Tuesday Reads

Henri Matisse, Woman Reading with Tea

Henri Matisse, Woman Reading with Tea

 Good Morning!!

 I need to begin with some local Massachusetts stories that may have national repercussions.

First there is an update to the story of Ibragim Todashev, who was allegedly a friend of accused Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Both men are deceased. As you may recall, Todashev was shot and killed in his home in Orlando by an agent from the Boston FBI office on May 22, 2013.

The agent, along with an agent from the Orlando FBI office and two Massachusetts state troopers, had been questioning Todashev about his possible involvement with Tamerlan in the murders of three men in Waltham, MA on September 11, 2011.

According to the agent and the trooper who was there with him, Todashev attacked the agent with a table and the agent had shot him in self defense. Todashev had supposedly been writing a confession to his involvement in the murders when he suddenly attacked. The agent who shot Todashev was later absolved of any wrongdoing by reports by the Florida State Attorney’s office, the DOJ, and the FBI. The FBI report has not been released; and in the other two reports, much information, include the names of the agents and troopers, some portions of photos of the crime scene were redacted.

Now to the latest news (which so far has gone unnoticed by the corporate media). A couple of days ago, a blogger named B. Blake revealed that he/she had succeeded in downloading a version of the Florida Attorney’s report that was not properly redacted. The unredacted photos and the names of the agent who shot Todashev along with the two Mass. state troopers have been published on B. Blake’s blog “The Boston Marathon Bombings:What Happened?” The post includes an explanation of how the unredacted materials were obtained and authenticated. I’m not going to post the photos or names of law enforcement personnel; but you can see them at the above link. In another blog post, B. Blake reports some background information on the FBI agent involved.

So far I’ve seen nothing reported about this in the mainstream press, but it is all over Twitter. I don’t know if this will get out into the mainstream, but the FBI must have noticed it by now. I don’t know what will happen next, but when Twitter gets hold of a story, it generally gets noticed by the media eventually. I hope no harm will come to the three men whose names have been kept quiet until now. Stay tuned . . .

The other Massachusetts story will probably be blown up way out of proportion by the GOP Obamacare haters. From The Boston Globe, Mass. scrapping flawed health insurance website: Next steps have uncertainties for users, insurers.

Massachusetts plans to scrap the state’s dysfunctional online health insurance website, after deciding it would be too expensive and time-consuming to fix, and replace it with a system used by several other states to enroll residents in plans.

Simultaneously, the state is preparing to temporarily join the federal HealthCare.gov insurance marketplace in case the replacement system is not ready by the fall.

As late as March, the state had considered rebuilding the balky Health Connector site, which has left thousands of consumers frustrated and many without coverage for months. But Sarah Iselin, the insurance executive whom Governor Deval Patrick tapped to oversee repairs to the site, said that approach turned out to be far too risky.

The state’s online insurance system must be ready by Nov. 15 for consumers to enroll in new health plans for 2015, and Massachusetts is one of several states under pressure from the Obama administration to make sure it meets the deadline.

The change mostly involves adopting a new software program and getting it up to speed by the deadline, which is set by law and has no flexibility.

Another unknown is whether the transition will create disruption for consumers. Eric Linzer, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, said some insurers may not be able to afford to remain in the program, meaning consumers could end up having to switch coverage.

“I can’t overstate the complexity and technical issues that come with not having to develop just one but two separate systems,’’ he said. “Given the time frame in which all this has to be implemented, this is going to be a significant undertaking for plans.’’

Massachusetts also provides more generous subsidies than the federal health insurance program for residents with incomes below 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Iselin said whether the state can retain those unique aspects of its program if it connects to the federal site is still under discussion with the Obama administration. According to the state’s plan, use of the federal website, if necessary, would be for no more than a year…

On the other hand, there is positive news long-term for Obamacare from a study of the effects of Massachusetts’ adopting universal health care in 2006. From the NYT: Mortality Drop Seen to Follow ’06 Health Law.

BOSTON — The death rate in Massachusetts dropped significantly after it adopted mandatory health care coverage in 2006, a study released Monday found, offering evidence that the country’s first experiment with universal coverage — and the model for crucial parts of President Obama’s health care law — has saved lives, health economists say.

The study tallied deaths in Massachusetts from 2001 to 2010 and found that the mortality rate — the number of deaths per 100,000 people — fell by about 3 percent in the four years after the law went into effect. The decline was steepest in counties with the highest proportions of poor and previously uninsured people. In contrast, the mortality rate in a control group of counties similar to Massachusetts in other states was largely unchanged.

A national 3 percent decline in mortality among adults under 65 would mean about 17,000 fewer deaths a year.

“It’s big,” said Samuel Preston, a demographer at the University of Pennsylvania and an authority on life expectancy. Professor Preston, who was not involved in the study, called the study “careful and thoughtful,” and said it added to a growing body of evidence that people with health insurance could reap the ultimate benefit — longer life.

Experts said the study, which was published online Monday in theAnnals of Internal Medicine, will not settle the long-debated question of whether being insured prolongs life, but it provides the most credible evidence yet that it might. Still, health improvements can take years to surface in mortality data, and some researchers were skeptical of the magnitude and suddenness of the decline.

Read more at the link.

In national news . . .

SCOTUS

NYT writer Adam Liptak has an interesting analysis of Supreme Court “in-group bias” in decisions involving “free speech.”

Justice Antonin Scalia is known as a consistent and principled defender of free speech rights.

It pained him, he has said, when he voted to strike down a law making flag burning a crime. “If it was up to me, if I were king,” he said, “I would take scruffy, bearded, sandal-wearing idiots who burn the flag, and I would put them in jail.” But the First Amendment stopped him.

That is a powerful example of constitutional principles overcoming personal preferences. But it turns out to be an outlier. In cases raising First Amendment claims, a new study found, Justice Scalia voted to uphold the free speech rights of conservative speakers at more than triple the rate of liberal ones. In 161 cases from 1986, when he joined the court, to 2011, he voted in favor of conservative speakers 65 percent of the time and liberal ones 21 percent.

He is not alone. “While liberal justices are over all more supportive of free speech claims than conservative justices,” the study found, “the votes of both liberal and conservative justices tend to reflect their preferences toward the ideological groupings of the speaker.”

Social science calls this kind of thing “in-group bias.” The impact of such bias on judicial behavior has not been explored in much detail, though earlierstudies have found that female appeals court judges are more likely to vote for plaintiffs in sexual harassment and sex discrimination suits.

Lee Epstein, a political scientist and law professor who conducted the new study with two colleagues, said it showed the justices to be “opportunistic free speech advocates.”

Much more–with chart–at the link.

There’s quite a bit of discussion today of Lara Logan and whether or not she will ever return to CBS’ 60 Minutes. The uproar is in reaction to a lengthy article at New York Magazine by Joe Hagen, Benghazi and the Bombshell: Is Lara Logan too Toxic to Return to 60 Minutes? I haven’t had time to read the article yet, but Talking Points Memo summarizes the main points: Lara Logan’s Return To CBS Up In The Air.

Lara-Logan

A lengthy New York magazine report published Sunday suggests that Logan’s return is far from certain. In the piece contributing editor Joe Hagan explores the tensions that simmered within CBS News, where his sources in the network described the current atmosphere as “toxic,” since Logan was forced to apologize last November for a flawed report on the Benghazi attacks.

The report that led to Logan’s suspension centered around a British security contractor, Dylan Davies, who gave a heroic first-person account of the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi. The contractor’s credibility was called into question after the segment aired, when it was reported that Davies may not have been present on the night of the attacks at the compound.

TPM quotes some of Logan’s CBS co-workers:

“It’s not an accident that Lara Logan fucked up,” one of Logan’s colleagues told the magazine. “It was inevitable. Everybody saw this coming.”

During the fallout from the report, a founding member of “60 Minutes,” Morley Safer, reportedly marched into executive producer Jeff Fager’s office and demanded that Logan be fired, but to no avail. Another unnamed source suggested to the magazine that CBS President Les Moonves has since “soured” on Logan, whom he previously treated as a favorite.

Think Progress reports that CBS was so embarrassed by Logan’s reporting that they “asked Nexis-Lexis to delete [the] transcript.”

In international news . . .

There’s an extremely disturbing story from Nigeria. BBC News: Boko Haram ‘to sell’ Nigeria girls abducted from Chibok

Abubakar Shekau, leader  of Boko Haram

Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram

Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram has threatened to “sell” the hundreds of schoolgirls it abducted three weeks ago.

Militant leader Abubakar Shekau sent a video obtained by the AFP news agency, in which he said for the first time that his group had taken the girls.

About 230 girls are still believed to be missing, prompting widespread criticism of the Nigerian government.

The Boko Haram insurgency has left thousands dead since 2009.

The girls were taken from their boarding school in Chibok, in the northern state of Borno, on the night of 14 April.

Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden”, has attacked numerous educational institutions in northern Nigeria.

In the video, Abubakar Shekau said the girls should not have been in school in the first place, but rather should get married.

“God instructed me to sell them, they are his properties and I will carry out his instructions,” he said.

I wonder why it is that “God” give so many widely varying “instructions” to people of different “religions.”

More from CNN: ‘I will sell them,’ Boko Haram leader says of kidnapped Nigerian girls.

“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,” a man claiming to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said in a video first obtained by Agence France-Presse.

“There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women,” he continued, according to a CNN translation from the local Hausa language….”Girls, you should go and get married,” he said.

Not surprisingly, there has been much criticism of the government’s response to the kidnappings.

Weeks after the girls’ April 14 kidnapping, Africa’s most populous country seems to be no closer to finding them, triggering complaints of ineptitude — some of which are expressed on Twitter with the globally trending hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Nigeria’s finance minister said Monday that her country’s government remains committed to finding the girls, but should have done a better job explaining the situation to the public.

“Have we communicated what is being done properly? The answer is no, that people did not have enough information,” Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told CNN’s Richard Quest.

Revealing details about the investigation is tricky, she said, “because you are dealing with people that you don’t know, and you don’t know…what they might do to these girls.”

There is much more information about the Boko Haram group at the CNN link.

Those are my offerings for today. What stories are you following? Please share your links in the comment thread and have a lovely spring Tuesday!

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Thursday Reads: Disasters, FBI Shooting Reports, and Other News

kubrick-subway-newspapers

Good Morning!!

I never know if I should say “good morning” on days when the news is of disasters. But life goes on, and we humans are curious and driven to make sense of what is happening around us.

Yesterday felt surreal to me. There was a full-fledged blizzard not far south of me on Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard, but here in the Boston area we got no snow or precipitation of any kind–just the wind howling outside all day long.

Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard bore the brunt of the storm as it hit Massachusetts, dropping up to 10 inches of snow. The snow had stopped by the afternoon but robust winds were expected through Wednesday night.

Hurricane-force wind gusts of 83 mph were reported Wednesday morning on Nantucket, where more than 1,200 National Grid customers lost power and the high school was opened as a shelter.

NSTAR reported almost 10,000 customers out on Cape Cod at the peak of the storm.

In Chatham, wild winds hammered the coast, as the National Weather Service warned mariners to stay off the water.  A 19th century house that was under renovation collapsed in Chatham at the former of Silver Leaf and Main Street.

The pressure dropped down to 960 millibars, and that is stronger than the October snowstorm we had a couple of years ago and the February blizzard in 2013, so this is a pretty massive storm, “Storm Team 5 Cindy Fitzgibbon said.

And yet, here in Greater Boston where the nor’easters usually hit hardest, there was nothing but wind–and in Boston’s Back Bay, a windblown 9-alarm fire that trapped and killed two firefighters and injured 13 others. From CNN:

Bostonfire1

“In 30 years, I’ve never seen a fire travel that fast, escalate that quickly, and create such havoc in such a short period of time,” Deputy Fire Chief Joe Finn told reporters.

He identified those killed as Lt. Edward Walsh, 43, and Firefighter Michael Kennedy, 33….

According to Finn, firefighters were able to rescue a number of people stuck on upper floors.

He said Walsh and Kennedy became trapped soon after entering the building. They were both later located in the basement, where the fire appears to have started.

Fueled by strong winds, flames quickly engulfed the four-story building.

At one point, there was an explosion and a number of firefighters were blown down stairs, Finn said.

“That fire … was blowing like a blowtorch out the front, from the rear to the front,” the deputy fire chief added.In addition to those killed, 13 firefighters were injured. Some suffered burns, others broken bones.

At least 18 people were taken to local hospitals.

Jacob Spillers was saved Saturday after being trapped in the mud in Oso, WA

Jacob Spillers was saved Saturday after being trapped in the mud in Oso, WA

On the other side of the country, the aftermath of the mudslide in Oso, Washington continues. The NY Daily News reports: 90 still missing in fatal Washington state mudslide; 16 bodies recovered 

Washington authorities on Wednesday reduced the number of people missing from a community wiped out by a mudslide to 90, as the families and friends of those still unaccounted for begin to confront the reality that some may never be found.

The official death toll remains at 16, with an additional eight bodies located but not recovered, Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington said. Authorities said they expected more bodies to be found on Thursday.

The number of missing had been fluctuating — at one point reaching as high as 220 — but authorities were able to verify that 140 people reported missing had been located, Pennington said. That left 90 people missing, plus 35 others who may or may not have been in the area at the time of the slide.

The revised numbers come at the end of a rain-soaked fifth day of searching for survivors in the small community of Oso, some 55 miles southeast of Seattle. But as time passes and the death toll continues to rise, the chances grow increasingly dim of finding people alive amid the debris.

With little hope to cling to, family members of the missing are beginning realize their loved ones may remain entombed forever inside a mountain of mud that is believed to have claimed more than 20 lives.

So heartbreaking . . . There was one bit of good news–the incredible rescue of a four-year-old boy from the rubble.

The young child was trapped by the mud and debris after a major landslide in Oso over the weekend. Rescue workers had to use a helicopter to reach the scene, where they managed to carry the boy to safety.

Watch a video of the rescue here.

On Tuesday, we finally got two official reports on shooting of Ibragim Todashev in Florida, and I spent much of the day yesterday reading them. You may recall that Todashev was a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers who had been killed during the chaotic shootout in Watertown, MA on April 18, 2013. An agent from the Boston FBI office and two Massachusetts State troopers had gone to Orlando less than a week after the Marathon bombing to interview Todashev about his relationship with Tsarnaev and his possible involvement with Tsarnaev in a triple homicide that took place in Waltham, MA on September 11, 2011.

Along with many others, I’ve been extremely suspicious of the FBI in this case, but having read the reports from the Justice Department Civil Rights Division and the Florida State Attorney’s office, I now believe that the shooting was in self defense and that Todashev and Tsarnaev likely committed the Waltham murders. If it hadn’t been for the ridiculous secrecy maintained by the FBI, we all could have been spared a year’s worth of confusion and conspiracy theories.

As I understand it, there were legitimate tips that Todashev was acquainted with Tamerlan Tsarnaev and that he should be talked to about the bombing and the triple murders. The reason the questioning took place at Todashev’s Orlando residence was that he refused to be interviewed any more at the police station because the FBI had arrested his girlfriend on their last visit there. Who could blame him?

As to the incident in the apartment, it turns out that Todashev’s verbal confession to involvement in the murders with Tsarnaev was recorded. As soon as he admitted involvement, he was read his Miranda rights and signed a waiver that he was willing to talk without an attorney present. This is all recorded on video. Todashev’s story was that he thought he was going to help rob some drug dealers and he had no idea Tamerlan planned to murder them. Todashev also verbally indicated he thought he could make some kind of deal for the information he had. He asked how much prison time he would get and whether he would be allowed to smoke in jail. Again this is all recorded–the recordings themselves have not been released, but I’m willing to accept the word of the Justice Department and Florida investigators that they exist.

From the Justice Department report:

Initially, Todashev was not completely forthcoming. As the conversation developed, 
he proffered that he had direct knowledge of the 2011 triple homicide. At 10:25 p.m.,
Todashev verbally “waived his rights” and signed a Miranda form acknowledging his 
understanding of his right to be represented by an attorney and willingness to speak
at that time without an attorney.
In response to continuing questioning, he hesitantly, but indisputably, admitted
complicity in the murders. The verbal confession was recorded on the troopers’ 
recording devices. More than one recording device was activated at different times
by the troopers as either the memory capacity or the battery power of a particular
recording device diminished during the course of the interview. Also, one trooper
was using his cell phone both to record parts of the interview and to send text
messages to other law enforcement officials.
As midnight approached, Todashev agreed to write a statement to memorialize his 
verbal confession and to provide extenuating and mitigating facts that he felt 
explained his conduct.

At some point, when the FBI agent was looking down at his notes and a Massachusetts state trooper was looking at his cell phone, Todashev allegedly threw the small table on which he was writing and hit the agent in the head, opening a large wound. Then everything turned to chaos. From The Boston Globe, a brief description of the shooting, based on the Florida report.

State and federal investigators knew Ibragim Todashev was dangerous. But he was calm when he led them to his small, dark Orlando apartment last May. He asked them to take off their shoes and ushered the investigators inside, through the door emblazoned with the image of an AK-47.

Over the next several hours, the 27-year-old mixed martial arts fighter chain-smoked, twitched, and eventually, confessed to being involved in the grisly slayings of three men in Waltham in 2011.

Then the room exploded. Authorities said Todashev hurled a coffee table at a Boston FBI agent, striking him in the head, and then charged the agent and a Massachusetts state trooper with a metal broomstick. In seconds, Todashev was dead, felled by seven bullets fired by the agent.

“I was in fear for my life,” the agent said. “There was no doubt in my mind that Todashev intended to kill both of us.”

The two reports are still unnecessarily mysterious, in my opinion. Why was the alleged written confession completely blacked out? In my opinion, that should have been released on day one, along with many of the other details of the incident. There are many unanswered questions–worst of all, why did the agent who killed Todashev refuse to be interviewed by investigators? The two reports of his conduct were based on his written report to the FBI.

Frankly, I was still doubtful until I read Todashev’s handwritten partial confession–which was obtained by Susan Zalkind of Boston Magazine. In my opinion, the photo of the confession appears genuine and the handwriting is similar to the other sample we have from Todashev, a gym membership application.

Todashev handwriting

Here is Boston Magazine’s transcription of the blurred handwriting:

My name is IBRAGIM TODASHEV
I wanna tell the story about the robbery
me and Tam did in Waltham in September
of 2011. That was [?] by Tamerlan.
[?] [?] he [?] to me to rob
the drug dealers. We went to their
house we got in there and Tam had
a gun he pointed it [?] the guy that
opened the door for us [?]
we went upstairs into the house
[?] 3 guys in there [?] we put them
on the ground and then we [?]
[?] taped their hands up

I think one of the questionable words (used twice) is “offered.” It looks like he started to describe what happened and then went back to the “offer” by Tsarnaev. My version:

My name is IBRAGIM TODASHEV
I wanna tell the story about the robbery
me and Tam did in Waltham in September
of 2011. That was [?] by Tamerlan.
[We went] he [offered] to me to rob
the drug dealers. We went to their
house we got in there and Tam had
a gun he pointed it [?] the guy that
opened the door for us [?]
we went upstairs into the house
[?] 3 guys in there [?] we put them
on the ground and then we [?]
[?] taped their hands up

That was [offered] by Tamerlan.
[?] [?] he [?] to me to rob
the drug dealers.

For anyone who wants to read more, here are two summaries of the Florida Report and Susan Zalkind’s lengthy recap of the case.

Boston Globe: Todashev reports detail a confession, then chaos

Boston Globe: Takeaways from the Todashev shooting report

Boston Magazine: The Murders Before the Marathon

This has been a largely Boston-centric post, so I’ll add a few more links to other news before I turn the floor over to you.

CNN: Obama, Pope Francis meet for first time

NYT Editorial Board: Giving Up on 4-Year-Olds

AP: New York Schools are Mostly Racially Segregated

Boston Globe: Satellite spots 300 objects in search for missing Malaysia Airlines plane

AP: India Declared Polio-Free

Reuters: Hopes fade as 25th body found in Washington state mudslide

NYT: Military Cuts Render NATO Less Formidable as Deterrent to Russia

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today?


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

Calvin&Hobbes fireplace

It’s Saturday!!

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

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

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

Calvin&Hobbes snow

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

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

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

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

The filing did not say what the statement was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calvin war

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CalvinandHobbes-TracerFacts

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

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

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

Rolling Stone: The Dark Thrills of ‘True Detective’

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

Slate: The True DetectiveGlossary

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

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

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


Tuesday: “I Was There, But I Didn’t Do The Murders”

Ibragim Todashev and Reni Manukyan (courtesy of The Guardian)

Ibragim Todashev and Reni Manukyan (courtesy of The Guardian)

Good Morning!!

This morning public radio station WBUR in Boston broadcast a detailed report about the killing of Ibragim Todashev in his apartment in Orlando, Florida, on May 22, 2013, reportedly by an agent from the FBI office in Boston.

Todashev was a friend of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The FBI claims that before he died, Todashev confessed that he and Tsarnaev had participated in a grisly triple murder that took place on September 11, 2011 in Waltham Massachusetts. For some more background, here is a post I wrote about the case on May 30 of last year.

The WBUR report by David Boeri provides the most detail yet on this confusing and frustrating story. You can listen to the 13-minute broadcast here and/or read the written report, Interrogation Turned Deadly: Questions Remain In Todashev Shooting. Until now, the FBI has stubbornly stonewalled the media and Congress, even refusing to allow the release of Todashev’s autopsy.

According to the report, WBUR learned the names of the FBI agents and Massachusetts State troopers who were present in Todashev’s apartment at the time of the shooting, but agreed not to reveal the names because it would put the agents and troopers in danger.

Todashev’s widow Reni Manukyan, from whom he was separated, was also interviewed for the story.

If you’re at all interested, I highly recommend reading the whole article at WBUR, because it is too long and detailed to summarize, and excerpts won’t do it justice.

But here are some new details about how the shooting happened. Keep in mind that for weeks leading up to the final day of Todashev’s life he had repeatedly been interviewed by FBI agents, called on the phone by them, and tailed by them everywhere he went. Todashev’s girlfriend had was also being held on immigration charges and was being pressured to inform on him.

Inside the condominium unit, I have learned from law enforcement sources, Todashev faced an agent assigned to the Boston office of the FBI and two Massachusetts State Police troopers — one of them assigned to the Middlesex district attorney. Middlesex County has responsibility for investigating the unsolved triple murder in Waltham in 2011. With the troopers’ arrival, it appears the focus of interest was changing from terrorism to murder….

In Orlando, the interrogation of Todashev was extraordinarily long.

“The fact that there were multiple officers present there questioning him for a period of hours clearly indicated that Mr. Todashev did not feel that he was free to leave,” said Thomas Nolan, who chairs the criminal justice department at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Nolan was also a Boston police officer for 27 years.

“Mr. Todashev was obviously not free to leave if he chose so,” Nolan added. “So he was in effect in custody here.”

At this point the agent(s) should have read Todashev his Miranda rights, but the FBI won’t say whether that happened. They may have decided that since Todashev had “invited” them into his home, they could continue questioning him until he told them to stop or asked for an attorney. If so, they apparently made the wrong decision.

“If you’re beginning to accuse somebody of a triple murder back in Massachusetts, that’s going to generate stress and crisis and conflict,” said Tom Shamshak, a police trainer, instructor in investigations at Boston University and former Massachusetts police chief.

There was a challenge and a danger in being in Todashev’s home, because it was his home— where he was most comfortable, and where, if there were any weapons, he knew where they were and the police did not. The one place police would know there were weapons was the one place they are told in training to avoid when making accusations and where they dread going when responding to calls of domestic disputes: the kitchen, which has knives….

“The accusatory tone in an interrogation … it’s hot,” Shamshak said. “So you have a hot, volatile back-and-forth with the officers: ‘I don’t want to hear that. I know you did it.’ It’s like a volcano.”

And, at some point in the long night of a very long interrogation, Todashev broke, according to law enforcement sources familiar with accounts of what happened who requested anonymity because they do not have permission to speak publicly.

“I was there, but I didn’t do the murders,” Todashev said, according to those sources. Under the heat, they say, Todashev blamed Tsarnaev for the murders.

That was what the agents had been waiting for. Next, they tried to get Todashev to write out a confession and sign it; but they claim Todashev lost control, flipped over the table, knocked the agent down, “came at him with a ‘pipe,'” and according to the agent, “would have split his skull.” And so,

Sources say the FBI agent fired in two bursts. With a burst of three bullets, Todashev went down, according to this account. Then, to the amazement of the agent and the trooper, the ultimate fighter Todashev came up again. The agent fired four more. It was 12:15, the official time of death, Manukyan says.

I’ve already quoted too much from the story, so please go read the whole thing if you’re interested–it’s absolutely riveting. Congratulations to David Boeri and WBUR for getting so much detail–apparently from sources who were present at the scene of Todashev’s shooting. Perhaps this will put enough pressure on the FBI for them to release their own report.

I have a few more news items for you, but I’ll post them in the comment thread. I’ve already had a horrible WordPress glitch today that made me have to rewrite part of this post, and I’m way behind in my real-world schedule. So, please join me in the comments!


Thursday Reads: Hot and Bothered Edition

HeatWave-8747

Good Morning!!

Today is day 5 of the latest heatwave, which isn’t scheduled to break here in southern New England until Sunday. I don’t think I’m capable of writing very much today–we’ll see how it goes.

From USA Today: Heat wave scorches central, eastern USA

A killer heat wave brought the hottest weather of the summer to much of the nation Wednesday, and at least two more days of broiling temperatures are forecast before cooler weather slides in over the weekend.

About 130 million people are sweltering through the heat wave in the Midwest and Northeast this week, reports AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

High daytime and nighttime temperatures, high humidity, intense sunshine and lack of wind will continue to make these areas “seem like the middle of the tropics,” he said.

High temperatures in the 90s are again likely Thursday and Friday all the way from the Plains to the Northeast. Heat advisories and warnings are in place from the Dakotas to New England.

Boston Bombing Aftermath

Quite a few people in New England are all hot and bothered about the August 1 cover of Rolling Stone–a glamorous photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The photo accompanies a long article by Janet Reitman, who has a reputation as a good investigative journalist.

The cover copy suggests that Reitman will reveal how sweet little Dzhokhar became “radicalized” into a “monster” who participated in the Boston Marathon bombing. I  read the article, and was disappointed to find that it is mostly a rehash of material that was covered long ago in The Boston Globe and The New York Times. Reitman appears to have interviewed some of Tsarnaev’s high school friends, but again they offered no new insights. Reitman had scheduled an appearance on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, who was born and raised in Boston. In the wake of the controversy, Reitman cancelled, which is also disappointing. Why not go on and defend her story?

I can’t say I’m all that bothered by the cover, since the photo was also featured long ago in The New York Times and other publications, but I can respect that for survivors of the bombings it seems pretty dismissive of their suffering to glamorize the perpetrator. Here are a few links on the topic–see what you think.

Erik Wemple at The Washington Post: To Rolling Stone detractors: Please

Slate: Rolling Stone’s Boston Bomber Cover Is Brilliant

The Boston Globe: Why Boston reacted right to Rolling Stone

Time: Drugstores, Supermarkets Boycott Rolling Stone Over Boston-Bomber Cover

In other news related to the Boston bombing suspects, friends of three men who were brutally murdered  in Waltham in September 2011 have been talking to the media. Susan Zalkind, a friend of Erik Weissman appeared on the Rachel Maddow show this week.

Susan Zalkind, a close friend of Eric Weissman who was found murdered with two of friends in a Harding Avenue home in September 2011, appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show on Tuesday to discuss her investigation and reactions to the case, which is officially under investigation. However, authorities reportedly believe accused Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his friend Ibragim Todashev committed the murders as a drug ripoff. Tsarnaev was killed during the April 19 shootout with police in Watertown. The Federal Bureau of Investigation shot and killed Todashev in his Florida home in May after allegedly attacking agents. Todashev had been in the process of writing a confession implicating himself and Tsarnaev in the murders.

Other friends of the three murdered men talked to CNN, and High Times Magazine has the video. Friends believe that police didn’t take the investigations of the murders very seriously once they concluded that the three men were drug dealers.

Meanwhile, the FBI is refusing to release the Todashev autopsy. From Russia Today:

The FBI has ordered a Florida medical examiner’s office not to release the autopsy report of a Chechen man who was killed during an FBI interview in May over his ties to one of the suspected Boston Marathon bombers.

The autopsy report for Ibragim Todashev, 27, killed by an FBI agent during an interrogation which took place in his apartment on May 22 was ready for release on July 8. However, the FBI barred its publication, saying an internal probe into his death is ongoing.

The FBI has informed this office that the case is still under active investigation and thus not to release the document,” according to statement by Tony Miranda, forensic records coordinator for Orange and Osceola counties in Orlando.

The forensic report was expected to clarify the circumstances of Todashev’s death.The Bureau’s statement issued on the day of the incident provided no details of what transpired, saying only that the person being interviewed was killed when a “violent confrontation was initiated by the individual.”

Back in May Ibragim Todashev’s father showed pictures of his dead son’s body at a press conference in Moscow, revealing he had been shot six times.

“I only saw things like that in movies: shooting a person, and then the kill shot. Six shots in the body, one of them in the head,” Abdulbaki Todashev said.

Student Loan Interest Rates

A group of Senators have made a deal on student loan interest rates, according to Politico.

Key bipartisan Senate negotiators met in Majority Whip Dick Durbin’s Office late Wednesday and emerged confident that they could finally put the vexing issue behind them.

“It would save students in 11 million families billions of dollars,” said Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “We’d like to be able to do this together and we hope that we can come to a decision right away because families need to make their plans.”

Alexander, the top Republican on education issues, said their proposal would apply retroactively to students who have already drawn federal loans at higher rates which went into effect on July 1.

A Senate aide familiar with the talks said the bill could go on the floor as soon as tomorrow. Leadership aides said that’s implausible but not impossible. Otherwise the bill would get a floor vote early next week.

Of course Republican members of the House will probably have different views on this. I have no idea if this is a good plan or not, and I’m too hot to care. I won’t live to see my student loans paid off, that’s all I know for sure.

Michael Hastings Fatal Crash

Russ Baker’s site Who What Why recently published an interesting (and not too wacky) article on the car crash that killed Michael Hastings. It’s written by Michael Krikorian, a former LA Times crime reporter base on footage from surveillance cameras that caught some of the accident. Krikorian doesn’t offer conspiracy theories–just reports of what he saw at the accident scene, his reactions to the videos caught on cameras a his girlfriend’s pizza restaurant nearby, and some reactions from experts to whom he showed the tapes. The  most mysterious questions seems to be why Hastings was driving so fast. And why didn’t he apply the brakes when he started to skid?

Four seconds into the start of the tape, a minivan or SUV goes by the front of restaurant. Three seconds later, another vehicle goes by, traveling from the restaurant front door to the crash site in about seven seconds. At 35 seconds into the tape, a car is seen driving northbound and appears to slow, probably for the light at Melrose.

Then at 79 seconds, the camera catches a very brief flash of light in the reflection of the glass of the pizzeria. Traveling at least twice as fast as the other cars on the tape, Hastings’s Mercedes C250 coupe suddenly whizzes by. (This is probably the “whoosh” that Gary, the Mozza employee, heard.)

The car swerves and then explodes in a brilliant flash as it hits a palm tree in the median. Viewed at normal speed, it is a shocking scene—reminiscent of fireballs from “Shock and Awe” images from Baghdad in 2003….I think it’s safe to say the car was doing at least 80….

Highland has a very slight rise and fall at its intersection with Melrose. It’s difficult to tell by the film, but based on tire marks—which were not brake skid marks, by the way—chalked by the traffic investigators, it seems that the Mercedes may have been airborne briefly as it crossed the intersection, then landed hard. Tire marks were left about 10 feet east of the restaurant’s valet stand….

About 100 feet after the car zooms by on the tape, it starts to swerve. At about 195 feet from the camera, the car jumps the curb of the center median, heading toward a palm tree 56 feet away.

About halfway between the curb and the tree, the car hits a metal protrusion—perhaps 30 inches tall and 2 feet wide—that gives access to city water mains below. This is where the first small flash occurs. This pipe may have damaged the undercarriage of the car, perhaps rupturing a fuel line.

Check the story out and see what you think. It appears the police have closed the book on the case except for waiting for tox screens on Hastings to come back.

Edward Snowden Updates

Glenn Greenwald continues to lecture all and sundry that Snowden isn’t the story–the focus should be on the NSA leaks. Meanwhile, he continues to publish about three times as many articles on himself and Snowden as on the leaks. Yesterday’s offering was about e-mails between Snowden and a retired ultra-conservative/libertarian Senator from New Hampshire, Gordon Humphrey. You can read the full e-mails at the link, but one thing Snowden wrote became the subject of much speculation yesterday.

My intention, which I outlined when this began, is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them. I remain committed to that. Though reporters and officials may never believe it, I have not provided any information that would harm our people – agent or not – and I have no intention to do so.

Further, no intelligence service – not even our own – has the capacity to compromise the secrets I continue to protect. While it has not been reported in the media, one of my specializations was to teach our people at DIA how to keep such information from being compromised even in the highest threat counter-intelligence environments (i.e. China).

You may rest easy knowing I cannot be coerced into revealing that information, even under torture.

Did this mean that Snowden believes himself to be impervious to torture? According to tech experts and hacker types, it means that he has encrypted the data in such a way that even he cannot get at it by himself. Here’s an article in the Christian Science Monitor that explains this in somewhat simple terms. Author Dan Murphy writes:

I think his good intentions, as he sees them, are fair to assume. But his certainty that it is impossible to compromise what he knows seems questionable. Presumably he has digital files that are encrypted in some fashion. But if the files are accessible at all, there has to be a key.

Or even imagine a Escherian progression of unbreakable locks containing the key to the next unbreakable lock in the progression, which in turn contains the next key. Layers of difficulty are just that – problems to be overcome. Assertions of insurmountably seem specious as long as a key or set of keys exists and someone hasn’t destroyed the first one in the sequence.

And if Snowden’s claims are to be believed, a key to whatever data he has does exist. Greenwald says Snowden’s NSA files have been set up for release in the event Snowden is killed by the US. Greenwald hasn’t said what the mechanism would be and what precisely would be released beyond, “if something does happen to [Snowden] all the information will be revealed and it could be [the US government’s] worst nightmare.”

That implies that there is some process, known to some people or persons, that allows for access. And while state of the art encryption can foil technical efforts to break it, it’s hard to see how gaining access to the knowledge of others is impossible. Spy agencies use trickery, bribery, coercion, and sometimes worse to pry out others’ secrets. Yet Snowden was insistent in his letter to Senator Humphrey….

Greenwald implies today that what Snowden meant was that he doesn’t know how to get at the files himself. But then, who does?

If the answer is “no one,” then it’s hard to square with his claim of a release being made in the event of his death. If the answer is “someone” or “some group of people,” then his confidence that secrets can’t be compromised seems misplaced. (I asked a number of people who know more about encryption than I about this; the answer always circled back to “the key is the vulnerability.” Perhaps there’s something we’re all missing?)

Here’s another article from Wired that speculates on the so-called “dead man’s switch.”

I’ve got lots more on Snowden, but I’m running out of space and I think I may be the only one here who still cares what’s going on with him. I can post some more links in the comments if there’s any interest.

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today? Please post your links on any topic in the comments.


Thursday Reads

reading.outside

Good Morning!!

I haven’t really been paying much attention, but I guess President Obama’s trip to Europe didn’t go that well. I accidentally heard part of his Berlin speech, because I fell asleep with the radio on and woke up listening to a rebroadcast of it. I didn’t get much out of it, but it seemed as if Obama was lecturing Angela Merkel about her austerity obsession. The trouble is that Obama has pushed and/or allowed a milder version of austerity here, and he is doing much to lead us out of our own economic doldrums. Here are a couple of reports of the trip.

The National Journal’s Michael Hirsch: Obama’s Turbulent European Vacation

What was it, exactly, about Obama’s controversy-marred trip to Germany and the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland that fell so flat? Ummm, how about … everything?

There were the snarky words from Vladimir Putin, who expressed an almost Soviet-esque distance from Washington in his views about Syria. “Of course our opinions do not coincide,” the Russian leader said bluntly. There was the coded warning from Chancellor Angela Merkel about spying on friends, and her and Obama’s continuing frostiness over the issue of economic stimulus versus austerity. Above all, there was Obama’s vague attempt at the Brandenburg Gate to capture some wisp of his past glory by pledging vague plans to cut nuclear arms and an even vaguer concept of “peace with justice.”

The “peace with justice” line was a quote from John F. Kennedy, Obama’s attempt to steal just a little of JFK’s thunder from 50 years before. He didn’t come away with much, winning just a smattering of applause from a crowd that was one one-hundredth the size of JFK’s. A crowd that, at about 4,500, was also much, much smaller than Obama drew as a candidate in 2008.

Not only is the honeymoon long over, folks. The marriage is becoming deeply troubled and, increasingly, loveless.

The contrast with President John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” couldn’t have been more stark.

And from Jim Kuhnhenn of the AP: Obama prods, gets share of pushback

In Berlin on Wednesday, Obama warned that the European Union could “lose a generation” if it doesn’t adjust its economic policies to tackle high youth unemployment. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has argued for debt-ridden eurozone countries to first deal with their fiscal problems, insisted her government was committed to helping its European partners in the crisis-hit nations. “If we were conducting policies that would harm other countries,” she argued, “we would harm ourselves.”

Wow. Is she in denial or what? All her austerity policies have done his harm other European countries. In any case, she wasn’t thrilled with Obama’s critique.

She countered with her own words of caution over the Obama administration’s secret collection of phone records and surveillance of foreign Internet traffic. “People have concerns, precisely concerns that there may be some kind of blanket, across-the-board gathering of information,” she said. “There needs to be proportionality” between security and freedom, she added, and made clear that her private talks about it with Obama were not the end of the subject.

It was a polite punch-counterpunch between vital allies — an exchange that won’t damage a strong relationship. But it illustrated how in a 21st century world order, Western powers are not beholden to the United States as they once were and Obama’s ability to find agreement or build consensus is often limited and regularly tested.

And there was the talk of peace and reducing nuclear weapons.

The centerpiece of Obama’s visit to Berlin was a speech at the historic Brandenburg Gate, once a symbol of the Cold War, where he called for negotiations with the Russians to reduce U.S. nuclear weapons by one-third and called for cutting the number of tactical warheads in Europe. “Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons, no matter how distant that dream may be,” he said.

The words were barely out of his mouth when a Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, Ohio Rep. Michael Turner, accused him of appeasement, and Russian officials were playing down Obama’s proposal. A foreign policy aide to President Vladimir Putin said any further arms reduction would have to involve countries other than just Russia and the United States.

All in all, not a very successful trip.

To be honest, I get the feeling that Obama is already a lame duck. He doesn’t seem to be able to focus his attention on an issue long enough to get anything accomplished. I understand that Congress is really the biggest problem, but looking back to past Democratic presidents, Obama seems so passive in comparison. It’s very discouraging. I have to wonder why he worked so hard to get reelected. He seems to enjoy the ceremonial aspects of the job, but not the nuts and bolts.

Please someone, convince me I’m wrong. I do not want to end up with a Republican president and Republican majorities in Congress in 2016. I do not want the government led by troglodytes like Georgia Rep. Phil Gingrey, who wants children to learn stereotypical gender roles “at a very early age.” From Think Progress:

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) wants American youths to be taught gender stereotypes in grade school classes, so they understand the roles of mothers and fathers — and the importance of allowing only opposite-sex couples to marry.

In a speech Monday on the House floor, Gingrey stressed his continued support for the Defense of Marriage Act — which defines marriage as only union between a man and a woman — and suggested that children need to be carefully taught about the traditional roles of their genders:

GINGREY: You know, maybe part of the problem is we need to go back into the schools at a very early age, maybe at the grade school level, and have a class for the young girls and have a class for the young boys and say, you know, this is what’s important. This is what a father does that is maybe a little different, maybe a little bit better than the talents that a mom has in a certain area. And the same thing for the young girls, that, you know, this is what a mom does, and this is what is important from the standpoint of that union which we call marriage.”

Watch if you dare.

And then there’s the “Spanking for Jesus movement.” Yes, you read that right. From The Daily Beast:

You don’t have to be a Christian to practice domestic discipline, although many of its practitioners say they believe that domestic discipline goes hand in hand with their faith. Specifics of the practice vary by couple, though CDDers all seem to follow a few basic principles. Foremost, that the Bible commands a husband to be the head of the household, and the wife must submit to him, in every way, or face painful chastisement.

When a wife breaks her husband’s rules—rolling her eyes, maybe, or just feeling “meh,” as one blogger put it—that can equal punishments which are often corporal but can also be “corner time”; writing lines (think “I will not disobey my master” 1,000 times); losing a privilege like internet access; or being “humbled” by some sort of nude humiliation. Some practice “maintenance spanking,” wherein good girls are slapped on a schedule to remind them who’s boss; some don’t. Some couples keep the lifestyle from their children; others, like CDD blogger Stormy, don’t. “Not only does he spank me with no questions asked for disrespect or attitude in front of them, but I am also required to make an apology to each of them,” she writes.

Now that should teach those kids some useful gender stereotypes. There’s much more sickening detail at the The Daily Beast link and at Jezebel.

Oh well, here’s a story from the NY Daily News about something a little more cheerful: Joe Torre’s daughter Cristina saves falling baby with perfect catch.

Cristina Torre, 44, said she was sipping coffee outside Little Cupcake Bake Shop on Third Ave. in Bay Ridge when several bystanders spotted little Dillin Miller dangling from the awning of a frozen yogurt shop next door at about 10 a.m.

“He looked like he was balancing on one of the railings,” Torre told the Daily News. “I didn’t really know what was going to happen. . . . You just move into action — you don’t really think about it.”

Torre said she tried to tell the baby, dressed in a white onesie, not to move as another bystander called 911.

“I’m talking to him saying, ‘Don’t come down, stay there.’ . . . He helped himself with his arms. He was dangling. I knew he would be flipping very soon,” she said.

The baby dropped — and Torre made the life-saving grab.

“He literally landed in my arms,” she said. “It was a relief. I’m just glad he was safe.”

Sadly, the child’s parents were discovered asleep in their apartment while their 1-year-old Dillin and his three siblings ages 2, 3, and 5 were on their own. The children were removed from the home and the parents were charged with reckless endangerment. At least those kid are safe for the moment.

There hasn’t been much new on the aftermath of the Boston bombing lately. Every day I check to see if there is any news on the FBI shooting of Ibragim Todashev in Florida. The resignation of Richard DesLauriers, the director of the Boston office of the FBI was probably related to the series of f&ck-ups by the FBI in not informing local officials of the previous investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and then the shooting of Todashev, but other than that, the FBI has been mum.

But on Tuesday, The New York Times published an article on the FBI’s “faultless” history–not a single misstep found in 150 FBI internal investigations over 20 years!

After contradictory stories emerged about an F.B.I. agent’s killing last month of a Chechen man in Orlando, Fla., who was being questioned over ties to the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, the bureau reassured the public that it would clear up the murky episode.

But if such internal investigations are time-tested, their outcomes are also predictable: from 1993 to early 2011, F.B.I. agents fatally shot about 70 “subjects” and wounded about 80 others — and every one of those episodes was deemed justified, according to interviews and internal F.B.I. records obtained by The New York Times through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The last two years have followed the same pattern: an F.B.I. spokesman said that since 2011, there had been no findings of improper intentional shootings.

In most of the shootings, the F.B.I.’s internal investigation was the only official inquiry. In the Orlando case, for example, there have been conflicting accounts about basic facts like whether the Chechen man, Ibragim Todashev, attacked an agent with a knife, was unarmed or was brandishing a metal pole. But Orlando homicide detectives are not independently investigating what happened.

“We had nothing to do with it,” said Sgt. Jim Young, an Orlando police spokesman. “It’s a federal matter, and we’re deferring everything to the F.B.I.”

Why doesn’t the Justice Department’s civil rights division investigate? Here is something President Obama could lead on without Congress blocking him. He could easily tell Attorney General Holder to appoint an independent investigation. But he probably won’t.

Okay, that’s my contribution for today. Now it’s your turn. What stories have captured your interest today? Please share your links in the comment thread.