I have a mixed bag of reads for you this morning–a little bit of politics, education, historical mystery, and science. The paintings and drawings included in this post are by Vincent van Gogh.
Last night President Obama announced that he’s sending 1,500 more troops into Iraq, supposedly to serve as “advisers” who will train troops to fight the Islamic State. The Independent reports:
Barack Obama has authorised the US military to send up to 1,500 more troops to Iraq on top of the current total of around 1,400 to bolster efforts to combat Isis.
American soldiers would not take a frontline role, the White House said, but conduct “training missions” with Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers around Baghdad and Erbil.
The move comes less than a fortnight after the last British and American troops left Afghanistan and despite international condemnation of Isis’ atrocities, the public are still wary of another interventionist war.
The announcement had nothing to do with Tuesday’s election, according to “White House officials.” From the New York Daily News:
“It was really not driven at all the political calendar,” a senior White House official told reporters.
The official said that the decision to escalate the U.S. mission followed requests “over the last several weeks” by Pentagon officials, and political developments in Iraq.
Administration officials said the new deployment will expand the U.S. mission by placing American military advisors and trainers in western and northern of Iraq, where Iraqi and Kurdish forces are directly fighting ISIS extremists.
Until now, U.S. troops have been mostly confined to Baghdad and the Kurdish city of Erbil.
The White House emphasized that American soldiers will not directly engage ISIS fighters.
And so, the endless war continues.
Today President Obama will officially announce his nomination of US Attorney Loretta Lynch to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General. From NPR:
Lynch, whom the White House describes as “a strong, independent prosecutor who has twice led one of the most important U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the country,” will be introduced at the White House Saturday, alongside current Attorney General Eric Holder.
The plan comes after NPR’s Carrie Johnson reported Thursday that Lynch, a lead federal prosecutor in New York City, could be nominated within days.
“Lynch, a graduate of Harvard Law School, worked her way up the ladder in Brooklyn,” Carrie said, “a huge office that handles everything from old-school Mafia busts to new forms of cybercrime.”
And from the LA Times, Attorney general pick Loretta Lynch would be first black woman in post.
President Obama will nominate Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, to replace Eric H. Holder Jr. as attorney general, the White House said Friday, a historic choice that would make her the first black woman to hold the post….
Obama will make the official announcement Saturday with Lynch and Holder at the White House before he leaves Sunday on a weeklong trip to Asia. The White House had originally planned to wait until Obama returned to Washington, but apparently changed its plans after numerous news organizations reported she was the likely pick.
The choice of Lynch reflects a typical middle-of-the-road path for Obama; she is a nominee who might be confirmed without great controversy if no fault is found in her resume. Liberals had pushed for Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, but he is unpopular with Republicans. Many in the legal community had hoped for scholarly Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli Jr.
Let’s hope she gets confirmed quickly, while Democrats still hold the majority in the Senate. A little more about her:
Lynch is the rare U.S. attorney who has not sought the limelight in what is normally a high-profile job with political potential. She rarely gives news conferences or interviews and recently ducked a gathering with Justice Department reporters in Washington. Her reputation in liberal legal circles is as someone who is not politically sophisticated.
A relative unknown outside her district, she came to prominence in New York in the late 1990s as the supervisor of the team that successfully prosecuted two police officers for the sexual assault with a broomstick of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. Three other officers were acquitted.
Diane Ravitch has an interesting piece at The New York Review of Books, The Myth of Chinese Super Schools. It’s a review of a new book, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World, by Yong Zhao.
On December 3, 2013, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced yet again that American students were doing terribly when tested, in comparison to students in sixty-one other countries and a few cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. Duncan presided over the release of the latest international assessment of student performance in reading, science, and mathematics (called the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA), and Shanghai led the nations of the world in all three categories. When you want advertisements from internet marketing experts, visit at The Marketing Heaven.
Duncan and other policymakers professed shock and anguish at the results, according to which American students were average at best, nowhere near the top. Duncan said that Americans had to face the brutal fact that the performance of our students was “mediocre” and that our schools were trapped in “educational stagnation.”
He had used virtually the same rhetoric in 2010, when the previous PISA results were released. Despite the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which mandated that every child in every school in grades 3–8 would be proficient in math and reading by 2014, and despite the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, the scores of American fifteen-year-old students on these international tests were nearly unchanged since 2000. Both NCLB and Race to the Top assumed that a steady diet of testing and accountability, of carrots for high scores and sticks for low scores, would provide an incentive for students and teachers to try harder and get higher test scores. But clearly, this strategy was not working. In his public remarks, however, Duncan could not admit that carrots and sticks don’t produce better education or even higher test scores. Instead, he blamed teachers and parents for failing to have high expectations.
Duncan, President Obama, and legislators looked longingly at Shanghai’s stellar results and wondered why American students could not surpass them. Why can’t we be like the Chinese?, they wondered. Why should we be number twenty-nine in the world in mathematics when Shanghai is number one? Why are our scores below those of Estonia, Poland, Ireland, and so many other nations? Duncan was sure that the scores on international tests were proof that we were falling behind the rest of the world and that they predicted economic disaster for the United States. What Duncan could not admit was that, after a dozen years, the Bush–Obama strategy of testing and punishing teachers and schools had failed.
Like many other failed policies, the obsession with testing began under Ronald Reagan.
P0licymakers and legislators are convinced that the best way to raise test scores is to administer more standardized tests and to make them harder to pass. This love affair with testing had its origins in 1983, when a national commission on education released a report called “A Nation at Risk.”
President Ronald Reagan had hoped his commission would recommend vouchers and school prayers, but that did not happen. Instead, the report recommended a stronger curriculum, higher graduation requirements, more teacher pay, and longer school hours, as well as standards and testing at transitional points, like high school graduation. The main effect of the report was caused by its alarmist rhetoric, which launched a three-decade-plus obsession with the idea that American public schools are failing and that the way to fix them is to raise test scores.
And succeeding presidents have continued the “testing mania.” Ravich writes:
At this juncture comes the book that Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, members of Congress, and the nation’s governors and legislators need to read: Yong Zhao’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World. Zhao, born and educated in China, now holds a presidential chair and a professorship at the University of Oregon. He tells us that China has the best education system because it can produce the highest test scores. But, he says, it has the worst education system in the world because those test scores are purchased by sacrificing creativity, divergent thinking, originality, and individualism. The imposition of standardized tests by central authorities, he argues, is a victory for authoritarianism. His book is a timely warning that we should not seek to emulate Shanghai, whose scores reflect a Confucian tradition of rote learning that is thousands of years old. Indeed, the highest-scoring nations on the PISA examinations of fifteen-year-olds are all Asian nations or cities: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Singapore, Korea, Macao (China), and Japan.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Will the book make a difference to U.S. political leaders? Probably not, but Ravich’s long review is well worth reading.
Vanity Fair has a fascinating article by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, authors of a 2011 Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography of Vincent van Gogh. In an appendix to the book, Naifeh and Smith included a summary of their research on the death of the famous painter. After years of study in the van Gogh archives, the authors suspected that the artist did not commit suicide, as is commonly believed, but was very likely killed accidentally by a teenage bully named René Secrétan.
In 1890, René Secrétan was the 16-year-old son of a Paris pharmacist whose family summered in Auvers. In Paris, René’s lycée education admitted him to bourgeois society. In Auvers, it gave him license to bully. He said he modeled his behavior on his hero, Wild Bill Cody, whose Wild West Show René had seen in Paris the year before. He bought a souvenir costume (fringed buckskin, cowboy hat, chaps) and accessorized it with an old, small-caliber pistol that looked menacing but often misfired.
He found an easy target in the strange Dutchman named Vincent. By the time René arrived for the summer, Van Gogh was already the object of rumor and ridicule. He trudged through town with his mangled ear and awkward load, setting himself up to paint anywhere he pleased. He drank. He argued fiercely in an unintelligible tumble of Dutch and French.
Unlike René, whose father was a powerful figure in the summer community, Vincent had no friends. Using his brother Gaston, an aesthete, as his front man, René artfully slipped into the vacuum. He cozied up to the lonely painter at his café conversations with Gaston about art. He paid for another round of drinks. Afterward, René would mock the strange Dutchman to amuse his merry band of mischief-minded summer boys.
René let Vincent eavesdrop on him and his friends when they imported “dancing girls” from Paris. He shared his pornography collection. He even posed for some paintings and a drawing. Meanwhile, he conspired with his followers to play elaborate pranks on the friendless tramp they called Toto. They put hot pepper on his brushes (which he often sucked when deep in thought), salted his tea, and sneaked a snake into his paint box.
There it was, all in the files: the details mostly in a late-life narrative from the cowboy himself, René. But every detail checked out with the other eyewitness accounts from Auvers. And it didn’t say anything new, really. Vincent had faced similar bullying and ridicule in every place he ever painted.
And there was this: a long-neglected account by a woman from a distinguished Auvers family who had broken with the community omertà to say that Van Gogh was far from the wheat field at the time the fatal shot was fired. He was, according to her, on the road that led to the Secrétan family villa.
Of course the “experts” (Naifeh and Smith call them the “Flame Keepers”) came out of the woodwork to denounce the new theory. In response Naifeh and Smith asked a well known forensic expert, Dr. Vincent Di Maio, who testified at the trial of George Zimmerman, to analyze the evidence. Read the article to find out what conclusions he drew.
Finally a couple of science stories:
From Discovery News, 9,300-Year-Old Bison Mummy Found in Siberia.
The still-furry beast is one of the most complete frozen mummies ever found. It literally freezes in time the appearance and anatomy of a steppe bison (Bison priscus), whose species went extinct shortly after the end of the Ice Age.
It’s been named the “Yukagir bison mummy,” after the region where it was found.
“The exceptionally good preservation of the Yukagir bison mummy allows direct anatomical comparisons with modern species of bison and cattle, as well as with extinct species of bison that were gone at the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary,” co-author Evgeny Maschenko from the Paleontological Institute in Moscow was quoted as saying in a press release.
The remarkable specimen still has its complete brain, heart, blood vessels and digestive system. Some of its organs have significantly shrunk over time, but that’s to be expected given its advanced age.
The researchers, led by Natalia Serduk of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, conducted a necropsy on the remains. The investigation determined that the bison showed a relatively normal anatomy. A clue to its demise, however, is a lack of fat around its abdomen. This suggests that the bison died from starvation, but the scientists aren’t sure of that yet.
Compared to today’s bison in America, the Ice Age bison sported much larger horns and a second back hump. Steppe bison like this now-frozen one were commonly featured in Stone Age cave art, often shown being hunted by humans.
The Daily Mail article has a number of photos of the specimen and the researchers.
And from The Atlantic, a brief article on The Resurrection of the Dodo.
Alas, the poor dodo. All that remains of this extinct flightless bird’s legacy are a single complete skeleton and a synonym for “dimwit.”
But from those bones, researchers may now be able to recreate the 3-feet tall bird. Using a 3-D laser, paleontologists from the College of Holy Cross in Massachusetts made the first ever full 3-D dodo scans. The team presented the scans for the first time Thursday at theSociety for Vertebrate Archaeology’s annual conference in Berlin.
The scans showed that dodos had kneecaps, which were previously unknown structures within the dodo, Live Science reported. Leon Claessens, lead author on the scanning mission, told Live Science that information gleaned from the scans will help provide insight into how the bird moved. The team will also look at the bird’s large jaw in order to better understand how it worked and what type of prey it caught.
So . . . what else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great Veteran’s Day weekend!
President Obama is meeting with other NATO leaders in Newport, Wales today, and the focus of meetings will be Russia’s encroachment into Ukraine and how to deal with it. The Christian Science Monitor reports: NATO members gather in Wales with Russia at the top of the agenda.
Russia faced harsh criticism at the start of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Wales today with the 28 member state alliance reevaluating its security role in Europe amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance continues to witness “Russian involvement in destabilizing the situation in eastern Ukraine” even after Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a seven-point peace plan. Russia maintains it has not armed rebels in eastern Ukraine or contributed to the conflict there.
Early reports from the summit suggest NATO leaders are set to agree to create “rapid reaction” forces that could be deployed in less than two days to regional crisis spots. Countries close to Russia, especially Poland, have called for NATO to permanently station troops on their territory, but Reuters reports this is unlikely to happen because it would break a 1997 agreement the alliance made with Russia.
As the Monitor reported, the creation of rapid response forces wouldthrust the United States into the center of any future conflict.
Terrific. Supposedly, Russian president Vladimir Putin in proposing a cease-fire, but he’s offering few specifics. From The New York Times: Putin Lays Out Proposal to End Ukraine Conflict.
Mr. Putin’s peace plan, jotted out during a plane ride over Siberia, muddied the diplomatic waters, leaving the West an excuse for delaying punitive sanctions that would also hurt European economies on the verge of a new recession. And it was expected to have some appeal to war-weary Ukrainians.
The ultimate effect, coming after Russian troops intervened in Ukraine last week to beat back a successful government offensive, may be to leave the country as a loose coalition that Moscow could still dominate, which critics of the Russian president say is his real aim.
It is being called a “seven-point plan,” but according to the Times,
Mr. Putin’s plan seemed to raise more questions than it answered. First, there was no mechanism for implementation. Second, just hours earlier, his own spokesman had repeated the Russian position, widely criticized as implausible, that Moscow could not negotiate a cease-fire because it was not a direct party to the conflict.
Analysts suggested that Mr. Putin’s strategy is to convince Kiev that it must negotiate, not fight, and to reinforce the idea that the overall outcome depended on Moscow.
“Russia wants to show that it is in command of what is happening,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of a prominent Russian foreign policy journal. “For Russia, it is important first to prevent the Ukrainians from thinking that they could win militarily, and to accept the separatist leaders as partners in negotiations.”
A few more headlines and opinions:
Al Jazeera: NATO summit to highlight unity against Russia.
Wall Street Journal: As Leaders Meet for NATO Summit, Alliance Says Russian Troops Still Active in Ukraine.
Foreign Policy: NATO’s Make or Break Moment (opinion).
Bloomberg: NATO Shifts Aim From Waterloo to East as Russia Menaces (opinion).
European Central Bank News
The European Central Bank’s Mario Draghi finally decided to try to do something about Europe’s horrible economic situation. From the NYT: European Central Bank to Start Asset Purchases After Further Rate Cut.
FRANKFURT — Bolstering a surprise interest rate cut on Thursday, the European Central Bank will soon begin buying packages of bank loans in an effort to stimulate lending in the faltering eurozone economy.
The move is unprecedented, but appears to fall short of the broad, large-scale asset purchases advocated by many economists to prevent stagnation in the eurozone.
The central bank said that in October it would begin buying asset-backed securities, bundles of loans issued by banks to businesses and households. The central bank will also buy covered bonds, Mario Draghi, the E.C.B. president said. Covered bonds are similar to asset-backed securities, in that they also are made up of bank loans.
Perhaps more significantly, Mr. Draghi said that the central bank’s governing council was ready to take further measures if needed — a clear reference to quantitative easing, or broad-based purchases of government bonds or other assets.
Mr. Draghi did not say how much the central bank would spend buying asset-backed securities and covered bonds, adding that there was not yet enough information on the size of the market. He said the central bank would buy existing and new assets including residential and corporate loans. He said the purchases would be “significant,” if still short of a level considered quantitative easing.
Marketwatch: U.S. stocks open up after ECB rate cut.
Ferguson Civil Rights Investigation
As we heard yesterday, the Justice Department will likely announce today that it is launching a civil rights investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department.
From The Washington Post: Justice Dept. to probe Ferguson police force.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. this week will launch a broad civil rights investigation into the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department, according to two federal law enforcement officials.
The investigation, which could be announced as early as Thursday afternoon, will be conducted by the Justice Department’s civil rights division and follow a process similar to that used to investigate complaints of profiling and the use of excessive force in other police departments across the country, the officials said.
The federal officials said the probe will look not only at Ferguson but also at other police departments in St. Louis County. Some, like Ferguson, are predominantly white departments serving majority-African-American communities, and at least one department invited the Justice Department to look at its practices. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the pending inquiry.
The investigation is in addition to a Justice Department probe into whether Officer Darren Wilson, who fired the fatal shots, violated Brown’s civil rights. The new probe will look more broadly at whether the department employed policies and practices that resulted in a pattern of civil rights violations.
The Washington Post reported Saturday that five current and one former member of the Ferguson police force face pending federal lawsuits claiming they used excessive force. The lawsuits, as well as more than a half-dozen internal investigations, include claims that individual officers separately hog-tied a 12-year-old boy who was checking his family mailbox, pistol-whipped children and used a stun gun on a mentally ill man who died as a result.
More from The New York Times: Justice Dept. Inquiry to Focus on Practices of Police in Ferguson.
Ferguson’s police chief, Thomas Jackson, said in an interview on Wednesday night that he would welcome the investigation.
“We’ve been doing everything we can to become a professional police department and a professional city,” he said. “We have no intentional policies or procedures which discriminated or violated civil rights. But if we have anything there which may unintentionally do that, we need to know about it.”
Chief Jackson said he met with Justice Department officials on Wednesday afternoon and discussed the broader investigation. “Obviously, we have gaps. And any help we can get to help fill those gaps and to make ourselves stronger, we welcome,” he said.
What a crock of sh&t that is! I’ll just bet Jackson is thrilled about the Justice Department probe into his joke of a police force. Wouldn’t you love to hear what he’s saying privately?
In the Ferguson case, the Justice Department will conduct what it calls a “pattern or practice” investigation, with officials looking for evidence that the police have repeatedly violated residents’ civil rights. Such inquiries have been one of the Justice Department’s preferred tactics in addressing accusations of police misconduct.
Rabid Bobcat Attacks
Here’s a strange story I came across yesterday in The Boston Globe: Rabid Bobcat Spent Labor Day Weekend in Conn. Attacking People.
What’s worse than stumbling upon an angry bobcat on your nightly walk with your newborn daughter? Stumbling upon an angry, rabid bobcat on your nightly walk with your newborn daughter.
That’s what happened to Summer and Tom Berube last Sunday. The Lebanon, CT, couple were taking their evening walk with their infant daughter, Neeve, when a bobcat approached them.
According to NECN, the bobcat hissed and ran towards Tom, who was carrying his baby. Tom yanked a mailbox out of the ground and used it to defend his family, knocking the animal down when it leapt at him. Summer, meanwhile, said she “was just screaming at the top of my lungs for help.”
That help soon came from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which had already been alerted to the presence of an aggressive bobcat in the area. On Saturday, a woman in the neighboring Connecticut town of Bozrah was attacked by a bobcat while feeding her chickens. She was scratched and bitten, but quickly taken to a local hospital for treatment. If caught early enough, a postexposure vaccination prevents the disease from spreading.
I had no idea there were bobcats running around in New England, but according The Hartford Courant, although sightings are rare, “Bobcats are common in Connecticut and are found in every town. They can weigh as much as 40 pounds, but rarely interact with people and rarely have rabies, DEEP said.”
They Shall Be Released
Maybe you’re wondering why I’ve illustrated this post with photos of Bob Dylan. In 1968, I bought a two-record album in a plain white cover that was being sold by a street hawker in Harvard Square. I learned this morning from Wikipedia that it was known as “The Great White Wonder,” but either I didn’t know that then or I’ve forgotten. The recording was a bootleg of Bob Dylan’s so-called “basement tapes,” recorded in Woodstock, NY, with backup from The Band. Later, in 1975, a selection of the songs they had recorded was released as a studio album.
Anyway, the basement tapes are back in the news, because they are all going to be released as a 6-CD set.
The Guardian reports: Bob Dylan to share full Basement Tapes.
Bob Dylan is sharing the rest of his Basement Tapes. Four decades after the singer released 24 songs under that title – cuts he recorded with the Band in upstate New York – his label have agreed to unveil 114 more tracks from the same 1967 sessions.
“Some of this stuff is mind-boggling,” Sid Griffin, author of the set’s liner notes,told Rolling Stone. Packaged under the title The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11, the six-CD set incorporates alternate versions of Blowin’ In The Wind and It Ain’t Me Babe, covers of tunes by Johnny Cash and Curtis Mayfield, and at least 30 tracks that Rolling Stone claims “even fanatical Dylan fans never knew existed”. A shorter, two-disc compilation, The Basement Tapes Raw, will present 12 of the unreleased tracks alongside the original LP.
Almost all of this material was harvested from reel-to-reel tape: 20 tapes in all, which the Band’s Garth Hudson kept stored in his Woodstock home. Jan Haust, a Toronto-based collector, acquired the archive about 10 years ago; he worked with Dylan’s reps to find a way to put them out. Although a few tapes were allegedly missing, and a handful of recordings “just [sounded] like a distortion”, everything else is making its way to the public. “We usually curate these packages more, but we knew the fans would be disappointed if we didn’t put out absolutely everything,” an unnamed Dylan source told Rolling Stone.
Fans of The Basement Tapes have always known that there was unreleased material. There have been several expanded, bootleg editions over the years, and musicians have even turned their attention to Dylan’s unreleased Basement Tapes-era lyrics. Earlier this year, T Bone Burnett collaborated with Marcus Mumford, Elvis Costello and others to record their own versions of his incomplete songs. “The stuff that people haven’t heard justifies, in every way, shape and form, all the hype, hubris and myth that surrounds these tapes,” Griffin promised.
USA Today has published a list of all the songs on the album to be released in November.
So . . . what else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a tremendous Thursday!
While we at Sky Dancing Blog–along with many other Americans–have been following the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, often feeling shocked and traumatized by the overt racism on display among law enforcement personnel there, Fox News and some right wing blogs have focused on supporting Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown at noon on Saturday, August 9, touching off the protests and the police crackdown that has continued for the past 12 days. In the process they have also made efforts to smear Brown and undermine witnesses who saw the shooting.
Police initially claimed that Brown had assaulted Wilson in his police car and tried to take the officer’s gun. But there were a number of witnesses who reported seeing Wilson chase after Brown while shooting his weapon after which Brown turned around with his hands up, trying to surrender.
On August 15, without informing Governor Nixon or the Captain Ron Johnson, who was in charge of security during the protests, Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson released a 19-page document naming Michael Brown as a suspect in an alleged robbery of $48 worth of cigarillos at a Ferguson convenience store. The alleged “strong-arm” robbery took place shortly before Brown was killed. The obvious implication was that Brown deserved to die for this. Jackson also appeared on The Sean Hannity Show to push this narrative.
Later Jackson was forced to admit that shooter Darren Wilson didn’t know about the alleged robbery, and therefore it had nothing to the shooting. Recently we learned that police didn’t even have the video showing the convenience story “robbery” until days after the shooting, and the video appeared to show that Brown had actually paid for the box of cigarillos he took with him.
Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs has been documenting the latest right wing efforts to smear Brown and rehabilitate Wilson. On Tuesday, he linked to a post by Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit citing anonymous sources that claimed Darren Wilson had suffered an “orbital blowout fracture to the eye socket” during the struggle with Michael Brown. Johnson writes:
The entire right wing universe (including Drudge Report) is now screaming about this post by, yes, the Dumbest Man on the Internet again, claiming that anonymous sources told him officer Darren Wilson suffered an “orbital blowout fracture to the eye socket” in a struggle with unarmed teenager Michael Brown [NOTE: I’m not going to link to Gateway Pundit; you can find the link at LGF].
It’s possible that someone did leak this information to Hoft, but I’ll remind my readers that Jim Hoft is probably the single most dishonest right wing blogger on the Internet as well as the dumbest, with a very long history of distorting facts and completely making stuff up to push his far right, often overtly racist agenda.
Johnson looked up the symptoms of an “orbital blowout fracture” and quoted the from description:
The most common symptoms are bruising, tenderness and swelling around the eye; redness of the eye; double vision, ordiplopia (seeing two images at the same time); numbness of the cheek, nose or teeth; nose bleeds (epistaxis) [See figure 1].
Symptoms that typically indicate a more serious injury are pain on eye movement, double vision, air under the skin around the eye, and numbness of the cheek/mouth/nose on the side of the injury. Severe trauma may cause facial bone fractures, injury to the eye itself, and injuries to the skull/brain.
You’d think someone who had just experienced such a serious eye injury would be in terrible pain and would have difficulty accurately shooting a gun. You also think he would need immediate medical attention; yet no ambulance was called for either Brown or Wilson, and Wilson was video taped walking near Brown’s body and show no signs of discomfort. Here’s the cell phone video taken by eyewitness Piaget Crenshaw.
Yesterday this story showed up on Fox News, with Bill O’Reilly reporting the “orbital blowout” claim; and today ABC News is reporting that Wilson suffered “a serious facial injury,” although they aren’t including the “orbital blowout fracture” claim. ABC news also has a video interview with an anonymous friend of Wilson’s. It’s odd that Wilson’s friends and supporters don’t want to give their names or show their faces while the eyewitnesses to the shooting have been upfront and straightforward about what they saw.
As for the facial injury, I guess we’ll have to wait and see if there is trial. At that point Wilson will need to produce medical records to prove he had a serious injury and had it promptly treated. Even then, we still won’t know how it happened. For all we know, he could have hit himself with his gun or on the car door. I can’t help but be reminded of George Zimmerman’s claims of serious injuries caused by Trayvon Martin–the injuries he didn’t bother to have a doctor examine until the next day. The bottom line is that even if Wilson actually was injured, Michael Brown should be alive and in jail now. Instead, Wilson chose to execute him on the spot.
The latest smear from right wing Wilson supporters is that Michael Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson has “recanted” his eyewitness version of the shooting. Once again, Charles Johnson responds, Did Michael Brown’s Friend Dorian Johnson “Recant” His Story? No, He Did Not.
Finally, a right wing site is raising money for Darren Wilson, and they have collected nearly $150,000 in the past three days.
The good news is that Ferguson was fairly calm yesterday after the visit from Attorney General Eric Holder. From The Washington Post, Eric H. Holder Jr., in Ferguson, shares painful memories of racism.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. arrived in the St. Louis area Wednesday to tour a community roiled by the police shooting of an unarmed African American teen — nine months after he had visited the same city to tout new initiatives aimed at keeping poor black men out of prison.
Long before the white-hot spotlight of the racially charged protests in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Holder had been intent on reforming an American criminal justice system that he said imposed “shameful” disparities on minority communities. The death of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9 has thrust Holder, 63, into the heart of a national debate over racial justice that he has aimed to make part of his legacy.
In meetings with residents, Holder shared his own stories of being pulled over and accosted by police while growing up in New York City — and of being skeptical of police even while serving as a federal prosecutor in Washington.
“I understand that mistrust. I am the attorney general of the United States. But I am also a black man,” Holder said during an appearance at Florissant Valley Community College. “I think about my time in Georgetown — a nice neighborhood of Washington — and I am running to a picture movie at about 8 o’clock at night. I am running with my cousin. Police car comes driving up, flashes his lights, yells ‘where you going? Hold it!’ I say, ‘Whoa, I’m going to a movie.’ ”
Not far from the spot where Michael Brown died, another young black man was killed by St. Louis Metropolitan Police on Tuesday. A video of the shooting was released yesterday. From Huffington Post, St. Louis Police Release Video Of Kajieme Powell Killing That Appears At Odds With Their Story, by Ryan Grimm and Ashley Alman.
A convenience store owner called 911 on Tuesday when he suspected Powell stole drinks and donuts from his shop, according to a recording of the call. Another woman called to report Powell was acting erratically and had a knife in his pocket.
Two officers in a police SUV responded to the calls, the cell phone video shows. When the officers got out of their vehicle, Powell walked in their direction, yelling and telling them to shoot him already.
St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said Tuesday that both of the officers opened fire on Powell when he came within a three or four feet of them holding a knife “in an overhand grip.”
But the newly released cell phone footage undermines the statement, showing Powell approaching the cops, but not coming as close as was reported, with his hands at his side. The officers began shooting within 15 seconds of their arrival, hitting Powell with a barrage of bullets.
Kajieme Powell apparently had long-term psychological problems. I’m not going to watch the video, but even in the still photo from the LA Times above, it looks to me as if police could have disarmed Powell and arrested him without using deadly force. The knife wasn’t raised as police claimed, and he certainly doesn’t appear to be within three feet of the officers.
A mentally disturbed man was killed by police in Sacramento, California on Monday. The Sacramento Bee reports:
Jeffrey Towe lived with delusions and profound mental illness, family members say. On Monday, he became the ninth person in the Sacramento region to die of police gunfire this year.
Towe, 53, fatally shot his own mother in 1990 in an incident that he said was a household accident. Two weeks ago, he delivered a collection of knives to his sister, telling her he couldn’t be trusted around them.
A Woodland police officer shot him dead Monday after authorities said Towe allegedly charged with a knife after officers arrived at his apartment building in response to a call about a disturbed, screaming man.
Towe’s death prompted local activists to converge Monday evening in Woodland, already motivated by the national story of the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and law enforcement response to protests there. They congregated downtown, blocking an intersection, chanting “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” – a slogan popularized in Ferguson.
In that incident, a California Highway Patrol officer shot and wounded a man who allegedly pulled a gun on officers in a drunken-driving stop. The suspect, who was hospitalized in critical but stable condition, was identified as Heath Austin Nunes, 38, of Lincoln.
The four-county Sacramento region, which includes Sacramento, Yolo, Placer and El Dorado counties, this year has nearly doubled the five fatal officer-involved shootings in 2013. In 2012, there were 16 fatal police shootings, including a record 10 by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. Statewide, California averaged 100 annual deaths from police shootings from 2006 to 2011.
The United States has no database of police shootings. There is no standardized process by which officers log when they’ve discharged their weapons and why. There is no central infrastructure for handling that information and making it public. Researchers, confronted with the reality that there are over 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the country, aren’t even sure how you’d go about setting one up. No one is keeping track of how many American citizens are shot by their police. This is crazy. This is governmental malpractice on a national scale. We’d like your help in changing this.
Here, we’re going to take a cue from Jim Fisher, who as far as we can tell has compiled the most comprehensive set of data on police shootings in 2011. Fisher’s method was simple: He searched for any police-involved shooting every day for an entire year. By our lights, this is the best way to scrape this information—any time a police officer shoots and hits a citizen, it will almost certainly make a local news report, at least. However, this is a time-intensive process, and our manpower is limited. Having gathered some of the data, we can say it will take the few of us here a very long time to do this on our own. So, we’re setting up a public submission form and asking for help with this project.
Check it out if you’re interested.
So I’ve run out of space and time for this post. There’s plenty of other news, so I’ll post some more links in the comments. I hope you’ll do the same.
We have a variety of links for you today, shall we just get down to it?
They have heard another series of pings, this time it lasted longer than 7 minutes, via USA Today: Official: Plane may be found in ‘matter of days’
Congrats to UCONN: Another National Championship for Connecticut Women’s Basketball
Out of all the news hitting the internets this past day or so, the one story that was more moving to me was this one…about the sapling that is being planted at the Capitol.
A very special sapling it is: WASHINGTON: Sapling from Anne Frank’s “bare chestnut tree” coming to the Capitol
Congressional leaders will plant an Anne Frank Memorial Tree on the U.S. Capitol’s west front lawn April 30.
The sapling was taken from a chestnut tree that stood outside the Amsterdam annex where Anne Frank and her family hid during World War II.
In her February 23, 1944, she talked about the tree:
“From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the sea gulls and other birds as they glide on the wind…I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”
The tree itself collapsed in 2010, but its stewarts crated saplings. Eleven have been given to sites throughout this country.
Isn’t it a pretty thought to have a connection to a little girl who equated “solace in all troubles” to the very branches that brought forth this sapling? What I am yearning for right now is solace in all troubles, bet you are too.
Here is an picture of the tree viewed from inside the attic where Anne Frank hid, it was taken before it fell back in 2010: Anne Frank tree knocked down by storm
As I was saying, we could all use some solace now, with this kind of shit going on: Los Angeles Times Was Wrong to Retract Article on Rape at Occidental
On March 14, 2014, The Los Angeles Times issued a retraction of an article in which reporter Jason Felch stated that Occidental College failed to disclose 27 sexual assaults in its 2012 Annual Security Report (ASR). The retraction states that “Occidental representatives approached the Times early this month to seek a correction. Documents reviewed by The Times this week show that the 27 incidents did not fall under the law’s disclosure requirements for a variety of reasons.”
However, The Los Angeles Times did not perform due diligence in their investigation of the numbers, and they never should have issued a retraction. Felch had incontrovertible evidence that the College did not include anonymous cases in their 2012 ASR and had verification that the college could not lawfully account for 27 missing cases.
Given the evidence, The Times should issue a mea culpa, and especially after Occidental spokesperson Jim Tranquada recently admitted to the LA Weekly that Dean of Students Barbara Avery ignored federal Clery reporting requirements that year. “In 2012, out of concern for student confidentiality, the Dean of Students office did not always communicate to Campus Safety when a student initiated the sexual-misconduct process or otherwise reported a sexual assault.”
Harrumph…I think Jezebel is on to something there, don’t you?
Since we are talking about issues of “due diligence” or maybe somehow having the wool pulled over one’s eyes, there is an update to a little news story regarding a former Star Trek actress and a Scientist who had No Clue How He Ended up in Holocaust-Denier’s Creationism Documentary
A new documentary titled “The Principle” is the latest from creationists and geocentrists. The film perpetuates the long disproven notion that the sun revolves around the Earth. It is narrated by “Star Trek’s” Kate Mulgrew, who starred as Capt. Kathryn Janeway in both “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Star Trek: Nemesis.” From the looks of the trailer, this film is the antithesis of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s scientific look at the universe in “Cosmos.”
The film was funded by the ultra-conservative, ultra-Roman Catholic Robert Sungenis, who also appears in the film. Sungenis is also known for denying the Holocaust, and for his anti-Semitic articles, which his bishop demanded he stop writing.
According to Raw Story, the film features several scientists — some without permission. Clips from the trailer show Michio Kaku, Lawrence Krauss and Max Tegmart. Krauss is incensed, and tweeted:
For all who asked: Some clips of me apparently were mined for movie on geocentricism. So stupid does disservice to word nonsense. Ignore it.
— Lawrence Krauss (@LKrauss1) April 8, 2014
Krauss also wrote a piece for Slate to explain his complete bewilderment at being included. He is also unsure the means taken to get the clips. Krauss will probably not take legal action, in order to not further stoke the publicity for the pseudo-scientific doc. He also lampoons the idea of geocentricism, saying, “The notion that anyone in the 21st century could take seriously the notion that the sun orbits the Earth, or that the Earth is the center of the universe, is almost unbelievable.”
Okay, so this in the lack of due-diligence I was referring to: OH THANK GOD: Kate Mulgrew Is Mad About the Geocentric Documentary, Too
Yesterday, we ended the day on a major bummer when we learned that Kate Mulgrew, the actor best known for playing Captain Kathryn Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager, would be narrating a documentary backed by geocentrists and Holocaust deniers. Today, she’s set the record straight.
Mulgrew took to her official Facebook page about an hour ago to address growing concerns that her involvement with The Principle, a documentary about how NASA is totally trying to hide the truth that the Sun revolves around the Earth from us or whatever, in some way reflected her own views.
“I understand there has been some controversy about my participation in a documentary called THE PRINCIPLE. Let me assure everyone that I completely agree with the eminent physicist Lawrence Krauss, who was himself misrepresented in the film, and who has written a succinct rebuttal in SLATE. I am not a geocentrist, nor am I in any way a proponent of geocentrism. More importantly, I do not subscribe to anything Robert Sungenis has written regarding science and history and, had I known of his involvement, would most certainly have avoided this documentary. I was a voice for hire, and a misinformed one, at that. I apologize for any confusion that my voice on this trailer may have caused. Kate Mulgrew”
Seems to me that she needs to, along with her assistants…agent, be a little more diligent when it comes to accepting offers to narrate a documentary as batshit crazy as this one. Unless the producers of the documentary have fraudulently re-edited her voice over to fit their agenda…but I believe she was a voice for hire as she states and just did not do the proper homework on the matter, and only seeing a check at the end of a day.
Speaking of crazy, have you seen this? Baby Accused of Murder Plot Goes Into Hiding in Pakistan
Alleged infant criminal mastermind Muhammad “Musa” Khan was charged with conspiracy to commit murder Feb. 1, along with his father, grandfather and around 30 others. The group was protesting an increase in gas prices and a lack of available electricity in their area.
Baby Musa was granted bail in a Lahore court last week, and has another court appearance scheduled for April 12. His family hasn’t decided whether he’ll show up.
“Police are vindictive. Now they are trying to settle the issue on personal grounds, that’s why I sent my grandson to Faisalabad for protection,” the baby’s grandfather, Muhammad Yasin, told Reuters.
I guess the reasons for his arrest are being explain as, guilt by association?
A police sub-inspector apparently claimed in a report that Yasin’s entire family beat him up during the protest. That sub-inspector has since been fired.
What else would we expect when they also will stone women for adultery when they are raped.
With all the talk on equal pay these days, Researchers: More U.S. mothers staying at home because of unemployment | The Raw Story
More mothers in the United States are staying home, but the increase is linked more to unemployment and demographic changes than to choice, a study published Tuesday suggested.
In 2012, nearly one in three mothers, or 29 percent, did not work outside the home, up from 23 percent in 1999, said the study from the Washington-based Pew Research Center.
Most of the homemakers, 85 percent, indicated they stayed at home to look after their children. However, six percent said they did so because they could not find employment — up from one percent in 2000.
And another article dealing with numbers: This Map Shows The Deadly Aftermath Of War Right Here At Home
In 2008, The New York Times compiled a list of 121 cases in which veterans were charged with a killing after returning home, and Current TV, GOOD and MGMT.design collaborated to update the research in 2010. The Huffington Post collected data from these sources and more recent news articles to create the infographic below, which shows that at least 194 veterans have been charged with killings after returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. It also shows that there has been a concentration of such incidents around military bases. Our research may not be a complete tally, but these were the cases we could confirm.
Infographic at the link above.
Alright then, the rest of the links are all dealing with shit, whether it be bullshit…fish shit, Japanese print fart shit, or GOP dipshit(s). (yes plural)
First the GOP assholes…GOP Candidate Wants To Get Elected To Keep His Daughter From Learning Evolution
I don’t know where the hell these people come from and yet…they keep getting elected or in this guy’s case, backed by those politicians already in office.
Aaron Miller, a Republican congressional candidate in Minnesota, said a big reason he’s running is to end classroom instruction on evolution, according to the Mankato Free Press.
Miller, a hospital account manager and Iraq War veteran, said during the congressional district’s Republican Party convention in Albert Lea on Saturday that Minnesota needs more religious freedom. He cited an incident in which his daughter was forced to learn evolution in school.
According to the Mankato Free Press:
He also called for more religious freedoms. He repeated his story about his daughter returning home from school because evolution was being taught in her class. He said the teacher admitted to not believing in the scientific theory to his daughter but told her that the government forced him to teach the lesson.
Miller first mentioned his daughter’s evolution lesson at the Blue Earth County convention in March, according to the Mankato Free Press.
Despite Miller’s attacks on Washington’s influence on education, Minnesota’s academic standards in science are set by the state Department of Education.
Not only is this guy a dipshit, he is a dumbshit.
Eric Holder got in some good jabs yesterday, Eric Holder to Louie Gohmert: ‘Good Luck With Your Asparagus’ | The Daily Banter
Gohmert brought up the “Operation Fast and Furious” scandal (because of course he did) and reminded Holder that he was hit with contempt of Congress charges by the House two years ago for failing to turn over Justice Department documents which the House had subpoenaed. Holder warned Gohmert, “You don’t want to go there, buddy.”
But that wasn’t the really good one. At the end of Gohmert’s time, Holder got the last word. As the chair recognized a different committee member, Holder said to Gohmert, “Good luck with your asparagus.”
This was an hilarious reference to an exchange between Holder and Gohmert last year when Gohmert inexplicably said that Holder “cast aspersions” on his “asparagus.”
Yes, Louie Gohmert said “cast aspersions on my asparagus.” What?
Oh Gohmert, you round-headed nincompoop. You’re lucky that’s all Holder said to you regarding that. If I was Holder, I’d make it a point to work the word “asparagus” into every other sentence. Why? Because this is exactly how a nutbag like Gohmert deserves to be treated.
Videos at the link.
Oh, be glad we don’t have this kind of trouble to deal with: Carnivorous piranhas found blocking sewers in Shropshire
The fish, which are known for their voracious appetites and are commonly found in slightly more tropical climates than Shropshire, had been blocking the sewers after a resident chose to dispose of the dead fish down their toilet.
Matt Final and Jay Slater, who went to investigate the blockage for Severn Trent said: “We’ve certainly seen some weird things in the sewers over the years but we were a little shocked to remove piranhas.
Yeah, dead piranhas down the drain is a bit strange indeed. But at least they were not let out into the local pond or river while alive…I know it isn’t much of a news story, but fish down the shitter is only a segue to the final link: Today We Learned: Japanese “Fart Battle” Scrolls Exist
Let’s talk about farts. Specifically, fart battles as depicted in these hundreds-of-years-old Japanese “he-gassen” scrolls. They’re a real thing, and they might be the best real thing we’ve seen today. Check out some more examples below.
Besides just being incredibly fun to look at, because farts being funny is as much a universal constant as the speed of light, he-gassen scrolls also served some political function in their day. They were sort of like New Yorker cartoons—but with farts. The joke, according to Dangerous Minds and The Daily Mail seems to be that at the time, Japan’s view of foreigners wasn’t a favorable one.
When I saw that headline I immediately thought of Monty Python’s….I fart in your general direction..and it seems that the person who wrote the post thought the same thing.
More pictures of Japanese prints at the link, as well as more info on the artwork.
That is all I have for you this morning. Have a good day and please share your thoughts with us today.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
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!
Is is just me or is there just about no important news coming out of Washington DC? We just finished with a horrible crisis in the government, and there’s another one coming up when Congress and the President have to deal with the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling once again. Yet there seems to be very little focus on dealing with this ongoing threat to the country’s ongoing well-being.
This silence on the economic situation makes me nervous. I suspect there’s a lot of planning and discussion behind the scenes on how those in power are going to convince the mass of Americans to give up our social safety net–they’re trying to figure out how to loot Social Security and Medicare.
I don’t think they’re going to be able to do it, because Americans are awake to the possibility now. As Dakinikat wrote yesterday, President Obama still dreams of a “Grand Bargain,” and so do many other powerful people like Pete Peterson, Alan Simpson, and lots of Republican and Democratic politicians. Just look at how Twitter responded when “Fix the Debt” tried to hawk its greedy plans on the social media site recently. Dakiniat wrote about that yesterday too. So I guess I see the current silence on as the calm before the storm which will hit after all the politicians enjoy their long, relaxing Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations.
Meanwhile, the biggest political story at the moment is the apparent mess that the government made of the Obamacare website. I haven’t tried to get on the site myself, so I don’t really understand what the problems are. But the media is very focused on them. From what I can tell, the biggest problem seems to be that the site is too slow. Today’s Washington Post reports that the government was aware of the problems but went ahead with the site launch despite them.
Days before the launch of President Obama’s online health insurance marketplace, government officials and contractors tested a key part of the Web site to see whether it could handle tens of thousands of consumers at the same time. It crashed after a simulation in which just a few hundred people tried to log on simultaneously.
Despite the failed test, federal health officials plowed ahead.
When the Web site went live Oct. 1, it locked up shortly after midnight as about 2,000 users attempted to complete the first step, according to two people familiar with the project.
As new details emerged about early warning signs of serious deficiencies in HealthCare.gov, Obama on Monday gave a consumer-friendly defense of the health-care law, insisting that the problems many Americans have faced in trying to enroll in insurance plans will be fixed quickly.
“There’s no sugarcoating it: The Web site is too slow; people have been getting stuck during the application process,” he said at a White House event.
At the same time, he admonished Republican critics of the federal insurance exchange, saying that “it is time to stop rooting for its failure.”
Obama’s reaction to the problems isn’t getting good reviews, even from supposedly liberal journalists. At the Atlantic, Garrance Franke-Ruta called Obama “Insurance Salesman In Chief.
Of all the things Barack Obama ever expected to be during the course of his life, a television insurance salesman is probably not one of them.
But that’s the role he took on Monday morning in a Rose Garden speech pitching insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s online marketplaces and acknowledging for the first time just how troubled the website to access them is. His remarks failed to address many of the specific concerns raised byreporters and technologists about the gargantuan Healthcare.gov website, and he and provided no new information about what went wrong or how, specifically, it will be fixed.
Instead, his message was more like an infomercial designed for the general public: We know there are problems with the site and we are on it. Meanwhile, we’re offering a great product that will save you money, so keep on trying, even if it’s a little frustrating.
Washington Post healthcare reporter and commenter Ezra Klein pushed back against the administration’s reference to the problem as bugs and technical problems.“These aren’t glitches, the website, to a first approximation, simply isn’t working” Klein said on Monday’s Morning Joe. Early traffic problems that occurred when the site was overwhelmed by visitors on the first few days may have actually masked the public from the larger problems, he said, like garbled or false information being sent to insurers.
“No one beta-tested the site, which is almost criminal,” the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein said.
“They keep using the word unacceptable. It’s not unacceptable, it’s outrageous,” Mike Barnicle said.“This is the president’s singular achievement, and to be so reticent about the problems that have gone is kind of surprising.”
Politico criticized Obama’s “passive” response to the problems with the website:
Once again, Barack Obama risks looking like a bystander to his own presidency.
Here’s what he did to kick off the week: assemble a crowd in the Rose Garden to hear him repeat how “frustrated” he was about the many problems that plagued the launch of the Affordable Care Act’s website, promise that a “tech surge” was already on its way to set those problems right and implore people to bear with him until they see what the program can do.
Here’s what he didn’t do: explain why those problems weren’t addressed before the Oct. 1 launch, why he didn’t seem to be aware of them before they went very public, or who would be suffering the consequences for any of it. He didn’t apologize. He announced, in broad terms, who would be coming in to help. But he didn’t say anything about who would be shown the exits.
His “nobody’s madder than me” Monday echoed the kinds of statements he’s repeatedly made about problems over the last few months — “Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it” (the IRS scandal), “It’s not as if I don’t have a personal interest” (the NSA scandal), “This is not a world we should accept” (Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons). He puts himself forward as a man frustrated with what’s happened on his watch, promising change, insisting that nothing of the sort could ever happen again.
I have to agree. Obama’s passivity is one of the biggest complaints I have about his presidency–particularly in the way he has (or hasn’t) dealt with the economic crisis.
The New York Times reports that it will take “weeks of work” to fix the website problems, despite the fact that most of the problems have been identified.
In interviews, experts said the technological problems of the site went far beyond the roadblocks to creating accounts that continue to prevent legions of users from even registering. Indeed, several said, the login problems, though vexing to consumers, may be the easiest to solve. One specialist said that as many as five million lines of software code may need to be rewritten before the Web site runs properly.
“The account creation and registration problems are masking the problems that will happen later,” said one person involved in the repair effort.
Personally, I’m finding this all pretty depressing, because it was starting to look like the Democrats could retake the House in 2014. The Obamacare mess isn’t going to help that project.
Today, CNN reported the results of new new poll that found that: 75% say most Republicans in Congress don’t deserve re-election.
A CNN/ORC International survey released Monday also found a majority saying that the Republicans’ policies are too extreme. And according to the poll, Democrats have an 8-point advantage over the Republicans in an early indicator in the battle for control of Congress. But with more than a year to go until the 2014 midterm elections, there’s plenty of time for these numbers to change.
The poll was conducted Friday through Sunday, just after the end of the 16-day partial federal government shutdown that was sparked in part by an effort by House conservatives to dismantle the health care law, which is President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.
A majority of those questioned blamed congressional Republicans for the government shutdown and said the President was the bigger winner in the deal to end the crisis.
The survey also found nearly eight in 10 saying the shutdown was bad for the country, and the standoff has led to a loss of confidence and satisfaction in government. And more than seven in 10 think that another shutdown is likely.
I hope Obama gets serious about fixing the Obamacare problems so Republicans can’t get up off the mat.
Another big story in the news is the $13 billion penalty the Justice Department is seeking to get from JP Morgan Chase.
From Bloomberg: JPMorgan Guilty Plea Sought by Holder Shows Harder Stance.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon went to Washington almost a month ago to see if U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder would settle a criminal probe of mortgage fraud at the bank if it paid more money to resolve related civil investigations.
Holder’s team, which included Deputy Attorney General James Cole and Associate Attorney General Tony West, said ending the investigation by the U.S. attorney in Sacramento would require the bank to plead guilty to something, according to a person familiar with the talks, which were held in a conference room that was Robert F. Kennedy’s office when he had Holder’s job….
Later, the department proposed the bank plead guilty to making false statements related to sales of toxic mortgage bonds. The bank proposed a nonprosecution agreement, which Holder rejected, the person said. The bank agreed to assist the continuing criminal probe. The negotiation typifies the harder line the Obama administration is taking in its second term.
Well, that’s good news IMHO.
Holder’s refusal to let JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank, escape criminal liability for its mortgage-bond sales, and the move to extract penalties for wrongdoing that led to the financial crisis, may go a long way toward appeasing critics of the Justice Department who have been urging charges against bankers since the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in 2008….
The effort began on orders from President Barack Obama, who promised in his 2012 State of the Union address to hold banks accountable for their role in helping trigger the deepest recession since the Great Depression. A mortgage task force of prosecutors and regulators set up to carry out the president’s mandate produced the record $13 billion deal, which requires a formal sign-off by both sides.
Great! Let’s hope Obama follows through. Another good sign is that The Wall Street Editorial page is up in arms about the settlement.
The tentative $13 billion settlement that the Justice Department appears to be extracting from J.P. Morgan Chase JPM +0.21% needs to be understood as a watershed moment in American capitalism. Federal law enforcers are confiscating roughly half of a company’s annual earnings for no other reason than because they can and because they want to appease their left-wing populist allies.
The settlement isn’t final and many details weren’t available on the weekend, but we know enough for Americans to be dismayed. The bulk of the settlement is related to mortgage-backed securities issued before the 2008 financial panic. But those securities weren’t simply a Morgan product. They were largely issued by Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, both of which the federal government asked J.P. Morgan to take over to help ease the crisis.
So first the feds asked the bank to do the country a favor without giving it a chance for proper due diligence. The Treasury needed quick decisions, and Morgan CEOJamie Dimon made them in good faith. But five years later the feds are punishing the bank for having done them the favor. As Richard Parsons notes nearby, this is not going to make another CEO eager to help the Treasury in the next crisis. But more pointedly, where is the justice in such ex post facto punishment?
The WSJ complains that banks are being turned into “public untilities.” I think that’s exactly what they should be.
We’d like to see Mr. Dimon fight the charges, but the political reality is that he and his bank don’t have much choice. His board is eager to move on, and the government will only turn the screws harder if he resists. In a post Dodd-Frank world, banks are public utilities and no CEO can afford to resist the government’s demands.
The real lesson of the Morgan settlement isn’t that justice has finally been done to the perpetrators of the crisis. That would require arresting Barney Frank and those in Congress who blocked the reform of Fannie and Freddie, plus the Federal Reserve governors who created so much easy credit.
Hahahahahahahaha!! The oligarchs don’t like it much when the shoe is on the other foot, do they?
I’m already running out of space, so here are a few more headlines link dump style:
Rolling Stone: U.S. Drone Strikes Violate Laws of War
What’s the deal with Facebook?
Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today? Please share your links in the comment thread.