Sunday Reads: A blunt look at things.

1320965117exhaustedGood Afternoon

We have a variety of links for you today. Typical of an average Sunday…unfortunately, I could not muster up the creativity and string a theme together. So the images will have to do, they are from the website BluntCard.com. (I think some of them are funny…hope you do too.)

Anyway, let’s get this shit rolling.

Whether Jewish Refugees in ’30s or Syrians today, USA Falls Short of own Ideals | Informed Comment

22-year-old anti-Nazi song rises to the top of German charts to show support for refugees – Europe – World – The Independent

1308950027wrongnumber‘Spurred on by the Fear of Death’: Refugees and Displaced Populations during the Mongol Invasion of Hungar – Medievalists.net

Sensitized by the grim headlines which daily announce the appalling plight of twentieth-century refugees in eastern Europe, I was motivated to investigate the behavior and conditions of medieval refugees fleeing the Mongols. In reviewing the sources I was struck by the abundance and vividness of the surviving evidence. My original plan was to study the Hungarian situation in comparison with similar experiences of other peoples who had been invaded by the Mongols, then to follow this with a comparative treatment of Hungarian refugees with parallels elsewhere in medieval Europe. This had to be discarded when I learned that the presumed secondary literature on this topic meager and peripheral. The systematic historical study of medieval refugees is yet to be written. The question of what where the experiences of medieval refugees appears seldom to have been raised and even less often answered.

Click here to read this article from De Re Militari

 

Okay enough on that…up next, a big ass hole: Crater in Russia triples in size in ten months to become 120m wide sinkhole – Asia – World – The Independent

Crater in Russia triples in size in ten months to become 120m wide sinkhole Asia World The Independent

The latest images taken by helicopters shows that earlier reassurance from an expert inspecting the site in April that the hole was “more or less stable” was incorrect, the Siberian Times reports.

The images show the nearby homes are now at risk of collapsing into the hole but local officials have said that no one is in physical danger.

1246840609mommaThe hole was caused by flood erosion in a underground mine…maybe this is what that sinkhole in Louisiana looks like under all that water?

Let’s look at another hole: Greece crisis: Cancer patients suffer as health system fails – BBC News

As Greece careers towards another election later this month, the country’s healthcare system is continuing to crumble.

Funding for state-run hospitals has been cut by more than 50% since the debt crisis started in 2009.

They suffer from severe shortages in everything, from sheets, gauzes and syringes, to doctors and nurses.

1302384066bitcheaccelerantTake a look at that article it is really good.

Skyscrapers correlated with economic doom – Business Insider

Nothing suggests the height of human achievement and economic prowess quite like a skyscraper.

The newly completed 2,073-foot-tall Shanghai Tower is officially the second-tallest building in the world (behind Dubai’s Burj Khalifa) and the tallest in China.

And taller skyscrapers are planned, such as China’s Sky City and Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Tower.

But as “cool” as all of these buildings are, glitzy construction booms have historically coincided with the beginnings of economic downturns, according to Barclays’ “Skyscraper Index.” (For all you economics wonks out there, basically, skyscrapers can be considered a sentiment indicator.)

Using Barclays’ index, we pulled together 10 skyscrapers whose constructions overlapped with financial crises.

 

getoutFrom Lawyers Guns and Money:

Guatemala 

This Francisco Goldman article in The New Yorker is a good run-down of what is going on in Guatemala.Citizens finally came together to stand up to the kleptocracy that has run the country since the end of the civil war of the 80s. Protests have brought down Otto Pérez Molina after already taking out most of his administration. This is a great moment of democratic protest in a nation where political violence has been endemic for a very long time.

Book Review: Adam Rothman: Beyond Freedom’s Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of Slavery 

…we are in a renaissance of excellent historical writing for a general public that wants to read something more than hagiographic narratives. Add Adam Rothman’s Beyond Freedom’s Reach to the list. Rothman tells the story of Rose Herera, a New Orleans slave whose children were spirited away to Cuba by her master during the Civil War. Centering kidnapping in the slave experience, Rothman takes what could be a fairly slender story based upon a relative paucity of evidence to build a tale of great bravery and persistence within a rapidly changing world where African-Americans had relatively little power even in the immediate aftermath of the war.

lookinatQuick look around the US political scene:

Imagine If Hillary Clinton’s Security Detail Had Done This | Crooks and Liars

Fetid Jackass Open Thread: Your Modern GOP » Balloon Juice

Foxified: CNN Taps Sarah Palin And Hugh Hewitt For 2016 Campaign Coverage | News Corpse

A White Supremacist Holds an Entire American City Hostage – The Daily Beast

Feds will investigate after Planned Parenthood clinic in Washington state is hit by arson

lovevodkaAn update on a story from a while back….Cops Who Killed Man with Down Syndrome Over a Movie Ticket Blame Paramedics Who Tried to Save Him | Alternet

…the case of Ethan Saylor.

Saylor, a 26-year-old with Down syndrome, was at a movie theater with a health care aide watching “Zero Dark Thirty.” The movie had finished, but Ethan didn’t want to leave the theater after the film ended, hoping to watch it again.

The cinema manager, angry that the mentally-handicapped man didn’t quite understand that one ticket is only good for one viewing, called three off-duty-deputies who were moonlighting as security guards. The cops decided to forcibly evict Saylor from the theater, refusing to listen to his aide, who had already contacted Saylor’s mother in an effort to defuse the situation.

idontgiveashitYou must remember this story….

Instead, as is all too common the case, the cops got violent, taking Saylor to the ground and piling on top of him as they attempted to handcuff him. In the process, this young man’s trachea was fractured, and he died of asphyxiation.

The autopsy report indicated that Saylor died from asphyxiation, and had sustained a fracture to his larynx, with the coroner listing his cause of death as homicide.

While Saylor’s death was ruled a homicide, an internal “investigation” cleared the three officers, Lt. Scott Jewell, Sgt. Rich Rochford and Deputy First Class James Harris, of any wrongdoing. No charges were brought against any of the officers involved in his death.

Much to the dismay of almost everyone involved in the case, a Frederick County grand jury declined to indict the deputies after their review of the case.

After the failure of the state to hold these officers criminally accountable for Saylor death, as is often the case when law enforcement kills a citizen, the family filed a wrongful-death suit against the deputies.

whereisshegoingAs you would expect, that suit is not going very well…

According to a report in The Frederick News Post:

In the initial complaint, filed in October 2013, Saylor’s family alleged violations of his civil rights and of the Americans with Disabilities Act by the state, county sheriff’s deputies and the companies that employed the men as security guards at the Regal Cinemas Westview Stadium 16 theater.

A year later, a federal judge dismissed all of the claims against the theater company, and also dismissed a simple negligence claim against the deputies and a wrongful-death claim against the state.

Claims that the deputies — Richard Rochford, Scott Jewell and James Harris — were grossly negligent and that the state failed to train them were allowed to go forward.

While the family is certain that the fractured larynx was a result of the violent altercation, defense attorneys for the cops claimed in their latest court filings that the injuries found on Saylor were from the paramedic’s efforts to save his life, and not their brutal attack.

sassOne of the experts identified by the defense was Dr. Jeffrey Fillmore, the emergency department physician who treated Saylor at Frederick Memorial Hospital. According to court filing by the defense, Fillmore would testify that the autopsy and other evidence are not consistent with asphyxia as the cause of Saylor’s death.

On Tuesday, attorney for Saylor’s family, Joseph Espo, told the AP that his expert witnesses disagree with almost everything in the filing by the deputies’ attorneys. Records indicate that those witnesses include a disabilities expert, a police liabilities expert, a pathologist and another medical doctor.

Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking aspects of this case is the fact that Saylor was an avid fan of law enforcement and was reportedly fascinated by police. Some may argue that the cops did not intend to kill Ethan, but the fact that they couldn’t de-escalate a simple situation over a movie ticket, and instead resorted to deadly violence speaks to the corrupting sickness that is prevalent in policing today.

heyIt is disgusting.

More crazy in the judicial system:

Jailed at 17 for a drug crime in 1988, Rick Wershe Jr is still behind bars. Why? | US news | The Guardian

A Surreptitious Courtroom Video Prompts Changes in a Georgia Town – NYTimes.com

An explosion of cellphone videos has brought renewed attention to police practices, provoking criticism, indictments and talk of criminal justice overhaul. Courtroom videos of judges in action, however, are far rarer.

But one surreptitious video in a small-town Georgia court has led to an overhaul of court practices there. The video showed the judge threatening to jail traffic violators who could not come up with an immediate payment toward their fines.

preciousangelsNext grouping, science-ish links:

Here’s What the Earth Will Look Like After All the Ice Melts | Mother Jones

Supermoon And Lunar Eclipse Will Wow Skywatchers On Sept. 27: What Time To Look Up : SCIENCE : Tech Times

UFO Watchers Abuzz Over ‘Ships’ In Orbit Around The Sun : SCIENCE : Tech Times

Life with HIV has changed enormously. It’s time public perception followed suit | Tom Hayes | Comment is free | The Guardian

On with some reviews of movies that look like something we all would find interesting:

The Resonance and Relevance of ‘Suffragette’ | Women and Hollywood

1262661979hateyouEach September brings severe disappointment for those of us interested in seeing women taken seriously in the Oscar race. And by that, I mean women on screen and behind the scenes. It seems that the conversation for some time has been about important men doing important historical things and changing the world, while the contributions of women were made as wives and assistants. They weren’t the center of the action. It is worth noting that, last year, none of the best-picture nominees had a female protagonist and only one had a female director.

“Suffragette” bursts onto the screen and shows the power and presence of women in history. AND it is written, directed and produced by women. It is a movie that shows us a struggle that few know anything about — the women’s battle for the vote in the UK — but that is resonant today, in this country, because of the assault to voting rights going on right now. It is a reminder that, not too long ago, women had no power, no access to money and were thought to lack the brains to participate in issues related to governance. We still have much to do on the issue of women’s rights. Girls around the world are not being educated because they are girls. Girls are sold into marriage. Women are not allowed to leave their homes in places, women are still raped and assaulted everywhere and we are not paid equally.

blurbsdangerousTelluride film festival day two: Suffragette, He Named Me Malala and Anomalisa – video reviews | Film | The Guardian

‘Suffragette’ Review: Carey Mulligan Fights for Women’s Rights | Variety

Black Mass review – compelling true crime drama is mighty comeback for Johnny Depp | Film | The Guardian

I don’t know how to end this post, so just consider it an open thread.

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Wednesday Reads: Getting your goat.

742f69a6dcfa1177bd1de4b33dd6e8c7Good Morning

Ugh…I just knew that this year was going to be even shittier than last year.  Wouldn’t you know that here we are not even into the 3rd week of the new year and so many horrible things are taking place all over the globe.

So, since so much of the shit is going on in Europe at the moment, particularly in France, I am going to focus on the crap going on in Germany. Because let me tell ya…this is some heavy fucking stuff, and it looks like it is going to get nasty. On a disturbingly historic kind of scale.

I’ll just give you plenty of links because so much has been written overnight. I noticed this story over a week ago when I saw mention of this PEGIDA rally in Dresden. From Jan 6th:

German anti-Islam rally hits record numbers – Europe – Al Jazeera English

At least 18,000 people in the eastern German city of Dresden have taken part in rallies opposing Islamic influence in Western nations, prompting massive counter-protests in several cities.

The record number of people that took to streets in support of the right-wing populist movement known as the “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisisation of the Occident” (PEGIDA) on Monday came despite a call by Chancellor Angela Merkel to snub such demonstrations deemed racist by many.

Organisers of the opposing demonstrations in Berlin, Stuttgart, Cologne and Dresden said they were rallying against discrimination and xenophobia to instead promote a message of tolerance.

b11275ff4cfe8ad3295da1e1485f857dBusinesses, churches, Cologne city’s power company and others were planning to keep their buildings and other facilities dark in solidarity with the demonstrations against the ongoing protests by PEGIDA.

Over the last three months, the crowds at PEGIDA’s demonstrations in the eastern city of Dresden, a region that has few immigrants or Muslims, have swelled from a few hundred to 17,500 just before Christmas.

Police said a similar number were expected again later on Monday night.

The Dresden demonstrations have spawned smaller PEGIDA rallies elsewhere, including gatherings planned in Berlin and Cologne on Monday night where several hundred were expected to be on hand.

By contrast, about 10,000 counter-demonstrators were expected in Berlin, 2,000 in Cologne and another 5,000 in Stuttgart where there was no PEGIDA protest planned.

I saved this article…because I planned to use it. But things sort of happened as you know. Fast forward to the latest PEGIDA rally this week, where the Dresden rally saw the largest number of people…25,000: Paul Hockenos | The Charlie Hebdo Attack Improved Pegida’s Fortunes | Foreign Affairs

The recent carnage in Paris could hardly be better fodder for Germany’s newest populist phenomenon. The movement is known as Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or Pegida, and this week it drew more backers than ever—an estimated 25,000—onto the streets of Dresden. The Islamophobic group pounced on the opportunity to depict Islam as an inherently violent faith that threatens Germany and is transforming the West. And, against the backdrop of heightened security concerns and the largest refugee influx since the early 1990s, it is well placed to exploit the fears that many Germans appear to harbor.

8e7dfaf113a9177446df46ce53c6b513Before the Paris bloodshed, Pegida and its variants across the country, which oppose the “Islamization of Christian Europe” and Germany’s “foreign infiltration,” were faltering after a meteoric start that began this autumn. The group’s street protests—the biggest anti-Islam rallies in Europe—were tailing off, and counter demonstrations across the country had begun to dwarf Pegida events. Only in the eastern city of Dresden, the movement’s crucible, did the cause appear to have a tenacious core of more than a thousand. Meanwhile, internal divisions in the diffuse and nebulous organization—as well as cracks in Germany’s far-right party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD)—suggested that the group could crash and burn, joining other splintered and largely irrelevant nationalists in the no-man’s-land of Germany’s extra-parliamentary far right.

Indeed, the movement was so thoroughly riddled with logical discrepancies that most observers figured that it couldn’t last much longer. The grab bag of protesters claim that Germany is being overrun with Muslims and other foreign nationals who are at the root of the country’s social ills, high tax rates, crime, and security concerns. They say that there are so many Muslims and other nationalities in Germany that ordinary Germans don’t feel at home in their own country. If the trend continues, they argue, Muslims will outnumber Germans by 2035. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has spoken plainly in favor of welcoming refugees and against (unnamed) groups that preach hatred and prejudice has “betrayed them,” claims Lutz Bachmann, one of the group’s founders, who sees Berlin’s political parties and media as being in cahoots.

More at that link, including statistics and such… but I think these other two articles give some other insight as well.

Germany’s PEGIDA isn’t a Vladimir Putin plot. The truth is scarier. By Lucian Kim via Reuters.

c44890734fd30be32930f405d5036333Last week, when I attended my first rally in Dresden organized by PEGIDA, Germany’s mysterious “anti-Islamization” movement, I was reminded of the aggressive pro-Russian protests that tore apart eastern Ukraine a year ago. Thousands of demonstrators, who mostly refused to talk to the “lying press,” listened to fiery speeches railing against the country’s political class. Among the German flags present, I also spotted a few Russian ones, including a banner that was split diagonally, one half Russia’s tricolor, the other half Germany’s. A reporter and cameraman from the Gazprom-owned NTV channel were greeted with welcoming calls of “Vladimir! Vladimir!”

Based on a few shreds of evidence, it would have been easy enough to weave together a conspiracy theory that the Kremlin is behind the demonstrations that were initiated by a secretive organizing committee in October and swelled to a record 25,000 participants on Monday. After all, President Vladimir Putin served as a KGB agent in what was then an East German city in the 1980s (suspicious!) and one of PEGIDA’s key demands is an end to Germany’s “war-mongering” against Russia (bingo!). But accepting this kind of explanation would buy into the Kremlin’s own paranoia that mass protests can be bought with money — and isn’t supported by the facts.

Next, I briefly entertained the possibility that PEGIDA’s success was accidental, a joke by a group of friends in reaction to the turmoil in the world. For one, the name PEGIDA, which stands for Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes, or “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident,” sounds like a parody of itself. Also, its main organizers — a former petty criminal, a provincial business consultant, and the head of a janitorial firm — hardly seem serious enough to dignify a condemnation from Chancellor Angela Merkel, who did exactly that in her New Year’s address.

Now, having interviewed PEGIDA leaders and supporters, I understand that the movement is not as sinister as a Russian plot but not quite as innocent as a prank gone viral. The organizers have been called “Pied Pipers,” and German journalists have chased down leads connecting individual PEGIDA activists with far-right groups. The problem, however, is that PEGIDA’s leaders don’t fit the caricature of neo-Nazi Neanderthals. What’s most striking about the movement is not the radicalism, but the ordinariness, of the people it attracts.

The Jan. 12 PEGIDA rally in Dresden was the biggest to date, coming less than a week after the Paris terrorist attack and a string of headlines about Islamist violence in the Middle East and Africa. At the same time, anti-PEGIDA demonstrations in other German cities brought out as many as 100,000 people, 20,000 in Munich alone. Two rival visions of modern Germany clashed: the liberal vision, embraced by the country’s elite, of a globalized, open society, and a conservative one, more assertive about national interests and German identity in a chaotic and dangerous world.

This is some of the ways PEGIDA has affected the area: Dresden xenophobia, right-wing extremism takes roof over refugees′ heads | News | DW.DE | 14.01.2015

17599463c4ea1ca7cd644634b5cc223aDue to increasing pressure from right-wing fundamentalists, the owner of a hotel in eastern Germany has closed his doors to refugees. Hotel Prinz Eugen had been set to receive nearly 100 asylum seekers.

Due to increasing “massive pressure from residents,” the owner of a hotel in the eastern German city of Dresden closed its doors to asylum seekers, German media reported on Wednesday.

Hotel Prinz Eugen was supposed to accept up to 94 asylum seekers to help the city accommodate its 2,093 refugees. The owner of the hotel, however, changed his mind, citing threats from right-wing extremists he received on social media platforms and anti-refugee graffiti sprayed on the outside of his hotel.

His about-face is expected to pose a problem for the city, which is expected to receive nearly 2,000 more refugees this year. Martin Seidel, the city’s mayor for social affairs, told the German magazine Spiegel Online: “This retreat will create a difficult situation for us. There are no short-term solutions that could be implemented.”

According to Spiegel, there was a petition to stop the allocation of space in the hotel for refugees and it had 5,700 signatories. It listed six “formal concerns” along with four “political and geopolitical concerns” and seven “contextual concerns.” One of these concerns was that the location of the hotel in Leuben/Laubegast was a “political risk area,” with the city’s second largest number of far-right NPD voters. The petition said it was thus “predestined for conflict.”

 

Charlie Hebdo fallout: Specter of fascist past haunts European nationalism By Jacob Heilbrunn via Reuters.

When up to a dozen world leaders and roughly 1.5 million people gathered in Paris on Sunday to mourn the murder of 10 editors and cartoonists of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and seven other people by three French-born Islamic radicals, they wanted to demonstrate that Europe will always embrace liberal and tolerant values.

500e3092c0ed83f2d79b076b1b35b655But the more telling event may turn out to be a counter-rally that took place at a 17th-century town hall in Beaucaire, France, that was led by Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front. In Beaucaire, the crowd ended Le Pen’s rally by singing the French national anthem and chanting, “This is our home.”

Le Pen is at the forefront of a European-wide nationalist resurgence — one that wants to evict from their homelands people they view as Muslim subversives. She and other far-right nationalists are seizing on some legitimate worries about Islamic militancy — 10,000 soldiers are now deployed in France as a safety measure — in order to label all Muslims as hostile to traditional European cultural and religious values. Le Pen herself has likened their presence to the Nazi occupation of France.

Now here is where these people really start to sound like our own Republican party, especially the Tea Party nuts.

Le Pen herself espouses an authoritarian program that calls for a moratorium on immigration, a restoration of the death penalty and a “French first” policy on welfare benefits and employment.

cd47aac8835a52373e7c190b7e4593c9Long after World War Two, fascism is a specter that still haunts the continent. But whether Le Pen’s stances — and those of other nationalist leaders in Europe — qualify as fascist is questionable. The borderline between the kind of populism they espouse and the outright fascism of the 1920s and 1930s, when Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini espoused doctrines of racial superiority, is a slippery one. Scholars continue to debate whether Mussolini was even fascist — or simply an opportunistic nationalist.

The real aim of today’s would-be authoritarians — politicians who appeal to the public’s desire for an iron hand — is to present themselves as legitimate leaders who are saying what the public really thinks but is afraid to say. And these far-right leaders are indeed increasingly popular.

The card they are playing is populism presented as an aggrieved nationalism. They depict Europeans as victims of rapacious Muslim immigrants. Le Pen, Britain’s Nigel Farage of the U.K. Independence Party and others aim to come across as reasonable and socially acceptable, while sounding dog whistles to their followers about immigrant social parasites who are either stealing jobs from “real” Europeans or living off welfare.

I have more links to share but I want to show you a picture from Sunday:

francois-hollandeangela-merkel

Say what you will about the staged pictures, I think that expression on Merkel’s face is real…and genuine.

I feel that there is an intolerance building throughout the world, it is getting more bold and in your face too. It is not just against Muslims. But it is against all immigrants, refugees. Mentally ill and homeless, Hindu and Jews, Palestinians or Gays…Roma or Mexicans, Blacks with their hands up or down…Women of any race as well. Agnostic, Atheist, Wicca, secular, you name it. It frightens me.

More on the Germany issues:

German Muslims rally to show solidarity with Paris

Thousands of German Muslims held a vigil Tuesday night to show solidarity for the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks last week and to speak against the country’s growing anti-Islam movement.

“Violence like that in Paris can’t be brought to Germany,” said Busra Kelicarslan, 19, at the rally at Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate.

“The prophet says that Muslims are supposed to stand with each other, for each other, especially on days like today — when we have to show our true face,” she said. “We don’t want to be misrepresented in the media, but more importantly also in people’s minds. Hate and fear need to stop.”

bd387b1c26b502eac67bbb3a6b1d5c8dGerman Muslims speak in face of anti-immigrant movement | Al Jazeera America

DRESDEN, Germany — With no signs or religious symbols on its façade, the four-story building on the outskirts of Dresden appears to be just another residential apartment. But it’s not. A short walk through a narrow alley leads to the building’s backyard, where a door is revealed and a sign reads, in German and Arabic, “Islamic Center Dresden.”

“We know that for some people this sign is provocative, and we don’t want to provoke them. This is why we put it in the back,” said Ahmed Aslaoui, the deputy chairman of Islamic Center Dresden, a nonprofit organization whose facility serves as a mosque and meeting place for the city’s Muslim community.

“If the sign would be out front, I think some bad feelings might come up. We don’t want the situation to get worse,” he said.

The situation to which he referred is the growing popularity of a Dresden-based grass-roots movement, Patriotische Europäer Gegen eine Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamicization of the West), or PEGIDA.

In the past few weeks, PEGIDA’s Monday evening demonstrations have drawn thousands of Germans, some of whom arrived in Dresden from across the country to protest against the dangers of Islamic ideology and for “the right to preserve and protect our Christian-Jewish dominated West culture,” among other goals, according to the group. While its mission statement opposes preaching hate and radicalism, no matter the religion, the name the movement chose and the slogans that have appeared in its protests target one religion only.

 

Germany urges tolerance in face of divisive rallies – The Globe and Mail

Merkel: Germany Will Use ‘All Means’ to Fight Intolerance

Thousands rally in Berlin for Paris terror victims – CNN.com

0fd2f80ab0473c0d5cfb48c3c21e5daaOn to another area but on the same topic, Fundamentalism for Dummies: The Paris Terrorists’ Ignorance and Poverty | Informed Comment

Now this article uses a term I had never heard of before…Boston Boomer, your assistance is required: cultural schizophrenia?

Ugh…say what?

one of the stubborn enduring myths surrounding jihadist terrorism has been the preeminence of religion over other motivations, and it is easy to understand why this might be the case. Many of these individuals themselves employ starkly religious language, and invoke religious texts that promise “other-worldly” rewards as compensation for “this-worldly” sacrifice, including the guarantee of eternal Paradise, and most famously, the lascivious offering of seventy-two heavenly virgins.

But, crucially, in many of these instances, we have to be aware of the post-hoc attribution of religious meaning and validation to their acts. To put it differently, religion does not provide the initial motive, but it does provide the motif or stamp of approval. Take the example of a young man who wants to go to Syria to fight for any reason that is not explicitly religious. It is not enough to just fight and even die like a jihadi, but to be accepted by that community (and indeed not to end up beheaded as a member of a rival group), you need to walk, talk and behave like one of them, too. The highly stylized “martyrdom testaments” suicide bombers record prior to their deaths are a very good example of this sort of conformity—it is no accident they all look and sound pretty much the same.

One recent telling example of this sort of religiosity tacked on at the end is the case of Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar, two young British men from Birmingham who were jailed for travelling to Syria to join and fight alongside a jihadist group in 2013, in response to what they saw as their religious duty. But it was the reading material they purchased to accompany them on their trip, the books, Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies, which are most revealing about their lack of religious literacy and motivation.

7ec9f92ab4e7819c76011e432e760eceAnd this characterization appears to hold equally true for the violent men who attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices. The Kouachi brothers, as orphaned children of Algerian immigrants, were raised in foster care, and certainly not as pious Muslims. Rather, as the French newspaper Libération reported back in 2005, Cherif led a decidedly nondevout and hedonistic lifestyle—smoking marijuana, drinking alcohol, listening to gangster rap and having numerous girlfriends. Indeed, during his trial in 2008 for helping to transport jihadist fighters from France to Iraq, Cherif’s lawyer described his client as an “occasional Muslim.”

Now, this is not to exonerate religion in any sense. Religion has historically been responsible for a great deal of violence, and religious texts and doctrines often appear to condone death and destruction. However, unlike believers, academics tend to understand religion as a product of social, economic, political and other factors that offer solutions to something.

So what does religion offer a solution to, in the case of Europe’s jihadists?

Cherif Kouachi’s lawyer described his client in 2005 as “a confused chameleon.” This is an apt description of the identity crisis commonly experienced by many jihadists, and can be explained through a process I call dual cultural alterity—essentially a double alienation from both minority (ethnic or parental) culture, and majority (mainstream or host society) culture, as a result of being unable or unwilling to fulfill either group’s normative expectations. This can lead to the cultural schizophrenia that Cherif’s lawyer describes, and is likely to inspire feelings of uprootedness and a lack of belonging.

That article is written by Akil N. Awan | (The National Interest).

I suggest you go and read the entire thing so you fully understand what is being said. I don’t know…maybe someone can explain it to me?

6cd201c1766255856453e0a562027293Whatever, you explain this shit to me, why they are using children:

Mom to ISIS: ‘Leave our children alone’ | MSNBC

Rachel Maddow reports on the use of children by Muslim extremist groups ISIS and Boko Haram and the upset they’re causing the Muslim community with their aggressive recruitment of young people to join their campaign of terror.

Shocking IS Video Appears To Show Child Militant Killing ‘Russian FSB Spies’

A shocking new video by the Islamic State (IS) group that emerged on social media on January 13 appears to show a child militant shooting dead two men identified as “Russian agents.”

The child militant appears to be an ethnic Kazakh and is very possibly the same child who appeared in a recent Islamic State video featuring Kazakh child fighters undergoing training.

But they are not the only terrorist here using young people: Mexican mayor faces charges in kidnapping of 43 students | Reuters

The former mayor of the southwestern city of Iguala has been charged with last year’s kidnapping of 43 students who are feared to have been killed, a top security official said on Tuesday.

Tomas Zeron, director of criminal investigations at the federal Attorney General’s office, said that prosecutors had obtained an arrest warrant for former mayor Jose Luis Abarca and 44 others on charges of kidnapping the 43 students.

President Enrique Pena Nieto is facing his deepest crisis over the government’s handling of the investigation. Anger over the case spurred sometimes violent demonstrations around the country late last year.

afb91c32ca2fa7a3563093319d880567Zeron did not specify when the warrant was obtained, but it appeared to be the first charges filed against Abarca that are directly related to the students’ disappearance even though authorities have said the mayor and his wife were the masterminds of the kidnappings since October.

Just a few more…

I love this, Fox News is getting the works over at the Guardian: News from Fox, and the no-go zone of the brain | Tim Dowling | Comment is free | The Guardian

Birmingham is ‘totally Muslim’ city, claims Fox News pundit | Media | The Guardian

Fox News man is ‘idiot’ for Birmingham Muslim comments – David Cameron | Media | The Guardian

How did Fox News’ Birmingham blunder make it to air? Because everything does | Joe Muto | Comment is free | The Guardian

More at this link: Fox News | Media | The Guardian

b0f05696db5c9712db8f5b94eb0385a6And finally, this last comment from a Mayor of Rotterdam, sounds like a movie title doesn’t it?

Rotterdam’s Muslim mayor to violent radical Islamists in West: ‘Pack your bags and f*ck off’

The Moroccan-born mayor of the Dutch port city of Rotterdam said in a television appearance on Tuesday that Muslims like himself who choose to live in the West should adopt a more tolerant worldview or “pack your bags and fuck off.”

The Daily Mail reported that Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb was appearing live on Dutch TV when he made the remarks.

Aboutaleb moved with his family to the Netherlands when he was a teen. During the television program Nieuwsuur (News Hour), he spoke to Islamists living in the West, saying, “It is incomprehensible that you can turn against freedom.”

“But if you don’t like freedom,” he continued, “for heaven’s sake pack your bags and leave.”

“If you do not like it here because some humorists you don’t like are making a newspaper, may I then say you can f*ck off,” Aboutaleb said.

What to see the video…

Don’t know why but you gotta love a mayor who tells potential terrorist to fuck off on live TV.

And on that note…What are you all up to this Wednesday fucking morning?

 


Tuesday Reads

The Dog Days of Summer, Janet Hill

The Dog Days of Summer, Janet Hill

Good Morning!!

It’s the last week of August, and the dog days of summer have supposedly passed; but the Boston area is supposed to hit ninety degrees today and tomorrow. I’m actually looking forward to it, because it has been so cool here lately–in the sixites and low seventies in the daytime and the fifties at night. Yesterday it got into the high eighties, and it felt wonderful.

The Boston Globe has a story today about Peter Theo Curtis, the writer who was just released from captivity in Syria. His mother lives in Cambridge. I had never heard of Curtis before; apparently his kidnapping was kept secret. The Globe reports: Militants free US writer with Mass. ties who was held in Syria.

Peter Theo Curtis, a writer and scholar with ties to the Boston area who was held captive for nearly two years by one of the Islamic militant groups operating in Syria, was released Sunday after emissaries from the government of Qatar won his freedom on humanitarian grounds, in a stark contrast to the brutal murder of fellow war correspondent James W. Foley .

Curtis’s 22 months in captivity were kept from the public at his family’s request since he was nabbed near the Syrian border in October 2012 by Al Nusra Front, one of the groups seeking to topple President Bashir Assad of Syria. Al Nusra Front has ties to the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

Curtis, 45, who wrote dispatches under the name Theo Padnos and previously chronicled disaffected young Muslims in Yemen in a book titled “Undercover Muslim,” had studied Arabic in Syria.

He was handed over to United Nations peacekeepers in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Sunday evening, a UN spokesman in New York said. After it was determined he was in good medical condition, he was transferred to representatives of the US government, according to the UN.

“We are so relieved that Theo is healthy and safe and that he is finally headed home after his ordeal,” his mother, Nancy Curtis, who lives in Cambridge, said in a statement, “but we are also deeply saddened by the terrible, unjustified killing last week of his fellow journalist, Jim Foley, at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS.”

Foley was from New Hampshire, and the two families have gotten to know each other well, according to Curtis.

Garden Shed - Late Summer, KK Marais

Garden Shed – Late Summer, KK Marais

Syria and Iraq

President Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria, according to BBC News.

Correspondents say the move could mark the first step towards US air strikes inside Syria, where the jihadist group controls vast swathes of territory.

The US is already carrying out strikes against IS in neighbouring Iraq.

On Monday, the Syrian government said it would work with the international community in the fight against IS.

Western governments have so far rejected suggestions that they collaborate with President Bashar al-Assad in an attempt to counter the growing regional threat posed by IS….

On Monday evening, US officials said Mr Obama had approved over the weekend reconnaissance flights by unmanned and manned aircraft, including drones and possibly U2 spy planes.

The US military has been carrying out aerial surveillance of IS – an al-Qaeda breakaway formerly known as Isis – in Iraq for months and launched air strikes on 8 August.

From The Boston Globe, citing “AP sources,” U.S. planes have already begun flying over Syria.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. has begun surveillance flights over Syria after President Barack Obama gave the OK, U.S. officials said, a move that could pave the way for airstrikes against Islamic State militant targets there.

While the White House says Obama has not approved military action inside Syria, additional intelligence on the militants would likely be necessary before he could take that step. Pentagon officials have been drafting potential options for the president, including airstrikes.

One official said the administration has a need for reliable intelligence from Syria and called the surveillance flights an important avenue for obtaining data.

Two U.S. officials said Monday that Obama had approved the flights, while another U.S. official said early Tuesday that they had begun. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter by name, and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Jim Michaels of USA Today spoke to Gen. Dempsey on Sunday about what is being done to deal with ISIS in Iraq.

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT — U.S. airstrikes on Islamic militants in Iraq have blunted their momentum, but defeating them will require a broad regional approach that draws support from Iraq’s neighbors and includes political and diplomatic efforts, the top U.S. military officer said.

The long-term strategy for defeating the militants includes having the United States and its allies reach out to Iraq’s neighbors, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday….

Dempsey is working with Central Command to prepare “options to address [the Islamic State] both in Iraq and Syria with a variety of military tools including airstrikes,” said Col. Ed Thomas, Dempsey’s spokesman, in a statement.

The militant group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has shown itself to be so brutal that Iraq and the U.S. should be able to find “willing partners” to join efforts to defeat the militants, Dempsey said.

But military power won’t be enough, Dempsey said. The strategy must take a comprehensive approach that includes political and diplomatic efforts to address the grievances of millions of Sunnis who have felt disenfranchised by Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government, he said.

Late Summer Garden, John Gordon

Late Summer Garden, John Gordon

I get the feeling that we’re never going to escape involvement in the endless Middle East conflicts, thanks to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the rest of the neocon gang. What a horrible mess! We have our own messes to deal with here, but foreign wars always seem to trump the needs of the American people.

John Cassidy speculates at The New Yorker: What’s Next in Iraq and Syria?

On his first full day back from vacation, President Barack Obama could be forgiven for wishing he were still on Martha’s Vineyard. With confirmation that ISIS fighters have just captured another military base from the government forces of President Assad, and that Qatar has engineered the release of an American freelance journalist who was being held by a non-ISIS jihadist group, Obama has two formidable challenges to deal with.

The immediate task for Obama is deciding whether to launch American bombing raids on ISIS positions inside Syria, while simultaneously preparing his Administration, and the country at large, for the possibility of another video showing an American hostage being butchered. The ISIS militants, having carefully orchestrated the beheading of James Foley following the launch of U.S. strikes inside Iraq, will surely seek to exploit the fate of its remaining American hostages for maximum effect. Any U.S. decision to expand its air campaign is almost certain to be met with the release of more snuff films.

No President—no American—could take such a prospect lightly. At the same time, Obama has to guard against allowing emotion and wishful thinking to take over U.S. policy. That’s what happened after 9/11, and some of the chaos that we now see in the Middle East can be traced back to that historic blunder. What’s needed is calm cost-benefit analysis of the options open to the United States, taking account of its strategic interests, its values, and its capabilities. In short, we need what Danny Kahneman, the Princeton psychologist who pioneered behavioral economics, would refer to as some Type 2 thinking: a disciplined weighing of the likely consequences of our actions. If we give into our Type 1 reaction—horror, outrage, anger—we will be playing into the hands of the jihadists.

One place to start is by acknowledging two errors in thinking that have blighted U.S. policy in the past decade: the conservative delusion that the United States could, more or less single-handedly, use its military power to reinvent the Middle East, and the liberal illusion that we could simply walk away from the mess that Bush, Cheney & Co. created. Without the political willingness and the financial capability to garrison the region in the manner of postwar Germany and Japan, U.S. influence has to be exercised through air power, political proxies, economic inducements, and regional alliances. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that the United States and other Western countries have vital interests at stake, one of which is preventing the emergence of a rogue Islamic state that would provide a rallying point, and a safe haven, for anti-Western jihadists the world over.

Read the whole thing at the link.

A Garden in a Sea of Flowers, Ross Turner

A Garden in a Sea of Flowers, Ross Turner

The Economies of the U.S. and Europe

There has been so much breaking news for the past couple of months that we haven’t talked much about the economies of the U.S. and Europe. But today the European Central Bank is topping the headlines, and last week Fed Chairperson Janet Yellen spoke at Jackson Hole, so I thought I’d post a few economics stories.

Here’s CNN Money’s report on Yellen’s speech, Janet Yellen: Job market not recovered.

That was Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s main message Friday in a much anticipated speech.

“It speaks to the depth of the damage that, five years after the end of the recession, the labor market has yet to fully recover,” she said.

The debate now is whether the job situation in America is healthy enough for the Federal Reserve to start raising interest rates, which have been at historic lows in recent years in an effort to jump start the economy. Yellen, however, said little new on Friday, and U.S. stock markets stayed flat.

Yellen is chair of the committee that sets interest rates, but she only gets one vote. Other members have differing views. The Fed board and other top economists are spending the weekend in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, debating these key issues.

Though the unemployment rate “has fallen considerably and at a surprisingly rapid pace,” Yellen said problems remain.

Yellen called attention to what Americans in the job market already know–though the employment numbers look better, many people have stopped looking for work, and most of the new jobs are part-time and pay low wages.

A few more U.S. economy stories to check out:

The Wall Street Journal: Fed’s Yellen Remains Mum on Timing of Rate Change.

Bloomberg Businessweek: Yellen Job-Slack View Muddied by Pent-Up Wage Deflation.

Slate: The Fed Is Not As Powerful As We Think.

If you think the economy is struggling here, you should take a look at Europe, where austerity thinking has ruled since the economic crisis hit. Yesterday the French government collapsed. From The New York Times, French Cabinet Is Dissolved, a Victim of Austerity Battles.

PARIS — The collapse of the French government on Monday exposed widening divisions both within France’s leadership, and Europe more broadly, over austerity policies that many now fault for threatening to tip the eurozone back into recession.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced that he would dissolve his government after a rancorous battle in his cabinet over whether the belt-tightening measures taken by President François Hollande — at the urging of Germany and European Union officials in Brussels — were impeding France’s recovery.

The dispute broke into the open when Mr. Vall’s outspoken economy minister, Arnaud Montebourg, insisted in an interview over the weekend that austerity had gone too far. “The priority must be exiting the crisis, and the dogmatic reduction of deficits should come after,” he told the newspaper Le Monde.

He also took direct aim at the policies of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. “Germany is caught in a trap of austerity that it is imposing across Europe,” he said.

Even the formerly strong German economy is struggling now, according to Reuters (via NYT), Crisis in Ukraine Drags Economy in Germany.

The eurozone’s flatlining economy took another hit on Monday when data showed German business sentiment sagging for the fourth consecutive month. Chancellor Angela Merkel attributed some of her own country’s decline in the second quarter to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, over which tit-for-tat sanctions threaten trade. The Munich-based Ifo, a research firm, echoed some of those sentiments as it reported its business climate index, based on a monthly survey of some 7,000 companies, fell to a worse-than-expected 106.3 from 108, the lowest level in more than a year. The findings agreed with data earlier in the month on the second-quarter contraction in Germany, the bloc’s biggest economy. Klaus Wohlrabe, an Ifo economist, said his institute expected growth in Germany to be “close to zero” in the third quarter.

A few more headlines on the European economic situation:

The Guardian: An austerity revolt has broken the French government. Will the EU follow?

Bloomberg Businessweek on the European Central Bank, Draghi May Again Find Bazooka Words Beat Action With QE, and an editorial from The Financial Times, Central banks at the crossroads.

Wisteria Flowers in Bloom at Pergola at Portland Japanese Garden Stone Path

Wisteria Flowers in Bloom at Pergola at Portland Japanese Garden Stone Path

Ferguson Stories

Yesterday, on the day of Michael Brown’s funeral, The New York Times published a story that got a great deal of attention because of its insensitive characterization of the dead teenager. Here the paragraph that attracted the angry reaction:

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.

Would the authors have written a similar paragraph about a white homicide victim? From Vox, The New York Times called Michael Brown “no angel.” Here’s how it described serial killers.

The New York Times’s description of Michael Brown as “no angel” has prompted a swift, critical reaction from other media outlets, including Vox, and various people on social media.

Alison Mitchell, national editor for the Times, defended the term in conversations with the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple:

“It comes out of the opening scene,” says Mitchell, who notes that “like many teenagers,” Brown was indeed “no angel.” Okay, but would the New York Times have chosen this term — which is commonly used to describe miscreants and thugs — if the victim had been white? Mitchell: “I think, actually, we have a nuanced story about the young man and if it had been a white young man in the same exact situation, if that’s where our reporting took us, we would have written it in the same way.” When asked whether she thought that “no angel” was a loaded term in this context, Mitchell said she didn’t believe it was. “The story … talks about both problems and promise,” she notes.

The Times’s response has done little to calm the storm. Sean McElwee, research assistant at Demos, dug into the archives to compare the Times’s description of Brown to the newspaper’s previous descriptions of serial killers and terrorists. Of course, comparing articles produced decades apart by different writers and editors isn’t an exact science. But it does lend context to the widespread frustration over how young black men are portrayed in the media.

A series of McElwee’s tweets are posted at the link, and are well worth reading.

One more from Salon by Joan Walsh, Ferguson’s booming white grievance industry: Fox News, Darren Wilson and friends. Check it out at Salon.

How did this post get so long?! I’d better wrap it up. Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great Tuesday!

 

 


Wednesday Reads: New Year 2014

477fb761096e907d8ce9b32bc4540dc4Good Morning

Ah, another damn year has gone by, 2014 has to be a hellalot better than 2013, it has to be!

If you missed New Years Worldwide, there are plenty of pictures here:

Photos: Bringing in 2014 – CNN.com

Now for a few links, did you see the latest on the booze front:  Moderate alcohol consumption ‘boosts immune system’

The study researchers, led by Ilhem Messaoudi of the School of Medicine at the University of California, Riverside, say their research may help lead to a better understanding of how the immune system works, and how to improve its ability to respond to vaccines and infections.

To reach their findings, the researchers trained 12 monkeys (rhesus macaques) to consume alcohol freely.

That has to be a beginning of a joke, at the very least.

Prior to this, the monkeys were vaccinated against smallpox. One group of the monkeys was then allowed access to either 4% alcohol, while the other group had access to sugar water. All monkeys also had access to normal water and food.

The monkeys were then monitored for a 14-month period and were vaccinated again 7 months into the experiment.

9ab8c288922fd7d4c833c67007bcbe5fDuring this time, the investigators found that the monkeys’ voluntary alcohol intake varied, just as it does in humans. This led the investigators to divide them into two groups.

You had some monkeys that were “heavy drinkers” and some that were “moderate drinkers.” (I really can’t help but get images of those little monkeys dressed up like little people, and acting like the comical drunk in silent movies.)

Anyway, the study showed:

The monkeys classed as heavy drinkers showed diminished responses to the vaccine, compared with the monkeys that consumed sugar water. But the investigators were surprised to find that the monkeys deemed as moderate drinkers demonstrated an enhanced vaccine response.

Not sure if 12 monkeys is enough of a group of “individuals” to quantify the experiment…but my husband is a “heavy drinker” and he never gets sick. According to him, it is because of his alcohol and tobacco use that colds and disease do not take hold in his body…maybe he is on to something?

d939c7a32cdf8cd9113643e629cd9932And since we are on the topic of experiments on animals: Animal-Rights Activists Bully Dying Italian Girl – The Daily Beast

When 25-year-old veterinary student Caterina Simonsen posted an update on a Facebook page supporting the use of animals in medical research before Christmas, she was trying to say how lucky she felt to be alive.  The Padua native suffers from four rare genetic pulmonary diseases that require her to use breathing tubes and experimental medication to thin the mucus in her lungs in order to breathe.  Her extreme illness makes her quickly immune to treatments, and, as a result, she has been a human guinea pig in a host of medical trials as doctors search for ways to help her live longer.  At 18, her doctors told her she couldn’t be cured, but this year, she had survived another birthday and simply wanted to say thanks.  “I am 25 thanks to genuine research that includes experiments on animals.  Without research, I would have been dead at nine. You have gifted me a future.”

Simonsen’s comments, on the heels of a hotly contested national telethon in Italy soliciting money for medical research, triggered a flurry of hate comments from animal-rights extremists.  “You could die tomorrow, I wouldn’t sacrifice my goldfish for you,” a poster named Giovanna wrote on the Facebook page “A Favore Della Sperimentazione Animale” (In Favor of Animal Experimentation). Another wrote, “If you had died as a child, no one would have given a damn.”  In all, Simonsen received 30 death threats and 500 cruel insults, which are being investigated by local police.

You should see what some of the people wrote to this woman, hateful disgusting stuff. But it may be that some of those asshole may get their wish because Giovanna is in the hospital again with a lung infection that the doctors say is stress induced, read more at the link.

I hate to start the new year with a shit news filled post…so I will just post the rest of the depressing links in dump format:

Iowa voter fraud investigation possibly financed by misused funds | WQAD.com

255b4578507d0045ac0f22f9144f00a7Iowa’s Secretary of State has been warned by the State Auditor’s Office that funds used for a voter fraud investigation may need to be repaid.

According to a report by the Des Moines Register, in July of 2012 Iowa’s Secretary of State Matt Schultz launched an investigation with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) to look into cases of alleged voter fraud.

Schultz reportedly used Help America Vote Act funds for the investigation, which may have violated how the HAVA funds are supposed to be used.

Can you hear the laughter from my house? All that money to catch 5 people(or some ridiculously low number like that…), three of which turned themselves in…only to find out that the money they used was “misused funds” from their “Help America Vote Act” funds.

In other crime news: Can hidden information in photographs be used to spot criminals? – latimes.com

Pupil images

A new study concludes that people are very good at recognizing the faces of familiar people reflected in the pupils of portrait subjects. (Courtesy of Rob Jenkins, Christie Kerr, PLOS One / December 26, 2013)

Wow.

ca863546d5fd02a5075b6d33d76e3d73Gunman went bowling before Arapahoe High School shooting, police say – That is an update on the shooting in Colorado.

When the Mentally Ill Own Guns – An op/ed from the New York Times.

Reverse Nazi salute, all the rage in Europe, is now coming to America -This is scary…go to the link to see the pictures.

We need to talk about TED | Benjamin Bratton –An op/ed on those TED Talks…

In our culture, talking about the future is sometimes a polite way of saying things about the present that would otherwise be rude or risky.

But have you ever wondered why so little of the future promised in TED talks actually happens? So much potential and enthusiasm, and so little actual change. Are the ideas wrong? Or is the idea about what ideas can do all by themselves wrong?

Of course I have to bring you something medieval for new years…what about a medieval baby, in the making? Bet some GOP folks would believe it works this way…

British Library, Harley 4425, f. 140 ‘Nature forging a baby’. Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Roman de la Rose. Bruges, c.1490-c.1500.

British Library, Harley 4425, f. 140 ‘Nature forging a baby’. Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Roman de la Rose. Bruges, c.1490-c.1500.

Another medieval history link on Iceland: Beauty and brutality: Iceland’s literary landscapes

Yup, that is drawn by Dr.

Yup, that is drawn by Dr.Seuss

And one on Germany: Cheating and Cheaters in German Romance and Epic, 1180 – 1225

A picture of “What If?” here in America: The 124 states of America

What would the U.S. look like if all of the secession movements in U.S. history had succeeded?  Well, Mansfield University geography professor Andrew Shears built a map to answer that question. (It covers secession movements through the end of 2011.)  His 124 states of America is below. Click the map to enlarge it.

Map courtesy of Andrew Shears

Map courtesy of Andrew Shears

It is missing some of the more recent movements out in Colorado…California…Idaho…Texas, etc.

Hey…for you Movie Buffs…Critics Poll: What Was the Worst Movie of 2013? — Vulture

5d1a5b81e8061518cde8818e889c8778A year in movies is often split between stunning works of art and jaw-droppingly awful films. For example: 12 Years a Slave hit theaters on the same day as Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wait-this-actually-happened? team-up Escape Plan. So as Vulture celebrates the finest films of 2013 (you can see critic David Edelstein’s top ten here), so must we celebrate the worst. Welcome to the seventh edition of our annual worst-movies roundup, as voted on by critics, where soon-to-be-forgotten misfires earn a last turn in the spotlight.

This year, Vulture polled film critics on the year’s most torturous moviegoing experiences (some publications submitted collective ballots). Those responses, combined with a number of notable worst-of lists published elsewhere, added up to 42 lists, which were tallied to produce the final ranking of the ten worst films of 2013. It was a tight race, with critically maligned mainstream disasters (Gangster Squad, R.I.P.D.,The Hangover Part III) rubbing shoulders with polarizing auteurist efforts (Paul Schrader’s The Canyons, Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder) just outside the bottom tier. Below, see the official ten worst of the worst for 2013, then peruse all of the individual critic ballots.

Fortunately I did not see any of the shit on that list. Did you?

Which brings me to another list for you this morning: The Year’s Very Worst Words Are So “Problematic”

Language is wonderful and language is alive, but language is also a form of psychological assault—especially when everybody suddenly starts using awful new terms and phrases just because everyone else is doing it, on Twitter. We are not so naive as to think we can “ban” this or that word, because “ban” is one of the words we would ban, if words could be banned. They cannot. 19c31e52520d40bf09ad247ae96b4fd0Thanks to 2013, we’re stuck with this bunch of linguistic garbage.

[…]

bless your heart
Antiquated southernism for “fuck you,” often heard in open-plan offices where people are uncomfortable saying “fuck you.”

Yeah…that is one that is getting too much play from those northerners if you ask me…just leave it to the southern fuckwads, and just say it like it is.

just sayin’
Shorthand for “I have completed my bigoted statement.” See also: #sorrynotsorry.

Actually, one word I am fucking tired of is DUCK…funny that it does rhyme with FUCK?

Alright, that is it for the link “dump.” And…now we will end with a story about what kind of things gets “dropped” for the New Year:  Pickles, Possums, Peeps: The Things We Drop to Ring in the New Year

Why do we celebrate the New Year … by dropping things?

It started with ships. Maritime vessels, back before they could turn to more precise forms of time measurement, relied on “time balls”: spheres that were dropped from masts and other shipboard poles at precise intervals to help insure that their chronometers were aligned with Greenwich Mean Time. In 1906, those time balls lent themselves to another kind of time: Times Square. New York City had just banned fireworks displays, and Adolph Ochs, the owner of The New York Times, wanted to give the throngs of people who would gather around his building another kind of show.

The Times Square ball drops to ring in 2013. (Countdown Entertainment via NYCGo)

Ochs, as the Los Angeles Times reports, called on the paper’s chief electrician, Walter Palmer, to come up with another source of the spectacular. Palmer borrowed the maritime tradition and combined it with something that would work on land: electricity. And the Times Square Ball Drop was born.

Since then, the “dropping things” tradition has been modified by cities across the country, in ways both wondrous and weird. Plenty, still, drop their own balls—smaller versions of New York City’s. Many others, however, drop food (cheese, fruit, Peeps). Some drop animals (cows, fish, possums, goats). One (Seaside Heights, New Jersey) has dropped a person.

Below, re-categorized from Wikipedia’s amazingly extensive, state-by-state list, are some of the objects that people have chosen to ring in the New Year. They reflect regional pride, municipal quirk, economic diversity … and the rich weirdness that makes America what it is. Happy New Year, everyone.

I think I will now drop my fat ass into bed, since I am writing this post at 3:14 in the morning on January 1, 2014!

0141cab216b4d6e68ef4ee0c4982abc1

Happy New Year’s Day Y’all…

And, Bless Your Hearts….hee-hee.


Saturday Reads: American Gun Culture and Snowden in Russia

gun-culture

Good Morning!!

Another day, another senseless shooting. Yesterday morning–All Souls Day–a young New Jersey man named Paul Ciancia took an assault rifle into the Los Angeles International Airport and managed injure several people, including three TSA agent. One of the TSA agents, Gerardo I. Hernandez, was killed.

From ABC News: 

The shooting began around 9:20 a.m. PST on Friday at LAX’s usually crowded Terminal 3, and sent hundreds of passengers streaming out of the terminal, with many fleeing onto the airport runway. Dozens of flights to and from the airport were delayed or cancelled as a “tactical alert” was triggered for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Witnesses described a chaotic scene, as many ducked for cover inside bathroom stalls or dropped to the floor upon officers’ commands….

Authorities said Ciancia was able to make it all the way to the back of the terminal, near the departure gate, before he was shot down by officers and taken into custody, according to Mayor Eric Garcetti.

It sounds like Ciancia may be an Alex Jones fan, because

a note found at the scene that indicated Ciancia’s anti-government sentiments and suggested that he expected to die in the airport shootout.

The note found at the scene ended with the letters “NWO,” according to law enforcement sources, which is believed to stand for “New World Order.” The note also specifically mentioned anger and frustration targeted toward the TSA.

Paul Anthony Ciancia

Paul Anthony Ciancia

The story also says that Cianca’s family was afraid he had plans to commit suicide, and they had contacted LAPD and requested they check on him. Police went to his apartment, but apparently he was already headed for LAX.

From The Christian Science Monitor:

According to officials examining information found on Ciancia after his capture, apparently he was upset about government in general and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in particular.

Passengers in the area of the shooting said he asked some people, “Hey, are you TSA?” When they answered “no,” the young man wearing fatigues passed them by, targeting TSA officers (who are unarmed) with a military-style semi-automatic rifle and extra clips of ammunition holding more than 100 rounds.

As pieced together by law enforcement officials and eye witnesses, Ciancia had parked his car at the airport, ran up an escalator into Terminal 3, pulled his weapon from a bag, and began firing as he approached the area where passengers must first show their ticket and government-issued identification before having their luggage and themselves checked by TSA. Witnesses say they heard 8-10 shots.

A high school classmate of Ciancia said that

the suspected gunman was a loner who had been bullied at their private high school.

“In four years, I never heard a word out of his mouth,” said David Hamilton, who graduated with Ciancia from Salesianum School in Wilmington, Del., in 2008. “He kept to himself and ate lunch alone a lot. I really don’t remember any one person who was close to him.”

us-gun-culture-cartoon

Yesterday, Dakinikat linked to an outstanding post by Charles Pierce, who was at LAX at the time of the shooting: There Is Nothing Random About The LAX Shooting.

There already is some talk about this event being a “random” one. But it is not. These things are becoming as regular as rain, as predictable as the summer heat. The only thing “random” about it is the shooter. He could be anyone, and that’s the point. There are people who spend money making sure that he could be anyone, and there’s nothing “random” about how they do that. There is nothing “random” about this country’s ludicrous disinclination to regulate its firearms. There is nothing “random” about the millions of dollars that the NRA spends to convince people that they should have the right to carry their assault weapon anywhere they want to carry it, including into an airport terminal, if they so desire. There is nothing “random” about the politicians who truckle and bow to this lucrative monetization of bloody mayhem. These are all deliberate acts with predictable consequences. There is nothing “random” about how we have armed ourselves, and there is nothing “random” about the filigree of high-flown rhetoric with which we justify arming ourselves, and there is nothing “random” about how we learn nothing every time someone who could be anyone decides to exercise his Second Amendment rights by opening fire.

Pierce’s rant continues in one very long paragraph–read the rest at his blog.

From the National Journal, here’s some evidence of how not-random this latest shooting is: The TSA Found 29 Firearms at Airports This Week, Before the LAX Shooting.

All of this of course happened before an armed suspect made it into LAX on Friday. And the last week wasn’t an outlier. The week before, 39 firearms were discovered. Between Sept. 27 and Oct. 15, the TSA collected 84 loaded arms.

Oh, and in 2012 as a whole, airport screeners found more than 1,500 guns at checkpoints. That was up from a total of 1,320 guns in 2011. Of course, not everyone who brought a gun to an airport intended to do harm. But the sheer number of firearms points to a potential for violence far greater than most people may think.

Mashable-NSA-Comic

Meanwhile, over in Russia, another young man who is angry at the U.S. government has been making news again. Edward Snowden reportedly has taken “a website maintenance job” with “one of Russia’s largest websites.” The name of the site is supposedly secret, but

Technology news website Digit.ru speculated that Snowden may have joined social networking site VKontakte.ru, Russia’s equivalent of Facebook.

The website, an affiliate of RIA Novosti, said other major Russian online companies, including Yandex and  Mail.ru, had categorically denied they had hired Snowden.

VKontakte spokesman Georgy Lobushkin said he could not comment on the issue, but would not rule out his company had recruited Snowden.

Lobushkin said at a corporate event in August that he could see Snowden assisting VKontakte in maintaining the security of its online chat program.

Apparently Russia’s “facebook” isn’t worried about Snowden stealing secrets. But at least they can’t help knowing his history of doing so in other jobs.

In other Snowden news, the angry young man wrote a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel volunteering to help in a German investigation of U.S. spying on the country.

“Speaking the truth is not a crime,” read the letter from the former U.S. spy agency contractor, who has taken refuge in Russia. He gave the letter to German lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele, who presented it to the media in Berlin on Friday.

“I am confident that with the support of the international community, the government of the United States will abandon this harmful behaviour,” wrote Snowden to Chancellor Angela Merkel, the German parliament and federal prosecutors.

“In the course of my service to this organisation, I believe I witnessed systemic violations of law by my government that created a moral duty to act,” Snowden added.

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Actually, in this case what Snowden did was a crime, because he swore an oath not to reveal secrets he had access to; but Snowden doesn’t seem to be fully in touch with the reality of what he has done as yet. He seems to believe that the U.S. will decide to give him clemency so he can travel to Germany and that Russia will allow him to leave the country. Neither of those beliefs is even close to being rational. According to CNN:

Snowden’s attorney [AKA FSB minder], Anatoly Kucherena, told reporters in Moscow that his client would not be leaving Russia to testify on the U.S. spying allegations.

Kucherena said he would advise Snowden not to testify at all if it is not in his client’s best interest.

German legislator Hans-Christian Stroebele admitted that Snowden probably couldn’t speak freely from Moscow if he had to testify by video:

Snowden “is an important witness for Germany,” said Stroebele.

But asked if Snowden could testify to German authorities via video link from Moscow, Stroebele said that could be problematic for several reasons.

He suggested Snowden would be more limited in what he could say if he were in Moscow than if he were in Germany.

So long as Snowden has asylum in Russia, he needs to avoid doing anything that would negatively affect his status there, the lawmaker said.

From First Post, a little more double-talk and fantasy:

Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden is free to cooperate with Germany on reports of the alleged US tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s telephone conversations, the Kremlin said Saturday.

Snowden has to obey Russian laws since he is on Russian territory after being granted temporary asylum, but still “he is free to meet with anybody,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Xinhua reports.

So it’s OK with the Kremlin if Snowden travels to Germany to testify? No. Not really…

Snowden’s lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told Russian media that it is impossible for Snowden to leave Russia to be questioned by German prosecutors but he can provide testimony inside Russia.

Interestingly, at Business Insider, Geoffrey Ingersoll pointed out that Snowden’s letter to Merkel didn’t refer to the supposed tapping of her personal cell phone.

Oddly, Snowden’s letter seems more like a self-congratulatory protest against the NSA itself, rather than concern over the tapping of diplomats’ phones, which was ostensibly the inspiration for the letter itself.

Surely Snowden, who Ray McGovern described as “thoroughly informed,”  knows that Merkel imported the NSA’s services.

An article in the Berlin daily Die Welt described German intelligence as “technically backward and helpless” and “helplessly dependent” on U.S. intelligence.

Facilities of the National Security Agency and other intelligence services have boosted their presence on German soil since 9/11, which makes sense, as former NSA officer John Schindler points out, because the attacks were planned on German soil.

Certainly Edward Snowden knows this as well.

Nonetheless, his letter seems focused on American surveillance in general, rather that on surveillance of world leaders.

Perhaps Snowden isn’t keeping up with the news, as his supporters claim. Does he even have access to a computer?

FSB logo

At least The New York Times seems to have accepted the fact that Snowden is no longer an independent agent in any meaningful way. At least they published a recent article by Steven Lee Myers that makes it clear that Snowden is fully controlled by the Russian FSB.

On very rare occasions, almost always at night, Edward J. Snowden leaves his secret, guarded residence here, somewhere, in Russia. He is always under close protection. He spends his days learning the language and reading. He recently finished “Crime and Punishment.”

Accompanying him is Sarah Harrison, a British activist working with WikiLeaks. With far less attention, she appears to have found herself trapped in the same furtive limbo of temporary asylum that the Russian government granted Mr. Snowden three months ago: safe from prosecution, perhaps, but far from living freely, or at least openly.

Andrei Soldatov, a journalist who has written extensively about the security services, said that the F.S.B., the domestic successor to the Soviet-era intelligence service, clearly controlled the circumstances of Mr. Snowden’s life now, protecting him and also circumscribing his activities, even if not directly controlling him.

“He’s actually surrounded by these people,” said Mr. Soldatov, who, with Irina Borogan, wrote a history of the new Russian security services, “The New Nobility.”

Even former CIA agent and Snowden supporter Ray McGovern admits Snowden has no personal liberty in Russia.

“He’s free, but he’s not completely free,” said Ray McGovern, a former C.I.A. official and a member of the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, which met with Mr. Snowden three weeks ago in his only verified public appearance since he received asylum on July 31. Even those who attended were not exactly sure where the meeting took place, having been driven in a van with darkened windows.

Because for Snowden’s supporters Russian secrecy is presumably acceptable, but the U.S. should reveal every secret to the world and stop making efforts to defend its national security in any way.

The biggest mystery is what is Sarah Harrison’s role in all this. Is she living with Snowden? Does her presence mean that Wikileaks is cooperating with the FSB in keeping Snowden under control?

That’s all I have for you today–sorry this post is going up so late. Now what stories are you following today? Please share your links in the comment thread.


Tuesday Reads: Liberals, Libertarians, and Concern Trolls

Matisse-Woman-Reading-with-Tea1

Good Morning!!

Between the Red Sox being in the World Series and having to have a root canal on Saturday, I’ve been a little bit disconnected from politics. The Sox won again last night in St. Louis, and they’ll be coming back home to Fenway Park leading the series 3 games to 2; so they could end it tomorrow night. If this post is a little late, my aching jaw and baseball are the reasons why.

We’ve been talking a lot about libertarians lately, because so-called progressives have been aligning with those Ayn Rand fans since libertarian Edward Snowden began leaking top secret documents about the NSA and libertarian Glenn Greenwald began lecturing the world about what a great hero Snowden is for defecting to Russia and revealing the most secret counterintelligence methods of the U.S. and U.K.

The latest shameful episode was Saturday’s “Stop Watching Us” rally in Washington, at which supposedly “progressive” groups joined with anti-woman right-wingers like Justin Amash and neo-confederates like Ron and Rand Paul to protest the NSA doing its job of collecting foreign intelligence.

Before the rally took place, Tom Watson wrote a heartfelt column warning “progressives” that libertarians don’t make good bedfellows. Watson wrote that while he dislikes mass surveillance,

I cannot support this coalition or the rally. It is fatally compromised by the prominent leadership and participation of the Libertarian Party and other libertarian student groups; their hardcore ideology stands in direct opposition to almost everything I believe in as a social democrat.

The Libertarian Party itself — inaccurately described by Stop Watching Us as a “public advocacy organization” — is a right-wing political party that opposes all gun control lawsand public healthcaresupported the government shutdowndismisses public education,opposes organized labor, favors the end of Social Security as we know it, and argues in its formal political manifesto that “we should eliminate the entire social welfare system” while supporting “unrestricted competition among banks and depository institutions of all types.”

Yet my progressive friends would take the stage with the representatives of this political movement? Why? The loss is much greater than the gain. Organizers trade their own good names and reputations to stand alongside — and convey legitimacy to — a party that opposes communitarian participation in liberal society, and rejects the very role of government itself. And their own argument for privacy is weakened by the pollution of an ideology that uses its few positive civil liberties positions as a predator uses candy with a child.

This is an abandonment of core principles, in my view, out of anger over Edward Snowden’s still-recent revelations about the National Security Agency and its spying activity, particularly domestic access to telephone and online networks and metadata. It represents trading long-held beliefs in social and economic justice for a current hot-button issue that — while clearly of concern to all Americans — doesn’t come close to trumping a host of other issues areas that require “the long game” of electoral politics and organizing. Going “all in” with the libertarian purists is a fatal and unnecessary compromise; reform is clearly needed, but the presence of anti-government laissez-faire wingers at the beating heart of the privacy movement will surely sour the very political actors that movement desperately needs to make actual — and not symbolic, link bait — progress in its fight.

But it was to no avail. Watson was attacked for his argument that the anti-surveillance fever is distracting from other important issues. People like Greenwald and Snowden couldn’t possibly care less about alleviating poverty, protecting women’s rights or the right to vote. They’d have no problem with Social Security and Medicare being eliminated, and as for voting, they’re anti-government anyway. Glenn Greenwald–whom some uninformed people believe is a “progressive,” saves his worst attacks for Democrats and in the past has supported Ron Paul and Gary Johnson for president. To Greenwald, sacrificing the entire legacy of FDR and the civil rights and women’s movements is no big deal. Here’s how he characterized the values of liberals who reject Ron Paul in 2011:

Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.

Of course, Greenwald is admitting that he’d sacrifice the social safety net and the rights of millions of Americans in a hopeless effort to defeat the military-industrial complex and its technologies. If you can stand to read the whole piece, you’ll also learn that Greenwald thinks Matt Stoller is a “brilliant” writer. Greenwald is a libertarian purist, with no understanding of how politics actually works. This is the pied piper that many “progressives” are following these days.

I guess I’m getting a little carried away here, so I’ll stop ranting and offer some pertinent links.

Read the rest of this entry »


Tuesday Reads: U.S. Spies on Foreign Countries and Other “Blockbuster” News

woman-by-a-window.matisse

Good Morning!!

In the weeks since Edward Snowden absconded with thousands of top secret National Security Agency (NSA) files and traveled to Hong Kong and then Moscow and handed over the documents to Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras, we’ve learned that the U.S. spies on lots of other countries. Snowden has revealed that NSA has spied on China, Russia, Germany, FranceBrazil, MexicoIsrael, Iran, and the UN. Oddly, we haven’t gotten much new information from Snowden about illegal or abusive NSA spying on Americans, which Snowden initially suggested was his reason for stealing the secret documents.

To most nominally intelligent and informed people, the fact that NSA spies on foreign countires is not particularly surprising; since collecting foreign signals intelligence (SIGINT) is the primary purpose of NSA as stated publicly on their website. Here is NSA’s statement of their “core mission”:

The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) leads the U.S. Government in cryptology that encompasses both Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Information Assurance (IA) products and services, and enables Computer Network Operations (CNO) in order to gain a decision advantage for the Nation and our allies under all circumstances.

The Information Assurance mission confronts the formidable challenge of preventing foreign adversaries from gaining access to sensitive or classified national security information. The Signals Intelligence mission collects, processes, and disseminates intelligence information from foreign signals for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes and to support military operations. This Agency also enables Network Warfare operations to defeat terrorists and their organizations at home and abroad, consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties.

Spying on foreign countries is what NSA does. Why that is perceived as somehow illegal and/or shocking by Greenwald, Poitras, Snowden, and their cult followers, I have no clue. But the fact that a spy agency collects foreign signals intelligence really should not be considered breaking news; and the countries that are complaining about it are well known for spying on the US in return–and in some cases (e.g., China, Russia, and Israel) for famously stealing U.S. secrets and technology.

Today the Washington Post has a new “blockbuster” article that reveals that the U.S. is particularly focused on spying on Pakistan. Now I wonder why that would be? Anyone want to speculate? It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Pakistan concealed the location of Osama bin Laden for years, could it? Or the fact that Taliban and al Quaeda operatives regularly hide in Pakistan? Just a couple of wild guesses…

Here’s an excerpt from the WaPo article:

A 178-page summary of the U.S. intelligence community’s “black budget” shows that the United States has ramped up its surveillance of Pakistan’s nuclear arms, cites previously undisclosed concerns about biological and chemical sites there, and details efforts to assess the loyalties of counter­terrorism sources recruited by the CIA.

Pakistan appears at the top of charts listing critical U.S. intelligence gaps. It is named as a target of newly formed analytic cells. And fears about the security of its nuclear program are so pervasive that a budget section on containing the spread of illicit weapons divides the world into two categories: Pakistan and everybody else.

The disclosures — based on documents provided to The Washington Post by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden — expose broad new levels of U.S. distrust in an already unsteady security partnership with Pakistan, a politically unstable country that faces rising Islamist militancy. They also reveal a more expansive effort to gather intelligence on Pakistan than U.S. officials have disclosed.

The United States has delivered nearly $26 billion in aid to Pakistan over the past 12 years, aimed at stabilizing the country and ensuring its cooperation in counterterrorism efforts. But with Osama bin Laden dead and al-Qaeda degraded, U.S. spy agencies appear to be shifting their attention to dangers that have emerged beyond the patch of Pakistani territory patrolled by CIA drones.

“If the Americans are expanding their surveillance capabilities, it can only mean one thing,” said Husain Haqqani, who until 2011 served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States. “The mistrust now exceeds the trust.”

The stolen files also reveal serious human rights issues in Pakistan and fears about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Raise your hand if you’re shocked by any this. I can certainly see why these revelations would be harmful to U.S. national security and foreign relations, however.

Via The Jerusalem Post, another Snowden leak revealed by the Washington Post showed that members of terrorist organizations have tried to join the CIA.

…individuals with past connections to known terrorist entities such as al-Qaida, Hezbollah and Hamas, have repeatedly attempted to obtain employment within the CIA, The Washington Post reported on Monday.

Among job-seekers that seemed suspicious to the CIA, approximately 20% of that grouping reportedly had “significant terrorist and/or hostile intelligence connections.” The nature of the connections was not described in the document.

“Over the last several years, a small subset of CIA’s total job applicants were flagged due to various problems or issues,” an anonymous CIA official was reported as saying. “During this period, one in five of that small subset were found to have significant connections to hostile intelligence services and or terrorist groups.” [….]

The document also allegedly stated that the CIA re-investigates thousands of employees each year to reduce the possibility that an individual with these connections may compromise sensitive information.

Can anyone explain to me why this should be considered criminal or why the person who revealed it should be called a “whistle-blower?” It seems to me, the only reason for revealing the methods the U.S. uses to collect foreign SIGINT is a desire to harm U.S. Government and damage its foreign policy. Here’s Bob Cesca, who has consistently critiqued libertarians Snowden and Greenwald and their anti-government motives from a liberal, rational point of view: Greenwald Reports NSA Spied on Presidents of Brazil andMexico.

We’re not sure exactly which section of the U.S. Constitution protects the privacy rights of foreign leaders, but Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden appear to believe it’s in there somewhere. The tandem crusaders for the Fourth Amendment have once again extended their reach beyond what was intended to be their mutual goal of igniting a debate in the United States about the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations, and, instead, opted to reveal that, yes, the U.S. spies on foreign leaders. Shocking, I know.

Specifically, on the Globo television show “Fantasico” in Brazil, Greenwald described a July, 2012 document stolen from NSA by Snowden, which describes how NSA had intercepted communications made by the president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, as well as Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff. (Incidentally, the Globo article contains 13 corporate trackers or “web bugs.”)

The goal of revealing this information is clear. Greenwald and Snowden have successfully exploited the “sparking a debate” motive as a Trojan Horse for injecting unrelated information into public view as a means of vindictively damaging the operations of U.S. and U.K. intelligence communities, not to mention the reputation of the United States as a whole, while also pushing the unrealistic message that surveillance is generally impermissible. Yes, we already knew that nations spy on other nations, but to publicly disclose specific instances of international spying — while on the soil of one of the nations being surveilled — confirms these suspicions and sorely embarrasses everyone involved.

But guess what? Both Mexico and Brazil have powerful spy agencies that conduct “active surveillance” on the U.S.

In Brazil, it’s called the Agência Brasileira de Inteligência (ABIN or the Brazilian Intelligence Agency). It deals with external and domestic intelligence gathering: collection and analysis of information that’s intercepted via both signals (SIGINT collects email, phone calls and so forth) and human resources.

In Mexico, it’s called S-2. Like ABIN or NSA, S-2 also collects SIGINT on foreign targets, with a special focus on the military operations of foreign governments. Along with its counterpart, the Centro de Información de Seguridad Nacional (Center for Research on National Security or CISIN), S-2 is tasked with counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism operations.

Has anyone overheard Greenwald mention, even in passing, either of these agencies? Likely not, and don’t hold your breath waiting for Greenwald to attack Brazil’s intelligence community, even knowing that it wiretapped its own Senate and Supreme Court several years ago. Along those lines, we don’t know exactly whether these agencies have attempted to spy on any of our presidents or government officials, but wouldn’t Greenwald, as a U.S. citizen and resident of Brazil, want to find out using the same “Glennzilla” tenacity he’s employed while exposing U.S. spying? If his crusade now involves universal privacy, wouldn’t that include violations by the Brazilian government, especially knowing that Greenwald lives in Rio de Janeiro?

Read more at the link.

In other news….

The civil war in Syria continues to be the top international story, and The New York Times has a couple of helpful articles. The first is an explainer that deals with Key Questions on the Conflict in Syria. I won’t excerpt from it–read it at the NYT if you’re interested. Next, an article that explains how American policy on Syria may affect possible negotiations with Iran: Drawing a Line on Syria, U.S. Eyes Iran Talks.

As the Obama administration makes a case for punitive airstrikes on the Syrian government, its strongest card in the view of some supporters of a military response may be the need to send a message to another country: Iran. If the United States does not enforce its self-imposed “red line” on Syria’s use of chemical weapons, this thinking goes, Iran will smell weakness and press ahead more boldly in its quest for nuclear weapons.

But that message may be clashing with a simultaneous effort by American officials to explore dialogue with Iran’s moderate new president, Hassan Rouhani, in the latest expression of Washington’s long struggle to balance toughness with diplomacy in its relations with a longtime adversary.

Two recent diplomatic ventures have raised speculation about a possible back channel between Washington and Tehran. Last week, Jeffrey Feltman, a high State Department official in President Obama’s first term who is now a senior envoy at the United Nations, visited Iran to meet with the new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and discussed possible reactions to an American airstrike in Syria.

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In line with the international beating up on the U.S. that has followed the Snowden-Greenwald-Poitras “revelations” that NSA spies on foreign countries, The Daily Mail has a snarky article with numerous photos about a dinner that John Kerry had with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in 2009.

An astonishing photograph of John Kerry having a cozy and intimate dinner with Bashar al-Assad has emerged at the moment the U.S Secretary of State is making the case to bomb the Syrian dictator’s country and remove him from power.

Kerry, who compared Assad to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein yesterday, is pictured around a small table with his wife Teresa Heinz and the Assads in 2009.

Assad and Kerry, then a Massachusetts senator, lean in towards each other and appear deep in conversation as their spouses look on.

A waiter is pictured at their side with a tray of green drinks, believed to be lemon and crushed mint.

Now, why would Kerry be having dinner with Syria’s president? The Daily Mail tells us:

The picture was likely taken in February 2009 in the Naranj restaurant in Damascus, when Kerry led a delegation to Syria to discuss finding a way forward for peace in the region.

At the time, Kerry was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and what he was doing is called “diplomacy.” But looking back in the age of Snowden, it seems that instead of having a polite dinner, Kerry should have punched Assad in the nose and screamed at him at the top of his lungs to get with the program–or something…

From the Wall Street Journal: Syrian Electronic Army Hacks Marines Website

A collection of pro-Syrian government hackers apparently defaced a Marine Corps recruitment website Monday.

The Syrian Electronic Army, which has hacked a series of websites, posted a letter on the Marines.com website arguing the Syrian government is “fighting a vile common enemy.”

“The Syrian army should be your ally not your enemy,” the letter read. “Refuse your orders and concentrate on the real reason every soldier joins their military, to defend their homeland. You’re more than welcome to fight alongside our army rather than against it.”

See a screen shot at the link. The site is now back up and running normally.

I’ll end there and post my remaining links in the thread below. As always, please post links to the stories you’re following in the comments as well.