Monday Reads: Another Slow Summer News Day

girl_reading

Good Morning!!

It’s another slow news day so far. Google’s top story is that the king of Spain Juan Carlos  abdicating in favor of his son. Silly me, I didn’t even know Spain was a monarchy.

From USA Today, Game of thrones: Spain’s king Juan Carlos abdicates.

Carlos, who turned 76 in January, said that he was handing power to Felipe, 46, in order to “open a new era of hope combining his acquired experience and the drive of a new generation.”

Some Spaniards said they had been waiting for it.

“This is part of an expected chronology (of events),” said Alberto Garzon, a lawmaker in the Spanish parliament and author of the book The Third Republic — about a future Spain without a monarchy.

Carlos has enjoyed high popularity for decades but in the past few years his approval ratings fell sharply after a series of personal blunders. He took an expensive African safari during the height of the euro crisis. His daughter, Princess Cristina, has been indicted for embezzlement and her husband stands accused of tax evasion and money laundering.

BBC News summarizes the reasons in a video: Why is King Juan Carlos of Spain abdicating? In 45 secs.

Liberty Ridge, Mount Ranier

Liberty Ridge, Mount Rainier

This is a sad story, but perhaps not too surprising:  Six Climbers Presumed Dead After Long Fall On Mount Rainier. From Northwest Public Radio:

Two experienced guides and four clients are presumed dead after what the National Park Service estimates was a 3,300 foot fall. The climbers were on their way down the mountain after an unsuccessful summit attempt via the difficult Liberty Ridge route on the northwestern side of Rainier.

An aerial and ground search happened Saturday after the group failed to return to their trailhead on schedule. From a helicopter, searchers spotted climbing gear at the base of a rock and ice fall and detected personal avalanche beacons. But the spotters saw no signs of life. A statement from Mount Rainier National Park says no attempt to recover bodies will be made until later in the season because of ongoing danger at the scene at the head of Carbon Glacier.

Interestingly, the guides involved worked for Alapine Ascents, the same Seattle company as some of the Sherpas who died on Mount Everest last month.

I’m not a risk-taker, and I will never understand why people want to get involved in such dangerous sports. But there are people who love to live on the edge and would rather die young doing something they love than live safely into old age.

It is a little-known fact that quite a few people actually die in National Parks every year. Oddly, I don’t like risky activities, but I do like to read books about them; and there are whole books about the different ways people have died in National and State Parks.

According to National Geographic, the dangerous ridge the climbers were using has been involved in numerous accidents in the past.

It’s called Liberty Ridge: a steep ramp of rock, snow and ice splitting a northern face of the 14,410-foot mountain in Washington State. Its stunning views and technical difficulty—hard but not too hard, experts say—have earned it a place in the book Fifty Classic Climbs of North America.

But its remoteness, steepness and exposure to the elements have also made Liberty Ridge the scene of epic rescues and more than its share of deaths….

“When you hear Liberty Ridge, it is a serious route… it’s not a casual route,” said Mike Gauthier, a climbing ranger at Mount Rainier National Park from 1990 to 2008 who was repeatedly called to the spot to rescue stranded climbers and search for missing people….

In his time on the mountain, Gauthier was repeatedly called to Liberty Ridge to rescue stranded climbers or search for missing people who didn’t survive. Often, the scene was on the ridge’s upper reaches, where the mountain is unremittingly steep, leaving few sheltered places to pitch a tent or to hide from avalanches or falling rocks.

“It’s just not an ideal location to hang out because you’re threatened there. You’re just exposed,” said Gauthier, who wrote the main guidebook for the mountain,  Mount Rainier: A Climbing Guide.

Gauthier didn’t want to speculate about the group of missing  climbers but said a camp at 2,800 feet would have been in a section where climbers have often run into trouble.

risks At the LA Times, Maria L. LaGanga writes about the psychology of people who are drawn to mountain climbing: For some climbers, Mt. Rainier’s often deadly allure is irresistible.

“There is a draw, but I can’t explain it,” said Len Throop, owner of Eatonville Outdoor, who has climbed Rainier many times but never crested the summit. “From the first time I ever saw it, I felt a connection.

Even if you can’t see it, you know it’s there. And it’s dangerous. This week is one example, and it’s not even the worst.”

The worst accident came in June 1981, when 11 climbers died under giant chunks of ice….

Rainier has the largest system of glaciers in the United States outside of Alaska. The challenging terrain requires skill, stamina and equipment. Climbers must wear crampons, spiked implements that give their boots traction, and wield ice axes that help them arrest their slide down the mountain if they slip. They are often tied to their climbing mates for safety.

“It’s like being on a stair stepper at a steep angle for 10 hours, and that’s for just a normal route,” Grigg said. Liberty Ridge, the route the ill-fated climbers took last week, “is one of the most difficult on the mountain.”

Read the rest if you’re as interested in human behavior as I am. Apparently the climbing has to be done in the middle of the night with headlamps; so I guess the climbers don’t even  see the view while they’re working their way up the mountain.

140522-brian-williams-edward-snowden-interview_9c53a32a1246377662bda8ddc6cb26f7 Last night I watched most of Brian Williams’ interview with Edward Snowden. I still have to watch the final two segments, because I ran out of patience for being lectured to by a narcissistic 30-year-old. I’ll watch the rest today.

I’m not an expert at detecting deception, but I did notice that Snowden didn’t look a Williams during most of his responses to questions. He tended to look down and to the left as he spoke.

Michael B. Kelley of Business Insider asked a body language expert to review the video of Snowden and Williams.

Before Edward Snowden’s interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, body-language expert Dr. Nick Morgan considered Snowden a young guy who got a hold of a bunch of classified documents and was just telling his story about exposing intrusive American surveillance. “I came away [from the NBC interview] with a very different impression,” Morgan, a top U.S. communication theorist and best-selling author, told Business Insider. ”

As a body-language expert, I’d say this is a disingenuous performance, which surprised me.”

Morgan suggested that Snowden gave a studied performance, deliberately “subordinating himself” to Willams–as a way of sucking up and avoiding tough questions? Morgan also thought that Snowden had altered the pitch of his voice to make it lower than is natural for him.

A particularly telling moment came when Brian Williams asked Snowden, “What is your relationship with the host government?” Morgan, who didn’t previously know that Snowden’s Moscow lawyer is a Putin loyalist linked to the FSB, was struck by Snowden’s lack of eye contact and the slowing of his voice as he denied having any relationship with the Kremlin. “He was obviously lying,” Morgan said.

Frankly, anyone who believes that Snowden has no relationship with the Russian government (his lawyer works for the FSB!) is either incredibly ignorant or in deep denial.

RalphB called my attention to this interview with David Ignatious by Fareed Zakaria yesterday. Ignatious has a close relationship with the intelligence community, so I believe his assessment is worth looking at.

You mentioned there the damage to American values of the war on terror. How can America recover, and how hard is that going to be when Washington appears so divided? ….

Surveillance is an example. Because of the unexpected intervention of Edward Snowden, we are now in a period of experimentation with an alternative approach to surveillance.

I’m not someone who thinks Snowden is a hero. He promised to keep secrets, and he – despite his claim that he attempted to warn the NSA legally as a whistleblower – it’s clear that he took many of the nation’s most precious secrets with him and began distributing them to undermine what he thought were unconstitutional programs.

In our country, Congress and the courts have that responsibility for deciding what’s legal – not individual citizens. So it’s hard for me to see Snowden as a hero.

We don’t know the damage that comes from Snowden’s revelations. We may never really know that. But we do know one positive consequence, which is a searching national debate. As a result, we are now likely to experiment with a much less intrusive system of surveillance for our country.

Rather than the NSA holding our metadata for 5 years, the data will be held by communications companies for a year or two, and released by them only if there’s a court order.

Congress seems united in wanting this new approach, and we’ll see whether it works. Sometime in the future it will be urgent and essential to know who a terrorist in a safe haven in Syria was calling when in the U.S. Will we be able to know? Will the system we have put in place be sufficient to ensure the country’s security? I sure hope so. I’m sure it’s being designed with that in mind.

It would be terrible if we learn the results of the upheaval through another terrorist attack in a major U.S. city. After what we went through in Boston last year–and the aftermath continues–I certainly hope not.

Clearly, Snowden’s goal in giving an interview to Williams, who is not known for asking tough questions, was to improve his image in the U.S. and around the world. Predictably, he is now trying again to press his case for asylum in Latin America. From The Moscow Times:

“If Brazil offers me asylum, then I’ll gladly accept it. I would like to live in Brazil,” Agence France-Presse quoted Snowden as saying in an interview with Brazilian television channel Globo….

In a lengthy open letter published in the Brazilian press in December, he praised the Brazilian government for its stance against spying practices and volunteered to help the country in its investigation of NSA spying tactics if he were granted asylum.

I don’t think Ed should get his hopes up. I’d be shocked if Russia lets him go–to the U.S. or any other country.

Snowden.man up

I’ll end with this column and cartoon from Cleveland.com’s Jeff Darcy: Snowden follows Kerry’s advice.

Snowden likely did the interview to soften U.S. public opinion about him, but I doubt the answers he gave will alter the public’s view of him as either a traitor or whistle blowing hero.   It’s possible to believe both that the NSA  went to [sic] far and crossed the line and that Snowden was wrong in how he leaked that information.

In the interview Snowden claimed he was trained as a spy, given a false job title and false name.    Brian Williams failed to ask the obvious follow up question: What was the fake name, James Bond, Austin Powers, Maxwell Smart or Benedict Arnold?    The government’s answer is that Snowden was just an IT specialist contractor for the NSA.   The truth is probably somewhere in between.   What is certain, is that he should have never been hired and given security clearance.

When Snowden said that he was only in Russia because his passport was yanked, and he had planned to fly to Cuba, then on to Latin America, he failed to mention the Latin American countries on his destination list aren’t exactly known for their commitment to democratic freedoms and constitutional protections.

Snowden also gave weak answers to questions about national security damage caused by his leaks and why he didn’t share his concerns with Congress or other channels that would not have opened him up to treason charges….

Instead of talking to Brain Williams in Russia in 2014, Snowden should have  been talking years earlier, to appropriate members of Congress about his concerns, or gone on “60 mins” or “Dateline”  in disguise and blown his whistle.

Snowden defenders argue that if he were to come back to the U.S. he would never be seen again or at the very least, would never be able to have his case heard at a fair trial.   I doubt that.   Snowden has become too high profile and  Kerry has now put the country on record in a very public way,that Snowden would be assured his day in court.

I totally agree. The Greensnow cult members who claim Snowden would disappear into a torture chamber if he came back here are full of it. In this country, public opinion–if it is loud and persistant enough–has an effect. The U.S. is not yet a “surveillance state”–even Snowden admitted that in the interview–and it’s not a dictatorship either, despite the Greensnow cult’s “chicken-little” attitude.

So . . . what are you reading and blogging about today? Please post your links in the comment thread.


Thursday Reads: Romney Campaign Tactics and Debate Reactions

Good Morning!

Before I get started, don’t forget that Ann Romney is scheduled to be on The View today at 11AM Eastern.

Now to the news.  I think I have some interesting links for you today. I’m going to focus mostly on some aggressive Romney campaign tactics and on reactions to the second presidential debate.

I’m sure you’ve probably heard about the stories that have been coming out about corporate CEOs trying to intimidate their employees into voting for Mitt Romney, see here, here, here, and here.

Late yesterday afternoon, Mike Elk of In These Times revealed that Romney himself has suggested that business owners instruct their employees–and their families–how they should vote. I hope you’ll read the whole article, but I’m going to post the audio of a conference call that Romney held, sponsored by the National Federation of Independent Business. The whole call is quite interesting, but the relevant part is at the end, around the 26:00 point.

Here the transcription, from Mike Elk’s article (emphasis added):

I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections. And whether you agree with me or you agree with President Obama, or whatever your political view, I hope, I hope you pass those along to your employees.

Nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision and of course doing that with your family and your kids as well.

I particularly think that our young kids–and when I say young, I mean college-age and high-school age–they need to understand that America runs on a strong and vibrant business [sic] … and that we need more business growing and thriving in this country. They need to understand that what the president is doing by borrowing a trillion dollars more each year than what we spend is running up a credit card that they’re going to have to pay off and that their future is very much in jeopardy by virtue of the policies that the president is putting in place. So I need you to get out there and campaign.

Elk writes that this actually is legal now, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. He also asks whether Romney is behind the recent rash of reports of CEOs putting pressure on their employees to vote for the Republican ticket.

The call raises the question of whether the Romney campaign is complicit in the corporate attempts to influence employees’ votes that have been recently making headlines….

Beyond Romney’s statements on the call, it’s unclear whether his election operation is actively coordinating workplace campaigning by businesses. Romney press secretary Andrea Saul did not respond to In These Times’ request for comment.

However, the conference call raises troubling questions about what appears to be a growing wave of workplace political pressure unleashed by Citizens United.

At Mother Jones, Adam Weinstein has another story about aggressive Romney campaign tactics. Weinstein obtained some e-mails between the Romney campaign and the Virginia Military Institute, where Romney recently gave a foreign policy speech. The military is required to be nonpartisan and stay out of politics, but Romney pressured the school to allow him to use his speech as what would have in essence been a campaign event.

When Mitt Romney addressed a crowd of cadets at Virginia Military Institute on October 8, he was supposed to give a major foreign policy speech that steered clear of partisan politics. That’s because VMI personnel observe the US military’s tradition of political neutrality when in uniform. But internal emails obtained by Mother Jones show that Romney’s campaign pushed to burnish his commander-in-chief credentials by maximizing military optics around the event. Members of Romney’s staff sought to use the VMI logo in their campaign materials, requested that uniformed cadets be let out of class early to attend Romney’s speech, and asked VMI “to select a few cadet veterans and give them a place of honor” standing behind Romney during his address.

As the campaign pushed for these requests, VMI officials pushed back, concerned that they were for partisan purposes. Each request was denied by the state-run institution, whose students serve in the US military’s Reserve Officers Training Corps, so that VMI would not be seen as endorsing Romney’s candidacy. The Romney campaign also pressured VMI to play host to “15 to 20” retired admirals and generals at the school who traveled there to endorse Romney; VMI eventually relented to that request.

Please do read the whole article at the link.

Remember Mark Leder? He’s the private equity billionaire who hosted the private fund-raiser at which Mitt Romney made his infamous “47 percent” remarks. Leder is giving another fund-raiser for Romney in Florida on Saturday night, according to Ryan Grim and Laura Goldman at HuffPo.

Leder has been telling potential donors that given the uproar following his last fundraiser, he feels an obligation to make the situation right by raising more money for Romney, according to people who have discussed the matter with Leder. One donor, asked if Leder had been noting that he’d been “taking heat” for the last fundraiser, said, “That was the basic pitch, except the word ‘heat’ was replaced by another four-letter word that begins with s.”

Saturday night’s event, unlike his now-famous May fundraiser, will not be held at Leder’s home. It will be in Palm Beach, Fla., and will include other hosts in addition to Leder.

Leder is a leveraged-buyout specialist, much like Romney. He owns Sun Capital Partners, which is based in Boca Raton, Fla. — the site of the upcoming presidential debate, which will be held on Monday. Leder is the co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and has been characterized in the press as a “party animal.”

I imagine all of the guests and staff will have to surrender their cell phones before the event. Will there be body searches too?

Contraception came up in the debate on Tuesday night, and Mitt Romney seems to be feeling a bit defensive about it. Abortion rights weren’t addressed, but Romney must be feeling defensive because he released a new ad yesterday.

Apparently Mitt thinks this ad proves he’s “moderate” on abortion. He wants to ban all abortions except in cases where women have been raped, are victims of incest, or whose lives are in danger if they carry the child to term. That seems pretty extreme to me, since abortion is legal, at least for now.

But Romney has also said he supports states passing personhood amendments, he has clearly stated that he will appoint judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade, and he has repeatedly promised to cut all funding for Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood released a statement in response to the ad (h/t Jezebel)

“This is an ad designed to deceive women. The Romney team knows that Mitt Romney’s real agenda for women’s health is deeply unpopular – ending safe and legal abortion, ending Planned Parenthood’s preventive care that millions of people rely on, and repealing the Affordable Care Act and the coverage of birth control with no co-pay. Romney can run from his own agenda, but he can’t hide – women will hold him accountable at the polls on election day.”

I don’t understand how these exceptions that Romney and Ryan keep talking about could work anyway. Would a pregnant girl or women have to prove that she was raped or sexually victimized by a relative? How would that work? Would there have to be a confession by the perpetrator? There certainly wouldn’t be time for the crime to be prosecuted in a court of law in time for an abortion to take place. What about the claim of danger to the mother’s life? Will doctors have to prove the claim to government inspectors? I just don’t think any of this would be realistic. I think we have to assume that these “exceptions” are just more bait and switch from the flim flam ticket.

Romney and his campaign advisers might want to take a look at the results of a new Gallup poll of women in swing states. The poll asks “What do you consider the most important issue for women in this election?” Here are the results:

For men, the top four issues on the list were jobs, the economy, the Federal deficit/balanced budget, and health care. For women, abortion was number one, and the deficit didn’t even make the list! Generally speaking, women had quite different interests than men.

On contraception, Romney surrogate and former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healy told Andrea Mitchell yesterday that contraception is just a “peripheral issue” for women.

Mitchell pressed Healy on the financial considerations for women whose employers refuse to cover contraception on religious grounds. “That is a pocketbook issue,” Mitchell said. “It’s dollars and cents.”
“The problem here is that we are talking about these peripheral issues,” Healy said. ”We need to really be talking about employment, jobs. That’s what women care about.”

Laura Bassett has more on the interview at HuffPo. Bassett notes that during the debate Tuesday Romney tried to gloss over his past statements on the issue of employers making contraception coverage available to employees by during the debate on Tuesday by claiming that

“I just know that I don’t think bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not, and I don’t believe employers should tell someone whether they have contraceptive care or not,” Romney said during Tuesday night’s debate. “Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives and the president’s statement on my policy is completely and totally wrong.”

Romney’s answer subtly changes the subject from insurance coverage of contraception to the more general issue of access to contraception, and it strategically leaves enough wiggle room for his campaign to say that his position has not changed.

Healy followed suit with Andrea Mitchell.

Romney did “not in any way” change his position, Healey said. “Governor Romney is both a strong supporter of religious freedom and also believes in access to contraception for American women.”

Pressed on the details of the Blunt amendment, which would have allowed employers to refuse to cover birth control on moral grounds and which Romney previously said he would support, Healey changed the subject. “The question of whether or not we should force someone to give up their religious freedom to provide insurance coverage in some hypothetical situation is not really the point to most women out there,” she said. “There are 5.5 million unemployed women in the country.”

What’s lost in both Romney’s and Healey’s answers on the contraception issue is the point that President Barack Obama made Tuesday night, which is that for many women, having birth control fully paid for by their insurance plans is an economic issue.

Yesterday afternoon the MSNBC show “The Cycle” had a body language expert, Chris Ulrich on to talk about the interactions between Obama and Romney during the debate. It was fascinating. I can’t embed the video, but I hope you’ll watch it at the link. You won’t regret it.

In a similar vein, if you didn’t see Chris Matthews’ interview with James Lipton of Inside the Actor’s Studio last night, be sure to watch that too. Lipton analyzed the behavior of the two debate participants, and said that he thought he had finally figured out who Mitt Romney is. He’s the boss who tells dumb jokes and expects you to laugh at them–or else. Lipton said that the choice for voters is between a president (Obama) and a boss. Do we want a boss running the country? Lipton said that some people might like that, but he seemed to find it frightening.

I’ll end with the most recent confrontation between ugly, nasty troll John Sununu and Soledad O’Brien, which took place yesterday morning on CNN.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today?