Lazy Saturday Reads: Boston Bomber Gets Death Penalty, A Baltimore Cold Case, and Other News

Lazy cat

Good Morning!!

Yesterday the jury in the Boston Marathon bombing case sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death for his role in the 2013 terrorist attack that killed three people and severely injured hundreds more.

From the Washington Post: 

Two years after the horrific bombing of this city’s famed marathon, a federal jury on Friday sentenced to death one of the young men responsible for the attack, turning away appeals for mercy from his attorneys and even some victims.

The jury of seven women and five men rendered its decision after deliberating for more than 14 hours. As the verdict was read, the bomber, 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, displayed no sign of emotion.

The outcome was a victory for prosecutors, who said the former college student worked in tandem with his older brother and carried out the attack in a “heinous, cruel and depraved manner.” Jurors rejected arguments that Tsarnaev had fallen under the sway of his brother, Tamerlan, and was remorseful over the suffering he caused.

Tsarnaev will be transferred to a federal prison, where he will remain until he is put to death by lethal injection. His attorneys did not comment after the verdict, but they are expected to appeal the sentence.

I was very disappointed in this decision. I strongly resent the Feds coming into Massachusetts, where we don’t have the death penalty and only 18% of citizens supported it for Tsarnaev, and forcing us to accept this barbaric practice against the public will. It also makes me feel sick at heart that the victims will now have to deal with years–probably decades–of appeals of the sentence. Tsarnaev should have been put away for life and left to fade into obscurity.

Tsarnaev showed no emotion as his death sentence was read.

Tsarnaev showed no emotion as his death sentence was read.

ABC News reports: The Eerie Quiet in Court as Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Sentenced to Die.

An eerie quiet settled over the federal courthouse in Boston today as victims and relatives of those killed in the Boston Marathon bombing heard a jury ordered Dzhkohar Tsarnaev to be put to death.

Liz Norden, who wanted Tsarnaev to get the death penalty for detonating the bomb that left two of her sons amputees and their bodies forever burned and scarred, cried quietly when the jury decided that the 21-year-old should die for his crimes.

Bill and Denise Richard, who strongly advocated against capital punishment for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, sat stone faced as the verdict was read, even though it was their 8-year-old son Martin who was the youngest victim killed in the horrific attack….

Boston bombing victim Martin Richard.

Boston bombing victim Martin Richard.

Inside Courtroom 9 the jurors, seven women and five men, stood as the verdict slip was read, as did Tsarnaev. One male juror removed his eyeglasses and wiped his eyes with a tissue and leaned his body into the rail of the jury box as if to prop himself up. Two female jurors, their cheeks flushed red, sipped from water bottles. Another woman had her arms crossed in front of her.

Tsarnaev never looked toward the jury box, not even when it became clear that those men and women decided he should be put to death. One of his defense attorneys, Miriam Conrad, covered her mouth with her hand. Once the verdict was read, police in court including Watertown Police Chief Ed Deveau and Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans, who is personal friends with the Richard family, exchanged glances.

Throughout it all, the mood in the courtroom was heavy and subdued. The judge’s clerk Paul Lyness admonished those assembled inside before it began that “any outbursts” would be treated as contempt of court. There were none.

Tsarnaev will most like await his appeals at a Federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Guantanamo North

Guantanamo North

The Indy Star reports: If Boston Bomber is executed, it’ll likely be done in Indiana.

According to an official at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Terre Haute is the only prison that has the special confinement unit that houses federal death row inmates. While the BOP could not go as far as to say that Terre Haute is the only prison where a federal inmate could be put to death, every federal execution has taken place at the facility since 2001.

Timothy McVeigh, Juan Raul Garza and Louis Jones Jr. were the last three inmates to be strapped to the table in the western Indiana prison and have a lethal drug cocktail run through their veins.

Tsarnaev may now face that same fate.

Larry A. Mackey, the attorney who tried both of the Oklahoma City bombing cases and delivered the prosecution’s closing argument in McVeigh’s, told The Indianapolis Star it’s “highly, highly unlikely” Tsarnaev will win his appeals.

“The judge has been very careful in protecting the defendant’s rights,” said Mackey, who has been following the case closely since it went to trial in March.

Sometime in the next 60 days, Mackey said a formal sentencing hearing will be held, and Tsarnaev will return to court with his council for the judge to impose the jury’s decision to put him to death.

Following the hearing, Tsarnaev will be transported to Terre Haute’s special confinement unit where he’ll wait out the exhaustion of his appeals, said Mackey.

Death chamber at Terre Haute supermax prison

Death chamber at Terre Haute supermax prison

More on the Terre Haute prison from the Boston Herald:

The 1,400-inmate, all-male U.S. Penitentiary at Terre Haute, Ind., is the likely landing spot for the 21-year-old Tsarnaev, who would be housed at the prison’s “special confinement unit” with the other 50-plus inmates on federal death row.

Since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, 74 federal convicts have been sentenced to die for their crimes, but just three have actually been executed and another 10 have been taken off death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Sampson, who has since had his death sentenced overturned, first went to Terre Haute following his 2003 conviction.

All three who have been put to death — Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, and Texans Juan Raul Garza and Louis Jones Jr. — were executed at Terre Haute’s in-house chamber.

Robert Nigh, who represented McVeigh, described the Indiana lock-up as a place where inmates “certainly had access to other inmates, commissary, reasonable opportunity for recreation, hygiene.”

The sight — and smells — of the prison’s “death house” still stick with him. “That was surreal,” he said. “When you walked into it, my recollection is (seeing) stark white walls, and it smelled and felt like a hospital or a clinic. It felt like a place where you go to get medical care. It had that feel to it. And it’s designed for the exact opposite.”

An article at Business Insider makes the prison sound a lot worse than the above description: What it’s like inside the terrifying super-max prison where the Boston Bomber is expected to be executed.

Though US Penitentiary Terre Haute has been open since 1940, Tsarnaev would likely be held in the Communications Management Units, a special unit opened in 2006 for terrorism-related offenses.

Because of the prison’s reputation for housing some of the country’s biggest security threats, some have called it “Guantanamo North.”

According to NPR, the units have 50 cells and house many men convicted in notable post-9/11 cases, as well as those involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1999 “Millennium” plot to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport, and multiple hijacking cases.

The Communication Management Units in the prison severely restrict communications between inmates and the outside world. Inmates are limited to two two-hour nonphysical visits per month, plus one 15-minute phone call per week.

Mail must be screened, copied, and evaluated before being delivered to inmates. All conversations must be in English.

Sister Rita Clare Gerardot

Sister Rita Clare Gerardot

According to Sister Rita Clare Gerardot, “a spiritual adviser to death-row inmates at Terre Haute,”

They are in a small cell by themselves. All their meals are pushed through a slot. There is no recreation, but they can go out of their cells three times a week into cages,” Gerardot told The Tribune-Star, a newspaper in Terre Haute.

Inmates can speak to one another from the front of their cells, according to Gerardot, and have limited time to use a phone, e-mail, or a library.

“Truthfully, I don’t know how they keep their sanity. They have to be persons of great strength of will to get up every day, and know they have no choices,” Gerardot said.

Tsarnaev will likely wish he had died in the Watertown shootout like his older brother Tamerlan. And as the Boston Globe notes this morning “everything could have been different” for this young man.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could have been graduating from UMass Dartmouth this weekend. Martin Richard, Lingzi Lu, Krystle Campbell, and Sean Collier could still be alive.

But everything changed when Tsarnaev, along with his older brother, detonated a pair of bombs near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon.

A 19-year-old sophomore at UMass Dartmouth at the time of the bombing, Tsarnaev was sentenced to death on Friday—while a commencement ceremony for the Class of 2015 was underway. He convicted in April on 17 capital charges and sentenced to death for six of them.

According to a UMass Dartmouth transcript introduced in court during the trial, Tsarnaev was an Engineering undergraduate with a mechanical engineering major during the Fall 2011 semester, his first in college. In the Spring 2013 semester, he was classified as a Arts & Sciences undergraduate with no declared major. The commencement ceremony for undergraduates in the College of Engineering was held Friday at the university’s Vietnam Veterans Peace Memorial Amphitheater. The ceremony for undergraduates in the College of Arts and Sciences is scheduled for Saturday.

Tsarnaev may never have graduated, even had he and his brother not chosen to perpetrate one of the worst terrorsist acts on U.S. soil. At the time of his arrest, he had a cumulative GPA of 1.094.

But perhaps he could have been among those students celebrating a new a beginning this weekend instead of facing a death sentence.

And everything could have been different.

Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik in 1970

Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik in 1970

We’ve been hearing a lot about corruption at the Baltimore Police Department lately. Yesterday I read a fascinating story about a cold case that shows the corruption there has a long history. If you’re interested in true crime stories and corruption in the Catholic Church, I highly recommend this piece by Laura Bassett at The Huffington Post,

Buried In Baltimore: The Mysterious Murder Of A Nun Who Knew Too Much.

It’s the story of the murder of a nun who had tried to help girls who were being sexually abused by at least one priest at a Baltimore Catholic school in the late 1960s. Here’s the introduction. I hope it grabs you and you decide to read the entire long article.

On a frigid day in November 1969, Father Joseph Maskell, the chaplain of Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, called a student into his office and suggested they go for a drive. When the final bell rang at 2:40 p.m., Jean Hargadon Wehner, a 16-year-old junior at the all-girls Catholic school, followed the priest to the parking lot and climbed into the passenger seat of his light blue Buick Roadmaster.

It was not unusual for Maskell to give students rides home or take them to doctor’s appointments during the school day. The burly, charismatic priest, then 30 years old, had been the chief spiritual and psychological counselor at Keough for two years and was well-known in the community. Annual tuition at Keough was just $200, which attracted working-class families in deeply Catholic southwest Baltimore who couldn’t afford to send their daughters to fancier private schools. Many Keough parents had attended Maskell’s Sunday masses. He’d baptized their babies, and they trusted him implicitly.

This time, though, Maskell didn’t bring Wehner home. He navigated his car past the Catholic hospital and industrial buildings that surrounded Keough’s campus and drove toward the outskirts of the city. Eventually, he stopped at a garbage dump, far from any homes or businesses. Maskell stepped out of the car, and the blonde, freckled teenager followed him across a vast expanse of dirt toward a dark green dumpster.

It was then that she saw the body crumpled on the ground.

Father A. Joseph Maskell

Father A. Joseph Maskell

The week prior, Sister Cathy Cesnik, a popular young nun who taught English and drama at Keough, had vanished while on a Friday-night shopping trip. Students, parents and the local media buzzed about the 26-year-old’s disappearance. People from all over Baltimore County helped the police comb local parks and wooded areas for any sign of her.

Wehner immediately recognized the lifeless body as her teacher. “I knew it was her,” she recalled recently. “She wasn’t that far gone that you couldn’t tell it was her.”

Cesnik was still clad in her aqua-colored coat, and maggots were crawling on her face. Wehner tried to brush them off with her bare hands. “Help me get these off of her!” she cried, turning to Maskell in a panic. Instead, she says, the priest leaned down behind her and whispered in her ear: “You see what happens when you say bad things about people?”

Maskell, Wehner understood, was threatening her. She decided not to tell anyone. “He terrified me to the point that I would never open my mouth,” she recalled.

Now, decades later, a group of women who attended Keogh back in those days are working together with a journalist and a former Baltimore police office to find out who killed Sister Cathy.

More news, headlines only:

LOL!!

LOL!!

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NYT: Union and Tom Brady’s Lawyers Threaten to Challenge Suspension in Court.

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Saturday Afternoon Reads: Boston Bombing Second Anniversary and the Death Penalty Question

Copley Square News Stand, Boston

Copley Square News Stand, Boston

Good Afternoon!!

On Wednesday, April 15, Boston marked the second anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, now called “One Boston Day,” with a moment of silence at 2:49PM. That was the time that two bombs exploded about 12 seconds apart among crowds of people near the marathon finish line, leaving three people dead and 264 people injured–many of whom lost limbs.

Reuters reports: Boston marks somber second anniversary of deadly marathon bombing.

(Reuters) – Boston marked the second anniversary of the deadly attack on its annual marathon on Wednesday with a quiet ceremony at the site where three died, unveiling a pair of banners marked with a heart.

Mayor Marty Walsh joined a group of survivors of the April 15, 2013, blasts, including Jane and Henry Richard, whose 8-year-old brother Martin was the youngest killed, as well as Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs. Some 264 people, including spectators, volunteers at runners at the Boston Marathon were injured.

At 2:49 p.m. ET (1849 GMT) New England’s largest city will observe a moment of silence to mark the time the first bomb went off.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, who seek to make sense of that awful day,” said Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. “Those most affected by the events of two years ago have shown us all the way back with their courage, grace and determination.

At Fenway Park, there was a pause during the Red Sox-Nationals game to observe the city-wide moment of silence at 2:49PM.

On Patriots’ Day this coming Monday April 20th, runners will gather in Hopkinton, Massachusetts for the 119th running of the 26 mile race to the finish line in Copley Square.

Security for this year’s race will be higher than ever, and that is causing some controversy.

NPR’s Morning Edition: Boston Marathon Surveillance Raises Privacy Concerns Long After Bombing.

Nearly a million people will line the streets to watch the Boston Marathon on Monday, and someone else will be watching them. Bill Ridge with the Boston Police says video surveillance is a big part of the security plan.

“We’ve got a lot of cameras out there,” he says. “We’re going to be watching the portions in Boston — particularly the routes along Boylston Street, the finish line.” …. Video footage helped identify the terrorists, and the number and quality of video cameras has gone up since then.

The extent of the surveillance of Boston described in the article is troubling. NPR talked to Mark Savage of Lan-Tel Communications, which is in charge of surveillance for the marathon.

“I’m zooming in on the infield of Fenway Park,” he says while maneuvering a camera. He uses a laptop to swivel and zoom the HD video camera on a building hundreds of yards away from the ballpark. The zoom is so powerful, Johnson says it could probably tell whether a Red Sox pitcher has thrown a strike or a ball.

In the same way that televisions have gotten higher resolutions through the years, so have video cameras — and Johnson says cheaper bandwidth and data storage make it easy to record more, better-quality video.

Flowers placed at the finish line of the Boston Marathon last week (from NPR).

Flowers placed at the finish line of the Boston Marathon last week (from NPR).

Apparently the Boston Police have already installed a lot of surveillance equipment around the city.

Kade Crockford of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts says she understands the need for surveillance at a big public event like the Boston Marathon — but objects to expanding its use. While standing outside the Old State House, she points out four different surveillance cameras catching her every move.

“[A big event] doesn’t trigger privacy concerns,” she says. “What does trigger privacy concerns is the City of Boston installing a network of cameras — some in residential neighborhoods — that enable law enforcement to track individual people from the moment that we leave our homes in the morning until the moment we return at night, seeing basically everywhere we went and everything that we did.”

Boston Police won’t say how many cameras are already in the city’s network, or how many new ones are going up for the marathon. But some of them will stay online afterward.

The anniversary and the storied Boston foot race comes during a pause in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was found guilty on all counts on Wednesday April 8. The jury still must decide whether Tsarnaev will get live in prison without parole or the death penalty. Technically, the break before the penalty phase is to allow the defense more time to prepare their witnesses, but it would have been difficult for jurors to deal with life and death questions during the bombing anniversary and the running of this year’s race.

The family of Boston Marathon bombing victim Martin Richard  joins Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (R) at a ceremony at the site of the second bomb blast on the second anniversary of the bombings in Boston, Massachusetts April 15, 2015.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The family of Boston Marathon bombing victim Martin Richard joins Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (R) at a ceremony at the site of the second bomb blast on the second anniversary of the bombings in Boston, Massachusetts April 15, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Kevin Cullen at The Boston Globe suggests other questions about the bombing that need to be answered.

Break in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial allows for reflection.

A Boston cop I know, who was at the finish line when the bombs exploded and who saved lives that day, has a question.

“Who were the FBI agents who interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev after the Russians raised questions about him two years before the bombings, and why didn’t they recognize Tamerlan from the photos the FBI released?” he asked.

It’s a good question, one that the prosecution won’t want to ask, one that the defense needs to ask, if it isn’t deemed irrelevant by O’Toole.

The defense has argued all along that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was steered into the bombing plot by his older, domineering, more-radicalized brother. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, dead almost two years, will be mentioned as often as his little brother in this phase of the trial.

Cullen says the FBI did good work after the bombs went off, but . . . .

But that nagging question — why wasn’t Tamerlan Tsarnaev identified earlier — won’t go away. And it feeds the nagging sense that the FBI knows far more about Tamerlan Tsarnaev than it’s sharing.

Nor will questions about Tamerlan’s wife, Katherine, go away. The government broadly hinted but never came right out and said they believe the bombs or at least components for the bombs were assembled at the Cambridge apartment Katherine and Tamerlan shared with their daughter, a toddler.

The defense didn’t try to debunk the suggestion nearly as strongly as you might think because it allowed them to point out that the fingerprints on all the tools that might have been used to make the bombs were Tamerlan’s, not Dzhokhar’s.

Why wasn’t Katherine charged? Did she cooperate with investigators?

One of the other nagging questions is whether the Tsarnaev brothers had any accomplices in gathering all the gunpowder from fireworks they used in their bombs. Listening to testimony about how much powder was needed to make the bombs, it seemed like the Tsarnaev brothers would have to be doing nothing else but dismantling fireworks for months.

Boston strong

All good questions and there are more good ones at the link. Cullen notes that we particularly need answers about why the FBI shot and killed Ibragim Todashev, who was potentially their best source of information about Tamerlan and his motives.

The Feds are getting plenty of pushback here in the Boston area on their goal of putting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death. After all, Massachusetts does not have the death penalty. Victims families and survivors as well as citizens have expressed their wishes that Tsarnaev be allowed spend the rest of his life in prison.

WBUR Boston (NPR): Death Penalty For Tsarnaev Increasingly Unpopular, WBUR Poll Finds.

The survey (topline, crosstabs) of 509 registered voters in Greater Boston found 58 percent support life in prison for Tsarnaev. That number rises to 61 percent among voters in the city of Boston.

“Over the last month, we’ve seen support for life in prison grow by about 10 points [in the Boston area],” said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, which conducts surveys for WBUR.

According to the poll, only 31 percent of Boston area residents said they support the death penalty for Tsarnaev. That support drops to 26 percent in the city of Boston.

The earlier WBUR survey was conducted last month, while the first phase of the Tsarnaev trial was ongoing. The latest poll was conducted just days after his conviction.

People’s feelings about executing the convicted bomber are on par with how they view the death penalty in general.

Fifty-seven percent in the Boston area and 63 percent in the city of Boston oppose the use of the death penalty broadly.

shoes

The parents of Martin Lawrence have begged the prosecution to drop the death penalty request.

The Boston Globe: Parents of 8-Year-Old Boy Killed in Marathon Bombings Don’t Want Tsarnaev to Get Death Penalty.

The parents of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy killed in the Boston Marathon bombings two years ago, have writtten a plea to end the attention convicted killer Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has received and spare him from the death penalty.

In an essay written for The Boston Globe, Bill and Denise Richard ask that the case come to a close, writing, “We know that the government has its reasons for seeking the death penalty, but the continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives.”

The sister of murdered MIT police office Sean Collier also opposes giving Tsarnaev the death penalty. From the Globe:

In a posting on Facebook and on her Twitter account, Jennifer L. Lemmerman wrote that she continues to mourn the loss of her younger brother, who was widely lauded after his murder.

Lemmerman, a graduate of Boston College School of Social Work and an alderwoman in Melrose, wrote that she will never forgive Tsarnaev for ending her brother’s life.

But, she also wrote, she does not believe in the death penalty even after what has happened to her and her family.

“Whenever someone speaks out against the death penalty, they are challenged to imagine how they would feel if someone they love were killed. I’ve been given that horrible perspective and I can say that my position has only strengthened,’’ she wrote on her Facebook account.

Obviously, I think killing Tsarnaev would be wrong and counterproductive. The death penalty would only turn him into a martyr anyway, and it would mean years, perhaps decades of court battles in which he would get unnecessary and undeserved public attention; and the victims families would be forced to relive their pain and loss again and again.

As always, this is an open thread. Please feel free to comment and post links on any topic. 

 

 


Tuesday Reads

Laurette with a coffee cup, Henri Matisse

Laurette with a coffee cup, Henri Matisse

Good Morning!!

I’m getting a late start today, because I was trying to find out what’s going on with my broken computer. I learned that it was shipped yesterday and supposedly will get to me on Thursday. It’s still in Oakland, so I’m not sure I believe that. Anyway, it’s a relief that I will get it back sometime soon. I have really missed it. At the same time, I’m very anxious about it. I’ve only had this computer since September and already the motherboard failed. I just hope it doesn’t happen again.

Anyway, enough about my problems. Let’s get to the news of the day.

The Boston Marathon bombing seems to have been mostly forgotten, but as this year’s marathon approaches, the trial of accused bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev is almost complete. Yesterday the prosecution and defense gave their closing arguments and today the jury begins deliberations.

Tsarnaev Jury Selection, Day 1

From The New York Times: Boston Marathon Bombing Trial Wraps Up With Clashing Portraits of Naïveté and Extremism.

BOSTON — The courtroom filled with a swelling chorus of Islamic chants as television screens showed the battlefield carnage on Boylston Street, with severed limbs, an 11-year-old boy with bone fragments from someone else lodged in his body, and bright red blood splashed on the pavement like so many buckets of paint.

Once more, the people of Boston on Monday were plunged back into that moment on April 15, 2013, when Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a pair of immigrant brothers, terrorized the city and the nation by setting off deadly bombs at the Boston Marathon in the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

“That day, they felt they were soldiers,” the prosecutor said of the brothers. “They were the mujahedeen, and they were bringing their battle to Boston.”

The scene set the stage for closing arguments in this trial, in which testimony began a month ago, against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21, whose brother, Tamerlan, 26, was killed in a shootout with police. In an emotional 80-minute multimedia finale delivered to a courtroom packed with survivors and victims’ families, the government cast Mr. Tsarnaev as an equal partner with his brother, equally determined to extract “an eye for an eye” against the United States for killing Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Read all about the closing arguments at the NYT link. The prosecution’s argument was very graphic and highly emotional. The case goes to the jury this morning. The defense already admitted that Tsarnaev is guilty, so the only real question will be whether he gets the death penalty or life in prison without parole. I certainly hope not, and most Greater Boston residents feel the same way, according to a poll by NPR station WBUR.

I expect to get my copy of a new book released today called The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy, by Masha Gessen. I’m really looking forward to reading it, because Gessen is knowledgeable about both Russia and the U.S. She is also the author of a biography of Vladimir Putin and a book about Pussy Riot. According to the reviews, Gessen focuses on the reasons behind the Tsarnaev brothers’ actions rather than on the crime itself, beginning with the history of Chechnya’s battle to stay separate from Russia.

From Wikipedia: Gessen was born in Moscow, lived for ten years in the U.S. before moving back home to Moscow. She moved back to New York  in 2013 after Russian authorities suggested they might take children away from gay parents. She is a lesbian and a well known activist for LGBT rights and against Putin. I’d love to read her book about Putin too.

From the LA Times review of the book (the NYT review is linked above):

Masha Gessen does something unexpected with “The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy.” In a book about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and their role in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, she barely describes the crime. Here it is, her account, which comes almost exactly at the halfway point: “Patriots’ Day 2013 fell on April 15, tax day — an ironic coincidence for a big American holiday. At 2:49 p.m. that day, a couple of hours after the winner completed the Boston Marathon, when runners were crossing the finish line in a steady stream, two bombs went off near the end of the route, killing three people and injuring at least 264 others, including sixteen who lost limbs.”

Still, if such an approach seems counterintuitive, that’s the power of this remarkable book. For Gessen, the details of the catastrophe — the backpacks, the surveillance footage, the suspension of civil liberties throughout Greater Boston for several days — are so well known as to be, in some sense, moot. More essential is the background, both historical and personal. In that sense, “The Brothers” is reminiscent of Lawrence Wright’s “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,” which won a 2007 Pulitzer Prize.

Wright, of course, published his book several years after the fact, while Gessen’s story is unfolding in the Massachusetts courtroom of the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial. “The Brothers,” however, is less interested in the case per se than in its context, going back to the 1940s and the relocation by Soviet authorities of ethnic Chechens to the central Asian republics of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

What does this have to do with the bombing? Nothing and everything. The Tsarnaev brothers were the children, or grandchildren, of this relocation, which uprooted their father’s family. Nearly 60 years later, when they, with their sisters and parents, came to Boston not long after the Sept. 11 attacks, it was just one more place that did not want them, that regarded them as alien or worse.

I can’t wait to read Gessen’s book. I’ll let you know if I learn anything new and useful from it.

John Oliver interviews Edward Snowden

John Oliver interviews Edward Snowden

Another topic I haven’t written much about recently–the Edward Snowden saga–is back in the headlines after an interview he gave to HBO’s John Oliver. From Fortune: Edward Snowden’s most outlandish interview yet.

Edward Snowden, the whistleblower and former National Security Agency contractor, has conducted lots of interviews since he shocked the world with revelations about top secret government surveillance programs and fled to Russia. He’s video-streamed his visage onto a big screen at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas (as well as a smaller one). He’s appeared on panels, including what became the final public appearance of the celebrated New York Times media columnist David Carr. He’s wandered the halls of the TED conference on the screen of a telepresence robot.

But this weekend on John Oliver’s hit HBO series Last Week Tonight, Snowden participated in what is likely his kookiest interview to date. The show took a deep dive into government surveillance, a subject nearly two years in the public spotlight thanks to Snowden’s leaks, and encompassed subjects ranging from the Patriot Act and espionage to, er, “truck nuts” and “dick pics.”

I didn’t see the interview and I don’t know if I can bring myself to watch it; but the video is at the Fortune link if you’re interested.

Apparently the big revelation in the interview was that Snowden never read the documents he stole before releasing them. From Billboard:

If we learned anything from John Oliver‘s super-secret one-on-one interview with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, which aired Sunday on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, it’s that A) Few Americans probably know who is, and B) The spy agency does not have a department solely dedicated to collecting photos of your junk.

Oliver traveled to Russia to secure the interview with Snowden, who is sought by U.S. authorities for leaking thousands of NSA documents, and though there were plenty of laughs (truck nuts!) the host made sure to grill the asylum-seeker about the seriousness of his situation.

For one thing, Oliver asked Snowden if he had read all the classified docs that he leaked to the media. He said he had “evaluated” all of them — to which Oliver brought up the release of information that revealed the names of U.S. spies. “That’s a fu–up,” Oliver concluded. “You have to own that… You’re giving documents which you know could be harmful, and you know could get out there.”

Snowden responded, “You will never be completely free from risk if you’re free… The only time you can be free from risk is when you’re in prison.”

Snowden just isn’t a serious person. The Daily Mail has an in-depth report with plenty of quotes and videos. Here’s the headline: The damning truth about Snowden: Traitor who put Western lives at risk from terrorists reveals he didn’t even read all the top-secret files he leaked.

rand paul1

This morning Rand Paul revealed (to no one’s surprise) that he’s running for president of the U.S. CBS News reports:

Rand Paul announced his bid for president Tuesday morning on his campaign website, randpaul.com.

On the web page, Paul wrote, “I am running for president to return our country to the principles of liberty and limited government.” The Kentucky senator has already begun asking his supporters for donations to help his cause, too.

His political action committee sent a long email imploring supporters to contribute anywhere from $10 to $500 for a “Stand With Rand Money Bomb.” Paul has used this fundraising technique in the past to collect small-dollar donations online from grassroots supporters.

“The media tells us — if our Republican Party has any hope of defeating Hillary Clinton — you and I should choose a nominee with a track record full of sellouts, compromises and Big Government betrayals. So even though I’m at or near the top of every state poll for the nomination, they continue to try and dismiss my message of liberty and limited government!” the appeal reads.

Paul is expected to formally launch his White House bid at an event in Louisville, Kentucky Tuesday afternoon. The announcement has been expected for weeks, and Paul spent the early part of the week converting his campaign-in-waiting to an actual campaign.

So now the Republicans have two clowns in the clown car: Rand Paul and Ted Cruz–not a particularly auspicious start if you ask me.

rape

One more big story came out late yesterday–a report organized by the Columbia Journalism Review on the Rolling Stone article on the rape problem at the University of Virginia in which the central character apparently fabricated her story. There were many other women in the story who had been raped on the UVA campus, but they were overshadowed by “Jackie’s” apparently false accusations of a man who seems not to exist at all.

Here’s the report at Rolling stone: Rolling Stone and UVA: The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Report

and the CJR story: Rolling Stone’s investigation: ‘A failure that was avoidable.’

Amanda Marcotte had two good articles on the report yesterday.

Talking Points Memo: Sorry, Rape Deniers: The Rolling Stone Report isn’t What You Hoped.

Raw Story: The big reveal in the report on Rolling Stone’s rape story fiasco that no one is talking about.

I hope you’ll check out those stories. They’re both well worth reading.

Just one more link from The Daily Beast: Rolling Stone Reporter ‘Nearly Broke Down.’

That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following?

 


Thursday Reads: Boston Marathon Bombing, Heartbleed Bug, and Other News

kids reading

Good Morning!!

 

We’re approaching the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings–next Tuesday April 15–so it’s not surprising that more stories related to last year’s attacks are appearing in the media.

In a surprising and revealing story, the LA Times yesterday broke the news that shortly before last years’ marathon, alleged Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev tried to change his first name to “Muaz” in tribute to Emir Muaz, a militant anti-Russian fighter who was killed in Dagestan in 2009. From the LA Times:

Less than three months before the Boston Marathon bombings, a bitter, frustrated Tamerlan Tsarnaev visited a federal immigration office in the Boston area and signed forms seeking to legally change his first name.

Eager to recast himself in the model of a well-known rebel figure killed by Russian forces in 2009, Tsarnaev chose as his new name “Muaz,” according to a previously undisclosed Homeland Security Department petition form, which was obtained by The Times. It was not only a tribute to Emir Muaz, a celebrated fighter in Russia’s Dagestan republic, it was also the nickname rebels had given Tsarnaev during his six-month visit to the region in 2012, law enforcement officials say.

Asked as part of the Jan. 23, 2013, application to explain his name change request, Tsarnaev described the decision in political terms, according to a federal law enforcement official close to the Boston bombing case. “He said, ‘The Russian people have been terrorizing my home country for all these years.’ This is why he needed to come back to America and help,” the official said.

Emir Abu Muaz

Emir Abu Muaz

The name change request was an update to a citizenship application filed in 2012 that was held up by Homeland Security because of a domestic violence conviction against Tsarnaev and because officials learned that the FBI had investigated Tamerlan in 2011. The younger Tsarnaev brother, Dzhokhar had been granted citizenship at a ceremony on September 11, 2012. From the NYT, April 20 2013:

The record of the F.B.I. interview was enough to cause Homeland Security to hold up Mr. Tsarnaev’s application. He presented those papers several weeks after he returned from a six-month trip overseas, primarily to Russia, and only six days after his brother, Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, had his own citizenship application approved. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is in custody and is in serious condition in a hospital.

Late last year, Homeland Security officials contacted the F.B.I. to learn more about its interview with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, federal law enforcement officials said. The F.B.I. reported its conclusion that he did not present a threat.

At that point, Homeland Security officials did not move to approve the application nor did they deny it, but they left it open for “additional review.”

Lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have argued that the FBI most likely tried to enlist Tamerlan as an informer and his resentment of the pressure they put on him may have contributed to his radicalization. The FBI claims they only met with Tamerlan one time, but his mother Zubeidat Tsarneva said last year that FBI agents “followed them for years.” Lawyers for younger brother Dzhokhar also say there were multiple contacts between Tamerlan and the FBI. From the LA Times:

…according to his brother’s lawyers, the FBI’s involvement went further. They said in court papers that there was “more than one” FBI visit to talk with Tsarnaev and his parents, that he was questioned about his Internet searches, and that the bureau “asked him to be an informant.”

“Tamerlan misinterpreted the visits and discussions with the FBI as pressure, and they amounted to a stressor that increased his paranoia and distress,” defense attorneys argued in the filings.

Federal prosecutors, however, told defense attorneys in a March 14 letter that they had “no evidence that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was solicited by the government to be an informant.” They did not comment on whether there were multiple FBI visits….

The new revelations about Tsarnaev have prompted defense lawyers for his brother to characterize him as the key player who “supplied the motivation, planning and ideology behind the Boston Marathon attack,” according to recent filings.

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

A couple more tidbits: Massachusetts Rep. William R. Keating revealed yesterday that Russian warnings about Tamerlan Tsarnaev after his trip to Russia in 2012 included a suggestion that he might try to change his name. 

Keating said in an interview that Russian intelligence letters sent to both the FBI and CIA in 2011 about Tsarnaev predicted he would seek to change his name. The letter did not say what name Tsarnaev would take, according to Keating. Keating said Russian intelligence agencies read him a copy of the letter they sent to the FBI and the CIA. He took notes from the conversation, but was not given a copy of the letter.

“It’s amazing how much information they did know, the Russians,” Keating said. “Look at everything that’s there. The change of the name, that’s corroborated. That he wanted to travel back to Russia, that’s been corroborated. That he wanted to enlist with extremists, that’s corroborated. I mean, everything that was in that [warning] has been corroborated.”

However the Globe uncovered a different explanation for the desired name change:

During six months in Dagestan in 2012, Tsarnaev fell in with members of an Islamic advocacy group that believes in the establishment of an Islamic caliphate governed by sharia religious law that would span the Caucasus. They are sharply critical of US interventions in Muslim countries, but they do not openly espouse violence, and they are not outlaws.

His associates in Dagestan told the Globe that when Tsarnaev learned that he was named after a medieval Mongol warlord who conquered much of Central Asia, he wanted a new name. They said they chose the name Muaz, after an early Islamic scholar, and Tsarnaev adopted it. All of his friends in Dagestan know him as Muaz.

Finally, the NYT reported yesterday that Russia also withheld some of the information they had on Tamerlan.

Russian officials had told the F.B.I. in 2011 that the suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, “was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer” and that Mr. Tsarnaev “had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups.”

But after an initial investigation by the F.B.I., the Russians declined several requests for additional information about Mr. Tsarnaev, according to the report, a review of how intelligence and law enforcement agencies could have thwarted the bombing.

At the time, American law enforcement officials believed that Mr. Tsarnaev posed a far greater threat to Russia.

The new inspector general’s report found that it was only after the bombing occurred last April that the Russians shared with the F.B.I. the additional intelligence, including information from a telephone conversation the Russian authorities had intercepted between Mr. Tsarnaev and his mother in which they discussed Islamic jihad.

Phew! Lots of Boston bombing news all of a sudden. I wonder what else will come out in the run-up to this year’s Marathon, which will be held on Monday, April 21.

In other news . . .

OpenSSL_bug1

Yesterday tech sites and Twitter were abuzz with the news of the “Heartbleed bug” a software encryption vulnerability that has the potential to give hackers access to “two-thirds of the internet’s servers” as well as to private encryption keys such as those used by Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. Read all about it at Ars Technica.

In fact yesterday Cryptome.org published a supposedly private e-mail from Jesselyn Radack, who claims to be Snowden’s “legal adviser” and Glenn Greenwald. Radack had been tricked into responding to a fake Greenwald key created by an unknown hacker. The bug has been out there for two years, so tell me again how Snowden and Greenwald are so sure the stolen NSA data is safe from Russia and China?

This encryption stuff is all Greek to me, but here are a few more links to explore:

Washington Post: Heartbleed bug causes major security headache

The New Yorker: The Internet’s Telltale Heartbleed

CNet: Which sites have patched the Heartbleed bug?

Huckabee

Mike Huckabee is at it again. From TPM, Huckabee: Men Hunt Together, Women Go To The Restroom Together

As she live-tweeted the former Arkansas governor’s speech at a fundraiser for Iowa’s Faith and Freedom Coalition on Tuesday in Waukee, Iowa, Des Moines Register columnist Kathee Obradovich passed along this line on Twitter,”.@GovMikeHuckabee says men like to go hunt/fish with other men. “Women like to go to the restroom with other women.”

“Yes, he really said that,” Obradovich said in an email to TPM on Wednesday, adding that she ultimately did not write a column about the event….

His joke about women going to the restroom together came after he challenged those in attendance to stand for their convictions, even if they have to do it alone.

You see, I have a concern that one of the reasons we lose battles we should win is because we wait to see whether or not the crowd is going to be with us. My question to you tonight — it’s nice to see a nice, full crowd of folks here in this wonderful Point of Grace Church — but I just wonder if you were the only one who showed up tonight, would you still be ready to take on the cause? Because the fact is we don’t like to do things by ourselves. We really don’t. Guys like to go fishing with other men. They like to go hunting with other men. Women like to go to the restroom with other women. I don’t get that. I can tell you this much: if I ever say, ‘I have to go to the restroom’ and some guy says, ‘I’ll go with you,’ he ain’t goin’ with me. That much I know.

I wonder what Huckabee will have to say about this? Papyrus Referring to Jesus’s Wife Is More Likely Ancient Than Fake, Scientists Say. The NYT reports:

jesus wife

A faded fragment of papyrus known as the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” which caused an uproar when unveiled by a Harvard Divinity School historian in 2012, has been tested by scientists who conclude in a journal published on Thursday that the ink and papyrus are very likely ancient, and not a modern forgery.

Skepticism about the tiny scrap of papyrus has been fierce because it contained a phrase never before seen in any piece of Scripture: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’ ” Too convenient for some, it also contained the words “she will be able to be my disciple,” a clause that inflamed the debate in some churches over whether women should be allowed to be priests.

The papyrus fragment has now been analyzed by professors of electrical engineering, chemistry and biology at Columbia University, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who reported that it resembles other ancient papyri from the fourth to the eighth centuries. (Scientists at the University of Arizona, who dated the fragment to centuries before the birth of Jesus, concluded that their results were unreliable.)

The Times hastens to add that

The test results do not prove that Jesus had a wife or disciples who were women, only that the fragment is more likely a snippet from an ancient manuscript than a fake, the scholars agree.

My response: There’s no proof he didn’t have a wife either, and the manuscript seems to suggest he might have.

I’ll end with this wonderful cartoon on reading over a lifetime by Lynda Barry, The 20 stages of reading. Check it out at the WaPo. I loved it and I think you will too!

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today? Please post your links in the comment thread.

 


Lazy Saturday Reads

cat computer sleeping

Good Morning!!

Southern California has been hit with a “5.1 magnitude earthquake” and “more than 100 aftershocks,” causing “relatively minor damage” according to the LA Times:

Most of the aftershocks have been small, but some were strong enough to be felt in the areas around the epicenter in northwestern Orange County…. Fullerton police said early Saturday that as many as 50 people had been displaced by the quake. Several buildings are being investigated for possible structural damage, including some apartment buildings. The quake, centered near La Habra, caused furniture to tumble, pictures to fall off walls and glass to break. Merchandise fell off store shelves, and there were reports of shattered plate glass windows. Residents across Orange and Los Angeles counties and the Inland Empire reported swinging chandeliers, fireplaces dislodging from walls and lots of rattled nerves.

The quake also caused a rock slide that damaged a car as well as numerous water main breaks.

Third-grade teacher Barbara Castillo and her 7-year-old son had just calmed their nerves after an earlier 3.6 temblor and sat down in their La Habra home when their dogs started barking and the second, larger quake struck, causing cabinet doors to swing open, objects to fall off shelves and lights to flicker. “It just would not stop, it was like an eternity,” said Castillo, an 18-year La Habra resident.

The search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 continues,

with various objects being reported by searchers, but this latest report from CNN is just nuts, Malaysia official: Maybe, just maybe, they’re alive.

Earlier this week, loved ones of those aboard missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 heard this: “All lives are lost.”

But Saturday, a Malaysian official met with relatives and then told reporters he had not closed the door on the possibility that survivors may exist among the 239 people aboard the Boeing 777-200 ER that went missing March 8.

“Even hoping against hope, no matter how remote, of course we are praying and we will continue our search for the possible survivors,” said Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s acting transportation minister.

“More than that, I told the families I cannot give them false hope. The best we can do is pray and that we must be sensitive to them that, as long as there is even a remote chance of a survivor, we will pray and do whatever it takes.”

How cruel can you get? In China relatives were alleging some kind of conspiracy.

“They’re all still alive, my son and everyone on board!” yelled Wen Wancheng, 63, whose only son was among the passengers. “The plane is still there too! They’re hiding it.”

He held aloft a banner that read: “Son, mom and dad’s hearts are torn to pieces. Come home soon!”

I can’t even begin to imagine the torture those people are going through. To give them false hope is incredibly irresponsible.

Please don’t skip over this brief but must-read piece on the ongoing scandal involving the US nuclear arsenal.

The Daily Beast: Cleaning House at Nuke Command Raises Bigger Issues.

Nine Air Force officers were fired Thursday and dozens more disciplined for their roles in a cheating scandal involving airmen in charge of the nuclear weapons arsenal. But one source familiar with the Air Force program told The Daily Beast that the punishments handed out were more show than substance, and that problems in the nuclear program go far deeper than what has been addressed so far. According to a retired senior Air Force officer familiar with the Global Strike Command (the headquarters responsible for the Air Force nuclear arsenal), who spoke with The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity, the punishments issued yesterday at the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana were a good show, but wouldn’t affect much substantive reform. “This issue needs leadership,” he said. “You’ve had two stars and three stars [general officers] running the reorganized nuclear enterprise of the U.S. Air Force who have been unable to raise morale, transform the culture and forestall this very type of thing.”

Read the rest at the link. I can’t understand why this scandal isn’t getting more attention. We’re talking about the people who are responsible for our nuclear weapons!

I have several articles on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

Russian troops massing near Ukraine border

Russian troops massing near Ukraine border

There have been reports in the past few days that Russian troops are gathering on the Ukraine border and medical and food stations are being set up. From The Wall Street Journal: Russian Buildup Stokes Worries; Pentagon Alarmed as Troops Mass Near Ukraine Border.

Russian troops massing near Ukraine are actively concealing their positions and establishing supply lines that could be used in a prolonged deployment, ratcheting up concerns that Moscow is preparing for another major incursion and not conducting exercises as it claims, U.S. officials said. Such an incursion could take place without warning because Russia has already deployed the array of military forces needed for such an operation, say officials briefed on the latest U.S. intelligence. (Follow the latest developments on the crisis in Ukraine.) The rapid speed of the Russian military buildup and efforts to camouflage the forces and equipment have stoked U.S. fears, in part because American intelligence agencies have struggled to assess Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s specific intentions. The troop movements and the concealment—involving covering up equipment along the border—suggest Mr. Putin is positioning forces in the event he decides to quickly expand his takeover of the Crimea peninsula by seizing more Ukrainian territory, despite Western threats of tighter sanctions.

On the other hand, Russian officials are publicly denying any plans to invade Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin called President Obama yesterday, supposedly to discuss diplomatic options. But can Putin be trusted? What would an invasion of Ukraine look like? Although, he suspects it won’t happen, Mark Galeotti at Business Insider provides an answer to that question.

In brief, the aim would be a blitzkrieg that, before Ukraine has the chance properly to muster its forces and, perhaps more to the point, the West can meaningfully react, allows the Russians to draw a new front line and assert their own ground truth, much as happened in Crimea (though this would be much more bloody and contested). This would not be a bid to conquer the whole country (the real question is whether they’d seek to push as far as Odessa, taking more risks and extending their supply lines, but also essentially depriving Ukraine of a coastline) but instead quickly to take those areas where there are potentially supportive local political elites and Russophone populations, and consequently pretexts (however flimsy) to portray invasion as ‘liberation.’

He goes on to explain in further detail, and it’s well worth reading. Here a few longer think pieces on Obama’s and Putin’s goals in the Ukraine crisis. Check them out if you have the time and inclination. Fareed Zakaria: Obama’s 21st-century power politics Mosaic: It’s Not Just Ukraine The Guardian: How Vladimir Putin’s actions in Crimea changed the world

In domestic political news . . .

Gallup reports some good news for Democrats: Young Americans’ Affinity for Democratic Party Has Grown. stmc_lm6lus16wuy9y-jyq

From 1993 to 2003, 47% of 18- to 29-year-olds, on average, identified as Democrats or said they were independents but leaned to the Democratic Party, while 42% were Republicans or Republican leaners. That time span included two years in which young adults tilted Republican, 1994 and 1995, when Republicans won control of Congress. Since 2006, the average gap in favor of the Democratic Party among young adults has been 18 percentage points, 54% to 36%. This Democratic movement among the young has come at a time when senior citizens have become more Republican. The broader U.S. population has shown more variability in its party preferences in recent years, shifting Democratic from 2005 to 2008, moving back toward the Republican Party from 2009 to 2011, and showing modest Democratic preferences in the last two years. A major reason young adults are increasingly likely to prefer the Democratic Party is that today’s young adults are more racially and ethnically diverse than young adults of the past. U.S. political preferences are sharply divided by race, with nonwhite Americans of all ages overwhelmingly identifying as Democrats or leaning Democratic.

In Texas, Greg Abbot is still acting like a complete idiot. From Think Progress: Sidestepping Equal Pay Attacks, Greg Abbott Tries To Accuse Wendy Davis Of Gender Discrimination. Huh?

Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis

Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis

Texas gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) faces continued tough scrutiny over his campaign’s position against equal pay for women. His campaign has twice justified the gender wage gap and implied he would veto an equal pay bill that makes it easier for women to sue. Instead of addressing the criticism directly, Abbott has chosen to fire back accusations that Wendy Davis, his opponent in the gubernatorial race, is “defending gender discrimination.” Over the last week, the Abbott campaign has posted Facebook ads that call Davis a hypocrite on the gender wage gap, linking to a petition on his site that describes a client Davis once reportedly defended:

Sen. Wendy Davis continues to launch attacks over equal pay while shielding her own record of defending gender discrimination. And while on the Fort Worth City Council, Sen. Davis approved funds to defend a former city employee with a “legs and lipstick” policy.

Here, Abbott is referring to a routine vote Davis cast as a city council member that granted legal counsel funds to a Fort Worth employer sued for harassment and discrimination.

Why on earth would anyone vote for this man? The media has been taking note of the sexist attacks on Chris Christie’s former aide Bridget Kelley. Amy Davidson has a summary at The New Yorker: Chris Christie, Surrounded by Emotional Liars? Check it out if you can. This might be a good sign for better reporting in the New York Times Magazine. Jake Silverstein editor-in-chief of Texas Monthly has been hired to revamp the stagnant NYT Sunday magazine.

Under Mr. Silverstein, Texas Monthly has been nominated for 12 National Magazine Awards and won four, including the general excellence prize.

In an interview on his new role at The Times Magazine, Mr. Silverstein said, “I think this is a remarkable moment for the magazine to commit to the kind of long-form impactful journalism that has made the magazine one of the most influential publications throughout its history.”

Mr. Silverstein, 38, holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Texas at Austin and became editor of Texas Monthly in 2008. He is only the fourth editor of that magazine, which published its first issue in February 1973.

In the Boston bombing trial . . .

Accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s attorneys have requested records of any FBI contacts with Dzhokhar’s older brother Tamerlan and any FISA court ordered surveillance of the Tsarnaev brothers. From the Boston Globe: FBI pushed elder Tsarnaev to be informer, lawyers assert.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Tamerlan Tsarnaev

Lawyers for accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asserted Friday that his older brother and alleged accomplice had been encouraged by the FBI to be an informant and to report on the Chechen and Muslim community, according to court records. “We seek this information based on our belief that these contacts were among the precipitating events for Tamerlan’s actions during the week of April 15, 2013, and thus material to the defense case in mitigation,” the lawyers said in their court filing. “We base this on information from our client’s family and other sources that the FBI made more than one visit to talk with Anzor [his father], Zubeidat [his mother] and Tamerlan, questioned Tamerlan about his Internet searches, and asked him to be an informant, reporting on the Chechen and Muslim community

“We do not suggest that these contacts are to be blamed and have no evidence to suggest that they were improper, but rather view them as an important part of the story of Tamerlan’s decline. Since Tamerlan is dead, the government is the source of corroboration that these visits did in fact occur and of what was said during them.”The lawyers suggested that Tamerlan Tsarnaev could have misinterpreted his interactions with the FBI as pressure from the agency, and that they could have “increased his paranoia and distress.” The defense wants to investigate those factors as it seeks to portray Tamerlan as a dominating family figure who may have pushed the younger Dzhokhar to take part in the April 15 bombings last year. Tamerlan was killed days after the bombings in a confrontation with police in Watertown. Good luck with prying anything loose from the FBI.

So . . . what stories are you following today? Please post your recommended links in the comment thread, and have a terrific weekend!


Lazy Saturday Reads: Weather, Spring Fever, Boston Bombing, Ukraine, and True Detective Spoilers

Calvin&Hobbes fireplace

It’s Saturday!!

Another snowstorm is coming, but it’s not yet clear how bad it will be or how much snow will fall in which areas. From the Weather Channel: Ice Storm Possible for Mississippi Valley, Ohio Valley; Snowstorm for West, Midwest, Northeast.

After a brief reprieve from blockbuster winter storms in the Midwest and East – and a much-too-lengthy reprieve in California – Winter Storm Titan is will lay down a swath of heavy snow from California to the East Coast, and also a swath of sleet and freezing rain from the Plains to the Mid-Atlantic States.

  • Saturday: The main event east of the Rockies will begin to unfold as snow spreads east across portions of the Plains, Upper Midwest and Great Lakes. For parts of the Northern Rockies, this will just be a continuation of snow from the previous, weaker disturbance. Widespread snow is likely across Wyoming, but will gradually wind down over western and southern Montana. Farther south the snow will be more tied to higher elevations. (See inset map for details.)
  • Sunday: The more significant part of Winter Storm Titan begins with snow, sleet and freezing rain becoming heavier. A stripe of significant ice accumulation is likely Sunday and Sunday night from the Ozarks through into the Mid-South region, Ohio Valley and West Virginia with snow farther north from the central Plains into the mid-Mississippi Valley and Ohio Valley. These threats spread into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Sunday afternoon and night.
  • Monday: Snow/sleet tapers off in the Ohio Valley Appalachians, but should linger in the Appalachians and along parts of the I-95 Northeast corridor much of the day, before ending off in the evening. Ice/sleet areas early in the day in the Mid-Atlantic states should changeover to snow Monday morning.

Calvin&Hobbes snow

Whatever. Winter is almost over. It’s March 1, and there are signs of spring–at least down at Fenway South in Ft. Myers, Florida (and many other spring training locations). Yesterday the Red Sox played their first Grapefruit League game against the Minnesota Twins, losing 8-2. But who cares? A hot new pitching prospect shut down the Twins for two innings, striking out four–a good sign for the upcoming season. Baseball is back, opening day is a little over a month away, and that means spring is coming!

OK, I know I’m being really provincial, but I’ll bet you’re seeing signs of Spring too. What is giving you hope for the end of this long, cold winter? Even the folks down south have suffered greatly this year.

One more Boston story. The FBI is claiming that accused Boston bomber Dzhohar Tsarnaev “made a damaging statement” in a visit with one of his sisters recently. Of course they won’t even give a hint as to what he said, so I don’t know what to make of it. The Boston Globe:

The filing said that Tsarnaev, despite the presence of the agent, who was legally allowed in the room, “was unable to temper his remarks and made a statement to his detriment which was overheard by the agent.”

The filing did not say what the statement was.

The filing was made as part of an ongoing battle between the prosecution and defense over special administrative measures, special prison restrictions, that have been imposed on Tsarnaev.

The defense says the prosecution is refusing to turn over information they need and that the FBI is monitoring their meetings with Tsarnaev and preventing them from developing their defense strategy. I think the feds need to keep in mind that they will have a Massachusetts jury–very few people here support the death penalty, and most potential jurors will be troubled by FBI efforts that might prevent a fair trial. After all, we just recently went through the Whitey Bulger trial, in which we heard endless tales of FBI abuses and we’re still waiting for an explanation as to why an agent from the Boston office shot Ibragim Todashev down in Orlando last May.

We’re coming up on the 2014 Boston Marathon, and we still have almost no explanations of what really happened during the Marathon bombing and the shootout in Watertown a few days later. And then there’s the Waltham triple murder, which the FBI is trying to pin on two dead guys–Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Ibrigim Todashev. Susan Zalkind summed up many of the questions in this month’s Boston Magazine coverstory: The Murders Before the Marathon. There wasn’t a whole lot of breaking news in the article, but it’s a very good summary of events so far.

There’s a lot happening in Ukraine. I’ll just give you a couple of links to check out, because I’m not qualified to comment on the situation–other than I’m sick of everyone expecting the U.S. to get involved in every crisis.

The latest from ABC News: Putin Asks Parliament to Use Military in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin asked parliament Saturday for permission to use the country’s military in Ukraine, moving to formalize what Ukrainian officials described as an ongoing deployment of Russian troops in the strategic region of Crimea.

Putin’s motion loosely refers to the “territory of Ukraine” rather than specifically to Crimea, raising the possibility that Moscow could use military force in other Russian-speaking provinces in eastern and southern Ukraine where many oppose the new authorities in Kiev….

He said the move is needed to protect ethnic Russians and the personnel of a Russian military base in Ukraine’s strategic region of Crimea. Putin sent the request to the Russian legislature’s upper house, which has to approve the motion, according to the constitution. The rubber-stamp parliament is certain to approve it in a vote expected Saturday.

In Crimea, the pro-Russian regional prime minister had earlier claimed control of the military and police there and asked Putin for help in keeping peace, sharpening the discord between the two neighboring Slavic countries.

Calvin war

President Obama warned yesterday that there would consequences for military intervention in Ukraine, but he didn’t specify any actions he would take. At this point, I think these warnings are just being ignored, because there is seldom any follow-up. As I said earlier, I don’t want to get involved in any more foreign conflicts. Let Europe deal with it if they want to. We have plenty of problems here at home that require government action.

From Reuters: West voices alarm on Crimea, calls on Russia to respect Ukraine sovereignty.

A week after violent protests forced Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovich to abandon power in Kiev, Ukraine’s new leaders say Russia is trying to take control of the southern Crimea region, which has a majority ethnic Russian population.

France, Britain and Germany issued calls for de-escalation in Crimea hours after U.S. President Barack Obama warned that military intervention in the region would be deeply destabilizing and “carry costs”.

“France is extremely concerned by the reports from Crimea, which describe significant troop movements,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement. “We call on the parties to abstain from acts that could raise tensions and affect Ukraine’s territorial unity.”

It does appear that Putin is intent on reviving the Cold War. I hope he’s not successful.

Tomorrow night we’ll get an other episode of True Detective–there are only two to go. I gathered a bunch more links in the past couple of days. Some of them have spoilers, so be careful. 

This is an older post, but it provides some very good background on the weird aspects of the story. From Grantland’s Molly Lambert, Carcosa or Bust: The Satisfyingly Weird Mysteries of ‘True Detective’. Just a taste:

Hallucinatory spirals, talk of “black stars” rising in the sky, dead women trussed up like ancient horned gods and tattooed with mysterious symbols, all supposedly in reference to Robert W. Chambers’s fairly obscure weird fiction classic The King in Yellow? Damn, True Detective, you’ve given me a lot to absorb.

Where is the show going with its recently clarified Lovecraftian ties? Does it even really matter, when the ride is this great? The most satisfying part of a mystery is rarely its resolution. Sustained anticipation is much of the thrill. Like earlier TV mysteries Twin PeaksThe X-Files, and Lost, True Detective is a show with its own internal mythology, which taunts both the protagonists and viewers with signs just beyond our comprehension. When some bits of information are guaranteed to be important later, every single bit of information feels like a potential clue. Attempting to read a show scene by scene and pluck out exactly what will prove crucial from a galaxy of visual and verbal details can feel absolutely maddening….

You can spend endless amounts of time pondering True Detective’s more concrete questions, let alone the existential ones. Are the wooden triangles strewn around the sites of the ritualistic murders pagan symbols, bird traps, or neither? Given creator Nic Pizzolatto’s professed affection for weird fiction, were Reggie Ledoux’s gas mask and the reference to a “green-eared spaghetti monster” meant to invoke Cthulhu, the giant octopus monster that signals cosmic doom in the work of seminal horror writer H.P. Lovecraft? Is the mystery even going to get solved?True Detective’s flashback structure accentuates the gaps in our knowledge. Everything we know is gleaned from flashbacks and interrogations, but there’s no guarantee that future information won’t flip our perspective. Hell, there’s no guarantee that Rust and Marty’s flashbacks are accurate. After all, if we can see Rust’s subjective hallucination of birds assembling into a spiral in the sky, who’s to say we’re not seeing other events from his subjective perspective too? This kind of theorizing, not baseless but impossible to prove conclusively, will make you feel like True Detective’s detectives. Maybe the show’s obsessions with madness, reality, and truth really are contagious.

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Then read Lamberts latest post: Five Things to Consider for This Week’s Episode of ‘True Detective’. She has some good questions.

A guy at Reddit did some sleuthing and came up with some photos posted by True Detective crew members. Here’s a link to a lot of photos, some from the upcoming episodes. I looked at them, and got some sense of what’s coming, but not much more than I got from the teaser trailer. They didn’t ruin the suspense for me. Just be warned if you want to stay completely in the dark.

A few more links to explore as we wait for tomorrow night to roll around:

Rolling Stone: The Dark Thrills of ‘True Detective’

Forbes: The Business Of HBO’s ‘True Detective’

Slate: The True DetectiveGlossary

Complex Pop Culture: Pictures of You: “True Detective” and the Dilemma of the Dead Woman’s Photograph

International Business Times: ‘True Detective’ Season 1 Spoilers: What’s On The Video Tape In Episode 7? Theories On Hart’s Daughter And Connection To The Yellow King

Now what’s on your mind today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread, and have a great weekend!!


Saturday News Potpourri

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Good Morning!!

I have quite a few articles to share this morning, a real Saturday potpourri! So let’s get started. First up, on Thursday Attorney General Eric Holder gave a wide-ranging interview to Ari Melber of MSNBC, and quite a bit of breaking news came out of it. Here are some of the resulting headlines: NY Daily News: Eric Holder: Could talk deal with NSA-leaker Edward Snowden, but no clemency

Holder told MSNBC that the Obama Administration “would engage in a conversation” about a resolution in the case, but said it would require Snowden acknowledge wrongdoing…. At a University of Virginia forum, where Holder was asked about Snowden, he  elaborated on his position, saying, “If Mr. Snowden wanted to come back to the United States and enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers. We would do the same with any defendant who wanted to enter a plea of guilty, so that is the context to what I said.” But he stressed that the NSA leaker would not walk. “We’ve always indicated that the notion of clemency isn’t something that we were willing to consider.”

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Seattle PI: Holder: Marijuana banking regulations on the way

Attorney General Eric Holder says the Obama administration is planning to roll out regulations soon that would allow banks to do business with legal marijuana sellers. During an appearance Thursday at the University of Virginia, Holder said it is important from a law enforcement perspective to enable places that sell marijuana to have access to the banking system so they don’t have large amounts of cash lying around. Currently, processing money from marijuana sales puts federally insured banks at risk of drug racketeering charges. Because of the threat of criminal prosecution, financial institutions often refuse to let marijuana-related businesses open accounts.

There’s a good piece about this at Forbes, but they won’t even let you copy their headlines anymore. Mediaite: Eric Holder: Voter ID Used to ‘Depress the Vote’ of People Who Don’t Support GOP

Attorney General Eric Holder sharply criticized state-level voter identification policies and said that he believes those policies are a “remedy in search of a problem.” He added that, while some may be arguing for voter ID in good faith, he believes that most are advocating for this policy in order to “depress the vote” of those who do not support the “party that is advancing” voter ID measures. “I think many are using it for partisan advantage,” Holder said of voter ID. “People have to understand that we are not opposed to photo identification in a vacuum,” he continued. “But when it is used in — certain ways to disenfranchise particular groups of people, whether by racial designation, ethnic origin, or for partisan reasons, that from my perspective is problematic.” He added that “all the studies” show that in-person voter fraud “simply does not exist” at a level that requires a legislative solution.

Politico: Eric Holder: Timing of Robert Gates book release ‘a mistake’

Attorney General Eric Holder waded into the controversy over former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s new book Thursday, calling it “a mistake” for Gates to have published his recollections before President Barack Obama left the White House. “It’s my view that it’s just not a good thing thing to write a book about a president that you served while that president is still in office,” Holder said during an appearance at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “From my perspective I think the world of Bob Gates, but I think that the publication of that book — at least at this time — was a mistake.” [….] In the course of offering his critique of the timing of Gates’s book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” Holder twice praised the former defense secretary for his leadership. “I like Bob Gates a great deal. He was a good secretary of defense,” the attorney general said.

LA Times: Holder says no bank ‘too big to indict,’ more financial cases coming

“I think people just need to be a little patient,” Holder said, according to a transcript of an interview with MSNBC to air at noon Pacific time Friday. “I know it’s been a while. But we have other things that are in the pipeline.” [….] Holder has taken heat for telling a Senate hearing last year that some financial institutions were “so large that it becomes difficult to prosecute them” because criminal charges could hurt the U.S. and even world economies. Since then Holder has tried to emphasize that the Justice Department is not intimidated by the size of a financial institution and would bring any charges it believed it could prove.

As I said, quite a bit of news out of one interview. Good job by Ari Melber.

In other news . . .

The Economist has a brief article that provides some background on the situation in Ukraine: On the march in Kiev –The protests turn nasty and violent, but the president is not giving ground. ukraine-protests-2

JANUARY 22nd was meant to mark Ukraine’s unity day, a celebration of its short-lived pre-Soviet independence. Instead, it was a day of civil unrest and perhaps the biggest test of Ukraine’s post-Soviet integrity. After two months of largely peaceful encampment on the Maidan in Kiev, the protests turned violent. Five people were reported killed and hundreds were injured. An armoured personnel carrier pushed through the streets. Clouds of black smoke and flames mottled the snow-covered ground. Never in its history as an independent state has Ukraine witnessed such violence. It was triggered by the passage of a series of repressive laws imposing tight controls on the media and criminalising the protests of the past two months. One law copied almost verbatim a Russian example, including stigmatising charities and human-rights groups financed from abroad as “foreign agents”. If Russian human-rights activists denounce their parliament as a “crazy printer” churning out repressive legislation, says Oleksandra Matviichuk of the Centre for Civil Liberties in Kiev, Ukraine has a “crazy photocopier”. The clashes show vividly the refusal of the protesters to heed such laws.

Brian Glyn Williams, the U. Mass Dartmouth professor who interacted with Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and recommended some sources of information on Chechnya for a report Tsarnaev was writing, has a post up at HuffPo on how the history of Chechya and Dagestan is coming back to haunt the Winter Olympics in Russia: The Dark Secret Behind the Sochi Olympics: Russia’s Efforts to Hide a Tsarist-Era Genocide. Here’s the conclusion:

The twin bombings in Volgograd in late December 2013 and an earlier one in October are clearly meant to show the Russians that the Chechen-Dagestani terrorists have reignited their terror jihad. They are also meant to remind the world of the tragedy that befell the Circassians of the Caucasus’s Black Sea shore exactly 150 years ago this winter. This is the dark secret that Russia’s authoritarian leader, Putin, does not want the world to know. Putin has thus far been very successful in conflating Russia’s neo-colonial war against Chechen separatists with America’s war on nihilist Al Qaeda Arab terrorists. Any attempt to remind the world of Imperial Russia/Post-Soviet Russia’s war crimes in the Caucasus is a threat to Putin’s pet project, the whitewashed Sochi Olympics. This of course not to excuse the brutal terroristic acts of the Caucasian Emirate or the Chechen rebels, but it certainly provides the one thing that Putin does not want the world to see as he constructs his “Potemkin village” in Sochi, and that is an honest account of the events that have made this the most terrorist fraught Olympic games since the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

erik prince Remember Erik Prince, the Michigan millionaire who founded Blackwater? Guess what he’s doing these days? The WSJ has the scoop: Erik Prince: Out of Blackwater and Into China. Erik Prince —ex-Navy SEAL, ex-CIA spy, ex-CEO of private-security firm Blackwater —calls himself an “accidental tourist” whose modest business boomed after 9/11, expanded into Iraq and Afghanistan, and then was “blowtorched by politics.” To critics and conspiracy theorists, he is a mercenary war-profiteer. To admirers, he’s a patriot who has repeatedly answered America’s call with bravery and creativity.

Now, sitting in a boardroom above Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, he explains his newest title, acquired this month: chairman of Frontier Services Group, an Africa-focused security and logistics company with intimate ties to China’s largest state-owned conglomerate, Citic Group. Beijing has titanic ambitions to tap Africa’s resources—including $1 trillion in planned spending on roads, railways and airports by 2025—and Mr. Prince wants in…. “I would rather deal with the vagaries of investing in Africa than in figuring out what the hell else Washington is going to do to the entrepreneur next,” says the crew-cut 44-year-old. Having launched Blackwater in 1997 as a rural North Carolina training facility for U.S. soldiers and police, Mr. Prince says he “kept saying ‘yes’ as the demand curve called—Columbine, the USS Cole and then 9/11.” In 100,000 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, he says, Blackwater contractors never lost a U.S. official under their protection. But the company gained a trigger-happy reputation, especially after a September 2007 shootout that left 17 civilians dead in Baghdad’s Nisour Square. At that point, charges Mr. Prince, Blackwater was “completely thrown under the bus by a fickle customer”—the U.S. government, and especially the State Department. He says Washington opted to “churn up the entire federal bureaucracy” and sic it on Blackwater “like a bunch of rabid dogs.” According to Mr. Prince, IRS auditors told his colleagues that they had “never been under so much pressure to get someone as to get Erik Prince,” and congressional staffers promised, “We’re going to ride you till you’re out of business.”

Awwwwww…..Poor little rich boy. Where’s my tiny violin?

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Speaking of entrepreneurs, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ plans for his latest acquisition–The Washington Post–are becoming clearer, as he hires more right wing libertarians for the op-ed page. Now Pando Daily reveals what Don Graham is up to now that he’s dumped the family business: The company formerly known as WaPo moves into tech apps.

Today, the company formerly known as WaPo — now called Graham Holdings – has announced a new business endeavor in journalism. Surprisingly, said endeavor doesn’t have much to do with actual journalism at all — it falls squarely in the tech camp. It’s a content discovery app called Trove. Trove fits in the now-torrential trend of such applications. Companies like Flipboard,Prismatic, Rockmelt, and N3twork have all tread this ground long before Trove. They’re all convinced that places like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS readers are not good enough for finding the best stories…. The two men behind Trove have rich and storied histories. Vijay Ravindran, the CEO of Trove, served as The Washington Post’s Chief Digital Officer before the sale, and ran ordering at Amazon for seven years before that. Reuters oped columnist Jack Shafer even divpredicted (incorrectly) that Ravindran would be named the new WaPo publisher after the sale. The other Trove heavyweight is product lead Rob Malda, who is also the co-founder and former editor-in-chief of Slashdot — the predecessor of every user-focused news aggregator since, from Digg to Reddit to Hacker News.

Read all about it at the above link.

A few short takes:

In other tech news, CSM’s Security Watch reports that Booz Allen, Snowden’s old firm, looking to help US government with ‘insider threats’. Author Dan Murphy asks, “Are defense and intelligence contractors the best choice to manage a threat they’ve contributed to?” Read it and weep.

According to Fox News, gun manufacturers Smith & Wesson and Ruger will no longer do business in California because they don’t want to comply with a new CA law that allows law enforcement to trace bullets to the individual gun they came from. After all, why would gun companies want to help police catch murderers? Unbelievable!

Did you know that this month is the 50th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant satire, Dr. Strangelove? IMHO, it is one of the funniest movies of all time. Well, Eric Schlosser has a not-so-funny article about it at The New Yorker: ALMOST EVERYTHING IN “DR. STRANGELOVE” WAS TRUE. Don’t miss this one; it’s a must read!

Apparently the latest food craze to emerge from San Francisco is “artisanal toast.” How did toast become the latest artisanal food craze? Ask a trivial question, get a profound, heartbreaking answer. John Gravois writes about it at Pacific Standard: The Science of Society. Weird.

A silly test to take at Buzzfeed: Which Pop Diva Are You? I got Pink. I know nothing about her…but she looks kinda cool. PINK

Finally, I posted this link in the comments recently, but I don’t know if anyone looked at it. I’m posting it again, because I think it’s absolutely adorable. It’s some glamour shots of elderly people having fun dressing up and posing as various movie heroes and heroines. Here’s just one example:

"Easy Rider": Walter Loeser (l.), 98, & Kurt Neuhaus, 90

“Easy Rider”: Walter Loeser (l.), 98, & Kurt Neuhaus, 90

I hope you found something to tickle your fancy in this potpourri of articles. Now it’s your turn. Please post your recommended links in the comment thread, and have a wonderful weekend!