Tuesday Reads: So Much Breaking News!

Photo by Stanley Kubrick for Life Magazine

Photo by Stanley Kubrick for Life Magazine

Good Morning!!

I have some serious news reads for you this morning, but–just because it’s a feel-good story–I’m going to begin with one more Market Basket update. The Boston Globe published an article yesterday about the Market Basket store I shop at in, in Burlington, MA: A Market Basket store, returning to life. Recall that the shelves were mostly empty when the employees returned to work on Thursday morning.

The doors of the tractor-trailer open on a bounty of chicken, Swiss cheese, and sliced onions.
A swarm of grocery clerks in blue jackets and managers in red descends on the loading dock, using hand-operated electric jacks to spear pallets of food that the workers stack in the cavernous storage rooms in the back of the Market Basket supermarket….

Bob McKeown fills a display case with fresh-from-the-fryer doughnuts, a few garnished with smiley faces made of jelly. Samantha Bond decorates a cake to honor the moment, etching the words “Market Basket Strong” in icing and an image of the yellow giraffe that served as the employees’ mascot of sorts during the protest — for “sticking their necks out.” ….

This Market Basket store in Burlington came back to life over the last few days, resuscitated by a cadre of employees eager to get to work after the six-week protest that forced the return of Arthur T. Demoulas as head of the family food empire. Like the others in the 71-store chain, the Burlington store was the scene of a rapid restocking, a huge task involving thousands of pounds of produce, meat, bread, canned goods, and other groceries….

The first morning back had been about congratulations and hugs and handshakes as customers came in more to talk to employees than to shop. Amid the celebrations, workers admitted to anxious moments during the stoppage. They worried their defiance would cost them their jobs — “I’ve been living on antacids for the last six weeks,” one said — and couldn’t wait to get back to the unglamorous but satisfying routine of running a supermarket.

That routine had returned in full by early Friday.

It’s a nice story, and I’m so happy for these workers. Isn’t it great that this happened over Labor Day weekend?

Now for the not-so-upbeat news . . .

reading_on_train

NBC News reports, Terror Leader Linked to Kenya Mall Massacre Targeted by U.S. Strike.

The U.S. military launched an airstrike in Somalia on Monday targeting the leader of the al Qaeda-affiliated group behind the Kenya mall massacre. U.S. officials told NBC News that a military drone launched Hellfire missiles at at least two vehicles in a remote area of southern Somalia. Sources said Ahmed Abdi Godane, the top leader of al Shabab, was the attack’s target. Al Shabab claimed responsibility for last September’s Westgate Mall siege that left at least 67 dead and around 200 injured. One U.S. security source described Godane as “operationally savvy and ideologically driven, with aspirations off the charts.”

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said in a statement late Monday that “we are assessing the results of the operation and will provide additional information as and when appropriate.” Godane has served as the group’s leader since a U.S. airstrike killed his predecessor Aden Hashi Ayro in 2008. In October, U.S. commandos launched raids in Somalia seeking to capture Godane, who is also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr. Reuters reported that Godane’s close associate, Ahmed Mohamed Amey, was killed by a U.S. airstrike in January. In an online audio message following the Westgate Mall massacre, Godane said Kenya should be “prepared for an abundance of blood that will be spilt in your country.” Al Shabab, which means “The Youth” in Arabic, seized much of southern Somalia in 2006 before Somali forces and African peacekeeping troops ousted it five years later.

Photo of NY subway by Walker Evans

Photo of NY subway by Walker Evans

AP reports (via ABC News) that 6 militants were killed in the raid. There aren’t a lot of details as yet, but here’s a backgrounder on al-Shabab from The Council on Foreign Relations. Here’s the introduction and information on how the group began.

Al-Shabab, or “The Youth,” is an al-Qaeda-linked militant group and U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization fighting for the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic state in Somalia. The group, also known as Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen, and its Islamist affiliates once held sway over Mogadishu and major portions of the Somali countryside, but a sustained African Union military campaign in recent years has weakened the group considerably. Still, security analysts warn that the group remains the principal threat in a politically volatile, war-torn state.

Al-Shabab’s terrorist activities have mainly focused on targets within Somalia, but it has also proven an ability to carry out deadly strikes in the region, including coordinated suicide bombings in Uganda’s capital in 2010 and a deadly raid on a Nairobi mall in 2013. Washington fears the group, which has successfully recruited members of the Somali-American diaspora, may orchestrate strikes on U.S. soil. In recent years, the United States has pursued a two-pronged policy in Somalia: providing funding, training, and logistical support to UN-backed African forces battling al-Shabab, while escalating counterterrorism operations including Special Forces and armed drones….

Somalia, one of the most impoverished countries in the world, has seen a number of radical Islamist groups come and go in its decades-long political tumult. The group analysts cite as al-Shabab’s precursor, and the incubator for many of its leaders, is Al-Ittihad Al-Islami (aka Unity of Islam), a militant Salafi extremist group that peaked in the 1990s after the fall of the Siad Barre military regime (1969-1991) and the outbreak of civil war.

AIAI, which sought to establish an Islamist emirate in Somalia, sprang from a band of Middle Eastern-educated Somali extremists and was partly funded and armed by al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. Many of its fighters, including current al-Shabab commanders, fled the country and fought in Afghanistan in the late 1990s after being pushed out by the Ethiopian army and its Somali supporters. The group was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department in the days after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In 2003, a rift developed between AIAI’s old guard, which had decided to create a new political front, and youth members who sought the establishment of a “Greater Somalia” under fundamental Islamic rule. The hardliners eventually joined forces with an alliance of sharia courts, known as the Islamic Courts Union, serving as its youth militia in the battle to conquer Mogadishu’s rivaling warlords. Al-Shabab and the ICU wrested control of the capital in June 2006, a victory that stoked fears of spillover jihadist violence in neighboring Ethiopia, a majority Christian nation.

Much more at the CFR link.

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Yesterday, U.S. planes carried out an operation against ISIS militants in Iraq. Reuters: U.S. planes strike militants near Iraq’s Amreli, airdrop aid.

President Barack Obama authorized the new military action, broadening U.S. operations in Iraq amid an international outcry over the threat to Amerli’s mostly ethnic Turkmen population.

U.S. aircraft delivered over a hundred bundles of emergency supplies and more aid was dropped from British, French and Australian planes, officials said, signaling headway in Obama’s efforts to draw allies into the fight against Islamic State.

Iraqi army and Kurdish forces closed in on Islamic State fighters on Saturday in a push to break the Sunni militants’ siege of Amerli, which has been surrounded by the militants for more than two months.

Armed residents of Amerli have managed to fend off attacks by Islamic State fighters, who regard the town’s majority Shi’ite Turkmen population as apostates. More than 15,000 people remain trapped inside.

“At the request of the government of Iraq, the United States military today airdropped humanitarian aid to the town of Amerli, home to thousands of Shia Turkmen who have been cut off from receiving food, water, and medical supplies for two months by ISIL,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said, using an alternative name for Islamic State.

“In conjunction with this airdrop, U.S. aircraft conducted coordinated air strikes against nearby ISIL terrorists in order to support this humanitarian assistance operation,” he said, adding that a key objective was to prevent a militant attack on civilians in the town.

nyc_subway_riders_with_their_newspapers

President Obama is headed to Estonia today and then to Wales for the NATO Summit. CBS News reports, Russia and ISIS take center stage on Obama’s Europe trip.

President Obama leaves for Europe Tuesday with stops in Estonia and a NATO summit in Wales amid escalating crises in Ukraine and in Iraq and Syria, crises that are having a direct impact on a number of European nations.

While the Russian threat in Ukraine will be the focus of the upcoming summit, the meeting also puts President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel face to face with European countries who may be willing to join the U.S. in dealing with the other crisis in Iraq and Syria.

Officially, however, NATO says it doesn’t want to be involved in dealing with the Islamic militant group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that has swept across Iraq and Syria and poses a growing threat to the U.S. and parts of Western Europe that might be targeted by foreign fighters.

Why is Obama stopping in Estonia?

“It is clearly not accidental that the president has decided to stop in Estonia on the way to the NATO Summit. The two stops are essentially part of the same effort to send a message to the Russians that their behavior is unacceptable,” said Charles Kupchan, the White House’s senior director for European Affairs.

Estonia, like Ukraine, has a large Russian population and is concerned about the potential of pro-Russian unrest there too. But Kupchan said Mr. Obama will send the message that the Article 5 commitment to common defense of other nations is ironclad.

“Russia, don’t even think about messing around in Estonia or in any of the Baltic areas in the same way you have been messing around in Ukraine,” Kupchan said the president would relay to allies there.

Mr. Obama will meet with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and also speak to young people there.

Read more details about the NATO Summit at the link.

Why-do-people-read-newspapers

According to the New York Times, Russia is already making plans to respond to expected NATO actions.

MOSCOW — With NATO leaders expected to endorse a rapid-reaction force of 4,000 troops for Eastern Europe this week, a senior Russian military official said on Tuesday that Moscow would revise its military doctrine to account for “changing military dangers and military threats.”

In an interview with the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, the official, Mikhail Popov, deputy secretary of Russia’s military Security Council, called the expansion of NATO “one of the leading military dangers for the Russian Federation.”

Mr. Popov said Russia expected that leaders of NATO would seek to strengthen the alliance’s long-term military presence in Eastern Europe by establishing new military bases in the region and by deploying tanks in Estonia, a member of NATO that borders Russia.

“We believe that the defining factor in our relationship with NATO remains the unacceptability for Russia of plans to move military infrastructures of the alliance to our borders, including by means of expanding the bloc,” Mr. Popov said.

And so, we move closer to the possibility of another world war. At least that’s what Ann Applebaum of Slate suggested recently: Putin has invaded Ukraine. Is it hysterical to prepare for total war with Russia? Or is it naive not to? It’s brief and to the point, so please give it a read.

subway reading2

The New York Times also has an important story about the sex-trafficking scandal in Great Britain. I read about it at the Guardian a few days ago, but we haven’t discussed it here. The Times reports, Years of Rape and ‘Utter Contempt’ in Britain. Here’s the introduction:

ROTHERHAM, England — It started on the bumper cars in the children’s arcade of the local shopping mall. Lucy was 12, and a group of teenage boys, handsome and flirtatious, treated her and her friends to free rides and ice cream after school.

Over time, older men were introduced to the girls, while the boys faded away. Soon they were getting rides in real cars, and were offered vodka and marijuana. One man in particular, a Pakistani twice her age and the leader of the group, flattered her and bought her drinks and even a mobile phone. Lucy liked him.

The rapes started gradually, once a week, then every day: by the war memorial in Clifton Park, in an alley near the bus station, in countless taxis and, once, in an apartment where she was locked naked in a room and had to service half a dozen men lined up outside.

She obliged. How could she not? They knew where she lived. “If you don’t come back, we will rape your mother and make you watch,” they would say.

At night, she would come home and hide her soiled clothes at the back of her closet. When she finally found the courage to tell her mother, just shy of her 14th birthday, two police officers came to collect the clothes as evidence, half a dozen bags of them.

But a few days later, they called to say the bags had been lost.

“All of them?” she remembers asking. A check was mailed, 140 pounds, or $232, for loss of property, and the family was discouraged from pressing charges. It was the girl’s word against that of the men. The case was closed.

God, what a horrible story! Here’s a related post at The Daily Beast, The Psychology of Sex Slave Rings, by Charlotte Lytton. Lytton asks a controversial question, “are grooming rings endemic within certain cultures?”

subway reading1

Back in the USA, CNN reports that the FBI is investigating a hacker who released nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and several other female celebrities over the weekend. That’s good news. I hope they put catch the culprit and put him in prison for a very long time.

Here’s a little political news from Reuters, via Huffington Post: Eric Cantor To Join Investment Bank Moelis & Co. As Vice Chairman And Managing Director.

Former U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will join investment bank Moelis & Co as vice chairman and managing director, the company said, adding that Cantor will also be elected to its board….

“Eric has proven himself to be a pro-business advocate and one who will enhance our boardroom discussions with CEOs and senior management as we help them navigate their most important strategic decisions,” Moelis CEO Ken Moelis said in a statement.

And finally, Politico writes: WHY THERE (PROBABLY) WON’T BE A SHUTDOWN

The apparent (but not finalized) decision by the White House to push executive action on immigration reform past the November midterms means there is no forcing mechanism to create a shutdown fight when government funding runs out Sept. 30th. Qorvis’ Stan Collender, a top budget expert, emails: “I never thought a shutdown was likely this fall (next March is another issue), but in a rational world delaying action on immigration should kill any chance of one happening. Then again — Benghazi, Obamacare, etc”

So, those are this morning’s breaking news headlines. What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a terrific Tuesday!


Saturday Reads: Remembering the Soundtrack to the ’60s, and Other News

Husband and wife singer songwriting team Goffin and King rehearse during a recording session in a New York studio in 1959. (h/t NY Daily News)

Husband and wife singer songwriting team Goffin and King rehearse during a recording session in a New York studio in 1959. (h/t NY Daily News)

Good Morning

On Thursday we lost another 1960s music great; Gerry Goffin, who wrote lyrics to Carole King’s music died at 75. The talented couple wrote the songs that accompanied my teenage years–so much great music associated with so many memories.

From the Guardian Gerry Goffin: the poet laureate of teenage pop:

Gerry Goffin, a trainee chemist who became the poet laureate of teenage pop, specialised in coming up with a great opening line to grab the audience’s attention. Plenty of people will remember the first time they heard “Tonight you’re mine completely/ You give your love so sweetly,” from Will You Love Me Tomorrow, or “Looking out on the morning rain/ I used to feel so uninspired,” from (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. But he didn’t stop there.

Buried a little deeper in those wonderful songs are the lines that really touched his young listeners’ hearts. The words to the bridge, or middle section, of that first Shirelles hit from 1960 were almost like poetry: “Tonight with words unspoken/ You say that I’m the only one/ But will my heart be broken/ When the night meets the morning sun?” And when Goffin presented Aretha Franklin with the second verse of A Natural Woman – “When my soul was in the Lost and Found, you came along to claim it” – he gave countless ordinary lovers a way to express their deepest feelings.

Misleadingly, they are often called “Carole King songs”. She wrote the tunes, and later on she would sing them when, after Goffin and King divorced, she embarked on a hugely successful solo career. But whenever King sang her own, gentler versions of the Chiffons’ One Fine Day or the Drifters’ Up on the Roof, she was still singing Goffin’s words. They were written by the man she had met when she was 17 and he was 20, and with whom she had two daughters while they lived in an apartment in the Queens housing project LeFrak City – and with whom she travelled to work in Manhattan every day at their cubicle in the offices of Aldon Music at 1650 Broadway, where they pumped out hit after hit after hit.

Goffin King

From The New York Times: Gerry Goffin, Hitmaking Songwriter With Carole King, Dies at 75:

Mr. Goffin and Ms. King were students at Queens College when they met in 1958. Over the next decade they fell in love, married, had two children, divorced and moved their writing sessions into and out of 1650 Broadway, across the street from the Brill Building. (The Brill Building pop music of the late 1950s and ‘60s was mostly written in both buildings.)

Together they composed a catalog of pop standards so diverse and irresistible that they were recorded by performers as unalike as the Drifters, Steve Lawrence, Aretha Franklin and the Beatles. They were inducted together into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. In 2004 the Recording Academy presented them jointly with a Trustees Award for lifetime achievement.

The couple’s writing duties were clearly delineated: Ms. King composed the music, Mr. Goffin wrote the lyrics — among them some of the most memorable words in the history of popular music.

“His words expressed what so many people were feeling but didn’t know how to say,” Ms. King said in a statement on Thursday.

A bit more about Goffin:

Gerald Goffin was born on Feb. 11, 1939, in Brooklyn and grew up in Jamaica, Queens. He began writing lyrics as a boy — “like some kind of game in my head,” he recalled once — but found he was unable to come up with satisfying music to accompany them.

He graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School before enrolling at Queens College. He was three years older than Ms. King, studying chemistry, when they met in the spring of her freshman year.

He asked her to help him write a musical. She was interested in rock ‘n’ roll. They hit it off anyway, and she was pregnant with their first child when they married on Aug. 30, 1959.

Gerry Goffin

Gerry Goffin

After the couple divorced in 1968, King went on to become a singer and songwriter in her own right, although the two continued to collaborate and maintained a friendship. Goffin married again and and the couple had five children.

In addition to his wife, [Michelle] Mr. Goffin’s survivors include four daughters, Louise Goffin, Sherry Goffin Kondor, Dawn Reavis and Lauren Goffin; a son, Jesse Goffin; six grandchildren; and a brother, Al.

Goffin and King’s first hit was “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” which they wrote in 1960 for the girl group the Shirelles. After the song hit #1 on the charts in 1961, Goffin quit his job as a chemist and began working full-time as a lyricist.

Goffin’s lyrics deftly touch on the doubt that lurks behind all new romances. As sung by Shirelles’ leader Shirley Owens in unflappable manner, the song doesn’t skimp on the wonder inherent in any fresh coupling. But it’s also unflinchingly realistic about the possibility that the fairy dust will dissolve at dawn.

“Can I believe the magic in your sighs?” Owens pointedly asks her paramour. In the bridge, Goffin’s words flow like champagne even as they fear the possible hangover: “Tonight with words unspoken/You’ll say that I’m the only one/But will my heart be broken/When the night meets the morning sun.” King’s melody plays a big role in the overall effect, arching high in the verses and middle eight while accompanied by strings that elegantly trip across the proceedings like moonlight dancers, before coming back down to Earth for the interrogative refrain.

In other news . . .

At Salon, Simon Malloy writes about the multiplying Republican scandals: GOP’s sudden scandal-mania: Why criminal probes and infighting are taking over the party.

It’s fashionable right now to talk about the premature end of Barack Obama’s presidency. He’s fast approaching the second half of his second term, which is historically the beginning of lame-duck season. His poll numbers aren’t what anyone would call ideal, and Republicans (in concert with some excitable members of the press) are rushing to proclaim the Obama presidency dead. “I saw a commentator today say that these polls, what they reflect, is that the Obama presidency is over,” Sen. Marco Rubio said, referring to NBC’s Chuck Todd. “And I agree with that. I think it is, in general.” Speaker John Boehner told reporters at his weekly press briefing yesterday: “You look at this presidency and you can’t help but get the sense that the wheels are coming off.” ….The funny thing is that as Republicans team up with pundits to chisel out Obama’s epitaph, the Republican Party itself is falling to pieces right before our eyes.

Yesterday’s news that Scott Walker and Chris Christie sinking deeper into their respective scandals is as good a sign as any of the GOP’s political disintegration. After Obama crushed Mitt Romney in 2012, Republicans began casting about for their 2016 redeemer, and Christie and Walker were high on the list. They won conservative hearts with their antagonism toward unions, but they had also found a way to win in reliably Democratic states. If the GOP hoped to take on candidate-in-waiting Hillary Clinton, they’d need someone who could peel away some Democratic voters. Walker had talked about the need to nominate an “outsider” like himself in 2016.

Now Christie and Walker are implicated in criminal investigations. Prosecutors in Wisconsin placed Walker at the center of a “criminal scheme” to coordinate campaign spending with outside groups. In New Jersey, the investigation stemming from the George Washington Bridge scandal is reportedly closing in on Christie himself. For both men, once considered potential saviors of the GOP, the political future looks considerably dimmer.

Read Malloy’s take on it at the link.

At FiveThirtyEightPolitics, David Wasserman has a long article on “What we can learn from Eric Cantor’s defeat.” You really need to read the whole thing, but here’s a small excerpt that deals with the contribution of public distrust of Congress:

Cantor was only the second House incumbent to lose a primary this year (the first was Texas Republican Ralph Hall), but the warning signs of discontent were abundant: Plenty of rank-and-file House incumbents had been receiving startlingly low primary vote shares against weak and under-funded opponents, including GOP Reps. Rodney Davis of Illinois, Lee Terry of Nebraska and David Joyce of Ohio. In fact, just a week before Cantor’s defeat and without much fanfare, socially moderate Rep. Leonard Lance of New Jersey received just 54 percent of the Republican primary vote against the same tea party-backed opponent he had taken 61 percent against in 2012.

Overall, 32 House incumbents have taken less than 75 percent of the vote in their primaries so far this year, up from 31 at this point in 2010 and just 12 at this point in 2006. What’s more, 27 of these 32 “underperforming” incumbents have been Republicans.1

In other words, while Congress’s unpopularity alone can’t sink any given member in a primary, it has established a higher baseline of distrust that challengers can build on when incumbents are otherwise vulnerable. And as the sitting House Majority Leader, Cantor was uniquely susceptible to voters’ frustration with Congress as an institution.

There’s much more interesting analysis at the link.

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George Will’s recent column on campus rapes is still in the news. From Talking Points Memo, George Will’s Latest: College Rape Charges Fueled By ‘Sea Of Hormones And Alcohol’.

Will explained that he took issue with the practice of adjudicating campus sexual assault cases by a “preponderance” of evidence, rather than hitting the bar of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. That flies in the face of due process, he argued, and ultimately harms young men’s future prospects.

“What’s going to result is a lot of young men and young women in this sea of hormones and alcohol, that gets into so much trouble on campuses, you’re going to have charges of sexual assault,” he said. “And you’re going to have young men disciplined, their lives often permanently and seriously blighted by this — don’t get into medical school, don’t get to law school, all the rest.”

Four Democratic senators reached out to Will after his column was published to torch the conservative columnist’s “ancient beliefs.” Will said he wrote a letter back to the senators and laid out his rebuttal in the C-SPAN interview.

“What I say is that: A) I take sexual assault more seriously than I think they do, because I agree that society has correctly said that rape is second only to murder as a serious felony,” Will said. “And therefore, when someone is accused of rape, it should be reported to the criminal justice system that knows how to deal with this, not jerry-built, improvised campus processes.”

“Second, I take, I think, sexual assault somewhat more seriously than the senators do because I think there’s a danger now of defining sexual assault so broadly, so capaciously, that it begins to trivialize the seriousness of it,” he added. “When remarks become sexual assault, improper touching — bad, shouldn’t be done, but it’s not sexual assault.”

Well, we can’t have young men’s lives “blighted” by rape charges. Much better for young women to just suck it up and deal with a years of post-traumatic stress on their own and keep their complaints to themselves.

Whatever you do, don’t miss this TBogg post at Raw Story: Gentleman George Will is getting damned tired of having to explain rape to you guttersnipes.

Victorian gas-pipe and Her Majesty’s Curator of Rape To The Colonies, George Will, has just about had it up to here with you people — YES, YOU PEOPLE.

And especially you. Don’t think by closing your laptop he can’t see you, because he can.

Oh yes, he most certainly can, you loathsome wastrel.

t seems that, after explaining the ins and out of rape to you ungrateful curs, he was shocked and dismayed to discover that you promiscuous info-trollops on the intertubes are unable to comprehend the pearls of wisdom that he dispenses to the riff-raff gratis, courtesy of Ye Olde Washminster Poste.

Hush now, let Gentleman George condescend to speak down to you and try, fruitlessly no doubt, to explain once again that rape is what George Will says rape is

Now go read the rest at the link. You won’t be sorry.

This sounds like it could do some good: Google commits $50M to encouraging girls to code (CNet)

Google wants to see more women in technology, and it’s funding a $50 million initiative to encourage girls to learn how to code in an effort to close the gender gap.

Thursday night the company kicked off the Made with Code initiative here with celebrities former first daughter Chelsea Clinton and actress and comedienne Mindy Kaling.

Kaling, who emceed the event, said she has tons of ideas for apps but no idea to how make them work. She said she’d like to create a “What’s his deal?” app that takes a picture of guy and tells you whether he’s single, married, a weirdo, or what his car is like. Another idea is a Shazaam-like app for perfume.

“People my age have a million ideas for apps,” she said. “But we have no idea how to build them. Last week in the movies, I didn’t even know how to turn off the flashlight on my phone.”

Kaling isn’t alone. Women are woefully under-represented in the technology industry. Only about 20 percent of software developers in the US are women, according to the Labor Department. Last month, even Google admitted only 17 percent of its tech workers are women.

A bit more possible good news from the BBC: US sets up honey bee loss task force.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the agriculture department will lead the effort, which includes $8m (£4.7m) for new honey bee habitats.

Bee populations saw a 23% decline last winter, a trend blamed on the loss of genetic diversity, exposure to certain pesticides and other factors.

A quarter of the food Americans eat, including apples, carrots and avocados, relies on pollination.

Honey bees add more than $15bn in value to US agricultural crops, according to the White House.

The decline in bee populations is also blamed on the loss of natural forage and inadequate diets, mite infestations and diseases.

There has also been an increase in a condition called colony collapse disorder (CCD) in which there is a rapid, unexpected and catastrophic loss of bees in a hive.

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


Monday Reads

Owl reading

Good Morning!!

There’s not a lot of good news to report this morning except that the Miami Heat lost the NBA championship last night, cementing LeBron James’ reputation as a choker. He couldn’t win in Cleveland, and he can’t lead in Miami. He’s just all about LeBron.

The situation in Iraq is getting more dire. I’m sure you heard about the reported mass executions of Iraqi troops by ISIS militants yesterday. From The New York Times:

BAGHDAD — Wielding the threat of sectarian slaughter, Sunni Islamist militants claimed on Sunday that they had massacred hundreds of captive Shiite members of Iraq’s security forces, posting grisly pictures of a mass execution in Tikrit as evidence and warning of more killing to come.

The possible mass killing came as militants cemented control of the city of Tal Afar, west of Mosul, after two days of fierce clashes with Iraqi troops, residents and senior security officials said. The city came under mortar attack, sending residents fleeing toward Sinjar in the north, which is under control of Kurdish pesh merga troops. Residents said the militants freed dozens of prisoners.

BAGHDAD — Wielding the threat of sectarian slaughter, Sunni Islamist militants claimed on Sunday that they had massacred hundreds of captive Shiite members of Iraq’s security forces, posting grisly pictures of a mass execution in Tikrit as evidence and warning of more killing to come.

The possible mass killing came as militants cemented control of the city of Tal Afar, west of Mosul, after two days of fierce clashes with Iraqi troops, residents and senior security officials said. The city came under mortar attack, sending residents fleeing toward Sinjar in the north, which is under control of Kurdish pesh merga troops. Residents said the militants freed dozens of prisoners.

Lovely. “War Crimes” hardly seems strong enough to characterize such horrendous acts.

In an atmosphere where there were already fears that the militants’ sudden advance near the capital would prompt Shiite reprisal attacks against Sunni Arab civilians, the claims by ISIS were potentially explosive. And that is exactly the group’s stated intent: to stoke a return to all-out sectarian warfare that would bolster its attempts to carve out a Sunni Islamist caliphate that crosses borders through the region.

The sectarian element of the killings may put more pressure on the Obama administration to aid Iraq militarily. In fact, the militants seemed to be counting on it. A pronouncement on Sunday by the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had a clear message for the United States: “Soon we will face you, and we are waiting for this day.”

Owl2

CNN reports that some U.S. embassy staff in Iraq have been moved to another location.

The Iraqi air force struck back at the militant group ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, killing more than 200 militants, Iraqi state TV reported Monday morning. The air raids took place in Saqlawiyah, northwest of Fallujah, according to a graphic run by state TV.

ISIS has been ruthlessly fighting to take control of Iraq and has apparently posted chilling photos on jihadi Internet forums seeming to show the executions of Iraqi security forces.

ISIS, an al Qaeda splinter group, wants to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, that would stretch from Iraq into northern Syria. The group has had substantial success in Syria battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces.

According to The Washington Post, the insurgents have captured American equipment and may be in possession of “advanced radios” that would make them much more effective.

Iraq’s security forces, propped up by American equipment and weapons, have been routed by a contingent of insurgents bent on extending their territory from strongholds in Syria deep into Iraq. As Mosul and other cities fell, the West saw a host of images of once-American Humvees and helicopters firmly in the hands of its enemies.

Outrage followed shock, as years of effort in Iraq by the U.S. military seemed to unravel in a coup-de-grace that played out over the Internet. Analysts speculated that the newly seized weapons and vehicles could turn fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria into an even stauncher foe.

Yet, among the towed Black Hawk helicopters, Howitzer cannons and Humvees plastered all over social media lies an unseen weapon that could make the ISIS fighters exponentially more lethal if employed properly: advanced radio equipment.

Read more at the link.

Owl3

Iran is sending in troops to aid the insurgents, according to CNN.

What’s happening in Iraq now has all the makings of a civil war — and a full-blown foreign policy crisis. The United States is mulling direct talks with Iran while it boosts security at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad with military personnel.

Why Iran? In recent days, Iran has sent hundreds of troops to fight alongside Iraqi government security forces in Diyala province, a senior security official in Baghdad told CNN.

The article summarizes the latest events on the ground as of early this morning. Finally, an editorial in The Independent UK states bluntly that

The outside world, starting with the United States, cannot hope to reverse the course of events in Iraq by intervening on the ground, and President Barack Obama was right to rule out US troops going back there.

However, that doesn’t mean taking up an observer’s seat as the region descends into ever greater chaos. Washington should encourage the tentative rapprochement between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, both of which are starting to see just how dangerous the Sunni-Shia power struggle is becoming to each of them. We should do our utmost to shore up the defences of vulnerable but still stable states in the region, such as Jordan.

Western countries could also afford to be more generous in helping to address the humanitarian aspect of the latest crisis. Britain has so far offered an extra £3m to help tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the advance of Isis, most of whom are now camping in Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq. It goes without saying that they do not have access to things like the best survival backpack or basic nutrition, it hardly seems an adequate gesture.

With any luck, the Sunnis in Syria and Iraq will at some point turn against their self-styled deliverers in Isis. In that case, it is vital that the Shia-dominated regime in Baghdad comes under pressure to keep the door open to talks about some kind of federal option for the Sunnis, and for the Kurds. It is late in the day for Iraq even to try to play with the federalisation option, but just possibly some kind of gossamer-thin state can be salvaged from the current mess. Right now, none of the options looks good, but despair is not the answer.

In other news,

Owl4

Chelsea Manning has broken her silence with an op-ed in the Sunday New York Times in which she harshly criticizes the methods used by the military to control press coverage of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and–presumably–the U.S. media’s acquiescence to that control. For example,

If you were following the news during the March 2010 elections in Iraq, you might remember that the American press was flooded with stories declaring the elections a success, complete with upbeat anecdotes and photographs of Iraqi women proudly displaying their ink-stained fingers. The subtext was that United States military operations had succeeded in creating a stable and democratic Iraq.

Those of us stationed there were acutely aware of a more complicated reality.

Military and diplomatic reports coming across my desk detailed a brutal crackdown against political dissidents by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and federal police, on behalf of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Detainees were often tortured, or even killed.

Read much more at the link.

Speaking of media co-option, the NYT has an interesting op-ed by long-time reporter David Carr about the media’s failure to anticipate Eric Cantor’s stunning defeat in Virginia’s primary last week.

It’s now clear why the primary defeat of the House majority leader,Eric Cantor, came so completely out of the blue last week: Beltway blindness that put a focus on fund-raising, power-brokering and partisan back-and-forth created a reality distortion field that obscured the will of the people.

But that affliction was not Mr. Cantor’s alone; it is shared by the political press. Reporters and commentators might want to pause and wipe the egg off their faces before they go on camera to cluck-cluck about how Mr. Cantor, Republican of Virginia, missed signs of the insurgency that took him out. There was a lot of that going around, and the big miss by much of the political news media demonstrates that news organizations are no less a prisoner of Washington’s tunnel vision than the people who run for office.

All politics is local, which may explain why The Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Chesterfield Observer both took David Brat’s Tea Party challenge to Mr. Cantor seriously, but few of the publications inside the District that follow the majority leader’s every wiggle and wobble sensed that he was leaving the home fires dangerously unattended….

The same forces that keep politicians penned up within a few blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue work on journalists as well. No one wants to stray from the white-hot center of power for fear of being stuck in some forsaken locale when something big happens in Washington — which is why it has become one of the most overcovered places on earth.

This problem is compounded by the “diminution” of regional newspapers. Read more at the link.

Owl5

I haven’t had time to work through the whole thing yet, but Alec MacGillis has a long profile of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker that seems worth a read: The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker: A journey through the poisonous, racially divided world that produced a Republican star.

I’ll end with some exciting science news from The Boston Globe: Boston-Led Team Developing ‘Bionic Pancreas’ for Diabetics.

Scientists have made big progress on a ‘‘bionic pancreas’’ to free some people with diabetes from the daily ordeal of managing their disease. A wearable, experimental device passed a real-world test, constantly monitoring blood sugar and automatically giving insulin or a sugar-boosting drug as needed, doctors said Sunday.

The device improved blood-sugar control more than standard monitors and insulin pumps did when tested for five days on 20 adults and 32 teens. Unlike other artificial pancreases in development that just correct high blood sugar, this one also can fix too-low sugar, mimicking what a natural pancreas does.

The device was developed at Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston University. Results were featured Sunday at an American Diabetes Association conference in San Francisco and were published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.

More from NPR: Father Devises A ‘Bionic Pancreas’ To Help Son With Diabetes. Very interesting!

I have a few more links that I’ll post in comments.

So . . . what else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread.


Wednesday News

news montage

Good Morning!!

I’m still excited by the demise of Eric Cantor’s last night. Suddenly it feels as if there’s hope the GOP will finally give up the ghost and either return to something approaching the political center or else go the way of the dodo bird. I’m going to get you started with some headlines, because I haven’t heard anything from JJ. I hope all is well in Banjoville.

Here are a few headlines on the Eric Cantor loss–many writers are referring to it in earthquake terms.

From CNN: Cantor ‘earthquake’ rattles Capitol Hill

In a year when mainstream Republicans have mostly bested tea party-backed challengers, a little-known and little-funded tea party challenger in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District pulled the upset of the year, defeating House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by 10 percentage points.

The victory by economics professor Dave Brat gives the tea party an instant jolt of energy, sends shock waves through Capitol Hill, shakes up the GOP House hierarchy — as Cantor was seen by many as the next speaker — and effectively kills any chance of immigration reform passing through the House any time soon.

“I think this is a scale eight earthquake. I think it will shock the Washington establishment; it will shock the House Republicans,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said.

In a year when mainstream Republicans have mostly bested tea party-backed challengers, a little-known and little-funded tea party challenger in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District pulled the upset of the year, defeating House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by 10 percentage points.

The victory by economics professor Dave Brat gives the tea party an instant jolt of energy, sends shock waves through Capitol Hill, shakes up the GOP House hierarchy — as Cantor was seen by many as the next speaker — and effectively kills any chance of immigration reform passing through the House any time soon.

“I think this is a scale eight earthquake. I think it will shock the Washington establishment; it will shock the House Republicans,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said.

Chris Cillizza: The seismic political consequences of Eric Cantor’s stunning loss.

The defeat of the second-ranking Republican in the House by an ill-funded, little-known tea party-backed candidate ranks as the biggest congressional upset in modern memory and will immediately generate a series of political and policy-related shock waves in Washington and the Richmond-area 7th District.

“People don’t know how to respond because it’s never been contemplated,” said one Virginia Republican strategist, granted anonymity to speak candidly about Cantor’s loss. (Worth noting: Cantor didn’t just lose. He got walloped; David Brat, his challenger, won 56 percent to 44 percent.)

In conversations with a handful of GOP operatives in the aftermath of Cantor’s loss —  a loss blamed largely on an inept campaign consulting team that misread the level of vitriol directed at the candidate due to his place in Republican leadership and the perception he supported so-called “amnesty” for illegal immigrants — there were several common threads about what it means for politics inside and outside the House.

Read Cillizza’s take on the reasons at the link.

Ben Jacobs at The Daily Beast: How Eric Cantor Sabotaged Himself.

The shock defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by college professor Dave Brat is the type of upset that audiences wouldn’t believe in a Disney movie. Perhaps the most cinematic twist is that, at least in part, Cantor did this to himself. A toxic mix of ignoring grassroots Republicans in his district and becoming a lightning rod on the controversial issue of immigration reform meant that a future Speaker of the House became a former congressman Tuesday night.

Cantor, the second most senior Republican in the House of Representatives, lost his primary Tuesday night to the largely unknown Tea Party candidate, who ran on an anti-immigration platform by a margin of 56-44.

Despite Cantor’s reputation as a strident partisan conservative nationally, his support for some form of immigration reform and ties to his party’s pro-business wing made him persona non grata among Tea Partiers and immigration hawks. Yet, his race never made it on the radar for most groups. While talk show host Laura Ingraham vocally condemned Cantor and Daily Caller writer Mickey Kaus beat the drum for Brat, few others on the right viewed the race as even potentially winnable.

The Boston Globe called attention to a map of the 74 (that’s right, 74!) school shootings that have taken place since Newtown. The map was designed by Gongloff.

 

Map shootings

That comes to 1.37 school shootings per school week! And that’s not counting the many other mass shootings that we’ve had and who knows how many accidental shootings of children. Isn’t it high time we did something about this bloodbath? More from the Globe:

Your gut feeling is right: School shootings have skyrocketed in recent years. In January 2013, the Ploychart blog tracked the number of American school shootings since 1979, using data from Jessie Klein’s book “The Bully Society.” Starting with three confirmed shootings in 1979, the number of shootings per year slowly swell, jumping to the upper single-digits in the late 80s and through the 90s.

The shootings actually dipped at the start of the new millennium, but skyrocketed in 2006. What was once the high-water mark for shootings in a year–nine–became the floor. In 2009, there were 18 school shootings. There were 16 in 2010 and eight in 2011.

Stein’s data ends in 2011. Everytown tracked 37 for 2013 and 37 so far in 2014. The Everytrown and Stein data sets don’t follow the same methodology, so they should not be viewed as one piece (meaning don’t just add the Everytown data to the end of the Stein data). Still, the trend is undeniably going in the wrong direction.

The way humans act sometimes, it kind of makes you wonder if we are really the smartest animals on Earth. Now check this out from C/NET: Chimps outsmart humans at simple strategy game.

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have found that chimpanzees at the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute are consistently better at humans when playing simple competitive games.

In one game, called the Inspection Game, chimps and humans played a variation on hide-and-seek. In pairs of their own species (humans and chimps did not directly compete with each other for the study), the players sit back-to-back, each with a computer screen in front of them. After pushing a circle on the screen, they have to choose one of two boxes, right or left. They are then shown their opponent’s selection.

Each player has a different role. The “mismatchers” have to choose the opposite of their opponent’s selection, while the “matchers” have to choose the same as their opponent’s selection. Each game lasted 200 rounds, and players that “won” a round were given a reward. In order to consistently win, players had to be able to anticipate their opponent’s choices.

In game theory, there is a concept known as the Nash equilibrium. This means the balance that can be achieved when each player knows their opponent’s strategies, but has nothing to gain by changing their own strategy. The 16 Japanese students participating in the study performed as expected: slow to learn their opponents’ strategies, and not reaching the Nash equilibrium.

The six chimpanzees, however, learned the game and their opponents’ moves rapidly, very nearly reaching the Nash equilibrium, even when the researchers swapped the chimps’ roles and introduced higher rewards for specific choices. As the game changed, the chimps changed their strategies accordingly.

We’ve had an epidemic of school bus accidents lately, and there was a terrible on in Connecticut yesterday. From The Boston Globe: Crash of 2 School Buses Sends 20 Kids to Hospital.

TORRINGTON, Conn. (AP) — More than two dozen people were taken to hospitals with mostly minor injuries after a five-vehicle chain-reaction crash in Torrington involving two school buses and three other vehicles.

Police said a woman in one of the cars was flown to Hartford Hospital with serious injuries. Her condition wasn’t immediately released.

Police said a pickup truck ran into the back of the woman’s Jeep SUV at about 3:45 p.m. Tuesday, pushing it into the rear of a small school bus. The smaller bus then rear-ended the larger bus, and a third car also was struck.

Tim Lebouthiller, a spokesman for Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington, said the 20 children on the buses were treated and released. He said seven adults were brought to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and most had been evaluated and released by mid-evening Tuesday.

What else is happening? I look forward to reading your thoughts and clicking on your links in the comment thread.


Tuesday Reads

fenway-park-richard-ramsey

Good Morning!!

Yesterday was opening day for baseball–a sure sign of spring! The Orioles beat the Red Sox 2-1. In past years this morning’s headlines would have jokingly read “Wait Until Next Year.” But that was the old 20th century Red Sox. Now they’ve won three World Series championships in the 21st century–including last year–Boston fans have calmed down a bit. We can wait a few weeks to see how the season develops.

On the day off today, the Read Sox are excited to be heading to the White House to meet President Obama and will also pay a visit to Walter Reed hospital.

As a reward for winning last year’s World Series, President Barack Obama cordially invited the defending champs for a ceremony to recognize their accomplishment, and the ceremony will air live on MLB.com starting at 11:30 a.m. ET.

“I think any time you have a chance to speak to the Commander in Chief, that’s a rare opportunity,” said manager John Farrell. “And for all of us that are going tomorrow, to meet him in person, to experience the White House, we know the reason why we’re there and it’s a fun day, it’s a unique day. I think it will be a good experience by all.”

Sox righty Jake Peavy has been to the White House before, but never as a World Series champion.

“Tomorrow, we will celebrate what happened,” said Peavy. “Pretty neat day when you experience what we’re going to experience tomorrow. I look forward to that.”

The Red Sox, as they did in conjunction with their White House visits in 2005 and ’08, will also pay a visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and visit with some of the heroes who served the country.

malaysia-airline-370-boeing-777

I haven’t watched CNN lately, but last night I accidentally turned it on and they were still talking about missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. This morning’s breaking news is that Malaysia either lied or made a big mistake about the “last words from the cockpit” before the plane disappeared.

Weeks ago, Malaysian authorities said the last message from the airplane cockpit was, “All right, good night.”

The sign-off to air traffic controllers, which investigators said was spoken by the plane’s copilot, was among the few concrete details officials released in a mystery that’s baffled investigators since the Boeing 777 disappeared with 239 people aboard on March 8.

There’s only one problem. It turns out, it wasn’t true.

On Tuesday, Malaysia’s Transport Ministry released the transcript of the conversations between the Flight 370’s cockpit and air traffic control. The final words from the plane: “Good night Malaysian three seven zero.”

Malaysian authorities gave no explanation for the discrepancy between the two quotes. And authorities are still trying to determine whether it was the plane’s pilot or copilot who said them.

You can read the full transcript at ABC News: Malaysia Airlines MH370: Full transcript of flight’s cockpit communication released. Searchers are still looking for the wreckage, but in just a week the plane’s black box will go silent.

Obamacare replacement

Today is April Fool’s Day; I can’t stand practical jokes, so I was planning to ignore it until I saw this headline at Roll Call: Cantor Says GOP Finishing Work on Obamacare Alternative, Details Agenda.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., reiterated on Friday that the House plans to bring up a bill to replace President Barack Obama’s health care law.

In a memo to members laying out the House agenda for the remainder of the winter, Cantor noted that the replacement is being finalized, and said that in the meantime, Republicans will work to target parts of the law with which they disagree.

“As we continue to work to finalize our Obamacare replacement plan, we will also act to highlight and address the serious consequences of the law,” he said.

That just has to be an April Fool’s joke, right? I guess not, because yesterday Fox News’ Jenna Lee badgered Sen. Lindsey Graham about when the Obamacare replacement would be ready. From Think Press:

During an interview with the network, Graham agreed that his party should introduce a unified health care proposal. But Lee persisted, pressing him for more details. “Why do you think Republicans can put together a better plan to get the trust back in government?” she asked. “What are Republicans putting out there that says to the American, people, ‘no, you can trust us. If you don’t trust what is happening now, trust us?’”

Some of Graham’s suggestions:

“I think it is good for the Republican party to have a plan of its own to insure Americans without losing your doctor and bankrupting the country,” Graham agreed. “Let’s start with the idea that pre-existing illnesses should not deny you coverage, that means you’re gonna have to have pools for the really sick, but why would you want to deny somebody insurance because they got sick? Allowing children to stay on the policies up to they’re 26 makes sense given this economy and buying policies across state lines makes a lot of sense to me.”

Ooops! Those proposals are already part of Obamacare. You can watch Graham ramble on about the horrors of Obamacare at The link.

Meanwhile ACA sign-ups surged yesterday, which was supposed to be the last day to enroll in a plan. Time Magazine: Obamacare Hits a Milestone With Enrollment Goal in Reach.

A last-minute push to insure millions of low-income Americans jammed phone lines and slowed down an enrollment websiteahead of a key deadline Monday, but the Obama Administration was close to declaring a tentative victory when it signaled early Tuesday that an enrollment goal, which had seemed almost impossible to reach just months ago, was now tantalizingly close.

Officials hailed record traffic to the federal health-insurance-exchange website as vindication of the politically divisive law. HealthCare.gov, the site whose hobbled launch in October became a political punch line and threw the initiative’s viability into doubt, recorded more than 3 million visits on Monday, officials said, the last day of a closely watched sign-up period. More than 1 million calls were reportedly placed to an enrollment call center as of 8 p.m., and the Administration said early Tuesday morning that the site was briefly shutting down so engineers could refocus on providing relevant post-enrollment information. The Associated Press, citing unnamed government officials, said enrollment was on track to hit the Administration’s target of 7 million Americans newly insured. As many as 100,000 people have started but not yet finished the process, and last-minute exemptions paved the way for them to complete enrollment after the deadline.

cheney-cartoon-torture

Yesterday the WaPo published some leaked information from the Senate report on torture during the Bush administration. We knew this before, of course, but the report concludes that the CIA repeatedly lied to Congress about the effectiveness of the “enhanced interrogation” program.

A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that the CIA misled the government and the public about aspects of its brutal interrogation program for years — concealing details about the severity of its methods, overstating the significance of plots and prisoners, and taking credit for critical pieces of intelligence that detainees had in fact surrendered before they were subjected to harsh techniques.

The report, built around detailed chronologies of dozens of CIA detainees, documents a long-standing pattern of unsubstantiated claims as agency officials sought permission to use — and later tried to defend — excruciating interrogation methods that yielded little, if any, significant intelligence, according to U.S. officials who have reviewed the document.

“The CIA described [its program] repeatedly both to the Department of Justice and eventually to Congress as getting unique, otherwise unobtainable intelligence that helped disrupt terrorist plots and save thousands of lives,” said one U.S. official briefed on the report. “Was that actually true? The answer is no.”

The report also revealed internal disagreement within the CIA about the use of torture. Some employees were horrified while others pushed for more torture even after it was clear it wasn’t working. The report also revealed some new information:

The report describes previously undisclosed cases of abuse, including the alleged repeated dunking of a terrorism suspect in tanks of ice water at a detention site in Afghanistan — a method that bore similarities to waterboarding but never appeared on any Justice Department-approved list of techniques.

Much more to read at the link.

Meanwhile, Dick Cheney continued to wholeheartedly defend the Bush administration’s use of torture. Dick Cheney Defends Waterboarding: ‘The Results Speak for Themselves’

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Friday dismissed accusations that he is a war criminal and defended the Bush administration’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding, stating that he would “do it all over again.”

“Some people called it torture. It wasn’t torture,” Cheney said in an interview on American University’s television station, according to American’s student newspaper The Eagle. “If I would have to do it all over again, I would. The results speak for themselves.”

“More than two dozen” American University students protested Cheney’s appearance by walking out during his speech and yelling “walk out of war criminals.”

Ken Dilanian

At the LA Times, national security reporter Ken Dilanian reported on an interview with outgoing NSA director Keith Alexander, and cited some of NSA’s successes in saving lives of soldiers in Iraq.

In nearly nine years as head of the nation’s largest intelligence agency, Gen. Keith Alexander presided over a vast expansion of digital spying, acquiring information in a volume his predecessors would have found unimaginable.

In Iraq, for example, the National Security Agency went from intercepting only about half of enemy signals and taking hours to process them to being able to collect, sort and make available every Iraqi email, text message and phone-location signal in real time, said John “Chris” Inglis, who recently retired as the NSA’s top civilian.

The overhaul, which Alexander ordered shortly after taking leadership of the agency in August 2005, enabled U.S. ground commanders to find out when an insurgent leader had turned on his cellphone, where he was and whom he was calling.

“Absolutely invaluable,” retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former U.S. commander in Iraq, said in an interview as he described the NSA’s efforts, which led to the dismantling of networks devoted to burying roadside bombs.

Alexander “sped the place up,” Inglis said.

Dana Priest

Dana Priest

But Dilanian points out that Alexander is more likely to be remembered for the Snowden hack than anything positive NSA has done. Alexander was confused by the public reaction to Snowden’s revelations.

Ten months after the disclosures began, Alexander remains disturbed, and somewhat baffled, by the intensity of the public reaction.

“I think our nation has drifted into the wrong place,” he said in an interview last week. “We need to recognize that those who are working to protect our nation are not the bad people.”

Snowden’s PR man and protector Glenn Greenwald wasted no time before attacking Dilianian--a well respected reporter–as a propagandist and shill for the government. He also seemed to imply the same about the Washington Post’s Dana Priest when he linked to a July 2013 article she wrote on NSA’s efforts to identify terrorists. Greenwald writes:

[W]henever it suits the agency to do so–meaning when it wants to propagandize on its own behalf–the NSA casually discloses even its most top secret activities in the very countries where such retaliation is most likely. Anonymous ex-officials boasted to the Washington Post last July in detail about the role the agency plays in helping kill people by drones. The Post dutifully headlined its story: “NSA Growth Fueled by Need to Target Terrorists.”

And now, Keith Alexander’s long-time deputy just fed one of the most pro-NSA reporters in the country, the Los Angeles Times‘ Ken Dilanian, some extraordinarily sensitive, top secret information about NSA activities in Iraq, which the Times published in an article that reads exactly like an NSA commercial….

John “Chris” Inglis just revealed to the world that the NSA was–is?–intercepting every single email, text message, and phone-location signal in real time for the entire country of Iraq.

Obviously, the fact that the NSA has this capability, and used it, is Top Secret. What authority did Chris Inglis have to disclose this?

Wait– Didn’t Snowden and Greenwald already reveal these NSA capabilities and methods? Yes, yes they did, and now new methods have to be developed. And besides, the executive branch has the authority to declassify information. The story even named Inglis as the source, and he didn’t reveal any specific methods.

But Greenwald thinks Inglis should be prosecuted instead of Snowden. Because, you know, spying to save lives in Iraq is evil. I get that Greenwald believes that any spying by the U.S. is wrong (although spying and human rights violations are OK for other countries such as China and Russia); but I have to say calling reporters Ken Dilanian and Dana Priest is a bit over the top, to put in mildly.

Those are my reading suggestions today. What stories are you following? Please share your links in the comment thread.

 

 

 


Saturday Reads

Dec. 7, 1941: The destroyer Shaw's forward magazine explodes after being struck during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (LA Times).

Dec. 7, 1941: The destroyer Shaw’s forward magazine explodes after being struck during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (LA Times).

Good Morning!!

Today is Pearl Harbor Day, “a date which will live in infamy,” December 7, 1941. From the LA Times:

An Associated Press story on the Dec. 8, 1941, front page of the Los Angeles Times reported:

Japan assaulted every main United States and British possession in the Central and Western Pacific and invaded Thailand today (Monday) in a hasty but evidently shrewdly-planned prosecution of a war began Sunday without warning.

Her formal declaration of war against both the United States and Britain came 2 hours and 55 minutes after Japanese planes spread death and terrific destruction in Honolulu and Pearl Harbor at 7:35 a.m. Hawaiian time (10:05 a.m., P.S.T.) Sunday.

The claimed successes for the fell swoop included sinking of the United States battleship West Virginia and setting afire of the battleship Oklahoma.

On Dec. 8, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt started his famous speech:

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives: Yesterday, Dec. 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

Within an hour, Congress passed a declaration of war against Japan, bringing the United States into World War II. On Dec. 11, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.

There are more dramatic photos at the link. There aren’t many survivors of that day left, but at least two of them talked to news outlets yesterday. From the Denver Post:

COLORADO SPRINGS — No one asked Navy Lt. James Downing to hurriedly memorize the names on the dog tags of the dead and injured during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

But Downing, then 28, did it because he could not bear the thought of families not knowing the fate of their loved ones. He wrote to as many families as he could.

The Colorado Springs resident, who celebrated his 100th birthday in August, is the oldest known survivor of the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese sneak attack that killed more than 2,400 Americans .

Downing fought to save lives that day, all the while wondering whether it was the day his own life would end.
Downing was a gunner’s mate 1st class and postmaster, assigned to the USS West Virginia. The battleship had just returned to base after more than a week on patrol.

His wife of five months, Morena, was cooking Sunday morning breakfast for a few servicemen in the couple’s home near the harbor when they heard explosions in the distance, Downing said.

“Then an anti-aircraft shell landed right outside and blew a crater about 25 feet across,” Downing said, illustrating with outstretched arms.

In those days, there was no way for survivors to let their families know they were okay–it took until Christmas for some to be able to to contact loved ones. Another Pearl Harbor survivor, Richard Pena, spoke to Huffington Post.

It was life and business as usual for Navy veteran Richard Pena until the bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor just before 8 a.m. on December 7, 1941.

Pena was eating breakfast and was about to head out for his morning duty as quartermaster to raise the flag when the attack started, he told HuffPost Live. As far as he recalls, the flags never went up that day, Pena said.

Before the attack, Pena said he and his fellow officers were living “the good life” stationed in Hawaii. Coming from San Antonio, Texas, it was his first time away from home.

“In the blinking of an eye, a split second, your life is turned topsy-turvy,” Pena reminisced. “It’s hard to describe what you’re feeling. People tell you you’ve trained for this all the time, but you didn’t know that it was going to happen the way it did.”

 

Back in December 2013, much of the country is dealing with stormy weather. CNN reports: Power outages, travel nightmare — and snow in Vegas?

More sleet and subfreezing temperatures are predicted to hit areas from Dallas to Memphis until Sunday, and Little Rock, Arkansas, until Monday.

The nation’s capital will not be spared from the cold either. Snow or sleet is forecast for Washington on Sunday.

In the central Appalachians through central New England, snow is expected into early Saturday morning, the National Weather Service said.

In addition to the plummeting temperatures, the drastic swings were startling. Hot Springs, Arkansas, experienced a record high of 75 on Wednesday. By Friday, it was in the middle of an ice storm.

The Dallas/Fort Worth area is among the hardest hit. It will have a high of 27 degrees Saturday, a day after the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport canceled almost 700 flights, about 80% of those scheduled.

And, yes, Las Vegas will be in the 20’s over the weekend.

The bad weather across the South and Midwest came from winter storm Cleon. Out in the Northwest, winter storm Dion is gearing up to rush across the country, impacting the south and moving up into the Northeast. You can get live updates on Dion here. For once, eastern New England could be one of the least affected areas. We got some freezing rain last night and the streets are slippery this morning, but it’s no big deal. The only other impact on us will probably be some sleet and freezing rain on Monday morning. I’m really feeling for those of you who are suffering from these storms. Trust me, I know what you’re going through! Here are some of the records that have been set around the the country:

  • Denver: Record low of -13 degrees on Wednesday beat the old record of -5 degrees set in 2008. Thursday’s low of -15 tied the daily record. Denver dropped to -13 degrees on Saturday morning, tying another record low.
  • Ely, Nev.: Record low of -17 degrees on Wednesday crushed the old record of -5 degrees.
  • Great Falls, Mont.: Record low of on Wednesday topped the old record of 22 degrees below zero.
  • Casper, Wyo.: Record low of -22 degrees on Wednesday beat the old record of -11 degrees set in 1972.
  • Medford, Ore: Record low of 18 degrees on Wednesday and a record low of 14 on Thursday. According to the National Weather Service, this is the coldest air mass in the city since 1998.
  • Portland, Ore. and Astoria, Ore.: Three straight days with daily record lows through Tuesday through Thursday.
  • Spokane, Wash.: Saw its first high in the teens since Feb. 26, 2011 on Thursday.
  • Glasgow, Mont.: Recorded its first subzero high temperature since Jan. 18, 2012 on Thursday.
  • Great Falls, Mont.: Low of -33 degrees on Saturday was the coldest temperature recorded so early in the season. Previous record was Dec. 8, 1972 (-36 degrees).

Some good news: North Korea has released (they say “deported”) 85-year old Korean war veteran Merrill Newman after holding him prisoner for more than a month and forcing him to “apologize.” The Independent reports:

North Korea has deported an elderly US tourist and Korean War veteran detained since October for alleged hostile acts against the country.

The country’s official state news agency Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Merrill Newman has been expelled on “humanitarian grounds” because of his age and health after he “confessed” to crimes during the 1950-53 war and apologised.

The 85-year-old flew to China this morning where he boarded a flight to San Francisco. Speaking to Japanese reporters at Beijing airport, he said: “I’m very glad to be on my way home. And I appreciate the tolerance the DPRK government has given to me to be on my way. I feel good, I feel good. I want to go home to see my wife.”

[Newman] has been in detention since being taken off a plane on October 26 by North Korean authorities following a 10-day tour of the country. KCNA claimed that Merrill had ordered the deaths of North Korean civilians and soldiers during the war. His family say he was a victim of mistaken identity.

I have some more new and some longer reads for you, which I’ll list link dump style.

MassLive: President Obama’s uncle, Onyango Obama, to face deportation hearing in Boston.

According to a court docket, the case will be heard by Immigration Judge Leonard Shapiro on Tuesday afternoon in Boston Immigration Court at the John F. Kennedy Federal Building.

Onyango Obama is the president’s father’s half brother.

A judge issued a deportation order against Onyango Obama, who is from Kenya, in 1992. But Obama never left the country. The Boston Globe reported that Obama was working as a liquor store manager when the Framingham Police arrested him for drunk driving in August 2011. He was sentenced to probation in that case, and the charges brought renewed attention to his immigration status.

The Globe reported that Obama has been living in the United States since 1963, when he came to enroll in school here as a 17-year-old. He was first ordered deported in 1986, although appeals continued in that case for six years.

For Pete’s sake, why can’t they just let the poor guy stay in the US? He’s been here for 50 years! Meanwhile, President Obama acknowledged that he lived with his uncle briefly in the 1980s. It had been thought that the two had never met, but no one bothered to ask the President directly about it until now.

New research on Toxoplasmosis  gondii, the parasite associated with cat litter boxes, undercooked meat, and other sources, shows that it can have some positive effects on the brain.

New neuroscience research says that Toxo—the cysts in our brains from cats—can improve our self-control. For the 30 percent of people who have this infection, it’s about more than promiscuity, schizophrenia, and car crashes.

I’ll let you read the details at the link if you so desire. I decided not to read about it, since there’s nothing I can do if I have it…

This article in the Atlantic is from September, and it’s long; but I highly recommend it if you like human interest stories and/or true crime tales. Murder by Craigslist: A serial killer finds a newly vulnerable class of victims: white, working-class men. Fascinating and surprising reading–I highly recommend it.

From Technology Review: Identifying Signs of Chronic Brain Injury in Living Football Players

Eight former pro football players learned this year that they have signs of a degenerative brain disorder called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition linked to depression, dementia, and memory loss. These somber findings were uncovered using a new method of brain imaging that, for the first time, enables researchers to spot signs of the condition in the living brain. Previously CTE could only be identified after a victim died.

The new method could help quantify the risks of repetitive blows to the head (see “Images of a Hard-Hitting Disease” and “Military Brains Donated for Trauma Research”). It could also help future players avoid the degenerative and sometimes lethal condition by limiting their exposure, and it may help scientists develop better protective gear and treatments.

Two interesting reads from Alternet:

20 Things the Poor Do Everyday That the Rich Never Have to Worry About

This one partially explains why I’m so down on Glenn Greenwald: Why Atheist Libertarians Are Part of America’s 1 Percent Problem

This morning’s stupid right winger stories:

Rick Santorum: Nelson Mandela Fought ‘Great Injustice,’ Just Like Republicans Are Battling Obamacare

Eric Cantor Calls the Police on Children Who Were Singing In His Office

House Majority Leader Brushes Off Young Girl As She Asks Him To Help Her Undocumented Father

The Right Wing’s Campaign To Discredit And Undermine Mandela, In One Timeline

Those are my offerings for today. What stories are you following? Please let us know in the comment thread, and if you are in the path of Cleon and/or Dion, please stay safe and warm and update us on your situations if you can.


Friday Morning Reads

Tina

Good Morning!

Syria is again dominating the headlines.  Here’s a few things that might be slipping under the rug.

If Congressional Republicans have their way, SNAP recipients will only get $3.37 a day for meals.

In July, House Republicans decoupled SNAP from the rest of the farm bill. Now, led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, they are working on a food-stamp provision that could cut as much as $40 billion over 10 years, according to reports. Legislative language for the Cantor proposal is not yet available.

The conservative case goes like this: The food-stamp program is abused by recipients who are not meeting eligibility requirements. In particular, conservatives want to tighten loopholes that they contend allow able-bodied adults without dependents to receive assistance; they want to limit coverage for the able-bodied adults to three months within a 36-month period.

“Currently, working middle-class families struggling to make ends meet themselves are footing a bill for a program that has gone well beyond the safety net for children, seniors, the disabled, and families who desperately need the assistance,” said Cantor spokesman Rory Cooper.

Antihunger advocates say House Republicans’ proposed cuts would hit some of the neediest Americans hard, and they argue that the law already contains adequate restrictions against abuse.

At the Capital Area Food Bank, a 100,000-square-foot warehouse facility — a kind of Sam’s Club for food pantries in the metro Washington area — officials say food-stamp funds typically last recipients two and a half weeks. After the benefits run out, many go to food pantries to help make ends meet, according to the Food Bank’s Brian Banks.

Conservatives, meanwhile, argue that food-stamp funding has been rising too quickly. The program cost about $78.4 billion to help feed roughly 47 million participants in 2012, according to the Agriculture Department. That’s up from about $17 billion from 2000, when 17 million Americans participated.

“The national debt has now topped $16 trillion and will continue to grow rapidly for the foreseeable future. To preserve the economy, government spending, including welfare spending, must be put on a more prudent course,” wrote the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector and Katherine Bradley in a white paper.

Anti-hunger advocates, though, point to a spike in the number of Americans who are “food insecure,” a term used by the government, that correlates to the recession. According to USDA, the number has recently stayed at roughly 15 percent, with 17.6 million households classified as such in 2012, according to a newly released report. With 59 percent of food-insecure households using food stamps, advocates argue that it’s important not to slash SNAP.

Now that Congress has returned, the farm bill and the food-stamp program will compete for scarce legislative time with the situation in Syria, appropriations bills, and a debate over the debt-ceiling limit, which the government is expected to reach sometime this fall. Among antihunger Debbie Harryorganizations, optimism is in short supply.

Indiania seems to hate its pregnant women.  They’re at it again.  This time they want to drug test all pregnant women even if there is no probable cause to believe they might be ingesting something harmful.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is calling on the legislature to help reduce the number of babies being exposed to narcotics while still in the womb.

It is called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS, newborns exposed to addictive illegal or prescription drugs before they are born.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller says treating NAS at Indiana hospitals cost an estimated $30 million in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, and he says that’s with limited tracking because hospitals are not required to report the condition.

Zoeller says one solution is requiring pregnant women take drug tests to identify the problem and start treatment before birth.

“You can reduce the length of stay for the newly born baby from six weeks to two weeks, the better health of the baby as well as the costs,” he say.s

State Senator Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, says the legislature is exploring different options because of concerns about mandatory drug tests.

“Verbal screening as opposed to the kind of blood or urine analysis that might drive women away from getting prenatal care,” she says, adding that a definitive answer has not been reached and a legislative panel will continue to investigate the issue leading up to next session.

Republicans are gearing up for the fight over the sequester in October.

On Tuesday, House Republicans unveiled their proposal to keep the government running past September 30, when the law that currently funds federal operations expires. It would last through December, at which point the parties would have to come up with yet another extension. As expected, the proposal more or less “locks in” funding levels from budget sequestration—in effect, it keeps the cuts that have been reducing Head Start slotsweakening the economy recovery, and generally wreaking havoc. As you may recall, sequestration cuts were never supposed to happen: They were supposed to be so crude and unpleasant, to conservatives and liberals alike, that the two parties would agree on an alternative way of reducing the deficit. But that hasn’t happened, so the cuts have taken effect this year. And if this new House Republican proposal passes, they will stay in place for at least a little while longer.

The House proposal also includes a provision to withhold funds for implementing Obamacare. Again, this is not a surprise. And, like some previous efforts, this one is mostly an effort of political theater. By design, the Senate could strip out the Obamacare defunding and approve everything else in the House leadership proposal. That would leave a “clean” government-funding bill, as House Republican leaders call it, for President Obama to sign. But House Republican leaders have assured anxious conservatives that a real effort to undermine Obamacare will come soon—proabably sometime in early October, when the federal treasury nears its official borrowing limit. At that point, the leaders say, they will refuse to authorize more borrowing unless Obama and the Democrats agree to certain concessions. The demands will include some kind of effort at defunding or delaying Obamacare—quite possibly, by insisting that the Obama administration postpones the individual mandate (the requirement that everybody get health insurance) by one year.

bruce

Ho Hah David Vitter!!

Senate Democrats have had all they can take from David Vitter and his fixation on Obamacare — and they’re dredging up his past prostitution scandal to hit back.

Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, has infuriated Democrats this week by commandeering the Senate floor, demanding a vote on his amendment repealing federal contributions to help pay for lawmakers’ health care coverage.

But Democratic senators are preparing a legislative response targeting a sordid Vitter episode. If Vitter continues to insist on a vote on his proposal, Democrats could counter with one of their own: Lawmakers will be denied those government contributions if there is “probable cause” they solicited prostitutes.

According to draft legislation obtained by POLITICO, Democrats are weighing whether to force a Senate vote on a plan that would effectively resurrect Vitter’s past if the conservative Republican continues to press forward with his Obamacare-bashing proposal.

And Ho Ha !! Bobby Jindal!!

It is now much easier to make the case that Gov. Bobby Jindal knows his chances of winning the presidency in the 2016 election are securely in his past. In fact, given the record he is now so feverishly and self-destructively building, it is difficult imagining the governor winning another — any — statewide election in Louisiana. In making that case, Exhibits No. 1 through No. 50, at least, are on display in Jindal’s bafflingly deliberate and long-running defiance of orders issued by Baton Rouge state district court Judge Janice Clark in a key public records case.

Over five months ago, on April 25, Judge Clark emphatically ruled in favor of plaintiff newspapers, the Advocate and NOLA.com | Times-Picayune, and ordered the LSU Board of Supervisors to “immediately produce” the documents identifying all those who sought the combined job of LSU president and chancellor. F. King Alexander was selected for the job, and Jindal does not want citizens to know who the other candidates were. Thus he directed his go-to lawyer, Jimmy Faircloth, to burn a trainload of taxpayer money by stiffing the citizenry and the judge … repeatedly … and proudly.

The rarity of observing such a months-long political train wreck was underscored by Lori Mince, the attorney representing the two Louisiana newspapers, in a Sept. 10article by Mike Hasten of Gannett News. Ms. Mince noted, “This is the first public records case I’ve had when the public body refused to comply.” No one else with whom I have spoken or emailed can remember another such instance, either. Such makes sense because once a public records case goes all the way to court, and a judge orders the documents produced, public officials have every reason and need to, well, produce the documents. That is precisely what happened when a group of us in Shreveport sued the highway department for documents, went up against Jindal / Faircloth’s initial opposition, and headed to Clark’s court. When our hearing came up, the requested documents appeared as Faircloth did the opposite.

To grasp how bizarrely foolish the Jindal / Faircloth / Board of Supervisors argument is, it began with Faircloth arguing that the only word in the related law which mattered was “applicant,” and that there was only one of those — the winner, F. King Alexander. Note that Faircloth made this argument to Clark even though Blake Chatelain, the LSU board member who led the search committee, said in his subject court deposition that he and his committee began their work with about 100 prospects, cut that to 35 keepers, then down to “six or seven,” before picking Alexander. All of this was managed via a web portal belonging to a Dallas consultant hired for such purpose, a reported key in the Jindal plan to maintain secrecy throughout the process. (Thanks to Gordon Russell, then writing for the NOLA.com | Times-Picayune, for his April report.)

It is anyone’s guess as to what Jindal is hiding: Was/is Alexander qualified? Was he the best candidate? Who did Jindal really want, and why didn’t that person get the job? Those of us who have been down this road with the man and his team, especially Faircloth, know that the explanation may be much simpler: Jindal has never believed the rules and law and constitution apply to him.

It seems a molasses spill in Hawaii is killing fish.

Officials responding to a spill of 1,400 tons of molasses in Hawaii waters plan to let nature clean things up, with boat crews collecting thousands of dead fish to determine the extent of environmental damage.

The crews already have collected about 2,000 dead fish from waters near Honolulu Harbor, and they expect to see more in the coming days and possibly weeks, said Gary Gill, deputy director of the Hawaii Department of Health.

“Our best advice as of this morning is to let nature take its course,” Gill told reporters at a news conference at the harbor, where commercial ships passed through discolored, empty-looking waters.

So, that’s a little this and that!  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?