason not to release it under FOI.”

Except there were no specific FOIA requests for the tape. Keys and The Blot got all media requests for information through an open records request. Read all about it at the Blot.

Dance "What hope might look like" -- Henri Mattisse

Dance “What hope might look like” — Henri Mattisse

Shootdown of Malaysia Flight 17 in Ukraine

From the LA Times: Dutch report: Malaysia jet downed in Ukraine by ‘high-energy objects’

A preliminary report on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 appears to confirm initial assertions that the passenger plane was hit by a surface-to-air-missile in mid-flight July 17 before crashing in Ukraine.

“The pattern of damage observed on the forward fuselage and cockpit section of the aircraft appears to indicate that there were impacts from a large number of high-energy objects from outside the aircraft,” concluded a report issued Tuesday by the Netherlands’ air safety board.

The Boeing 777, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, was flying at about 33,000 feet over separatist-held territory in southeastern Ukraine when it broke apart in midair and crashed, killing all 298 passengers and crew members on board.

The report says that fragments of the aircraft reveal numerous puncture holes and indentations on the plane’s skin that would be consistent with damage from missile shrapnel and, investigators say, rule out pilot error or any mechanical fault as the cause of the disaster.

Although investigators have not been able to recover these pieces for forensic examination, the report states that “the pattern of damage observed … was not consistent with the damage that would be expected from any known failure mode of the aircraft, its engines or systems.”

I’ll end there, as this post is far too long already. I hope you’ll share your thoughts and links in the comment thread. 


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.

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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.

Bwaaaahahahahahah!

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!


Thursday Reads: Obama KOs Perry, and Other News

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Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perry Obama

Back to the Mediaite story:

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

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

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

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

Perry frown

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

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

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

A couple more links on the border crisis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other news,

Mike Pence

Mike Pence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greenwald

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday Reads

womanreadingblackbackground1939

Good Morning!!

Today is another slow news day, and that could be bad news for some folks in Norfolk, Nebraska. Dakinikat alerted us to the story yesterday, and now it’s in the process of going viral. So far the headlines on the story seem highly understated. From the Lincoln Journal-Star: Obama float at Norfolk parade sparks controversy.

It was the parade float that elicited the loudest cheers Friday at Norfolk’s Fourth of July parade. The crowd lining the streets clapped and laughed as the flatbed truck went by.

But one loud voice rose above the rest: “This is not OK,” Glory Kathurima said. “That’s not OK.”

She kept repeating herself as the float passed, she says. She started to raise her phone to take a picture of the blue truck with the outhouse on its flatbed, along with a dark figurine in overalls propped up by a metal walker.

And nailed to the sides of the wooden privy, two signs in all-black capital letters: “OBAMA PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY.”

Kathurima’s daughter Malaika saw the disrespectful depiction of the President of the United States, and asked her mom, “Mommy, what does that mean? What’s so funny?”

Kathurima moved to Nebraska from Kenya when she was Malaika’s age and became a naturalized citizen a few years ago. She’s raised her daughter in Norfolk and has found ways to explain the meaning of skin color. She’s turned on the TV and pointed to President Obama, showing Malaika that there was someone that looked like her — half Kenyan, half American.

“I’m angry and I’m scared,” Kathurima said. “This float was not just political; this was absolutely a racial statement.”

If a 9-year-old can see the problem, you’d think the parade organizers in Norfolk would have at least foreseen what the reaction to the float would be from normal people across the country. But apparently they didn’t.

Obama float1

Parade committee member Rick Konopasek said the float wasn’t meant to be any more offensive than a political cartoon would be….

“We don’t feel its right to tell someone what they can and can’t express,” he said. “This was political satire. If we start saying no to certain floats, we might as well not have a parade at all.”

Konopasek and parade announcer Wally Sonnenschein said the outhouse float was the most popular one in the parade, and the three judges awarded it an honorable mention.

“It’s obvious the majority of the community liked it,” Konopasek said. “So should we deny the 95 percent of those that liked it their rights, just for the 5 percent of people who are upset?”

Konopasek and Sonnenschein actually claimed that the float demonstrated the freedom of speech and independence that the country celebrates on the Fourth of July, and that “the man who built the float has been a longstanding member of the community, and people shouldn’t be quick to judge him for expressing his opinions.” How odd then that the “man who built the float” didn’t put his name on his handiwork and he is still anonymous, according to Omaha.com.

A Fourth of July parade float that depicted a figure standing outside an outhouse labeled the “Obama Presidential Library” has created a stir on social media and is also receiving criticism in Norfolk, Nebraska.

The float, in Norfolk’s annual Independence Day parade, was on a flatbed trailer being pulled by a blue pickup truck. The figure was dressed in overalls and standing next to a walker outside of the outhouse. The hands and head of the figure were greenish and appeared to be zombielike; the hands were pressed against the sides of the figure’s head. Miniature American flags were atop the float and on the truck.

 Neither the float nor the pickup identified a sponsor; a sign in the windshield said it was entry No. 29.

Why isn’t “the man who built the float” expressing pride in his creation?

Actually the design of the float wasn’t original. I’ve seen this depiction of Obama before. From Huffington Post:

The presidential library outhouse comparison has become somewhat of a conservative meme in recent years. A similar structure was on display at Montana’s state Republican convention in 2012. And last fall, an outhouse with a “presidential library” sign drew criticism in a small New Mexico town.

It will be interesting to see how this story plays out in the next few days. Certainly if this is not racism per se (I think it is), it demonstrates a shocking lack of respect for the office of the Presidency. Will Norfolk parade officials continue to defend the float? Will “the man who built the float” come forward and defend what he did? Stay tuned.

In other news,

In his latest column, E.J. Dionne calls attention to “an article in draft” by Joseph Fishkin & William E. Forbath called “The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution” (PDF).  The article addresses the issue of economic inequality, and is the basis for a planned book by Fishkin.

Dionne writes that Tea Partiers and other “conservatives” constantly talk about the Constitution to justify their extreme views on multiple issues. Dionne argues that “progressives” should “think constitutionally” too, and “challenge conservative claims about what the Constitution really demands.”

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In the May issue of the Boston University Law Review, Joseph R. Fishkin and William E. Forbath of the University of Texas School of Law show that at key turning points in our history (the Jacksonian era, the Populist and Progressive moments and the New Deal), opponents of rising inequality made strong arguments “that we cannot keep our constitutional democracy — our republican form of government — without constitutional restraints against oligarchy and a political economy that maintains a broad middle class, accessible to everyone.”

Their article is called “The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution,” though Forbath told me that he and Fishkin may give the book they’re writing on the topic the more upbeat title “The Constitution of Opportunity.” Their view is that by empowering the wealthy in our political system, Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United directly contradict the Constitution’s central commitment to shared self-rule.

“Extreme concentrations of economic and political power undermine equal opportunity and equal citizenship,” they write. “In this way, oligarchy is incompatible with, and a threat to, the American constitutional scheme.” …. they make a similar critique of what they call an excessively “court-centered” approach to constitutionalism. “Constitutional politics during the 19th and early 20th centuries” was very different and the subject of democratic deliberation. In earlier eras, they say, the Constitution was seen as not simply permitting but actually requiring “affirmative legislation . . . to ensure a wide distribution of opportunity” and to address “the problem of oligarchy in a modern capitalist society.”

 The authors remind us of Franklin Roosevelt’s warning that “the inevitable consequence” of placing “economic and financial control in the hands of the few” would be “the destruction of the base of our form of government.” And writing during the Gilded Age, a time like ours in many ways, the journalist James F. Hudson argued that “imbedded” in the Constitution is “the principle” mandating “the widest distribution among the people, not only of political power, but of the advantages of wealth, education and social influence.”

The idea of a Constitution of Opportunity is both refreshing and relevant. For too long, progressives have allowed conservatives to monopolize claims of fealty to our unifying national document. In fact, those who would battle rising economic inequalities to create a robust middle class should insist that it’s they who are most loyal to the Constitution’s core purpose. Broadly shared well-being is essential to the framers’ promise that “We the people” will be the stewards of our government.

Fishkin’s proposed book sounds like a worthwhile companion to Thomas Picketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

A somewhat related article from Raw Story by Bill Moyers and Co., July 4th note to tea partiers: Your politics would baffle the Founding Fathers.

Editor’s note: These days, if you see a protester donning a tricorn hat and waving a Gadsden Flag, it’s a safe bet that he or she is a Republican activist who’s furious about “death panels” or the prospect of the government meddling in the Medicare program. But the tea party movement isn’t the first to claim itself to be the true defenders of the Constitution, or to enlist its Framers in a political cause. Throughout American history, activists across the ideological spectrum have insisted that the Framers would roll over in their graves upon encountering the perfidy of their political opponents.

The reality is that the Framers disagreed about almost everything, and produced a Constitution that was filled with expedient compromises. As Jill Lepore, a professor of American history at Harvard University, pointed out in her book, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History, “Beginning even before it was over, the Revolution has been put to wildly varying political purposes.” Between 1761, when the first signs of discontent with England became apparent in the Colonies, and 1791, when the Bill of Rights was ratified, Lepore wrote that Americans debated an “ocean of ideas” from which “you can fish anything out.”

One of the few areas where the Framers approached a consensus was a belief that their Constitution shouldn’t be fetishized. According to Lepore, it was none other than Thomas Jefferson who wrote, “Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human.” 

Read an excerpt on Constitutional originalism from Jill Lepore’s book at the Raw Story link.

Pope_Francis_2013

From NBC News: Pope Francis Meets Abuse Victims, Begs Forgiveness for Church.

The pontiff invited six victims of abuse from Ireland, Germany and Britain to attend an early-morning private Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the residence next to St. Peter’s Basilica where he lives.

 Francis called the abuse a “grave sin” decrying how it was hidden for “so much time” and “camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained.”

“I ask for the grace to weep, the grace for the Church to weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons,” the pope said in his homily. “I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse.” ….

Francis strongly praised the victims’ courage in speaking up and shedding “light on a terrible darkness,” telling the mass he is deeply aware of their deep and unrelenting pain.

“Sins of clerical sexual abuse against minors have a toxic effect on faith and hope in God,” he said, adding that the victims’ willingness to come to the Vatican “speaks of the miracle of hope, which prevails against the deepest darkness.”

I guess it’s a start, but I agree with victims advocates who say it’s too little, too late. What concrete actions is the Church going to take to identify abusers and potential abusers before they act out? Child sexual abuse is a systemic problem that has continued for centuries. It’s difficult to see how it can be overcome with apologies and meetings with a few survivors.

I’ll end with a fascinating story from New Scientist, via Raw Story: Oldest case of Down’s syndrome from medieval France.

The oldest confirmed case of Down’s syndrome has been found: the skeleton of a child who died 1500 years ago in early medieval France. According to the archaeologists, the way the child was buried hints that Down’s syndrome was not necessarily stigmatised in the Middle Ages….

The new example comes from a 5th- and 6th-century necropolis near a church in Chalon-sur-Saône in eastern France. Excavations there have uncovered the remains of 94 people, including the skeleton of a young child with a short and broad skull, a flattened skull base and thin cranial bones. These features are common in people with Down’s syndrome, says Maïté Rivollat at the University of Bordeaux in France, who has studied the skeleton with her colleagues….

Oldest case of Down’s syndrome from medieval France – life – 04 July 2014 – New Scientist#.U7qdknlOXEd <!—->

Rivollat’s team has studied the way the child with Down’s syndrome was buried, which hasn’t been possible with other ancient cases of the condition. The child was placed on its back in the tomb, in an east-west orientation with the head at the westward end – in common with all of the dead at the necropolis.

According to Rivollat, this suggests the child was treated no differently in death from other members of the community. That in turn hints that they were not stigmatised while alive.

Another researcher of Down’s Syndrome in ancient history, John Starbuck of Indiana University, says drawing cultural conclusions from the method of burial is very difficult. Read more at the link.

What stories are you following today? Please post your links in the comment thread.


Lazy Saturday Reads

"Someone is Waiting," by David Hettinger

“Someone is Waiting,” by David Hettinger

Good Morning!!

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that  today is a very slow news day.  Nevertheless, I’ve still managed to dig up a few interesting reads.

Long-time Clinton hater Richard Mellon Scaife has died at 82. The Associated Press reports via Politico:

Scaife died early Friday at his home, his newspaper, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, reported. Scaife’s death comes less than two months after he announced in a first-person, front-page story in his Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he had an untreatable form of cancer.

“Some who dislike me may rejoice at the news,” wrote Scaife, who acknowledged making political and other enemies. “Naturally, I can’t share their enthusiasm.”

He was the grand-nephew of Andrew Mellon, a banker and secretary of the Treasury who was involved with some of the biggest industrial companies of the early 20th century. Forbes magazine estimated Scaife’s net worth in 2013 at $1.4 billion.

The intensely private Scaife became widely known in the 1990s when first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said her husband was being attacked by a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” White House staffers and other supporters suggested Scaife was playing a central role in the attack.

Hillary was mocked for those remarks; but today, in the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby decision, it should be obvious to all but the most oblivious and ignorant among us that the vast right wing conspiracy exists and its tentacles have reached even the U.S. Supreme Court.

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From Forbes, Clare O’Connor reports more Hobby Lobby Fallout: Catholic Soy Milk Mogul Won’t Cover Drugs That ‘Prevent Procreation’. Eden Foods founder Michael Potter has stated his determination to prevent his female employees from getting access to birth control, and the Supreme Court is helping him.

In April 2013, devout Catholic (and sole Eden Foods shareholder) Potter sued the Department of Health and Human Services, calling the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate “unconstitutional government overreach.”

In a letter he wrote in response to a shopper complaint that month, Potter described contraceptives as “lifestyle drugs” akin to “Viagra, smoking cessation, weight-loss” tools and other medications. (He also compared birth control to “Jack Daniels” in a contemporaneous interview with Salon.)

In October, the U.S. Court of Appeals decided against Potter, ruling that Eden Foods, as a for-profit corporation, couldn’t exercise religion.

The day after the Justices decided evangelical Hobby Lobby billionaire David Green doesn’t have to cover certain contraceptives for his employees, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment against Eden Foods and sent the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit for further consideration.

“The court of appeals is ordered by the Supreme Court to follow its decision in Hobby Lobby,” said Erin Mersino, the attorney handling Potter’s case at the Christian, conservative Thomas More Law Center.

And the beat goes on . . .

At The Nation, Katha Pollit asks: Where Will the Slippery Slope of ‘Hobby Lobby’ End?

Facts are stubborn things, as John Adams famously said. Unless, that is, you’re talking about religion. Then facts don’t seem to matter at all: right you are if you think you are. The Hobby Lobby case was billed as a test of religious freedom versus the power of the state: Did the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) mean that David Green, the evangelical Christian CEO of a chain of crafts stores, could be exempt from providing coverage for the full range of contraceptives for his employees under the Affordable Care Act? Green balked at including Plan B, Ella (another form of emergency contraception) and two kinds of IUD, because, he claimed, they caused “abortion” by preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg.

The Court’s 5-to-4 decision—which featured all three women justices ruling for the workers, and all five Catholic men ruling for the corporation—was wrong in many ways. But the thing I really don’t understand is why it didn’t matter that preventing implantation is not “abortion,” according to the accepted medical definition of the term. And even if it was, Plan B, Ella and the IUDs don’t work that way, with the possible exception of one form of IUD when inserted as emergency contraception. As an amicus brief from a long list of prestigious medical organizations and researchers laid out at length, studies show that emergency contraception and the IUD preventfertilization, not implantation. They are not “abortifacients,” even under the anti-choicers’ peculiar definition of abortion. (Green is actually more moderate than some anti-choicers, who include hormonal contraception, aka “baby pesticide,” as abortion.) Why doesn’t it matter that there is no scientific evidence for Green’s position? When did Jesus become an Ob/Gyn?

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Good question. Today even facts are irrelevant to Supreme Court decisions. The fact is that Democrats helped Thomas, Roberts, and Alito make it onto the Court, and now we’re stuck with these religious and ideological fanatics.

At Salon, Digby writes that Alito could have been stopped: Why Dems should have filibustered the radical. And from Peter Montgomery at HuffPo, Samuel Alito: A Movement Man Makes Good on Right-Wing Investments. Read them and weep.

Dakinikat posted this Guardian piece in the comments last night; I thought it should be included in this morning’s links: Black people were denied vanilla ice cream in the Jim Crow south – except on Independence Day.

By custom rather than by law, black folks were best off if they weren’t caught eating vanilla ice cream in public in the Jim Crow South, except – the narrative always stipulates – on the Fourth of July. I heard it from my father growing up myself, and the memory of that all-but-unspoken rule seems to be unique to the generation born between World War I and World War II.

But if Maya Angelou hadn’t said it in her classic autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I doubt anybody would believe it today.

People in Stamps used to say that the whites in our town were so prejudiced that a Negro couldn’t buy vanilla ice cream. Except on July Fourth. Other days he had to be satisfied with chocolate.

Vanilla ice cream – flavored with a Nahuatl spice indigenous to Mexico, the cultivation of which was improved by an enslaved black man named Edmund Albius on the colonized Réunion island in the Indian Ocean, now predominately grown on the largest island of the African continent, Madagascar, and served wrapped in the conical invention of a Middle Eastern immigrant – was the symbol of the American dream. That its pure, white sweetness was then routinely denied to the grandchildren of the enslaved was a dream deferred indeed.

What makes the vanilla ice cream story less folk memory and more truth is that the terror and shame of living in the purgatory between the Civil War and civil rights movement was often communicated in ways that reinforced to children what the rules of that life were, and what was in store for them if they broke them.

Please go read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

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From Politico: Why the Civil Rights Act couldn’t pass today.

It was a painful tableau: The bipartisan leaders of Congress linking hands in the Capitol Rotunda and swaying to the strains of “We Shall Overcome” as they commemorated the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi sang along with the crowd, but Mitch McConnell and John Boehner’s lips were frozen in silent, self-conscious smiles.

The climate in today’s Washington is so different from the one that produced what many scholars view as the most important law of the 20th century that celebrating the law’s legacy is awkward for Republicans and Democrats alike. Neither party bears much resemblance to its past counterpart, and the bipartisanship that carried the day then is now all but dead….

The current congressional leaders gathered last week not to honor Johnson — or any of the legislative leaders who actually passed the landmark law — but to award a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal to The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, whose crusade helped create the climate that made the bill possible. In his life, racial tensions helped make King such a polarizing figure that both Johnson and John F. Kennedy worried about seeming too close to him, but in martyrdom and myth, he is the only politically safe ground on which present day leaders could unite.

They are all so pathetic. And this is beyond pathetic: Callers Use C-SPAN Civil Rights Discussion To Complain About White Oppression (VIDEO).

“Washington Journal” host Steve Scully listened as an “independent” caller named Thomas from Maryland told him that he is “much less liberal today” than he was in 1964 when the landmark law was signed by Lyndon B. Johnson.

“And I think the blacks have brought on most of their present-day problems themselves. They insult white people,” he told Scully. “I heard it right on your own show, I heard some black call Karl Rove a ‘white boy.’ And I don’t think that’s right. They’re attacking white people in the big cities and we’re supposed to put up with that kind of stuff and like them and say, ‘Well, come into our neighborhood.’ And how about the discussion of the black crime that goes on in this country?”

The caller went on to complain that the discrimination endured by Irish, Mormons and Italians is widely ignored.

“You people will never, never discuss that. You only discuss the discrimination against the black people,” he said.

Is that sick or what?

A few more news links:

Information Week on private tech companies treatment of their customers, Facebook Mood Manipulation: 10 Bigger Problems.

Fox News: Suspect arrested in Bourbon St. shootings.

USA Today: Seven hurt in Indianapolis shootings.

WSJ: A Weakened Hurricane Arthur Heads Toward Nova Scotia

ABC News: Before Boston Attack, Alleged Bomber Posed With Black Flag of Jihad at Local Mosque.

So . . . what stories are you reading and blogging about? Please share your links in the comment thread, and enjoy the rest of the long weekend!


Thursday Reads: Updates from Snowden-Greenwald Land and Other News

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Good Morning!!

The photos in today’s post are from a project by photographer Mark Makela to take pictures of children “learning to read by reading to homeless cats.”

Last February, photographer Mark Makela traveled to Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, to photograph a reading group where the participants were grade-school students and a group of cats. The idea for the group, known as Book Buddies, was hatched at the Animal Rescue League of Berks County when the program coordinator Kristi Rodriguez’s 10-year-old son was struggling with reading. Rodriguez decided to bring him into the shelter, where he could be in what she called a “nonevaluative” environment in order to feel more comfortable practicing his reading skills. It worked.

According to ARL’s website, studies at Tufts University found that the more relaxed, nonjudgmental audience of cats helps students to sustain their focus, maintain a higher state of awareness, and develop an improved attitude toward school. In August of last year, ARL officially started the Book Buddies program, inviting students in first through eighth grades to read to the cats. As an incentive to continue, once the students complete five books, they receive prizes. “It’s one of those opportunities that is unique and humorous and so endearing,” Makela said about the assignment to document the Book Buddies program.

See more marvelous photos at the Slate Magazine link above. Even more at Buzzfeed–including more girls.

Now to the news:

I’ve long suspected that Edward Snowden interacted with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and others in the hacker community before he made his final decision to steal a massive trove of data from NSA computers and then abscond to Hong Kong at the end of May last year.

We know that Snowden was in touch with Jacob Applebaum and Laura Poitras early on, because they published an interview with him in Der Spiegel that they had conducted by e-mail in Mid-May, before Snowden fled Hawaii. But Snowden could have actually met Applebaum in Hawaii in April 2013 when Applebaum vacationed there by his own admission. Did Snowden and Applebaum discuss Snowden’s plans to steal NSA files? Did Applebaum suggest which items Snowden should take? Note that Applebaum is deeply involved with Wikileaks and has been a long-time, passionate defender of Julian Assange.

Glenn Greenwald revealed in his new book “No Place to Hide” that Snowden had used the code name “Cincinnatus” in early communications between the two. Interestingly enough, a “cyber-party” had been held in Hawaii in December 2012, and the host was someone who called himself “Cincinnatus.” Once this news came out, people began speculating on Twitter that perhaps this wasn’t a coincidence. Suddenly, on May 17, the cyber-party announcement was deleted by someone with the Twitter handle @jskuda. Fortunately Twitter user @ShrillBrigade located it on the Wayback Machine. And check out the title of Cincinnatus’ talk: “Painlessly setting up your own fast exit.” (h/t @catfitz)

Then yesterday, former criminal hacker and technical adviser to Greenwald and Poitras’ Freedom of the Press Foundation Kevin Poulsen published a limited hangout at Wired: Snowden’s First Move Against the NSA Was a Party in Hawaii.

It was December 11, 2012, and in a small art space behind a furniture store in Honolulu, NSA contractor Edward Snowden was working to subvert the machinery of global surveillance.

Snowden was not yet famous. His blockbuster leaks were still six months away, but the man destined to confront world leaders on a global stage was addressing a much smaller audience that Sunday evening. He was leading a local “Crypto Party,” teaching less than two dozen Hawaii residents how to encrypt their hard drives and use the internet anonymously.

“He introduced himself as Ed,” says technologist and writer Runa Sandvik, who co-presented with Snowden at the event, and spoke about the experience for the first time with WIRED. “We talked for a bit before everything started. And I remember asking where he worked or what he did, and he didn’t really want to tell.”

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Runa Sandvik is a hacker who works at the TOR project along with Jacob Applebaum. TOR is a site (ironically funded by the U.S. Department of Defense) that provides free encryption software to people who want to hide their on-line activities (including drug dealers and child porn purveyors).

Poulsen writes:

The roots of Snowden’s crypto party were put down on November 18, 2012, when he sent an e-mail to Sandvik, a rising star in privacy circles, who was then a key developer on the anonymous web surfing software Tor.

Tor is free software that lets you go online anonymously. The software is used by a wide swath of people in need of extreme anonymity, including human rights groups, criminals, government agencies, and journalists. It works by accepting connections from the public internet, encrypting the traffic and bouncing it through a winding series of relays before dumping it back on the web through any of more than 1,000 exit nodes.

Most of those relays are run by volunteers, and the pre-leak Edward Snowden, it turns out, was one of them.

How about that? Snowden was already deeply involved with TOR in December 2012–and Jacob Applebaum of TOR just happened to travel to Hawaii a few months later in April! Coincidence? I don’t think so.

In his e-mail, Snowden wrote that he personally ran one of the “major tor exits”–a 2 gbps server named “TheSignal”–and was trying to persuade some unnamed coworkers at his office to set up additional servers. He didn’t say where he worked. But he wanted to know if Sandvik could send him a stack of official Tor stickers. (In some post-leak photos of Snowden you can see the Tor sticker on the back of his laptop, next to the EFF sticker).

Well, well, well. Now we know how Snowden got his TOR sticker. Did Runa give him the EFF sticker too? Read the rest of the Wired piece for more details.

Phew! I hope that made sense. This stuff is difficult to write about.

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Also yesterday, well-known and respected journalist and New Yorker writer George Packer published a no-holds-barred review of Glenn Greenwald’s new book in the UK Prospect: The errors of Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. Among other things, Packer accuses Greenwald of “a pervasive absence of intellectual integrity,” and provides numerous examples. He characterizes Snowden as someone who lives on the internet, detached from the realities of the real world. Here are a few excerpts, but please read the whole thing.

Snowden’s leaks can be seen, in part, as a determined effort to restore the web to its original purity—a project of technology rather than law. “Let us speak no more of faith in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of cryptography,” wrote Snowden, in an early message to his collaborators. In March of this year, appearing remotely from Russia on a robotised screen onstage at a TED talk in Vancouver, Snowden said that the single best solution to the NSA’s abuses is stronger encryption: “The internet that we’ve enjoyed in the past has been exactly what we, as not just a nation but as a people around the world, need.” In taking nearly two million highly classified documents from the US, he was grabbing back the key to heaven.

As I’ve written previously, Snowden’s solution to the problem of government interference with its citizens is impenetrable universal encryption–never mind the fact that this would allow vast numbers of vicious criminals to hide their actions from law enforcement.

As I suspected, Packer writes that Greenwald’s book “contains no major scoops.” He does, however, praise Greenwald’s argument for the primacy of privacy as central to a “free society.”

Greenwald also makes a powerful case—all the more so for being uncompromising and absolute—for the central role of privacy in a free society, and against the utilitarian argument that, since the phone companies’ metadata on Americans hasn’t been seriously abused by government officials (not yet, anyway), none of us should be too worried. In a chapter called “The Harm of Surveillance,” he cites Justice Louis Brandeis’s famous opinion on the basic “right to be let alone,” and writes: “The desire for privacy is shared by us all as an essential, not ancillary, part of what it means to be human. We all instinctively understand that the private realm is where we can act, think, speak, write, experiment, and choose how to be, away from the judgemental eyes of others. Privacy is a core condition of being a free person.”

I would argue that these considerations are of vital importance to people like Greenwald who are financially secure. Those Americans who must deal with racial and gender discrimination, long-term unemployment, and especially grinding poverty have other, more urgent concerns. Can one be a “free person” under those conditions?

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Along similar lines, Packer writes:

If Greenwald and others were actually being persecuted for their political beliefs, they would instinctively understand that the rule of law has to protect people regardless of politics. The NSA disclosures are disturbing and even shocking; so is the Obama administration’s hyper-aggressive pursuit of leaks; so is the fact that, for several years, Poitras couldn’t leave or re-enter the US without being questioned at airports. These are abuses, but they don’t quite reach the level of the Stasi. They don’t portend a totalitarian state “beyond the dreams of even the greatest tyrants of the past,” as Greenwald believes is possible. A friend from Iran who was jailed and tortured for having the wrong political beliefs, and who is now an American citizen, observed drily, “I prefer to be spied on by NSA.” The sense of oppression among Greenwald, Poitras, and other American dissenters is only possible to those who have lived their entire lives under the rule of law and have come to take it for granted.

In the year since the first NSA disclosures, Snowden has drifted a long way from the Thoreauvian ideal of the majority of one. He has become an international celebrity, far more championed than reviled. He has praised Russia and Venezuela’s devotion to human rights. His more recent disclosures have nothing to do with the constitutional rights of US citizens. Many of them deal with surveillance of foreign governments, including Germany and Brazil, but also Iran, Russia, and China. These are activities that, wise or unwise, fall well within the NSA’s mandate and the normal ways of espionage. Snowden has attached himself to Wikileaks and to Assange, who has become a tool of Russian foreign policy and has no interest in reforming American democracy—his goal is to embarrass it. Assange and Snowden are not the first radical individualists to end up in thrall to strongmen.

Snowden looked to the internet for liberation, but it turns out that there is no such thing as an entirely free individual. Cryptography can never offer the absolute privacy and liberty that Snowden seeks online. The internet will always be a space controlled by corporations and governments, and the freedom it provides is of a limited, even stunting, kind. No one lives outside the fact of coercion—there is always a state to protect or pursue you, whether it’s Obama’s America or Putin’s Russia.

I’ve barely touched the surface of Packer’s scathing critique of Greenwald’s “journalism”; I enourage you to go to Prospect link to read more.

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I have a few more stories for you that I’ll list link-dump style:

It appears that the prosecution in the Boston Bombing case decided to leak some previously secret information–most likely to counter the defense’s argument that Dzhohar Tsarnaev was illegally questioned by the FBI when he was in the hospital with terrible injuries.

Reuters: Accused Boston bomber admitted role in attack, prosecutors say

NBC News: Government doc shows how closely Boston Marathon bombers followed al Qaeda plans.

NY Daily News: Boston Marathon bombers used ‘sophisticated’ bombs made of parts from Christmas lights, model cars: prosecutors.

Boston Globe: Christmas Lights Used in Boston Marathon Bombs.

KSDK.com: Feds: Boston bomber’s hideout note says he wanted to be martyr.

ABC News: FBI Feared Boston Bombers ‘Received Training’ And Aid From Terror Group, Docs Say.

This is encouraging from the Boston Globe: Oakland Examining Pension of FBI Agent who Shot Todashev

Other News:

The Economic Times of India: Google wants to show ads through your thermostat and car. (You though the NSA was bad?)

Information Week: Google Outlines Advertising Vision. (How would you like targeted Google ads appearing on your refrigerator or watch?)

The Atlantic: It Wasn’t Household Debt That Caused the Great Recession; It was how that debt was disproportionately distributed to America’s most economically fragile communities.

NYT: U.S. Sends Troops to Chad to Aid Hunt for Nigerian Schoolgirls.

USA Today: Thai military declares coup, detains party leaders.

Science Recorder:  ‘Aliens of the sea’ could lead to breakthroughs in regenerative medicine.

What stories are you following today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.