I’m not seeing any particular theme in today’s news, but there is quite a bit of good stuff to read; so I’ll just toss out a few items that interested me.
Poor Benjamin Netanyahu. It seems all his efforts to use the Republican Congress to squash President Obama’s negotiations is one big giant fail. He managed to get reelected with the help of John Boehner et al., but that’s about it. First Obama said that Iran recognizing Israel wouldn’t be part of any deal, and then yesterday the White House mocked Bibi on Twitter.
The Washington Post: Why Obama says Iran does not have to recognize Israel as part of a nuclear deal.
President Obama, who doesn’t get along with Netanyahu, seemed to dismiss the Israeli premier’s latest demand in an interview this week. When asked by NPR’s Steve Inskeep whether Iranian recognition of the state of Israel would be included in any final deal, Obama deemed such a move a “fundamental misjudgment.” Here’s an excerpt of his remarks:
Well, let me say this — it’s not that the idea of Iran recognizing Israel is unreasonable. It’s completely reasonable and that’s U.S. policy….
There’s still going to be a whole host of differences between us and Iran, and one of the most profound ones is the vile, anti-Semitic statements that have often come out of the highest levels of the Iranian regime. But the notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons, in a verifiable deal, on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms. And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment.
The point here is one that diplomats would take for granted. When attempting to make a deal with your interlocutor, particularly one where there’s a considerable history of grievance and animosity, you can’t expect to win a total capitulation.
Duh. Poor Bibi, like today’s Republicans doesn’t comprehend the notion of compromise.
David Knowles at Bloomberg Politics on the Twitter gag: White House Trolls Netanyahu on Iran with Bomb Graphic.
The White House has employed a graphic first used by Benjamin Netanyahu to push its case for a nuclear deal with Iran that the Israeli Prime Minister opposes. On Wednesday, the president’s office posted a tweet that borrowed the graphic representation of a bomb that Netanyahu had held up during a speech to the United Nation’s General Assembly in which he warned of Iran’s growing nuclear capability.
The fuse on the original image was intact, and there was no sign of the metaphorical scissors or accompanying text that the White House saw fit to add.
And how about this op-ed from the Jerusalem Post: How Netanyahu is single-handedly hurting the US-Israel relationship.
Benjamin Netanyahu is singlehandedly hurting a relationship that has resulted in over $100 billion in military aid to Israel since 1962. The Prime Minister is hurting a relationship with a country that constantly defends Israel at the UN; resulting in over 30 U.S. vetoes of resolutions critical to Israel. Because of Netanyahu, some are wondering if the U.S. should continually give $3.1 billion in annual aid and professors like Harvard’s Steven Strauss have written about ending this perpetual assistance. Sadly, the Prime Minister’s supporters in Israel and abroad don’t seem moved by the magnitude of what could be lost if Netanyahu’s feud with Obama “gets even worse.” [….]
even those whose job it was to protect Israel from the threats trumpeted by Netanyahu feel that the Prime Minister has overstepped the boundaries of rationality.
According to The Jerusalem Post recently, “Former Mossad chief slams Netanyahu for insistence that Iran recognize Israel’s right to exist.” Efraim Halevy also predicted a“dramatic” improvement in Israeli relations with the U.S. if Netanyahu were to be defeated in the latest elections. Another former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, called Netanyahu’s speech to Congress “bull—t” and views the Prime Minister’s policies as dangerous to Israel’s future. A third former Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo, stated that a nuclear Iran did notpost an existential threat to Israel; a viewpoint directly at odds with the hysteria (fueled by Netanyahu’s political ideology) surrounding Obama’s nuclear deal.
When three former Mossad chiefs are forced to speak out, an Israeli Prime Minister should tone down his paranoid rhetoric, not increase the tempo of his political exploits. Say what you will about Bibi’s critics, but former Mossad chiefs aren’t “leftist” and they know quite a bit about Israeli security threats. Their sober assessment of Netanyahu’s P. T. Barnum inspired diplomacy (regarding Israel’s U.S. relationship) is just cause to reassess the Prime Minister’s behavior; not champion his constant criticism of Obama’s nuclear deal.
The Economist writes that “RARELY have relations between an American president and an Israeli prime minister sunk so low.” The New Yorker published an article titled A Bad Day In American-Israeli Relations. Senator Dianne Feinstein recently stated she wished that Netanyahu “would contain himself” and I echoed the California Senator’s sentiment in a recent Congress Blog piece. Tzipi Livni has warned that Netanyahu is leading Israel into “crisis and diplomatic isolation.” Like Livni, Yair Lapid has lamented over the state of relations between the White House and Israel, stating, “This damage will take a long time to mend.” Everyone from former Mossad chiefs, U.S. Senators, Israeli politicians, and journalist have expressed dismay about the decline in a relationship that is essential to Israel’s future.
From The Washington Post, here’s more interesting news from the White House: White House condemns therapy to ‘cure’ gay youth.
The statement was issued in response to a White House petition signed by more than 120,000 people after the suicide of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen from Ohio whose suicide note condemning the society’s treatment of transgender people went viral after her death. In the note, she indicated she had been subjected to such therapies.
“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights,” Alcorn wrote in her note.
The White House statement, issued by President Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, condemned “conversion” therapy, also known as “reparative” therapy, which she defined as any treatment aimed at changing a person’s sexual identity.
“The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm,” she wrote. “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”
Shortly before releasing the White House response to the petition on conversion therapy, according to a White House official, Jarrett spoke with organizers of the petition. “She listened to their personal stories about why this was important to them and thanked them for their efforts,” said the official, who asked for anonymity in order to describe a private conversation.
And from The Advocate: The White House’s Executive Office Now Has Gender-Neutral Bathroom.
An all-gender restroom is for the first time available in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, confirms a White House spokesman. Alternatively, guests are invited to use whichever bathroom fits with their gender identity.
“The White House allows staff and guests to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity,” said White House spokesman Jeff Tiller, “which is in keeping with the administration’s existing legal guidance on this issue and consistent with what is required by the executive order that took effect today for federal contractors.”
Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama, had mentioned the policy change in an op-ed today for The Advocate, saying the adminstration had “closely examined” its policies on “restroom access” to help “ensure that everyone who enters this building feels safe and fully respected.”
Gender neutral bathrooms, if single-stall, also often offer a safe space to differently abled users, parents with their children, and anyone else seeking privacy.
The push for gender-neutral restrooms in public buildings and workplaces has been one cause taken up by transgender rights activists — and one that’s found the most visible sucecss on university campuses — making Jarrett’s anouncement feel to many like a win for trans Americans.
“It is heartening to see that, even if legislators in some states are attacking the dignity and humanity of transgender and gender-nonconforming people, at least the White House is still moving in the direction of dignity and common sense,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told The Advocate.
Within the past several years, the Obama administration has been increasingly affirming of trans citizens, with Vice President Joe Biden referring in 2012 to transgender discrimination as the “civil rights issue of our time” and President Obama using the word “transgender” (in addition to “lesbian” and “bisexual”) in this year’s State of the Union Address for the first time ever for any president. Federal employees have had the right to use the bathroom that accords with their gender identiy since 2011.
Around the country, heads of Republican homophobes must be exploding. Read the whole article for more on LGBT-positive actions the Obama administration has taken.
Some not so good news: the Secret Service’s credibility continues to slide downhill rapidly.
The D.C. police’s sex-crimes unit and a government inspector general are investigating the female agent’s allegation that Xavier Morales, a manager in the security clearance division, made unwanted sexual advances and grabbed her on the night of March 31 after they returned to the office from a party at a downtown restaurant, according to two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the probe.
The woman told police and agency investigators that Morales, her boss, told her during the party at Capitol City Brewing Company that he was in love with her and would like to have sex with her, according to two people briefed on her statements. In the office later, she alleged, Morales tried to kiss her and grabbed her arms when she resisted, according to the two people briefed on her complaint. The woman alleged that the two scuffled until Morales relented.
Through an agency spokesman, Morales declined to comment, and he did not respond to requests for comment left on his personal phone.
Late last week, the Secret Service took the unusual step of placing Morales on indefinite administrative leave and adding his name to an internal “do not admit” list prohibiting entry to the office, a Secret Service official said. The Secret Service also took away his gun and badge after agency investigators launched a preliminary review of the complaint and conducted “subsequent corroborative interviews” Thursday afternoon, said agency spokesman Brian Leary.
More details at Heavy.com: Xavier Morales: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know.
Ugh. Maybe we need more female Secret Service agents to quell the “boys will be boys” atmosphere in the agency.
More trouble may be coming for NJ governor and possible GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie.
NJ.com reports: Indictments may come very soon in Bridgegate, report says.
Indictments may be coming very soon in Bridgegate, the investigation into improper lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in late 2013 that has also led to questions about bribery and conflicts of interest possibly involving Gov. Christie and the Port Authority, sources told The New York Times.
New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman launched the probe a few months after three lanes were closed to the bridge in September 2013, causing gridlock in Fort Lee. The closures were initially attributed to a traffic study by a Port Authority executive, Bill Baroni, but emails unearthed during an investigation revealed that the lanes were shut down on the orders of a Christie aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, to a Port Authority official appointed by Christie, David Wildstein. Some believe the lane closures were retribution for the failure of Fort Lee’s mayor, Mark Sokolich, to endorse Christie’s bid for re-election at a time when the governor and likely Republican presidential candidate was trying to build bipartisan support.
The Times previously reported that Fishman’s office may bring indictments to the operators of the bridge under a little-used statute that makes it a crime to use the bridge for something other than its intended purpose. Fishman’s office declined to say what course the investigation is taking.
This could be very interesting.
I have more news links, but I’m running out of space and time. I’ll add them to the comments.
What stories are you following? I’d love to read your comments on this post and click on your links to your recommended reads for today.
I woke up this morning with my eyes so scratchy and watery that I couldn’t read anything on-line until I took a long hot shower. It’s either a cold, a sinus infection, or very early pollen in the air–or maybe all three. Who knows? Anyway, I’m feeling better now.
There’s plenty of news this morning, but not a lot of *new news,* if you know what I mean. The Middle East is still in chaos, Malaysian Airlines 370 is still missing, Republicans are still insane; yet the Earth still continues to turn on its axis. I’ve tried to find a few stories worthy of your attention–I’ll let you be the judge.
UPDATE (11:57 Eastern):
There actually is some breaking news from Ukraine. BBC News is reporting that Russian troops storm[ed a] Ukraine airbase in Crimea, shots fired.
Shooting and explosions have been heard as Russian troops – backed by armoured vehicles – stormed a Ukrainian airbase in Crimea.
Reports say at least one person was injured during the assault on Belbek base, near Sevastopol. The base is now said to be under Russian control.
Earlier, several hundred unarmed protesters seized a Ukrainian naval base at Novofedorivka, western Crimea.
Pro-Russian militia has also been seizing Ukrainian Navy ships.
The BBC’s Ian Pannell, in Crimea, says the Ukrainian troops on the peninsula feel beleaguered and abandoned by their chiefs in Ukraine….
In Belbek, two armoured personnel carriers burst through the wall of the base followed by Russian troops firing weapons in the air.
An ambulance was then seen entering the base amid reports that at least one person was injured.
The Ukrainian soldiers were later gathered at the base main square in front of the heavily armed Russian troops.
The storming followed an ultimatum by the Russians to surrender.
Did you hear that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blocked Twitter in his country?
A court blocked access to Twitter after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s defiant vow, on the campaign trail on Thursday ahead of March 30 local elections, to “wipe out” the social media service, whatever the international community had to say about it.
Industry Minister Fikri Isik said talks with Twitter were taking place and the ban would be lifted if the San Francisco-based firm appointed a representative in Turkey and agreed to block specific content when requested by Turkish courts.
What’s Erdogan’s problem with social media?
Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for 11 years, is battling a corruption scandal that has been fed by social media awash with alleged evidence of government wrongdoing. He did not mention the Twitter ban at two campaign rallies on Friday.
Turkey’s main opposition party said it would challenge the ban and file a criminal complaint against Erdogan on the grounds of violating personal freedoms. The country’s bar association filed a separate court challenge.
Twitter users called the move a “digital coup”, some comparing Turkey to Iran and North Korea, where social media platforms are tightly controlled. There were also calls for protests.
“Waking up to no Twitter in Turkey feels like waking up to a coup. The modern equivalent of occupying the radio stations,” U.S. author and journalist Andrew Finkel, who has reported from Turkey for more than 20 years, said on his Twitter account.
This morning Reuters reports that
Turks attempting to access Twitter have found an Internet page carrying court rulings saying that a “protection measure” has been taken, blocking the site.
But many have been able to get around the ban, either by using virtual private network (VPN) software or changing their Domain Name System (DNS) setting, effectively disguising their computers’ geographical whereabouts.
By Saturday, though, computers that had been set with DNS numbers widely circulated to help people get around the ban were not able to access the Internet at all.
“Apparently alternate DNS servers are also blocked in Turkey. New settings are being circulated,” wrote one Twitter user.
Apparently twitter is very popular in Turkey. The Washington Post has lots more reactions to the Turkish Twitter ban.
I know everyone is sick of the missing MH370 story, so I’ll just give you one link to a minor update.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — China released a new image of a “suspected floating object” in the Indian Ocean on Saturday, in the vicinity of an Australian-led search that has brought fresh hope to the hunt for a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner.
China has sent ships to investigate, according to the Malaysian government.
The Chinese government said one of its satellites spotted the object on March 18, about 75 miles west of the location released by Australia earlier this week.
A grainy image of the latest find was tweeted Saturday by Chinese state television, CCTV. It is dated two days after the two images released by Australia.
The search for the missing airliner has now entered a third week, with the main hope for a breakthrough hinging on planes and ships being able to locate floating objects picked up by satellites in a desolate stretch of ocean almost as close to Antarctica as to Australia.
Michelle Obama is on a good will tour of China with her mother and two daughters. Time reports on the First Lady’s defense of “the free internet” in a speech at Peking University.
First Lady Michelle Obama used a trip to China Saturday to promote the liberating “power of technology” in a veiled swipe at the harshly restrictive Internet and media environment in the country.
At her first—and only—major speech scheduled during her…trip…Obama said that new technology can “open up the entire world and expose us to ideas and innovations we could never have imagined.”
“It is so important for information and ideas to flow freely over the Internet and through the media,” she said. “Because that’s how we discover the truth, that’s how we learn what’s really happening in our communities, in our country and our world.”
I never watch the Sunday talk shows, because they are horrible; but Paul Waldman of WaPo’s The Plum Line apparently hasn’t given up on them.
Waldman asks: Can the Sunday shows get better?
Most members of Congress would kill to be interviewed on one of the shows, since getting such an appearance instantly brands you as an important person whose opinions are worth listening to. But “Meet the Press,” the oldest and most venerated of the shows, has been struggling of late, falling behind “This Week” and “Face the Nation” in the ratings, leading to some rumors about David Gregory’s future. But as Michael Calderone reports in the Huffington Post, the network is “doubling down” on Gregory as it tries to gingerly step its way into the digital world. The problem, though, is what they put on the air every Sunday.
There’s a conceit about the Sunday shows, that they hold the powerful accountable. It’s where “newsmakers” come to be raked over the coals, unable to escape the probing queries of savvy and unrelenting interrogators. But it’s awfully hard to watch the shows and believe that’s true. What happens instead is that the powerful come on the shows, and the hosts try (and almost always fail) to trap them with various kinds of “gotcha” questions, which the powerful handle by returning again and again to their carefully planned messages. The result, even for those of us who love listening to and talking about politics and policy, is remarkably tedious.
So how can these awful shows be improved?
Let me make a couple of suggestions I know they’d never consider. First, ban all party chairs, White House communication staff, party “strategists,” and anyone else whose primary objective is to spin from ever, ever, ever appearing on the show. Ever. To ask a question I’ve raised elsewhere: Has anyone anywhere in the United States turned off their TV and said, “Wow, that interview with Reince Priebus was really interesting”? Of course not, and the same applies to his Democratic counterpart, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. That’s because their job is to deliver talking points, and they do so with a discipline worthy of the Marine Honor Guard, no matter what questions they’re asked. And they get plenty of time on cable, so why waste valuable minutes on a Sunday show by letting them repeat the same talking points they’ve recited 100 times that that week?
And while we’re at it, why not go farther and cut down the interviews with elected officials and candidates by three-quarters or so? I’m serious. When was the last time you saw a truly edifying interview on a Sunday show with a senator or member of Congress? If you want to talk about what’s going on in Ukraine, I could hardly care less what John McCain (the shows’ most frequent guest) thinks about it, and I doubt I’m alone. He knows next to nothing about the situation, and as a minority party senator with almost no support among his colleagues, he’ll have precisely zero impact on the outcome of events. So how about, as a first rule, the people you bring on should 1) know as much as possible about the things you’re going to discuss, and 2) have little if any interest in spinning?
Good luck with that. I’d say the very best thing that could be done is to ban both John McCain and Lindsey Graham from ever appearing on Sunday shows. And for heaven’s sake get rid of David Gregory and put Bob Schieffer permanently out to pasture. BTW, Bob’s guest tomorrow will be Mitt Romney because he undoubtedly has all the answers on what’s up with Russian and Ukraine.
A few more quick hits . . .
Talking Points Memo: Creationists Complain Tyson’s ‘Cosmos’ Isn’t Giving Them Airtime
Business Insider: North Dakota State Is America’s Team
So . . . what stories are you following today? Let us know in the comment thread and have a terrific weekend!
On April 24, I put up a lighthearted post about a story I’d seen on-line about three men from the UAE who were thrown out of a cultural festival in Saudi Arabia and deported for being “too handsome.” We are still getting hits on the post from all over the world, and it has been viewed thousands of times.
When I put the post up along with photos of Omar Borkan Al Gala, I had no idea if the story was actually true; I just thought it was silly and entertaining. I did quote from legitimate sources like Time Magazine though.
The post didn’t get much reaction at Sky Dancing that night, but on April 25, we had 6,700 page views from 4,672 unique visitors to Sky Dancing blog, and most of those folks were checking out the “too handsome” story and photos. We were linked at Gawker, The New York Daily News, Huffington Post UK, and hundreds of smaller sites. We got hits from countries I’d barely heard of before.
BTW, our beloved JJ works some kind of magic with Google that helps us stay at the top of searches, so that probably has contributed to our getting so much traffic from a silly post.
Anyway, last night I came across this interesting piece at at a site called “Islawmix: bringing clarity to Islamic law in the news.” The headline is “The Man Too Handsome for Saudi Arabia Who Wasn’t.”
Saudi Arabia often makes US (and international) headlines for its laws (legal mishaps?) regarding women, sex and religious minorities. Some of these stories undoubtedly belong there, but a surprising number gain traction thanks to a small amount of research and suspension of critical engagement. It seems that when it comes to Saudi Arabia (and sometimes her theocratic counterpart Iran, albeit less so), the more bizarre the story may seem – in that way only the Saudi Arabia of our perception could normalize – the more believable it is.
News and blog media have a particular penchant for covering ridiculous, often inaccurate and even false fatwas (here’s our quick definition and a more nuanced discussion on it). And in August 2012, the internet went into a bit of an uproar over the alleged building of an all-female city to promote women’s participation in the workforce. Unfortunately, the dreams of the impending matriarchy were dashed when it was eventually revealed that the city was for both men and women, but created facilities specific for women to encourage their participation.
On the “too handsome” story, Islawix reports that
As it turns out, three men were not, in fact, deported from Saudi Arabia. Actually, no one was deported from Saudi Arabia and certainly not for being too handsome. And, actually, no one was even kicked out of the heritage and cultural festival except for a member of the religious police for protesting against the presence of a Gulf female singer. According to UK’s Al-Arab:
A member of the Saudi feared religious police, known as Mutawa, stormed the UAE pavilion at National Festival for Heritage and Culture, also known as Al Janadriyah, but was forced out by the Gulf Kingdom’s national guards.
The incident took place when the Mutawa member objected to the presence of the Emirati singer Aryam in her country’s pavilion.
It turns out that Al Gala actually was in attendance at the event, but he wasn’t kicked out or deported.
There was, indeed, an incident involving Al Gala (and apparently him alone): according to the head of the mutawaeen, Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Sheikh (Arabic source), Al Gala had made his way into the family section of the event and was dancing inappropriately. Several complaints were made against him and he was taken aside by members of the national guard, questioned and that was it. He was not asked to leave the event, let alone the country. It turns out his uncomfortable dancing and not his uncomfortably good looks were the reason for some cause for concern and discomfort at the festival.
I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Al Gala hadn’t even been in Saudi Arabia that day. I just saw this as a lighthearted and funny story. I’m grateful to Islamix for sorting out the real facts, and I apologize for any contribution I made inaccurate reporting on Middle Eastern culture.
Although I don’t really think the reporting on the Saudi Arabia story was that big a deal, it does highlight a real problem with misinformation in the media generally.
As someone who has lived in Boston for nearly half a century, I was shocked and traumatized by the bombings that took place at the Boston Marathon on April 15. I think it’s understandable that as a Bostonian and as a psychologist with an interest in personality development, I’ve been curious about the alleged bombers and their motivations. Naturally, I have been following the story fairly closely since the beginning.
I have been stunned by the amount of misinformation that has come not only from the media, but from the authorities involved in the investigation. It’s understandable that there is confusion in a chaotic story like this that involves horrible injuries and Hollywood-like shootouts in residential streets. I’ve lived here since 1967, and I’ve never seen anything like it. The misinformation coming from authorities and then printed unquestionably by the mainstream media contributes the the development of the kinds of bizarre conspiracy theories that appear in the wake of startling events.
For the past couple of days I’ve been on Twitter a lot, looking for information on the Tsarnaev brothers and their possible motives, as well as following updates on the investigation. I can’t begin to tell you the nutty stuff that is out there–claims that the FBI and/or CIA actually carried out the bombings and that the Tsarnaevs were framed; that the entire event was staged, with fake injuries and fake blood; that the shootouts were faked using “rubber bullets” or “dummy bullets”; that the bombings were carried out by Blackwater-type government mercenaries, and of course there were the inevitable Alex Jones blather about “false flag” attacks. I’ve had to block people who started following my tweets and trying to feed me this garbage.
Here are some articles on the Boston conspiracy theories and their implications:
Newsday: Conspiracy theories about the Boston Marathon bombings, by Rekha Basu.
Basu points out–and I strongly agree–that conspiracy theories are often fed by misinformation coming not only from the media, but from the government. After all the lies from the Bush administration that led us into two endless wars followed by the Obama’s administration’s refusal to investigate or prosecute Bush administration crimes, it’s hardly surprising that Americans are more suspicious of their government than ever. Basu’s concusion:
The problem is, we’ve been fed just enough mistruths from both parties, especially on war matters, to be susceptible. The Bush administration went to war with Iraq insisting it had weapons of mass destruction, when it didn’t. The Obama administration claimed Osama bin Laden was killed after a gunfight with U.S. troops, when he never had a chance to put up resistance. Americans were lied to about Iran-Contra, the My Lai massacre, the CIA-engineered overthrows of left-leaning governments in Chile and Guatemala. Some of us who grew up in the anti-war 1960s now pride ourselves on questioning official answers.
PolicyMic: Boston Bombing Conspiracy Theories Aren’t Even Theories, Just Paranoia. This is a really thoughtful and helpful piece, IMO.
The wake of the Boston Marathon bombings brought with it an undertow of conspiracy theories ranging from the farfetched to the unbelievable. Two weeks ago, I never would have imagined being asked to explain, in casual social situations, what a “false flag” attack is. OnThe David Pakman Show, inspired in great part by curiosity about the response it would bring, we’ve been debunking many of these theories. In dissecting much of the material, in particular one short video released by Glenn Beck, I’ve been able to identify the fundamental misunderstanding that impedes productive conversation with conspiracy theorists. This is not an indication of my personal belief that any specific conspiracy theory is or is not true. This is not a denial, on my part, that governments don’t sometimes lie, distort, and distract, but merely an attempt to point out the fallacious nature of many conspiratorial arguments….
Shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing, Beck developed and expanded on a theory about the young Saudi national who was injured in the explosion. Initially incorrectly assumed to be a suspect in the immediate aftermath on April 15, Beck believes he is actually an Al-Qaeda recruiter who the government is trying to sneak out of the country. The theory is much more involved, but the details are irrelevant to my discussion here.
After outlining his case, Beck repeated the fundamental misunderstanding that so many conspiracy theorists hold. “The burden of proof is on the federal government,” Beck said, “and so far they have not presented one shred of evidence that has refuted what the Blaze (Beck’s associated internet media outlet) has reported.”
This is the central issue and fundamental problem surrounding conspiracy theories and theorists. The burden of proof is not transferred to whoever is accused by the conspiracy theorist. The desire for the federal government to address whether the moon landing was faked, whether 9/11 was an “inside job,” or whether the Boston Marathon bombing was a “false flag operation” does not transfer the burden of proof to the federal government. The burden of proof is on he who proposes the theory.
From Verdict, a legal analysis blog at Justia.com comes a piece by former Nixon lawyer and Watergate figure John Dean: Unfortunately, Conspiracy Theorists Are Now Busy Concocting Bizarre Explanations of The Boston Marathon Bombing.
Conspiracy-theory believers are now focusing on the Boston Marathon bombing, just as they did with the Sandy Hook killings of children and their teachers, by rejecting official information about the events. The increasing Internet prominence of people who reject “official” accounts of such events again raises questions: Who are these people? What are they doing? And why are they doing it?
Dean references a story in the Guardian that presents “a jaw-dropping list of the leading explanations being offered by conspiracy theorists for the Boston Marathon bombing,” and offers some background.
Conspiracy-theory thinking has had varying degrees of prominence throughout history. Broadly defined a conspiracy theory is “a belief that some covert but influential organization is responsible for a circumstance or event.”
A recent poll shows, for example, that “37% of voters believe global warming is a hoax, 51% do not. Republicans say global warming is a hoax by a 58-25 margin, Democrats disagree 11-77.” And “51% of voters say a larger conspiracy was at work in the JFK assassination, just 25% say Oswald acted alone.” The poll noted that “28% of voters believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks.”
You can read the rest at the link. I admit I have some issues with what Dean writes, because he suggests that to buy into any “conspiracy theory” is to abandon all critical thinking. And that definition is strange. I thought a conspiracy theory was the notion that more than one person was involved in planning or executing some event. Anyway, I would argue that the Warren Commission was based on a trumped up theory similar to the Bush administration’s propagation of it’s conspiracy theory about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It seems to me that one needs to apply “critical thinking” to both government activities and claims and to anti-government conspiracy theories. The problem IMO is that there are so many people out there who are just plain ignorant and/or stupid.
Anyway, I may have more on this in a future post. For now, here’s a link to a Salon article that Dakinikat posted awhile back on “the psychology of conspiratorial thinking” and another more recent article at Salon, originally published by Scientific American on “how conspiracists think.”
Now what’s on your mind today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread, and Have a terrific weekend!
Ah, and now for part two of today’s Sunday Reads, get ready for lots of links…
Let’s start with a couple of big news stories, and then work our way through the rest.
Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing above Scotland which killed 270 people, has died at his home in Libya.
Megrahi, 60, was convicted by a special court in the Netherlands in 2001.
He was freed from Scottish jail in 2009 on compassionate grounds because of cancer, stirring controversy when he outlived doctors’ expectations.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron said it was a day to remember the 270 victims of “an appalling terrorist act”.
Mr Cameron, who is in Chicago for a Nato summit, said Megrahi should never have been freed, Reuters news agency reports.
No kidding…Well, at least the victims families can have some sense of closure. Although, I cannot see how his death, free and at home, would give those families a feeling of relief.
Boehner is talking crap again, this time on the TV show “This Week,” U.S. banking laws unable to stop JPMorgan loss: Republican Boehner –
U.S. banking reforms could not have prevented JPMorgan Chase & Co‘s trading losses, and those involved in the activities that went awry should be held accountable, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said in an interview aired on Sunday.
“I don’t believe there’s anything in Dodd-Frank (financial reform law) that would’ve prevented this activity at JPMorgan,” said Boehner, the top Republican U.S. officeholder. He made the comments Friday in an interview for ABC’s “This Week.”
Last week JPMorgan disclosed that it has suffered at least $2 billion in losses due to trades that went bad. The losses from derivatives trading could widen and have placed pressure on the bank to explain what happened as lawmakers and regulators tussle over rules for Dodd-Frank enacted two years ago.
“There’s no law against stupidity. No law against stupid trades,” said Boehner.
“And as long as depositors’ money wasn’t at risk and as long as there’s no risk of a taxpayer bailout, they should be held accountable by the market and their shareholders,” he said.
This hedge may have been considered an exemption according to Dodd-Frank, but with the amounts of the loss increasing daily, I wonder if there is something more sinister going on.
While on the subject of the GOP…this little post from Atlanta Journal Constitution caught my eye. You may remember that my state of Georgia was last in the nation when it came to laws that prevent or punish ethics infractions within the State’s government. Georgia House Speaker David Ralston had some words about ethics reform, and I think it illustrates the kind of partisan problems we are seeing these days. No, Speaker Ralston. Ethics reform is not a partisan issue | Jay Bookman
If you believe House Speaker David Ralston, ethics reform is a liberal cause backed by liberal groups and the liberal media, and conservatives who join the campaign for ethics reform are being played for suckers in an attempt to divide the Republican Party.
“In times of great majorities like we enjoy now, we must remember that there are those around us who seek nothing less than to divide us. There are those who would sow the seeds of dissension and discord in order to advance a self-absorbed agenda that’s not consistent with the best interests of our party.
Let me be very clear. Regardless of the course that others may take, as for me and the people’s House of this state, we are going to stand united, working hard, standing Republican shoulder to Republican shoulder, to make Georgia a better state — and not align ourselves with media elites and liberal special interest groups. …”
That statement — uttered by Ralston at the state GOP convention in Columbus Friday — is the biggest load of baloney I have seen from a Georgia politician not named Newt Gingrich. It is also a two-fold insult to the base of his party, suggesting that ethics reform is not a conservative value and that Republican voters and activists who support such reform are being duped.
Democratic candidates and strategists would no doubt be pleased by Ralston’s confession that ethics reform is a liberal cause, and they are no doubt eager to campaign on that idea. The only problem is, it isn’t true.
Liberal Americans and conservative Americans don’t agree about a lot of things. But they do agree about the impropriety of elected public officials taking $17,000 family vacations to Europe on a lobbyist’s dollar, as Ralston has done. They do agree that lobbyists shouldn’t be plying public officials of either party with $250 rounds of golf and $300 dinners and $500-a-night resort hotel rooms. There is no partisan divide among the citizens of Georgia on that question, and Ralston knows it.
The statement is in response to a GOP committee meeting this weekend.
…At the urging of the GOP rank and file, the party’s executive committee has voted unanimously to put an advisory question on the GOP primary ballot this July, asking primary voters whether they support a $100 limit on gifts from lobbyists to legislators.
The people who supported that measure are not liberals and they are not liberal dupes, as Ralston seems to suggest. The same is true of Republican primary voters who will vote overwhelming in favor of that measure come July.
Ralston’s attempt to make this a test of party loyalty is ludicrous. He has clearly decided that preserving the privileges and entitlements that he and his fellow elected officials enjoy is more important than honoring the opinions of his party membership and the people of Georgia.
The divide, in other words, is not between Republican and Democrat or liberal and conservative. The divide is between the people of this state and those who believe that the title of senator or representative is an entitlement to the spoils of power
What Ralston is doing is perfectly in line with the hypocritical behavior of politicians as a whole…
As the AJC’s Jim Galloway reports, a group calling itself the Capitol Coalition of Conservative Government has responded to Ralston’s statement, and they have put their case well:
“We strongly condemn the comments made by Speaker Ralston regarding ethics reform. Strong ethics and accountability are not a matter of right versus left. They are a matter of right versus wrong.
His comments imply that voters and activists should hide our eyes from the realities of ethics violations and the need for reform, and stand by everyone no matter what they do, simply because they have an “R” behind their name.
Rather than open his heart to the cries from citizens that we have the right to call for accountability, his comments reflect those of someone who seeks to divide our party by falsely accusing those who stand for our values of being divisive. His comments were arrogant and pompous and show an attitude that is anything but a humble public servant.”
It is also amusing to see Ralston once again trying to perform an exquisite ethical two-step. On the one hand, he argues that as speaker he “represent(s) a caucus that are basically good people doing good jobs,” and he feigns surprise that Republican voters and activists might question their ethical purity.
He then turns around and warns that if gifts over $100 are outlawed, those very same “good people” would begin to accept those gifts under the table, in violation of the law. He seems to believe that members of his own caucus would rather break the law than give up their goodies, and he seems to believe that members of his own party have become dupes of “media elites and liberal special interest groups” because they dare demand clean government.
Anyway, I just thought that was a good article and made a good point about the partisan politics that are bringing the government to a stand still.
GOP need to be focused of fixing the economy, not turning to austerity measures to effectively put a death strangle on our country…we have talked about this over and over again. It all is just too damn frustrating to see this crap going on. Sigh…
There is some excitement in the world of horse racing, I’ll Have Another catches Bodemeister again –
Two weeks ago, J. Paul Reddam’s I’ll Have Another ran down pacesetter Bodemeister to take the Kentucky Derby under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs. On Saturday, I’ll Have Another took on that pacesetting rival in the 137th running of the Preakness Stakes and gutted out a neck victory to take the second jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico.
I am not really into the sport of horse racing, but my brother-in-law is a professor at Cornell and works in the lab that test the horses for drugs.
“We wanted to be a little bit closer to Bodemeister this time because normally that horse runs a huge race,” Gutierrez said. “My horse has a tremendous kick in the end. He has been proving that in the last three races. He didn’t disappoint again today. He has proven a lot of people wrong. I just have to prepare because I want to be at the same level as him. He’s an amazing horse.”
The exciting rematch was witnessed by a record crowd of 121,309 at Pimlico, edging the 2005 Preakness when 121,263 packed Old Hilltop. The 13-race Thoroughbred card generated an all-sources handle of $80,463,005. The handle ranked as the sixth highest for Pimlico’s signature day.
“The numbers say it all. We had a tremendous event,” Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas stated.
It’s now on to the Belmont Stakes in New York for the Doug O’Neill-trained I’ll Have Another, who cost just $35,000 when purchased by O’Neill’s brother Dennis at the 2011 OBS Spring Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training. The colt will attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed swept all three races in 1978.
Now lets move on to another link that is making people talk, this time it is an op/ed in the New York Times. First we will look at the op/ed, written by Campbell Brown and then a post from Think Progress that comments on it.
WHEN I listen to President Obama speak to and about women, he sometimes sounds too paternalistic for my taste. In numerous appearances over the years — most recently at the Barnard graduation — he has made reference to how women are smarter than men. It’s all so tired, the kind of fake praise showered upon those one views as easy to impress. As I listen, I am always bracing for the old go-to cliché: “Behind every great man is a great woman.”Some women are smarter than men and some aren’t. But to suggest to women that they deserve dominance instead of equality is at best a cheap applause line.
In today’s New York Times, former cable news anchor Campbell Brown attacks President Obama for “condescending” to women with a “paternalistic,” “fake,” and “grating” attitude. In the 10th paragraph, she discloses that her husband Dan Senor is a top advisor to Mitt Romney.
Brown launches her assault based on Obama’s commencement address at Barnard College — the women’s college at Columbia University — and suggests that though “it’s a tough economy,” he shouldn’t have encouraged the young women there that they are “tougher” and that “things will get better” in the nation’s job market.
Brown’s primary contention is that Obama is ignoring economic issues related to women to focus on things like abortion rights and affordable access to contraception. To justify her attack, Brown cites a handful of stories from personal friends and relatives, then cites polling data:
The struggling women in my life all laughed when I asked them if contraception or abortion rights would be a major factor in their decision about this election. For them, and for most other women, the economy overwhelms everything else….
Another recent Pew Research Center survey found that voters, when thinking about whom to vote for in the fall, are most concerned about the economy (86 percent) and jobs (84 percent). Near the bottom of the list were some of the hot-button social issues.
She’s right: the economy and jobs are at the top of voters’ lists of issues. But it’s not at the expense of all other issues. Indeed, the same Pew poll Brown cites shows that more than a third of voters ranked “abortion” and “birth control” — 39 and 34 percent, respectively — as “very important” issues. And, according to the report, “Birth control is significantly more important to women (40% very important) than men (27%).”
Four pages past Brown’s essay in the Times’s Sunday Review, the Times editorial board takes Republicans to task and outlines their continuing assault on women’s issues. The problem with Romney — elided by Brown — is that he shares many of these extreme views. Brown writes:
Most women don’t want to be patted on the head or treated as wards of the state. They simply want to be given a chance to succeed based on their talent and skills. To borrow a phrase from our president’s favorite president, Abraham Lincoln, they want “an open field and a fair chance.”
When asked why Romney has repeatedly dodged the question about his “support” the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the Romney campaign had this to say.
The campaign quickly covered itself with the hedge that Romney “supports pay equity and is not looking to change current law.” Republicans in Congress opposed the law when it was debated. Only two GOP senators — Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who side with the President against their party on women’s issues — voted for it.
I have more world news after the jump…
If you have anything to add…that made you laugh today…post it!
Caught this image in a tweet today:
Speaking of Twitter…there is a trend with hashtag #ReplaceFilmsTitlesWithVagina
I got in on the fun today, and here were some of my suggestions:
If you all feel like it, post a few suggestions below.
This was funny, but it is based on truth:
And Newt had a bit of a break down…Newt Gingrich’s bus breaks down in West Hollywood; locals show little sympathy | 89.3 KPCC
Gingrich, who is in Los Angeles campaigning, did not receive much sympathy for his vehicle’s mechanical difficulties. Instead, locals took to Twitter with red-white-and-blue language, unsolicited advice, claims of voodoo, musings on karma, and at least one mention of a glitter-bomb:
And one more funny political cartoon:
Now, if anyone has owned a pug knows…you can’t just have one. So this picture reminded me of my two boys, Brutus and Cosmo…both have passed…but they were so damn funny when they did their pug dance.
Yes, Cosmo was named after Cosmo Kramer, and I have to admit…this next link has been such a great break away from all the anti-sponge worthy news…watchseinfeld’s Channel – YouTube
I love the behind the scenes from The Strike aka Festivus, The Betrayal, and The Sniffing Accountant. I do have some other funny ones to share below:
So for a few more laughs, there are some images I found on Facebook:
h/t dakinikat who found pic via Ed King:
From George Takei page: “if your happy and you know it…”
“Take it away…and bring me another lover…”
That’s all folks…see you in the funny papers!
I have some juicy links for you this morning…so go get your cup of coffee, cause it’s gonna be a long post.
There is a lot going on in Egypt…Egypt new PM claims more powers than predecessor – Yahoo! News
Egypt‘s military rulers picked a prime minister from ousted leader Hosni Mubarak‘s era to head the next government in a move quickly rejected by tens of thousands of protesters, while the United States ratcheted up pressure on the generals to quickly transfer power to a civilian leadership.
Kamal el-Ganzouri, 78, served as prime minister between 1996 and 1999 and was deputy prime minister and planning minister before that. He also was a provincial governor under the late President Anwar Sadat.
In a televised statement, he said the military has given him greater powers than his predecessor and he wouldn’t have accepted the job if he believed military ruler Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi had any intention of staying in power.
“The powers given to me exceed any similar mandates,” he said, looking uncomfortable, grasping for words and repeatedly pausing as he spoke. “I will take full authority so I’m able to serve my country.”
He also spoke about not being able to form a government in time for elections that were scheduled for Monday. The US issued a statement:
“We believe that Egypt’s transition to democracy must continue, with elections proceeding expeditiously, and all necessary measures taken to ensure security and prevent intimidation,” The White House said in a statement. “Most importantly, we believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible.”
The stance is significant because the Egyptian military has over the past 30 years forged close relations with successive U.S. administrations, receiving $1.3 billion annually in aid.
El-Ganzouri’s appointment was announced by state TV following a meeting late Thursday between him and Tantawi. Tantawi was Mubarak’s defense minister of 20 years and served in el-Ganzouri’s earlier government.
Almost forty people have been killed in the last five days as protest turned violent against the military’s actions regarding a formation of a government. The generals apologized for the deaths, but their choice of prime minister angered the Egyptian people whose uprising earlier in the year brought about the ouster of dictator Hosni Muburak. Many believe that Egypt’s military has hijacked the revolution…by placing a member of Mubarak’s regime in control. Protestors have vowed not to leave Tahrir Square until the military resigns and is replaced by a civilian presidential council.
But not all of Egypt is angry at the military, it seems a bit like perfect timing. Egypt’s military leaders are bringing their own show of support. Egypt Military Tries to Woo Wider Public Beyond Protesters – NYTimes.com
Some call it the silent majority. In Egypt these days, the preferred term is the Party of the Couch. And in that ill-defined constituency, sometimes more myth than reality, Egypt’s ruling military has staked its credibility as it seeks to fend off the greatest challenge yet from protesters seeking to force it from power.
Drawing on sentiments pronounced Friday in the grittier parts of Cairo, even just a few blocks from the protests in Tahrir Square, and in a defiantly nationalist rally near the Defense Ministry, the military is offering either a canny read of Egypt’s mood or yet another delusional estimation of its popularity, a mistake that has bedeviled so many autocrats. With a mix of bravado and disdain, it has hewed to a narrative first pronounced after it seized power from President Hosni Mubarak in February: It bears the mantle of Egypt’s revolution.
“Egypt is not Tahrir Square,” Maj. Gen. Mukhtar el-Mallah, a member of the 20-member military council ruling since February, said in a news conference this week. “If you take a walk on other streets in Egypt, you will find that everything is very normal.”
In much of Cairo, and elsewhere in Egypt, the military has found a receptive audience for that message in a country buckling under a stagnating economy and a lurking insecurity. Even as it promises to surrender power by June, it has deployed all the platitudes of authoritarian Arab governments: fear of foreign intervention, fear of chaos, and fear of the rabble. One doctor quipped Friday that the sole change since the revolution was an extra digit added this year to cellphone numbers.
The concern seems to fall on who will lead Egypt’s government, if not the military…then who will it be.
“They think they can fill up a square?” asked Marwan Helmy, a 65-year-old high school teacher at a boisterous pro-military rally that convened Friday in Abassiya, a few miles from the far bigger antimilitary demonstration in Tahrir Square. “We will fill all the streets of Egypt and support the military. We can’t be silent any longer, the country is unraveling. Who gave them the right to represent us? Tahrir is not Egypt!”
Thousands turned out for the Abassiya rally, waving flags, chanting slogans more visceral than meditated and crowding overpasses and the square below. In its ardor, it seemed to manifest a militant nationalism that added a new wrinkle to all the divides in Egypt pitting Islamist against secular, rich against poor, and city against countryside.
It is going to get more contentious in the coming weeks. When Mona Eltahawy writes up her experiences being arrested and assaulted by the police and Ministry of the Interior…I am sure the truth will eventually come out.
Next up are some articles about present day slavery. First is a link to an Al Jazeera video report: The Al Jazeera slavery debate – Slavery: A 21st Century Evil – Al Jazeera English
Why, hundreds of years after it was legally abolished, does slavery persist? The last episode of Slavery: A 21st Century Evil is a televised debate in which this question, among others, was posed to a panel of those who direct or seek to influence government policies on slavery across the world.
The debate was held at Decatur House on Washington’s Lafayette Square – the site of the only remaining physical evidence that African Americans were once held in bondage within sight of the White House – as an iconic venue for the debate on a trade that refuses to die.
Moderator Rageh Omaar was joined by: Luis C d’Baca from the US State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; Kevin Bales, the president of Free the Slaves; David Batstone, the president of Not for Sale; and Joy Ezeilo, the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons.
This next link is to the State Department Blog, as it connects us to modern day slavery in a very personal way. One Million Footprints on the Path to Freedom | U.S. Department of State Blog
Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca directs the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
Two months ago, the Fairtrade Fund launched Slavery Footprint, a web- and mobile-based application that allows users to understand how their lives intersect with modern slavery. Through a grant from the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, the Fairtrade Fund developed this tool to help more people understand the way their lifestyles and consumption habits fuel the demand for forced labor and sex trafficking.
The app works by asking users to complete a quick survey about where they live and what they buy and eat. That information is processed in an algorithm that analyzes the 400 most common consumer items and determines the likelihood that those items were tainted by modern slavery somewhere along the supply chain.
The goal announced at the time of the launch was to register 150,000 people having taken the survey by September 22, 2012, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Twelve months to get 150,000 people engaged. What’s been revealed instead in the last two months is that people care about this issue, and aren’t going to wait on our timetable to join the modern abolitionist movement. On November 11 , only six weeks after the site launched, the millionth Slavery Footprint survey was completed. And it’s not just Americans — people from a hundred different countries have taken the quiz.
By taking the survey, they have learned that human trafficking doesn’t just affect people in faraway parts of the world. We touch this crime in the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the technology upon which we rely — and we can do something about it. Slavery Footprint and its partners like MTV have made it possible to take action by letting companies and universities know that you care about modern slavery and that you hope they do as well.
The road to freedom is long and hard, but there are now millions of footprints on that path. I encourage you to visit www.slaveryfootprint.org, take the survey yourself, and join us as we seek to deliver on the promise of Emancipation.
I took the survey and here was my results:
That figure is shocking, my numbers were higher than an average single person because I included my two kids in the survey. This really puts the issue of slavery directly on me, and how my family is connected to the modern slave trade. I urge you to take the survey, it will make you think about things from a different perspective.
Moving on from slavery to the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Here is Hillary Clinton on the importance of eliminating violence against women.
Press StatementHillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of StateWashington, DC
November 25, 2011
Today, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, we are reminded of the horrific acts of violence against women that take place every day around the world and pledge to recommit ourselves to changing attitudes and ending all forms of violence against women and girls.
Gender-based violence is a global pandemic that cuts across all borders and impacts all peoples and societies – regardless of ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, or religion. One in three women around the world will experience some form of gender-based violence in her lifetime. The medical, security, and legal costs to countries are incalculable. It dampens economic development and tears at the fabric of societies. The health costs to women includes not only the detrimental impact on their physical well-being, such as increased susceptibility to HIV infection, but also mental health costs for both women and their children.
We need to improve our efforts to prevent and respond to this crisis. When women are afforded their rights and given the chance to pursue education, employment, and political participation, they drive social and economic progress. They lift up themselves, their families, communities, and their nations. But to build this future girls must be able to learn without fear and women must be able to make decisions about their own lives and the future of their families.
Prevention, protection and prosecution are essential to combating this violence. But we must add a fourth “P” as well – Priority. Empowering women and girls is already a priority of the United States, but we need more countries to step up and take on this challenge. The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the 16 days Campaign Against Gender-Based Violence is an opportunity to renew the commitment to free women and girls from the nightmare of violence, because the future safety and security of our world depends on it.
Geez, I can’t help but think just how much better off we would all be if she was in the White House.
You probably have to go get another cup of coffee, so go ahead…there is more after the jump.