Tuesday Reads: Saint George? Really?

Good Morning!!

It’s only Tuesday, and this week feels as if it has already gone on forever. I wonder if the George Bush sainthood celebration will continue through the weekend? I sure hope not. I’d like to be able to resume watching cable news before next week. In case anyone else here is sick of hearing about Saint Poppy, here are some antidotes the the media coverage.

Slate: Don’t Spend Your Emotional Energy on Sully H.W. Bush.

On Sunday night, George H.W. Bush spokesman Jim McGrath posted a photograph to Twitter depicting a golden Labrador named Sully resting in front of the former president’s casket. The caption read “Mission complete.”

Within hours, Sully the dog had become a bona fide celebrity. McGrath’s sentiment has been retweeted 61,000 times and counting, and “Sully” was trending on Twitter at various times on Monday. C-SPAN covered the dog’s arrival at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Monday afternoon. The picture of the dog lying in front of the casket was covered by outlets from Fox News to NPR as the internet exploded with tributes to the pair’s “forever friendship.” The photograph was submitted as evidence of Bush’s character, of Sully’s character, and as support for the idea that America should not elect a president who “does not love and is not loved by pets.” Heavy.com offered “5 Fast Facts You Need to Know” about the dog. People magazine gushed that Sully was “keeping the 41st commander in chief safe in death as he did in life,” and even produced a slideshow of their “special friendship.” Many suggested Sully was heartbroken, and/or that they themselves were crying over the photo; conservative writer Dan McGlaughlin compared the dog to a Marine.

There’s nothing wrong with applying sentimentality when it comes to family pets reacting to their owners’ deaths. There’s even some preliminary evidence from the small field of “comparative thanatology” that animals notice death, and that some may even experience an emotion we might compare to grief. But Sully is not a longtime Bush family pet, letting go of the only master he has known. He is an employee who served for less than six months….

It’s wonderful for Bush that he had a trained service animal like Sully available to him in his last months. It’s a good thing that the dog is moving on to another gig where he can be helpful to other people (rather than becoming another Bush family pet). But it’s a bit demented to project soul-wrenching grief onto a dog’s decision to lie down in front of a casket. Is Sully “heroic” for learning to obey the human beings who taught him to perform certain tasks? Does the photo say anything special about this dog’s particular loyalty or judgment, or is he just … there? Also, if dogs are subject to praise for obeying their masters, what do we do about the pets who eat their owners’ dead (or even just passed-out) bodies?

The photograph, in other words, is not proof that Sully is a particularly “good boy” or that “we don’t deserve dogs,” as countless swooning tweets put it on Monday. On its own, it says almost nothing other than the fact that Sully was, at one point in the same room as the casket of his former boss. This is simply a photograph of a dog doing something dogs love to do: Lie down. The frenzy around it captures something humans love to do, too: Project our own emotional needs onto animals.

Vox: 8 women say George H.W. Bush groped them. Their claims deserve to be remembered as we assess his legacy.

Sexual harassment or assault can’t be bracketed off as part of a politician’s private life. It’s an important part of the story of their leadership, their use of power, and their policy. The same is true for Bush.

Relatively little has been made of the accusations against Bush since they emerged last year. A woman initially accused Bush of groping her and telling her a dirty joke as she stood beside him, seated in a wheelchair, for a photo op. The family responded, suggesting the aging former president might be slipping a bit. “President Bush has been confined to a wheelchair for roughly five years, so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures,” a spokesperson, Jim McGrath, said on Bush’s behalf.

But then the story changed. More women came forward describing incidents that took place before Bush was in a wheelchair and even while he was in office. One woman described a credible story dating back to 1992, when she says that Bush, then the president, put his hand on her rear end while taking a photograph at a reelection fundraiser. Another woman described an incident from 2003, when she was 16 years old — and Bush was still spry, zipping around Kennebunkport, Maine, on a Segway.

“All the focus has been on ‘He’s old.’ OK, but he wasn’t old when it happened to me,” the woman, now 55 told CNN. “I’ve been debating what to do about it.”

The same spokesperson offered up a new version of the behavior, admitting, yes, Bush has done what he’s accused of, but it was innocent — he “has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner.”

The women who spoke out feel differently. In each case, the accuser was excited to meet a political figure, someone who’s supposed to represent them; then, they said, he groped them. In that moment, they became second-class citizens. While their brothers or husbands or male friends might have gotten a handshake and a thumbs-up from this powerful man and walked away feeling good about themselves and their relationship with their government, these women were put in their place.

And let’s not forget that Bush appointed Clarence Thomas and stood by him when he was credibly accused of sexual harassment.

Garence Franke-Ruta at The Cut: History Will Recall, George Bush Did Nothing At All.

History will recall
George Bush did nothing at all.

I must have chanted those words hundreds times while protesting the Bush administration’s inaction on the AIDS crisis with ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) between 1989 and 1992. ACT UP was founded in 1987 in the epicenter of the HIV epidemic in America — New York City — to demand action to end the AIDS crisis. Today it is remembered as part of the Reagan ’80s, but the reality is that much of the group’s most intensive work took place during the administration of George Herbert Walker Bush. With ACT UP, I marched past the Bush White House down a Pennsylvania Avenue not yet closed to traffic. I rallied outside his Department of Health and Human Services, his Centers for Disease Control, his National Institutes of Health. And in 1991, I shook my finger chanting “Shame!” half a mile from his family’s summer compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. More than 1,500 AIDS activists descended on the resort town on September 1 that year, bearing signs that charged Bush with a murderous neglect of the AIDS crisis, along with a 50-foot banner with a 32-point plan to end it.

The transition from the Reagan presidency to the Bush one was more one of tone than substance when it came to AIDS, a kinder gentler indifference. Messaging that repeatedly pointed to “behavior change” as the solution, without backing prevention programs known to work. A lack of leadership from the top. No central strategy. “He was not doing enough as a leader,” Urvashi Vaid, the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force during the Bush years, told Pridesource after Bush’s death. “I think that those pressures and protests led by ACT UP all over the country … that pressure is what pushed both members of Congress and the administration to do whatever it did. I can’t say that enough.” Added ACT UP founder and playwright Larry Kramer, “I will not give [Bush] credit for anything. He hated us.”

Nearly a quarter century later when I had the opportunity as a political editor to participate in a several-day event at the Bush presidential library and museum, I thought about those years of protesting with ACT UP. For me reporting was always about other people’s stories, not my own, and it was rare for my activist past to come up except as history that informed my understanding of the dynamics of new social movements.

But with Bush, I felt I could not forget myself. Could not forget the suffering I’d witnessed in New York — where AIDS was, during his presidency, the leading cause of death for men ages 25–44, or the way his election extended the oppressive culture of the Reagan years that saw so many of my friends kicked out of their homes in their teens for being gay. I passed the Bush library opportunity on to a colleague.

USA Today: George H.W. Bush leaves mixed record on race, civil rights.

Early in George H.W. Bush’s political career, when he was running for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas, he came out against the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, deriding his opponent as “radical” for supporting the bill that ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination.

“The new civil-rights act was passed to protect 14 percent of the people,” he said. “I’m also worried about the other 86 percent.”

The stand seemed at odds with his family’s long history of supporting civil rights (his father, Prescott Bush, a Connecticut senator had worked to desegregate schools and protect voting rights) and with his own work raising money for the United Negro College Fund.

But in Texas, where the Republican party was steadily becoming more conservative and embracing the Southern Strategy of appealing to white voters, Bush’s position made sense.

It “made sense” if you had no principles except getting elected. A bit more:

In his 1988 bid for the presidency, Bush would seem to again opt for expediency in a campaign that is often cited as one of the nastiest in political memory, with the blatant racism of the Willie Horton ad, which mined ugly stereotypes of African-Americans, and for Bush’s questioning of the patriotism of his opponent, Michael Dukakis, because of his Greek heritage.

The Horton ad, which focused on a convicted murderer who committed a violent rape while out of prison on a furlough program Dukakis had supported, was put out by a conservative PAC, not the Bush campaign. However, Bush repeatedly brought up Horton’s name in speeches, including one to the National Sheriffs’ Association.

“Horton applied for a furlough,” Bush said at the time. “He was given the furlough. He was released. And he fled — only to terrorize a family and repeatedly rape a woman.”

The Bush campaign also released an ad that showed footage of prisoners going through a revolving door — a strategy that played on white voters’ fears and prejudices, said Jason Johnson, a professor of politics and journalism at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland.

F-16A Fighting Falcon, F-15C Eagle and F-15E Strike Eagle fighter aircraft fly over burning oil field sites in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. (U.S. Air Force archive photo)

Finally, there was Bush’s war in Iraq.

Joshua Holland wrote on June 27, 2014: The First Iraq War Was Also Sold to the Public Based on a Pack of Lies.

Most countries condemned Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. But the truth — that it was the culmination of a series of tangled economic and historical conflicts between two Arab oil states — wasn’t likely to sell the US public on the idea of sending our troops halfway around the world to do something about it.

So we were given a variation of the “domino theory.” Saddam Hussein, we were told, had designs on the entire Middle East. If he wasn’t halted in Kuwait, his troops would just keep going into other countries.

As Scott Peterson reported for The Christian Science Monitor in 2002, a key part of the first Bush administration’s case “was that an Iraqi juggernaut was also threatening to roll into Saudi Arabia. Citing top-secret satellite images, Pentagon officials estimated in mid-September [of 1990]  that up to 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks stood on the border, threatening the key US oil supplier.”

A quarter of a million troops with heavy armor amassed on the Saudi border certainly seemed like a clear sign of hostile intent. In announcing that he had deployed troops to the Gulf in August 1990, George HW Bush said, “I took this action to assist the Saudi Arabian Government in the defense of its homeland.” He asked the American people for their “support in a decision I’ve made to stand up for what’s right and condemn what’s wrong, all in the cause of peace.”

But one reporter — Jean Heller of the St. Petersburg Times — wasn’t satisfied taking the administration’s claims at face value. She obtained two commercial satellite images of the area taken at the exact same time that American intelligence supposedly had found Saddam’s huge and menacing army and found nothing there but empty desert.

She contacted the office of then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney “for evidence refuting the Times photos or analysis offering to hold the story if proven wrong.” But “the official response” was: “Trust us.”

Heller later told the Monitor’s Scott Peterson that the Iraqi buildup on the border between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia “was the whole justification for Bush sending troops in there, and it just didn’t exist.”

Read the rest at Bill Moyers.com.

I know there is lots of other news today, but I just had to get this off my chest. What stories are you following?

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Thursday Reads: Media Ignorance and Brian Williams’ Flashbulb Memory

Edvard Munch, Winter landscape at Hvitsten, 1918

Edvard Munch, Winter landscape at Hvitsten, 1918

Good Morning!!

I’m still snowed in. I’ve been shoveling for two days, but 40+ inches of snow in a week was just too much for me to handle alone. My sister-in-law was going to come down from New Hampshire today to help me dig out, but it’s snowing again, so she may have to wait until tomorrow. My cold is still hanging on too, so this post may be a little disjointed. I’m going to focus on a “shocking” story about newscaster Brian Williams that broke over the past couple of days. The illustrations I’m are paintings of winter scenes by Edvard Munch.

Yesterday, NBC News anchor Brian Williams was caught telling a false story about being shot down in a helicopter in Iraq. From Politico:

On Friday night’s broadcast, Williams cited “a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG. Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.”

One crew member responded to the story on Facebook the following day, writing to Williams, “Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft. I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened.”

This week, crew members of 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook helicopter also told Stars and Stripes that Williams had not been in the shot-down helicopter but had arrived an hour later.

On Wednesday, Williams conceded that he was not onboard the shot-down helicopter, but he told Stars and Stripes he did not intentionally make the mistake.

“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams said. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”

Edvard Munch, Winter Night with Stars

Edvard Munch, Winter Night with Stars

From Stars and Stripes’ exclusive: NBC’s Brian Williams recants Iraq story after soldiers protest.

Williams made the claim about the incident while presenting NBC coverage of the tribute to the retired command sergeant major at the Rangers game Friday. Fans gave the soldier a standing ovation.

“The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG,” Williams said on the broadcast. “Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.”

Williams and his camera crew were actually aboard a Chinook in a formation that was about an hour behind the three helicopters that came under fire, according to crew member interviews.

That Chinook took no fire and landed later beside the damaged helicopter due to an impending sandstorm from the Iraqi desert, according to Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Miller, who was the flight engineer on the aircraft that carried the journalists.

The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove: Brian Williams’ War Story Is FUBAR.

Unfortunately for Williams, this is not the first time he has made “this mistake” on network television. On the March, 26, 2013 episode of CBS’s Late Show With David Letterman, he told the host (at the 3-minute, 50-second mark): “Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire, including the one I was in.”

“No kidding!” Letterman exclaimed.

“RPG and AK-47,” Williams elaborated.

“What altitude were you hit at?” Letterman asked.

“We were only at 100 feet doing 100 forward knots…”

“What happens the minute everybody realizes you’ve been hit?” Letterman asked.

“We figure out how to land safely—and we did,” Williams answered. “We landed very quickly and hard…”

Stars and Stripes left open the possibility that Williams also misreported the incident initially on March 26, 2003, but it turns out that back then, at least, he never claimed to have been aboard the attacked chopper—during two different broadcasts on that date. Television news analyst Andrew Tyndall dipped into his videotape library and screened the Nightly News segment in which Williams said “he was in a convoy of helicopters, one of which got hit,” Tyndall told The Daily Beast.

NBC News, meanwhile, unearthed a March 26, 2003 Dateline segment in which Williams reported: “On the ground, we learn that the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown of the sky.”

Edvard Munch, Workers in the Snow

Edvard Munch, Workers in the Snow

Grove compared Williams’ conflation of events with a story Hillary Clinton told in 2008.

2008 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s false assertion that, as first lady in March 1996, she came under sniper fire during a trip to Tuzla, Bosnia. “I remember landing under sniper fire,” Clinton said during a speech. “There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.” CBS News video of Clinton’s arrival showed no such thing; instead she alighted on the tarmac and greeted a welcoming child who offered her a poem.

I would compare Williams’ flub to tales that then presidential candidate Ronald Reagan told about events he recalled that never happened. A famous example from memory expert Daniel Schacter:

In the 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan repeatedly told a heartbreaking story of a World War II bomber pilot who ordered his crew to bail out after his plane had been seriously damaged by an enemy hit. His young belly gunner was wounded so seriously that he was unable to evacuate the bomber. Reagan could barely hold back his tears as he uttered the pilot’s heroic response: “Never mind. We’ll ride it down together.” …this story was an almost exact duplicate of a scene in the 1944 film “A Wing and a Prayer.” Reagan had apparently retained the facts but forgotten their source (Schacter 1996, 287).

An even more dramatic error by Reagan was his claim to have been present at the liberation of Auschwitz.

In November 1983, he told Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir during a White House visit that while serving in the U. S. Army film corps, his unit had shot footage of the Nazi concentration camps as they were liberated. He repeated the same tale to Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and other witnesses. Reagan had indeed served in the Army and worked on morale-boosting movies for the War Department. But he had done so without ever leaving Hollywood for the entire duration of the war.

Edvard Munch, Winter Night

Edvard Munch, Winter Night

And then there was the story about 9/11 that George W. Bush was repeatedly criticized for–he claimed on that morning he had seen the first plane hit the World Trade Center twin towers before he went into a school for a photo op of him reading to children. But that was impossible, because film of the first tower being hit was not aired until the next day later that day. Here’s Bush’s story quoted in a piece at e-Skeptic by memory expert Daniel Greenberg

I was in Florida. And my chief of staff, Andy Card — actually I was in a classroom talking about a reading program that works. And I was sitting outside the classroom waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the tower — the TV was obviously on, and I use[d] to fly myself, and I said, “There’s one terrible pilot.” And I said, “It must have been a horrible accident.” But I was whisked off there — I didn’t have much time to think about it, and I was sitting in the classroom, and Andy Card, my chief who was sitting over here walked in and said, “A second plane has hit the tower. America’s under attack.”

Two weeks later Bush’s story had evolved:

Bush remembers senior adviser Karl Rove bringing him the news, saying it appeared to be an accident involving a small, twin-engine plane. In fact it was American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 out of Boston’s Logan International Airport. Based on what he was told, Bush assumed it was an accident. “This is pilot error,” the president recalled saying. “It’s unbelievable that somebody would do this.” Conferring with Andrew H. Card Jr., his White House chief of staff, Bush said, “The guy must have had a heart attack”… At 9:05 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175, also a Boeing 767, smashed into the South Tower of the trade center. Bush was seated on a stool in the classroom when Card whispered the news: “A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.”

Edvard Munch, Yellow Log

Edvard Munch, Yellow Log

The fact is that memory errors like these are quite common. Human memory is not perfect–we tend to get basic facts right, but when we retell a memory again and again or even go over it in our minds, specific details can change. There are a number of ways this can happen. We can forget the source of a memory, as Ronald Reagan did with the movie scene he believed to be real. It’s also comment to retroactively alter a memory, as Bush did with his 9/11 flashbulb memory. That is caused by “interference.” I doubt that Williams deliberately lied about his flashbulb memory from Iraq. Why would he put his reputation at risk in that way? Most likely, he conflated his memories with other things he learned later about the event that made a strong impression on him at the time.

You can read more about false flashbulb memories in this scholarly article by Greenberg (pdf): President Bush’s False ‘Flashbulb’ Memory of 9/11/01. A flashbulb memory is a very vivid recall of a dramatic event in which we have a sense “remembering” exactly where we were and who we were with when we experience or heard about the event.

Back to the Williams story.

At Slate, Ben Matthis Lilly provides a detailed timeline of the various stories Brian Williams has told about his 2003 experience over the years. The initial story Williams told in 2003 was also inaccurate, according to soldier witnesses, but Williams still claims his original report was true.

In the initial account (given on both the Nightly News and a Dateline episode on March 26, 2003), Williams clearly states that he was part of a group of helicopters that was fired upon while performing a mission:

We are one of four Chinook helicopters flying north this morning, third in line. As we head toward the drop point the Iraqi landscape looks quiet. We can see a convoy of American troop carriers and supply vehicles heading north.

This 2003 account, like Williams’ apology, implies the helicopters landed together after ground fire:

All four choppers dropped their load and landed immediately.

However, Stars and Stripes‘ piece says unequivocally that Williams’ helicopter was not part of the group that was fired upon—not third in line, and not part of the line at all.

…Crew members on the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook that was hit by two rockets and small arms fire told Stars and Stripes that the NBC anchor wasnowhere near that aircraft or two other Chinooks flying in the formation that took fire. Williams arrived in the area about an hour later on another helicopter after the other three had made an emergency landing, the crew members said.

The soldiers quoted by Stars and Stripes say that they recall being upset at the time by the inaccuracies in this 2003 version of events.

Edvard Munch, New Snow on the Avenue

Edvard Munch, New Snow on the Avenue

But do these soldiers really recall being upset in 2003? We can’t know for sure, because they didn’t tell their stories in public at the time.

I’m sure Brian Williams will continue to be attacked for his false memory. He might even lose his job over it, because lazy reporters would never consider consulting a psychologist who actually conducts research on human memory errors and their causes. Here’s Eric Wemple’s evaluation of Williams’ apology at the Washington Post:

That’s a very nice admission, though “conflating” the experience of taking incoming fire with the experience of not taking incoming fire seems verily impossible.

It might seem “verily impossible” to Wemple, but it isn’t impossible at all. It’s not even surprising to anyone who knows anything about how human memory works. I have no way of knowing for sure whether Williams lied or not; but if I had to guess, I think it’s more likely that he inadvertently created a false memory.

What stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts on the Brian Williams story and/or your recommended links in the comment thread.


Lazy Saturday Reads: A Little Bit of This and That

l-arlesienne-portrait-of-madame-ginoux-1888-1

Good Morning!!

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.

Old-Man-Reading

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.

More recently, she has spent time in Washington as chairwoman of the attorney general’s advisory committee of U.S. attorneys, an The Novel Reader Van Goghinfluential job that brought her in close contact with Holder.

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.

still-life-french-novels

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.

Man reading van gogh

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:

man-standing-reading-a-book-1882

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!


Thursday Reads

Subway Riders, Francis Louis Mora, 1914

Subway Riders, Francis Louis Mora, 1914

 Good Morning!!

 

I suppose I have to cover the war news, although I’d much prefer to ignore it. So here goes.

First, the good news. According to The Washington Post, more than 60 countries have signed on with the “Anti-Islamic State Coalition.”

In his speech to the United Nations on Wednesday morning, President Obama said, “Already, over 40 nations have offered to join this coalition.”

But on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said more than 50 nations have agreed to join the coalition. And in a document released by the State Department on Tuesday, 62 nations (including the European Union and the Arab League) are listed as providing support to the U.S.-led coalition.

The strongest allies in the coalition are those providing air support to the United States, while others are offering delivery services and some are providing humanitarian aid.

Click on the link above to read the list of countries providing air support, military equipment, and humanitarian aid. You can follow the latest developments in the fight against ISIL at The Guardian’s live blog.

Now the not-so-good news: a couple of op-eds that suggest the air war against the Islamic State militants is ineffective and/or counterproductive.

Reuters, Air strikes won’t disrupt Islamic State’s real safe haven: social media.

President Barack Obama has pledged to destroy Islamic State and ensure fighters “find no safe haven.” But even as U.S.-led airstrikes are underway in Iraq and Syria, it is clear that bombs alone will not do the job. For Islamic State hides out in the most perfect haven: the World Wide Web.

In June 2014, the militant group that Obama refers to as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, grabbed the world’s attention after it took over much of northern Iraq in roughly four days. Islamic State accomplished this by building a massive, sophisticated virtual network of fighters in addition to those on the ground. Indeed, its expansion online has been as swift as its territorial gains. It is this virtual power grab that will be most difficult to combat.

The Internet has largely sustained the jihadist movement since 9/11. With this powerful tool, jihadists coordinate actions, share information, recruit new members and propagate their ideology.

Until the rise of Islamic State, extremist activity and exchanges online usually took place inside restricted, password-protected jihadist forums. But Islamic State brought online jihadism out of the shadows and into the mainstream, using social media — especially Twitter – to issue rapid updates on its successes to a theoretically unlimited audience.

In the same way that Islamic State’s land grab proved stunning, the group’s actions online have been deeply troubling. Up until a recent crackdown by Twitter, Islamic State’s presence on the site had grown tremendously — from a small one to a well-organized network with dozens of accounts.

Click the link to read all about it at Reuters’ “The Great Debate” page.

Reading the Newspaper. War News, by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky

Reading the Newspaper. War News, by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky

Jamie Dettmer at The Daily Beast argues that Obama’s Arab Backers May Draw the U.S. Deep Into the Mideast Quagmire. Detmer also discusses ISIL’s social media operation.

The backing from Gulf countries for the military intervention against militants of the so-called Islamic State in northern Syria, far from helping the United States in the battle for hearts and minds, may actually be hurting Washington in the region. And the reasons for that suggest just how densely complicated the Mideast quagmire has become.

While the participation of the super-rich Gulf monarchies in a coalition against the group widely known as ISIS or ISIL may help with some moderate Muslims, and may reassure European leaders, among those Islamists inside and outside Syria who are at the core of the opposition to President Bashar al Assad this development is viewed with deep suspicion.

“This has been labeled as a war against ISIS but it is a war against Islamic groups,” Tauqir Sharif, a British Islamist activist based in Idlib, Syria, told British Channel Four news Wednesday.

Already ISIS activists and jihadists sympathizers in the Gulf are leveraging their social media skills to fuel suspicions that the Americans are ready to give Assad a free pass and that the Sunni Muslims of Syria will be sacrificed with the connivance of the Gulf monarchies.

Much more at the Daily Beast link.

Suspect in Alleged Abduction of UVA Student Captured in Texas

I’ve been following the case of missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham since Janicen posted about it about a week ago. The last person to be seen with Graham on surveillance footage was Jesse Matthew, 32, who worked as a nurses’ aid at the university. After police searched his car and apartment, Matthew came to the police station and asked for an attorney. He then drove away at a high speed and apparently disappeared. Police issued a warrant for his arrest for a traffic violation, but could not locate him. After more searches of his apartment, police upgraded the charge to abduction of Graham.

Last night, news broke that Matthew had been located in Galveston, Texas, and he is currently being held by police there. From the Associated Press, via ABC News, Suspect Captured but UVa Student Still Missing.

Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr. was arrested on a beach in the Texas community of Gilchrist by Galveston County Sheriff’s authorities, Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo announced Wednesday night.

The capture came less than a full day after police announced they had probable cause to arrest Matthew on charges of abduction with intent to defile Hannah Graham, an 18-year-old sophomore who went missing on Sept. 13 in Charlottesville.

Longo said an intense search for Graham continues.

“This case is nowhere near over,” he told a news conference late Wednesday. “We have a person in custody but there’s a long road ahead of us and that long road includes finding Hannah Graham.”

Longo said Thursday on NBC’s “Today” show that the search is focusing on rural and wooded areas around Charlottesville.

Matthew was captured at a beach in the sparsely populated community of Gilchrist around 3:30 p.m. after police received a call reporting a suspicious person, the Galveston County Daily News reported. The newspaper quoted Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset as saying a deputy responding to the call found a man who had pitched a tent on the beach with his car parked nearby. Trochesset said a check of the car’s plates revealed it was the vehicle sought in connection to the case. Authorities were trying to get a warrant to search the car, he added.

Reading the Morning Newspaper, Harry Herman Roseland

Reading the Morning Newspaper, Harry Herman Roseland

ABC News has more on how police located Jesse Matthew, Suspect in UVA Case Seen on Video Buying Bug Spray Before Capture.

Detectives investigating the case of a missing University of Virginia student were headed to Texas today after a man suspected in her disappearance was arrested after being caught on surveillance video there buying mosquito repellent a day before his capture….

The surveillance video from a convenience store in Galveston showed Matthew buying Off!, said the store’s owner, Dave Paresh.

“He asked me the question if it’s safe to stay on the beach, so I told him yeah, it’s good there,” Paresh, told ABC News station KTRK in Houston.

I guess there must be lots of mosquitoes on Galveston beaches right now.

Matthew appeared in court this morning, and was denied bail.

For anyone who thinks I shouldn’t write about “missing white girl” stories, violence against women is endemic in this country. It’s a bloodbath out there, with women being beaten (see the NFL scandal), raped, and/or murdered daily in this country; and I think it should be talked about. There truly is a war against women. Admittedly, the use of violence against women for entertainment should be discussed. Think about how many movies and TV shows center around the rape, torture, and murder of women. It’s important that real-life cases be seen as horrible crimes that involve agonizing suffering for victims, their families and friends.

Police Misconduct in the News

Speaking of violence against women, even police get into the act. Thank goodness they are often caught on video these days.

From The Christian Science Monitor, NYPD under fire for video of pregnant woman hitting ground.

New York City police officers are under investigation this week after a bystander used a smartphone to capture a particularly rough arrest of a Brooklyn woman five months pregnant.

The video shows the arrest of Sandra Amezquita, a Colombian immigrant and mother of four, who fell belly first onto the pavement as officers wrestled her to the ground and cuffed her hands behind her back. The incident occurred during an early morning melee Saturday in Sunset Park – a neighborhood sometimes called Brooklyn’s “Little Latin America,” since more than half its residents are Latino.

The video also shows another officer violently shoving an unidentified woman to the pavement as she stands near the arrest. Police simply issued Ms. Amezquita a summons for disorderly conduct, but the other woman, reported to be a friend, was neither arrested or accused of a crime.

Amezquita suffered vaginal bleeding after the incident. She was arrested for trying to interfere with police who were beating her son after they stopped and frisked him.

“It’s appalling,” said Sanford Rubenstein, Amezquita’s attorney. “It’s clear to me when an incident like this occurs you understand why police-community relations are at an all-time low,” he told The Associated Press.

The scuffle occurred after Amezquita and her husband, Ronel Lemos, attempted to intervene as police arrested and allegedly began to beat their 17-year-old son, Jhohan Lemos, who was accused of carrying a knife and resisting arrest around 2:15 a.m. on Saturday.

The elder Mr. Lemos was also arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer during the arrest of his son. Photos show the younger Mr. Lemos with his eye swollen shut and lacerations to his cheek and forehead following his arrest.

Reading the News at the Weavers' Cottage, 1673, Adriaen van Ostade

Reading the News at the Weavers’ Cottage, 1673, Adriaen van Ostade

In California, a 51-year-old woman won a lawsuit against the Highway Patrol after an officer beat her and it was caught on tape. Fox News reports:

A woman who was punched repeatedly by a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer in an incident caught on film earlier this year will receive $1.5M as part of a settlement reached Wednesday.

CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow announced the settlement in an emailed statement and an attorney for 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock confirmed the deal to the Associated Press. The agreement was reached after nine hours of mediation in Los Angeles.

As part of the agreement, the officer who struck Pinnock, Daniel Andrew, will resign.  Andrew, who joined the CHP in 2012 and had been on paid administrative leave, could still be charged criminally in the case. The CHP forwarded the results of its investigation of the incident to Los Angeles County prosecutors last month, saying he could face serious charges but none have been filed yet.

There was another demonstration in Ferguson, Missouri on Tuesday Night after someone burned a memorial to Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on August 9. The Christian Science Monitor asks,  Who burned Michael Brown memorial? Questions spark new Ferguson unrest.

Fresh unrest in Ferguson, Mo., Tuesday night shows that the embers of the month-old unrest surrounding Michael Brown’s death can be kindled by even tiny sparks.

Detectives are investigating how a makeshift memorial to Mr. Brown, an unarmed black teenager killed by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9., burned early Tuesday morning. The memorial, which is one of two near where Brown died on Canfield Drive, included mementos and small candles that may have caused the fire.

But some in the area suggested that it’s “naïve” to think the fire was accidental, and about 200 protesters rallied to West Florissant Avenue again Tuesday, squaring off with police and looting for the third time a store called Beauty Town. There were media reports of looters yelling “Burn it down!” and of gun shots in the area near Canfield Drive. Police made five arrests.

Meanwhile, the DOJ is investigating the Ferguson Police Department.

Finally, there will apparently be no charges in the shooting of John Crawford III, who was shot by police while holding a toy gun in a Walmart. From Fox News, Grand jury issues no indictments in man’s fatal shooting at Ohio Wal-Mart.

Officers’ actions were justified in the fatal shooting of a man holding an air rifle inside an Ohio Wal-Mart store, a grand jury determined Wednesday —  using surveillance video the slain man’s family said shows the shooting was completely unjustified.

The Greene County grand jury opted not to issue any indictments in the Aug. 5 death of 22-year-old John Crawford III inside a Wal-Mart in Beavercreek, Special Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier said.

A 911 caller reported Crawford was waving what appeared to be a rifle in the store. Police said he was killed after failing to obey commands to put down what turned out to be an air rifle taken from a shelf.

Since the shooting, Crawford’s family had demanded public release of the surveillance footage, a request denied until Wednesday by the state attorney general, who said releasing it earlier could taint the investigation and potential jury pool.

Video presented at a news conference by Piepmeier in Xenia shows Crawford walking the aisles, apparently on his cellphone, and picking up an air rifle that had been left, unboxed, on a shelf.

Crawford carries the air rifle around the store — sometimes over his shoulder, sometimes pointed at the ground — before police arrive and shoot him twice.

Would a customer have called 911 if Crawford hadn’t been a black man?

At the Miliners, by Edgar Degas, 1882

At the Miliners, by Edgar Degas, 1882

In Other News . . .

I’m running out of space, so I’ll end with some links to other stories that may pique your interest.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, FBI report shows mass shootings on the rise since 2000. We already knew this, but now there’s hard evidence.

Beta News.com, Five things to hate about the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. It bends!

And the new Apple IOS is messed up. From ComputerWorld, Apple yanks iOS 8 update after crippling iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

Massachusetts GOP candidate for Governor is not endearing himself to women voters. Two op-ed pieces from The Boston Globe:

Charlie Baker needs an intervention on women, by Joan Vennochi

Charlie Baker’s ‘sweetheart’ problem, by Yvonne Abraham

Women, let’s all get out and vote for Martha Coakley. It’s high time Massachusetts had a woman as Governor!

So . . . what else is happening in the world? I’ll see you in the comments! Have a great day!


Tuesday Reads: So Much Breaking News!

Photo by Stanley Kubrick for Life Magazine

Photo by Stanley Kubrick for Life Magazine

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

That routine had returned in full by early Friday.

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

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

reading_on_train

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

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

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

Photo of NY subway by Walker Evans

Photo of NY subway by Walker Evans

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much more at the CFR link.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nyc_subway_riders_with_their_newspapers

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

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

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

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

Why is Obama stopping in Estonia?

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

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

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

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

Read more details about the NATO Summit at the link.

Why-do-people-read-newspapers

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

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

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

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

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

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

subway reading2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

subway reading1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday News Headlines

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Good Morning!!

 

This is going to be a brief open thread–just some headlines to get you started on the day. I apologize for not being able to write a full post. JJ is dealing with some urgent family problems, I’m at my mom’s house helping her get ready for several out-of-town guests, and Dakinikat is taking her pets to the vet. Dak and I will be around this afternoon.

So here’s what’s happening in the headlines this morning.

CNN: Syrian warplanes strike in Iraq, killing 57 civilians, official says.

BBC: Russian and Ukrainian media consider Putin step

An Arkansas GOP official said of Hillary Clinton: ‘She’d Probably Get Shot at the State Line’.

But the official, Johnny Rhoda, didn’t actually mean what he said as a threat.

And he claims his remarks were “taken way out of context,” because he was laughing when he said them.

Actor Eli Wallach has died: ‘Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ Star Eli Wallach Dies at 98 (Hollywood Reporter).

WaPo: Cochran beats McDaniel in nail-biter in Mississippi.

Mother Jones: A Mississippi Surprise: GOP Sen. Cochran Beats Back Tea Party Champion.

Dick Cheney just won’t go away. From the Hill, Cheney: Next attack ‘likely’ deadlier than 9/11.

CNN: FIFA starts disciplinary action against Luis Suarez after biting claims.

Reuters: New York Congressman Charles Rangel claims victory in Democratic primary.

Reuters: Seattle Archdiocese to pay $12 million to settle child sex abuse claims: lawyer.

What stories are you following today? Have a great “hump day,” Sky Dancers!


Monday Reads

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Good Morning!!

 

Things are not going well in Iraq, to put it mildly. John Kerry arrived in Iraq this morning and is currently meeting with Iraqi leaders, according to CNN: John Kerry holds talks in Iraq as more cities fall to ISIS militants.

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) — As radical Sunni militants snatch city after city in their march toward Baghdad, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Iraq on Monday during the country’s tensest time since the U.S. withdrawal of troops in 2011.

Kerry is meeting with Iraqi leaders. He met Monday with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the man who some observers say needs to step down.

With al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government losing more ground to militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, Kerry has implored the leader to rise above “sectarian motivations” to become more inclusive and make the government more representative of Iraq’s population.

“I’m here to convey to you President Obama’s and the American people’s commitment to help Iraq,” Kerry said when greeting Iraq’s speaker of parliament, Osama al-Nujayfi. “The principal concern is the integrity of the country, its borders, its sovereignty,” he said. ISIS “is a threat to all of us.”

Kerry will also meet with Iraq’s foreign minister as well as Shiite and Sunni leaders.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US Secretary of State John Kerry meet at the Prime Minister's Office in Baghdad. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US Secretary of State John Kerry meet at the Prime Minister’s Office in Baghdad. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The discussions with the Maliki government are not likely to be particularly congenial. According to NPR:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Baghdad on Monday to personally urge the Shiite-led government to give more power to political opponents before a Sunni insurgency seizes more control across the country and sweeps away hopes for lasting peace.

The meeting scheduled between Kerry and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was not expected to be friendly, given that officials in Washington have floated suggestions that the Iraqi premier should resign as a necessary first step toward quelling the vicious uprising. Nor will it likely bring any immediate, tangible results, as al-Maliki has shown no sign of leaving and Iraqi officials have long listened to — but ultimately ignored — U.S. advice to avoid appearing controlled by the decade-old specter of an American occupation in Baghdad.

Still, having suffered together through more than eight years of war — which killed nearly 4,500 American troops and more than 100,000 Iraqis — the two wary allies are unwilling to turn away from the very real prospect of the Mideast nation falling into a fresh bout of sectarian strife.

“This is a critical moment where, together, we must urge Iraq’s leaders to rise above sectarian motivations and form a government that is united in its determination to meet the needs and speak to the demands of all of their people,” Kerry said a day earlier in Cairo. He was there in part to meet with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to and discuss a regional solution to end the bloodshed by the insurgent Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

Good luck with that. I wish Hillary were still in charge at State.

From Jay Solomon at The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Faces Opposing Regional Interests in Bid to Blunt Insurgency in Iraq.

AMMAN, Jordan—As the Obama administration’s top diplomat arrived in the Middle East to gather support to blunt a Sunni insurgency in Iraq, the U.S. was colliding with the region’s ethnic, tribal and sectarian divisions.

Deep gaps between U.S. and Arab views over the crisis have grown more obvious in recent days, say American and regional officials, hampering Washington’s response to the onslaught by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, which this month seized control of territories straddling Iraq and Syria.

The task gained new urgency on Sunday when ISIS swept through new Iraq towns and overran two border crossings with Jordan and Syria, blocking the Iraqi government’s access to its western frontier, security officials said.

President Barack Obama raised the stakes on Sunday, telling CBS News that ISIS threatens American interests if it turns to global terrorism, two days after he announced plans to send U.S. military advisers and supplies to Iraq and called for a new, more inclusive government in Baghdad.

The crisis in Iraq has exposed contradictions in traditional Mideast alliances, in some ways placing the U.S. alongside its sworn enemy, Shiite-ruled Iran, in a joint effort to halt ISIS, while in other ways putting Washington at odds with longtime Sunni allies in the Persian Gulf, who want to weaken Iran’s sway over Iraq.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei in 2009

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei in 2009

Meanwhile, yesterday, according to Reuters:

Iran’s supreme leader accused the United States on Sunday of trying to retake control of Iraq by exploiting sectarian rivalries, as Sunni insurgents drove towards Baghdad from new strongholds along the Syrian border.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s condemnation of U.S. action came three days after President Barack Obama offered to send 300 military advisers to help the Iraqi government. Khamenei may want to block any U.S. choice of a new prime minister after grumbling in Washington about Shi’ite premier Nuri al-Maliki.

The supreme leader did not mention the Iranian president’s recent suggestion of cooperation with Shi’ite Tehran’s old U.S. adversary in defense of their mutual ally in Baghdad.

On Sunday, militants overran a second frontier post on the Syrian border, extending two weeks of swift territorial gains as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) pursues the goal of its own power base, a “caliphate” straddling both countries that has raised alarm across the Middle East and in the West.

“We are strongly opposed to U.S. and other intervention in Iraq,” IRNA news agency quoted Khamenei as saying. “We don’t approve of it as we believe the Iraqi government, nation and religious authorities are capable of ending the sedition.”

Will we ever be rid of these insane wars started by Dick Cheney and his puppet George W. Bush? At least Bush has the decency to keep quiet, but Cheney just won’t shut up even though he has no answers for the current crisis. From Raw Story: Dick Cheney doesn’t ‘intend any disrespect’ by suggesting Obama ‘guilty of treason’

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday insisted that he did not “intend any disrespect” when he suggested that President Barack Obama was guilty of treason by trying to undermine the United States before leaving office.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, Cheney — and his daughter Liz — said that the president was “determined to leave office ensuring he has taken America down a notch.”

He went on to suggest that Obama was a “fool” if he intended to work with Iran to prevent violence in Iraq.

“In this op-ed, you suggest the president is a fool,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl pointed out during a Sunday interview with Cheney. “That is the word you used, ‘only a fool would take the approach he’s taking in Iraq right now.’”

“It almost seems like you’re accusing the president of treason, that he’s intentionally bringing America ‘down a notch,’” Karl noted.

Cheney did not deny that he had accused the commander-in-chief of the United States of treason, but he insisted that he had not just called Obama a “fool” over the violence in Iraq.

“It referred to the fact that we’ve left a big vacuum in the Middle East by our withdrawal from Iraq with a no stay-behind agreement,” the former vice president said. “By the commitment that he made just a few weeks ago, that we are going to completely withdraw from Afghanistan with a no stay-behind agreement.”

See also, Dick Cheney’s amazing chutzpah on Iraq, by Paul Waldman (CNN)

Cheney needs to STFU and go on a hunting trip or something. Maybe he could take Tony Scalia with him.

 

In other news . . .

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Right wing nut and birther Ed Klein has a new Hillary hate book out, and the New York Post has been publishing laughable excerpts. The trouble is, the wingnuts will believe the lies and the media won’t counter them. Be sure to read what Joseph Cannon has to say about the De-KLEIN of journalism.

Why does anyone still print or read right-wing pseudojournalist Edward Klein?

A while back, this fictioneer published a book alleging a lesbian relationship between Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin — a work which one critic called “the sleaziest, most derivative, most despicable political biography ever.” Klein’s revelations always come from anonymous “informants” — one of whom, I’ve heard, is Slender Man.

Klein has a new book out and the NY Post is pushing it, even though the folks running the NY Post must know that they’re peddling garbage….

Anyone who takes this nonsense seriously must also believe that wrestling is real. Nevertheless, the right-wing propagandists are pretending to accept Klein’s work at face value. (See also here, especially the telling piece of “Hildebeest” research.)

This is a horrible story from the AP via Fox News: Researchers discover mass graves with bodies of immigrants in South Texas cemetery.

Volunteer researchers have uncovered mass graves in a South Texas cemetery that they believe contain the bodies of immigrants who died crossing into the U.S. illegally, according to published reports Saturday.

The discovery at Sacred Heart Burial Park in Falfurrias came in the last two weeks, as Baylor University anthropologist Lori Baker and Krista Latham, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Indianapolis, and their students worked as part of a multi-year effort to identify immigrants who’ve died in the area near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Teams unearthed remains in trash bags, shopping bags, body bags or without a container at all, according to the Corpus Christi Caller Times (http://bit.ly/1qqH7CZ ). In one burial, bones of three bodies were inside one body bag. In another, at least five people in body bags and smaller plastic bags were piled on top of each other. Skulls also were found in biohazard bags placed between coffins.

They exhumed 110 unidentified people from the cemetery in 2013. This summer, researchers have performed 52 exhumations, but because some remains were stored together, further study will be needed to determine exactly how many bodies have been recovered, Baker said.

These people just suddenly dropped dead as they crossed the border? Apparently this is the work of a local funeral home, Funeraria del Angel Howard-Williams, which the state has been paying $450 each to deal with bodies of immigrants that have been discovered all over Texas. The funeral home has been paid for this service for at least 16 and as long as 22 years! Were there any autopsies? Did anyone determine whether any of these deaths were homicides?

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We haven’t heard much about Bowe Bergdhal lately. Via The Boston Globe, the AP reports this morning that he has been “Shifted to Outpatient Care.”

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been a prisoner of war in Afghanistan for five years, has been shifted to outpatient care at a Texas military base, the U.S. Army said in a statement Sunday.

Bergdahl, 28, had been receiving inpatient treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston. He is now receiving outpatient care on the base in San Antonio, according to the statement. The Army said his ‘‘reintegration process’’ is proceeding with exposure to more people and a gradual increase in social interaction.

He arrived at the Texas medical center on June 13 after nearly two weeks recuperating at a U.S. military hospital in Germany. Army officials said then that Bergdahl was in stable condition and was working daily with health care providers to regain a sense of normalcy and move forward with his life.

The Army statement Sunday said Bergdahl is receiving counseling from ‘‘Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape’’ psychologists’’ to ‘‘continue to ensure he progresses to the point where he can return to duty.’’

The Army said specifics of Bergdahl’s location would not be made public.

That’s it for me for today, except that I’ve become a World cup fan and I might even watch some of the games the US team isn’t participating in. Ralph’s enthusiasm has sucked me in!

What stories are you following today? Please let us know in the comment thread.