Lazy Saturday Reads

Dans la Prairie, Claude Monet

Dans la Prairie, Claude Monet

Good Morning!!

I’m going to begin with some light-hearted stories from the NATO Summit. I really liked this one from BBC News, When the Nato summit came to south Wales. After all the ugly attacks on President Obama from both Republicans and Democrats here in the U.S., I was pleasantly surprised to see the warm welcome he received in South Wales. Check it out. There are some nice photos and tweets. I especially liked the expression on Obama’s face while he interacted with some schoolchildren (see below).

From the article:

It takes something pretty unique for the word “Newport” to be trending in Cardiff on Twitter.

But the city had arrived when its larger neighbour was talking about it. The world of social media woke up early for the Nato summit.

The summit certainly kept Twitter busy and it might explain – apart from the 9,500 police officers, road blocks and security fencing – why the streets of the capital were generally quiet and people were staying at home, online.

Obama wales

In Newport itself, the sight of armoured vehicles being displayed on the Celtic Manor golf course was a popular shared photo. Just think of the score if Europe had these in the Ryder Cup?

It was a demonstration of the high skills of the south Wales workforce who manufacture them, but the skills of those with Photoshop was also in evidence.

The summit also brought some unusual sights on the streets – and in the air – with Cardiff in particular not used to such a security operation. And there were also some special moments, not least for pupils at a primary school in Newport.

From the Boston Globe, some video of President Obama strolling through Stonehenge, looking awestruck.

After wrestling with threats ranging from Russia to Islamist insurgency in the Middle East, U.S. President Barack Obama took a break from a NATO summit to visit Britain’s prehistoric Stonehenge monument on Friday. “How cool is this?” Obama said as he wandered starry-eyed in his shirt sleeves among the towering stone megaliths.

Silly me, I like having a President who says things like “How cool is this?” Here’s a great shot of him among the standing stones, from NBC News.

Obama stonehenge2

 

And from The Daily Mail, ‘We should have invited him back for coffee’: Family-of-five tell of shock meeting with President Obama during trip to Stonehenge following NATO summit.

A mother has told of her shock after her family-of-five had a chat with President Obama during a trip to Stonehenge – but that she now wishes she had invited him back for coffee.

Inspired by rumours that the President’s helicopter had landed at the ancient site, Janice Raffle and her husband James marched across fields with their three sons in the hope they would catch a glimpse of the US President.

At first the family, who live a mile from the monument, were stuck at a fence. But a good-natured Obama wandered over to where they were standing – and even agreed to pose for a family photo.

Mrs Raffle, 35, who was with her three sons, aged two, six and seven, told Sky News: ‘He waved at us first after my husband marched us all the way there on the chance we might get to see him.

‘We kind of edged closer and closer until he noticed us and waved. We waved back and then one of the high security men edged us forward and he was moving forward at the same time, which was very exciting.

‘The first person to say something was actually James. He said “Welcome to England”.

Lots of photos at the Daily Mail link.

Adolphe Monet Reading in the Garden, Claude Monet

Adolphe Monet Reading in the Garden, Claude Monet

Getting back to potential WWIII news, The Washington Post reported last night: Ukraine cease-fire begins, amid doubts that it will last.

Ukraine’s increasingly bloody conflict went on hold Friday, after the government and pro-Russian rebels signed a cease-fire deal that at least temporarily solidified the insurgents’ territorial gains.

The agreement, made with the Kremlin’s endorsement, appeared to be a first step toward the type of dormant conflict that Russia has exploited to exert control over former satellites in the decades since the Soviet Union’s collapse, including thwarting their chances of joining the NATO defense alliance.

With rebels making swift gains across eastern Ukraine this week, and preparing to seize the key industrial port city of Mariupol, it seemed that Ukrainian authorities felt they had little choice but to push for a halt to hostilities. The rebels turned the tide of battle early last week after receiving heavy backing from Russian ­forces, Kiev and its Western allies say. The Kremlin denies aiding the rebels.

The cease-fire deal was made as leaders of NATO countries gathered in Wales this week for discussions focused on the conflict. The terms of the deal underscored Russia’s apparent willingness to commit far more resources than the West to achieve its aims in Ukraine. Kiev has asked for Western military aid, but relatively little has been forthcoming, in part because of Western caution about getting pulled into a proxy military conflict with Russia inside a non-NATO-member nation.

A Woman Reading, Claude Monet

A Woman Reading, Claude Monet

This one is disturbing from The Daily Beast, Russia Steps Up Pressure on the Baltics.

An officer from the Estonian Internal Security Service (ISS), “was abducted at gunpoint at Luhamaa border checkpoint this morning” and “taken to Russia,” according to an Estonian government statement.

The incident comes at an extremely delicate moment, just as the United States and NATO try to convince the front-line members of the Alliance that have solid protection from Russian territorial ambitions. The sleight-of-hand invasion of non-NATO Ukraine over the last several months has raised fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin will claim in the Baltic States, just as he claimed in Crimea and the Donbass region, that the large Russian-speaking population needs to be protected, separated and inevitably annexed to a reconstituted Russian Empire.

The Estonian statement implied the alleged abduction is an intentional slap in the face to the Americans. “The incident comes two days after a visit to Estonia by U.S. President Barack Obama and in the middle of NATO’s summit in Wales,” it said. Apparently there have been “airspace violations” reported as well, including over Finland, which is not a member of the Alliance.

The whereabouts of the officer remain unknown, the Estonians did not name him and what he was doing at the border, precisely, has not been specified except to say he was performing his official functions. The ISS is Estonia’s national agency for counterintelligence and high-profile corruption investigations.

What is Putin playing at? It takes some gall to abuct a government official from a NATO country on the heels of the NATO Summit.

Monet Reading, August Renoir

Monet Reading, August Renoir

The New York Times’ Jason Horowitz on Governor Vaginal Probe, For Bob McDonnell, a Miscalculation at the Scene of a Blunder.

On Aug. 15, 2013, Bob McDonnell visited the site of one of Virginia’s great tactical blunders.

As part of his final official tour of the state as its governor, Mr. McDonnell went to Ball’s Bluff State Park in Leesburg, where more than 150 years ago a Union army scout crossed the Potomac River and mistook a row of trees for an unguarded Confederate camp. The next morning, Union soldiers approached the trunks and branches and soon found themselves surrounded by well-armed Mississippi infantrymen. By the end of the skirmish, Confederate soldiers had killed nearly half of the Union troops, many of them pushed off the bluff and into the Potomac.

Even by the time of his visit, Mr. McDonnell seemed likely to enter the state’s history books for his own bad judgment — accepting extravagant gifts and generous loans from a Richmond businessman seeking favor from the governor’s office. On Thursday, the ink dried when a federal jury found him guilty on 11 counts of conspiracy, bribery and extortion.

At Ball’s Bluff last year, Mr. McDonnell announced $2.2 million in grants for battlefield preservation. As he sat in sunglasses on a white folding chair, James Lighthizer, the president of the Civil War Trust, said that ultimately Mr. McDonnell would be most remembered for conserving Civil War battlefields. “He has done more for battlefield preservation than any other governor in the United States of America,” Mr. Lighthizer said.

It looks like Lighthizer was wrong. McDonnell will most likely be remembered–if at all–as the first VA governor to be a convicted felon and for throwing his wife under the bus to try to save himself.

And from Chris Cillizza, a nomination for “the best front page on the Bob McDonnell verdict.” See it at the link. I wasn’t able to copy the photo.

A couple more good articles on McDonnell:

From The Daily Beast, The Religious Right’s ‘Nice Guy’ Who Threw His Wife Under the Bus.

When Bob McDonnell burst onto the national scene in 2009, he was everything the Republican Party needed—a good-looking family man who stopped the Obama juggernaut in its tracks in the swing state of Virginia just 12 months after the party’s McCain humiliation of 2008.

A family-values social conservative (he got his JD from Regent University), McDonnell cleverly wooed Commonwealth voters with his corn-dog “Bob’s for Jobs” campaign slogan and a heavy dose of what appeared to be the TV-perfect brood: five gorgeous kids, including a daughter who served in the military in Iraq, and a devoted, smiling wife who had once been a Washington Redskins cheerleader.

McDonnell’s family was emblazoned on his campaign bus and commercials. At the inaugural ball after he won the governor’s race, the McDonnells slow-danced to “Looks Like We Made It.” McDonnell had even written his master’s thesis on the breakdown of the American family and ways the Republican Party could build it back up. “As the family goes, so goes the nation,” he wrote.

Underlying the entire McDonnell package in 2009 was a known truth about the governor among political operatives who knew him and believed in him—that unlike the divas and the bullies and the egomaniacs who litter both political parties today, Bob McDonnell was just a good guy. Staff called him “Mr. Honest.” Republicans in Washington called him “the Boy Scout.”

Hilarious! I wonder if any of these religious right nuts believe the crap they try to sell to voters?  love the smell of schadenfreude in the morning.

Schadenfreude

And from Rob Boston at Talk to Action, Fall From Grace: What The Religious Right Should Learn From The McDonnell Scandal.

Leaders of Religious Right groups are fond of telling us that if we elect more fundamentalist Christians to office, we’ll have less corruption. Biblical literalists must be more ethical, right?

That claim is looking a little thin in light of recent events in Virginia. Yesterday, Robert F. McDonnell, the state’s former governor, was found guilty on 11 counts related to public corruption, conspiracy and bribery. His wife, Maureen, whom this “family values” politican tried willingly to throw under the bus, was found guilty on nine charges….

Here’s how McDonnell tried to institute “godly rule” in Virginia:

When state officials decided that police chaplains should use non-sectarian prayers at public events, McDonnell rescinded the order. McDonnell’s obsession with blocking access to legal abortion earned him the nickname “Gov. Ultrasound.”  He drew up new rules allowing tax-funded “faith-based” adoption agencies to deny services to anyone who failed to meet a strict theological litmus test. He signed a law mandating that public colleges in Virginia give funding to student groups even if they discriminate on religious grounds. McDonnell appointed a private school voucher advocate as education secretary and shifted funding for sex education from comprehensive programs to “abstinence-only” approaches that critics say are often anchored in religion.

McDonnell also pushed for a state constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage (which was later approved by the voters) and even appeared on Robertson’s “700 Club” to lobby for it. McDonnell told a beaming Robertson, “From the Garden of Eden to 2006, we’ve believed that marriage is between a man and a woman. But because of some social trends out there and some court decisions, Pat, as you know, marriage is under attack.”

Based on the religious right’s record of choosing “sinful” candidates like Newt Gingrich, David Vitter and their worship of “divisive extremists like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Bryan Fischer, Tony Perkins, Ben Carson, Sean Hannity” and their embrace of grifters like Ralph Reed and Dinesh D’Souza, Boston writes:

I’d recommend they start by consulting their own holy book – you know, the one they’re always happy to bash us with. Specifically, they should examine the 7th chapter of the Book of Matthew and the words of Jesus: “Why do you look at the speck of dust that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?…You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

But the religious right really doesn’t pay much attention to the New Testament. They seem to prefer the angry fire and brimstone god of pre-Jesus days.

Extremely rare white lobsters

Extremely rare white lobsters

A few more links you might find interesting:

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Court rules against Wisconsin’s, Indiana’s gay marriage bans.

The New York Daily News, Exclusive: Ex-Prez’ daughter Jenna Bush Hager mistakenly registered with NY’s Independence Party  (Breaking: neither of Dubya’s daughters is a Republican.)

The Guardian, Monet landscape found in late German collector’s suitcase. (Stolen by the Nazis?)

Oregon Live.com, Oregon wolf OR-7: Lab tests show mate wandered far to find him (a touching love story, with photos).

Two tales of albino animals, both from Boston.com:

Captured albino cobra taken to Los Angeles Zoo.

Extremely Rare White Lobsters Found Off Maine Coast.

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great weekend!


Thursday Reads: They Shall Be Released

Bob Dylan reading3

Good Morning!!

President Obama is meeting with other NATO leaders in Newport, Wales today, and the focus of meetings will be Russia’s encroachment into Ukraine and how to deal with it. The Christian Science Monitor reports: NATO members gather in Wales with Russia at the top of the agenda.

Russia faced harsh criticism at the start of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Wales today with the 28 member state alliance reevaluating its security role in Europe amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance continues to witness “Russian involvement in destabilizing the situation in eastern Ukraine” even after Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a seven-point peace plan. Russia maintains it has not armed rebels in eastern Ukraine or contributed to the conflict there.

Early reports from the summit suggest NATO leaders are set to agree to create “rapid reaction” forces that could be deployed in less than two days to regional crisis spots. Countries close to Russia, especially Poland, have called for NATO to permanently station troops on their territory, but Reuters reports this is unlikely to happen because it would break a 1997 agreement the alliance made with Russia.

As the Monitor reported, the creation of rapid response forces wouldthrust the United States into the center of any future conflict.

Terrific. Supposedly, Russian president Vladimir Putin in proposing a cease-fire, but he’s offering few specifics. From The New York Times: Putin Lays Out Proposal to End Ukraine Conflict.

Mr. Putin’s peace plan, jotted out during a plane ride over Siberia, muddied the diplomatic waters, leaving the West an excuse for delaying punitive sanctions that would also hurt European economies on the verge of a new recession. And it was expected to have some appeal to war-weary Ukrainians.

The ultimate effect, coming after Russian troops intervened in Ukraine last week to beat back a successful government offensive, may be to leave the country as a loose coalition that Moscow could still dominate, which critics of the Russian president say is his real aim.

It is being called a “seven-point plan,” but according to the Times,

Mr. Putin’s plan seemed to raise more questions than it answered. First, there was no mechanism for implementation. Second, just hours earlier, his own spokesman had repeated the Russian position, widely criticized as implausible, that Moscow could not negotiate a cease-fire because it was not a direct party to the conflict.

Analysts suggested that Mr. Putin’s strategy is to convince Kiev that it must negotiate, not fight, and to reinforce the idea that the overall outcome depended on Moscow.

“Russia wants to show that it is in command of what is happening,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of a prominent Russian foreign policy journal. “For Russia, it is important first to prevent the Ukrainians from thinking that they could win militarily, and to accept the separatist leaders as partners in negotiations.”

A few more headlines and opinions:

Al Jazeera: NATO summit to highlight unity against Russia.

Wall Street Journal: As Leaders Meet for NATO Summit, Alliance Says Russian Troops Still Active in Ukraine.

Foreign Policy: NATO’s Make or Break Moment (opinion).

Bloomberg: NATO Shifts Aim From Waterloo to East as Russia Menaces (opinion).

newspaperwoutwater

European Central Bank News

The European Central Bank’s Mario Draghi finally decided to try to do something about Europe’s horrible economic situation. From the NYT: European Central Bank to Start Asset Purchases After Further Rate Cut.

FRANKFURT — Bolstering a surprise interest rate cut on Thursday, the European Central Bank will soon begin buying packages of bank loans in an effort to stimulate lending in the faltering eurozone economy.

The move is unprecedented, but appears to fall short of the broad, large-scale asset purchases advocated by many economists to prevent stagnation in the eurozone.

The central bank said that in October it would begin buying asset-backed securities, bundles of loans issued by banks to businesses and households. The central bank will also buy covered bonds, Mario Draghi, the E.C.B. president said. Covered bonds are similar to asset-backed securities, in that they also are made up of bank loans.

Perhaps more significantly, Mr. Draghi said that the central bank’s governing council was ready to take further measures if needed — a clear reference to quantitative easing, or broad-based purchases of government bonds or other assets.

Mr. Draghi did not say how much the central bank would spend buying asset-backed securities and covered bonds, adding that there was not yet enough information on the size of the market. He said the central bank would buy existing and new assets including residential and corporate loans. He said the purchases would be “significant,” if still short of a level considered quantitative easing.

More headlines:

CTV News: European Central Bank trims key interest rate to record low.

Marketwatch: U.S. stocks open up after ECB rate cut.

Bob Dylan reads5

Ferguson Civil Rights Investigation

As we heard yesterday, the Justice Department will likely announce today that it is launching a civil rights investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department.

From The Washington Post: Justice Dept. to probe Ferguson police force.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. this week will launch a broad civil rights investigation into the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department, according to two federal law enforcement officials.

The investigation, which could be announced as early as Thursday afternoon, will be conducted by the Justice Department’s civil rights division and follow a process similar to that used to investigate complaints of profiling and the use of excessive force in other police departments across the country, the officials said.

The federal officials said the probe will look not only at Ferguson but also at other police departments in St. Louis County. Some, like Ferguson, are predominantly white departments serving majority-African-American communities, and at least one department invited the Justice Department to look at its practices. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the pending inquiry.

The investigation is in addition to a Justice Department probe into whether Officer Darren Wilson, who fired the fatal shots, violated Brown’s civil rights. The new probe will look more broadly at whether the department employed policies and practices that resulted in a pattern of civil rights violations.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that five current and one former member of the Ferguson police force face pending federal lawsuits claiming they used excessive force. The lawsuits, as well as more than a half-dozen internal investigations, include claims that individual officers separately hog-tied a 12-year-old boy who was checking his family mailbox, pistol-whipped children and used a stun gun on a mentally ill man who died as a result.

More from The New York Times: Justice Dept. Inquiry to Focus on Practices of Police in Ferguson.

Ferguson’s police chief, Thomas Jackson, said in an interview on Wednesday night that he would welcome the investigation.

“We’ve been doing everything we can to become a professional police department and a professional city,” he said. “We have no intentional policies or procedures which discriminated or violated civil rights. But if we have anything there which may unintentionally do that, we need to know about it.”

Chief Jackson said he met with Justice Department officials on Wednesday afternoon and discussed the broader investigation. “Obviously, we have gaps. And any help we can get to help fill those gaps and to make ourselves stronger, we welcome,” he said.

What a crock of sh&t that is! I’ll just bet Jackson is thrilled about the Justice Department probe into his joke of a police force. Wouldn’t you love to hear what he’s saying privately?

In the Ferguson case, the Justice Department will conduct what it calls a “pattern or practice” investigation, with officials looking for evidence that the police have repeatedly violated residents’ civil rights. Such inquiries have been one of the Justice Department’s preferred tactics in addressing accusations of police misconduct.

dylan reads2

Rabid Bobcat Attacks 

Here’s a strange story I came across yesterday in The Boston Globe: Rabid Bobcat Spent Labor Day Weekend in Conn. Attacking People.

What’s worse than stumbling upon an angry bobcat on your nightly walk with your newborn daughter? Stumbling upon an angry, rabid bobcat on your nightly walk with your newborn daughter.

That’s what happened to Summer and Tom Berube last Sunday. The Lebanon, CT, couple were taking their evening walk with their infant daughter, Neeve, when a bobcat approached them.

According to NECN, the bobcat hissed and ran towards Tom, who was carrying his baby. Tom yanked a mailbox out of the ground and used it to defend his family, knocking the animal down when it leapt at him. Summer, meanwhile, said she “was just screaming at the top of my lungs for help.”

That help soon came from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which had already been alerted to the presence of an aggressive bobcat in the area. On Saturday, a woman in the neighboring Connecticut town of Bozrah was attacked by a bobcat while feeding her chickens. She was scratched and bitten, but quickly taken to a local hospital for treatment. If caught early enough, a postexposure vaccination prevents the disease from spreading.

I had no idea there were bobcats running around in New England, but according The Hartford Courant,  although sightings are rare, “Bobcats are common in Connecticut and are found in every town. They can weigh as much as 40 pounds, but rarely interact with people and rarely have rabies, DEEP said.”

Bob+Dylan+and+The+Band

They Shall Be Released

Maybe you’re wondering why I’ve illustrated this post with photos of Bob Dylan. In 1968, I bought a two-record album in a plain white cover that was being sold by a street hawker in Harvard Square. I learned this morning from Wikipedia that it was known as “The Great White Wonder,” but either I didn’t know that then or I’ve forgotten. The recording was a bootleg of Bob Dylan’s so-called “basement tapes,” recorded in Woodstock, NY, with backup from The Band. Later, in 1975, a selection of the songs they had recorded was released as a studio album.

Anyway, the basement tapes are back in the news, because they are all going to be released as a 6-CD set.

The Guardian reports: Bob Dylan to share full Basement Tapes.

Bob Dylan is sharing the rest of his Basement Tapes. Four decades after the singer released 24 songs under that title – cuts he recorded with the Band in upstate New York – his label have agreed to unveil 114 more tracks from the same 1967 sessions.

“Some of this stuff is mind-boggling,” Sid Griffin, author of the set’s liner notes,told Rolling Stone. Packaged under the title The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11, the six-CD set incorporates alternate versions of Blowin’ In The Wind and It Ain’t Me Babe, covers of tunes by Johnny Cash and Curtis Mayfield, and at least 30 tracks that Rolling Stone claims “even fanatical Dylan fans never knew existed”. A shorter, two-disc compilation, The Basement Tapes Raw, will present 12 of the unreleased tracks alongside the original LP.

Almost all of this material was harvested from reel-to-reel tape: 20 tapes in all, which the Band’s Garth Hudson kept stored in his Woodstock home. Jan Haust, a Toronto-based collector, acquired the archive about 10 years ago; he worked with Dylan’s reps to find a way to put them out. Although a few tapes were allegedly missing, and a handful of recordings “just [sounded] like a distortion”, everything else is making its way to the public. “We usually curate these packages more, but we knew the fans would be disappointed if we didn’t put out absolutely everything,” an unnamed Dylan source told Rolling Stone.

Fans of The Basement Tapes have always known that there was unreleased material. There have been several expanded, bootleg editions over the years, and musicians have even turned their attention to Dylan’s unreleased Basement Tapes-era lyrics. Earlier this year, T Bone Burnett collaborated with Marcus Mumford, Elvis Costello and others to record their own versions of his incomplete songs. “The stuff that people haven’t heard justifies, in every way, shape and form, all the hype, hubris and myth that surrounds these tapes,” Griffin promised.

USA Today has published a list of all the songs on the album to be released in November.

So . . . what else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a tremendous Thursday!