A fascinating new study found that Asian elephants comfort each other in times of stress by touching each other with their trunks and making consoling vocalizations. From National Geographic:
Asian elephants, like great apes, dogs, certain corvids (the bird group that includes ravens), and us, have now been shown to recognize when a herd mate is upset and to offer gentle caresses and chirps of sympathy, according to a study published February 18 in the online journal PeerJ.
Joshua Plotnik, a behavioral ecologist at Mahidol University in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, and primatologist Frans de Waal, director ofEmory University’s Living Links Center, have shown through a controlled study what those who work with elephants have always believed: The animals, in this case captive Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), offer something akin to humans’ sympathetic concern when observing distress in another, including their relatives and friends.
The scientists observed a group of 26 elephants in Thailand for a year. It was a naturalistic study–researchers waited until a stressful situation occurred and then noted the animals’ behavior toward each other. From The Christian Science Monitor:
A stress-inducing situation might be a dog walking by or a snake rustling the grass, or the roar or just the presence of a bull elephant. Sometimes the stressor was unknown. Regardless, scientists know elephant distress when they see it: erect tails and flared ears; vocalizations such as trumpeting, rumbling, or roaring; and sudden defecation and urination tell the story….the scientists witnessed bystander elephants—those not directly affected by a stressor—moving to and giving upset elephants physical caresses, mostly inside the mouth (which is kind of like a hug to elephants) and on the genitals.
Bystanders also rumbled and chirped with vocal offerings that suggested reassurance. Sometimes the empathetic animals formed a protective circle around the distressed one.
There was also evidence of “emotional contagion,” when herd mates matched the behavior and emotional state of the upset individual. In other words, seeing a “friend” in distress was distressing to the observers. Those animals also consoled one another.
Here’s another interesting study at Scientific American–this time about humans: A Happy Life May not be a Meaningful Life. The results reminded me of all the super rich guys who are constantly complaining about how victimized they are by the rest of us peons.
Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl once wrote, “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” For most people, feeling happy and finding life meaningful are both important and related goals. But do happiness and meaning always go together? It seems unlikely, given that many of the things that we regularly choose to do – from running marathons to raising children – are unlikely to increase our day-to-day happiness. Recent research suggests that while happiness and a sense of meaning often overlap, they also diverge in important and surprising ways.
Roy Baumeister and his colleagues recently published a study in the Journal of Positive Psychology that helps explain some of the key differences between a happy life and a meaningful one. They asked almost 400 American adults to fill out three surveys over a period of weeks. The surveys asked people to answer a series of questions their happiness levels, the degree to which they saw their lives as meaningful, and their general lifestyle and circumstances.
As one might expect, people’s happiness levels were positively correlated with whether they saw their lives as meaningful. However, the two measures were not identical – suggesting that what makes us happy may not always bring more meaning, and vice versa. To probe for differences between the two, the researchers examined the survey items that asked detailed questions about people’s feelings and moods, their relationships with others, and their day-to-day activities. Feeling happy was strongly correlated with seeing life as easy, pleasant, and free from difficult or troubling events. Happiness was also correlated with being in good health and generally feeling well most of the time. However, none of these things were correlated with a greater sense of meaning. Feeling good most of the time might help us feel happier, but it doesn’t necessarily bring a sense of purpose to our lives.
Interestingly, the researchers found that money can buy happiness, but it can’t guarantee a meaningful life. This is something I’ve come to believe through long and painful experience. I think a sense of meaning comes from working your way through problems and difficult times and coming out the other side stronger and wiser. Rich people are often able to shield themselves from life problems, but at the same time they miss out on opportunities for emotional growth.
Of course relationships are also important for both happiness and a sense of meaning.
In Baumeister’s study, feeling more connected to others improved both happiness and meaning. However, the role we adopt in our relationships makes an important difference. Participants in the study who were more likely to agree with the statement, “I am a giver,” reported less happiness than people who were more likely to agree with, “I am a taker.” However, the “givers” reported higher levels of meaning in their lives compared to the “takers.” In addition, spending more time with friends was related to greater happiness but not more meaning. In contrast, spending more time with people one loves was correlated with greater meaning but not with more happiness. The researchers suspect that spending time with loved ones is often more difficult, but ultimately more satisfying, than spending time with friends.
This is something else I can testify to. I spent about 18 years being a primary caregiver for my ex-mother-in-law. At times this was a thankless, frustrating task that certainly didn’t make me happy all the time–but in the end, I realized that the experience had been meaningful and I had grown a great deal from it.
It looks like Hillary is going to be in the news a great deal between now and the 2016 presidential primaries. We’ve seen the Republicans ramping up their campaign against her–so far by focusing on old gossip from the 1990s. Even the Vince Foster conspiracy theories are coming back to haunt us. Bob Cesca at The Daily Banter reported yesterday that Fox News was set to resurface not only Vince Foster myths, but also Kathleen Willey’s claims that Bill Clinton sexually harassed her.
One of the top shelf conspiracy theories about the Clintons had to do with the suicide of White House advisor Vince Foster, which topped a list of other suspected deaths at the hands of Bill and Hillary. Now, 13 years after the end of that administration and at the outset of the would-be presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton, everything from the ’90s appears to be back on the table.
We’ve already heard from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) who was the first to invoke Monica Lewinsky. And now here comes Fox News Channel resurrecting the Vince Foster conspiracy theory.
On tonight’s The Kelly File, Megyn Kelly welcomes Kathleen Willey who famously accused President Clinton of sexual harassment. An independent counsel discredited the groping allegations. Nevertheless, Willey has gone on to accuse the Clintons of not only assassinating Vince Foster, but also of murdering her husband.
Sigh . . . I don’t know if anyone here watched that travesty–I wonder if Megyn explained why Hillary should be held responsible for things her husband did (or was accused of doing) decades ago.
As an antidote to that nonsense, here are a couple of very interesting polls:
Politico: Hillary Clinton sweeps GOP in Ohio
Hillary Clinton buries Gov. Chris Christie and other potential Republican presidential candidates in the crucial swing state of Ohio, according to a new poll on Thursday.
The former secretary of state, who led Christie 42 percent to 41 percent in November, now tops the New Jersey governor 49 percent to 36 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.
Read the rest of the numbers at the link.
Now here’s a poll that will make Dakinikat smile: In a Stunning Turn Poll Shows Hillary Clinton Could Make Louisiana Blue in 2016 (Politicus USA)
A new Public Policy Polling survey of Louisana found that Hillary Clinton would be the strongest Democratic presidential candidate in the state since her husband Bill was on the ballot in the 1990s.
According to PPP, “All the Republican contenders for President lead Hillary Clinton in hypothetical contests, but the margins are closer than they’ve been in the state since her husband was on the ticket. Christie leads her by just a point at 44/43, Jindal’s up 2 at 47/45, Paul leads by 4 points at 47/43, Huckabee has a 5 point advantage at 49/44, and the strongest Republican with a 7 point edge at 50/43 is Jeb Bush.”
Hillary Clinton’s numbers represent the best showing for a Democratic presidential candidate in the state since her husband Bill Clinton won Louisiana by 5 points in 1992 and 12 points in 1996. George W. Bush won the state by 8 points in 2000, and 15 points in 2004. McCain beat Obama by 19 in 2008, and Mitt Romney defeated the president by a margin of 18 points in 2012.
Wow! It’s still very early, but that is exciting news.
You may recall that last August, Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda was detained at Heathrow Airport in London and questioned about documents he was carrying–top secret documents that had been stolen by Edward Snowden from the U.S. and Great Britain. Miranda’s computers, flash drives and other electronic devices were also confiscated. Greenwald and Miranda sued, claiming that Great Britain charging him under their “anti-terrorism laws was unlawful and breached human rights.” Yesterday the court released its decision, saying that judges said it was a “proportionate measure in the circumstances” and in the interests of national security. From BBC News:
Steven Kovats QC, representing the UK home secretary, previously told the High Court that the secret material seized from Mr Miranda could have ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda.
But Mr Miranda’s lawyers argued the detention at Heathrow was illegal because it was carried out under the wrong law: Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
They said that in reality he was detained on the say-so of the security services so they could seize journalistic material.
Mr Miranda was carrying 58,000 highly classified Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) files, the judge said.
He added that Oliver Robbins, the UK’s deputy national security adviser at the Cabinet Office, had stated that “release or compromise of such data would be likely to cause very great damage to security interests and possible loss of life”.
But could Miranda be called a “journalist” just because he was carrying material that his partner had written about in a newspaper, The Guardian?
In his ruling, Lord Justice Laws said: “The claimant was not a journalist; the stolen GCHQ intelligence material he was carrying was not ‘journalistic material’, or if it was, only in the weakest sense.
“But he was acting in support of Mr Greenwald’s activities as a journalist. I accept that the Schedule 7 stop constituted an indirect interference with press freedom, though no such interference was asserted by the claimant at the time.
“In my judgement, however, it is shown by compelling evidence to have been justified.”
Here’s the full decision of the court. There is a subtle but emphatic slap-down of Glenn Greenwald’s arguments in points 54-56. The judged noted that Greenwald appeared to be lecturing the court when he discussed “responsible journalism,” and responded that the “evidence” Greenwald offered was “unhelpful,” because he took the position that British law enforcement officers deliberately acted in a way that they (officers) knew to be wrong; he ignored the fact that the material Miranda was carrying was stolen and could end up in the wrong hands; and that
Mr Greenwald’s account (paragraph 33) of the “many ingredients to the sensible reporting of very sensitive information” is insubstantial; or rather, mysterious – the reader is left in the dark as to how it is that “highly experienced journalists and
legal experts” (paragraph 33(1)) or “[e]xperienced editors and reporters” (33(2)) are able to know what may and what may not be published without endangering life or security.
Miranda and Greenwald hope to be granted the right to appeal the decision.
I’m just about out of space, so I’ll conclude with a quickie from Sochi: Olympian Films Wolf Stalking Her Hotel Hallway.
Olympian Kate Hansen tweeted out a video of what appears to be a wolf trotting down her hotel hallway with the message, “I’m pretty sure this is a wolf wandering my hall in Sochi.” via
Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today? Please post your links in the comment thread, and have a great day!
I seem to have caught a little cold, nothing serious; but I’m a little slow this morning. Anyway, I have a few interesting stories for you, beginning with an amazing discovery that has stunned scientists and forced them to adjust their assumptions about human evolution. From the NYT: Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins.
In a paper in the journal Nature, scientists reported Wednesday that they had retrieved ancient human DNA from a fossil dating back about 400,000 years, shattering the previous record of 100,000 years.
The fossil, a thigh bone found in Spain, had previously seemed to many experts to belong to a forerunner of Neanderthals. But its DNA tells a very different story. It most closely resembles DNA from an enigmatic lineage of humans known as Denisovans. Until now, Denisovans were known only from DNA retrieved from 80,000-year-old remains in Siberia, 4,000 miles east of where the new DNA was found.
The mismatch between the anatomical and genetic evidence surprised the scientists, who are now rethinking human evolution over the past few hundred thousand years. It is possible, for example, that there are many extinct human populations that scientists have yet to discover. They might have interbred, swapping DNA. Scientists hope that further studies of extremely ancient human DNA will clarify the mystery.
Now the experts are going to have to find a way to incorporate these new discoveries into their understanding of human history. The story offers several different possibilities from different scientists.
Hints at new hidden complexities in the human story came from a 400,000-year-old femur found in a cave in Spain called Sima de los Huesos (“the pit of bones” in Spanish). The scientific team used new methods to extract the ancient DNA from the fossil….
Since the 1970s, Spanish scientists have brought out a wealth of fossils from the cave dating back hundreds of thousands of years. “The place is very special,” said Dr. Arsuaga, who has found 28 nearly complete skeletons of humans during three decades of excavations.
Based on the anatomy of the fossils, Dr. Arsuaga has argued that they belonged to ancestors of Neanderthals, which lived in western Asia and Europe from about 200,000 to 30,000 years ago.
But based on newly discovered methods for extracting DNA, researchers learned something very different. Read the rest of this fascination story at the NYT link above.
Yesterday the Washington Post published a new story by Barton Gellman, based on the data stolen from the NSA by Edward Snowden: NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show. Except if you read the whole story you’ll learn that this is being done only to collect foreign intelligence; it’s not being done in the U.S. Data from Americans who are overseas could get caught up in the data collection, but the point is to track the locations of suspected terrorists.
The NSA does not target Americans’ location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones “incidentally,” a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result.
One senior collection manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity but with permission from the NSA, said “we are getting vast volumes” of location data from around the world by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. cellphones as well as foreign ones. Additionally, data are often collected from the tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones every year.
In scale, scope and potential impact on privacy, the efforts to collect and analyze location data may be unsurpassed among the NSA surveillance programs that have been disclosed since June. Analysts can find cellphones anywhere in the world, retrace their movements and expose hidden relationships among the people using them.
Honestly, is anyone really surprised by this? I’m not saying it’s a wonderful thing, but, as I recall, tracing cell phone locations was the method used to catch Osama bin Laden. Not only that, but local police in the U.S. routinely use cell phone tracking to investigate crimes–and like the Feds, they have to get warrants to do so.
Anyone who didn’t know that you have no expectation of privacy when using a cell phone must have been living in a cave for a very long time. But if you really think the NSA is listening in on all of your personal phone calls and reading your text messages, you’re–quite frankly–nuts. The NSA would have to have millions of employees in order to sift through everyone’s data.
Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, said “there is no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information about cellphones in the United States.”
The NSA has no reason to suspect that the movements of the overwhelming majority of cellphone users would be relevant to national security. Rather, it collects locations in bulk because its most powerful analytic tools — known collectively as CO-TRAVELER — allow it to look for unknown associates of known intelligence targets by tracking people whose movements intersect.
As noted in the article, data collected from Americans overseas isn’t protected by the Fourth Amendment; and the Supreme Court decided long ago that telephone call data is owned by the phone companies and that Americans have no expectation of privacy when talking on the phone. If we want to increase privacy protections, it will have to be done through legislation–not by whining about the NSA doing it’s job, which is to collect foreign intelligence. (A side note: a short time ago, former NSA analyst John Schindler offered some suggestions for “Reforming NSA from the Top.”) I wish journalists would devote as much energy to investigating why millions of Americans can’t get jobs and why so many of the ones who do have jobs can’t get paid a living wage as they do to telling us things we already knew or strongly suspected about NSA data collection.
Meanwhile, there are some troubling questions and revelations about some of the journalists who have been involved in releasing the Snowden files. As everyone knows by now, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras now have control of all of the data that Snowden stole. This data includes the names of all British and American intelligence agents. Greenwald and Poitras are currently working on developing a new news website, a project backed by libertarian Ebay billionaire Pierre Omidyar. Here’s an extensive profile of Omidyar by renegade investigative journalist MarkAmes.
Recently, Ames wrote another piece at Pando Daily questioning the ethics of Snowden’s cache of NSA data being controlled by two individuals who are beholden to one wealthy backer headlined Keeping Secrets: Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the privatization of Snowden’s leaks.
Who “owns” the NSA secrets leaked by Edward Snowden to reporters Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras?
Given that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar just invested a quarter of a billion dollars to
personally hire Greenwald and Poitras for his new for-profit media venture, it’s a question worth asking.
It’s especially worth asking since it became clear that Greenwald and Poitras are now the only two people with full access to the complete cache of NSA files, which are said to number anywhere from 50,000 to as many as 200,000 files. That’s right: Snowden doesn’t have the files any more, the Guardian doesn’t have them, the Washington Post doesn’t have them… just Glenn and Laura at the for-profit journalism company created by the founder of eBay.
Edward Snowden has popularly been compared to major whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg,Chelsea Manning and Jeffrey Wigand. However, there is an important difference in the Snowden files that has so far gone largely unnoticed. Whistleblowing has traditionally served the public interest. In this case, it is about to serve the interests of a billionaire starting a for-profit media business venture. This is truly unprecedented. Never before has such a vast trove of public secrets been sold wholesale to a single billionaire as the foundation of a for-profit company.
I didn’t realize this until yesterday, but apparently Greenwald did not have the data on British intelligence originally; but he somehow forced the Guardian to turn it over to him before he resign from the newspaper. This may be the data that Greenwald’s husband David Miranda was caught with at Heathrow airport when he was detained there awhile back. The British Parliament is currently investigating the behavior of the Guardian and its editor Alan Rusberger. From the blog of BBC journalist Louise Mensch: Rusbridger admits shipping agents’ names – what now?
MPs today got Alan Rusbridger to admit a number of things he, and his paper had previously denied.
Firstly, that he shipped the names of GCHQ agents abroad to newspapers and bloggers. Mr. Rusbridger was reminded that this was a criminal offence, and said he had a public interest defence. He also, however, kept arguing that he hadn’t published any names, which rather blows up his public interest defence – it’s self-evident that you don’t need the names of intelligence agents to report on GCHQ spying, so why not redact them?
The fact is, Rusbridger did acknowledge that it put GCHQ agents at risk when he first shipped files to ProPublica. He redacted the names of GCHQ agents from those files, and he promised the government he had done so….
In Parliament today when asked why he didn’t redact the names he said there were 58,000 documents – essentially, he could be bothered to go through the <100 files he FedExed to ProPublica, but could not be bothered to go through the entire batch he sent to the NYT.
Really? He couldn’t take a week, and black out agents’ names? There were copies of the docs in the Guardian offices in New York, so time was not an issue for Rusbridger – instead, he exposed the names.
Perhaps worst of all, Rusbridger confirmed my very worst suspicions, which were that he hadn’t even read through the top secret files before shipping them. He redacted no names; he redacted no operational details; he didn’t even read them. And by “he” I mean any employee of the Guardian. Nobody at that paper read the 58,000 documents through, not even once, before sharing them in bulk.
Mensch updated that post with more information yesterday: HAS Rusbridger exposed thousands of GCHQ personnel? A commenter on the original post explained that in revealing the names of intelligence personnel to multiple people, Rusberger and the Guardian essentially destroyed their careers and seriously damaged British intelligence efforts. Here’s the comment:
A comment was left on that last blog that I have to reproduce. It shows that every agent exposed by Rusbridger has had their career ruined for the duration of it; none of them can ever work in the field again. Furthermore, the writer makes the compelling case that the NSA-GCHQ wiki, which the New York Times published extracts from, and the directories of staff interests like gay and lesbian clubs, ghost hunting clubs etc, mean that Rusbridger has actually sent abroad not just a handful of names, as he claimed to Parliament “there were names on power points” but actually thousands of GCHQ names.
Read the whole explanation at the link. I apologize for writing this before I nail down every detail, but I think this is important and it’s highly unlikely the corporate media will look into it since they could also culpable.
I’m afraid I rambled on too long on the NSA story, so I’ll just add a few more links that you might like to check out.
AP via Business Insider: A Period Of Bitterly Cold Temperatures Not Seen In A Decade Is About To Hit Parts Of The US
JM Ashby at The Daily Banter: Their Kind of Individual Mandate
Now it’s your turn. What stories are you focusing on this morning? Please share your links in the comment thread.
The big news today is that President Obama appears likely to order “limited” strikes on Syria in the next few days in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons against opposition fighters. From the WaPo: After Syria chemical allegations, Obama considering limited military strike.
President Obama is weighing a military strike against Syria that would be of limited scope and duration, designed to serve as punishment for Syria’s use of chemical weapons and as a deterrent, while keeping the United States out of deeper involvement in that country’s civil war, according to senior administration officials.
The timing of such an attack, which would probably last no more than two days and involve sea-launched cruise missiles — or, possibly, long-range bombers — striking military targets not directly related to Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, would be dependent on three factors: completion of an intelligence report assessing Syrian government culpability in last week’s alleged chemical attack; ongoing consultation with allies and Congress; and determination of a justification under international law.
“We’re actively looking at the various legal angles that would inform a decision,” said an official who spoke about the presidential deliberations on the condition of anonymity. Missile-armed U.S. warships are already positioned in the Mediterranean.
I guess “looking at…legal angles” is code for that pesky rule in the Constitution where Congress has to declare wars. When’s the last time that happened–WWII?
Meanwhile, BBC News reports: Russia and China step up warning over strike.
Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich has called on the international community to show “prudence” over the crisis and observe international law.
“Attempts to bypass the Security Council, once again to create artificial groundless excuses for a military intervention in the region are fraught with new suffering in Syria and catastrophic consequences for other countries of the Middle East and North Africa,” he said in a statement.
Late on Monday, the US said it was postponing a meeting on Syria with Russian diplomats, citing “ongoing consultations” about alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Hours later, Russia expressed regret about the decision. The two sides had been due to meet in The Hague on Wednesday to discuss setting up an international conference on finding a political solution to the crisis.
The Russian deputy defence minister, Gennady Gatilov said working out the political parameters for a resolution on Syria would be especially useful, with the threat of force hanging over the country.
Read more at the link.
Just as SOS Kerry was giving a speech to justify the upcoming military strikes, providing “Clear Evidence of Chemical Weapon Use in Syria” (NYT), a little birdie told Shane Harris and Matthew Aid of Foreign Policy magazine that the U.S. facilitated Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against Iran back in 1988.
The U.S. government may be considering military action in response to chemical strikes near Damascus. But a generation ago, America’s military and intelligence communities knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks far more devastating than anything Syria has seen, Foreign Policy has learned.
In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq’s war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.
The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn’t disclose.
U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein’s government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture.
“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” he told Foreign Policy.
Read the rest of this long article at Foreign Policy.
The wildfire in Northern California continues to spread into Yosemite National Park and has begun to threaten towns in the area. From the LA Times: Massive Rim fire continues to reshape lives and topography.
…even as firefighters worked furiously to hold a line outside of town, officials warned that this blaze was so hot it could send sparks more than a mile and a half out that could jump lines and start new hot spots. Evacuation advisories remain in effect for Tuolumne City and nearby areas.
On the north edge, the fire — now 134,000 acres — pushed into the Emigrant Wilderness Area and Yosemite National Park. It’s the one side of the fire with a natural last stand: Eventually it will run into granite walls that have snuffed out fires in this region for centuries.
Each day, what the massive blaze does depends on the wind. But officials were particularly attuned to each shift of breeze Sunday because of the weather’s eerie similarities to the day when the fire first exploded out of control.
So far the unpredictable blaze is only about 20% controlled, and it still threatens water and power sources for San Francisco.
The massive fire presents every challenge: steep slopes, dry fuel, rugged terrain and entire communities possibly in harm’s way.
The base camp and incident post, usually a haven outside fire lines, was a prominent example of the fire’s unpredictability: It’s in the middle of the burn zone, charred land with still-smoldering stumps on both sides.
Firefighters call such complete devastation “the black.” Entire ravines and ridges were a dusty gray moonscape. But some of the land was a “dirty burn” — meaning there were small circles of pine and aspen and even grass and wildflowers in the middle of charcoal-black areas where smoke still curled and embers glowed. The specks of beauty made firefighters nervous: To a fire, they are fuel.
My sister and her husband own a house north of San Francisco. It’s probably not in danger, but it still brings the scope of this disaster home to me. I sure hope Firefighers will begin to make progress soon. The burning area is now the size of the city of Chicago, according to CNN.
Yosemite National Park, California (CNN) — A massive northern California wildfire that’s threatening Yosemite National Park and San Francisco’s key water and power sources grew Monday, becoming the 13th largest in state history, state fire authorities said.
The Rim Fire, which has devoured 160,980 acres, has scorched an area about the size of the city of Chicago while more than 3,600 firefighters try to rein it in….
The wildfire, which was 20% contained Monday night, was spreading primarily to the east and threatened to grow amid extremely dry conditions and hot weather.
Part of the fire continued to spread Monday toward a key part of San Francisco’s water supply: the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which lies within Yosemite and is just east of the flames.
The fire also could threaten the area’s hydroelectric generators, which provide much of San Francisco’s electricity. Because of the approaching flames, officials shut down the generators, and the city — more than 120 miles to the west — temporarily is getting power from elsewhere.
Speaking of disasters, Charles Pierce reminds us that West, Texas is still recovering from the horrible explosion at the fertilizer plant there and that Texas still isn’t doing that much to prevent similar events in the future.
Read the rest of this entry »
As of yesterday, we’ve reached the point with the NSA leaks story that the entire focus is on Glenn Greenwald and his martyrdom. Even Edward Snowden has now faded into the background.
On Sunday, Greenwald’s domestic partner David Miranda was detained for nine hours by UK authorities as he passed through Heathrow Airport on his way from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro where he and Greenwald live. Miranda was finally released, but his laptop, an external hard drive, a number of memory sticks and other electronic devices were confiscated. Greenwald reacted by threatening the UK government with harmful revelations from the Snowden stash.
As with previous Greenwald stories, this one quickly evolved from a tale of horrendous government repression as reported by the Guardian to a more complex story reported by other news outlets–forcing the Guardian to walk back or provide more details on aspects of its original reporting. Bob Cesca does a good job of summarizing the process.
Like most people, Cesca was at first shocked by the news of Miranda’s detention. Then he began reading the stories under the headlines.
When I read The Guardian‘s article about the incident, however, more questions popped up — as with much of The Guardian‘s reporting on this topic, the publication’s tendency for coy, smoke-and-mirrors reporting invariably raises more questions than it answers. The article was credited to “Guardian staff,” for one, there weren’t any quotes from Miranda himself and the only source for the article appeared to be Greenwald, who, from my experience covering this story, tends to be incendiary and misleading.
The wailing and garment rending was underway — the predictable group freakout we’re forced to endure every time a new article is published. Greenwald himself wrote that the U.K. authorities were actually worse than the Mafia because the Mafia doesn’t target family members. (Clearly, Greenwald knows less about the Mafia than he does about political realities or history.)
An aside: Cesca coined the term “the 24 hour rule” after a the first few Greenwald NSA “bombshells.”
The 24 Hour Rule: 1) A wild claim is made via a news article, most often The Guardian, about the U.S. government or related entities. 2) The article sparks wild fits of outrage. 3) Then, within 24 hours, a mitigating detail is added, undermining or totally debunking one or more of the central claims contained with the article. Related quote: “A lie can travel half-way around the world before the truth gets its pants on.”
Back to Cesca’s take on the Miranda story:
As the hours rolled by, Charlie Savage, reporting for The New York Times, began to revealmore details about the trip — details which The Guardian mysteriously didn’t include in either of its articles….
First, we learned from The New York Times that The Guardian financed Miranda’s trip to Germany and back. This means Miranda was conducting some sort of official business for the publication. Around the same time, Amnesty International referred to Miranda as “a Guardian newspaper employee.” Combined with the Laura Poitras detail, it’s obvious that Miranda was commissioned to do some serious leg-work on the Snowden/NSA reporting, the extent of which was unknown at the time.
And then, late in the evening east coast time, The New York Times revealed the purpose of Miranda’s trip to Berlin:
Mr. Miranda was in Berlin to deliver documents related to Mr. Greenwald’s investigation into government surveillance to Ms. Poitras, Mr. Greenwald said. Ms. Poitras, in turn, gave Mr. Miranda different documents to pass to Mr. Greenwald. Those documents, which were stored on encrypted thumb drives, were confiscated by airport security, Mr. Greenwald said. All of the documents came from the trove of materials provided to the two journalists by Mr. Snowden.
So Miranda, Greenwald’s spouse, served as a paid courier to transfer stolen, top secret national security documents from Greenwald to Poitras, and from Poitras back to Greenwald.
While I’m not defending UK authorities for their ham-handed treatment of Miranda–and neither is Cesca–it’s really not surprising that Miranda was stopped and questioned. It also later came out that Miranda had been offered an attorney, but he refused the offer (Greenwald had originally said his partner was refused access to legal advice). From The Guardian on Monday:
He was offered a lawyer and a cup of water, but he refused both because he did not trust the authorities. The questions, he said, were relentless – about Greenwald, Snowden, Poitras and a host of other apparently random subjects.
“They even asked me about the protests in Brazil, why people were unhappy and who I knew in the government,” said Miranda.
He got his first drink – from a Coke machine in the corridor – after eight hours and was eventually released almost an hour later. Police records show he had been held from 08.05 to 17.00.
The questions about the Brazilian government weren’t actually that outrageous, since Glenn Greenwald had contacted high level officials there and they had tried to intervene.
So the “24-hour rule” still holds. This entire story turned around in 24 hours, but many news outlets are still reporting information that is either wholly or partially untrue. After it became clear that their original reporting on the Miranda detention was problematic, the Guardian released another bombshell article written by Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusberger in which he claims that two months ago GCHQ (Britain’s version of NSA) agents forced the Guardian to destroy their hard drives and computers unless they turned over their NSA materials. Again Bob Cesca has a good summary. Please read the whole thing if you can–it’s not long.
We’ll have to wait another day to see if this story also morphs into something different. Cesca has a list of questions for Rusberger. My big question is why wasn’t this reported immediately after it happened, and why didn’t the Guardian go to court over it?
And so Glenn Greenwald and his victimization remain the center of international attention. I have to wonder why Greenwald arranged for his partner to travel through Heathrow in the first place. Was he deliberately inviting something like this? He couldn’t have asked for better free publicity that he and the Guardian are getting right now.
Meanwhile, any discussion of NSA spying is hindered by so much inaccurate information; yet the NSA story is distracting Americans from focusing on equally important and even more pressing issues like jobs, the economy, voting rights, the war on women’s autonomy, the environment, and the upheavals in the Middle East. So now I’ll move on to some other news–I’ll add more links on the Miranda story in the comments.
In other news,
The Atlantic has a good story on economic inequality: Are the Rich Getting Too Much of the Economic Pie?
When one of you asked, “Are the rich getting too much of the economic pie?” the team behindEconomics in Plain English got pretty excited. Because you said “pie.” So we headed toDangerously Delicious Pies in northeast Washington, D.C., with business editor Derek Thompson to explain income inequality over dessert. We ordered three pies — peanut butter, blueberry, and something amazing called the “Baltimore Bomb” — to make three charts that illustrate the income and wealth gap in the U.S. We’re not the first to mix math and pastry, as we discovered recently, but we hope this video offers a tasty perspective on a complex economic question.
Watch the video–and others by the same group–at the link.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Pakistani court indicted Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday in connection with the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the first time that a former military leader has faced criminal proceedings in Pakistan.
The court in Rawalpindi, near the capital, Islamabad, filed three charges against Mr. Musharraf, including murder and conspiracy to murder, said a prosecutor, Chaudhry Muhammed Azhar.
Mr. Musharraf, who has maintained that the charges against him are politically motivated, pleaded not guilty, his lawyers said. Reporters were excluded from the hearing. Afterward, police commandos and paramilitary rangers escorted Mr. Musharraf back to his villa on the edge of Islamabad, where he has been under house arrest since April in connection with other cases stemming from his rule from 1999 to 2008.
The sight of a once untouchable general being called to account by a court had a potent symbolism in a country that has been ruled by the military for about half of its 66-year history. While the military remains deeply powerful, the prosecution has sent the message that Pakistan’s top generals are subject to the rule of law — at least after they have retired.
In Egypt, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood has been arrested. The LA Times reports:
CAIRO — Egyptian authorities early Tuesday arrested the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, another demoralizing blow to the Islamist organization amid a crackdown by the military to silence dissent and build support for its control of the nation.
Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie was arrested in a Cairo apartment. Dressed in a gray tunic, the 70-year-old spiritual leader looked shaken, sitting next to a bottle of water in police custody. The image distilled the desperation the world’s most influential Islamist organization faces against an army that appears determined to crush it.
Most of the Brotherhood’s top leaders, including Khairat Shater, its chief strategist and financier, and former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown in a coup last month, are in detention or have gone underground. Much of the group’s strategy appears to have shifted to the Anti-Coup Alliance, an umbrella group the Brotherhood organized to protest Morsi’s downfall.
The army’s crackdown on the Brotherhood has been ferocious. Police raids on two Brotherhood sit-ins last week and the protests and violence that ensured killed more than 900 Morsi supporters, many of them shot by live ammunition fired by security forces that have shown little restraint.
“When the hand of oppression extends to arrest this important symbol,” the Brotherhood said in a statement regarding Badie, “that means the military coup has used up everything in its pocket and is readying to depart.”
I’ll be honest–I’m really clueless about what’s going on in Egypt right now. I just hope the situation doesn’t descend into a Syria-like civil war.
Texas Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz is back in the news. The Dallas Morning News revealed yesterday that Cruz holds dual citizenship in the US and Canada.
Born in Canada to an American mother, Ted Cruz became an instant U.S. citizen. But under Canadian law, he also became a citizen of that country the moment he was born.
Unless the Texas Republican senator formally renounces that citizenship, he will remain a citizen of both countries, legal experts say.
That means he could assert the right to vote in Canada or even run for Parliament. On a lunch break from the U.S. Senate, he could head to the nearby embassy — the one flying a bright red maple leaf flag — pull out his Calgary, Alberta, birth certificate and obtain a passport.
“He’s a Canadian,” said Toronto lawyer Stephen Green, past chairman of the Canadian Bar Association’s Citizenship and Immigration Section.
The circumstances of Cruz’s birth have fueled a simmering debate over his eligibility to run for president. Knowingly or not, dual citizenship is an apparent if inconvenient truth for the tea party firebrand, who shows every sign he’s angling for the White House.
Cruz has decided to renounce his Canadian citizenship, according to CNN:
“Because I was a U.S. citizen at birth, because I left Calgary when I was 4 and have lived my entire life since then in the U.S., and because I have never taken affirmative steps to claim Canadian citizenship, I assumed that was the end of the matter,” Cruz wrote in his statement.
“Now the Dallas Morning News says that I may technically have dual citizenship. Assuming that is true, then sure, I will renounce any Canadian citizenship,” he continued. “Nothing against Canada, but I’m an American by birth, and as a U.S. Senator, I believe I should be only an American.”
Too bad he didn’t decide to run for office in Canada. I guess we’re stuck with him now.
I’ll end with this Daily Beast story about what Ted Cruz Princeton roommates recall about him. Some excerpts:
When Craig Mazin first met his freshman roommate, Rafael Edward Cruz, he knew the 17-year-old Texan was not like other students at Princeton, or probably anywhere else for that matter.
“I remember very specifically that he had a book in Spanish and the title was Was Karl Marx a Satanist? And I thought, who is this person?” Mazin says of Ted Cruz. “Even in 1988, he was politically extreme in a way that was surprising to me.” [….]
“It was my distinct impression that Ted had nothing to learn from anyone else,” said Erik Leitch, who lived in Butler College with Cruz. Leitch said he remembers Cruz as someone who wanted to argue over anything or nothing, just for the exercise of arguing. “The only point of Ted talking to you was to convince you of the rightness of his views.”
In addition to Mazin and Leitch, several fellow classmates who asked that their names not be used described the young Cruz with words like “abrasive,” “intense,” “strident,” “crank,” and “arrogant.” Four independently offered the word “creepy,” with some pointing to Cruz’s habit of donning a paisley bathrobe and walking to the opposite end of their dorm’s hallway where the female students lived.
“I would end up fielding the [girls’] complaints: ‘Could you please keep your roommate out of our hallway?'” Mazin says.