Thursday Reads: Winter Storms, Political and Corporate Corruption, and Other News

winter2013bookshelves

Good Morning!!

Snow began falling here before 7AM, and there is already a coating over everything. Of course we already had a around a foot of the stuff on the ground, so whatever we get will pile on top of that. Depending on where the rain/snow line falls, everything may be coated with ice by tonight.

Once again the South has been hit hard with winter weather. The Washington Post reports: Winter storm headed toward D.C. knocks out power across the Southeast U.S.

A powerful winter storm dropped a coat of snow and freezing rain across the Southeast on Wednesday, leaving almost 300,000 customers without power, forcing the cancellation ofmore than 3,600 flights, and creating gridlock on roadways in North Carolina.

In Atlanta, where another recent snowstorm had caused massive traffic jams, people seemed to have learned their lesson. Schools were closed. Workers stayed home. The city turned into a kind of wintry ghost town.

But in North Carolina, drivers didn’t seem to have learned the lesson at all.

In both Charlotte and Raleigh, news outlets reported that people headed out onto ice-covered roads in mid-afternoon. The result was the same it had been in Atlanta two weeks ago: creeping traffic, abandoned cars and folks offering stranded motorists a place to stay the night….

As Wednesday went on, the storm swept from Alabama, across Georgia and up into the Carolinas on its way toward Virginia and the Washington area.

Another Winter Storm Affects Atlanta Area

CBS Atlanta warned Georgians to stay off the roads today if possible.

Georgia Department of Transportation officials said they are expecting road conditions to remain treacherous into Thursday morning as sleet and freezing rain is expected to continue. GDOT is urging the public to avoid all but emergency travel until at least mid-day Thursday

Forecasters at the National Weather Service said they are expecting falling pieces of melting ice to pose threats to drivers and pedestrians near overpasses and tall structures on Thursday.

Forecasters are also anticipating wet roads to refreeze Thursday night, which could lead to patches of black ice.

Several inches of snow could accumulate in North Georgia while the area across the state between a line just north of Columbus, Macon, Warner Robins and Statesboro and extending northward to above Interstate Highway 20 are experiencing icing roadways, power lines and trees. Moreover, winds gusting to as much as 30 m.p.h. could cause limbs and trees to fall on power lines and roads. A State of Emergency remains in effect for 91 counties in this region.

Traffic in Charlotte, NC

Traffic in Charlotte, NC

NPR: Winter Storm Paralyzes Roads In North Carolina, Despite Warnings

They knew it was coming. But drivers in North Carolina still fell prey to the winter storm that the National Weather Service predicted would be “potentially crippling” to the area. Even those who left just after noon have been trapped by the heavy snow that arrived today.

“Snow arrives in the Triangle as expected but causes gridlock anyway,” reads the headline in the Raleigh News Observer, referring to the Research Triangle of the cities Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. The intense traffic came one day after Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency ahead of the winter storm.

From what we’re seeing, people are blaming the problem on two factors: The snow came on fast and immediately stuck to roads; and most commuters who worked Wednesday tried to leave at the same time, adding to the gridlock.

The worst of the conditions may be yet to come, as officials expect freezing rain and sleet to hit the area as the storm moves out.

From NBC News: ‘Very Rough Commute’ Looms as Snow Blankets Much of Northeast.

The winter storm that tore through the American South, knocking out power to a half-million people, has marched up the East Coast to terrorize the morning commute Thursday.

More than 150 million people remain under a winter storm warning or advisory as snow falls in some Northeast cities at a rate of 1-2 inches per hour.

“The rate of snowfall will be hard to deal with,” said Kevin Roth, a forecaster with the The Weather Channel. “It will be a very rough commute. The may have enough plows to deal with normal storms but with two inches an hour the they drive by and the snow just builds back up. This will affect any roadways or airport runways in the region.”

It could be a very long weekend for many parents. Since Monday is a holiday, schools may just decide to close tomorrow as well as closing or letting out early today.

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Down in New Orleans, it was a bad day for former Mayor Ray Nagin and former St.Tammany coroner Peter Galvin, but a good day for a city that has endured more than it’s share of political corruption. From Nola.com’s James Varney: Ray Nagin convicted, Peter Galvan sentenced – a good day for Louisiana.

Wednesday was a very good day at U.S. District Court in New Orleans for those who favor good government in Louisiana. Or maybe simply for justice.

Either way, when a former mayor of New Orleans gets convicted on 20 of 21 corruption counts in one federal courtroom, and a crooked coroner is sentenced to two years in another, it at least means the bad guys don’t always get away with it.

Who knows what Ray Nagin, New Orleans’ mayor during its darkest hour of Katrina, will be sentenced to? He faces up to 20 years in prison, and I’m hard pressed to come up with many reasons he should get much less….

Meanwhile, disgraced former St. Tammany coroner Peter Galvan, who managed to make himself the highest paid official in the state and sweeten his pension pot while also raking in undeserved sick pay and other goodies, got off with a 2-year sentence when he could have gotten five.

From the Christian Science Monitor summarizes the evidence against Nagin:

The case against the former mayor was towering. In the nine-day trial, prosecutors summoned many co-conspirators to the stand who testified to the pay-to-play schemes Nagin orchestrated, plus the bribes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars that he sought and then redirected to Stone Age, a granite countertop business operated by his sons, who were not charged.

In addition to the witnesses, prosecutors presented jurors with a mountain of evidence – e-mail correspondence, business contracts, credit card and bank statements, and more – that they said proved the mayor was a willing participant in wielding power for personal profit.

Nagin was convicted on five counts of bribery, nine counts of wire fraud, one count of money laundering conspiracy, four counts of filing false tax returns, and one overarching count of conspiracy. Jurors acquitted Nagin of a single charge of bribery related to a $10,000 bribe that prosecutors said he accepted through the family business.

“The physical evidence was so overwhelming that for Ray Nagin to have successfully defended this case, he would have had, in some way, to refute these documents and use his credibility,” says Michael Sherman, a political scientist at Tulane University in New Orleans and a former legal adviser to current mayor Mitch Landrieu.

ComcastMonopoly

Now if we could just get the Federal government to stop letting corporations to get away with murder. My jaw dropped when I saw this headline at Reuters: Comcast to buy Time Warner Cable for $45.2 billion.

Comcast Corp said on Thursday it would buy Time Warner Cable Inc for $45.2 billion in an all-stock deal that combines the two largest U.S. cable operators.

The friendly takeover comes as a surprise after months of public pursuit of Time Warner Cable by smaller rival Charter Communications Inc, and immediately raised questions as to whether it would pass regulatory scrutiny.

Comcast will pay $158.82 per share, which is roughly what Time Warner Cable demanded from Charter.

The combined company would divest 3 million subscribers, about a quarter of Time Warner’s 12 million customers. Together with Comcast’s 22 million video subscribers, the roughly 30 million total would represent just under 30 percent of the U.S. pay television video market.

The new cable giant would tower over its closest video competitor, DirecTV, which has about 20 million video customers.

WTF?! Comcast already owns broadcast giant NBC, and now they will essential control the distribution of TV and internet cable? If the feds let this go through, it will be another huge step backward to the Robber Baron days. Whatever happened to the Sherman AntiTrust Act, anyway?

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This news out of Kentucky is just unbelievable: Sinkhole ‘erupts’ inside National Corvette Museum. From the Autoblog:

A 40-foot sinkhole (see photo at left)  developed inside the National Corvette Museum overnight in Bowling Green, KY, swallowing up eight vehicles, including two Corvette models on loan from General Motors. No one was in the museum at the time of the incident, which happened early this morning.

According to the NCM, motion sensors were set off at 5:44 AM, leading museum authorities to discover a 25 to 30-foot deep chasm, that Executive Director Wendell Strode called “pretty significant.” The sinkhole developed in the museum’s Skydome, although it can’t be seen on any of the museum’s webcams (the Enthusiast cam is the closest look we can get to what’s going on).

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports emergency personnel remain on the scene, and have only allowed museum employees to remove a single vehicle – the only remaining 1983 Corvette, which was part of a mere 44-vehicle run.

The two cars on loan from GM were a 1993 ZR-1 Spyder and a 2009 ZR1 “Blue Devil,” while the damanged museum-owned cars included a 1962 Corvette, the millionth Vette ever built (a 1992), a 2001 Mallett Hammer Z06 and the 1.5 millionth car produced. None of the damaged vehicles were on loan from private individuals. The extent of the damage to these vehicles remains unclear at this time.

Finally, some science news: Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory claim to have achieved nuclear fusion. From the LA Times: Nuclear fusion reactions mark a ‘milestone’

It took 192 lasers and a building big enough to contain three football fields, but physicists have finally produced a pair of nuclear fusion reactions that created more energy than was in the fuel to start with.

The reactions lasted less than a billionth of a second, and they released only a few thousand joules — enough to power a 100-watt light bulb for less than three minutes. But it marks the first time scientists have been able to harness the power of stars here on Earth.

“This is really an important milestone,” said Warren Mori, a plasma physicist at UCLA who was not involved in the effort.

The experiment, conducted at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the Bay Area, is still a very long way from “ignition,” the point at which the reaction generates more energy than was required to kick it off with lasers. Scientists agree that significant hurdles remain before that goal can be reached.

But the tests, described Wednesday in the journal Nature, give researchers a promising sign that they’re finally on the right path to reaching this goal — one that could ultimately lead to cleaner nuclear energy, safer weapons arsenals and a more profound understanding of astrophysics.

So . . . what stories are you following today? As always, please post your recommended links in the comment thread and stay safe and warm where ever you are!


Lazy Caturday Reads

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Good Morning!!

It’s a winter Saturday, a good day to stay in a comfy bed for awhile, relax, and catch up on the latest news. So let’s see what’s happening out there today.

First up, the all-important weather forecast. I know you won’t be surprised to learn there are more winter storms on the way. From the Weather Channel: Winter Storm Maximus Brings Snow, Ice to Midwest, South, East, Rockies Through Monday.

Winter Storm Maximus, the 13th named storm of the winter season in the U.S., will have deposited a wintry mess from coast to coast by the time it is finally over Monday.

This storm will have multiple waves of snow, sleet and freezing rain sweeping west to east across the country.

First, snow will taper off over parts of the southern and central Rockies. A few additional inches of snow are expected over the mountains of Colorado and northern New Mexico. This storm will drop snow in the west, parts of the South and Midwest and then move into upstate New York and Northern New England. It’s not yet clear what we’ll be getting in the northeast, but right now we are expecting a warm weekend, and the storm shouldn’t interfere with the Super Bowl tomorrow.

another wave of wintry precipitation kicks off early Sunday in the Southern Plains, spreading to the Ozarks and the Mid-South region Sunday afternoon, then sweeping quickly through the Tennessee Valley, Appalachians and East Sunday night and Monday.

Snow accumulations look most likely in a stripe from northwest Texas into parts of Oklahoma, northern Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virgina, and Virginia with several inches of accumulation possible. Parts of northwest Texas and southern Oklahoma near the Red River could measure up to around six inches of snow.

“Maximus” will be closely followed by Winter Storm Nika, which will bring “widespread” snow and ice to the Plains, the Great Lakes, and the Northeast. Tomorrow is Ground Hog Day, but whether or not the sleepy rodent sees his shadow, it looks like winter is going to continue unabated.

In Georgia, where people are still trying to recover from their state government’s failure to prepare for a winter storm that had been predicted for two days beforehand, investigators are still trying assign blame for the massive f&ck-up.

cat taco

From the Atlanta Journal-Contitution: Storm debacle ‘case study’ of emergency management failure.

After two inches of snow turned Georgia into a national punch line, the state’s top disaster responder was cast as one of the debacle’s chief enablers. But the performance of state emergency management director Charley English is only part of larger-scale breakdown of the emergency management system, records and interviews reveal.

Records show there were failures up and down the line before and during Tuesday’s storm.

The performance of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency Tuesday is “a case study in how things can go badly,” said Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.

It’s also a case study in what can happen if you keep electing Republicans who hate government and don’t believe it has a role in public problem-solving. According to the article, Gov. Nathan Deal and other government officials had plenty of warning that the storm was going to hit Atlanta, yet they did next to nothing to prepare. Read all the gory details at the link.

At The National Memo, Joe Conason provides an example of how government has worked well in two blood-red states: Universal Pre-K? Ask Republicans In Georgia And Oklahoma — And Then Ask Grover Norquist.

Among the biggest policy mistakes of the past 50 years is our continuing failure to provide quality early childhood education to all of America’s kids. For children, families, and society as a whole, the benefits of “universal pre-K” are not only significant and well documented, but offset the financial cost many times over. Although we’ve been aware of these basic facts since the early Sixties, most politicians have preferred to squander billions of dollars on malfunctioning weaponry, catastrophic wars, and petroleum subsidies….

Even if there were no economic upside to starting the education of every child at three or four years of age, the obvious social benefits would vital for any country that aspires to cultivating a vibrant democratic republic. Citizens who can read and do math (and perhaps take an interest in science!) are more likely to succeed at self-government. They are also far more likely to succeed in life.

Enhancing personal opportunity is how universal pre-school generates universal public savings — estimated by a large cohort of studies to lie somewhere between 7 and 17 dollars for every single dollar spent.  Human brains mostly develop well before age five, so children who attend quality pre-school enter kindergarten with social skills, confidence, and knowledge that boosts achievement for many years.

cat-reading-a-book

So what happened in Georgia and Oklahoma?

In Oklahoma, where every child has been entitled to free pre-school since 1998, a well-known study by Georgetown University educators found substantially improved cognitive skills and test scores among Tulsa students who had attended public pre-K. The program made the difference between falling below national norms and moving up to achieve them. In Georgia, first to implement universal state-funded pre-school almost 20 years ago, painstaking research has likewise showed gains in math and reading that lasted through eighth grade, especially among underprivileged rural and urban children.

What about Grover Norquist? According to Conason he sends his own kids to D.C.’s free public pre-school program, despise his avowed opposition to taxes of any kind. Maybe some of those right wing Congresspeople should have a talk with him about early childhood education.

It’s looking more and more like the Keystone XL Pipeline will be approved, according to the NYT:

The State Department released a report on Friday concluding that the Keystone XL pipeline would not substantially worsen carbon pollution, leaving an opening for President Obama to approve the politically divisive project.

The department’s long-awaited environmental impact statement appears to indicate that the project could pass the criteria Mr. Obama set forth in a speech last summer when he said he would approve the 1,700-mile pipeline if it would not “significantly exacerbate” the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. Although the pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to the Gulf Coast, the report appears to indicate that if it were not built, carbon-heavy oil would still be extracted at the same rate from pristine Alberta forest and transported to refineries by rail instead.

The report sets up a difficult decision for Secretary of State John Kerry, who now must make a recommendation on the international project to Mr. Obama. Mr. Kerry, who hopes to make action on climate change a key part of his legacy, has never publicly offered his personal views on the pipeline. Aides said Mr. Kerry was preparing to “dive into” the 11-volume report and would give high priority to the issue of global warming in making the decision. His aides offered no timetable.

If so, there will be pushback from indigenous Americans: Keystone XL ‘black snake’ pipeline to face ‘epic’ opposition from Native American alliance.

A Native American alliance is forming to block construction of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline which still needs final approval from U.S. President Barack Obama after the State Department released an environmental report indicating the project wouldn’t have a significant impact Alberta tar sands production.

Members from the seven tribes of the Lakota Nation, along with tribal members and tribes in Idaho, Oklahoma, Montana, Nebraska and Oregon, have been preparing to stop construction of the 1,400 kilometre pipeline which is slated to run, on the U.S. side, from Morgan, Mon., to Steel City, Neb., and pump 830,000 barrels per day from Alberta’s tar sands. The pipeline would originate in Hardisty, Alta.

“It poses a threat to our sacred water and the product is coming from the tar sands and our tribes oppose the tar sands mining,” said Deborah White Plume, of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, which is part of the Lakota Nation in South Dakota. “All of our tribes have taken action to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Read the rest at the link.

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The Economist has an interesting article about the Winter Olympic games and Vladimir Putin’s Russia: Sochi or bust: The conspicuous dazzle of the games masks a country, and a president, in deepening trouble

FEBRUARY 7th sees the opening of the winter Olympics in Sochi on the Black Sea. The message of the games is simple: “Russia is back”. Sochi was planned as a celebration of Russia’s resurgence, a symbol of international recognition and a crowning moment for Vladimir Putin, its president, who for the present seems to have seen off all his challengers.

Appropriately, the opening ceremony will include the image of the Russian “troika-bird” from Nikolai Gogol’s “Dead Souls”. “Rus,” wrote Gogol, “aren’t you soaring like a spry troika that can’t be overtaken? The road is smoking under you, the bridges thunder, everything steps aside and is left behind!…Is this lightning thrown down from heaven? Other nations and states gaze askance, step off the road and give [you] right of way.”

The quote has long been used to justify Russian exceptionalism and moral superiority. Gogol describes Russia as a deeply flawed and corrupt country, but it is precisely its misery and sinfulness that entitles it to mystical regeneration. His troika carries a swindler, Chichikov, and his drunken coachman, but it is transformed into the symbol of a God-inspired country that gloriously surpasses all others.

So, too, with the Sochi Olympics. This grand enterprise, the largest construction project in Russia’s post-Soviet history, is also a microcosm of Russian corruption, inefficiencies, excesses of wealth and disregard for ordinary citizens. The Olympics are widely seen as an extravagant caprice of Russia’s rulers, especially its flamboyantly macho president, rather than a common national effort. The cost of the games has more than quadrupled since 2007, making them, at $50 billion, the most expensive in history. One member of the International Olympic Committee thinks about a third of that money has been stolen. Russia’s opposition leaders say the figure is much higher.

Check it out. It’s a long read, but worthwhile, IMO.

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There’s some good news out of New York City, now that neo-facist Mayor Mike Bloomberg is gone. It looks like the “stop and frisk” policy will end soon: Mayor Says New York City Will Settle Suits on Stop-and-Frisk Tactics.

New York City will settle its long-running legal battle over the Police Department’s practice of stopping, questioning and often frisking people on the street — a divisive issue at the heart of the mayoral race last year — by agreeing to reforms that a judge ordered in August, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Thursday.

In making the announcement, which he said he hoped would end a turbulent chapter in the city’s racial history, Mr. de Blasio offered a sweeping repudiation of the aggressive policing practices that had been a hallmark of his predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, but that had stoked anger and resentment in many black and Latino neighborhoods. He essentially reversed the course set by Mr. Bloomberg, whose administration had appealed the judge’s ruling.

“We’re here today to turn the page on one of the most divisive problems in our city,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference. “We believe in ending the overuse of stop-and-frisk that has unfairly targeted young African-American and Latino men.”

That’s great news, but I wish he had noted that women have also been targeted, often in sexually abusive ways.

I’ll wrap this up and put my remaining links in the comment thread. I hope you’ll do the same. Please let us know what stories you’ve found interesting today.

Have a great weekend everyone!!


Tuesday Reads: Snowstorm, On-line Harassment, Profiling Snowden, and Other News

Alfred Eisenstaedt

Alfred Eisenstaedt

Good Morning!!

Looks like another big snowstorm is headed my way this afternoon. Blizzard warning south of Boston, winter storm warning for most areas.

Overnight the watches were converted to warnings meaning the likelihood of blizzard conditions and snow exceeding 6 inches has increased. The morning commute will be dry and you will see some dim sunshine. The snow begins this afternoon along the coast and the evening commute will be impacted. The storm is most intense overnight and ends during the morning from west to east on Wednesday….There is a blizzard warning up for Cape Cod, coastal Massachusetts south of Boston, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

At least I’m not in the blizzard zone for the moment. This appears to be a really big storm. I saw on Twitter this morning that there were whiteout conditions in St. Louis. You can watch a video update the Weather Channel page.

Intellicast – Current Radar in United States:

NBC News reports: Winter storm set to ‘go bananas’ across Northeast.

With memories of the dreaded polar vortex still fresh, winter deals another blow Tuesday, slamming the Northeast with a blast of cold air and up to a foot of snow.

“They are going to have quite a snowstorm,” said Kevin Roth, a lead meteorologist with theWeather Channel. “By this evening, all four cities from Philadelphia to Boston could face a pretty bad commute home. We’re expecting a good six to 10 inches. It will be snowing pretty hard.”

“Every once in while these little winter storms go bananas and we think this might be the one,” he added.

Yikes! What the heck does that mean? The story doesn’t explain. But meteorologists are begging us not to call it a “polar vortex.”

Temperatures are set to drop again in the Midwest and Northeast starting Sunday, a forecast that already is prompting the return of the phrase “polar vortex” — widely used to describe the blast of cold air that chilled the U.S. earlier this month. But while the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and the interior Northeast will experience below-average temperatures in the coming week, don’t call it a “polar vortex,” meteorologists say.

The “polar vortex” is a real weather phenomenon, just not one that actually visits the United States, they say. It’s actually a circular weather pattern that has always been stationed above the Arctic, explains weather.com.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the swirling high-altitude system never moves into the U.S., though parts of it can “break off” and push cold air south.

The cold experienced in early January was actually a result of the polar vortex weakening, becoming warmer and therefore releasing its powerful chill beyond its normal reach through the northern climes, NOAA says.

Weather experts at NOAA said the intense cold air the U.S. has experienced is in fact a result of a warming world and increasing climate variability. While researchers cannot yet determine whether the fluctuations are a result of natural patterns or environmental effects, meteorologists can predict that parts of the U.S. will see freezing weather again in the coming days as a result of a polar vortex breakdown.

Anyway, I’m going to have to rush around this morning. I have a package to mail, and I need to get a couple of things at the grocery store. I do have some interesting reads for you today–some of them are pretty long, but well worth reading.

cyber

Yesterday, via Tom Watson at Forbes, I came across an essay by long-time feminist blogger Amanda Hess that Watson says has been “widely discussed” for the past week or so. Somehow I missed it. Hess argues that on-line sexual harassment of women will be “the next civil rights issue.” In the essay, she writes about the frequent on-line attacks she and other female writers have experienced (warning: explicit and violent language)Here are the first few paragraphs.

I was 12 hours into a summer vacation in Palm Springs when my phone hummed to life, buzzing twice next to me in the dark of my hotel room. I squinted at the screen. It was 5:30 a.m., and a friend was texting me from the opposite coast. “Amanda, this twitter account. Freaking out over here,” she wrote. “There is a twitter account that seems to have been set up for the purpose of making death threats to you.”

I dragged myself out of bed and opened my laptop. A few hours earlier, someone going by the username “headlessfemalepig” had sent me seven tweets. “I see you are physically not very attractive. Figured,” the first said. Then: “You suck a lot of drunk and drug fucked guys cocks.” As a female journalist who writes about sex (among other things), none of this feedback was particularly out of the ordinary. But this guy took it to another level: “I am 36 years old, I did 12 years for ‘manslaughter’, I killed a woman, like you, who decided to make fun of guys cocks.” And then: “Happy to say we live in the same state. Im looking you up, and when I find you, im going to rape you and remove your head.” There was more, but the final tweet summed it up: “You are going to die and I am the one who is going to kill you. I promise you this.”

My fingers paused over the keyboard. I felt disoriented and terrified. Then embarrassed for being scared, and, finally, pissed. On the one hand, it seemed unlikely that I’d soon be defiled and decapitated at the hands of a serial rapist-murderer. On the other hand, headlessfemalepig was clearly a deranged individual with a bizarre fixation on me. I picked up my phone and dialed 911.

Read the rest at the link. A number of women have written about this issue, and particularly about the lack of protection for women who are harassed on-line from law enforcement–even though the threats sometimes lead to real-life actions. A couple more recent examples:

Skepchick wrote in October about being harassed for her participation in the on-line atheist community, Why I Don’t Just Go to the Cops.

Amy Wallace wrote about her experiences in a NYT op-ed over the weekend: Life as a Female Journalist: Hot or Not?

Internet-Troll

Along similar lines, I came across this 2010 article in The Boston Globe that provides some insight into why some people spend so much time and energy writing angry comments on line: Inside the mind of the anonymous online poster. The author got an interview with a frequent commenter to The Boston Globe website. He also discusses the problems newspapers face in dealing with angry and trolling comments from anonymous people. Here’s an excerpt:

On Monday, May 17, at 2 p.m., a breaking news article headlined “Obama’s aunt given OK to stay in United States” hits the home page of Boston.com. In a matter of seconds, the first anonymous online comment appears. A reader with the handle of Peregrinite writes, “of course she can . . . can someone appeal.”

Certain topics never fail to generate a flood of impassioned reactions online: immigration, President Obama, federal taxes, “birthers,” and race. This story about Obama’s Kenyan aunt, who had been exposed as an illegal immigrant living in public housing in Boston and who was now seeking asylum, manages to pull strands from all five of those contentious subjects.

In the next few minutes, several equally innocuous posts follow, including a rare comment in favor of the judge’s decision. Then the name-calling begins. At 2:03 p.m., a commenter with the pseudonym of Craptulous calls the aunt, Zeituni Onyango, a “foreign free-loader.” Seconds later comes the lament from Redzone 300: “Just another reason to hate are [sic] corrupt government.”

News websites from across the country struggle to maintain civility in their online comments forums. But given their anonymous nature and anything-goes ethos, these forums can sometimes feel as ungovernable as the tribal lands of Pakistan.

Read much more at the link.

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Yesterday I also happened upon a fascinating article by national security and tech journalist Dan Verton. In the piece, Verton tries to come up with a psychological profile of NSA leaker Edward snowden: What does the history of insider espionage say about Edward Snowden?

He wasn’t the first and will certainly not be the last member of the U.S. intelligence community to betray the trust of his nation. But what do we really know about Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked thousands of documents detailing NSA’s domestic and global eavesdropping programs?

The truth is we know very little about Snowden beyond what the media outlets that have a vested interest in protecting him choose to report. But when viewed through the prism of the last 25 years of insider espionage, the Edward Snowden we do know seems to fit the typical profile of the trusted insider struggling to overcome personal and professional shortcomings, and suffering from a warped sense of moral superiority.

More than a decade worth of studies into the psychological profiles of malicious insiders have revealed several common characteristics that make information technology professionals — particularly system administrators, like Edward Snowden — an “at risk” population for malicious insider activity.

Verton discusses Snowden’s history in the light of a study of IT administrators who eventually sabotaged their employers in some way: Inside the Mind of the Insider, by Eric D. Shaw, Jerrold M. Post, and Keven G. Ruby. These are both fairly long pieces, but if you have any interest in the ongoing Snowden saga, they are must reads! A bit more from Verton:

Born in 1983, Snowden grew up in North Carolina and Maryland. His father was a Coast Guard officer and his mother worked as a court administrator. They divorced in 2001, and Snowden went to live with his mother. His parents claim Snowden was ill as a teenager and failed to graduate high school. He eventually studied at a local community college to obtain a G.E.D.

Snowden was 17 when al-Qaida launched its attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. At that time, he adopted an online persona he called “The One True Hooha” at the website Ars Technica, where he participated in chat forums for gamers and hackers. His studies at a local community college would once again fall short of a degree.

In 2003, Snowden decided to join the Army Reserve, and requested a chance to undergo evaluation training for Special Forces to, in his words, “fight to help free people from oppression.”

Yet again, the young Snowden would fall short. He was dropped from the program and discharged from the Army four months later. Snowden claims to have broken both of his legs during training, but to date has provided no evidence. The Army has confirmed his service, but would not release his service record summary, known as a DD-214.

“He comes from a family that has a high need for achievement, but his experience is one disaster after another,” Stock said.

Lots more educated speculation on Snowden’s motives at the link.

In other news . . .

Here’s a spy story I hadn’t heard about in the mainstream media. Report: Israel Passes U.S. Military Technology to China.

Secret U.S. missile and electro-optics technology was transferred to China recently by Israel, prompting anger from the U.S. and causing a senior Israeli defense official to resign.

The head of defense exports for the Israeli Defense Ministry resigned after a U.S. investigation concluded that technology, including a miniature refrigeration system manufactured by Ricor and used for missiles and in electro-optic equipment, was sent to China, according to the Israeli newspaper Maariv.

Another Israeli news site, Aretz Sheva, reports the U.S. is concerned the technology could ultimately find its way to Iran, which last year sought to buy military equipment from China for its nuclear program.

That sounds scarier than the stuff Glenn Greenwald has been dribbling out.

From The New Statesman, here’s an exhibit I’d love to see if only I were in London: A history of psychology, warts and mysteries and all.

It looks more like an art installation than the remains of a 400-year-old experiment: a life-size image of a man rendered in dark, angry scrawls on a wooden panel. It is, in fact, a human nervous system, painstakingly removed from a corpse by Italian medical students and then varnished on to the dissecting table. Scientists in the 17th century believed that human beings were animated by the “animal spirit” that flowed from the brain down the nerves.

The display is part of the “Mind Maps” exhibition at the Science Museum in London, which explores how people have tried to gain a better understanding of their minds.

That sounds amazing.

Finally, a funny story from CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360: CNN reporter high during Anderson Cooper marijuana TV segment.

Poor Randi Kaye. The CNN reporter was sent to Denver for a week as part of the network’s “Gone to Pot” series, and in one of her later segments investigated dispensary tours that are being compared to Napa Valley wine tastings.

Kaye followed around a 72-year-old woman named Barbara Harvey, who is a huge fan of marijuana, and joined Harvey on a day-long dispensary tour where she spent much of her time in a limo being surrounded by people smoking marijuana with the windows rolled up. The CNN journalist tells Anderson Cooper she accidentally got a contact high after being stuck in a limo with Harvey for so long, though Cooper believes this is her “career highlight.”

At around the 4:30 mark in the above video, viewers can see Kaye in all her stoned glory. Kaye is all giggles and run-on sentences when talking about the cannabis business post-pot legalization in Colorado.

So . . . what are your recommended reads for today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.


Tuesday Reads

Matisse

Good Morning!!

This is going to be another quick post, because my mom is having an emergency that I need to help her with. She lost her internet, TV, and phone, and Comcast is saying they can’t do anything till Friday! She told them she is 88 years old, so maybe they’ll get off their duffs sooner.

Meanwhile, she just has her cell phone and only 100 minutes. She can afford to pay if she goes over, but she’s Great Depression survivor and often panics over “wasting money.”

So let’s see what’s happening in the headlines.

NBC News: Janet Yellen confirmed as first female Fed chair. Another glass ceiling shattered!

Vice chair of the Fed since 2010, Yellen begins her four-year term as leader of the century-old bank on Feb. 1. With the economy rebounding from the depths of the recession but only modestly so far, many economists expect her to focus on how to nurture growth without putting it into overdrive, which could risk fueling inflation….

Under Bernanke, the Fed has driven short-term interest rates down to near zero and flushed money into the economy with huge bond purchases, which it has just started to ease. Yellen, a strong Bernanke ally, has supported those policies and is expected to continue them until concrete signs emerge of sustained improvement of the economy and job market.

In a written statement, President Barack Obama said Yellen’s approval means “the American people will have a fierce champion” who will protect them.

On the other hand,

Lobbyists for the banking and financial services sectors issued statements pledging to work with Yellen. Both industries have led a fight to water down restrictions imposed by Obama’s 2010 law overhauling how the nation’s financial system is regulated.

I hope Dakinikat will weigh in on this later on. My guess is she will pooh pooh the notion that anything is going to suddenly create inflation in this economy.

CNN on the latest media meme: The Polar Vortex.

From Boston to Washington to Atlanta, the polar vortex kept swinging Tuesday, a frozen ice chest hovering over more than 100 million people.

Temperatures in many areas were in the single digits, and well below zero with wind chills.

In the Deep South, hard freeze warnings were in effect from eastern Texas to the Florida Panhandle….

It’s even too cold for polar bears and penguins. At Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, Anana — a polar bear who never grew the thick layer of fat that bears in the Arctic do — had to be brought inside Monday. And at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, bald eagles and African penguins, “who are used to temperate climates,” were taken off exhibit until the weather warms up, the facility reported.

And from Think Progress: Everything You Wanted To Know About The ‘Polar Vortex’

the Arctic air that usually sits on top of our planet is “taking an excursion” south for a couple of days, leaving the North Pole “relatively warm” and our temperate region not-so-temperate. “Go Home Arctic, You’re Drunk,” he titledthe explanation.

“The Polar Vortex, a huge system of moving swirling air that normally contains the polar cold air, has shifted so it is not sitting right on the pole as it usually does,” Laden writes. “We are not seeing an expansion of cold, an ice age, or an anti-global warming phenomenon. We are seeing the usual cold polar air taking an excursion. So, this cold weather we are having does not disprove global warming.”

In fact, some scientists have theorized that the influx of extreme cold is actually fueled by effects of climate change. Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Science, told ClimateProgress on Monday that it’s not the Arctic who is drunk. It’s the jet stream.

“The drunk part is that the jet stream is in this wavy pattern, like a drunk walking along,” Francis, who primarily studies Arctic links to global weather patterns, said. “In other places, you could see the tropics are drunk.”

Basically, places that are usually cold are warmer and places that are usually warm are getting the cold air. Lots more at the link.

Here’s scary headline for you: Republicans Really Could Win It All This Year, by Larry Sabato. But take it with a grain of salt, because it’s a Politico story.

Another midterm election beckons, and over the next 10 months we’ll see headlines about a thousand supposedly critical developments—the “game changers” and the “tipping points.” But we all know there aren’t a thousand powerful drivers of the vote. I’d argue that three factors are paramount: the president, the economy and the election playing field. And, at least preliminarily, those three factors seem to be pointing toward Republican gains in both houses in the 2014 midterms.

Read all about it at the link. As a side note, Joseph Cannon has a post up about Sabato and his recent book on the JFK assassination. As usual, when Cannon writes about this subject, it’s highly enlightening. Check it out if you like connecting dots.

Here’s a wacky story from Oklahoma that Dakinicat sent me last night: Student Expelled for Casting a Spell.

An Oklahoma high school suspended a

15-year-old student after accusing her of casting a magic spell

that caused a teacher to become sick, lawyers for the student

said on Friday.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it had filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on behalf of student Brandi Blackbear, charging that the assistant principal of Union Intermediate High School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, suspended her for 15 days last December for supposedly casting a spell.

The suit also charged the Tulsa-area Union Public Schools with repeatedly violating Blackbear’s civil rights by seizing notebooks she used to write horror stories and barring her from drawing or wearing signs of the pagan religion Wicca.

“It’s hard for me to believe that in the year 2000 I am walking into court to defend my daughter against charges of witchcraft brought by her own school,” said Timothy Blackbear, Brandi’s father.

WTF?! So what we’re learning is that at least a teacher and presumably members of the administration of a school in Oklahoma believes it is possible to cast magic spells that make people sick? What century is this again?

Angela Merkel has broken her pelvis in a skiing accident. From CNN:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel fractured her pelvis in a skiing accident in Switzerland over the holidays, her spokesman told reporters Monday.
Merkel was cross-country skiing when the accident occurred. Spokesman Steffen Seibert did not disclose the date of the incident, but said her injuries are not thought to be serious and it is thought she will make a full recovery.

Merkel, who has been Chancellor of Germany since 2005, will need aid to walk over the next few weeks and will be canceling some of her commitments, Seibert said.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) said it will delay its party retreat, originally slated for January 10-11, as a result of her accident.

From The New York Times: JPMorgan Settles With Federal Authorities in Madoff Case

Before Bernard L. Madoff stole billions of dollars from his clients, and before he received a 150-year prison sentence for those crimes, JPMorgan Chase had a chance to warn federal authorities about his Ponzi scheme but never did.

On Tuesday, five years after Mr. Madoff’s arrest set off a panic on Wall Street and Washington, Mr. Madoff’s primary bank received a punishment of its own.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan imposed a $1.7 billion penalty on JPMorgan, striking a criminal settlement deal involving two felony violations. The prosecutors, essentially accusing the nation’s biggest bank of turning a blind eye to Mr. Madoff’s fraud, will force JPMorgan to pay the sum to his victims.

Later on Tuesday, federal regulators are expected to announce their own rebuke of the bank in a civil case. All told, JPMorgan is likely to pay some $2 billion to resolve the Madoff investigations, which will be fully detailed at a press conference scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan.

Some bankers are going to lose some money and are being embarrassed. It’s something anyway. I’ll end on that positive note.

So . . . what stories are you following today? Please share your links in the comment thread.


Saturday Reads: Newtown Anniversary, Normalizing Gun Violence, and Other News

Henri-Matisse-Painting-011 child reading

Good Morning!!

I spent yesterday preparing for Winter Storm Electra. I stopped by the hardware store to get ice melt crystals and then headed to the grocery store to drop off a prescription and a few things I’ll need in case I can’t get my car out of the driveway for a couple of days.

I had an appointment in the afternoon, and then I made a fruitless attempt to find a parking space in the giant Whole Foods parking lot in Cambridge. Then back to my regular grocery store to pick up my prescription and a few refrigerated items. The store was even more packed this time, so I was glad I had stopped earlier. Finally, I went home, to stash my purchases and scatter ice melt on the all the icy surfaces left over from Winter Storm Dion.

So now I’m in hibernation mode until Monday. I just hope I can handle the shoveling myself. The weather folks are predicting anything from 5 to 12 inches of snow for my area. It was 11 degrees here when I woke up and its only 12 degrees right now. It’s hard to believe it can even snow when it’s so cold. But the weather people say it’s going to snow. If it starts this afternoon, I plan to shovel before it gets dark–then there won’t be so much to do tomorrow. It’s way too early for this. It won’t even be officially winter until next week. Those of you in the Midwest are probably already getting the storm–how is it going there? Is it still cold down South? We can commiserate in the comments.

Now to the news. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since Newtown, but today is the anniversary of that awful day. It still breaks my heart when I think about it. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain of the families who lost children. From CNN:

Horror struck Newtown, Connecticut, in such a disturbing way that the nation still struggles with its impact a year later.

The legacy of the second-deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history is so profound that it cannot hold just one meaning. It holds several. That’s because the crime itself conveys multiple issues in its summary:

A mentally ill 20-year-old recluse obsessed with school shootings enters Sandy Hook Elementary School after the morning bell and kills six adult women, 12 girls and eight boys in 11 minutes. The children were 6 or 7 years old. The heavily armed Adam Lanza, who first killed his mother before taking her car to the school, also killed himself, in a classroom.

On the anniversary of the December 14 slaughter — under the shadow of another school shooting, this time at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado — country and community alike pause and reflect on an event known simply as “Newtown” or “Sandy Hook” and what it says about America on the matters of guns, mental health, healing, and the human spirit.

Henri Matisse-324684

A whole year after the slaughter of 20 first-graders and 6 adults, and our do-nothing Congress has done exactly nothing to control the purchase of weapons of war for everyday use. CBS News reports:

Not a single federal law curbing gun violence has passed in the year since a young man from Newtown, Conn. who’d long exhibited signs of mental instability got a hold of his mother’s AR-15-style Bushmaster rifle and two of her handguns and gunned down 20 first-graders and six of their educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School before taking his own life.

Capping a year that saw the most mass shootings in U.S. history, Newtown seemed to mark a turning point in national conversation about gun control. Within a month of the shooting, President Obama - promising to make the issue a hallmark of his second-term agenda - had signed several executive orders to make schools safer and gun purchases more transparent. But real reform, he said, would require bipartisan backing from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Six months after the Dec. 14, 2012 tragedy, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., insisted the push for tougher gun laws and bolstered support for mental health in America was “still on the front burner.” But foundation for that statement was flimsy.

Manchin’s own amendment to strengthen background checks for gun purchases – co-sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and seen by many in Congress to be the most realistic hope for immediate reform to gun laws – had collapsed in the Senate two months earlier. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had “hit pause” on debate over firearms altogether, pulling the legislation from the floor indefinitely.

The emotions surrounding Newtown, it seemed, were no longer driving the conversation about gun control.

Is anyone really surprised that something a huge majority of Americans support cannot get through Congress? Of course not. We can’t even get them to stop hurting the economy with their obsessive and idiotic push for unnecessary austerity. We should turn every one of them out of office–Democrats and Republicans and start from scratch.

And is anyone shocked that there was another school shooting the day before this horrible anniversary? Why should we be? Our so-called leaders don’t seem to care how many children die so they can keep getting donations from the NRA. A couple of stories on the shooting in Colorado.

matisselike portraits by kids

Denver Post as of last night: Shooting at Arapahoe High School, 1 girl in critical condition, gunman dead.

A student carried a shotgun into Arapahoe High School, asked where to find a specific teacher and then opened fire on Friday, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said. He shot a fellow student in the head before apparently killing himself.

A 15-year-old girl was reported in critical condition after undergoing surgery. Two other students were treated and released from a hospital for non-gunshot injuries.

The gunman, identified as 18-year-old Karl Pierson, was found dead inside a classroom from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, Robinson said. Authorities believe he acted alone.

Robinson said authorities are investigating reports that Pierson may have been motivated by revenge against the teacher following a disagreement….Fellow classmates described the gunman as a bright student and a gifted debater whose family attended Bible study meetings.

A little more from USA Today:

The shootings — on the eve of the anniversary of the Newtown school massacre, in which 20 students and six staffers were murdered — sent scores of terrified students and staffers at Centennial’s Arapahoe High School scurrying at about 12:30 p.m. Police and other first responders quickly mobilized to surround the 2,220-student school.

A 15-year-old girl suffered a gunshot wound and was reported in critical condition at a Littleton hospital Friday evening.One other student suffered minor gunshot-related injuries and was released from the hospital hours later, authorities said. Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said Friday night that another girl taken to a hospital was covered in blood from the other student, but wasn’t injured….

The gunman also brought two Molotov cocktails inside the school and exploded one, KUSA-TV reported. The other was found and removed by the bomb squad.

The incident unfolded when the armed student entered the west side of the school from a student parking lot. He told other students he was interested in confronting a specific teacher. “Word got around immediately,” Robinson said.

The teacher, informed of the situation, fled the building unharmed, said Robinson, who noted that the teacher’s decision to flee helped limit the potential carnage.

Our children are dying violently in this country, in places in which they should be safe–their schools and their homes. Why aren’t we doing anything to protect them? At an age when they should be concentrating on learning, developing social skills, and just having fun, our children are threatened by gun violence on a daily basis. What kind of nation allows this kind of slaughter to continue in the name of “second amendment rights” and greed? A few more links from around the ‘net:

Reuters: Obama marks Newtown school shooting anniversary with call for gun control

Star-Tribune Nation: In Newtown, a year of wrenching reminders

Mother Jones: Portraits of the Hundreds of Children Killed by Guns Since Newtown

Matthew Lysiak at The Guardian: We can no longer allow sick individuals like Adam Lanza to go on untreated

New York Daily News: Another year of the gun 

Gawker: What Kind of Monster Wants to Shoot Up His School? (highly recommended)

Matisse reading

In other news, 

Here’s a surprising story from Jonthan Turley’s blog: Federal Court Strikes Down Criminalization of Polygamy In Utah

It is with a great pleasure this evening to announce that decision of United States District Court judge Clarke Waddoups striking down key portions of the Utah polygamy law as unconstitutional. The Brown family and counsel have spent years in both the criminal phase of this case and then our challenge to the law itself in federal court. Despite the public statements of professors and experts that we could not prevail in this case, the court has shown that it is the rule of law that governs in this country. As I have previously written, plural families present the same privacy and due process concerns faced by gay and lesbian community over criminalization. With this decision, families like the Browns can now be both plural and legal in the state of Utah.  The Court struck down the provision as violating both the free exercise clause of the first amendment as well as the due process clause.   The court specifically struck down language criminalizing cohabitation — the provision that is used to prosecute polygamists.  The opinion is over 90 pages and constitutes a major constitutional ruling in protection of individual rights.

I just don’t know what to say about this, because I associate polygamy with the abuse of women and children. Am I a bigot? A couple more links:

Salt Lake Tribune: Federal judge declares Utah polygamy law unconstitutional

The Telegraph: ‘Sister Wives’ reality star wins legal fight against Utah anti-polygamy law

I haven’t been following the Robert Levinson story, but I will be from now on. Levinson has been missing in Iran for 7 years and has just been outed as a CIA operative. Links:

NYT: A Disappearing Spy, and a Scandal at the C.I.A.

ABC News: Family of Robert Levinson, American Held In Iran, Says He Was Spying for the CIA

The Register-Guard: White House declines to discuss missing American Robert Levinson’s CIA ties

Gawker: ABC, NYT Repeatedly Lied About CIA Operative Robert Levinson

Liberty Voice: Robert Levinson: Used by CIA, Forgotten by USA, Burned by Media, Left in Iran

WaPo: Sen. Bill Nelson: I told AP not to run Robert Levinson story

Those are my offerings today. What stories are you following? Let us know in the comment thread, and have a great weekend!