Friday Reads: “The Leader of the Free World Meets Donald Trump”

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

This is what happens when all the cracked eggs in the cartoon get to vote in gerrymandered elections that were the subject of Russian interference and laws specifically designed to suppress minority votes.

Yes. Please read that again because it’s a headline from Politico.   I think we can all agree that the current executive branch is a force for evil and chaos in the world so it’s taken less than 2 months for us to lose whatever standing we ever had left after the entire Iraq invasion debacle.   Angela Merkel is the leader of the Free World and Kremlin Caligula refused to shake hands with her.

The subhead line to this? “Angela Merkel, whether she wants the job or not, is the West’s last, best hope.”  Yes. She is because every day the news on the Russian entanglements become more and more evident.  We’ve basically had a bloodless coup.

The German chancellor is the only leader in Europe who even has a plausible claim to moral leadership. As a victim of Soviet communism, Merkel was always going to be listened to carefully on the question of morality. And given her longevity she was always going to be respected. But it was her unexpected decision to accept some 1 million refugees that established her moral credentials, especially since no other political leader has taken such a political risk.

The cruel irony of Trump’s election is that for many decades it was the United States that was seen as a moral leader. During the Cold War, Soviet dissidents looked to the United States. And after communism fell, it was the United States that led international actions to protect victims of repression or hardship. Whether it was the Kurds in northern Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, or the spending on medicine to treat millions suffering from HIV in Africa, the United States was the country expected to act.

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Yes, every day we find out more about that Russian interference. Rachel’s been on top of it probably more than any other mainstream TV media outlet.  WAPO has not let it go either. Writer and friend Tim Shorrock explains how privatization has played a role in helping Wikileaks hack our systems.  This is something of particular interest because if Trump and friends have their way, their billionaire friends and business interests will be the total overlords of a pay to play privatization scheme.  The Cheney buddies were the beneficiaries are the clarion call of handing over public trusts, money and interests to old employers.

When WikiLeaks released more than 8,000 files about the CIA’s global hacking programsthis month, it dropped a tantalizing clue: The leak came from private contractors. Federal investigators quickly confirmed this, calling contractors the likeliest sources. As a result of the breach, WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange said, the CIA had “lost control of its entire cyberweapons arsenal.”

Intelligence insiders were dismayed. Agencies “take a chance with contractors” because “they may not have the same loyalty” as officers employed by the government, former CIA director Leon Panetta lamented to NBC.

But this is a liability built into our system that intelligence officials have long known about and done nothing to correct. As I first reported in 2007, some 70 cents of every intelligence dollar is allocated to the private sector. And the relentless pace of mergers and acquisitions in the spies-for-hire business has left five corporations in control of about 80 percent of the 45,000 contractors employed in U.S. intelligence. The threat from unreliable employees in this multibillion-dollar industry is only getting worse.

Tim is a superb investigator and researcher.  He’s been on this story for some time. Please go read it.

Trump has surrounded himself with “blow it up Billionaires”. His cabinet is filled with them.  A large number of them are either trust fund babies with maybe one generation of wealth behind them or folks that made money the new-fashioned way.  They gambled on Wall Street on items that are merely paper.  These are not the Carnegies that built a steel industry or even the Rockefellers and their oil empire.  These are folks that basically got wealthy via tax loopholes, get rich schemes, and betting against actual companies through the derivatives markets.  The Mercers are a shining example of this new model and their politics are poisonous.

Mercer is a youthful-looking 70. As a boy growing up in New Mexico, he carried around a notebook filled with computer programs he had written. “It’s very unlikely that any of them actually worked,” he has said. “I didn’t get to use a real computer until after high school.” Robert went on to work for decades at IBM, where he had a reputation as a brilliant computer scientist. He made his vast fortune in his 50s, after his work on predicting financial markets led to his becoming co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, one of the world’s most successful quantitative hedge funds. A longtime colleague, David Magerman, recalls that when Robert began working at Renaissance in 1993, he and his wife, Diana, were “grounded, sweet people.” (Magerman was suspended from Renaissance in February after making critical comments about Robert in The Wall Street Journal.) But “money changed all that,” he says. “Diana started jetting off to Europe and flying to their yacht on weekends. The girls were used to getting what they wanted.”

At Renaissance, Robert was an eccentric among eccentrics. The firm is legendary for shunning people with Wall Street or even conventional finance backgrounds, instead favoring scientists and original thinkers. Robert himself, by all accounts, is extremely introverted. Rarely seen in public, he likes to spend his free time with his wife and three daughters. When, in 2014, Robert accepted an award from the Association for Computational Linguistics, he recalled, in a soft voice and with quiet humor, his consternation at being informed that he was expected to give “an oration on some topic or another for an hour, which, by the way, is more than I typically talk in a month.” Sebastian Mallaby’s account of the hedge-fund elite, More Money Than God, describes him as an “icy cold” poker player who doesn’t remember having a nightmare. He likes model trains, having once purchased a set for $2.7 million, and has acquired one of the country’s largest collections of machine guns.

For years, Robert has embraced a supercharged libertarianism with idiosyncratic variations. He is reportedly pro-death penalty, pro-life and pro-gold standard. He has contributed to an ad campaign opposing the construction of the ground zero mosque; Doctors for Disaster Preparedness, a group that is associated with fringe scientific claims; and Black Americans for a Better Future—a vehicle, the Intercept discovered, for an African-American political consultant who has accused Barack Obama of “relentless pandering to homosexuals.” Magerman, Robert’s former colleague at Renaissance, recalls him saying, in front of coworkers, words to the effect that “your value as a human being is equivalent to what you are paid. … He said that, by definition, teachers are not worth much because they aren’t paid much.” His beliefs were well-known at the firm, according to Magerman. But since Robert was so averse to publicity, his ideology wasn’t seen as a cause for concern. “None of us ever thought he would get his views out, because he only talked to his cats,” Magerman told me.

Robert’s middle daughter Rebekah shares similar political beliefs, but she is also very articulate and, therefore, able to act as her father’s mouthpiece. (Neither Rebekah nor Robert responded to detailed lists of questions for this article.) Under Rebekah’s leadership, the family foundation pouredsome $70 million into conservative causes between 2009 and 2014.[1]

Trump, the short fingered vulgarian, can find no solace among the truly wealthy of Manhattan.  He’s done what he has to do to feed his need for endless attention, power, and money.  He’s thrown in with International Thieves and local thugs.  There is nothing these folks love more than to suppress the votes of minorities along with promoting the xenophobia of the White Nationalists that serve this White House and the Tea Party.

Few people in the Republican Party have done more to limit voting rights than Hans von Spakovsky. He’s been instrumental in spreading the myth of widespread voter fraud and backing new restrictions to make it harder to vote.

But it appears that von Spakovsky had an admirer in Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, according to e-mails released to the Senate Judiciary Committee covering Gorsuch’s time working in the George W. Bush Administration.

When President Bush nominated von Spakovksy to the Federal Election Commission in late 2005, Gorsuch wrote, “Good for Hans!”

Read that article at The Nation.  These are not nice people by any traditional or untraditional sense of the word.  Here’s a nice little Georgia Cracker defending a bill designed to stop black people from voting at the same link.

Georgia’s voter-ID law was submitted to the Justice Department in 2005 under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required states like Georgia with a long history of voting discrimination to approve their voting changes with the federal government. The sponsor of the law, Republican Representative Sue Burmeister, told department lawyers, “If there are fewer black voters because of the bill, it will only be because there is less opportunity for fraud. She said when black voters in her precinct are not paid to vote, they do not go to the polls.”

Her racially inflammatory assertions set off alarm bells among the team reviewing the submission, indicating that the law may have been enacted with a discriminatory purpose. Department lawyers feared the bill would disenfranchise thousands of voters.

188920_600Here’s another dozy appointment for you. White House Advisor Sebastian Gorka supposedly held membership in a Nazi-Allied Far-Right Hungarian Group, Historical Vitézi Rend.   New York Congressman Jerry Nadler has opened a query.  Gorka is a Deputy Assistant to T-Rump and has been out spoken about the travel ban.    He’s among those in the government spreading blatant disinformation.  You can read more about the Travel Ban, etc. on BB’ post yesterday.

Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to President Donald Trump, falsely claimed Thursday that Trump’s travel ban was never linked to a particular religious group during the campaign.

In a press release from December 2015 titled “DONALD J. TRUMP STATEMENT ON PREVENTING MUSLIM IMMIGRATION,” Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Nevertheless, Gorka told Breitbart News Daily radio, “There is not one instance on the campaign trail or after the President took office in which the travel suspension was mentioned without reference to national security — it was never mentioned, ‘we’re doing this because of a certain religious group.'”

“In every single instance, every campaign speech, every statement out of the White House after January 20th this measure was linked to the security of the United States,” Gorka continued. “National security is the prerogative of the commander in chief and immigration, including immigration standards and the issuance of visas is not a local, is not a federal, is not a judicial function. It is a function of the White House and the executive arm.”

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Hawaii issued a nationwide halt on Trump’s revised travel ban order, citing statements Trump made during the presidential campaign about Muslims.

 So, the first thing that happened in the Trump-Merkel meeting today is that T-Rump did not shake hands with Germany’s Chancellor during a photo op.

 Trump sat next to Merkel in front of a fireplace for the brief photo-op.“Very good,” Trump said to assembled reporters when asked about what the two leaders discussed. “Lots of things.”

“Very good, thanks,” Merkel said in German.

But Trump hardly looked at Merkel and, when the photo op ended, didn’t move in for a handshake.

We’re in for an ongoing nightmare and series of national embarrassments for some time.  I’m just hoping the terrorists groups don’t have a chance to get their acts together before we get rid of him.  Every thing in the executive branch is extremely nonfunctional.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

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?

 


Friday Reads

morning-coffee

Good Morning!!

 

I’m going to begin with some good news today.

It looks like the coming winter will be on the mild side. From Discovery News: Winter Forecast for US Nothing to Shiver About.

Don’t expect the polar vortex to pummel the eastern United States this winter, government scientists said today (Oct. 16).

Overall, forecasters expect mild winter conditions across much of the United States, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said as they issued their annual winter weather outlook.

While there’s always a chance that the polar jet stream will again funnel frigid Arctic air south toward the United States, nothing in the new forecast indicates a rerun of the persistent patterns responsible for the “polar vortex.” “We do not expect to see a repeat of last winter,” said Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Developing El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean will influence this year’s winter weather, with wet conditions forecast from Southern California to South Carolina, and dry conditions expected across the North. Temperatures will be warmer than average in the West and in New England, but colder in the South from Texas east to Florida, according to the forecast.

I hope they’re right!

Now for the latest Ebola news . . .

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Why can’t Dallas hospital workers just stay home until they’re cleared? From The Washington Post: Texas hospital worker quarantined on cruise ship in Caribbean.

A Texas health-care worker who “may have” handled lab specimens from Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan has been isolated on board a Carnival cruise ship in the Caribbean. The worker has shown no symptoms of the disease, according to Carnival, which said it is in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control. A Carnival spokeswoman said the guest, who was not named, will remain on board in voluntary isolation until the ship returns to its home port of Galveston on Sunday.

The Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital employee and a partner boarded the ship Oct. 12 in Galveston, Tex., before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated the requirement for active monitoring, the State Department said in a statement. Although the worker is healthy, the U.S. government is working with the cruise line to get the ship back to America “out of an abundance of caution.”

The employee, who has not been named, did not come into direct contact with Duncan, the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. However, he or she may have been exposed to his clinical specimens, the State Department said.

“It has been 19 days since the passenger may have processed” Duncan’s fluid samples, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement early Friday morning. “The cruise line has actively supported CDC’s efforts to speak with the individual, whom the cruise ship’s medical doctor has monitored and confirmed was in good health. Following this examination, the hospital employee and traveling partner have voluntarily remained isolated in a cabin.”

Belize refused to allow the woman (gender identified by news release) to be leave the ship so she could be evacuated by the U.S.

In its own statement Thursday, the the Belize government said it “was contacted today by officers of the U.S. Government and made aware of a cruise ship passenger considered of very low risk for Ebola….Nonetheless, out of an abundance of caution, the Government of Belize decided not to facilitate a U.S. request for assistance in evacuating the passenger through the Phillip Goldson International Airport.”

Now that the horses are out of the barn, so to speak, officials in Texas have decided to close the barn doors. From USA Today: Travel Ban for Texas health care workers in Ebola case.

Texas health officials have ordered any person who entered the room of the first Ebola patient at a Dallas hospital not to travel by public transport, including planes ship, buses or trains, or visit groceries, restaurants or theaters for 21 days, until the danger of developing Ebola has passed.

The instructions, issued by the Texas Department of State Health Service late Thursday, cover more than 70 health workers involved in providing care for Thomas Duncan, the Liberian national who became the first patient to test positive for Ebola in the United States.

Duncan died Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

The hospital workers were ordered to undergo monitoring twice a day, including one face-to-face encounter.

The health department said anyone failing to adhere to the rules “may be subject to a communicable disease control order.” The health workers were asked to sign a written acknowledgement of the directions when they appear for monitoring.

Amber Vinson

Amber Vinson

According to The Hill, the CDC has now decided it needs to talk to passengers who were on Amber Vinson’s flight from Dallas to Cleveland. Vinson is the second nurse to come down with Ebola after caring for Thomas Duncan, who died of the disease last week.

After reports that she may have shown symptoms on her flight back to Dallas, the CDC asked those passengers to contact the agency. But in a release Thursday night, the CDC expanded that notification to include passengers on Vinson’s flight to Cleveland. The agency said that it wants to interview passengers and that “individuals who are determined to be at any potential risk will be actively monitored.”

Ebola is contagious once an infected person starts exhibiting symptoms, so the CDC wants to keep tabs on anyone that could have come into contact with Vinson when those symptoms began. She traveled to Cleveland on Oct. 10 and returned on Oct. 13, the day before she reported her symptoms to the CDC.

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives decided to get involved in the Ebola crisis, and it wasn’t pretty. BloombergPolitics compiled The Five Worst Questions from the House Ebola Hearing. According to the article, Democrats are wrong to claim that lack of funding made the situation worse. Republicans obsessed over banning travel into the U.S. and “securing the borders.” But the most ludicrous question came from Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA).

Representative Morgan Griffith wanted to know if humans can catch Ebola from dogs, and Frieden said there were no known incidents. But still, the Virginia Republican wanted to know if we could stem the flow of West African dogs traveling into America.

“Don’t you think we ought to at least restrict travel of dogs?” he asked.

“Um,” Frieden replied. “We’ll follow up in terms of what’s possible.”

In addition, President Obama held an “emergency meeting” at the White House yesterday.

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama said he was considering appointing an Ebola “czar” to coordinate the fight against the virus in the United States, but he remained opposed to a ban on travel from West Africa.

Obama’s administration is facing sharp criticism from lawmakers over its efforts to contain the disease at home. Obama authorized calling up military reservists for the U.S. fight against Ebola in West Africa on Thursday….

“It may be appropriate for me to appoint an additional person” to oversee efforts to contain Ebola, Obama told reporters, adding that experts have told him “a flat-out travel ban is not the way to go” because current screening measures at airports are working.

He said he had no philosophical objection to a travel ban but that some travelers might attempt to enter the United States by avoiding screening measures, which could lead to more Ebola cases, not fewer.

randpaul1

A final dose of stupid came from Sen. Rand Paul, who told an audience of college students that you could catch Ebola by standing three feet from someone who is infected.

His comments directly conflict with statements from world health authorities who have dealt with Ebola outbreaks since 1976.

Paul…made his comments during a stop at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire Wednesday. In his remarks, he called Ebola “incredibly contagious” and suggested it could spread at a cocktail party attended by someone who is symptomatic, according to CNN video footage….

“You’re not going to get AIDS at a cocktail party. No one’s going to cough on you and you’re going to get AIDS. Everybody knows that. That’s what they make it sound exactly like,” Paul, a doctor and potential presidential contender, said Thursday at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. “But then you listen to them closely, they say you have to have direct contact. But you know how they define direct contact? Being within three feet of someone.”

World health authorities have been clear that Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, and that blood, vomit and feces carry the most virus. Health workers are at particular risk because in the course of caring for patients, they draw blood and clean up diarrhea when the patients are most infectious. Likewise in the epidemic zone in West Africa, people involved with burials of highly infectious bodies are at high risk.

In other news . . .

Bill Clinton is heading down to Louisiana on Monday to stump for Mary Landrieu, according to Politico.

Former President Bill Clinton will campaign in Louisiana Monday with Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, joining the endangered incumbent in the state capital of Baton Rouge.

Clinton, unlike President Barack Obama, can be an effective surrogate in the red Southern states where the Democratic majority hangs in the balance.

The visit, Clinton’s second for Landrieu this election cycle, comes a day before the start of early voting, which runs from October 21-28.

Bill Clinton stumps for Coakley

I’ve been hoping Bill would find time to come to Massachusetts to campaign for Martha Coakley for Governor, and what do you know? He blew through here yesterday! He spoke at Clark University in Worcester.

WORCESTER — Former President Bill Clinton told a capacity crowd at Clark University today that elections are just one big job interview.

Speaking in Worcester in support of Martha Coakley’s run for governor, Mr. Clinton said Ms. Coakley’s actions and advocacy as attorney general indicate how well she will perform once she completes that job interview.

“All you’ve got to do,” he told more than 800 people who waited in a line the length of the Main South campus in monsoon-like conditions to get into Atwood Hall, “is increase the number of employers who make the hiring decision.”

Ms. Coakley, a Democrat, and her running mate, Steve Kerrigan of Lancaster, are in a tight race with Republican Charlie Baker and his running mate, Karyn Polito of Shrewsbury. Mr. Clinton tried to convince the crowd they had the potential to make it a landslide.

“I don’t care what the polls say, she can win this race handily if you want it bad enough,” Mr. Clinton said.

Now we just need Hillary to show up.

How about a little economics news? It seems people in Europe are getting fed up with Angela Merkel’s austerity obsession, according to the NYT. I can’t excerpt from the piece, but here’s a report from The Local in Italy:

Italy and France on Thursday reacted to turmoil in global stock markets by stepping up their calls for the European Union to switch course to focus on growth, not on balancing budgets.

But their calls were once again batted away by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who insisted the way out of the crisis was for all eurozone states to stick to agreed rules on the size of their deficits.

In the latest salvos in a simmering row that is set to come to head at a summit of EU leaders next week, Rome and Paris went on the offensive on the sidelines of the ASEM meeting in Milan.

“We in a very delicate moment in terms of the international economic and financial situation,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said.

“Which is all the more reason for Europe to show itself capable of producing an economic response based on investment in growth and not only on rigour and austerity,” Renzi said.

He also said a “focus on growth” was recommended by the IMF – “and they don’t seem to be dangerous communists to me”.

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According to UK Reuters, the U.S. has warned Europe about the possibility of deflation.

The United States on Wednesday renewed a warning that Europe risks falling into a downward spiral of falling wages and prices, saying recent actions by the European Central Bank may not be enough to ward off deflation.

In a semiannual report to Congress, the U.S. Treasury Department also said Berlin could do more to help Europe, namely by boosting demand in the German economy, Europe’s largest.

“Europe faces the risk of a prolonged period of substantially below-target inflation or outright deflation,” the Treasury said.

The Guardian today published a summary of Europe’s “five years of economic crisis.”

Finally, Janet Yellen has expressed concern over growing economic inequality in the U.S. Reuters reports:

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Friday the growth of economic inequality in the United States “greatly” concerned her, and suggested in a detailed speech on the politically charged issue that Americans should ask whether it was compatible with their values.

With global financial markets rebounding from days of frenzied selling, Yellen did not comment on the volatility or on monetary policy. Instead she focused on the gulf between rich and poor that has only grown wider over the last several decades and, she said, through the U.S. economic recovery.

“The extent of and continuing increase in inequality in the United States greatly concern me,” Yellen told a conference on inequality at the Boston branch of the central bank.

“It is no secret that the past few decades of widening inequality can be summed up as significant income and wealth gains for those at the very top and stagnant living standards for the majority,” she told economists, professors and community workers.

“I think it is appropriate to ask whether this trend is compatible with values rooted in our nation’s history, among them the high value Americans have traditionally placed on equality of opportunity.”

Good for Yellen. Now let’s see some action beyond the words.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a fabulous Friday!!

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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!

 

 


Thursday Reads

spring robin

Good Morning and Happy Vernal Equinox!!

Today is the first day of Spring. Isn’t it wonderful? Soon those of us in the North will begin seeing the signs–little yellow buds on the forsythia bushes, crocuses, and robins hopping around outside. We’ve survived another winter. Sure, we could get a little more snow, but it won’t stick around as long because the days are longer and the sun is brighter.

The Independent has an explainer on the vernal equinox.

In the most basic terms an equinox is when the length of the night and the length of the day are roughly equal. There are two equinoxes (one in March for the beginning of spring and one in September for the beginning of autumn)  and the word itself comes from the Latin for equal (‘aequus’) and night (‘nox’).

seasonalvariations-edited

The ‘opposite’ of an equinox is a solstice – another pair of biannual events which occur in the middle of winter and summer when the Sun appears at its lowest or highest point in the sky. Each of these four days occur at roughly equal time periods, marking major transitional points as the Earth orbits the sun.

These transitions (and the season themselves) are caused by the Earth’s axial tilt….This tilt means that different parts of the planet are exposed to different amounts of sunshine as the Earth orbits the Sun. The tilt itself is actually caused by the distribution of land masses and ice sheets on the planet – the Earth is literally top-heavy, meaning that it tilts as it’s spun.

Humans living thousands of years may not have known the details of this astronomy, but over generations they certainly learnt that the Earth gets warmer and colder in pretty regular cycles, with the spring equinox marking one point when the Northern Hemisphere begins to shrug off winter’s cold.

Read all about it at the link.

Late last night, news broke that two large pieces of debris had shown up on satellite imagery off the coast of Australia that could be from missing Malaysian flight 370. AP via ABC News: Australia Checking 2 Objects in Search for Plane.

Military search planes flew over a remote part of the Indian Ocean on Thursday hunting for debris in “probably the best lead” so far in finding the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, officials said.

The four planes were checking to see if two large objects spotted in satellite imagery bobbing in the ocean were debris from Fight 370 that disappeared March 8 with 239 people on board….

One of the objects spotted by satellite imagery was 24 meters (almost 80 feet) in length and the other was 5 meters (15 feet). There could be other objects in the area, a four-hour flight from Australia’s southwestern coast, said John Young, manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s emergency response division.

“This is a lead, it’s probably the best lead we have right now,” Young said. He cautioned that the objects could be seaborne debris along a shipping route where containers can fall off cargo vessels, although the larger object is longer than a container.

Young told a news conference in Canberra, Australia’s capital, that planes had been sent to the area about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth to check on the objects. He said satellite images “do not always turn out to be related to the search even if they look good, so we will hold our views on that until they are sighted close-up.”

This morning, ABC reported that so far nothing has been found.

A nine hour search of the Indian Ocean by the world’s most sophisticated search plane failed to locate the objects spotted by a satellite that investigators believe could be from the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, instead finding only a freighter and two pods of dolphins.

The hunt by the P-8 Poseidon airplane is an indication of how difficult it will be to find the objects spotted by a satellite or any debris in the vast expanse of the southern Indian Ocean.

The military airplane is considered so sophisticated that civilians’ cameras were confiscated so photos could not be taken on board.

The search area is so remote that it took the Poseidon three hours of flying to arrive over the area part way to the South Pole and 1,300 miles west of Australia.

More details at ABC News. Of course even if the objects are located and they are found to be parts from MH370, it still will be some time (if ever) before we learn what happened to the missing plane. 

Meanwhile, the crisis continues in Ukraine. Even Angela Merkel has begun speaking out, saying there will be no more G8 meetings “until the situation changes.” Merkel also threatened more sanctions by the EU.

Kiev — European leaders were on Thursday to debate biting economic sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea as Ukraine tore up key ties with the Kremlin and drew up plans to evacuate its nationals from the rebel peninsula.

The European Union is under intense pressure to find a credible response to an explosive security crisis on the 28-nation bloc’s eastern frontier that NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Wednesday called “the gravest threat to European security and stability since the end of the Cold War.”

But the Kremlin has warned repeatedly that it would strike back hard if confronted with a new wave of Western punitive measures that EU nations — their energy and financial sectors intertwined with Russia’s — would keenly prefer to avoid.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said EU leaders would widen the list of people targeted by travel bans and asset freezes and warned of economic sanctions if the crisis escalates.

The EU Council “will make clear that we are ready at any time to apply third-phase measures in the event of a further worsening of the situation,” she said, adding that “it will, without a doubt, be a question of economic sanctions.”

USA Today on Russia’s actions in Crimea: Russia takes over Ukraine’s military bases, officers.

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s government said Wednesday it will pull its troops from Crimea, where Russian troops and Crimean allies are seizing military bases and officers.

Masked armed men assumed to be Russian military seized Ukraine’s naval headquarters in the city of Sevastopol on the Black Sea in Crimea and took away a Ukrainian admiral.

Ukraine’s defense minister and deputy prime minister put off a trip to Crimea in what they said was a bid to avert an escalation in hostilities after the self-appointed prime minister in Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, warned that they “are not welcome,” Interfax news agency said.

The hostilities follow a decree by Russian President Vladimir Putin that the former captive of the Soviet Union, Russia’s predecessor, is now part of Russia despite warnings from the White House and Europe that Moscow will pay “costs” for a takeover.

For anyone who wants to dig deeper check out this article at The Independent, Ukraine crisis: New face of Crimea revealed after naval base is stormed, and these opinion pieces:

Financial Times: Threat of future Russian aggression remains.

CNN: Putin’s breathtaking lies about Russia.

Finally, I thought this post by Carl Bialek at Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight was kind of funny: Another Explanation For Crimea Referendum Landslide. Bialek discusses statistical explanations, but never mentions the possibility that the election was fixed. Not everything can be explained by statistics.

Anzu wyliei – a bird-like dinosaur nicknamed the 'chicken from hell'

Anzu wyliei – a bird-like dinosaur nicknamed the ‘chicken from hell’

In other news . . .

Have you heard about the recently discovered dinosaur that has been nicknamed the “Chicken from Hell?” It looks like something out of a 1950s monster movie. From the WaPo:

Scientists have discovered a freakish, birdlike species of dinosaur — 11 feet long, 500 pounds, with a beak, no teeth, a bony crest atop its head, murderous claws, prize-fighter arms, spindly legs, a thin tail and feathers sprouting all over the place. Officially, it’s a member of a group of dinosaurs called oviraptorosaurs.

Unofficially, it’s the Chicken From Hell.

That’s the nickname the scientists have been using. It’s the term in the news release associated with the discovery. This dino-bird is not literally a chicken, or even a bird. It’s definitely a dinosaur, and it lived at the end of the Cretaceous period, from about 68 million to 66 million years ago….

“It would have been a cross between a chicken and a lizard,” said Tyler Lyson, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, who excavated some of the fossils on his uncle’s North Dakota ranch in 1999.

The fossils of three specimens of the new dinosaur were found in a sedimentary rock layer known as the Hell Creek Formation in three locations in North and South Dakota. The formation, the scientists said, helped inspire the nickname.

This undated handout photo issued by London antique dealers Wartski via the Press Association on Wednesday March 19, 2014, shows a rare Imperial Faberge Egg. The London antique dealer says the gold ornament bought by an American scrap-metal dealer has turned out to be a rare Faberge egg worth millions. (AP/WARTSKI/PA)

This undated handout photo issued by London antique dealers Wartski via the Press Association on Wednesday March 19, 2014, shows a rare Imperial Faberge Egg. The London antique dealer says the gold ornament bought by an American scrap-metal dealer has turned out to be a rare Faberge egg worth millions. (AP/WARTSKI/PA)

Here’s another freaky story for you. Have you heard about the scrap dealer who bought a Faberge egg at an antique fair in the Midwestern U.S.? The guy bought it for about $14,000 hoping to melt it down and make a small profit from the gold; but the buyers he talked to thought he was asking too much for it.

From the Telegraph: The £20m Fabergé egg that was almost sold for scrap (That’s $4o million in U.S. dollars).

The egg languished in his kitchen for years until one night in 2012, when he Googled “egg” and “Vacheron Constantin”, a name etched on the timepiece inside.

The result was a Telegraph article published a year earlier, featuring a picture of his egg and the title: “Is this £20 million nest-egg on your mantelpiece?” The dealer – who wishes to remain anonymous, given his newfound wealth – contacted the Fabergé expert named in the article, Kieran McCarthy of Mayfair jeweller Wartski.

Mr McCarthy said: “He saw the article and recognised his egg in the picture. He flew straight over to London – the first time he had ever been to Europe – and came to see us. He hadn’t slept for days.

McCarthy then traveled to the U.S. to make sure the egg was genuine.

“It was a very modest home in the Mid West, next to a highway and a Dunkin’ Donuts. There was the egg, next to some cupcakes on the kitchen counter.

“I examined it and said, ‘You have an Imperial Fabergé Easter Egg.’ And he practically fainted. He literally fell to the floor in astonishment.” The dealer etched Mr McCarthy’s name and the date into the wooden bar stool on which Mr McCarthy sat to examine the egg, marking the day that his life changed forever.

The scrap dealer is hoping none of his neighbors find out how rich he is now. But how did the “egg” get to the U.S.?

I’ll end with some sports news that no one but my mother and I probably care about. Today is the first day of March Madness–the NCAA basketball tournament, and my parents’ alma mater North Dakota State is a 12 seed in the tournament. They will be playing number 5 seeded Oklahoma, so they probably won’t make it to the second round, but President Obama picked them to pull an upset. Sadly, no Indiana teams made it this year. Some Cinderella teams from my current home state are Harvard and U. Mass. I usually root for Kansas, but I wouldn’t mind at all if Michigan State wins the whole thing, as Obama predicted.

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


Tuesday Reads

Matisse

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the other hand,

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

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

CNN on the latest media meme: The Polar Vortex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Oklahoma high school suspended a

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

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

said on Friday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday Reads: 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.

spies_0

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.