Lazy Saturday Reads

Tree Brooklyn

Good Morning!!

 

Yesterday, Slate published a piece by Ruth Graham that started a minor controversy on Twitter and various blogs. Graham argued that adults should be ashamed to be caught reading books written for the Young Adult (YA) audience. Graham writes:

The once-unseemly notion that it’s acceptable for not-young adults to read young-adult fiction is now conventional wisdom. Today, grown-ups brandish their copies of teen novels with pride. There are endless lists of YA novels that adults should read, an “I read YA” campaign for grown-up YA fans, and confessional posts by adult YA addicts. But reading YA doesn’t make for much of a confession these days: A 2012 survey by a market research firm found that 55 percent of these books are bought by people older than 18. (The definition of YA is increasingly fuzzy, but it generally refers to books written for 12- to 17-year-olds. Meanwhile, the cultural definition of “young adult” now stretches practically to age 30, which may have something to do with this whole phenomenon.)

The largest group of buyers in that survey—accounting for a whopping 28 percent of all YA sales—are between ages 30 and 44. That’s my demographic, which might be why I wasn’t surprised to hear this news. I’m surrounded by YA-loving adults, both in real life and online. Today’s YA, we are constantly reminded, is worldly and adult-worthy. That has kept me bashful about expressing my own fuddy-duddy opinion: Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children.

Graham has no problem with adolescents reading these books, but she thinks adults should focus on reading “literary fiction,” because “Life is so short, and the list of truly great books for adults is so long.”

I’m not one of the demographic that reads the new YA books, but I do love to escape into detective stories and I know many adults who enjoy reading science fiction and fantasy. In essence, what Graham’s is arguing against is so-called “genre fiction.” Her article made me want to rush out and buy a couple of Harry Potter books. The idea that anyone should be shamed for reading something that gives them pleasure really rubbed me the wrong way; and the notion that adults should avoid reading for pleasure–what Graham characterizes as “escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia.” Her real problem with YA lit is that it is specifically designed to be give pleasure.

Reading tree

Of course I was not alone in my reaction to Graham’s essay. There were a number of excellent responses. Here’s Hillary Kelly from The New Republic: In Praise of Reading Whatever the Hell You Want: Don’t let Slate make you feel ashamed for reading books that you love.

One evening when I was 11 years old, lifelong friends of my parents came to our house for dinner. As the youngest child, I was the only one left at home to sulk on our living room floor and listen to adult chatter that I neither understood nor cared about. But the couple, Bob and Nancy, were thoughtful enough (and had witnessed my boredom enough) to bring me something to keep me occupied: a book, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

I won’t gush too long and too hard about how that novel affected me, how I felt Francie Nolan’s injustices, how romantic I found her fire escape reading perch, how I reveled in the fact that Francie was a reader like me. It’s enough to say that I lovedin fact, lovethat novel. I reread it about once a year.

In the intervening years, I’ve only found about a half dozen “young adult” books that I’ve enjoyed and found fulfilling. I will reread the Harry Potter books over and over until the day I die. I haven’t come close to picking up The Fault in Our Stars. I found The Hunger Games books clumsy and absurd. Don’t get me going on The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I rarely, if ever, seek out YA lit. It just (usually) isn’t my thing. But that doesn’t mean that the Ruth Graham piece Slate published Thursday, titled “Against YA: Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children,” has any merit whatsoever. In fact, Graham fundamentally misunderstands and mislabels the entire genre, and sends a ridiculous message that any reader should rebel against: “Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children” (itals hers).

You should never be embarrassed by any book you enjoy. And you certainly shouldn’t let some woman you’ve never met make you feel inferior for reading beneath your grade level.

fabian-limberlost

As a young girl, I also read and loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I’ve never been tempted to go back and reread it, but I have reread other children’s books over the years–even books written for younger children. I’ve reread and cried over The Wind in the Willows, and I’ve often thought about rereading A Girl of the Limberlost and Laura Igalls Wilder’s “Little House” books, which I adored. I’ve reread Huckleberry Finn numerous times, each time getting more adult insights from it. Another book that I’ve reread several times with pleasure is The Hobbit.

There’s actually an even more practical argument against Graham’s premise that *real* reading should be a *very serious* endeavor. It’s very important for young children to develop a joy in reading–to learn to read for pleasure (pdf). Apparently this is something that is more recognized in the UK at the moment then here, where the focus is on testing and “Common Core standards.”

From the Guardian: How to encourage students to read for pleasure: teachers share their top tips.

The big challenge for teachers is not simply getting students to read – it’s getting them to enjoy it too. It’s one thing for students to trudge through set texts in a lesson, but will they open another book when they get home at the end of the day?

The National Literacy Trust has noted that becoming a lifetime reader is based on developing a deep love of reading.

“Research has repeatedly shown that motivation to read decreases with age, especially if pupils’ attitudes towards reading become less positive,” it said. “If children do not enjoy reading when they are young, then they are unlikely to do so when they get older.”

For younger readers in particular, their home environment is critically important.

“Home is a massive influence,” says Eleanor Webster, a primary school teacher in Nottinghamshire. “Supportive and understanding parents are key to developing their child’s reading.”

Here are a few more responses to the Graham piece if you’re interested:

Rachel Carter at The New Republic: I Write Young Adult Novels, and I Refuse to Apologize for It.

Alyssa Rosenberg at The Washington Post: No, you do not have to be ashamed of reading young adult fiction.

Kat Kinsman at CNN: Grownups: Don’t be ashamed of your YA habit.

Mark Shrayber at Jezebel: Hey, Everyone! Read Whatever the Fuck You Want.

 

Now a few newsy reads:

pot candy

Have you heard about the edible pot controversy in Colorado? A few days ago Maureen Dowd wrote about the bad trip she took on a pot-infused candy bar, and the discussion went viral. Poor MoDo didn’t heed the warnings about not eating the whole thing at one sitting. From The Boston Globe: Maureen Dowd Eats Pot Candy in Denver, Breaks Internet.

As Dowd tells it, she legally purchased a caramel-chocolate flavored edible, ate it in her Denver hotel room, washed it down with some chardonnay, and then waited. About an hour later, the effects of THC set in, and the result was not good:

I strained to remember where I was or even what I was wearing, touching my green corduroy jeans and staring at the exposed-brick wall. As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.

The high lasted eight hours. EIGHT.

Dowd’s conclusion is that pot candy needs to be better labelled. Newbies to the drug should only eat about 1/16 of the kind of bar she ate, according to a medical consultant at an edibles plant she interviewed. Her candy wrapper had no mention of recommended servings, she wrote.

The tour guide who escorted Dowd around said she was warned. It’s not clear if she was told the recommended serving size.

According to The Cannabis, Matt Brown, co-founder of tourism company My 420 Tours, accompanied Dowd as she purchased the edibles at a Denver dispensary. He said she “got the warning” about how edibles affect everyone differently.

I have to admit, I’m a little concerned about pot-infused candy. What if kids get ahold of it? — and inevitably they will. There’s also the man who killed his wife after eating some of the candy and smoking a joint. The Hershey Candy Company is also perturbed and they’re suing: From Boston.com:

DENVER (AP) — The Hershey Co. has sued a Colorado marijuana edibles maker, claiming it makes four pot-infused candies that too closely resemble iconic products of the chocolate maker.

The trademark infringement lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Denver this week against TinctureBelle LLC and TinctureBelle Marijuanka LLC.

It alleges TinctureBelle’s Ganja Joy, Hasheath, Hashees and Dabby Patty mimic Hershey’s Almond Joy, Heath, Reese’s peanut butter cups and York peppermint patty candies, respectively.

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At Pando Daily, Mark Ames is continuing to follow the international adventures of Glenn Greenwald’s boss Pierre Omidyar. Two weeks ago, he revealed Omidyar’s role in supporting and profiting from the election of India’s new fascist government: REVEALED: The head of Omidyar Network in India had a secret second job… Helping elect Narendra Modi. He followed up last week with this: eBay Shrugged: Pierre Omidyar believes there should be no philanthropy without profit.

The role of Omidyar Network in so many major events of the past week — helping elect India’s ultranationalist leader Narendra Modi; co-funding Ukraine regime-change NGOswith USAID, resulting in a deadly civil war and Monday’s election of Ukrainian billionaireoligarch Petro Poroshenko; and now, this week’s first-ever sit-down TV interview with Edward Snowden, through an arrangement between NBC News and Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media — shows how these contradictions are coming to the fore, and shaping our world.

Omidyar’s central role in the US national security state’s global agenda may still come as a shock to outsiders and fans of First Look media’s roster of once-independent journalists. But to White House foreign policy hawks, Pierre Omidyar represents the new face of an old imperial tradition.

And this week, Ames wrote: Just as we predicted, India’s new leader is about to make Pierre Omidyar a lot richer.

Well that was fast. Two weeks ago, we reported that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s top man in India had secretly helped elect controversial ultranationalist Narendra Modi, implicated by Human Rights Watch and others in the gruesome mass killings and cleansing of minority Muslims. As we also revealed, shortly after Omidyar’s man publicly joined the Modi campaign in February, Modi suddenly began warming up to the idea of letting global e-commerce companies into the world’s third largest economy. Omidyar’s eBay, which draws the majority of its revenues from overseas operations, has been champing at the bit to get into India.

Now, just weeks after Modi’s election, it seems their prayers have been answered.

Today, Reuters is reporting that Modi is planning to open India up to global e-commerce firms like eBay next month, and that Modi’s industry minister has been drawing up the new guidelines with input from top eBay officials, along with their e-commerce counterparts from Google, Amazon, Wal-Mart and others.

I wonder how all this ties in to Omidyar’s purchase of the Snowden data through Greenwald and Laura Poitras?

In a recent post, I mentioned that there has been a new arrest in the Boston bombing case. A friend of the Tsarnaev brothers, Khairullozhon Matanov, was arrested in Quincy, MA, last week and charged with obstruction of the bombing investigation. AP reported recently that Matanov had wired large amounts of money to people overseas. AP via The Daily Mail: Revealed: Boston bombing suspect’s friend wired $71,000 to people in six countries, as judge rules he should remain in jail.

A friend of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev wired more than $71,000 to people in six countries and used fake names several times for the transactions – including while Tsarnaev was on a pilgrimage in Russia, according to prosecutors.

Khairullozhon Matanov, 23, is accused of deleting computer files and lying to agents investigating the 2013 bombings, which killed three and injured more than 260.

Prosecutors accuse the immigrant from Kyrgyzstan of a ‘pattern of deceit’ in dealing with authorities as they investigated the bomb attacks.

At a detention hearing, Matanov waived his right to seek release on bail. His lawyer said Matanov has no family here, lost his job as a cab driver after his indictment last week and has nowhere to go if he were released.

Curiouser and curiouser.

I’ll end with three links to interesting and helpful reads on the Bowe Bergdahl controversy.

Think Progress: Did Sergeant Bergdahl Desert The Army Or Did The Army Desert Him?

Reuters: Bergdahl reveals the impossible choices faced by hostages’ families.

NYT Editorial Board: The Rush to Demonize Sgt. Bergdahlgen

I hope you’ll find something worth reading in my suggestions. What are you reading and blogging about these days? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.


Tuesday Reads: Syria, Ukraine, and Venezuela; Robot Police; Republican Stupidity; Harold Ramis; and Women of “True Detective”

Matisse-Woman-Reading-with-Tea1

Good Morning!!

There is so much foreign news these days, and I have to admit ignorance when it comes to discussing the situations in Ukraine, Venezuela, and Syria. I don’t even know where to begin to understand the issues, and to be honest I just don’t have the time to try to do it. But here are some articles from sources I trust that struck me as important.

I’ll begin with something I can easily understand and care about: the fate of children in these conflicts. From The Independent, ‘No one cares’: The tragic truth of Syria’s 500,000 refugee children. The article is about British photojournalist Ed Thompson and an art student from Lebanon, Sammy Hamze, who went to Lebanon to put a spotlight on what is happening to Syrian refugee families.

We have heard the stories. Children at risk of dying from the cold in refugee camps; vulnerable to trafficking; begging on the side of the road; left orphaned and out of school; girls sold into marriage. But what shook Thompson most was that the children, although appearing older than their years, were still so young. “They are innocent, completely innocent,” he says now. “One father told me to look at his family; he could barely feed his son. They had been through hell, walked through hell and got to hell. All they want to do is go home.”

The conflict that has torn Syria apart has raged for almost three years, left more than 100,000 people dead in its wake and driven nine-and-a-half million from their homes. It took intense political pressure to get the British Government to agree to offer hundreds of the “most needy people” in Syrian refugee camps a home in this country. “We live in the modern age – we can read what’s going on in Syria; we’ve never had more information at our fingertips,” says Thompson – “but no one cares.”

If anything can break through the apathy, it is his pictures.

Read more and see some of Thompson’s photos at the link.

On Ukraine, I posted this article by Mark Ames in the comments yesterday, but I’ll link it again here: Everything you now about Ukraine is wrong.

I haven’t lived in that part of the world since the Kremlin ran me out of town, so I’m not going to pretend that I know as much as those on the ground there. Still, I’ve been driven nuts by the avalanche of overconfident ignorance that stands for analysis or commentary on the wild events there. A lethal ignorance, a virtuous ignorance….

Nearly everyone here in the US tries to frame and reify Ukraine’s dynamic to fit America-centric spats. As such, Ukraine’s problems are little more than a propaganda proxy war where our own political fights are transferred to Ukraine’s and Russia’s context, warping the truth to score domestic spat points. That’s nothing new, of course, but it’s still jarring to watch how the “new media” counter-consensus is warping and misrepresenting reality in Ukraine about as crudely as the neocons and neoliberals used to warp and Americanize the political realities there back when I first started my Moscow newspaper, The eXile.

Read about what Ames calls the “simplifications/misconceptions” that are driving Ames crazy at Pando Daily.

And then there’s Venezuela. At The Washington Post, Adam Tayor asks, Amid the coverage of Ukraine, is a crisis in Venezuela being ignored? It’s an interesting question. And what about Syria, which has pretty much disappeared in all the coverage of Ukraine? Is American media simply incapable of covering more than one foreign conflict at a time? Read all about it at the link.

One more story on Venezuela from Peter Weber at The Week: Venezuela isn’t going to be another Ukraine.

Venezuela is not Ukraine, and beneath the similarities in the protest movements are significant differences.

The first is time: The Kiev protesters started their demonstration in November after Yanukovych reneged on a European Union trade pact, and they gradually built up a tent fortress in the central Maidan Square. In Venezuela, the protests started on Feb. 4 at the university in San Cristóbal, with students showing their anger over the lack of police response to an attempted rape and crime in general.

The “brutal police crackdown” on the student protesters in San Cristóbal led to similar protests at other universities, which were also violently suppressed, says Francisco Toro in The New York Times. “As the cycle of protests, repression, and protests-against-repression spread, the focus of protest began to morph. What was at stake, the students realized, was the right to free assembly.” Toro continues:

It’s this intolerance of opposing views, and violent repression, that Venezuela’s students are now mobilized against. Today, after 13 deaths, 18 alleged cases of torture and over 500 student arrests, the protest movement has snowballed into a nationwide paroxysm of anger that puts the government’s stability in question. The protests’ lack of structure has given them resilience, but also an anarchic edge. There is no single leader in a position to give the movement strategic direction. [The New York Times]

Read more comparisons at the link.

In Other News . . . 

The K5 robot outside a school

The K5 robot outside a school

If you think the prospect of being spied on by NSA is frightening, you need to read this article by James Robinson at Pando Daily: Knightscope’s new robotic law enforcer is like staring at the demise of humanity.

Knightscope’s autonomous, crime fighting robot has the complexion of a washing machine. In pictures it looks cute, the size of a penguin maybe. In person it is five feet tall with intimidating breadth. It moves steadily and with insistence. If you stare at it long enough, the twin panels of lights about two-thirds of the way up its body start to take on the appearance of shifty, judgmental eyes. It sees what you’re doing and wants you to cut it out.

The full name of the Knightscope robot on display at the Launch Festival this morning was the K5 beta prototype. Former Ford Motor Company executive and Knightscope CEO William Santana Li describes it to MC and festival organizer Jason Calacanis onstage as a “crime fighting autonomous data machine.” But that doesn’t come close to doing it justice….

As Santana Li outlines proudly, the beast before him on stage takes in 360-degree video through four cameras, is capable of thermal imaging, registers gestures, recognizes faces and can run 300 license plates in a single minute. It works off proximity GPS and scans its environment every 25 milliseconds. It runs off nearly identical technology to Google’s self-driving cars. He boasts that it can see, feel, hear and smell. It is autonomous, will roam outdoors, can take video, decide when it needs to return and charge its batteries and can detect biological and chemical pathogens and radiation.

The Knightscope will get put out in the field gathering data, Santana Li says. The owner can log in to a security panel and get a read of what is going on in the area. The robot can scan license plates and report back on stolen cars. Its facial recognition capabilities can alert its owner to any registered sex offender in the area. The sample dashboard Santana Li logs in to, shows that the robot can report back about things as specific as how many people are lying horizontal and how many are gesturing with their hands. The company is working on giving it a 3M graffiti proof sheen, it emits a piercing sound if someone tries to tip it over and the machines will often work in pairs so they can protect each other.

How would you like to live in a world where one of those things is checking up on you wherever you go?

From Laura Bassett at Huffington Post, here’s the latest from the land of Republican misogyny and stupidity: Virginia Republican Says A Pregnant Woman Is Just A ‘Host,’ Though ‘Some Refer To Them As Mothers.’ Yes, someone really said that.

A pregnant woman is just a “host” that should not have the right to end her pregnancy, Virginia State Sen. Steve Martin (R) wrote in a Facebook rant defending his anti-abortion views.

Martin, the former chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee, wrote a lengthy post about his opinions on women’s bodies on his Facebook walllast week in response to a critical Valentine’s Day card he received from reproductive rights advocates.

“I don’t expect to be in the room or will I do anything to prevent you from obtaining a contraceptive,” Martin wrote. “However, once a child does exist in your womb, I’m not going to assume a right to kill it just because the child’s host (some refer to them as mothers) doesn’t want it.” Martin then changed his post on Monday afternoon to refer to the woman as the “bearer of the child” instead of the “host.”

Martin explained that he edited his post because “people took it the wrong way.” Read his original post at the link.

And then there’s good old Bobby Jindal, who still thinks he has a chance to be POTUS: Jindal Breaches White House Protocol To Take Shots At Obama.

The National Governors Association is supposed to bring Democrats and Republicans together to discuss policy and share ideas for mutual success, but after a meeting at the White House Monday, all pretense at bipartisan comity was shattered as a press conference with lawmakers descended into a partisan fracas.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal launched into a repeated assault on President Barack Obama’s leadership in the shadow of the West Wing, in defiance of established bipartisan protocol. Speaking after a meeting of the NGA at the White House, Jindal, the vice chair of the Republican Governors Association, said Obama is “waving a white flag” by focusing on executive actions with three years left in his term. “The Obama economy is now the minimum wage economy,” Jindal added….

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy rose to challenge Jindal immediately after he spoke to reporters, calling his remarks on Obama waving a white flag “the most insane statement I’ve ever heard.”

Jindal then returned to the microphones to continue his barrage against the Obama administration, saying as Malloy walked off, “I want to make sure he hears a more partisan statement,” and saying Obama should delay the Affordable Care Act mandates. It wasn’t the first time Jindal had used the microphones outside the White House to attack the president, having done the same at last year’s meeting.

Fortunately, Bobby Jindal will never be president. What a horrible excuse for a human being.

As everyone knows by now, we lost a great comedy writer, director, and performer yesterday. From The Chicago Tribune: Harold Ramis, Chicago actor, writer and director, dead at 69.

Harold Ramis not only may be the most successful comedy writer-director that Chicago has produced, but some wouldn’t even confine that statement to Chicago.

“Harold was clearly the most successful comedy writer-director of all time,” said Tim Kazurinsky, who followed Ramis at Second City and later became his friend. “The number of films that he has made that were successful, that were blockbusters, nobody comes close. Even in light in of that, he was more successful as a human being.”

Ramis’ career was still thriving in 1996, with “Groundhog Day” acquiring almost instant classic status upon its 1993 release and 1984’s “Ghostbusters” ranking among the highest-grossing comedies of all time, when he decided to move his family back to the Chicago area, where he grew up and had launched his career.

On Monday, Ramis was surrounded by family in his North Shore home when he died at 12:53 a.m. of complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease that involves swelling of the blood vessels, said his wife, Erica Mann Ramis. He was 69.

Read The New York Times obituary here: Harold Ramis, Alchemist of Comedy, Dies at 69.

Finally, a little True Detective news. Dakinikat posted this in the comments yesterday, but if you didn’t go to the link you might have missed something really revelatory.

A number of writers have noted that the hit HBO series focuses almost exclusively on the male characters and that women and children are only seen and heard in terms of their effect on the men–for example, see this article at The New Yorker by Emily Nussbaum: The shallow deep talk of “True Detective.”

Yesterday two feminist writers took a different point of view. At Slate, Willa Paskin argues that the way the men of True Detective treat women is actually at the heart of the narrative–that by not listening to women, Detectives Marty Hart and Rust Cohle miss the very clues that would help them solve their 17-year case.

Ignoring women may be the show’s blind spot, but it is also one of its major themes.  True Detective is explicitly about the horrible things that men do to women, things that usually go unseen and uninvestigated. No one missed Dora Lange. Marie Fontenot disappeared, and the police let a rumor stop them from following up. Another little girl was abducted, and a report was never even filed. “Women and children are disappearing, nobody hears about it, nobody puts it together,” Rust told his boss Sunday night, outlining what he believes is a vast conspiracy in the Bayou. Rust is haunted by women who aren’t there—his ex-wife and his dead daughter—while Marty cannot deal appropriately with the women who are.

Please read the whole thing, if you haven’t already. Amanda Marcotte agrees with Paskin, and she turns up the work of some “internet sleuths” to provide some evidence. Marcotte:

I’m inclined to agree with Paskin. In fact, I’m going to take it a step further and argue that I think, whatever else happens, this inability of the main characters to really see women is going to be their downfall. Over and over again, the show obsesses about the gap between self-serving delusions and narratives and what’s really going on. Marty repeatedly talks about how detectives frequently overlook what should have been most obvious, what was right under their noses. He calls it the “detective’s curse”. “Solution was right under my nose, but I was paying attention to the wrong clues.”

I am going to offer this prediction, then: The solution will be right under their noses, but they missed it because they don’t really see women.

Indeed, the internet sleuths are already on it. Remember that all-important yearbook photo that they found one of the victims in? Well, guess what? Other female characters that Marty and Rust have interacted with are in the picture. Here’s the picture with the women helpfully numbered.

yearbook

On the far right of the front row is a girl who grew up to be the woman who killed her three children because of Munchhausen by proxy syndrome–the woman whom Rust got to confess and then told her to kill herself. Was she traumatized at that school? Could she have given him some valuable information? Why didn’t Rust follow up on those photos?

True Detective school photos3

Something to think about while we wait for Sunday night to roll around.

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


Thursday Reads: Human Evolution, Snowden Leaks, and Other News

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Good Morning!!

I seem to have caught a little cold, nothing serious; but I’m a little slow this morning. Anyway, I have a few interesting stories for you, beginning with an amazing discovery that has stunned scientists and forced them to adjust their assumptions about human evolution. From the NYT: Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins.

In a paper in the journal Nature, scientists reported Wednesday that they had retrieved ancient human DNA from a fossil dating back about 400,000 years, shattering the previous record of 100,000 years.

The fossil, a thigh bone found in Spain, had previously seemed to many experts to belong to a forerunner of Neanderthals. But its DNA tells a very different story. It most closely resembles DNA from an enigmatic lineage of humans known as Denisovans. Until now, Denisovans were known only from DNA retrieved from 80,000-year-old remains in Siberia, 4,000 miles east of where the new DNA was found.

The mismatch between the anatomical and genetic evidence surprised the scientists, who are now rethinking human evolution over the past few hundred thousand years. It is possible, for example, that there are many extinct human populations that scientists have yet to discover. They might have interbred, swapping DNA. Scientists hope that further studies of extremely ancient human DNA will clarify the mystery.

Now the experts are going to have to find a way to incorporate these new discoveries into their understanding of human history. The story offers several different possibilities from different scientists.

Hints at new hidden complexities in the human story came from a 400,000-year-old femur found in a cave in Spain called Sima de los Huesos (“the pit of bones” in Spanish). The scientific team used new methods to extract the ancient DNA from the fossil….

Since the 1970s, Spanish scientists have brought out a wealth of fossils from the cave dating back hundreds of thousands of years. “The place is very special,” said Dr. Arsuaga, who has found 28 nearly complete skeletons of humans during three decades of excavations.

Based on the anatomy of the fossils, Dr. Arsuaga has argued that they belonged to ancestors of Neanderthals, which lived in western Asia and Europe from about 200,000 to 30,000 years ago.

But based on newly discovered methods for extracting DNA, researchers learned something very different. Read the rest of this fascination story at the NYT link above.

Yesterday the Washington Post published a new story by Barton Gellman, based on the data stolen from the NSA by Edward Snowden:  NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show. Except if you read the whole story you’ll learn that this is being done only to collect foreign intelligence; it’s not being done in the U.S. Data from Americans who are overseas could get caught up in the data collection, but the point is to track the locations of suspected terrorists.

The NSA does not target Americans’ location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones “incidentally,” a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result.

One senior collection manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity but with permission from the NSA, said “we are getting vast volumes” of location data from around the world by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. cellphones as well as foreign ones. Additionally, data are often collected from the tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones every year.

In scale, scope and potential impact on privacy, the efforts to collect and analyze location data may be unsurpassed among the NSA surveillance programs that have been disclosed since June. Analysts can find cellphones anywhere in the world, retrace their movements and expose hidden relationships among the people using them.

Honestly, is anyone really surprised by this? I’m not saying it’s a wonderful thing, but, as I recall, tracing cell phone locations was the method used to catch Osama bin Laden. Not only that, but local police in the U.S. routinely use cell phone tracking to investigate crimes–and like the Feds, they have to get warrants to do so.

Anyone who didn’t know that you have no expectation of privacy when using a cell phone must have been living in a cave for a very long time. But if you really think the NSA is listening in on all of your personal phone calls and reading your text messages, you’re–quite frankly–nuts. The NSA would have to have millions of employees in order to sift through everyone’s data.

Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, said “there is no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information about cellphones in the United States.”

The NSA has no reason to suspect that the movements of the overwhelming majority of cellphone users would be relevant to national security. Rather, it collects locations in bulk because its most powerful analytic tools — known collectively as CO-TRAVELER — allow it to look for unknown associates of known intelligence targets by tracking people whose movements intersect.

As noted in the article, data collected from Americans overseas isn’t protected by the Fourth Amendment; and the Supreme Court decided long ago that telephone call data is owned by the phone companies and that Americans have no expectation of privacy when talking on the phone. If we want to increase privacy protections, it will have to be done through legislation–not by whining about the NSA doing it’s job, which is to collect foreign intelligence. (A side note: a short time ago, former NSA analyst John Schindler offered some suggestions for “Reforming NSA from the Top.”) I wish journalists would devote as much energy to investigating why millions of Americans can’t get jobs and why so many of the ones who do have jobs can’t get paid a living wage as they do to telling us things we already knew or strongly suspected about NSA data collection.

Meanwhile, there are some troubling questions and revelations about some of the journalists who have been involved in releasing the Snowden files. As everyone knows by now, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras now have control of all of the data that Snowden stole. This data includes the names of all British and American intelligence agents. Greenwald and Poitras are currently working on developing a new news website, a project backed by libertarian Ebay billionaire Pierre Omidyar. Here’s an extensive profile of Omidyar by renegade investigative journalist MarkAmes.

Recently, Ames wrote another piece at Pando Daily questioning the ethics of Snowden’s cache of NSA data being controlled by two individuals who are beholden to one wealthy backer headlined Keeping Secrets: Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the privatization of Snowden’s leaks.

Who “owns” the NSA secrets leaked by Edward Snowden to reporters Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras?

Given that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar just invested a quarter of a billion dollars to
personally hire Greenwald and Poitras for his new for-profit media venture, it’s a question worth asking.

It’s especially worth asking since it became clear that Greenwald and Poitras are now the only two people with full access to the complete cache of NSA files, which are said to number anywhere from 50,000 to as many as 200,000 files. That’s right: Snowden doesn’t have the files any more, the Guardian doesn’t have them, the Washington Post doesn’t have them… just Glenn and Laura at the for-profit journalism company created by the founder of eBay.

Edward Snowden has popularly been compared to major whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg,Chelsea Manning and Jeffrey Wigand. However, there is an important difference in the Snowden files that has so far gone largely unnoticed. Whistleblowing has traditionally served the public interest. In this case, it is about to serve the interests of a billionaire starting a for-profit media business venture. This is truly unprecedented. Never before has such a vast trove of public secrets been sold wholesale to a single billionaire as the foundation of a for-profit company.

I didn’t realize this until yesterday, but apparently Greenwald did not have the data on British intelligence originally; but he somehow forced the Guardian to turn it over to him before he resign from the newspaper. This may be the data that Greenwald’s husband David Miranda was caught with at Heathrow airport when he was detained there awhile back. The British Parliament is currently investigating the behavior of the Guardian and its editor Alan Rusberger. From the blog of BBC journalist Louise Mensch: Rusbridger admits shipping agents’ names – what now?

MPs today got Alan Rusbridger to admit a number of things he, and his paper had previously denied.

Firstly, that he shipped the names of GCHQ agents abroad to newspapers and bloggers. Mr. Rusbridger was reminded that this was a criminal offence, and said he had a public interest defence. He also, however, kept arguing that he hadn’t published any names, which rather blows up his public interest defence – it’s self-evident that you don’t need the names of intelligence agents to report on GCHQ spying, so why not redact them?

The fact is, Rusbridger did acknowledge that it put GCHQ agents at risk when he first shipped files to ProPublica. He redacted the names of GCHQ agents from those files, and he promised the government he had done so….

In Parliament today when asked why he didn’t redact the names he said there were 58,000 documents – essentially, he could be bothered to go through the <100 files he FedExed to ProPublica, but could not be bothered to go through the entire batch he sent to the NYT.

Really? He couldn’t take a week, and black out agents’ names? There were copies of the docs in the Guardian offices in New York, so time was not an issue for Rusbridger – instead, he exposed the names.

Perhaps worst of all, Rusbridger confirmed my very worst suspicions, which were that he hadn’t even read through the top secret files before shipping them. He redacted no names; he redacted no operational details; he didn’t even read them. And by “he” I mean any employee of the Guardian. Nobody at that paper read the 58,000 documents through, not even once, before sharing them in bulk.

Mensch updated that post with more information yesterday: HAS Rusbridger exposed thousands of GCHQ personnel? A commenter on the original post explained that in revealing the names of intelligence personnel to multiple people, Rusberger and the Guardian essentially destroyed their careers and seriously damaged British intelligence efforts. Here’s the comment:

A comment was left on that last blog that I have to reproduce. It shows that every agent exposed by Rusbridger has had their career ruined for the duration of it; none of them can ever work in the field again. Furthermore, the writer makes the compelling case that the NSA-GCHQ wiki, which the New York Times published extracts from, and the directories of staff interests like gay and lesbian clubs, ghost hunting clubs etc, mean that Rusbridger has actually sent abroad not just a handful of names, as he claimed to Parliament “there were names on power points” but actually thousands of GCHQ names.

Read the whole explanation at the link. I apologize for writing this before I nail down every detail, but I think this is important and it’s highly unlikely the corporate media will look into it since they could also culpable.

I’m afraid I rambled on too long on the NSA story, so I’ll just add a few more links that you might like to check out.

Raw Story: Debbie Wasserman Schultz schools Newt Gingrich over ‘war on women’ crack about Joe Biden

Bloomberg: That’s Gonna Hurt: Bankers Brace for the Volcker Rule

AP via Business Insider: A Period Of Bitterly Cold Temperatures Not Seen In A Decade Is About To Hit Parts Of The US

JM Ashby at The Daily Banter: Their Kind of Individual Mandate

Politicus USA: CNN Throws In the Towel as it Schedules Hour-Long Glenn Beck Interview

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you focusing on this morning? Please share your links in the comment thread.


Thursday Reads: Edward Snowden Becomes a Refugee in Russia

Madame_Lebasque_Reading_in_the_Garden_by_Henri_Lebasque

Good Morning!!

The news is breaking as I write this (around 8:15AM ET) that NSA leaker Edward Snowden has received papers that grant him refugee status in Russia for one year. From Reuters:

Fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden left Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Thursday after Russiagranted him refugee status, ending more than a month in limbo in the transit area.

A lawyer who has been assisting Snowden said the young American, who is wanted in the United States for leaking details of secret government intelligence programs, had left the airport for a secure location which would remain secret….

His lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told state television: “I have just seen him off. He has left for a secure location … Security is a very serious matter for him.”

Lawyer Anatoly Kucherena holds Edward Snowden's entry papers from Russian Immigration Service

Lawyer Anatoly Kucherena holds Edward Snowden’s entry papers from Russian Immigration Service

So what will life in Russia be like for Snowden? A number of knowledgeable writers have weighed in on this question.

Last week, when rumors circulated that Snowden had been granted asylum and would soon leave Sheremetyevo, Russian-American journalist Julia Ioffe wrote in The New Republic that Snowden would probably

be given an apartment somewhere in the endless, soulless highrises with filthy stairwells that spread like fields around Moscow’s periphery. He will live there for five years before he will be given citizenship. He’ll likely be getting constant visits from the SVR (the Russian NSA) to mine the knowledge he carries in his brain. Maybe, he will be given a show on Russia Today, alongside the guy who got him into this pickle to begin with, Julian Assange. Or he, like repatriated Russian spy Anna Chapman, might be given a fake job at a state-friendly bank where he will do nothing but draw a salary. (Chapman, by the way, recently tweeted this at Snowden: “Snowden, will you marry me?!”) Maybe he will marry a Russian woman, who will quickly shed her supple, feminine skin and become a tyrant, and every dark winter morning, Snowden will sit in his tiny Moscow kitchen, drinking Nescafe while Svetlana cooks something greasy and tasteless, and he will sit staring into his black instant coffee, hating her.

Was it worth it to trade Hawaii and a pole-dancer girlfriend for that? Snowden will have plenty of time on his hands to think about it. He certainly won’t get a job in Russian intelligence. The Russians, at least, know you can’t trust a leaker even though he may be a convenient source of information.

Mark Ames, who lived in Russia for years and published and wrote for an alternative newspaper in Moscow with partner Matt Taibbi, recently wrote a short piece on Snowden’s future prospects at NSFWCORP with quotes from some Russian sources that I can no longer find on-line. Ames writes:

The latest on Edward Snowden from Newsru.com: officials from the Federal Migration Service (FMS) say that Snowden could be transferred to a refugee center currently overflowing with Syrian war refugees, likely families tied to the Russian-backed regime of Bashir Assad. Or not.

Both Russian officials and Snowden’s Kremlin-tied lawyer are making a big show about how difficult the bureaucratic process is for anyone, even someone like Snowden, to get his temporary asylum papers. If you read the Russian press accounts, the surface statements about the Tsar’s alleged helplessness before the almighty bureaucracy are pure Gogol, without the ha-ha’s, a sort of no-laughter-through-tears. Beneath the surface, there’s something more menacing, a growing sense I get reading the Russian press that Snowden is a kind of Kremlin toy whom they’re intentionally fucking with, out of either contempt, or for the sheer fun of it…

Clearly, Russian President Vladimir Putin is having a blast sticking it to the US and soaking up praise from deluded Glenn Greenwald cultists (previously Obots) and Julian Assange fans who think Russia is a land of freedom and opportunity as in contrast to America, where jackbooted Obama administration thugs supposedly run a horrifying reign of terror.

crime_punishment

Ames has a fascinating take on Snowden’s attorney’s bringing him a copy of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment to read.

…the Kremlin gifting Snowden a copy of “Crime and Punishment” is itself a not-subtle mind-fuck on many levels. Dostoevsky’s book is a profoundly reactionary novel about a young foolish and desperate student full of second-hand radical ideas about his superiority against established morality. His name is Raskolnikov and he thinks he’s above ordinary human laws, so he kills his landlord according to these higher laws – and later goes crazy unable to believe in the radical ideas that led him to commit a crime, so he turns himself in to the authorities, and serves his time in Siberia as penance. The name of Dostoevsky’s hero, “Raskolnikov,” itself means “cracked” or “split” – as in his cracked conscience.

Last week Snowden’s lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told journalists…

“I bought [for Snowden] Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment,’ because I think that Raskolnikov, who murdered his old landlord — I think that he needs to read about this. Not necessarily because of their similarities in their internal contradictions, but nevertheless…”

I loved this quote from opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta (via Ames):

“Well, what can you say? If that infantile leftie Snowden really wanted to be a hero, he should return to the USA: crucify or not crucify, they’d probably give him 10 years, and he’d do five.”

“Snowden wanted to become a digital world’s Christ — without having to hang on the cross. Now Snowden’s going to spend not five years, but the rest of his life as a guest of the FSB.”

In another display of black humor, the Kremin website compared Snowden to British defectors and spies Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, and Don Maclean. In the posting the Kremlin notes that Philby and Burgess “drank themselves to death in their state-allocated flats, awaiting a world revolution that never came,” while Maclean got along better because he took the trouble to learn Russian. You can read more about Kim Philby at The Guardian. 

Russian refugee center

Russian refugee center

State supported newspaper Russia Today also speculated about Snowden’s future: Spook out of water: What Snowden can expect if Russia grants him asylum.

If the application is accepted and Snowden is given the 12-month temporary asylum that enables him to leave the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport, he will have to undergo a daunting medical assessment designed especially for immigrants. Along with a standard screening for HIV and tuberculosis, he will also be checked for leprosy and the rare sexually-transmitted disease chancroid. Russian Health Ministry officials have said that they are ready to administer the tests at a moment’s notice, but so far have not been asked to do so by Snowden.

After Snowden registers his whereabouts with the police – to avoid risking a $150 fine – he will be free to apply for placement in a processing facility for asylum seekers. There are no such facilities in Moscow, and ones in the vicinity have been flooded with refugees escaping the Syrian conflict. Elena Ryabinina, a human rights lawyer who works with asylum seekers, told Gazeta.ru newspaper that most of her clients get offered a bed in a center near Perm – a city by the Ural mountains, more than 1,000 km east of Moscow.

Sounds like tons of fun. But according to the article Snowden could choose to try to find a place on his own–but he’d have to get a bodyguard since he’s a “wanted man.”

Even if Snowden does acquire a personal bodyguard and a high security flat at an undisclosed location – presumably courtesy of the Russian state – his future is hazy, and the reality of it likely different to what he imagined when he recorded his first revelations.

A temporary asylum seeker is allowed to work, but not to put further strain on the testy relationship between Moscow and Washington. Vladimir Putin said “no longer undermining the US” is a pre-condition for his asylum bid, and the former NSA contractor publicly promised to comply when he met Russian human rights activists a fortnight ago. One wonders who it is that Snowden’s bodyguards will be protecting from danger.

Who knows if we’ll even find out what happens to Snowden now? All we can do is watch and wait. Something tells me he may eventually wish he had just come back home to face the music.

Yesterday, Glenn Greenwald posted another “bombshell” about a “top secret program” called XKEYSCORE. According to Greenwald, this “NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet.'” I googled and learned that hundreds of companies are publicly advertising job openings for people with experience on XKEYSCORE–so how can it be so secret? I guess Greenwald didn’t bother to do a google search. He didn’t bother to talk to Marc Ambinder either. Ambinder wrote a whole book on US intelligence methods in which he described XKEYSCORE in detail. Can Greenwald actually be writing about these intel programs without reading any of the literature on them?

Ambinder writes in The Week:

I quibble with the Guardian‘s description of the program as “TOP SECRET.” The word is not secret; its association with the NSA is not secret; that the NSA collects bulk data on foreign targets is, well, probably classified, but at the SECRET level. Certainly, work product associated with XKEYSCORE is Top Secret with several added caveats. Just as the Guardian might be accused of over-hyping the clear and present danger associated with this particular program, critics will reflexively overstate the harm that its disclosure would reasonably produce.

XKEYSCORE is not a thing that DOES collecting; it’s a series of user interfaces, backend databases, servers and software that selects certain types of metadata that the NSA has ALREADY collected using other methods. XKEYSCORE, as D.B. Grady and I reported in our book, is the worldwide base level database for such metadata. XKEYSCORE is useful because it gets the “front end full take feeds” from the various NSA collection points around the world and importantly, knows what to do with it to make it responsive to search queries. As the presentation says, the stuff itself is collected by some entity called F6 and something else called FORNSAT and then something with the acronym SSO.

But Greenwald insisted on Chris Hayes show last night that XKEYSCORE does collect data–all your data–and someone creepy is probably reading it right now!!

394651-xkeyscore-450

In his piece at The Guardian Greenwald had to admit that NSA analysts need to get a warrant to look at and individual’s data, but he claims the warrants are worthless. He also admits that analysts don’t have access to all your personal data, but he says they could hack into it illegally. But isn’t that true for employees of any company or government agency? They could look at personal data by criminally working around limitations and ignoring regulations.

Charles Johnson at LGF: Greenwald’s Latest Article Distorts the Truth Again

Greenwald’s purpose with this latest article is to try to shore up Edward Snowden’s absurd claim that he could “wiretap anyone, even the President,” without any oversight. Here’s how he frames this defense:

The files shed light on one of Snowden’s most controversial statements, made in his first video interview published by the Guardian on June 10.

“I, sitting at my desk,” said Snowden, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email”.

US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden’s assertion: “He’s lying. It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”

But training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.

Read this section carefully — because what Greenwald is detailing does not support Snowden’s claim at all. Greenwald is describing searching a database for information on non-US citizens. How is this the same thing as “wiretapping the President?” Of course, it’s not. He’s not describing any kind of “wiretapping” at all.

On top of all that, it turns out that the Powerpoint presentation that Greenwald wrote about yesterday is from 2008! (See slide pictured above.) Presumably much has changed at NSA since then. Read more at Joshua Foust’s blog–it’s well worth the time to read the whole thing.

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you focusing on today? Please share your links on any topic in the comment thread, and have a terrific Thursday!!


Thursday: Bob Woodward’s Non-Scoop, and Some Interesting Long Reads

coffee break

Good Morning!!

Poor Bob Woodward! The only way he can get attention nowadays is by whining and crying and generally creating a tempest in a teapot.

Yesterday Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen posted one of their patented “Behind the Curtain” pieces: Woodward at War, in which they dramatically revealed the inside story of Woodward’s little spat with the White House. This is the sort of story only the Villagers really care about, but when they care about something, they insist on forcing their opinions about it on the rest of us. It was the subject of the first hour of Morning Joe for yesterday and today, and the focus of countless media reports and blog posts throughout the day yesterday. Woodward must be in heaven with all this attention. From Politico:

Bob Woodward called a senior White House official last week to tell him that in a piece in that weekend’s Washington Post, he was going to question President Barack Obama’s account of how sequestration came about — and got a major-league brushback. The Obama aide “yelled at me for about a half-hour,” Woodward told us in an hourlong interview yesterday around the Georgetown dining room table where so many generations of Washington’s powerful have spilled their secrets.

Digging into one of his famous folders, Woodward said the tirade was followed by a page-long email from the aide, one of the four or five administration officials most closely involved in the fiscal negotiations with the Hill. “I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today,” the official typed. “You’re focusing on a few specific trees that give a very wrong impression of the forest. But perhaps we will just not see eye to eye here. … I think you will regret staking out that claim.”

Woodward repeated the last sentence, making clear he saw it as a veiled threat. “ ‘You’ll regret.’ Come on,” he said. “I think if Obama himself saw the way they’re dealing with some of this, he would say, ‘Whoa, we don’t tell any reporter ‘you’re going to regret challenging us.’”

bob_cat

Horrors! “I think you will regret staking out that claim” is a “major league brushback?” Either Nixon and his men were quite a bit wimpier than we all thought, or Woodward is a lot touchier now than he was in the Watergate days.

In an update, Vandehei and Allen revealed that the White House adviser who supposedly yelled at Woodward over the phone and then “threatened” him was Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council. This morning they published the actual e-mails between Sperling and Woodward. Frankly, I was underwhelmed. Follow me below the fold to read them.
Read the rest of this entry »


Saturday Reads: The Gun Lobby and Bad-Faith Negotiations

some monsters are real

Good Morning!!

I had a tough time sleeping last night. The past couple of days’ political events have been so surreal that it feels like there’s a disturbance in the force, so to speak. I couldn’t stop thinking about that bizarre NRA press conference yesterday and the way Wayne LaPierre talked about the need for more guns in our schools while at the same time a man in Pennsylvania was “randomly” shooting and killing people and grieving families were holding funerals for first graders and school teachers and administrators in Connecticut.

If only we had a responsible mainstream media. But that’s not going to happen either. Early this morning I heard CNN reporting on Americans who are rushing out to buy more guns because they’re afraid there will suddenly be gun control laws to stop them. A man in Georgia was who was interviewed was remarking on the high cost of AR-15’s right now, because so many people want to stock up on them. He was at the store because he had long wanted one of these and was no afraid he soon wouldn’t be able to get one. The interviewer asked if he would pay the high price, and he said, “I probably will.”

Here are some more intelligent reactions to Wayne LaPierre’s so-called press conference, at which the press couldn’t ask questions.

The New York Daily News: NRA’s Wayne LaPierre was America’s mad gunman in first comments after Newtown school massacre

A week after a gunman armed with an assault rifle murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, and ever so shortly after the bells there tolled for the dead, LaPierre lashed out at everyone and everything but the weapons that were used to kill.

Still worse, in his arrogance and in his sense that terrible forces are out to get him, LaPierre was callous to the raw agony of the families of the slain. The hell with them — he made clear that he will fight to maintain the easy availability of assault weaponry of the kind that killed their kids.
He flayed the news media for supposedly perpetuating a culture of violence and ignorance.

He blamed video games and movies for murder, as if big-screen or small-screen entertainment matters more than easily obtained machines of death.

He mocked anyone with a single new idea to prevent deadly weapons from falling into the hands of those intent on mayhem.

And, exhibiting a level of insanity that qualifies people for commitment as a danger to themselves or others, he called for stationing armed cops at every school in the United States.

The Atlantic: The Most Paranoid, Fear-Mongering Lines in Wayne LaPierre’s Call to Expand the Gun Market to Schools

Anyone expecting the NRA to be chastened at all by the shooting in Newtown, Conn., was quickly disabused of that expectation as Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the gun industry and enthusiast lobbying group, delivered a blistering speech effectively arguing today for a major expansion of the market for the product his group represents.

It was an extraordinarily tone deaf performance, but it followed a well-worn script for product sales: Provoke anxiety — and pitch your product as the one and only solution to it.

Read the examples at the link.

Dan Bigman at Fortune: What The NRA’s Wayne Lapierre Gets Paid To Defend Guns

If you’re a transparency fanatic like me, you appreciate knowing what kind of skin public people have in the game during episodes like this. So what did the NRA pay Lapierre to say that the best way to stop school shootings is to have the government put every mentally ill person in the nation on a watch list and arm school personnel to defend schools like banks?

Just under a million bucks.

That’s according to the most recent NRA filings with the IRS.

The numbers are a bit out of date. The last filing of a Form 990 from the NRA was in 2010. Still, if you’re interested in the numbers behind America’s most powerful gun lobby, it makes for interesting reading.

The organization’s mission is simply stated, right at the top: “To protect and defend the U.S. Constitution.” To accomplish this, in 2010 the NRA reported that it had 781 full time employees, 125,000 volunteers and generated revenues of $22.5 million.

BTW, as Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out last night, banks don’t use armed guards anymore, because they don’t prevent bank robberies. But LaPierre is living in the past as he showed with his pop culture references to decades-old video games and movies.

Here’s O’Donnell’s rant. It’s pretty long, but well worth watching in full.

It’s not a response to the press conference, but Mark Ames posted a great piece on the history of the NRA a couple of days ago: FROM “OPERATION WETBACK” TO NEWTOWN: TRACING THE HICK FASCISM OF THE NRA. Ames is the author of Going Postal, a book on workplace and school shooters. His article can’t be easily excerpted from, but I highly recommend you go an read it at the link.

On a slightly more positive note, here’s an article in New York Magazine about a former school principal who has been studying school shootings ever since one happened at his own school: School-Shooting Specialist Bill Bond on Why Lockdowns Save Lives

Bill Bond, specialist for school safety at the National Association of Secondary School Principals, has spent more than a decade speaking and consulting on school violence. Here, he tells assistant editor Eric Benson about lockdown procedures and the deadly shooting he witnessed himself.
Along with Columbine, my school is the reason lockdown procedures came into being. I was principal of Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky, and we had eight shot in the lobby; three girls were killed. Back then, we had a crisis plan for the school, but what we were thinking about was a school intruder — an irate person, a mad parent, someone like that. We weren’t thinking about guns at all.
A lockdown means that all students get to the nearest classroom, regardless of whether it’s theirs or not, as quickly as possible. You lock the doors. You pull the shades. You turn the light out. You have the kids move to the back corner of the room, away from the door and windows. And you get the kids to be as quiet as possible. You want them to be quiet, because shooters react to sound and movement. If there’s someone screaming and hollering or running around, the shooter is much, much more likely to try to enter that door.

It sounds like that’s exactly what the teachers did at Sandy Hook School. Read much more at the link.

The other big story of the day is the so-called “fiscal cliff” and the way the Villagers–politicians and media–have turned this giant clusterfuck waiting to happen into an even huger and more horrible clusterfuck.

Boehner poker

Last night Jonathan Chait posted the perfect response to the insanity of the “negotiations” between Speaker Boehner and President Obama: Obama Waking Up From Dream of Grand Bargain

In recent weeks, Obama seems to have concluded that Republicans have come around, and that it is time to sit down and hash out a deal like reasonable people. He moved his position more than halfway toward Boehner’s. Democrats in Congress are, incredibly, discussing the option of compromising even more.

But reasonable compromise to avert the fiscal cliff is impossible. Republicans, as a whole, don’t even seem capable of linear thinking about the budget. They don’t know what they actually want on spending. They don’t understand why Obama wants more revenue or what role this would play in the broader fiscal picture. They don’t even seem capable of politically organizing in a way that maximizes their fanatic principles. The House Republican caucus is simply a teeming pit of revanchist anger.

Chait is hopeful that Obama’s latest remarks on the mess in which he outlined a smaller proposed solution to the standoff may be a sign that the president has once again let go of his fantasies of postpartisan cooperation.

Obama’s remarks today indicate an apparent acceptance of the dynamic and a desire to at least steer the process toward minimizing the economic harm that would result if the contractionary policies scheduled for next year take effect. Obama is again demanding a tax cut for income under $250,000 a year, along with canceling out some of the more punitive spending cuts. He can get that if he holds absolutely firm on his income threshold. Unfortunately, his offer to Boehner confused the matter. Obama offered to lift the tax hike level to $400,000 a year. Now, he was proposing to make up the revenue through reducing tax exemptions, so he really changed only the delivery system for higher taxes rather than the end result, but this fact has gotten confused in the reporting, and Obama needs to re-solidify it. (In his press conference, he didn’t.)

The president also needs to learn about the uselessness of the corporate media.

Roll Call had an interesting insider report on the goings on during the GOP battle over Boehner’s Plan B on Thursday night.

Even his allies admit that Boehner’s stunning failure to find the votes for his “plan B” tax legislation was a major blow to his credibility, provoking befuddlement and even outrage from fellow Republicans.

But there is also considerable anger in the GOP conference directed at the conservative lawmakers that forced Boehner’s shocking defeat.

That fractured reaction — coupled with the lack of a plausible challenger — mean Boehner is unlikely to face any significant challenge to his position as speaker in the near term.

“These are people that, they don’t have a leader amongst them, and they don’t want to be led,” said a GOP member and Boehner loyalist. “He had probably 200 people lined up for him, for his position. And those 200 are pretty dad gum loyal to the speaker and pretty angry at that group.”

Read lots more at the link.

Finally, Rob Urie, who describes himself as an “artist and political economist,” writes at Counterpunch on why Obama and other Democrats are determined to cut Social Security even though it is political suicide and Republicans will use it against them in successive elections–and why we might fight back: Democrats, Social Security and the Fiscal Cliff

Why cut Social Security? The program is currently solvent, is expected to remain solvent for decades to come, and projected shortfalls in the future could be better addressed by raising the incomes of the people who pay into the program, not by cutting payments to those who depend on them. What is to be gained by ‘solving’ a problem that isn’t?

If cutting Social Security isn’t necessary, why then is it being proposed? Barack Obama provided copious evidence in prior proposals, television interviews and speeches that doing so is his intent. Congressional democrats and labor leaders quickly acceded to his proposal to do so, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi going so far as to actively lie that proposed cuts will ‘strengthen’ the program. And given the cuts will eventually put tens of millions of Americans into dire poverty from a program they paid into for all of their working lives, what rationale could possibly justify doing so?

The reason I ask is a coalition of democrats, labor, liberals and progressives just re-elected Mr. Obama and democrats in Congress to what—cut Social Security? Mr. Obama created the ‘fiscal cliff’ to first push his stacked (in favor of cutting social insurance programs) ‘deficit commission’ to develop a plan to cut government spending and second, to force the issue to be revisited immediately after the election if no plan was agreed to. And Republican threats to refuse to raise the debt ceiling for leverage to ‘force’ spending cuts are idiotic—George W. Bush and congressional Republicans just led the largest increase in government spending in modern history. And that is not a difficult point to make. (And had it been on beneficial programs, it would have been laudable).

Ultimately the entire ‘debate’ is nonsense—the U.S. doesn’t fund spending directly from taxes. As the Federal Reserve is in the process of demonstrating with its QE (Quantitative Easing) programs, it can buy an unlimited quantity of government debt with money it ‘creates’ –the ‘debt limit’ is an arbitrary misdirection.

None of this is news to any of us who went into this with our eyes open about Mr. Obama, but it’s a very good summary of what’s happening and well worth reading in full.   And remember, George W. Bush did his darndest to privatize Social Security and failed miserably.  Perhaps Obama will succeed, but I believe can be tripped up too.  The Republican hatred of anything Obama wants will probably help–after all Social Security wasn’t even addressed in Boehner’s “Plan B” proposal.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the politicians have left for their luxury vacations (leaving unemployed people to wonder whether they’ll have any money at all after Dec. 31); so I guess we can relax for the moment and try to enjoy some peace and quiet for the next week.

I’ve focused on only two issues in this post, so I look forward to seeing what everyone else is reading and thinking about. What’s on your list for today?


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

I was working on this post for a good hour last night, and when I went to save what I had written, WordPress logged me out and wiped out the whole thing! I couldn’t begin to recall everything I had written, and I was extremely discouraged to put it mildly.

Next time, I’ll try to remember to save my work more often. For awhile there WordPress had managed to save posts even when they did their stupid logout trick. But not last night. I did my best to redo the stuff I lost, but I know I lost some bon mots.

After a brief truce in deference to the latest mass murder in the U.S., President Obama and Mitt Romney returned to campaigning yesterday. President Obama spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars while his challenger raised more millions. The LA Times summarizes the back and forth.

President Obama’s campaign…accus[ed] Romney of harboring a “secret” foreign policy, and pushing him to detail his plans to end the war in Afghanistan and his approach to Russia and Israel. The Romney campaign responded by saying the president had eroded key alliances and promising Romney would “restore the pillars of American strength.”

In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Obama portrayed his foreign policy record as one of promises fulfilled, and he took veiled jabs at Romney and other critics of his withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and drawdown of troops from Afghanistan.

Today Romney will speak to the VFW before heading off to London to see the Olympics, attend two posh fundraisers, and meet with some British VIPs. After that he heads to Israel for a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and another fundraiser, and then on to Poland, where he

will visit Gdansk and Warsaw on July 30 and 31 at the invitation of Lech Walesa, the communist-era dissident who in 1983 won the Nobel Peace Prize for his defiance of the communist regime.

There were a couple of good hit pieces on Romney at the Huffington Post yesterday.

Ryan Grim: Mitt Romney Made Over $25 Million In Foreign Income While Governing, Campaigning.

Mitt Romney accumulated more than $25 million in foreign income between 2005 and 2010, while he was governor of Massachusetts and a presidential candidate, according to an analysis of his 2010 tax return.

The 2010 return lists foreign tax payments Romney made dating back to 2000. By Romney standards, the payments were modest through 2004, averaging $37,000 a year. In 2005, however, his foreign tax bill shot up to $333,149 and stayed high for the next three years, before dipping in 2009, as the financial crisis hit hard.

In 2010, Romney’s foreign tax bill was down to $67,173 on declared foreign income of $1,525,982. That’s a 4.4 percent rate. After expenses and various other deductions, Romney declared a net foreign income of $392,000, making his net tax rate 17 percent.

Because the presumptive GOP presidential nominee has so far declined to release his earlier tax returns, HuffPost made a rough calculation of his prior foreign earnings by assuming he paid similar tax rates in previous years.

Read the rest at the link.

Jason Cherkis and Laura Bassett: Bain Capital Created ‘Demoralizing’ Culture of Layoffs At Florida Plant.

When Dade Behring started cutting employees under Bain Capital’s management in the late ’90s, Cindy Hewitt was on the front lines. As a human resources manager for the Dade East plant in Miami, Hewitt had to decide which employees had needed skills and whose jobs were expendable.

News of the latest layoffs trickled down to the Dade company cafeteria. The room could seat more than 1,000, and it had been enough of a draw that it even offered breakfast.

But as the layoffs hit, the mood in the cafeteria could be as somber as a funeral, Hewitt recalled. Multiple members of the same family might be gathered to commiserate over being laid off one by one by one. Some of them had worked for the medical diagnostics company for more than a decade.

Hewitt saw her colleagues crying on a daily basis and loudly celebrating on the rare occasion that someone found a comparable new job. “There was a tremendous sense of loss and this kind of outpouring of grief and mourning as every day they waited for the announcement of who was going next,” she said. “People were on pins and needles. Who’s going next? They’re worried for themselves, worried for their co-workers, worried for their families. They’d talk about how they were going to send their kids to college. It was an incredibly depressing and demoralizing environment.”

There’s lots more at HuffPo.

Here’s some more proof that the rich keep getting richer and the poor get poorer: Yankees Acquire Ichiro Suzuki From Mariners

With a little more than two months remaining in the season, the Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki, who became the first Japan-born position player in the majors when he joined the Mariners in 2001, when he was named the rookie of the year and the Most Valuable Player.

Before Monday’s game between the two teams at Safeco Field, the Yankees sent minor league pitchers D. J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to the Mariners for Suzuki , whose five-year, $90 million contract expires after this season. The Yankees will also receive cash considerations to offset the financial commitment.

Wearing a dark blue suit with gray pinstripes, Suzuki walked down the hallway from the Seattle clubhouse over to the visitors’ side, stopping in the middle to speak at a news conference.

“I am going from a team with the most losses to a team with the most wins,“ he said through his interpreter, “so I am not able to contain my excitement in that regard.“

Once a great player, Suzuki is now just another mercenary.

Scott Brown has pulled another dumb trick. He’s using a line from a famous poem by Langston Hughes, “Let America Be America Again,” to attack President Obama and Elizabeth Warren for saying that governments provide services and infrastructure that support businesses. If that makes no sense to you, you’re not alone. Interestingly, Rick Santorum used the same line during the Republican presidential primaries and was mightily mocked for it. But Scott Brown was probably meeting with Kings and Queens at the time and missed the uproar. Besides, he’s really not all that bright, poor thing.

A new video from Brown, soliciting donations for his neck-and-neck campaign against Democrat Elizabeth Warren, is headlined “Let America Be America Again” – the title of Hughes’ well-known 1935 poem, first published in Esquire magazine, that suggests the American dream never really existed for many Americans, including the lower classes, blacks, Native Americans, and other minority groups.

“There’s never been equality for me/Nor freedom in this ‘homeland of the free,’” Hughes writes in an aside between verses. “America never was America to me.”

The Brown campaign’s two and a half minute video tribute to small business, complete with stirring music and iconic images such as flags and white picket fences, chronicles what it portrays as a change in the United States from the words of John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Lyndon Johnson – Democrats all – as well as Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, to current President Barack Obama and Warren, his uber-progressive rival.

watch?v=oqDIjGsBEP8&feature=player_embedded&w=400

Langston Hughes died in 1967 at the age of 65, but chances are if he were still alive today he would not be a Republican. Hughes’s poetry was frequently published in the Communist Party USA newspaper and he was involved in various initiatives supported by leftist organizations. Hughes traveled widely in the Soviet Union in 1932, and was later inducted into the International Union of Revolutionary Writers.

Oh, and BTW, Hughes is believed to have been gay.

USA Today had an interesting article on a polar bear DNA study.

Polar bears split from ancient bears more than 4 million years ago, suggests ancient DNA and the gene maps of multiple bears.

The polar bear genome finding reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal contradicts earlier gene studies finding much more recent times for the ancestral split, within 600,000 years, between polar bears and grizzly bears, which can still mate and produce viable offspring.

What’s more, the report suggests that polar bear numbers have been on the decline for at least 500,000 years, driven by climate fluctuations.

“Although polar bears ( Ursus maritimus) and brown bears (Ursus arctos) are considered separate species, analyses of fossil evidence and mitochondrial sequence data have indicated a recent divergence of polar bears from within brown bears,” begins the study led by Penn State’s Webb Miller.

For those who are still interested in thinking about the why of mass murders, I suggest reading a 2005 interview with Mark Ames, who wrote a book on school and workplace shootings called “Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion — From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond.”

Ames is a true radical, and so of course he has a radical hypothesis about these horrible murders that have become pretty common in our culture. He argues that they are rooted in Reganomics and the philosophy of greed and avarice that he made popular back in the ugly ’80s. From the interviewer’s introduction:

Ames takes a systematic look at the scores of rage killings in our public schools and workplaces that have taken place over the past 25 years. He claims that instead of being the work of psychopaths, they were carried out by ordinary people who had suffered repeated humiliation, bullying and inhumane conditions that find their origins in the “Reagan Revolution.” Looking through a carefully researched historical lens, Ames recasts these rage killings as failed slave rebellions.

And from Ames himself:

Put it this way: rage murders in the workplace never existed anywhere in history until Reagan came to power. Reagan made it respectable to be a mean, stupid bastard in this country. He is the patron saint of white suckers. He unleashed America’s Heart of Vileness — its penchant for hating people who didn’t get rich, and worshipping people who despise them, and this is the essence of Reaganomics.

I hate to sound like a Clintonite here, but let’s remember Hillary Clinton became the most hated human being alive because she tried to give most Americans the opportunity to lead longer, healthier lives, while these same Americans adored goons like Sam Walton, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump — everyone who has dedicated their lives to transferring wealth, health and pleasure from the masses to a tiny elite. Liberals are hated in America precisely because they want to help people, which is seen as “patronizing.”

You can see how this kind of cultural insanity, unleashed by Reaganomics after decades of New Deal (relative) harmony, could make someone snap, when the cognitive dissonance suddenly strikes on a very personal level, and you realize that you’ve been screwed hard by your own dominant ideology.

Here’s an interesting 2007 review of Ames’ book by Ed Vulliamy from The Guardian UK.

Ames also wrote a lengthy analysis of One L. Goh’s rampage at Oikos University in Oakland, CA.

For a more mainstream take on the recent events in Aurora, Colorado, check out this piece by Dave Cullen, author of the book “Columbine.” He points out that just about everything the media immediately assumed about Harris and Klebold was wrong and that we still know almost nothing about James Holmes or his motives. Obviously, I agree.

Finally, here’s a piece that provides some support for Mark Ames’ argument that our culture has just plain turned mean and is getting meaner all the time: The Elites Are Unanimous: Lower Everyone’s Wages and Standard of Living — Except They Don’t Say it Out Loud

That’s it for me for today. What are you reading and blogging about?