Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Democracy-in-PerilYesterday Joe Biden commemorated Memorial Day with a speech honoring those who served the country in wartime, while cautioning that “democracy…is in peril.”

Politico: Biden on Memorial Day: Democracy is ‘in peril,’ worth dying for.

President Joe Biden marked Memorial Day with an address at Arlington National Cemetery, pledging to never forget or fail to honor fallen veterans’ sacrifice and saying that democracy is “worth fighting for” and “dying for.”

Democracy, which he called the “soul of America,” is in danger, Biden said on Monday.

“Democracy itself is in peril, here at home and around the world,” Biden said, speaking to military officials and people who have lost military loved ones after a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. “What we do now, what we do now, how we honor the memory of the fallen, will determine whether or not democracy will long endure.”

Throughout the speech Monday, Biden praised veterans’ sacrifice for democracy and defended democracy’s aspirations, though he said the U.S. hadn’t always lived up to them. He called empathy “the fuel of democracy.”

The president said that “we all” take democracy “for granted,” saying “the biggest question” is whether the system of democracy can win out over opposing “powerful forces.”

“All that we do in our common life as a nation is part of that struggle,” Biden said. “A struggle for democracy. It’s taking place around the world, democracy and autocracy.”

Democracy is in danger because the Trumpist Republican Party opposes it. Since their cult leader lost the 2020 election, Republicans are focused on making voting more difficult. The latest effort took place in Texas. Fortunately, Democrats in the Texas legislature were able to fend off the new Jim Crow law for now.

The Daily Beast: Democrats Finally Step Up and Smack Down Texas Jim Crow Law.

In a dramatic surprise, Texas Democrats stopped the GOP’s latest and lowest voter suppression effort at the eleventh hour (literally – the session was adjourned at 11pm Monday night). They used tricks, stunts, and gambits. They chased the headlines, and grabbed them. Democrats, this is how you do it.

For months, these outrageous, baseless, anti-democratic, and cravenly self-interested Republican efforts in state after state have been the “sleeper story” of the year. In some ways, Republican voter suppression isn’t new; they’ve been lying about voter fraud for years, even though it has never existed on a widespread level. And some of the concrete measures are familiar: closing voting locations in predominantly Black areas (yes, it really is that brazen), restricting early and absentee voting, and so on….

GHJFADFEVNEK3EHRR3RZ6KXX7MSo far, Democrats have failed to stop this racist and anti-democratic freight train. It’s barreled through FloridaGeorgia, and Iowa. It’s rigged the 2022 elections by making it harder for Black voters (and voters who can’t get off of work easily, or need help getting to the polls) to vote. It’s a national disgrace.

But it’s barely made the news….

These efforts should be headline freaking news. The blatantly racist nature of these policies. Their likely effects on the next election. And their foundation in the same conspiracy theory that led to the January 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C. All of these are beyond outrageous, but journalists can’t just make news happen; that’s up to politicians and other public figures who give us something to report.

Which is exactly what Texas Democrats did Sunday night.

They raised every possible technical and procedural objection to the vote. They indulged in long-winded Q&A sessions. They stretched the process out for hours. And then, right before eleven at night on the eve of Memorial Day, they walked out, depriving the Texas State House of Representatives of a quorum.

Even the walkout was dramatic. Texas State Representative Chris Turner texted party members at 10:35, writing, “Members, take your key and leave the chamber discreetly. Do not go to the gallery. Leave the building. ~ Chris”

Gotta love it.

But the bill could still pass. What’s needed is national legislation to protect voting rights.

The Washington Post: After defeating restrictive voting bill, Texas Democrats send loud message: ‘We need Congress to do their part.’

Texas Democrats who defeated a Republican effort to pass a suite of new voting restrictions with a dramatic late-night walkout from the state House chamber on Sunday have a message for President Biden and his allies in Congress: If we can protect voting rights, you can, too.

The surprise move by roughly 60 Democratic lawmakers headed off the expected passage of S.B. 7, a voting measure that would have been one of the most stringent in the nation, by denying Republicans a required quorum and forcing them to abruptly adjourn without taking a vote.

downloadThe coordinated walkout just after 10:30 p.m. Central time jolted the national debate on voting rights, putting the spotlight on Democratic-backed federal legislation that has been stalled in the Senate all spring, even as state Republicans move to enact new voting rules.

“We knew today, with the eyes of the nation watching action in Austin, that we needed to send a message,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat, said at a news conference held at a historically Black church in Austin early Monday, shortly after he and other lawmakers left the state Capitol. “And that message is very, very clear: Mr. President, we need a national response to federal voting rights.”\Republicans control every branch of Texas government and hold firm majorities in both the House and Senate. While Gov. Greg Abbott (R) vowed late Sunday to bring the voting measure back at a special legislative session for redistricting later this year — and threatened to defund the legislature in a tweet on Monday — the walkout represented an unmistakable and shocking defeat for Republican leaders who had assumed the bill would pass ahead of the House’s midnight deadline to finish its 2021 business.

Unfortunately, Congress is not stepping up so far.

Nicolas Fandos at The Washington Post: Push for Voting Overhaul in Congress Falters.

In the national struggle over voting rights, Democrats have rested their hopes for turning back a wave of new restrictions in Republican-led states and expanding ballot access on their narrow majorities in Congress. Failure, they have repeatedly insisted, “is not an option.”

But as Republican efforts to clamp down on voting prevail across the country, the drive to enact the most sweeping elections overhaul in generations is faltering in the Senate. With a self-imposed Labor Day deadline for action, Democrats are struggling to unite around a strategy to overcome solid Republican opposition and an almost certain filibuster.

Republicans in Congress have dug in against the measure, with even the most moderate dismissing it as bloated and overly prescriptive. That leaves Democrats no option for passing it other than to try to force the bill through by destroying the filibuster rule — which requires 60 votes to put aside any senator’s objection — to pass it on a simple majority, party-line vote.

cg607453581752eBut Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, the Democrats’ decisive swing vote, has repeatedly pledged to protect the filibuster and is refusing to sign on to the voting rights bill. He calls the legislation “too darn broad” and too partisan, despite endorsing such proposals in past sessions. Other Democrats also remain uneasy about some of its core provisions.

Navigating the 800-page For the People Act, or Senate Bill 1, through an evenly chamber was never going to be an easy task, even after it passed the House with only Democratic votes. But the Democrats’ strategy for moving the measure increasingly hinges on the longest of long shots: persuading Mr. Manchin and the other 49 Democrats to support both the bill and the gutting of the filibuster.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Meanwhile, extremist Republicans–including the former guy–are openly supporting insurrection. As Dakinikat reported yesterday, disgraced retired General Michael Flynn attended a Q-Anon meeting and called for a military coup in the U.S. 

Donnie O’Sullivan at CNN: Echoing QAnon forums, Michael Flynn appears to suggest a Myanmar-style coup should happen in the United States.

Michael Flynn, former President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, appeared to endorse a Myanmar-style coup in the United States on Sunday.

For months, QAnon and Trump-supporting online forums have celebrated the deadly military coup in Myanmar and suggested the same should happen in the United States so Trump could be reinstated as President.

Flynn made the comments at an event in Dallas on Sunday that was attended by prominent peddlers of the QAnon conspiracy theory and the Big Lie.

“I want to know why what happened in Minamar (sic)can’t happen here?” a member of the audience, who identified himself as a Marine, asked Flynn.

“No reason, I mean, it should happen here. No reason. That’s right,” Flynn responded….

Some QAnon followers are obsessed with the idea that the US military will somehow put Trump back into office. Some believed and hoped Trump would declare martial law on Inauguration Day to stop Joe Biden from entering the White House.

Speaking at the same event in Dallas, Flynn earlier in the weekend falsely claimed, “Trump won. He won the popular vote, and he won the Electoral College vote.”

Trump himself claims he will be “reinstated” as president, according to Maggie Haberman.

4060f4bbe7fc4726bd17af60a9fda86dRaw Story: Trump expects to be ‘reinstated’ as president by August: reporter.

Former President Donald Trump reportedly believes he’s going to be “reinstated” as president within the next two months.

According to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, “Trump has been telling a number of people he’s in contact with that he expects he will get reinstated by August” because the widely criticized “audit” he’s backing in Arizona will show he actually won the 2020 presidential election.

“He is not putting out statements about the ‘audits’ in states just for the sake of it,” Haberman reports. “He’s been laser focused on them, according to several people who’ve spoken with him.”

Haberman notes that Trump’s obsession with retaking the White House this year comes as he’s staring at the possibility of being indicted by the New York Attorney General’s Office, which is conducting a criminal probe of the Trump Organization for potential tax fraud.

If you want to know more about the conference of Q-Anon crazies that took place over the weekend, check out this article at Vice: QAnon’s Wildest Moments From Their Massively Disturbing Conference.

QAnon’s biggest celebrities threw a three-day conference in Dallas over the weekend—and it did not disappoint.

Whether you wanted to hear a former US Army general calling for a military coup or Roger Stone’s social media advisor calling for Hillary Clinton’s execution, there was something for everyone.

There were auctions selling $1,000-blankets and $8,000 baseball bats. A sitting Congressman appeared on stage and literally embraced QAnon influencers. Dozens of members of a shadowy militia provided protection—some with their own pugs in tow. And then there was Kraken-lawyer Sidney Powell trying to sing the national anthem….

The “For God and Country: Patriot Roundup” event took place over Friday, Saturday and Sunday in downtown Dallas with thousands of QAnon supporters paying at least $500 for a ticket to the event.

The event took place in the city-owned Omni Hotel despite opposition from local residents whose petition was signed by more than 20,000 people.

The organizer of the event, John Sabal (known online as QAnon John) claimed prior to the  event that it was not a QAnon conference, despite multiple high profile QAnon figures speaking there.

The event was a coming-out party for many well-known figures in the QAnon world, but also highlighted just how far the conspiracy movement is bleeding into mainstream Republican politics, with one sitting Congressman, Rep. Louie Gohmert, speaking on stage, along with the chairman of the Texas GOP, Allen West.  

Read more highlights at the Vice link.

That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following? As always, this is an open thread.


Thursday Reads: A Victory for Workers, Women Overcoming Misogyny, and Other News

Market Basket employee Tony Khater (left) celebrates with store director Al Jussaume (right) after learning of the sales agreement.

Market Basket employee Tony Khater (left) celebrates with store director Al Jussaume (right) after learning of the sales agreement

Good Morning!!

Score one for the workers! The Market Basket war is over and the the good guys won for a change. Late last night Arthur T. Demoulas signed an agreement to buy out his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas’ share of the business for $1.5 billion.

From The Boston Globe:

The epic battle over Market Basket that sparked an extraordinary worker revolt and captivated the public through the summer ended Wednesday when Arthur T. Demoulas reached a deal to buy the company from rival relatives for more than $1.5 billion.

Market Basket’s shareholders announced the deal at 11:15 p.m. after several days of suspenseful negotiations. Arthur T. Demoulas and his sisters will buy the shares of their cousin Arthur S. Demoulas and other relatives on his side of the family, who collectively own 50.5 percent of the company.

In a statement stripped bare of the emotion of recent days, the company and its shareholders asked managers, employees, and customers to return to stores to help get Market Basket running again. It also announced the reinstatement of Arthur T., who had been fired as president in June.

Market basket2

“Effective immediately, Arthur T. Demoulas is returning to Market Basket with day-to-day operational authority of the company,” the statement said. “All associates are welcome back to work with the former management team to restore the company back to normal operations.”

The sale agreement, which will take months to formally close, ends a fight so bitter it took the intervention of the governors of Massachusetts and New Hampshire to help the Demoulas family resolve it after nearly a quarter-century.

The agreement authorizes Arthur T. to manage the business and stabilize operations at its 71 stores, where employee walkouts and customer boycotts had brought business to a virtual standstill for six weeks. He will also be able to rehire several managers who were fired along with him. However, until the deal closes, he will continue to work with the chief executives hired to replace him, Felicia Thornton and James Gooch.

Forbes: Warring Billionaires Finally Settle Family Score With Market Basket Deal.

Market Basket’s 25,000 employees will be heading back to work following a summer of discontent. The New England supermarket chain has been rocked by protests and customer boycotts since Arthur T Demoulas was ousted as President and CEO June 24th. He and his team, many of whom were also fired during the crisis, will be reinstated as management while the deal wraps up. They’ll work alongside co-CEOs Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch, who were brought in by the board after Arthur T and his management team were removed.

“Effective immediately, Arthur T. Demoulas is returning to Market Basket with day-to-day operational authority of the company,” reads a statement from Arthur T. “All associates are welcome back to work with the former management team to restore the company back to normal operations.”

“Tonight we raise a glass to Artie T and each other as we have achieved the most improbable of upsets,” writes the anonymous blogger behind website wearemarketbasket.com. The website as well as social media have been key sources of information for employees refusing to work following Arthur T’s dismissal. “Tomorrow we go to work and never, in the history of people going to work, will so many people be so happy to punch the clock.”

Arthur T2

Arthur T. will address workers this morning, according to the Boston Herald; but in the meantime, the job of restocking Market Basket shelves in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine has begun. From AP (via ABC News), Deliveries Roll Following Deal in Supermarket Feud.

Tractor-trailers bearing the Market Basket logo and laden with the tons of food it will take to restock the chain’s 71 stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, as well as vendor vehicles, pulled up to loading docks before business Thursday, just hours after the announcement late Wednesday that Arthur T. Demoulas paid $1.5 billion for shares of the company owned by the rival family faction, led by cousin Arthur S. Demoulas….

“All associates are welcome back to work with the former management team to restore the company back to normal operations,” Arthur T. Demoulas said in a statement

“I feel like I won the lottery,” Market Basket truck driver Buddy Wemmers told The Boston Globe.

“I’m thrilled, this is epic,” said Tom Trainor, a district supervisor, told the Boston Herald.

Gary Sessa, a front end manager at the chain’s Tewksbury store, told WFXT-TV that company bakers came in at midnight after hearing the news and started baking cakes that say “Welcome back Artie T: Market Basket Strong.”

It does my heart good to see the workers win this battle. I hope this will encourage others to stand up against efforts to make businesses less worker-friendly and more profitable for stockholders. Perhaps it will even convince a few CEOs that treating their employees with respect can pay off in the long run.

Will Misogyny Never Die?

Kirsten Gillibrand with her preferred candidate for President

Kirsten Gillibrand with her preferred candidate for President

Senator Kirstin Gillibrand has a book coming out, and yesterday People Magazine released some tidbits from their interview with her. It seems that the mostly elderly men in Congress who are making decisions about women’s health and working conditions feel entitled to make judgmental remarks about their female co-workers’ bodies. The Washington Post reports: “I like my girls chubby,” a male Senator told Kirsten Gillibrand. Yes, really, by Jaime Fuller.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) has a new book coming out, “Off the Sidelines,” and has been making the media rounds to promote it. The New York Post highlighted parts of the book today, in an article titled, “Gillibrand: Male colleagues called me ‘porky’ after baby.”

As awful as that headline is, things get worse in the book, according to the story. One quote in particular stands out. Gillibrand reveals that one male Senator, after she lost about 50 pounds, came up behind her and gave her waist a squeeze. “Don’t lose too much weight now,” he told her. “I like my girls chubby.” She says that he was one of her favorite senators(!).

As Gillibrand’s title infers, the book goes into detail about the things that women in politics still have to deal with that their male counterparts, well, don’t….

Gillibrand surely isn’t alone in having to deal with such comments with her male colleagues at the Capitol, although some of her encounters are jaw-droppingly bad/offensive. When she was still in the House, a Southern representative told her, “You know, Kirsten, you’re even pretty when you’re fat.”

I only wish Gillibrand had named names.

Fuller includes a link to this 2013 article by Olivia Messer at the Texas Observer, The Texas Legislature’s Sexist Little Secret in which she writes about what she experienced and observed as woman reporter covering the Texas legislature. The stories are probably representative of legislative bodies (pun intended) around the country.

It didn’t take me long to realize that as a woman, and especially a young woman, I’d be treated differently than my male colleagues. Within weeks, I’d already heard a few horrifying stories. Like the time a former Observerstaffer, on her first day in the Capitol, was invited by a state senator back to his office for personal “tutoring.” Or, last session, when Rep. Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton interrupted Marisa Marquez during a House floor debate to ask if her breasts were real or fake.

Thankfully I never experienced anything so sexually explicit. Instead, I encountered a string of subtle but demeaning comments. One of the first interviews I conducted for the Observer, in February, was with a male senator about an anti-abortion bill. I was asking questions about whether the bill would reduce access to abortion. At the end of the interview, as soon as I turned off my recorder, he said, “How old are you, sweetheart? You look so young.”

Another day, near the end of the regular session, I was at the Capitol (doing interviews for this story, coincidentally) when a House page stopped me on my way out of the chamber. “I’ve never seen you in here before,” he said. “Who do you work for?” I answered the question, assuming that he wanted to see my press badge. “Well, uh, this may seem forward,” he stammered, “but I’m not sure if I’ll ever see you again—could I maybe take you out to lunch or dinner some time?” He looked about 16, red-faced and innocent. I politely declined. When I walked over to the Senate chamber, a staffer stopped me. “Wow,” he said. “You look really beautiful today.” My face turned red. I thanked him and walked to a seat at the press table. It was the third time that day the staffer had mentioned my appearance, and I was beginning to feel that what I looked like mattered more than my work—at least to the men in the building. At a certain point, after enough of these run-ins—which included male staffers from both chambers, some of whom I knew to be married, hitting on me, making comments about my physical appearance, touching my arm—it finally occurred to me that, when I was at work, I was often fending off advances like I was in a bar.

What surprised me was how many women who work in the Capitol—legislators, staffers, lobbyists, other reporters—felt the same way. Everyone, it seemed, had a story or anecdote about being objectified or patronized.

Messer’s article is long, but it’s fascinating reading. At one point she writes about the night Wendy Davis and her female colleagues “took over the capital” and filibustered an anti-abortion bill.

Here’s another great commentary on the Gillibrand story by Olivia Nuzzi at The Daily Beast, Senate Pigs Called Kirsten Gillibrand ‘Porky’.

Clueless Politico reporter John Bresnahan

Clueless Politico reporter John Bresnahan

Naturally, these stories about sexism among male politicians were all over Twitter yesterday. One male Politico writer named John Bresnahan doubted whether Gillibrand was really telling the truth. He got shot down pretty thoroughly and later apologized and stopped tweeting for the night. Even plenty of young men like Bresnahan just don’t get it.

Politics isn’t the only field where men treat women like pieces of meat. Women in the tech field usually have plenty of horror stories about things their male colleagues. Here are just a few random links to stories about it from the past couple of years.

The New York Times, Technology’s Man Problem.

The Washington Post, Snapchat, sexism and the reason women don’t stay in tech.

The Washington Post, Google statistics show Silicon Valley has a diversity problem.

Alternet, High-Tech Industry Focused on Babes and Boobs Needs Killer Sexism App.

Business Insider, 9 Stomach-Churning Posts From Secret That Show Awful Sexist Behavior In The Tech Industry.

Women who write critically about video games–or even play games on-line–are targets for hatred and violent threats. This isn’t the first story like this I’ve seen: Feminist video game critic forced to leave her home after online rape and death threats. Raw Story reports:

Anita Sarkeesian, creator of an online video series analyzing problematic representations of women in video games, was forced to leave her home on Tuesday after death threats made online against herself and her family, Polygon reported.

“Some very scary threats have just been made against me and my family,” Sarkeesian posted on Tuesday. “Contacting authorities now.”

After confirming she had found a safe place to stay, Sarkeesian posted a screengrab of the threats, posted by a Twitter account calling itself “Kevin Dobson,” which identified her address and her parents, as well as several vulgar threats, including one to “ram a hot tire iron up [her] c*nt” (read the messages at Raw Story)

Sarkeesian reported the threats a day after she released a new episode of her series, Feminist Frequency, dealing with games that feature sexualized female victims or female characters introduced solely to highlight either a villain’s aggression or provide motivation for players to complete their missions.

The effect of introducing these “mature themes,” she argues in the episode, is the trivialization of painful experiences that are all too common….

“When games casually use sexualized violence as a ham-fisted form of character development for the bad guys, it reinforces a popular misconception about gendered violence by framing it as something abnormal, as a cruelty committed only by the most transparently evil strangers,” she says in the video. “In reality, however, violence against women — and sexual violence, in particular — is a common everyday occurence, often perpetrated by ‘normal men,’ known and trusted by those targeted.”

A few more links to interesting stories:

stonehenge

CNN, U.S. official says 1,000 Russian troops enter Ukraine.

Christian Science Monitor, UN: Ebola cases in W. Africa could top 20,000.

Wall Street Journal, Rebels in Syria Capture Border Crossing With Israel.

Reuters, U.S. air strikes on Syria would face formidable obstacles.

New York Times Video, Michael Brown’s Body (an amazing collection of interviews with residents of Michael Brown’s neighborhood).

Christian Science Monitor, What Republican wave? (Writer Doug Mataconis doesn’ think a Republican takeover of the Senate is inevitable).

E on Line, Discovery Channel’s Sons of Guns Canceled After Star Will Hayden Is Charged With Raping His 12-Year-Old Daughter.

Washington Post, Report reveals the horrors of 1,400 sexually abused children in a British town and the system that failed them.

WBUR Boston, Growing Number Of War Correspondents Work For Themselves.

Nature World News, Mystery of Sailing Stones Unveiled in Death Valley.

Discovery News, 2,700-Year-Old Phoenician Shipwreck Discovered.

Huffington Post, Archaeologists Discover 15 Previously Unknown Monuments Buried Around Stonehenge.

News.Com.AU, The truth about Stonehenge: New survey reveals more secrets

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


Tuesday Reads

coffee shop1

Good Morning!!

The big news today is that President Obama appears likely to order “limited” strikes on Syria in the next few days in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons against opposition fighters. From the WaPo: After Syria chemical allegations, Obama considering limited military strike.

President Obama is weighing a military strike against Syria that would be of limited scope and duration, designed to serve as punishment for Syria’s use of chemical weapons and as a deterrent, while keeping the United States out of deeper involvement in that country’s civil war, according to senior administration officials.

The timing of such an attack, which would probably last no more than two days and involve sea-launched cruise missiles — or, possibly, long-range bombers — striking military targets not directly related to Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, would be dependent on three factors: completion of an intelligence report assessing Syrian government culpability in last week’s alleged chemical attack; ongoing consultation with allies and Congress; and determination of a justification under international law.

“We’re actively looking at the various legal angles that would inform a decision,” said an official who spoke about the presidential deliberations on the condition of anonymity. Missile-armed U.S. warships are already positioned in the Mediterranean.

I guess “looking at…legal angles” is code for that pesky rule in the Constitution where Congress has to declare wars. When’s the last time that happened–WWII?

Meanwhile, BBC News reports: Russia and China step up warning over strike.

Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich has called on the international community to show “prudence” over the crisis and observe international law.

“Attempts to bypass the Security Council, once again to create artificial groundless excuses for a military intervention in the region are fraught with new suffering in Syria and catastrophic consequences for other countries of the Middle East and North Africa,” he said in a statement.

Late on Monday, the US said it was postponing a meeting on Syria with Russian diplomats, citing “ongoing consultations” about alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Hours later, Russia expressed regret about the decision. The two sides had been due to meet in The Hague on Wednesday to discuss setting up an international conference on finding a political solution to the crisis.

The Russian deputy defence minister, Gennady Gatilov said working out the political parameters for a resolution on Syria would be especially useful, with the threat of force hanging over the country.

Read more at the link.

Just as SOS Kerry was giving a speech to justify the upcoming military strikes, providing “Clear Evidence of Chemical Weapon Use in Syria” (NYT), a little birdie told Shane Harris and Matthew Aid of Foreign Policy magazine that the U.S. facilitated Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against Iran back in 1988.

The U.S. government may be considering military action in response to chemical strikes near Damascus. But a generation ago, America’s military and intelligence communities knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks far more devastating than anything Syria has seen, Foreign Policy has learned.

In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq’s war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.

The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn’t disclose.

U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein’s government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture.

“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” he told Foreign Policy.

Read the rest of this long article at Foreign Policy.

Firefighter A.J. Tevis watches the flames of the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. With winds gusting to 50 mph on Sierra mountain ridges and flames jumping from treetop to treetop, hundreds of firefighters have been deployed to protect this and other communities in the path of the Rim Fire raging north of Yosemite National Park. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Firefighter A.J. Tevis watches the flames of the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. With winds gusting to 50 mph on Sierra mountain ridges and flames jumping from treetop to treetop, hundreds of firefighters have been deployed to protect this and other communities in the path of the Rim Fire raging north of Yosemite National Park. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The wildfire in Northern California continues to spread into Yosemite National Park and has begun to threaten towns in the area. From the LA Times: Massive Rim fire continues to reshape lives and topography.

…even as firefighters worked furiously to hold a line outside of town, officials warned that this blaze was so hot it could send sparks more than a mile and a half out that could jump lines and start new hot spots. Evacuation advisories remain in effect for Tuolumne City and nearby areas.

On the north edge, the fire — now 134,000 acres — pushed into the Emigrant Wilderness Area and Yosemite National Park. It’s the one side of the fire with a natural last stand: Eventually it will run into granite walls that have snuffed out fires in this region for centuries.

Each day, what the massive blaze does depends on the wind. But officials were particularly attuned to each shift of breeze Sunday because of the weather’s eerie similarities to the day when the fire first exploded out of control.

So far the unpredictable blaze is only about 20% controlled, and it still threatens water and power sources for San Francisco.

The massive fire presents every challenge: steep slopes, dry fuel, rugged terrain and entire communities possibly in harm’s way.

The base camp and incident post, usually a haven outside fire lines, was a prominent example of the fire’s unpredictability: It’s in the middle of the burn zone, charred land with still-smoldering stumps on both sides.

Firefighters call such complete devastation “the black.” Entire ravines and ridges were a dusty gray moonscape. But some of the land was a “dirty burn” — meaning there were small circles of pine and aspen and even grass and wildflowers in the middle of charcoal-black areas where smoke still curled and embers glowed. The specks of beauty made firefighters nervous: To a fire, they are fuel.

My sister and her husband own a house north of San Francisco. It’s probably not in danger, but it still brings the scope of this disaster home to me. I sure hope Firefighers will begin to make progress soon. The burning area is now the size of the city of Chicago, according to CNN.

Yosemite National Park, California (CNN) — A massive northern California wildfire that’s threatening Yosemite National Park and San Francisco’s key water and power sources grew Monday, becoming the 13th largest in state history, state fire authorities said.

The Rim Fire, which has devoured 160,980 acres, has scorched an area about the size of the city of Chicago while more than 3,600 firefighters try to rein it in….

The wildfire, which was 20% contained Monday night, was spreading primarily to the east and threatened to grow amid extremely dry conditions and hot weather.

Part of the fire continued to spread Monday toward a key part of San Francisco’s water supply: the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which lies within Yosemite and is just east of the flames.

The fire also could threaten the area’s hydroelectric generators, which provide much of San Francisco’s electricity. Because of the approaching flames, officials shut down the generators, and the city — more than 120 miles to the west — temporarily is getting power from elsewhere.

Speaking of disasters, Charles Pierce reminds us that West, Texas is still recovering from the horrible explosion at the fertilizer plant there and that Texas still isn’t doing that much to prevent similar events in the future.
Read the rest of this entry »


Saturday Morning Open Thread

Abortion rights advocates fill the rotunda of the State Capitol as the Senate neared its vote Friday night (Tamir Kalifa/AP)

Abortion rights advocates fill the rotunda of the State Capitol as the Senate neared its vote Friday night (Tamir Kalifa/AP)

Good Morning Sky Dancers!!

There sure is a lot of news out there for a summer Saturday. Beginning in Texas, the state senate passed a restrictive anti-abortion bill that will threaten women’s lives. The New York Times reports:

AUSTIN, Tex. — The Texas Senate gave final passage on Friday to one of the strictest anti-abortion measures in the country, legislation championed by Gov. Rick Perry, who rallied the Republican-controlled Legislature late last month after a Democratic filibuster blocked the bill and intensified already passionate resistance by abortion-rights supporters.

The bill would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and hold abortion clinics to the same standards as hospital-style surgical centers, among other requirements. Its supporters say that the strengthened requirements for the structures and doctors will protect women’s health; opponents argue that the restrictions are actually intended to put financial pressure on the clinics that perform abortions and will force most of them to shut their doors.

Mr. Perry applauded lawmakers for passing the bill, saying “Today the Texas Legislature took its final step in our historic effort to protect life.” Legislators and anti-abortion activists, he said “tirelessly defended our smallest and most vulnerable Texans and future Texans.”

Mr. Perry does not appear to include any “right to life” for adult women in his “effort to protect life,” however. I wonder if anyone has ever asked him one simple question: are women human beings? Forced childbirth is tantamount to slavery in my opinion. Furthermore, childbirth is far more dangerous than abortion, and the restrictions will likely mean that women with problematic late term pregnancies will die or suffer grievous harm. According to the NYT story,

The bill was opposed by many doctors, including leaders of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Texas Medical Association; the gynecologists’ group has run advertisements locally that question the scientific underpinnings of the legislation and tell legislators to “Get out of our exam rooms.”

Andrea Grimes writes at RH Reality Check: As Out-Of-State Gawkers Look On, Texas Lawmakers Prepare to Pass ‘Death Sentence’ Anti-Abortion Bill. She describes a young man from Minnesota who traveled down to Texas to watch the show.

This young guy, probably a senior in high school or a freshman in college—I didn’t catch his name—said he was real tired of wearing blue, the chosen color of anti-choice supporters of HB 2. I wore orange that day, the same color as thousands of Texans who have turned up at the capitol to stand up for reproductive rights. I also wore pink earbuds, trying to follow the house debate while waiting in line. Maybe this young guy thought I couldn’t hear him. Maybe he didn’t care.

“I’m looking forward to all this being over so I can wear my orange shirts again!” he joked.

She contrasts his blase attitude with that of Yatzel Sabat, a gay woman of color

who was dragged out of that same gallery Wednesday morning by law enforcement. Sabat was not wearing orange. She was wearing black.

Her limbs bound by state troopers, she screamed in a clear, strong voice, “This bill will kill women!” as the Texas House of Representatives gave its approval to HB 2, passing the devastating legislation along to the state senate for final passage….

This bill will kill. Period.

It will kill Texans who already travel to Mexico to buy abortion pills from flea markets because they are too poor to go to a legal abortion clinic, or unable to take time off work to find a doctor’s office and wait 24 hours between a state-mandated sonogram and an abortion procedure. It will kill Texans who, if HB 2 passes, cannot travel a thousand miles round trip to a San Antonio or Dallas ambulatory surgical center for a safe, legal abortion.

Please read the whole thing if you can.

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Next up, the U.S. Congress debates more cuts in food stamps as American children go hungry. From Martha White at NBC News:

For one in seven Americans, the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka food stamps, is all that stands between them and too little food.

But the complicated calculus of financial survival for the working poor also means any cuts to the roughly $80 billion SNAP, as it’s known, being considered by Congress would be felt well beyond the grocery checkout line. Buying new school clothes, family outings, even getting a toehold in the financial mainstream could be thrown into limbo.

For many of the working poor, wages just don’t go far enough. The National Employment Law project says nearly 60 percent of jobs created in the post-recession recovery pay $13.83 or less an hour, and hourly wages for some low-wage occupations fell by more than 5 percent in just three years.

Food service and temporary employment make up 43 percent of the post-recession job growth, according to NELP policy analyst Jack Temple. “They overwhelmingly pay low wages,” Temple said. “For that lower segment, you’re going to see increased use of safety net programs to make up the difference.”

Read it and weep, folks; and while you do keep in mind that the Federal deficit has been dropping steadily. The only possible reasons for the austerity agenda are to make the rich richer and punish the working poor.

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The Snowden saga continues.  Reuters reports that Russia has not yet received an application for asylum from the American hacker/leaker/whistleblower/dissident–or whatever he’s being called at the moment.

Russia kept former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden at arm’s length on Saturday, saying it had not been in touch with the fugitive American and had not yet received a formal request for political asylum.

Remarks by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signaled Russia is weighing its options after Snowden, who is stranded at a Moscow airport, broke three weeks of silence and asked for refuge in Russia until he can secure safe passage to Latin America.

Washington urged Moscow to return Snowden to the United States, where he is wanted on espionage charges after revealing details of secret surveillance programs, and President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin….

“We are not in contact with Snowden,” Russian news agencies quoted Lavrov as saying in Kyrgyzstan, where he attended a foreign ministers’ meeting.

He said he had learned of Snowden’s meeting with Russian human rights activists and public figures at the airport on Friday from the media, “just like everyone else.”

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Senator Elizabeth Warren is working on bringing back Glass-Steagall-like regulations on banks. From the LA Times:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has launched a campaign to make banks boring again as she pushes legislation to enact stricter regulations forcing deposit-taking financial institutions out of the investment business.

The Massachusetts Democrat wants to reinstate the Depression-era Glass-Steagall law, which separated what she called boring checking and savings accounts that are backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from risky investment banking.

And after joining three other senators Thursday in introducing a bipartisan bill to do that, Warren went toTwitter to rally support.

She urged her Twitter followers to retweet the message, “Banks should be boring.” She emailed her political backers, asking them to support her 21st century Glass-Steagall Act, which she introduced along with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Angus King (I-Maine).

Yesterday Warren went on CNBC to argue her case with some blonde talking head. Check it out:

As you know, yesterday Malala Yousafzai spoke to the United Nations and told the world: Being shot by Taliban made me stronger (NBC News)

Malala Yousafzai addresses the UN

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls’ education, was given a standing ovation at the United Nations Friday as she declared the attempt on her life had only given her strength and banished any fear she once felt.

“Dear friends, on the 9th of October, 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too,” she said in her first major public appearance. “They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed.”

Speaking on her 16th birthday, she said the “terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this — weakness, fear and hopelessness died, strength, power and courage was born.”

“I am the same Malala, my ambitions are the same, my hopes are the same and my dreams are the same,” she said to thunderous applause.

What an courageous, intelligent, and inspiring and young woman she is!

On that note, I’ll turn the floor over to you. What stories are you following today. Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread. Have a stupendous Saturday


Live Blog: Texas #HB2 Abortion Law Debate

Stand with tx women

I thought I’d put up a live blog to discuss the abortion debate in the Texas legislature. Here’s a live feed on Youtube and another one at the Texas Tribune.

Article from The Houston Chronicle: Sights and sounds surrounding HB2 hearing

A marathon hearing on a package of sweeping anti-abortion proposals is proceeding without interruption inside a the state Capitol.

But outside, in a courtyard a couple of feet away from the room where a House panel is hearing testimony on House Bill 2, the scene has been consistently rowdy all day.

That’s where a band of pro-choice activists have set up shop with a microphone (they were also doing prayer groups and handing out twisty balloons). And that’s where a smaller group of pro-life activists have taken to countering that message with constant chanting

Photos and audio clips at the link.

Here’s a live blog at the Burnt Orange site (Stand With Texas Women). On Twitter people are using the hashtags #HB2 and #StandWithTexasWomen.