Friday Reads: Radical Religious Fundamentalists are at it again!

Good Day Sky Dancers!

Consider what the Taliban are doing to Afghanistan as they try to re-establish a radical view of Islam again in Afghanistan.  President Biden mentioned how few there were of these folks when compared to the hundreds of thousands of well-armed Afghan Soldiers.  However, the Taliban say they control most of Afghanistan now.  That’s what a minority of white US Christians want here and they continue to press legislature forward.  It’s a different kind of invasion since it’s the rights of everyone else including mainstream Christians and there’s no guns involved yet.

Now just as the Taliban of Afghanistan are not the Whirling Dervishes of Damascus, what we face here in this country are not mainstream or a majority in the USA. They are not your nice sweet Episcopalian Grandmother. Never, ever estimate a radical, fundamentalist wing of any religion.  They eventually wind up practicing persecution and women are always on the top of the list as well as the GLBT community. The US brand of White Christian Nationalism is ferocious as ever even as their numbers have shrunk.

This is from WAPO: “The rapid decline of White evangelical America? New data suggests a bigger decrease than previously understood — including in the GOP.  We discussed this a bit yesterday down the thread.  It’s worth the read because they’re sure not going quietly.

If there was an epitome of Donald Trump’s hostile and often puzzling takeover of the Republican Party, it might have been his alliance with evangelical Christians. The thrice-married playboy who until relatively recently supported abortion rights became their champion. He did so despite demonstrating remarkably little familiarity with the Bible. The uneasy alliance culminated in Trump flashing the Good Book as a political prop in Lafayette Square last summer.

But new data suggests that whatever pull evangelicals have in American politics, it’s declining pretty significantly.

The Public Religion Research Institute released a detailed study Thursday on Americans’ religious affiliations. Perhaps the most striking finding is on White evangelical Christians.

While this group made up 23 percent of the population in 2006 — shortly after “values voters” were analyzed to have delivered George W. Bush his reelection — that number is now down to 14.5 percent, according to the data.

Most Southern and rural states still have a large number of very vocal White Christian Nationalists. Take Texas, please!

We’ve all been aware of their fear of minorities voting.  The focus yesterday was how the voting rights law–slowly being dismantled by the Robert’s Court–has created more openings for laws suppression access to the ballot. This is a basic constitutional right. Even more basic and constitutional is the right to not be oppressed by someone else’s view of a religion and not to have it enacted in law at the expense of women and the GLBT community.

First, I woke up to this outrage by JJ from No More Mister Nice Blog:  “HOW ABOUT DON’T KNOCK ON MY DOOR?”.  Republican plague rats/Variant Manufactories are screaming this and “My Body. My Choice” about the vaccine. Yet, look what’s cooking in Texas besides new variants and ways to kill your neighbor?  Texas Congress Plague Rat Crenshaw is the pseudo- libertarian with the hypocritical stance on things he feels all patriarchal about.

This is truly shocking.  Yes, JJ!  How did we miss this?  After all, it was in the New York Times. Here’s the headline “Citizens, Not the State, Will Enforce New Abortion Law in Texas. The measure bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. And it effectively deputizes ordinary citizens to sue people involved in the process.”

People across the country may soon be able to sue abortion clinics, doctors and anyone helping a woman get an abortion in Texas, under a new state law that contains a legal innovation with broad implications for the American court system.

The provision passed the Texas State Legislature this spring as part of a bill that bans abortion after a doctor detects a fetal heartbeat, usually at about six weeks of pregnancy. Many states have passed such bans, but the law in Texas is different.

Ordinarily, enforcement would be up to government officials, and if clinics wanted to challenge the law’s constitutionality, they would sue those officials in making their case. But the law in Texas prohibits officials from enforcing it. Instead, it takes the opposite approach, effectively deputizing ordinary citizens — including from outside Texas — to sue clinics and others who violate the law. It awards them at least $10,000 per illegal abortion if they are successful.

“It’s completely inverting the legal system,” said Stephen Vladeck, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “It says the state is not going to be the one to enforce this law. Your neighbors are.”

Back to the snark of No More Mister Nice Blog and this thread by Amanda Marcotte.

And, I missed this ad on the 4th of July by the now infamous christofascist crusaders Hobby Lobby.  Here’s a bit on that from Scott Horton’s Facebook page.  I caught it today just as JJ’s email had me on high alert.

A Christianist denunciation of democracy and democratic institutions: Hobby Lobby’s full-page ads argue that only Christians, as defined by Hobby Lobby (that is to say, white Evangelicals) are worthy to serve as political leaders of America, though the existence of others may be tolerated for the time being. The Hobby Lobby political agenda matched that of the Trump-led GOP, and is remarkably like the Republic of Gilead described in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The key point to keep in mind, however, is this: Hobby Lobby absolutely repudiates the notion that the people of the United States, speaking at the ballot box, are free to choose their leaders according to their own criteria.

None of this is the stuff I remember as someone raised a Presbyterian and spent a good amount of her adult life as a social justice-loving Methodist Sunday School Teacher.  This is from Newsweek: “Hobby Lobby Faces Backlash Over Newspaper Ad Calling for Christian-Run Government.”

Arts and crafts giant Hobby Lobby faced a backlash after it ran a full-page advertisement on July 4 in several newspapers across the U.S. that appeared to call for a Christian-run government.

The advert, which Hobby Lobby ran in newspapers on Independence Day, was titled “One Nation Under God,” and included the Bible verse “Blessed is the Nation whose God is the lord,” as the company also posted about its campaign on its social media pages.

Hobby Lobby quoted former presidents who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 in its campaign, including George Washington, but the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) reported that the company had altered the quotes without providing the full context.

Included in the advert, Hobby Lobby claimed to quote former President John Adams saying: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.

“Our Constitution was made only for religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Frightened yet?   This sums it up for me now that I’m a religious minority.

Let’s go back to the Anti-Vaxxer freedom screed and read something by Charlies Sykes from The Bulwark.  “A Depraved Indifference To Human Life. The right’s performative anti-vax demagoguery”.

I admit that I’m struggling to come up with an analogy that would shed some light on the sheer insanity of this moment.

Try to imagine, for example, a campaign to mock attempts to improve airline safety in the wake of a crash that killed hundreds. Or try to envision a political class that would ridicule and undermine engineers who were trying to shore up the foundations of condominiums in Florida in the days after a horrific building collapse there.

None of that, however, even comes close to the genuine depravity of the current burst of performative anti-vax demagoguery we are seeing right now.

Four million people worldwide have died from COVID-19. That includes more than 600,000 Americans.

The delta variant is exploding and the infection rates are rising — and nearly all of the new hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated.

In Missouri, where vaccination rates have lagged, “the Springfield area has been hit so hard that one hospital had to borrow ventilators over the Fourth of July weekend and begged on social media for help from respiratory therapists.”

I feel like going all Spock on you by saying “Logic dictates that the good of the many outweighs the needs of the one.”  But hey, let’s watch these same people scream I’m very much a communist or some such nonsense.  Isn’t that basically what the biblical Jesus did at the end of his life or did my Presbyterian Ministers fail me?  This dangerous political performance art has, is, and will continue to kill people including small children and babies that are not yet approved for the vaccine. BB’s covered this so well that we all know better.

Anyway, we have a lot to keep our eyes on.   Look at the special agenda for the Texas lege.  It’s a right-wing tribute to conspiracy theories and anti-democratic/republic governance.  They’re after RU45 again saying it’s abortion-inducing which it’s not.

So, thanks for coming to my Ted Talk. I’m just enjoying the falling rain and silence here where I can ask myself what’s so funny about peace, love. and understanding?  Can’t we all just live and let live?

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Lazy Caturday Reads: News Potpourri

Jones, Leslie, 1886-1967 (photographer) Date created 1938, Boston Public Library

Good Morning!!

I could hardly bring myself to read news this morning, but I forced myself to see what stories are out there. My offerings:

The biggest one is about Trump ignoring reports of Russians trying to kill American troops in Afghanistan.

The New York Times: Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says.

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.

The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

An operation to incentivize the killing of American and other NATO troops would be a significant and provocative escalation of what American and Afghan officials have said is Russian support for the Taliban, and it would be the first time the Russian spy unit was known to have orchestrated attacks on Western troops.

Any involvement with the Taliban that resulted in the deaths of American troops would also be a huge escalation of Russia’s so-called hybrid war against the United States, a strategy of destabilizing adversaries through a combination of such tactics as cyberattacks, the spread of fake news and covert and deniable military operations.

Read more about this at The Washington Post: Russian operation targeted coalition troops in Afghanistan, intelligence finds.

I wonder if GOP senators are going to do anything about this, or will they think it’s just fine for Trump to keep being pals with Putin no matter what he does?

The New York Times has another big story on how the coronavirus pandemic sneaked up on us: How the World Missed Covid-19’s Silent Spread.

Dr. Camilla Rothe was about to leave for dinner when the government laboratory called with the surprising test result. Positive. It was Jan. 27. She had just discovered Germany’s first case of the new coronavirus.

But the diagnosis made no sense. Her patient, a businessman from a nearby auto parts company, could have been infected by only one person: a colleague visiting from China. And that colleague should not have been contagious.

The visitor had seemed perfectly healthy during her stay in Germany. No coughing or sneezing, no signs of fatigue or fever during two days of long meetings. She told colleagues that she had started feeling ill after the flight back to China. Days later, she tested positive for the coronavirus.

Girl with her kitten, mid-1800s

Scientists at the time believed that only people with symptoms could spread the coronavirus. They assumed it acted like its genetic cousin, SARS.

“People who know much more about coronaviruses than I do were absolutely sure,” recalled Dr. Rothe, an infectious disease specialist at Munich University Hospital.

But if the experts were wrong, if the virus could spread from seemingly healthy carriers or people who had not yet developed symptoms, the ramifications were potentially catastrophic. Public-awareness campaigns, airport screening and stay-home-if-you’re sick policies might not stop it. More aggressive measures might be required — ordering healthy people to wear masks, for instance, or restricting international travel.

Dr. Rothe and her colleagues were among the first to warn the world. But even as evidence accumulated from other scientists, leading health officials expressed unwavering confidence that symptomless spreading was not important.

In the days and weeks to come, politicians, public health officials and rival academics disparaged or ignored the Munich team. Some actively worked to undermine the warnings at a crucial moment, as the disease was spreading unnoticed in French churches, Italian soccer stadiums and Austrian ski bars. A cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, would become a deadly harbinger of symptomless spreading.

Read the rest at the NYT.

More interesting Covid-19 articles:

The New York Times: New Numbers Showing Coronavirus Spread Intrude on a White House in Denial.

Bloomberg Opinion: A Horrifying U.S. Covid Curve Has a Simple Explanation.

Bloomberg Law: Virus Fatality Picture Is Obscured by Ultimate Lagging Indicator.

The Daily Beast: Here’s What It Looks Like When People Don’t Wear Masks.

CNBC: This chart shows the link between restaurant spending and new cases of coronavirus.

CNN Politics: Measures to protect Trump from coronavirus scale up even as he seeks to move on.

AP: Reporter at Trump’s Tulsa rally tests positive for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, as the virus rages through the South and West, Trump is trying to finally kill Obamacare. The Washington Post: Trump administration’s move to end Obamacare amid pandemic reignites political fight.

The Trump administration touched off another politically charged battle over the future of Obamacare with its latest maneuver to dismantle the law amid a pandemic — a move that Democrats immediately weaponized for competitive campaigns this fall and few Republicans defended.

The 82-page brief filed late Thursday to the Supreme Court in a high-profile case brought by GOP state attorneys general undercuts President Trump’s repeated pledges to ensure coverage for people with preexisting conditions as his administration and the broader Republican Party seek to wipe away that protection.

Trump vowed as recently as last weekend, at a campaign rally in Tulsa, that he would “always protect patients with preexisting conditions, always, always.” But his own administration’s position in court is that the 2010 Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is unconstitutional, and therefore so is the entire law — even its most popular provisions, such as coverage for those with preexisting conditions….

Republican officials and strategists working on competitive campaigns were privately aghast Friday at the administration’s decision to reignite the issue, particularly as health care is at the forefront of voters’ minds because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The ties between the pandemic and access to Obamacare were underscored this week with a new report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which found that 487,000 Americans used a special enrollment period for the health care law after losing their own coverage, probably due to job losses.

Trump wants to throw protesters in jail if they try to take down Confederate monuments. Politico: Trump issues executive order warning cities, protesters over destruction of monuments.

President Donald Trump on Friday ordered the Justice Department to prioritize prosecution of protesters who damage federal monuments and limit federal funding for local governments that are perceived to not be adequately protecting those monuments.

The executive order also emphasized strict sentencing, with a maximum of 10 years in prison, for those found guilty of such acts, a key plank of Trump’s law and order strategy the president has repeatedly tweeted and talked about in recent weeks.

Trump’s order comes as protests across the country against systemic racism and police brutality have resulted in the toppling of monuments to Confederate leaders, slave owners and European colonists.

The order characterizes protesters as actively seeking to undermine the integrity of the United States government — referring to them as “Anarchists and left-wing extremists” — and comes a day after Trump labeled demonstrators as “terrorists” who will face “retribution.”

Judge Amy Berman Jackson said yesterday that Roger Stone won’t get a 2-month delay before heading to jail. The Washington Post: Roger Stone ordered to report to prison July 14, as judge denies request for two-month delay.

A federal judge has ordered Roger Stone to report to prison July 14, granting him a two-week delay because of the coronavirus pandemic, but not the two months that President Trump’s confidant had requested with prosecutors’ assent.

Stone, 67, had been due to surrender June 30 to a federal prison in Jesup, Ga., while he appeals his November conviction on charges of lying and witness tampering in a congressional investigation.

In an order and sealed opinion late Friday, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson granted a two-week delay. Prosecutors had not opposed Stone’s request for a delay until Sept. 3, saying the Justice Department’s policy during the pandemic has been to grant up to a 60-day extension upon defendants’ request “without respect to age, health, or other COVID-19 risk factors.”

More stories to check out, links only:

The Washington Post: Barr forms task force to counter ‘anti-government extremists’

CNN: In Texas, questions grow about a lesser-known US Attorney ousted by Attorney General Barr.

Vox: “It’s ideologue meets grifter”: How Bill Barr made Trumpism possible.

Above the Law: Bill Barr Has Thoughts On ‘Blacks’

The New York Times: U.S. Must Release Children From Family Detention Centers, Judge Rules.

Los Angeles Times: Working-class white women are turning on Trump.

The New York Times: How Trump and the Black Lives Matter Movement Changed White Voters’ Minds.

Harry Enten at CNN: Candidates who recover from Trump-like deficits are rarely incumbents.

NBC News: Facebook just lost one of the biggest advertisers in the world for the rest of 2020.

Take care of yourselves and have a nice weekend everyone!


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…