Tuesday Reads

renoir-young-girl-reading

 

Good Morning!!

Today is the 40th anniversary of an amazing athletic accomplishment.

On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run and broke Babe Ruth’s “unbreakable” record of 714.

Sadly, on August 7, 2007, steroid popping cheater Barry Bonds supposedly “broke” Aaron’s record. But in the minds of many, Aaron’s amazing achievement still stands as the one that counts.

The NY Daily News has a wonderful article about Aaron’s record and the hell he went through to reach it. Even if you don’t like baseball, I hope you’ll read it.

Remembering 715: Forty years ago, Hank Aaron rocked bias and hatred with one mighty blow.

Tom House, an Atlanta Braves reliever at the time, tells about recovering the historic ball and giving it to Aaron after he touched home plate:

The game was stopped and, as fireworks flashed in the sky and Atlanta Stadium erupted into cheers, House made a jubilant dash toward home plate, where a relieved Aaron was being congratulated. “As fast as my legs would carry me,” House recalls. He held out the ball, which Sammy Davis Jr. had offered $25,000 for, and said, “Here it is, Hammer.”

Aaron, generally a portrait of quiet dignity and grace, was crying and holding his mother, Estella. “I had not seen much emotion out of Henry. That was cool,” House says now. “They both had tears in their eyes. She kept hugging him and hugging him.

“I heard later that she wouldn’t let go because she was afraid he was going to get shot. Some of the death threats had said he’d be shot at the plate.”

Hank Aaron hits No. 715 off Dodgers pitcher Al Downing on April 8, 1974 (NY Daily News)

Hank Aaron hits No. 715 off Dodgers pitcher Al Downing on April 8, 1974 (NY Daily News)

When Roger Maris broke the Babe’s single season home run record in 1961, it was a hellish experience for Maris. The abuse he endured forever changed his life and affected his outlook; but at least Maris was white. Aaron was a black man in an era of racial turmoil.

It remains an important moment in the game’s history not just because the quiet, dignified Aaron toppled Ruth’s 714, which was probably the most famous single number in sports. But because of what Aaron endured to get there — death threats, vulgar hate mail rife with the worst kind of racism imaginable.

All these years later, the home run is significant in another way, too — it reverberates in today’s game, among today’s statistics. Plenty of people believe Aaron is still the true home run king, not the Steroid Era Barry Bonds, who topped Aaron’s career mark of 755 by seven homers.

As he approached the record Aaron was getting daily hate mail.

In a UPI story that ran in the Los Angeles Times on May 17, 1973, Aaron said he got letters filled with invective every day.

“If I were a white man, all America would be proud of me,” Aaron was quoted as saying. “But I’m black. You have to be black in America to know how sick some people are. I’ve always thought racism a problem, even with as much progress as America has made.”

Aaron said he read the mail anyway. It wasn’t going to stop him.

There’s much more in the Daily News article, and I do hope you’ll go read it.

At Time, John Friedman argues that “Hank Aaron Would Have Faced Worse Racism Today.”

Henry Aaron’s record-setting 715th home run off Al Downing on April 8, 1974 still stands today as one of the greatest milestones in Major League Baseball history. By breaking the four-decade mark of the great Babe Ruth, Aaron strode out of the shadows – and stepped into a cauldron.

This accomplishment transcended sports. By his own accounts over the years, we can recognize that Aaron went through hell during that time. It was tough enough when reporters and camera crews chronicled his every at-bat and invaded his privacy. But that was the least of it. Here, a black man stood poised—while playing in the Deep South, to boot—to claim one of the sports world’s most storied marks. Bigots hounded Aaron and made his life miserable, at a time when he should have basked in the glow of both his historic achievement and the recognition that had eluded him for decades.

Still, you know what? We might conclude that Aaron got off easy four decades ago, long before social media dominated every facet of our lives and removed any shred of privacy.

Just try to imagine how much more intense and challenging his predicament would have been. Can you picture the potential for incessant racist taunts on Facebook and Twitter, not to mention the blogosphere? In the 1970s, the haters reached Aaron by what we call “snail mail.” Today, in our sped-up-world of modern communications, Aaron would have had no escape.

Is Friedman right? I hate to think so, but after what we’ve seen after Americans elected a black president, I have to wonder.

The situation in Ukraine continues to escalate. 

Pro-Russia protesters burn tires near a regional administration building in Kharkiv in a back-and-forth clash with riot police for control of the building. (Oleg Shishkov, EPA / April 7, 2014)

Pro-Russia protesters burn tires near a regional administration building in Kharkiv in a back-and-forth clash with riot police for control of the building. (Oleg Shishkov, EPA / April 7, 2014)

The LA Times reports, Ukraine cracks down on demonstrators; Russia issues warning.

Ukrainian riot police cleared a regional administration building and public square in the eastern city of Kharkiv of hundreds of pro-Russia protesters Tuesday morning, detaining scores in the process, officials said.

“Seventy criminals were taken into custody during the operation,” Ukraine acting President Olexandr Turchinov told the parliament in televised remarks Tuesday morning.

In response, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a stern warning against the use of force on pro-Russia protesters in eastern Ukraine and alleged the direct involvement of private U.S. military experts.

“According to our information, Ukraine Interior Ministry and National Guard troops including militants of the illegal armed group the Right Sectort are being brought to the southeast regions of Ukraine,” read a statement posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s official website Tuesday. “A special concern is connected with the fact that abot 150 U.S. experts from the private military organization Greystone dressed in the uniforms of [Ukraine] special unit Sokol are involved in the operation.”

“The organizers and participants in the operation are assuming huge responsibility for the creation of threats to rights, freedoms and lives of peaceful residents of Ukraine,” the statement said.

It really doesn’t look like Russian president Vladimir Putin is going to stop with absorbing Crimea into Russia. From the Wall Street Journal this morning: Ukraine Could Be Plunged into Civil War, Warns Russia — Update.

Ukrainian police on Tuesday regained control of a government building occupied by pro-Kremlin separatists in one volatile eastern city as pro-Russian protesters in another appeared to be slipping into disarray.

As Ukraine’s new government pushed to show its authority in the region, Russia warned that the use of force to dislodge demonstrators who had taken over government offices could plunge the country into civil war.

Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of instigating the protests that began Sunday in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk, suggesting that their powerful neighbor is trying to orchestrate a takeover similar to its incursion and annexation of Crimea. They have vowed to subdue the secessionists.

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Tuesday morning that an “antiterrorist” operation had been launched in Kharkiv and around 70 separatists who had control of the regional administration building had been arrested.

He said roughly 200 pro-Russian agitators had barricaded themselves inside overnight and threw stun grenades and fired pellet guns at police and national guard officers who had surrounded the building. He said the protesters then set fire to a wing of the building and smashed windows. After the fire was contained, Mr. Avakov said special forces units stormed the building, made the arrests and seized a cache of weapons.

“The night in Kharkiv was endlessly long,” he said. “The boorish, brutal, ordered and generously paid pro-Russian aggression of the ‘protesters’ was off the charts.”

Mr. Avakov said that the Interior Ministry was moving more forces to the east of Ukraine to protect against further separatist activity.

But Russia’s foreign ministry threatened that any heavy-handed action by Ukrainian authorities could set off further violence.

If you’d like to read an in-depth analysis of the situation, check out this blog post by Prof. John Schindler of the Naval War College, Putinism and the Anti-WEIRD Coalition.

Cornelius Gurlitt

Cornelius Gurlitt

Awhile back I wrote about the discovery of a huge collection of art works

that had been found in Germany, many of which had likely been stolen by the Nazis during WWII. Now even more stolen art works have come to light, according to this article at Raw Story: German recluse’s ‘Nazi art trove’ much bigger than first thought.

Around another 60 artworks, including pieces by Monet and Renoir, have come to light at the Austrian home of an elderly German recluse whose earlier discovered art hoard is suspected to contain Nazi-looted works.

The latest pieces were found at the property in Salzburg belonging to Cornelius Gurlitt, his spokesman said Tuesday, just months after the art world was rocked by news of a spectacular trove of more than 1,400 works unearthed at his German home in 2012.

A first inspection indicates there is no Nazi loot — artwork that the fascist regime stole from Jewish owners or bought from them cheaply under duress — in the latest discovery, spokesman Stephan Holzinger said.

“More works were located in Cornelius Gurlitt’s house in Salzburg,” he said in a statement….

The Gurlitt case first made headlines late last year when it emerged that investigators had found more than 1,400 artworks in his Munich flat, including long-lost works by masters including Matisse and Chagall.

Gurlitt is now cooperating with authorities and has agreed to return any stolen pieces. From the Times of Israel:

Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand, was an art dealer on assignment to the Nazis who died in 1956 in an accident; his son inherited the collection. In 2012, customs agents investigating Cornelius Gurlitt for tax evasion confiscated his Munich stash of some 1,400 works.

The existence of the collection — which includes works by artists such as Picasso, Dürer, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Beckmann and Matisse – was kept under wraps until Focus magazine broke the story last fall.

Spurred by art provenance researchers and restitution advocates around the world, Germany established a task force to deal specifically with the Gurlitt case. It includes experts recommended by the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, among others.

In the meantime, works collected by the elder Gurlitt also were found to be stashed in his son’s home in Salzburg, Austria, as well as in other locations in Austria and Switzerland.

Gurlitt, 81, has maintained that his collection is legitimate. Earlier this year, his attorneys publicized a new website where possible heirs could contact him.

Yesterday The Smoking Gun broke a surprising story about activist and MSNBC host Al Sharpton.

Rev. Al Sharpton with President Obama

Rev. Al Sharpton with President Obama

Al Sharpton’s Secret Work As FBI Informant: Untold story of how activist once aided probes of NYC wiseguys

Beginning in the mid-1980s and spanning several years, Sharpton’s cooperation was fraught with danger since the FBI’s principal targets were leaders of the Genovese crime family, the country’s largest and most feared Mafia outfit. In addition to aiding the FBI/NYPD task force, which was known as the “Genovese squad,” Sharpton’s cooperation extended to several other investigative agencies.

TSG’s account of Sharpton’s secret life as “CI-7” is based on hundreds of pages of confidential FBI affidavits, documents released by the bureau in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, court records, and extensive interviews with six members of the Genovese squad, as well as other law enforcement officials to whom the activist provided assistance.

Like almost every other FBI informant, Sharpton was solely an information source. The parameters of his cooperation did not include Sharpton ever surfacing publicly or testifying on a witness stand.

Genovese squad investigators–representing both the FBI and NYPD–recalled how Sharpton, now 59, deftly extracted information from wiseguys. In fact, one Gambino crime family figure became so comfortable with the protest leader that he spoke openly–during ten wired face-to-face meetings–about a wide range of mob business, from shylocking and extortions to death threats and the sanity of Vincent “Chin” Gigante, the Genovese boss who long feigned mental illness in a bid to deflect law enforcement scrutiny. As the mafioso expounded on these topics, Sharpton’s briefcase–a specially customized Hartmann model–recorded his every word.

Sharpton told Politico that he wasn’t technically an informant. He had turned to authorities for help because of threats against him.

“I was never told I was an informant or I had a number or none of that,” the MSNBC host told the New York Daily News. “Whether or not they used some of the other information they got during that period for other purposes, I don’t know.”

The paper reported that Sharpton said he contacted authorities after receiving death threats.

“If you’re a victim of a threat, you’re not an informant — you’re a victim trying to protect yourself,” Sharpton said.

Sharpton also noted that this isn’t breaking news; it has been reported more than once in the past.

“I don’t see this as news,” Sharpton told FoxNews.com. “This has been brought up three or four times now. I don’t understand. It’s crazy.”

The New York Daily News also has a lengthy write-up of the story if you want more details.

Those are the stories that caught my eye today. What are you reading and hearing? Please post your links in the comment thread, and have a great Tuesday!


Thursday Reads

R.I.P, Liz Taylor

Good Morning!!

I’ve got a potpourri of news items for you this morning. I realize I’ve been focusing too heavily on stories from the Middle East and Africa. I’ve just so gotten fascinated with all the rebellions going on. Anyway, this post will be dedicated to stories about events in the U.S.

Yesterday we lost the last great movie star, Elizabeth Taylor. She had been in the hospital for weeks with congestive heart failure. Today she died, at 79. From The New York Times:

By the time Elizabeth Taylor left this mortal coil at 79, she had cheated death with a long line of infirmities that had repeatedly put her in the hospital — and on front pages across the world — and in 1961 left her with a tracheotomy scar on a neck more accustomed to diamonds. The tracheotomy was the result of a bout with pneumonia that left her gasping for air and it returned her to the big, bountiful, hungry life that was one of her greatest roles. It was a minor incision (later, she had surgery to remove the scar), but it’s easy to think of it as some kind of war wound for a life lived so magnificently.

Unlike Marilyn, Liz survived. And it was that survival as much as the movies and fights with the studios, the melodramas and men (so many melodramas, so many men!) that helped separate Ms. Taylor from many other old-Hollywood stars. She rocketed into the stratosphere in the 1950s, the era of the bombshell and the Bomb, when most of the top female box-office draws were blond, pneumatic and classifiable by type: good-time gals (Betty Grable), professional virgins (Doris Day), ice queens (Grace Kelly). Marilyn Monroe was the sacrificial sex goddess with the invitational mouth. Born six years before Ms. Taylor, she entered the movies a poor little girl ready to give it her all, and did.

Ms. Taylor, by contrast, was sui generis, a child star turned ingénue and jet-setting supernova, famous for her loves (Eddie & Liz, Liz & Dick) and finally for just being Liz. “I don’t remember ever not being famous,” she said. For her, fame was part of the job, neither a blessing (though the jewels were nice) nor a curse. Perhaps that’s why she never looked defeated, unlike those who wilt under the spotlight. In film after film she appears extraordinarily at ease: to the camera born. She’s as natural in “National Velvet,” the 1944 hit that made her a star at 12, as she is two decades later roaring through “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” proving once again that beauty and talent are not mutually exclusive, even in Hollywood.

I’m sure Liz would not be surprised to learn that the Westboro Baptist Church will picket her funeral. She was close friends with many gay men in Hollywood–Rock Hudson, James Dean, Montgomery Clift among them–and she worked tirelessly for AIDS causes. Meanwhile the pastor and members of the Westboro Baptist Church are mean-spirited, soulless haters.

There’s a nice tribute to Taylor at The Independent UK by Julie Burchill: Farewell then, Liz. You knew your beauty was a fuel worth burning

With the death of Elizabeth Taylor, the last of the Hollywood greats is finally gone. True to form – never a lady, barely ever a girl – this tough broad supreme battled on against ill-health for decades after her contemporaries overdosed on barbiturates, booze and self-loathing. And at a time when professional beauties seem terrified to show any sign of ageing lest they be shunted into character cameos in favour of some fresher flesh, Taylor was fascinating for being far less interested in leaving a good-looking corpse than in wringing every drop of the juice from every inch of the ride.

If that sounds a somewhat lewd metaphor, all the better. Married eight times, she was the anti-Marilyn; rather than combine a child’s face with an adult body and be prey to all the weirdos who might be attracted to such a pervy paradox, Taylor was a woman of the world from the get-go. Child stars are notorious for spending a couple of years on the ugly step while the studios wait for them to outgrow adolescent awkwardness, but she went straight from hugging Lassie to snogging Montgomery Clift, it seemed.

To see the teenage Taylor draw Clift towards her in the masterpiece A Place In The Sun (from the book of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy) with the words “Tell Mama – tell Mama all” is to witness one of the most extraordinary portrayals of lust ever created. And it didn’t stop when the cameras did; years later, according to her housekeeper, Marilyn Monroe would become obsessed with the apparently gay Montgomery Clift and repeatedly complain; “Liz Taylor has the Oscar, she has children, she even has Monty – she has everything!”

From being denounced by the Vatican in the Sixties as “an erotic vagrant” (I think they meant it as an insult, but it sounds gorgeous to me) to being hailed by the director of the UCLA Aids Institute as the “the Joan of Arc of Aids activism”, Taylor lived her life according to her own rules – more Wife of Bath than untouchable ideal of feminine perfection. Looking at the insipid contemporary film-star likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, for whom eating half a cupcake seems a walk on the wild side, this cursing, drinking, swashbuckling goddess is a reminder of when hell-raisers didn’t automatically have to be as mad, bad and sad as Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson.

Here’s a nice video tribute I found on YouTube:

Now for the rest of the news, which as usual isn’t very good. The Republicans are trying to increase poverty by attacking food stamps and worker’s rights at the same time! They want to cut of food stamps for an entire family if one member goes on strike.

…[A] group of House Republicans is launching a new stealth attack against union workers. GOP Reps. Jim Jordan (OH), Tim Scott (SC), Scott Garrett (NJ), Dan Burton (IN), and Louie Gohmert (TX) have introduced H.R. 1135, which states that it is designed to “provide information on total spending on means-tested welfare programs, to provide additional work requirements, and to provide an overall spending limit on means-tested welfare programs.”

Much of the bill is based upon verifying that those who receive food stamps benefits are meeting the federal requirements for doing so. However, one section buried deep within the bill adds a startling new requirement. The bill, if passed, would actually cut off all food stamp benefits to any family where one adult member is engaging in a strike against an employer:

The bill also includes a provision that would exempt households from losing eligibility, “if the household was eligible immediately prior to such strike, however, such family unit shall not receive an increased allotment as the result of a decrease in the income of the striking member or members of the household.”

At FDL, Phoenix Woman dissects the latest media attacks on Social Security.

Ho-hum. Another day, another set of Peterson patsies explaining yet again why Grandma must starve so that their billionaire bosses and their buddies can keep their twenty-odd homes in the Hamptons and Hobe Sound:

Writing today on the op-ed page of The Washington Post, Robert Pozen makes the casethat liberals should support changes to Social Security. Mr. Pozen is a Democrat , though not necessarily a liberal one; he is a financial executive who served on President George W. Bush’s Social Security commission and in Mitt Romney’s administration in Massachusetts. But his argument is worth considering, whether you’re liberal or conservative.

So what’s the argument that the Pozen part of the Leonhardt-Pozen Legion of Doom tag team’s presenting? It’s their old favorite, the “Social Security is less progressive than it seems” bit of twaddle. How old is it? Why, it even comes pre-debunked, that’s how old it is.

To learn more, click on the link above.

I highly recommend reading this piece by Jeff Kaye, who has been researching and writing about torture for years now. He and Jason Leopold have been working together on a series at Truthout.

As part of a new investigative story, Truthout has published documents written by the former psychologist for SERE, and later CIA contract interrogator for the Bush torture program, Bruce Jessen. Before going to work for the CIA with his former SERE partner, psychologist James Mitchell, Jessen authored a 2002 “draft exploitation plan” for military use, based on his experiences as a SERE instructor. The newly-discovered documents, provided to Truthout by former SERE Air Force Captain Michael Kearns, were written back in 1989 when Jessen was transferred from his clinical role elsewhere in SERE to help staff a new survival training course for Special Mission Units undertaking dangerous assignments for Special Operations forces abroad.

Jason Leopold and I co-authored the new story, which includes a video interview with Captain Kearns, who helped hire Jessen back in 1989 for his new SERE role helping put together the class titled SV-91. The documents include notes for a portion of that class, known as “Psychological Aspects of Detention.” The other document is a paper by Jessen, “Psychological Advances in Training to Survive Captivity, Interrogation and Torture,” which was prepared for a symposium at that time: “Advances in Clinical Psychological Support of National Security Affairs, Operational Problems in the Behavioral Sciences Course.”

Jessen’s notes, in particular, demonstrate that this course material, which was “reverse-engineered” to provide a blueprint for the interrogation and detention policies of the Bush administration — some of which remain in use today — emphasized not just the ways to coercively interrogate an individual for intelligence purposes, but to “exploit” the detainee for a number of uses.

From Catherine Rampell at the NYT Economix blog: More Americans Dropping Out of the Labor Force. Apparently the drop in participation is not just due to the economic crisis. According to Rampell, more women are choosing not to work than in the past, and the the pending retirements of baby boomers are big contributors to the phenomenon.

This piece at The Daily Beast is a few days old, but still worth reading: Obama’s War on Schools

Over the past year, I have traveled the nation speaking to nearly 100,000 educators, parents, and school-board members. No matter the city, state, or region, those who know schools best are frightened for the future of public education. They see no one in a position of leadership who understands the damage being done to their schools by federal policies.

They feel keenly betrayed by President Obama. Most voted for him, hoping he would reverse the ruinous No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation of George W. Bush. But Obama has not sought to turn back NCLB. His own approach, called Race to the Top, is even more punitive than NCLB. And though over the past week the president has repeatedly called on Congress to amend the law, his proposed reforms are largely cosmetic and would leave the worst aspects of NCLB intact.

Read it and weep.

From CNN: Suspect in attempted bombing at MLK Day parade pleads not guilty

Kevin Harpham, 36, of Colville, Washington, made the plea during an arraignment hearing in federal court in Spokane. Harpham faces trial on charges of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and for possessing an unregistered explosive device.

Federal authorities arrested Harpham March 9, nearly two months after the January 17 discovery of a backpack containing a bomb along the Martin Luther King Day parade route in Spokane. The explosive device was found and disabled before the event began.

Officials called it an incident “of domestic terrorism” that could have resulted in “mass casualties,” had the bomb gone off.

I haven’t been following the Barry Bonds trial, but I was really angry when I read this: Witness says he knew of Bonds’ steroid use in 1999

Honestly, baseball should strike Bonds’ hitting records. It’s disgrace that he gets credit for passing Hank Aaron in home runs. Anyone who saw Bonds when he was younger had to know he was using steroids to get so big.

Poor Bart Stupak is afraid because of all the hate he got for voting for Obama’s health care bill.

After suffering through a “living hell” during negotiations on the healthcare law, former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) finds it hard, a year later, to distance himself from his pivotal role.

“I guess I’m the face of healthcare,” Stupak told The Hill in an interview this week. “It goes with the territory.”

Last March, Stupak became the object of a flood of threats and obscene messages, left at his office and his home, as he helped hammer out a deal between anti-abortion-rights Democrats and the White House that was instrumental in passing healthcare reform through the House by a single-digit-margin.

Cry me a river, Bart.


That’s about all I’ve got for today. What are you reading and blogging about?