Monday Reads

woman-reading-porch

Good Morning!

Another day, another shooting spree. The gun nuts don’t even take Sunday off. In Las Vegas, a married couple in their late 20s killed two police officers, Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo, and a civilian before killing themselves.
From the Las Vegas Review-Journal: Shooters in Metro ambush that left five dead spoke of white supremacy and a desire to kill police.

Two Las Vegas police officers were killed Sunday in what appears to be a politically motivated ambush in a pizza restaurant that spilled over to a nearby Wal-Mart, where the two shooters committed suicide after killing a woman in the store….

A law enforcement official who has been briefed on the incident said an officer — unconfirmed reports indicate it was Soldo — was refilling a soft drink when the female shooter approached him from behind and shot him in the head, killing him instantly.

The woman then shot the other officer several times as he drew his pistol. Gillespie said the officer was able to return fire but it was unclear if he hit anyone….

Witnesses told police one of the shooters yelled “This is the start of a revolution” before shooting the officers. Gillespie later said he could not confirm that.

The shooters then stripped the officers of their weapons and ammunition and badges, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation. They then covered the officers with something that featured the Gadsden flag, a yellow banner with a coiled snake above the words, “Don’t tread on Me.”

Gee, you mean these terrorists weren’t muslims or Obama supporters? After shooting the two police officers the couple went across the street to a Walmart where they shot and killed a yet unidentified woman near the entrance. The woman then shot and wounded her partner and shot herself, and the man finished himself off. The two were carrying large duffle bags, and the bomb squad was called to the scene as well as to the couple’s apartment a few miles away. Now get this (emphasis added):

Several neighbors identified the man as Jared, while one called the woman Amanda.

Like many of the neighbors contacted, Krista Koch said she didn’t know the couple’s last names. She described them as “militant.” They talked about planning to kill police officers, “going underground” and not coming out until the time was right to kill.

Brandon Monroe, 22, has lived in the complex for about two weeks. He said the man who lived in the apartment that was being searched often rambled about conspiracy theories. He often wore camouflage or dressed as Peter Pan to work as a Fremont Street Experience street performer. A woman lived with him, Monroe said, but he didn’t see her as often.

They were weird people, Monroe said, adding that he thought the couple used methamphetamine.

“The man told Monroe he had been kicked off Cliven Bundy’s ranch 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas while people from throughout the U.S. gathered there in protest of a Bureau of Land Management roundup of Bundy’s cattle.” Jessica Anderson, 27, said. She lived next door.

There is still more detail at the article link.

Owl reading

Updates on the Bergdahl story:

From the Wall Street Journal, Official: Bowe Bergdahl has declined to speak to family.

While he spent five years in captivity after being captured by Afghan insurgents in 2009, Bergdahl doesn’t yet want to talk to his family on the phone, the official said.

Bergdahl has likely been shielded from most of the backlash his release has generated in the U.S. Some former platoon soldiers have accused him of deserting his post and lawmakers from both parties have questioned the decision to trade America’s lone prisoner of war in Afghanistan for five Talibanofficials held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Local authorities canceled a homecoming celebration in his Idaho hometown because of the backlash. The celebration was canceled specifically because of threats made against the family, officials said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed that it was investigating threats made against Bergdahl’s parents.

From The New York Times: Bergdahl Was in Unit Known for Its Troubles.

The platoon was, an American military official would assert years later, “raggedy.”

On their tiny, remote base, in a restive sector of eastern Afghanistan at an increasingly violent time of the war, they were known to wear bandannas and cutoff T-shirts. Their crude observation post was inadequately secured, a military review later found. Their first platoon leader, and then their first platoon sergeant, were replaced relatively early in the deployment because of problems….

Indeed, an internal Army investigation into the episode concluded that the platoon suffered from lapses in discipline and security in the period before Sergeant Bergdahl — a private first class at the time who was promoted while in captivity — disappeared into Paktika Province, two officials briefed on the report said.

Bergdahl was not a peacenik.

Sergeant Bergdahl was viewed as standoffish or eccentric, smoking a pipe instead of spitting tobacco, as so many soldiers do, and reading voraciously when others napped or watched videos. But he was not isolated from his platoon mates, some said. And while he was, like other soldiers in the platoon, often disappointed or confused by their mission in Paktika, some of his peers also said that Sergeant Bergdahl seemed enthusiastic about fighting, particularly after the platoon was ambushed several weeks before his disappearance.

“He’d complain about not being able to go on the offensive, and being attacked and not being able to return fire,” said Gerald Sutton,who knew Sergeant Bergdahl from spending time together on their tiny outpost, Observation Post Mest Malak, near the village of Yahya Khel, about 50 miles west of the Pakistani border.

Read much more at the link.

From the LA Times: Most of 5 freed Taliban prisoners have less than hard-core pasts.

Obama critics have said the swap [of prisoners for Bergdahl] could endanger American lives, with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) calling the five Taliban members “the hardest and toughest of all.”

A closer look at the former prisoners, however, indicates that not all were hard-core militants. Three held political positions in the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and were considered relative moderates. A fourth was a mid-level police official, experts say.

The fifth, however, has a darker past. Mohammed Fazl was chief of staff of the Taliban army and is accused of commanding forces that massacred hundreds of civilians in the final years of Taliban rule before the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. He was arrested in November 2001 after surrendering to U.S.-allied warlords in northern Afghanistan.

“Fazl is the only one of the five to face accusations of explicit war crimes and they are, indeed, extremely serious,” Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a Kabul-based research group, wrote in a commentary published Wednesday.

The backgrounds of the prisoners, who are confined to the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar for one year under the terms of the exchange, indicate that they would have little utility on the battlefield after more than a decade in prison. They range in age from 43 to 47. In their absences, the Taliban movement they served has evolved into a complex and extremely violent insurgency that routinely kills civilians and has been decimated — although far from defeated — by years of U.S. counter-terrorism operations.

From the New York Times: Critics of P.O.W. Swap Question the Absence of a Wider Agreement.

When the heads of the two major intelligence committees criticized the Obama administration on Sunday for swapping Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five members of the Taliban, they homed in on one part of the deal that the White House has struggled for a week, unsuccessfully, to explain. The question is why the five were released without any commitments to a larger agreement, under which the Taliban would renounce international terrorism, and begin a process of reconciliation with the government of Afghanistan.

According the The Independent UK, a computer has for the first time convinced humans that it was a real person: Turing Test breakthrough as super-computer becomes first to convince us it’s human.

A programme that convinced humans that it was a 13-year-old boy has become the first computer ever to pass the Turing Test. The test — which requires that computers are indistinguishable from humans — is considered a landmark in the development of artificial intelligence, but academics have warned that the technology could be used for cybercrime.

Computing pioneer Alan Turing said that a computer could be understood to be thinking if it passed the test, which requires that a computer dupes 30 per cent of human interrogators in five-minute text conversations.

Eugene Goostman, a computer programme made by a team based in Russia, succeeded in a test conducted at the Royal Society in London. It convinced 33 per cent of the judges that it was human, said academics at the University of Reading, which organised the test.

It is thought to be the first computer to pass the iconic test. Though other programmes have claimed successes, those included set topics or questions in advance.

The Wall Street Journal reports on an airport attack in Pakistan that killed at least 28 people: Karachi Airport Attack: Pakistani Taliban Claim Responsibility.

KARACHI, Pakistan—Militants stormed Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport late Sunday, exchanging fire with security forces and leaving at least 28 people dead, officials said.

Separately, gunmen and suicide bombers attacked pilgrims from the minority Shiite sect of Islam in the west of Pakistan, killing at least 25 pilgrims.

The Pakistani Taliban, a group closely linked to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the airport attack. The group, formally known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, said the attack was revenge for recent Pakistani military airstrikes against them, which followed a breakdown in peace talks with the militants in the last few weeks….

At the airport, the assault began at around 10:20 p.m. local time Sunday and lasted at least six hours, with gunfire, explosions and a raging fire. All flights at the airport were suspended late Sunday. By midday Monday, local time, security officials said the airport was clear of militants. Flights were expected to resume by late afternoon.

“They attacked the airport security personnel and then entered,” Adnan, a witness who only gave his first name, said.

The assault focused on the airport’s relatively less heavily guarded Terminal One, which is used for cargo and VIP flights. Two cargo bays appeared to have been destroyed, witnesses said.

cat reading paper

Hillary is about to begin her book tour, and the LA Times calls it a dry run for 2016.

e’s traveled the country mixing weighty policy pronouncements with joking references to her hair. She’s reflected on gender bias and offered career advice to young women, gushed about becoming a grandma and raked in a fortune in speaking fees on the lecture circuit.

After all that — and even having a shoe flung at her at a trash collectors’ convention in Las Vegas — Hillary Rodham Clinton takes her flirtation with the 2016 presidential race to a new level this week, beginning a minutely orchestrated book tour that will whisk her coast to coast for a mix of book signings and carefully calibrated television interviews.

Since stepping down as secretary of State 16 months ago, Clinton has managed to effectively freeze out any Democratic competition for the presidential nomination, no small feat in a party with a history of upstarts and upsets — especially for someone who has yet to say whether she even plans to run.

Throughout, she’s weathered a relentless degree of scrutiny, her daily travels exhaustively chronicled, her every utterance parsed for meaning. Even matters like her daughter Chelsea’s pregnancy are put to the will-or-won’t-she test.

The LA Times also reports that Hillary predicted the Bergdahl controversy, In new book, Clinton predicted furor over Taliban prisoner deal.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledged in her new book that negotiations with the Taliban were bound to be hotly controversial with Americans, but wrote that bringing home captive Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl had to be a top priority.

Clinton writes in “Hard Choices” that “opening the door to negotiations with the Taliban would be hard to swallow for many Americans after so many years of war,” according to an account of excerpts published Thursday by CBS News. Yet in every contact with the Taliban, U.S. officials demanded the release of Bergdahl and made clear that “there would not be any agreement about prisoners without the sergeant coming home.”

Clinton’s book, due for release Tuesday, was written well before the swap of five top Taliban officials for Bergdahl last Saturday set off controversy in Washington. Her comments underscored, however, that the Obama administration was determined to complete the deal, despite its political risks.

That’s all the news I have for you today. What stories are you following? Please post your links in the comment thread.


Tuesday Reads: U.S. Spies on Foreign Countries and Other “Blockbuster” News

woman-by-a-window.matisse

Good Morning!!

In the weeks since Edward Snowden absconded with thousands of top secret National Security Agency (NSA) files and traveled to Hong Kong and then Moscow and handed over the documents to Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras, we’ve learned that the U.S. spies on lots of other countries. Snowden has revealed that NSA has spied on China, Russia, Germany, FranceBrazil, MexicoIsrael, Iran, and the UN. Oddly, we haven’t gotten much new information from Snowden about illegal or abusive NSA spying on Americans, which Snowden initially suggested was his reason for stealing the secret documents.

To most nominally intelligent and informed people, the fact that NSA spies on foreign countires is not particularly surprising; since collecting foreign signals intelligence (SIGINT) is the primary purpose of NSA as stated publicly on their website. Here is NSA’s statement of their “core mission”:

The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) leads the U.S. Government in cryptology that encompasses both Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Information Assurance (IA) products and services, and enables Computer Network Operations (CNO) in order to gain a decision advantage for the Nation and our allies under all circumstances.

The Information Assurance mission confronts the formidable challenge of preventing foreign adversaries from gaining access to sensitive or classified national security information. The Signals Intelligence mission collects, processes, and disseminates intelligence information from foreign signals for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes and to support military operations. This Agency also enables Network Warfare operations to defeat terrorists and their organizations at home and abroad, consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties.

Spying on foreign countries is what NSA does. Why that is perceived as somehow illegal and/or shocking by Greenwald, Poitras, Snowden, and their cult followers, I have no clue. But the fact that a spy agency collects foreign signals intelligence really should not be considered breaking news; and the countries that are complaining about it are well known for spying on the US in return–and in some cases (e.g., China, Russia, and Israel) for famously stealing U.S. secrets and technology.

Today the Washington Post has a new “blockbuster” article that reveals that the U.S. is particularly focused on spying on Pakistan. Now I wonder why that would be? Anyone want to speculate? It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Pakistan concealed the location of Osama bin Laden for years, could it? Or the fact that Taliban and al Quaeda operatives regularly hide in Pakistan? Just a couple of wild guesses…

Here’s an excerpt from the WaPo article:

A 178-page summary of the U.S. intelligence community’s “black budget” shows that the United States has ramped up its surveillance of Pakistan’s nuclear arms, cites previously undisclosed concerns about biological and chemical sites there, and details efforts to assess the loyalties of counter­terrorism sources recruited by the CIA.

Pakistan appears at the top of charts listing critical U.S. intelligence gaps. It is named as a target of newly formed analytic cells. And fears about the security of its nuclear program are so pervasive that a budget section on containing the spread of illicit weapons divides the world into two categories: Pakistan and everybody else.

The disclosures — based on documents provided to The Washington Post by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden — expose broad new levels of U.S. distrust in an already unsteady security partnership with Pakistan, a politically unstable country that faces rising Islamist militancy. They also reveal a more expansive effort to gather intelligence on Pakistan than U.S. officials have disclosed.

The United States has delivered nearly $26 billion in aid to Pakistan over the past 12 years, aimed at stabilizing the country and ensuring its cooperation in counterterrorism efforts. But with Osama bin Laden dead and al-Qaeda degraded, U.S. spy agencies appear to be shifting their attention to dangers that have emerged beyond the patch of Pakistani territory patrolled by CIA drones.

“If the Americans are expanding their surveillance capabilities, it can only mean one thing,” said Husain Haqqani, who until 2011 served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States. “The mistrust now exceeds the trust.”

The stolen files also reveal serious human rights issues in Pakistan and fears about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Raise your hand if you’re shocked by any this. I can certainly see why these revelations would be harmful to U.S. national security and foreign relations, however.

Via The Jerusalem Post, another Snowden leak revealed by the Washington Post showed that members of terrorist organizations have tried to join the CIA.

…individuals with past connections to known terrorist entities such as al-Qaida, Hezbollah and Hamas, have repeatedly attempted to obtain employment within the CIA, The Washington Post reported on Monday.

Among job-seekers that seemed suspicious to the CIA, approximately 20% of that grouping reportedly had “significant terrorist and/or hostile intelligence connections.” The nature of the connections was not described in the document.

“Over the last several years, a small subset of CIA’s total job applicants were flagged due to various problems or issues,” an anonymous CIA official was reported as saying. “During this period, one in five of that small subset were found to have significant connections to hostile intelligence services and or terrorist groups.” [….]

The document also allegedly stated that the CIA re-investigates thousands of employees each year to reduce the possibility that an individual with these connections may compromise sensitive information.

Can anyone explain to me why this should be considered criminal or why the person who revealed it should be called a “whistle-blower?” It seems to me, the only reason for revealing the methods the U.S. uses to collect foreign SIGINT is a desire to harm U.S. Government and damage its foreign policy. Here’s Bob Cesca, who has consistently critiqued libertarians Snowden and Greenwald and their anti-government motives from a liberal, rational point of view: Greenwald Reports NSA Spied on Presidents of Brazil andMexico.

We’re not sure exactly which section of the U.S. Constitution protects the privacy rights of foreign leaders, but Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden appear to believe it’s in there somewhere. The tandem crusaders for the Fourth Amendment have once again extended their reach beyond what was intended to be their mutual goal of igniting a debate in the United States about the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations, and, instead, opted to reveal that, yes, the U.S. spies on foreign leaders. Shocking, I know.

Specifically, on the Globo television show “Fantasico” in Brazil, Greenwald described a July, 2012 document stolen from NSA by Snowden, which describes how NSA had intercepted communications made by the president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, as well as Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff. (Incidentally, the Globo article contains 13 corporate trackers or “web bugs.”)

The goal of revealing this information is clear. Greenwald and Snowden have successfully exploited the “sparking a debate” motive as a Trojan Horse for injecting unrelated information into public view as a means of vindictively damaging the operations of U.S. and U.K. intelligence communities, not to mention the reputation of the United States as a whole, while also pushing the unrealistic message that surveillance is generally impermissible. Yes, we already knew that nations spy on other nations, but to publicly disclose specific instances of international spying — while on the soil of one of the nations being surveilled — confirms these suspicions and sorely embarrasses everyone involved.

But guess what? Both Mexico and Brazil have powerful spy agencies that conduct “active surveillance” on the U.S.

In Brazil, it’s called the Agência Brasileira de Inteligência (ABIN or the Brazilian Intelligence Agency). It deals with external and domestic intelligence gathering: collection and analysis of information that’s intercepted via both signals (SIGINT collects email, phone calls and so forth) and human resources.

In Mexico, it’s called S-2. Like ABIN or NSA, S-2 also collects SIGINT on foreign targets, with a special focus on the military operations of foreign governments. Along with its counterpart, the Centro de Información de Seguridad Nacional (Center for Research on National Security or CISIN), S-2 is tasked with counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism operations.

Has anyone overheard Greenwald mention, even in passing, either of these agencies? Likely not, and don’t hold your breath waiting for Greenwald to attack Brazil’s intelligence community, even knowing that it wiretapped its own Senate and Supreme Court several years ago. Along those lines, we don’t know exactly whether these agencies have attempted to spy on any of our presidents or government officials, but wouldn’t Greenwald, as a U.S. citizen and resident of Brazil, want to find out using the same “Glennzilla” tenacity he’s employed while exposing U.S. spying? If his crusade now involves universal privacy, wouldn’t that include violations by the Brazilian government, especially knowing that Greenwald lives in Rio de Janeiro?

Read more at the link.

In other news….

The civil war in Syria continues to be the top international story, and The New York Times has a couple of helpful articles. The first is an explainer that deals with Key Questions on the Conflict in Syria. I won’t excerpt from it–read it at the NYT if you’re interested. Next, an article that explains how American policy on Syria may affect possible negotiations with Iran: Drawing a Line on Syria, U.S. Eyes Iran Talks.

As the Obama administration makes a case for punitive airstrikes on the Syrian government, its strongest card in the view of some supporters of a military response may be the need to send a message to another country: Iran. If the United States does not enforce its self-imposed “red line” on Syria’s use of chemical weapons, this thinking goes, Iran will smell weakness and press ahead more boldly in its quest for nuclear weapons.

But that message may be clashing with a simultaneous effort by American officials to explore dialogue with Iran’s moderate new president, Hassan Rouhani, in the latest expression of Washington’s long struggle to balance toughness with diplomacy in its relations with a longtime adversary.

Two recent diplomatic ventures have raised speculation about a possible back channel between Washington and Tehran. Last week, Jeffrey Feltman, a high State Department official in President Obama’s first term who is now a senior envoy at the United Nations, visited Iran to meet with the new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and discussed possible reactions to an American airstrike in Syria.

kerry assad

In line with the international beating up on the U.S. that has followed the Snowden-Greenwald-Poitras “revelations” that NSA spies on foreign countries, The Daily Mail has a snarky article with numerous photos about a dinner that John Kerry had with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in 2009.

An astonishing photograph of John Kerry having a cozy and intimate dinner with Bashar al-Assad has emerged at the moment the U.S Secretary of State is making the case to bomb the Syrian dictator’s country and remove him from power.

Kerry, who compared Assad to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein yesterday, is pictured around a small table with his wife Teresa Heinz and the Assads in 2009.

Assad and Kerry, then a Massachusetts senator, lean in towards each other and appear deep in conversation as their spouses look on.

A waiter is pictured at their side with a tray of green drinks, believed to be lemon and crushed mint.

Now, why would Kerry be having dinner with Syria’s president? The Daily Mail tells us:

The picture was likely taken in February 2009 in the Naranj restaurant in Damascus, when Kerry led a delegation to Syria to discuss finding a way forward for peace in the region.

At the time, Kerry was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and what he was doing is called “diplomacy.” But looking back in the age of Snowden, it seems that instead of having a polite dinner, Kerry should have punched Assad in the nose and screamed at him at the top of his lungs to get with the program–or something…

From the Wall Street Journal: Syrian Electronic Army Hacks Marines Website

A collection of pro-Syrian government hackers apparently defaced a Marine Corps recruitment website Monday.

The Syrian Electronic Army, which has hacked a series of websites, posted a letter on the Marines.com website arguing the Syrian government is “fighting a vile common enemy.”

“The Syrian army should be your ally not your enemy,” the letter read. “Refuse your orders and concentrate on the real reason every soldier joins their military, to defend their homeland. You’re more than welcome to fight alongside our army rather than against it.”

See a screen shot at the link. The site is now back up and running normally.

I’ll end there and post my remaining links in the thread below. As always, please post links to the stories you’re following in the comments as well.


Wednesday Reads: Send in the clowns…

Smoke 'em if you got 'em...

Good Morning!

As I write this post, the numbers from the Iowa Caucus are still coming in. We had a live blog going last night, so if you missed the news coverage, check it out.

Former President Jimmy Carter had some advice for Obama yesterday.

Former President Jimmy Carter has some advice for Barack Obama as he gears up for the 2012 election: Don’t alienate voters with controversial positions.

The Georgia Democrat told The Associated Press on Tuesday that just about everything he did alienated voters, from sealing a treaty to hand over the Panama Canal to establishing diplomatic ties with China.

Carter said: “If your main goal is to get re-elected, avoid a controversial subject as much as you can in the first term.”

Hmmm…I wonder if throwing the Constitution under the proverbial Obama bus is something Carter would consider alienating to voters.

The Taliban are opening an office in Qatar to discuss peace.

Giving a first major public sign that they may be ready for formal talks with the American-led coalition in Afghanistan, the Taliban announced Tuesday that they had struck a deal to open a political office in Qatar that could allow for direct negotiations over the endgame in the Afghan war.

The step was a reversal of the Taliban’s longstanding public denials that they were involved in, or even willing to consider, talks related to their insurgency, and it had the potential to revive a reconciliation effort that stalled in September, with the assassination of the head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council.

It was unclear, however, whether the Taliban were interested in working toward a comprehensive peace settlement or mainly in ensuring that NATO ends its operations in Afghanistan as scheduled in 2014, which would remove a major obstacle to the Taliban’s return to power in all or part of the country.

I wonder if this move will result in the Obama Administration setting up arms sales to the “peaceful” Taliban. (I am very tired, so my snark may not be quite up to speed…)

GOP Steve King admitted that the Tea Party Republicans are using hostage tactics. (No shit!) From Greg Sargent…

… King is candidly admitting that the House Tea Party wing has been employing the threat of a government shutdown as nothing more than a deliberate hostage strategy designed to wring maximum concessions from Democrats.

King made the concession in an interview with Laura Ingraham. Dems are highlighting the interview because King bashes House Speaker John Boehner for his weak leadership, but the bolded portion below is the real news here:

INGRAHAM: You think that would have helped the Republican Party and you guys would be in a better position today if the government had been shut down?

KING: The shutdown isn’t the point so much as, I don’t want the shutdown either. But if you are afraid of the shutdown you can’t have the confrontation and you lose every negotiation along the way.

And there you have it! During each impasse — the first government shutdown fight; the debt ceiling debacle; the payroll tax cut showdown — we keep being told that Tea Partyers really are crazy enough to allow the worst to happen. During the government shutdown fight, we were even told that Tea Partyers viewed that outcome as a positive. Their willingness to take us over a cliff is why Dems simply must make the concessions they’re demanding.

But now a top Tea Party leaders has given away the game, admitting that not even Tea Partyers want a shutdown. Creating the impression that they’re willing to let it happen is only about winning maximum concessions in negotiations. Let’s hope Dems keep this in mind the next dozen times this happens.

Since the Iowa counting is still ongoing, here are some science links to finish up this post.

Fly parasite turns honeybees into zombies. So on the TV show The Walking Dead, would those zombie bees be called buzzers?

If deadly viruses and fungi weren’t enough, honeybees in North America now must also deal with a fly parasite that causes them to leave their hive and die after wandering about in a zombie-like stupor, a new study shows.Scientists previously found that the parasitic fly, Apocephalus borealis, infects and ultimately kills bumblebees and paper wasps, while the “decapitating fly,” an insect in the same genus, implants its eggs in ants, whose heads then pop off after the fly larvae devour the ants’ brains and dissolve their connective tissues. Now researchers have discovered honeybees parasitized by A. borealis in 24 of 31 sites across the San Francisco Bay area, as well as other commercial hives in California and South Dakota.

I know it is a serious problem, but the thought of zombie bees, make me think of making a movie in the style of the classic The Fly. With little bees hollering feed me…feed me…

The female A. borealis flies will inject their eggs into a honeybee’s abdomen soon after coming into contact with the bee, the researchers saw in their laboratory. About seven days later, up to 25 mature fly larvae emerge from the area between the bee’s head and thorax. In the wild, no more than 13 larvae were observed busting from a single honeybee.The researchers found that parasitized bees in the wild abandon their hives and congregate near light sources, where they begin to behave strangely. A bee near death typically will sit in one place and curl up, but these infected bees walked around in circles, appearing disoriented and with little equilibrium, often not being able to stand up.“They kept stretching [their legs] out and then falling over,” Andrew Core, biology graduate student at San Francisco State University and co-author of the study, said in a statement. “It really painted a picture ofsomething like a zombie.”Core and his colleagues found that the honeybees most likely to become infected by the parasite were the ones that left their hives to forage at night, rather than the daytime foragers. The researchers also discovered fly pupae near dead bees at the bottom of their laboratory hive, suggesting that A. borealis can multiply within a hive and potentially infect a pregnant queen bee.

A lost world has been found around the dark hot hydrothermal vents in the seafloor near Antarctica.

Communities of species previously unknown to science have been discovered on the seafloor near Antarctica, clustered in the hot, dark environment surrounding hydrothermal vents.

The discoveries, made by teams led by the University of Oxford, University of Southampton, the National Oceanography Centre, and British Antarctic Survey, include new species of yeti crab, starfish, barnacles, and sea anemones, and even an octopus probably new to science.
For the first time researchers, using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), have been able to explore the East Scotia Ridge deep beneath the Southern Ocean where hydrothermal vents, including ‘black smokers’ reaching temperatures of up to 382 degrees Celsius, create a unique environment lacking sunlight but rich in certain chemicals.
The team report their findings in this week’s PLoS Biology.
‘Hydrothermal vents are home to animals found nowhere else on the planet that get their energy not from the Sun but from breaking down chemicals, such as hydrogen sulphide,’ said Professor Alex Rogers of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, who led the research. ‘The first survey of these particular vents, in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica, has revealed a hot, dark, ‘lost world’ in which whole communities of previously unknown marine organisms thrive.’

And in Australia, scientist have found the first Hybrid shark.

Scientists said on Tuesday that they had discovered the world’s first hybrid sharks in Australian waters, a potential sign the predators were adapting to cope with climate change.

The mating of the local Australian black-tip shark with its global counterpart, the common black-tip, was an unprecedented discovery with implications for the entire shark world, said lead researcher Jess Morgan.

“It’s very surprising because no one’s ever seen shark hybrids before, this is not a common occurrence by any stretch of the imagination,” Morgan, from the University of Queensland, said.

“This is evolution in action.”

Just like climate change has caused Polar bears to bread with Grizzlies…some of you may remember these bears that were shot by Inuit hunters a few years back. The polar bear grizzly hybrids are called grolar bears.

An extremely rare “grolar bear“—a polar-grizzly bear hybrid—was shot and killed by an Inuit hunter in Canada’s Northwest Territories last month.Global warming has reportedly been driving grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) farther north in search of food, bringing them into polar bear (U. maritimus) territory. Polar bears, meanwhile, are finding themselves stranded on land instead of their usual sea ice, bringing them into contact with the grizzlies.This is only the second time that a grolar bear has been encountered in the wild and confirmed, but even with its rarity, it is more distinctive than expected. DNA tests released by the N.W.T. Environment and Natural Resources Department reveal that this was actually a second-generation grolar bear—meaning one of its parents (its mother) was already a polar-grizzly hybrid. The father was a purebred grizzly, the tests found.

Climate Change? Move along, nothing to see here!

Let’s end this with an amazing touchdown flip…those of you familiar with gymnastics, check it out.

Wasn’t that awesome? Damn! What an athlete…

 

 

 


Seymour Hersh Comments Evoke Media Overreactions

On January 17, famed New Yorker Magazine investigative reporter Seymour Hersh made a speech in Doha, Qatar at a college operated by the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. The first half of the transcript of the speech has been published here by Foreign Policy Magazine. The speech contains a great deal of background information and speculation–which, when it comes from a reporter of Hersh’s caliber, is often quite fascinating. I’d suggest reading the whole thing before taking the word of Hersh’s numerous media critics.

The bit of the speech that has drawn the media’s ire is a few remarks Hersh made about fundamentalist Christian influence in the U.S. Military and and offhand remark about Obama’s wimpy leadership. Foreign Policy’s Blake Hounshell mocked the speech in a blog post:

In a speech billed as a discussion of the Bush and Obama eras, New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

“Just when we needed an angry black man,” he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, “we didn’t get one.”

Hersh told the audience he is writing a book about how a small group of “neoconservative whackos” took over the U.S. government. Hounshell writes:

Hersh then brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.'”

“That’s the attitude,” he continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

He then alleged that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC before briefly becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Adm. William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”

[….]

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They see themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

Hounshell also devoted a follow-up blog post to picking apart some of Hersh’s claims.

The reaction of various media members to these comments seems to me to have been a bit of an overreaction. Paul Farhi at the Washington Post focused on the accusations about General Stanley McChrystal:

A spokesman for McChrystal said the general “is not and never has been” a member of the Knights of Malta, an ancient order that protected Christians from Muslim encroachment during the Middle Ages and has since evolved into a charitable organization. These days, the Knights, based in Rome, sponsor medical missions in dozens of countries. McChrystal’s spokesman, David Bolger, said Hersh’s statement linking McChrystal to the group was “completely false and without basis in fact.”

Interestingly, no one speaking for McChrystal said anything in response to the suggestion that he might be involved with Opus Dei. Since we have at least two members of the Supreme Court who are Opus Dei members, why would it be surprising to find their members in other high government offices?

If you read the transcript of Hersh’s speech, you’ll see that Hersh acknowledges that both the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei do good work, but that is ignored in the mocking media responses.

More from Farhi:

Hersh’s attempts to link the religious groups to the Pentagon, meanwhile, brought a denunciation from Catholic League President Bill Donohue, who said Hersh’s “long-running feud with every American administration – he now condemns President Obama for failing to be ‘an angry black man’ – has disoriented his perspective so badly that what he said about the Knights of Malta is not shocking to those familiar with his penchant for demagoguery.”

Bill Donohue? Seriously? I’m supposed to believe Bill Donohue over Seymour Hersh? Sorry, no can do.

Further, Pentagon sources say there is little evidence of a broad fundamentalist conspiracy within the military. Although there have been incidents in which officers have proselytized subordinates, the military discourages partisan religious advocacy.

But is that really true? I don’t have time to dig up all the possible evidence for Christian fundamentalist influence in the military, but I’ll provide one reliable source. Jeff Sharlet, who has now written two books on “The Family,” the secretive fundamentalist organization that courts politicians and other powerful people, wrote an article in Harpers’ Magazine in 2009 called “Jesus Killed Mohammed: The Crusade for a Christian Military.” Sharlet writes:

When Barack Obama moved into the Oval Office in January, he inherited a military not just drained by a two-front war overseas but fighting a third battle on the home front, a subtle civil war over its own soul. On one side are the majority of military personnel, professionals who regardless of their faith or lack thereof simply want to get their jobs done; on the other is a small but powerful movement of Christian soldiers concentrated in the officer corps. There’s Major General Johnny A. Weida, who as commandant at the Air Force Academy made its National Day of Prayer services exclusively Christian, and also created a code for evangelical cadets: whenever Weida said, “Airpower,” they were to respond “Rock Sir!”—a reference to Matthew 7:25. (The general told them that when non-evangelical cadets asked about the mysterious call-and-response, they should share the gospel.) There’s Major General Robert Caslen—commander of the 25th Infantry Division, a.k.a. “Tropic Lightning”—who in 2007 was found by a Pentagon inspector general’s report to have violated military ethics by appearing in uniform, along with six other senior Pentagon officers, in a video for the Christian Embassy, a fundamentalist ministry to Washington elites. There’s Lieutenant General Robert Van Antwerp, the Army chief of engineers, who has also lent his uniform to the Christian cause, both in a Trinity Broadcasting Network tribute to Christian soldiers called Red, White, and Blue Spectacular and at a 2003 Billy Graham rally—televised around the world on the Armed Forces Network—at which he declared the baptisms of 700 soldiers under his command evidence of the Lord’s plan to “raise up a godly army.”

What men such as these have fomented is a quiet coup within the armed forces: not of generals encroaching on civilian rule but of religious authority displacing the military’s once staunchly secular code. Not a conspiracy but a cultural transformation, achieved gradually through promotions and prayer meetings, with personal faith replacing protocol according to the best intentions of commanders who conflate God with country. They see themselves not as subversives but as spiritual warriors—“ambassadors for Christ in uniform,” according to Officers’ Christian Fellowship; “government paid missionaries,” according to Campus Crusade’s Military Ministry.

So are Hersh’s accusations really “loopy” as Charles Lane, also of the Washington Post, claims?

Well known Catholic writer and former priest James Carroll has also claimed there is a “fundamentalist surge in the U.S. military.”

Carroll, in a recent interview with Tom Engelhardt of The Nation Institute, talked about his experiences working on a documentary version of his book. Part of that project involved delving into allegations that an evangelical Christian subculture had taken root at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and, by larger extension, across the U.S. military.

Carroll was appalled by what he found.

“In the Pentagon today,” he says, “there is active proselytizing by Christian groups that is allowed by the chain of command. When your superior expects you to show up at his prayer breakfast, you may not feel free to say no. It’s not at all clear what will happen to your career. He writes your efficiency report. And the next thing you know, you have, in the culture of the Pentagon, more and more active religious outreach.”

Continues Carroll, “Imagine, then, a military motivated by an explicit Christian, missionizing impulse at the worst possible moment in our history, because we’re confronting an enemy–and yes, we do have an enemy: fringe, fascist, nihilist extremists coming out of the Islamic world–who define the conflict entirely in religious terms. They, too, want to see this as a new ‘crusade.’ That’s the language that Osama bin Laden uses. For the United States of America at this moment to allow its military to begin to wear the at this moment to allow its military to begin to wear the badges of a religious movement is a disaster!”

OK, so two highly respected reporters/writers agree with Hersh about a fundamentalist influence in the military. Are his claims really such hogwash?

Here’s an article from AFP news service in Feb. 2008: “US military accused of harboring fundamentalism.”
It’s about a soldier, Jeremy Hall, who claimed to have been bullied by fellow soldiers and officers during his deployment in Iraq because he didn’t want to participate in Christian religious activities.

These are just three articles that I dug up on this topic. Now let’s look at some of the other claims in Hersh’s speech that no one seems to want to talk about. Specifically, let’s look at a couple of samples of the more serious charges Hersh makes against Obama. Here’s one:

So, what is Obama doing? Obama has turned over, I think his first year, basically, he turned over the conduct of the war to the men who are prosecuting it: to Gates, to Mullen, who is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. And in early March, as I recreate it — and nothing is written in stone, but I’m just telling you what I’ve found in my talking and my working on this over the years — we have a general running the war in Afghanistan named McKiernan. McKiernan, unlike McChrystal, his deputy at the time Rodriguez, unlike Petraeus, unlike Eikenberry… They were all together at West Point class of 74, 75, 76 — what they call, we always call the sort of West Point Protective Association. McKiernan was William and Mary, not West Point. And Gates went to see him in March of ‘09, sort of the first big exploration on behalf of the new Obama administration. What do you need to win the war? Well, the correct answer was, he said, “300,000” — of course, he knew he wouldn’t get it, he was just saying to win that’s what it’s going to take.

Here’s another:

In any case, Obama did abdicate, very quickly, any control, I think right away, to the people that are running the war, for what reason I don’t know. I can tell you, there is a scorecard I always keep and I always look at. Torture? Yep, still going on. It’s more complicated now the torture, and there’s not as much of it. But one of the things we did, ostensibly to improve the conditions of prisoners, we demanded that the American soldiers operating in Afghanistan could only hold a suspected Taliban for four days, 96 hours. If not… after four days they could not be sure that this person was not a Taliban, he must be freed. Instead of just holding them and making them Taliban, you have to actually do some, some work to make the determination in the field. Tactically, in the field. So what happens of course, is after three or four days, “bang, bang” — I’m just telling you — they turn them over to the Afghans and by the time they take three steps away the shots are fired. And that’s going on. It hasn’t stopped. It’s not just me that’s complaining about it. But the stuff that goes on in the field, is still going on in the field — the secret prisons, absolutely, oh you bet they’re still running secret prisons. Most of them are in North Africa, the guys running them are mostly out of Djibouto [sic]. We have stuff in Kenya (doesn’t mean they’re in Kenya, but they’re in that area).

Hersh had plenty of harsh words for Cheney too, but no one is talking about that either. All the media is discussing is Hersh’s supposedly “loopy” conspiracy theory about fundamentalists in the military–which really isn’t all that nutty of a theory, as far as I can tell.